Saturday, May 27, 2017

Screen-Free Summer Day #1

Our screen-free summer has begun! Here's the sad and empty place where our tv used to be. I'm hoping to do something interesting and fun with this space this summer. It looks like a good place to store library books in baskets, or to put "invitations to play" that the kids can discover when they wake up.

So, the kids asked for tv zero (0) times today. Nada. Zilch. Even though I'd given them a few weeks advance notice that we were doing this screen-free summer thing, I still expected that when summer came and they woke up with open, empty days in front of them, they'd be asking for tv and bumming when I said no. But they didn't mention it once today. Awe. some.

This morning, Kasey and I moved some big stuff out of the basement that we're trying to get rid of, like an old dryer that works but takes two cycles to dry clothes. We seem to have accumulated a lot of things that aren't really trash, but aren't in good enough shape to sell. We're trying to clean them all out and get rid of them, so our basement will have space for the kids to climb on the climbing wall without the chance of running into a dryer if they fall off.

Kasey took the kids to the Y for Eden's gymnastics class, and they got some rock wall climbing in beforehand. Then Kasey and Isaac played tennis during Eden's class, and it sounds like Isaac was game for an actual lesson for the first time ever!

After some rest time, which I am now calling "room time" because it sounds much more fun, the neighbor kids came over and the kids ran around together for a couple hours. Yesterday we had two more neighbor kids playing at our house for a total of six kids, and they all had a blast. I LOVE being the neighborhood hangout house, even though it is sometimes trying on my introverted self. And I need to buy more snacks, because boy are kids hungry.

Check out that awesome hobnail mason jar drinking glass!
I've been looking for a fun summer glass and these
were 2 for $3 in the Dollar Spot at Target. Score! 

I got some time to myself while Kasey took the kids to the Y, so I read, ran, and did some online shopping. I'm trying really hard to get away from the screen myself, but it's an adjustment! The basic guideline I'm trying to follow for now is to not have my laptop out at all when the kids are around. I'll add more guidelines as I go.

Reading: I finished Wonder today, which was a sweet and enjoyable book. I found myself trying to think about how I imagine Auggie's face, and it was hard for me to come up with something as grotesque as they describe it in the book. I kind of can't imagine seeing a face that would make me shocked or horrified like the characters in the book were when they saw Auggie. I'm interested to see how the movie portrays him.

Running: I did week 3 day 2 of the c25k program. I'm working my way towards running a 10k on August 12th as a sort of birthday celebration! So far the running is going well, although I stopped running for a stressful two weeks at the end of the school year. The biggest goal I have right now is to consistently run 4 days/week.

When I climbed into bed tonight, I found this under my pillow:

Isaac gave me some of his easter candy that he knows I love--whopper eggs--along with the sweetest note. I have the best kids ever.

Friday, April 24, 2015


These days I have approximately 1 hour and 42 minutes 4 days per week when both children are in school, barring Spring Breaks, volunteering in the classroom, and illness. But who’s counting?

It’s been awhile (6 years, 9 months, and 24 days) since I’ve had any daily(sorta), routine(ish) time to myself, alone, in my house, during the day, without a child napping nearby. That’s a lot of caveats. I am grateful to have had blocks of time to myself in those years given to me by family and friends caring for my kids. But there’s something about the dailiness of this time that feels different.

If we’re having a rough morning, I know I’ve got some peace coming in a few hours and it gives me a bit more tolerance. If my head is about to implode due to the sound of my child chewing breakfast (this is a thing, trust me), I know there will be space for quiet later. If I’m too tired in the evening to grade papers or check work email, I can put it off because I know I’ll have some time the next afternoon.

At first I was a bit paralyzed by my unrealistic expectations of these few hours. I would make lists like:
-clean house
-go to gym
-read book club book
-prep tomorrow’s class
and try to figure out how to multimultimultitask. Listen to audio book while running at the gym while letting subconscious mull over a previously chosen writing topic? And I would spend 15 minutes doing 6 things and not get anything done satisfactorily and feel like I wasted the time.

Not anymore. One day last week I came home from dropping Isaac off, took my shoes off, and laid down on the living room floor a la corpse pose, and breathed, and listened to nothing.

My mind feels like it’s loosening up, regaining some lost humor, adopting some perspective on issues that it has not had for awhile. I’m simmering some creative ideas and giving myself permission to let them come in time. And I’m enjoying talking to myself, either audibly or not, and paying attention to my inner dialogue.

When I do come into contact with people during my wonderhours, it’s jarring. Here I am in my wonderful silent world, entertaining myself, and then someone is staring at me, expecting a response.

I dropped off a utility bill and stood in line behind a huffing older gentleman and a quietly annoyed lady, who had apparently been waiting for some time. A second window opened (for those dropping off CHECKS ONLY, the dude clearly said) and Mr. Huffer couldn’t get there fast enough. But he was paying in cash and was sent back to the line, where he became Mr. Grumbler and Hisser. I brought my check to the window where Mr. Utility Bill Collector glanced at me with a look asking for commiseration. All I could think to say was, “Well, aren’t we pissy today?” which I did NOT say because I have an overactive filter. But the moment passed and I didn’t give him the sympathetic look. I looked like Mrs. Stoic lady who doesn’t give a damn enough to tsk tsk along with him.

I picked up Isaac from school wearing a new lip gloss I had leisurely purchased during wonderhour. His teachers complimented me on it, and my internal dialogue went something like, “Yeah, well it’s called “Movie Star” red but let me tell you, it reminds me of another profession and I’m not too keen on it.” Then I found myself trying to figure out how to spell whore so I could communicate this important thought to them without the 3-4 year olds learning a new word. “Hoar? No, that’s the frost. Hore? No, that doesn’t seem right. Oh yeah, the silent w! Whore!”  

All this time I’m looking at them silently with who knows what expression on my face. I mumbled something about how I wasn’t sure about it and my lips didn’t match the color on the tube and then extricated myself from the situation as gracefully as possible.

Hopefully some day in the near future I’ll be better able to maneuver between the circus between my ears and normal social interaction during these wonderhours. But either way, they’re pretty entertaining.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Isaac's First Pets

One morning last week, I told the kids about a fun art activity I had planned. We were going to take some colorful fall leaves we had collected on a walk and glue them to mason jars. Put a tealight inside and voila, you have beautiful warm candlelight on your table.

The kids were less than enthusiastic. They decided to go caterpillar hunting instead. That sounded like a good alternative to me so we shelved the art-making for later. Within an hour, Isaac had gathered a woolly bear caterpillar and a run of the mill brownish-greenish caterpillar. The boy is an insect magnet. From mosquitoes to cicadas to spiders to worms, creatures find him and he finds them.

In an attempt to prolong their lives beyond the usual I’ve-been-caught-by-a-kid insect life expectancy, I got one of Kasey’s old empty aquariums from the basement to make the caterpillars a safe haven. The kids gathered sticks and green leaves, carefully arranged them inside the aquarium, and placed the caterpillars in their new home.

And Isaac had his first pets.

He named them. Fur, the woolly bear, and Soft, the other one. He learned their preferences. Fur liked to hide under the leaves, while Soft preferred the dirt and the edges of the aquarium where the bottom meets the side. Soft was harder to pick up but didn’t seem to mind it, while Fur got bitey when sitting in your hand. Isaac’s solution for Fur’s teething problem was to put a sock on his hand when picking up Fur. I started finding lone socks all over the house.

After a week or so, the caterpillars seemed to have lost some of their enthusiasm for life. Isaac put some enrichment objects in the tank, like matchbox cars, rocks, and miscellaneous nature things he had collected. But still, they moved less, moved slower, and didn’t respond as quickly to touch. Soft may or may not have been injured after climbing in the cab of a matchbox truck and getting a bit stuck on his way out. Isaac decided that maybe the caterpillars needed a trip outside, to get some fresh air and see more of what they were used to seeing. I reminded him of the dangers of transporting the little guys out of their home. He was willing to take the chance.

Two minutes later, Isaac came in, tears streaming down the saddest face. Fur was lost. Somewhere on the porch he was dropped and had disappeared. We went hunting, and after several minutes found him on our welcome mat. Fur may or may not have been partially stepped on. We decided to return them to their tank and leave them alone, hoping they could heal themselves in time.

In time, they stopped moving altogether. One afternoon, I suggested to Isaac that perhaps the caterpillars weren’t alive anymore, and perhaps it was time to return them outside or even bury them. Isaac insisted that they were just being still because they were working hard on getting better. A few minutes later he came out of his room, Fur in hand, crying as he walked to the door. “I’m going to let Fur be free,” he said, sobbing. When he returned, he cried for awhile while I rocked him in the rocking chair and told him how brave he was to let Fur go. I was relieved that he had accepted they were gone.

About 20 minutes later, Isaac declared that he had changed his mind, retrieved Fur, and returned him to the tank. Denial has been the name of the game ever since.

I’m not sure how to proceed. At first I thought after another day or so he would accept the reality of the situation. But the days keep passing while the caterpillars shrivel in the tank on Isaac’s dresser. Earlier today he told me that they seem to be moving more lately. 

For now, I’m going to follow his lead. Because even in his denial, he is grieving. I can’t dispose of creatures that he still thinks are alive, or isn’t willing to fully accept are gone. I’ll continue to gently suggest some ways we could honor the caterpillars and mark their death. And I’ll trust that when he’s ready, he’ll let go of his first pets. 

*******Sunday, Nov. 9th update*******

Isaac came to me this morning crying, saying that his caterpillars were dead. It seemed like he was ready so I suggested burying them. He was ready. He picked out some of his favorite seashells and I gathered Fur and Soft in my hand. Isaac picked a spot in the yard, I dug a hole and set the caterpillars in. Isaac said goodbye, touched them one last time, and we covered them up and marked them with the shells. Eden stood by and watched. We rocked in the rocking chair for awhile until he felt better. Eden drew him pictures of his caterpillars saying "I love you" to him. 

After church, he told me that he was thinking of having an ant as a pet but it would be too small, so he wants to find another woolly bear. 

Monday, August 25, 2014


Isaac burned his tongue on his macaroni and cheese tonight at dinner (yes, we eat in style), got angry, and impatiently said, “Cool this off! Give me the salt and pepper!” After a quick little lesson in manners, he was on his way to cooling off his mac n cheese with the salt and pepper. Because, you know, it takes a good 3-4 minutes for a 4-year-old to carefully tip the salt shaker, watch each grain of salt hit the orange cheesy goodness, and repeat. And then the pepper grinder, well, that thing just needs to be taken apart, its inner workings examined and explained, and then working knowledge applied liberally until the kiddie food is too spicy for an adult to eat. By the time the process is done, the mac n cheese is plenty cool.

Eden is (maybe, sort of) excited about starting homeschooling this week, but only because she thinks that it is going to be wildly fun. I think her expectations are somewhere between bounce house and waterpark slide, and I’m not sure how to put her feet back on the ground gently. She asked to do math the other day, and I gave her a bunch of suggestions…she could do a lesson from the curriculum we used to finish up Kindergarten, or play with the linking cubes, or the geoboard, or the attribute cards, or hey, we could even play Monopoly and work on money counting skills. She replied, “No, I want to do, like, fun first grade stuff.” She also told our pediatrician last week that the thing she’s most excited about learning in homeschool this year is how to ride her bike without training wheels. It appears that in my attempts to make homeschooling appealing and fun, I may have inadvertently left out a few details.

I start back to work this week, beginning the jarring jumping between the world of teaching my children how to be kind and decent human beings and teaching other people’s newly grown up children how to think critically about their world and put together a few logical thoughts into a compelling written argument. I love it and I don’t know why I do it, all in the same week. I get to put on real clothes, listen to NPR in the car, have colleagues and an office (shared with 3-12 other adjuncts). I’m not quite gone enough for my kids to ever get used to it, so there are still often tears and leg hanging on and whispers of “I don’t like it when you go to work” at bedtime. I feel pulled and torn and I need to teach and to write but oh, the effects.

There is never a settledness and there is always a better option and there is never quite enough…of me, of time, of energy, of fulfillment, of foreknowledge and security and peace.

And this is all there is, and this is the good stuff, and this is enough. Enough. I had it etched into my body in the hope that it would seep into my heart and my soul…I am enough. We are enough. You are enough. This moment of my life, with the too hot food and the too high expectations and the too strong pulls in opposite directions…this moment is enough. Buried within it is the epic nature of the ordinary, the sacredness of the mundane, the soul-stretching draw to the divine. It. Is. Enough.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Prayer: Crumbs From the Master's Table

I’ve been struggling with the idea of prayer lately. The extent of my frustration with prayer came out late one night, when one of my children wasn’t sleeping well and I prayed the universal mother’s prayer of sleep-deprivation: “God, will you please just help my child sleep through the whole night. Even just this one time. Please. Please. I’m so tired.”

It’s a silly prayer, really. In the grand scheme of things that could be prayed for, praying for another person to sleep falls far beneath world peace, ending hunger, healing the sick, and about a million other things. But, even as I recognized the insignificance of my request, I got angry at the unlikelihood of it being answered. Because shouldn’t the fact that my request is so small make it that much easier for God to answer it? It would take just the smallest nanoparticle of God’s mercy for my child to sleep all night. And if it actually happened, I would have no explanation other than that my prayer was heard and answered, and I would recognize the miracle.

So yeah, I also know that God doesn’t really measure out his mercy in particles and pounds. But how does he measure it out? When does he answer prayer? And how do we know that something that happens, either positive or negative, is him answering a prayer?

In bible college, one of my roommates was the type to see God in every empty parking space, lost keys found, and canceled class. My skepticism would rise to the surface and I’d be asking, so if I don’t find an empty parking space when I need one in downtown Chicago, God doesn’t love me as much as he loves you? If I don’t find my lost keys right away, then God’s trying to chastise me for my irresponsibility? If my class isn’t canceled when I want it to be, it’s because it wasn’t God’s will? Because if you see God behind every positive thing, every moment of serendipity in your life, don’t you have to also see him behind every negative thing? And if every positive thing is because of some good you’ve done, staying in God’s will, then doesn’t every negative thing have to be because you’ve somehow messed something up and lost your way?

I’m aware of the need to have eyes to see…that disbelief in the divine precludes seeing the divine. But that doesn’t equate to indiscriminately declaring any happening around me to be an act of God. I’m not comfortable with the logic that claims that every good happening is from God, and every bad happening is the result of my personal sin. Remember Job? Remember how the rain falls on the just and unjust? Bad shit happens to good, innocent people. Really good stuff happens to evil people. It just doesn’t add up so nicely.

So where does that leave prayer? I’ve heard the argument that the purpose of prayer is really to change the person who is praying. That the act of putting myself in contact with the divine isn’t about what the divine can do for me, but how I can change to be more aligned with the divine. I get that, and to some extent I think that’s true. But if God really exists and cares about people, and if prayer really is communication between God and I, shouldn’t it be a two way street? And isn’t the soul of humanity’s calling on divinity to beg for the divinity to intercede in this messed up place we live in, to beg him to act? And don’t people who care, act?

This morning in church the pastor talked about the story in Matthew where a Canaanite woman approached Jesus and asked him to heal her sick daughter. Jesus points out that she, not being a Jew, is an outsider. She has not been invited to the table yet, so why should he serve her? She reminds him that even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. He acknowledges her faith and heals her daughter.

I feel like that outsider woman, begging to be allowed to have the crumbs that fall from the table above. Hoping that if and when I receive those crumbs, I’ll be able to recognize whose hand they came from. And hoping that if no crumbs ever fall, God still exists, still cares, still somehow acts in ways that I don’t see. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

In The Middle Of It

It’s easy (well, easier) to write when the story has a beginning, middle, and end. Writing flows naturally when it’s leading to a conclusion or insight.

In the middle with no clear end, things are foggy. There’s no tidiness or satisfaction. Language is stilted. Words don’t come. Specifics, the cornerstone of connection between writer and reader, seem too risky.
I’m in the middle of it.

Eden just turned 6, but really it feels like she turned 16. She tells me in anger that we’re not her real family; her real mom lives in Canada. I know she doesn’t mean it, but it still stings. She is brave and goes to soccer camp by herself, one of the youngest players there, knowing nothing about soccer. She smiles with excitement and bites her nails in nervousness. She dreams that week that she has a neck injury at soccer camp and the coach doesn’t know how to call 911 and no one has my phone number. I write my phone number next to my name the next day when we sign her in, just in case. She tells me that she wants to make her own decisions, wants to live in her own house so she can do everything she wants to do. Later that week she tells me that she still might want me to lay with her at bedtime when she’s 10, and is that okay? Will I still lay with her when she’s 10?

She’s in the middle of it. I am pulled along by her towards independence, my heart unready but my mind willing, and my spirit cheering her on. I am stung by her declarations, but hold her feelings along with my own. She needs me to see that in the end, she will be okay.

Isaac just turned 4, and he seems sad. He feels things big. I think it feels physically painful to him when his feelings are hurt; he tells me that a boy punched him when I know the boy didn’t. But he feels left out, and what really happened, the truth, objectivity, doesn’t matter. He feels punched. And I feel punched along with him. He moves to shame quickly, can’t sustain the smallest amount of frustration in my voice. I steady my voice, try not to fall under the weight of his need for me to stay calm, try to carry his feelings along with my own.

He’s in the middle of it. I feel buried by the pain that a little soul can feel. But I remember feeling things strong, feeling big pain, at a young age. He needs me to know that in the end, he will be okay.

I don’t feel okay. I feel tired, stretched, disturbed, and I feel love so big it could swallow them and me whole. I don’t see the ending. Parenting, mothering, loving…they are murky waters.   

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Saying Yes

I have a tendency toward no.  I have what a therapist once called "an unfriendly conscience," what Geneen Roth ominously calls "The Voice," and what Anne Lamott brilliantly calls "Radio Station KFKD."

Basically, I live in a mental land of shoulds, should nots, and should haves, with a sprinkling of fear and shame landmines thrown in.

The good news is, I'm aware of this and am learning to reshape my mental landscape and avoid stepping on the mines.

The bad news is, sometimes those around me get hit by shrapnel when I do hit a mine.

Sometimes "I should have a clean house always" leads me to snapping at the kids for normal kid messes and squelching their creativity.

Sometimes "My kids should always be well-behaved" leads me to overreacting to normal kid behavior by shaming and blaming.

Sometimes "My kids should always realize how wealthy and privileged we are compared to the rest of the world" leads to inflexible "nos" to every single request they make for something extra, something special, something fun.

I am trying to learn to say yes.  Saying yes to myself means thinking with kindness towards myself instead of judgment.  It means making allowances for imperfection.  It means wasting no time in shame.

Saying yes to my kids means, well, actually saying yes.  Kids are good at thinking with kindness towards themselves, their needs and desires.  We sometimes call this being self-absorbed and egotistical, but I think we can learn a thing or two about how to believe we are worthy of good things by watching our kids ask.  Saying yes to them also means making allowances for imperfection and wasting no time in shame.

Can we go to dollar day at the movie theater just for fun?
Yes.  You won't be spoiled by some special fun things once in awhile. 

Can I spread rocks the size of kitty litter all over the front porch?
Yes.  Kitty litter rocks can be cleaned up.  

Can we paint?
Yes. Creativity is worth the mess. 

Can you talk in a nice voice to me even if I'm talking in my most horrible screechy whining voice?
Yes.  Kindness in the hard moments will win your hearts. 

Can I take my doll and her stroller to the zoo with us?
Yes.  If you get tired and stop pushing your doll stroller at the far end of the zoo, we will figure it out. 

Sometimes saying yes is more work, more challenging, more risky and I'm afraid of it.  Sometimes saying yes feels like the easy, lazy way out.  But saying no isn't inherently more righteous, more right, or more safe.  Say yes.  Try it.  It gets the best smiles.
She pushed it happily the whole time.  It was adorable. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Discovering a Morning Rhythm -- Summer of Simplicity

Schedules make me itchy.  They feel confining and judgmental with their boxes and to-the-minute timetables. 

Having no routine at all sets me adrift, in a “crap, I’m floating with the rip current and have no control” kind of way. 

I need something in between.  In my quest for simplicity and meaning this summer, I’m discovering that I need some sort of rhythm to start my day.  Rhythm, ritual, routine…these words describe what I’m aiming for much better than schedule. 

With caring, creating, and connecting as my guidewords, I’ve discovered a morning rhythm that fits me.  Sometimes my “morning” rhythm isn’t complete until 1pm, sometimes I abandon part of it, and sometimes it all fits within an hour.  It doesn’t matter.  My rhythm is for me, not against me, so I don’t worry if it doesn’t all happen. 

In the morning, caring means feeding hungry children.  I’ve tried to get around this, tried to make breakfast self-serve around here, but it’s only led to frustration and more work overall.  Self-serve breakfasts lead to cereal for one child and an apple for another, which leads to continuing hunger all morning long.  Non-stop children with unbelievably high metabolisms require meals of substance, at least every once in awhile (read: 5 times per day minimum). Feeding my kids a good solid breakfast buys me at least an hour in the eating department, and also leaves space and time for the rest of my morning rhythm. 

On a really good morning when I wake up with my cape on, caring also means doing a few household tasks that set up the rest of my day well.  Putting away clean dishes leaves the dishwasher ready for the dirty ones to come that day, so instead of seeing them accumulate on counters all day, they can get out of sight.  Throwing in a load of laundry in the washer in the morning makes it 68% more likely that it will be dried, folded, and put away by nightfall.  There are no guarantees, people, but I like to stack the odds in my favor. 

In the morning, creating means writing morning pages.  In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes morning pages as one of the two basic tools for inspiring creativity.  The irony is, the morning pages themselves are the opposite of creative.  They are the mundane blather that crowds our minds, and the morning pages are an exercise in getting that out of the way to get to the good stuff.  Cameron says, “When people ask, “Why do we write morning pages?” I joke, “To get to the other side.”” 

I’ve never liked keeping a journal, because it all sounds the same to me: a record of my insecurities, fears, and struggles played on a never-ending loop.  But according to Cameron, that’s the point.  The Inner Critic must have her say, and if she can have her say on the private morning pages, then she can stay out of the way in the rest of my art and life.  That’s what I’m working towards.

morning pages on the front porch
In the morning, connecting means yoga.  I’ve never been a yoga person.  Yoga people always seemed mysterious and otherworldly to me, able to understand something that I don’t understand.  I don’t know if I “get” yoga, or if there is anything to get, really.  What I’m discovering is that I like to do something physical but not too physical in the morning.  I like to breathe a little and be still enough that I can feel my breath and hear it, too.  I am a perpetually cold person, and morning yoga gets my body comfortably warm.

So despite feeling like a wannabe yoga imposter, I find a short and easy youtube video and get my yoga on.  My kids like Cosmic Kids yoga videos, so they sometimes want to do one when I’m done, and then I get to eat breakfast in peace.  Win win.   

When I’m in rhythm, I feel ready for my day and peaceful.  There’s no magic formula, no “everyone must do this.”  These are the things that resonate with me.  Your rhythm might involve checklists, scrubbing toilets, and laundry folded and put away.  Or your rhythm might involve you, a book, and a chair.  Whatever meets your family’s needs and makes you feel ready for the day, those are your rhythm. 

Oh, and coffee.  How could I forget coffee?  Coffee is the glue that holds it all together, my constant companion through my morning rhythm.  Coffee deserves its own post, but I’ll save that for another day.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Amazing Thing Happening Right Now In Front Of Me

I’ve started writing multiple times and then deleted…type, backspace, type, backspace, type, backspace, like the ebb and flow of the ocean waves I hear as I type this.  We are on vacation, and first and foremost, I am grateful.  I’m afraid in writing this essay I will appear otherwise.  We are lucky to have the time and resources to go spend an entire week, together, on the beach.  I am grateful. 

And also, our vacation resembles the one described in this article.  A lot of normal life and everyday work and the usual annoyances came on vacation with us.  At this stage of life, trying to “vacate” is not actually possible, because my occupations travel with me and have more needs than ever away from their home and routine.

The first morning, we woke up to our usual pre-6 o’clock alarm clocks.  There are two of them and they are insistent and loud, their snooze buttons broken.  We moved out onto the balcony, listened to the waves and watched the surfers at dawn.  It was spectacular.  And then there were dolphins, a whole pod, surfacing and spraying, gliding effortlessly through the ocean. 

And then there was this shrill, constant, nasally noise that brought my nervous system into high alert and initiated my fight or flight response, otherwise known as whining.  In their excitement to get up early for the first day of vacation, the kids hadn’t realized that they added hours to their wait for the pool to open. 

We tried to call their attention to the amazing thing happening right now in front of them, but they would have none of it.  They wanted something else; they could think of nothing else but that what they wanted wasn’t happening. 

I wanted them to stop whining.  I felt like my desire for them to stop whining was more legitimate than their desire to have pool time at 7am.  I got frustrated and thought about how unvacationlike vacations can be.  I wanted something else; I could think of nothing else but that what I wanted wasn’t happening. 

I started missing the amazing thing happening right now in front of me.

I get stingy sometimes with my generosity towards my family.  I start thinking of myself as an overdrawn bank account whose patrons better make some deposits if they expect the good stuff to keep flowing.  A morning walk on the beach alone = sizable deposit.  Negotiating who gets the red ball for the 327th time today = sizable withdrawal.  On top of the frustration and difficulty of raising kids, I add righteous indignation and score keeping. 

This week I’m trading my bank account for an ocean view.  Literally, yes.  But also in the way I view myself, my family, my time, my vacation. 

In the morning when the wind is calm, the sea can be so still that the fin of a dolphin is visible 300 yards off shore.  The waves can be a peaceful white noise that provides the perfect background for laughing kids and melodic bird banter.  The water can race over sand to cool hot feet.  The ocean is peace. 

When the wind picks up, the waves break in layers and the chop makes it impossible to see any sea life.  The noise can be so loud it clouds my brain and makes me wish for silence.  The water can be so powerful that it can drag an unsuspecting toddler down on his back and tumble him like a seashell back towards the sea.  (The toddler will then bellow his rage and fear at the sea while his parents pick sand out of his ear.)  The ocean is turmoil. 

It’s all there.  Ebb and flow, ebb and flow.  All that I need to be fulfilled, happy, content, refreshed, and at peace is there, in me and around me.  All that I need to be left wanting, disappointed, dissatisfied, exhausted, and in turmoil is there, in me and around me.  I will have moments of each this day and every day, and those moments will flow back out and bring in something else.  If I can accept that the amazing thing happening right now in front of me is whatever is happening right now in front of me, even the moments of turmoil will be meaningful.

In the movie Good Will Hunting, the therapist Sean tells Will how his late wife used to wake herself up by farting in her sleep.  He goes on: “Ah, but, those are the things I miss the most.  The little idiosyncrasies that only I knew about.  That’s what made her my wife.  Oh, and she had the goods on me, too; she knew all my little peccadillos.  People call these things imperfections, but they’re not – ah, that’s the good stuff.” 

The arguments about the red ball, the newly-broken ceramic fish that belongs to the condo owners, the endless feeding and dishes and changing and laundry, the whining and bickering; that’s the hard good stuff.  The swimming and wave frolicking, the reading and shell studying, the fresh-picked strawberries and corn on the cob, the laughing and smiling and sandy toes; that’s the easy good stuff.    

It’s all there; it’s all the amazing thing happening right now in front of me. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

What Happens If You Don't Like Each Other Anymore

Eden jumped and bounced next to me on the couch; the girl isn’t still, ever.  We were all four of us lounging in the living room.  Kasey had just gotten home from work and was sprawled along with lincoln logs and Isaac on the floor.  Eden threw an arm on me and leaned over. 

“I just love you so much, Mama.  I just wish I could marry you.  But you’re already married to Daddy.”

I smiled, loving the 5-year-old concept of love and marriage and hoping that it stays innocent like this for a very long time. 
“Will you and Daddy still be married when you are old people?” she asked. 

I could see the wheels spinning as she tried to find a way that she and I might get married sometime in the future. 

“Yep,” I answered.  “We’ll be married to each other for our whole lives.  That’s what it means to be married to someone.  I chose to live my life with Daddy for the rest of our lives.”

“And I chose Mama,” Kasey said.   

“But what happens if you don’t like each other anymore?”

Ahhh, yes.  Good question.  Kasey and I exchanged a look.  There was a lot in the look.  He looked like he was about to burst into laughing, which is actually a good thing.  We’re okay as long as we can still laugh at ourselves. 

Because, the truth is, we don’t always like each other.  We are, by the antibiotic grace of God, currently recovering from a period where not liking each other had become a bit of an infection.  I don’t know if fairy tale romances exist in real life, but I know that our story isn’t written that way.  We have had seasons where we are the source of each others’ happiness, and seasons where we are the source of each others’ pain.  We have fought and cried and screamed and hurt and regretted and wished things were different and despaired that they could be. 

But I chose him, and he chose me.  And we chose to live our lives together for as long as our lives last.  And we choose it again every day. 

And so, what happens if (when) we don’t like each other anymore? 

“Well, we learn to start liking each other again,” I replied.  “That’s what families do.  You don’t always like each other, but you always stick together and you learn how to like each other again.” 

There wasn’t a lot of forethought in my answer, but I like the idea that loving someone means learning to like them over and over again.  Because it implies that even after being with someone for a very long time, there is still a chance that you don’t know everything about them.  Choosing a stance as a learner means that new information is possible, new behavior, new patterns, new connections.  It leaves space for growth and change and hope. 

Being a learner requires sticking around when you want to run away.  Being a learner requires giving enough grace to stop looking back and start looking forward.  Being a learner requires having enough humility to have perceptions and beliefs changed. 

How else can the decision of two teenagers to link their lives forever actually be honored?  We are two learners, walking together.  That is love.  

“When you evoke curiosity and openness with a lack of judgment, you align yourself with beauty and delight and love – for their own sake.  You become the benevolence of God in action.”  --Geneen Roth

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Summer of Simplicity: The End Goal

“To what end do I lead a simple life at all, pray? That I may teach others to simplify their lives? – and so all our lives be simplified merely, like an algebraic formula? Or not, rather, that I may make use of the ground I have cleared to live more worthily and profitably?”
            --Henry David Thoreau

Doing a quick search for simple living or organizing your life will lead you to thousands of blogs, pinterest-worthy pdfs, and how-to articles. There is no shortage of helpful information on the methods and tools for simplifying. 

So why do I still find myself fighting with overflowing stuff, with hurriedness and impatience, with too-full schedules and too little reflection? 

It’s not an information problem. It’s an assimilation problem.

The question I am examining this summer is how do I put what I know and what I desire into practice? How do I move into a place of practicing simplicity and feeling the benefits? 

One thing I am learning is that many of the methods and tips floating out in the internet ether don’t help me. I am apt to be quickly inspired but then I struggle to follow through, usually because I am attempting a complete overhaul overnight. 

Even my process of living more simply must be simple. 

I’m beginning the new-to-me process of looking inward to determine what strategies might work for me. I’m abandoning spreadsheets and timelines and lists and schedules; they create stress and failure for me.

I’m not looking for algebraic formulas any longer. I’ve been asking myself as Thoreau did, how may I best make use of these days, this life, this place I am in? How may I live worthily and profitably? 

Three words are surfacing that are guiding my simplifying: connected…caring…creative. 

Connected: I want to connect with myself, my environment, and my family in the present moment.  I spend a lot of time distracting myself from what I’m feeling, from my overwhelming house, and from my own perfectionism.  I want to stare less at screens and more at eyes and sky.  I want to move from distraction to connection, to learn that it is safe and meaningful to be in each moment. 

Caring: I want to chip away at the piles that clutter our space and establish routines to make caring for our home more natural and built-in. I want to find ways to streamline some of the relentless tasks of mothering, like feeding and laundering. 

Creative: I want to build more writing time into my weeks, make photo albums so my kids can see pictures of themselves as babies, put nails in walls that have been bare for too long and hang my own creations on them. 

These ideals of connectedness, caring, and creativity are what living worthily and profitably in my space means. What does it mean to you? When you envision a simpler life, what do you see yourself doing, being? 

I invite you to join in with establishing simplicity this summer, in a way that is tailored specifically to your goals and your life. I’ll be recording my experiences and thoughts here, and sharing what I’m finding that works for me. I’ll be leaning away from spreadsheets and formulas and leaning into examining the process and gently, slowly, simply, moving forward.   

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Let's Play Nice

Cousins met at the park today, to run and reunite and soak in sun.  They were a blur of a threesome, sometimes scattered around the playground, sometimes huddled close. 

We aunts stood nearby, talking and watching. 

A fourth tried to join them, but wasn’t welcomed.  The three had their thing, their feel, their history, and were enjoying their group the way it was. 

“This girl isn’t being nice to you; let’s go find another girl to play with,” the dad said to the fourth, loud enough for us all to hear. 

I felt pricked, embarrassed, ashamed that my kid wasn’t being nice.

But wait.  What does that mean, exactly, to be nice?  Does it mean that our three have to play equally with everyone at the playground?  Is this about being inclusive no matter what?  Is it nice to play with someone that you really don’t want to play with?  Is it nice to pretend to want to be with someone when you don’t really want to be with them? 

(Is it nice to talk about my child this way knowing that she and her mother are overhearing you?) 

I admit, I’m a bit of a language lover and semantics is my playground.  And I don’t like the word nice; it’s not welcome to play much in my vocabulary.  I don’t like the connotations of being a “nice girl.”  In my experience, it means the quiet, subdued, submissive girl who doesn’t want to be a bother and doesn’t have a voice and will do anything to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and doesn’t get much respect and doesn’t really know who she is.  Yep, it means all that. 

And as it turns out, these connotations bear a striking resemblance to the word’s origins.  The Latin nescire, meaning “not know,” birthed the Latin nescius, meaning “ignorant,” birthed the Middle English meaning “stupid.”  Yep, it’s all there. 

I like the word kind.  I am all about kindness.  To me, kindness is the beautiful juncture of truth and goodness.  It doesn’t mean the appearance of goodness at the expense of truth; that’s flattery.  It doesn’t mean truth at the expense of goodness; that’s brash. 

Kindness means treating people like family, knowing and being known like family.  The origins of the word kind (Old English cynd) are closely related to the word kinThe beautiful heart of the word kind means that what’s on the inside is known, but it comes out gently

Nice forces a kid to relinquish his toy; kind teaches kids how to take turns over time. 
Nice says what you want to hear; kind says what it means.
Nice always smoothes over awkwardness; kind endures discomfort when needed.

Kindness is more of a long-haul virtue.  It can’t be coerced with consequences or a stern look.  It comes from the inside, from the heart, and it takes time to foster and grow and learn.  It can be hard to raise kids to be kind in a culture that pushes them to be nice. 

But it’s the kindest thing I can do. 

While I’ve been typing this, I’ve been interrupted a million times and am, ahem, struggling to be kind.  I finally realized this and told Kasey the irony of working on an essay on kindness while I’m struggling to practice it.  He smiled and gently said, “Well, maybe it’s good timing, then.” 

That is kindness.  

Monday, May 5, 2014

Great Eggspectations

One of the benefits of our new adventure in homeschooling is that we can do crazy stuff that no sane teacher with 25 students would attempt. 

This past week, we walked on eggs.  

I have to admit, I was skeptical.  I saw the pictures and heard the report of this post by Noirin at Playdough to Plato, but I thought maybe she had somehow “magicked” her eggs, as Isaac would say.  I was prepared for much cracking and oozing, but thankfully, I was proved wrong. 

The architectural genius of the arch stands.  We looked at some pictures of bridges that use arches to support themselves, and we talked about how the arch evenly distributes the force put on it. 

We noticed the arches on eggs and I had the kids each squeeze an egg in their hand to show that they couldn’t crack it when the force was spread throughout their whole hand.  I also held my breath and hoped they couldn’t crack it, because they are strong little buggers (the kids, that is).  Then they each cracked an egg on the side of a bowl, concentrating all the force in one small spot. 

We talked about how a hen can sit on an egg without cracking it, but the baby chick’s beak can poke through the egg from the inside when the chick pecks at one small spot.  Isaac asked if he could sit on an egg like a hen, but I wasn’t willing to take the experiment that far. 

So we established that evenly distributed force on an arch = good bridge and contained egg, while too much force concentrated on one spot = bad bridge and egg mess. 

At that point, I couldn’t put the actual standing on eggs part off anymore, so we set up a couple dozen eggs (pointier side down and inspected for hairline fractures) on a tablecloth on the floor, and hopped to it.  Well, we didn’t actually hop.  I lifted Eden up and set her gently down on the eggs, no hopping allowed.  

And, it worked!  Eden was so excited to find that she could stand on eggs without cracking them!  She made sure not to put all of her weight on her heels or toes, and none of the eggs cracked even a little bit. 

It was a fun little experiment, and the bonus is now we have tons of eggs to eat.  I admit, I bought the cheap eggs from the sad little factory farm hens because I thought for sure they’d get cracked.  But if you can convince your inner doubting Thomas to try this speggtacular experiment (see what I did there??), get the good eggs from the happy hens because they really will survive!  

Friday, May 2, 2014

How Not To Live Simply

If you're interested in reading more posts about simple living, check out posts with the "simple living" tag.  

I want to live simply, to spend less and have less and think less about stuff.  I don’t like clutter and I don’t embrace an identity as a consumer.  I check Simplicity Parenting and other simple-living books out of the library at least once a year and re-re-renew my desire to live simply. 

And yet.  You’d not quite believe my commitment to simple living if you wandered through my house.  My dreams of my house looking like a Real Simple 2-page spread have not quite been realized.  And as the stuff piles up around me, my mind feels more and more cluttered and scattered. 

I’ve been mulling this over recently and have identified a few (okay, seven) of the areas that constantly trip me up, and I thought I’d share them with you.  I came across this blog post by Katie that inspired my list.  So here they are, my 7 Tips for NOT Living a Simple Life:

1.      After you’re finished borrowing something from a friend, hang it in a plastic bag by the back door. 
Because, you know, maybe my friend will just happen to conveniently drop by the house and I’ll just happen to remember that I have her stuff and hand it over.  And in the meantime, what is lovelier than the sight of colorful plastic bags littering the entryway?  

2.      Hang on to lotion bottles (and shampoo, hairspray, detangler, cleaning supplies, deodorant, etc.) that have a little bit left in the bottom that you can’t quite get out. 
I do this because I don’t want to be wasteful, but it’s ridiculous.  Instead of spending the extra 10 seconds on unscrewing the pump tube lid to smack some lotion in my hand, I buy a full one and jam our bathroom shelves with almost-empty bottles. 

3.      Keep every single piece of artwork or coloring that your prolific children/artists create.
When I say prolific, man do I mean it.  I am currently sorting piles that go back years.  I am afraid to get rid of things because each one is special to the artist and most of them are special to me, too.  

But you know what happens when too many creations are deemed special?  None of them get treated as such.  So, I’m working towards sorting and choosing our favorites, and then storing some of them so they are easily found and reviewed.  Others will be displayed around the house, properly framed and treated as special.   

4.      Store clothes in 5 different locations in your house.
Am I the only one that does this?  Somehow we’ve ended up with a makeshift closet in the basement by the washer and dryer, which consists of a pvc pipe for hanging clothes and 2 laundry baskets for folded clothes.  And then we have our real closets upstairs which end up with fewer clothes in them than the fakey closet.  And then there’s the dressers and the tubs of off-season clothes stored in the bedroom.  And finally, there are the piles of sort-of-clean-but-sort-of-dirty clothes in the bathroom. 

The result?  I never really know what I have, and it looks like I have far less than I actually do. 

5.      Sort the kids’ toys and put the extras in the basement. 
I was inspired by Simplicity Parenting to reduce the number of toys my kids have access to by 50%.  And it really has made a difference.  With far fewer options, they play much longer with a toy and engage with it much more.  The days of grabbing and dumping without playing are over. 

The trouble is, the extra toys never quite made it out of the house.  I put them in the basement, with the idea that I would be one of those super organized parents who rotates toys upstairs and down, so the kids get the benefit of many toys without the overcrowded, stressful environment.  But, lo and behold, the kids go in the basement, and find the extra toys, and grab and dump, and occasionally drag something upstairs.  And the cycle begins again.  I am not one of those super organized rotating toy parents, so it’s time for the toys to be evicted. 

6.      Keep every single piece of important mail in a “to file” pile. 
I have “to file” piles that were shoved in folders and transferred to our new house when we moved.  Two years ago.  My kitchen command center reveals that my filing skills haven’t gotten much better. 

7.      Once you’ve sorted your stuff and selected what’s going in the giveaway pile (congratulations!!), put the bags and boxes in the basement, the back of your van, or the garage.  Trust that they will miraculously transport themselves where they need to go.

It can be hard to actually, finally, get RID of the stuff.  Our attachments to things, our hopes of making a buck off of them, our fears about not having enough in the future…all of those feelings and more keep us bound to things.  I’ve heard (and experienced a little) that it can be immensely freeing to get rid of bunches of excess.

I’m learning that it takes a lot of work and intentionality to create and MAINTAIN a simple environment.  If I do nothing, the stuff just pours in the door and accumulates everywhere.  If I want my environment, mind, and spirit to be free of stuff, then my hands have to do some constant work.

I have a few specific goals for my “Summer of Simplicity” that I’ll share in some upcoming posts.  Feel free to stay tuned and join with me!  What are some of your best strategies for NOT living a simple life?