seven years

I started this in honor of the twins’ 7th birthday. Now that they are 8, it seems like a good a time as any to publish it! I will be going through my drafts folder, so stay tuned for more really dated material.

Seven years…

…and what I have learned.

I am not smart enough for this job.

The kids are getting smarter. They are asking tough questions. “Where did my chocolate Easter Bunny go, mom?”

Darn it, kids, I know the answer to that question but I certainly don’t want to answer to you people. “Oh, look, a squirrel!” This tactic does work surprisingly well even considering that we are overrun with squirrels.

But I fear that diversions like this will only last so long.

The kids get smarter.

I hate left hand turns. The other day I made a “squeaker” of a left on our way to school. It was close (by my standards) and I was surprised that the car behind me followed me through the turn. The oncoming traffic was also surprised and honked.

“Mom!” said two horrified seven year olds from the back seat. “You just got honked at!” In five years, I expect to hear that same abject horror when they see me leave for the grocery store without make up on.

“Guys, they weren’t honking at me. It was the car behind me!” I told them. They twist around in their seats.

“OH! It’s (insert friend’s name)’s mom!”

This is a welcome diversion. It feels like a lot of parenting is about distraction. That feels dishonest sometimes. But also sometimes totally necessary.

One of the twins sometimes gets stuck in moments. The moments spin wildly through her mind relentlessly. I do the same thing, so I know what it is. Reasoning and logic don’t work. “Hey, do you remember when we were at Disney World and we went on Splash Mountain?” “Hey, remember having a picnic at the park?”

Crisis averted.

I pray for wisdom. Lots, and lots, of wisdom. Back that wisdom truck up over here. I’ll take it all.

We are direct on lots of things: Santa, the tooth fairy. I’m surprised by our directness. The girls ponder the revelations. Carrie decides that while she knows the truth, she would prefer to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy any way. That’s ok with me.

Carrie also learned about air quotes. She occasionally says “Santa” with air quotes. And then she winks. And then she says, “you know what I mean?” I explain to her that only the air quotes are needed; the meaning is understood. We are working on subtlety. That will be an ongoing effort for her.

The wisdom I lack would come in handy for the questions that have complicated and nuanced answers. The questions asking for detailed descriptions of places I haven’t been – heaven, for starters. Wisdom would also be great for helping the girls understand subtle, unwritten social guidelines and how to navigate these unwritten guidelines. Like, for example, how to deal with the heartache of not being invited to a birthday party for a (presumed) dear friend that everyone in class is talking about.

“You know what,” I say in response to that heartbreaker situation. “You’ll always be invited to my birthday party, sweet girl.” She nods. It’s not enough, but at the same time, it’s enough.

(Written in 2018 as the kids turned seven… posted much later.)

‘life is what happens to you…

while you are busy making other plans.’ ~ john lennon

We had been planning to take the girls to Disney this February for a while. It’s one of the few times of the year that Frank is guaranteed to get vacation time and it’s actually a great time to go to Disney – low crowd volume and comfortable temperatures. A win/win in our books.

We booked our flights, we booked our Disney vacation and started counting down the days to a magical experience.

Oh, and was it an experience.

In the days leading up to our departure, the weather in Illinois took a nose dive of epic proportions. School was canceled three days in one week – one day for snow and two days for extreme cold. We started wondering if our flight would depart. Visions of standing in the airport wearing Mickey Ears and telling the kids “bummer, man” broke our hearts. So we did what any rational pair of parents would do: we cleaned out the minivan, tanked up, packed for a road trip and got the heck out of Chicago. As we drove expeditiously down I-65 through Indy, the Polar Vortex swooped in behind us. While Chicago endured painfully cold temperatures in the -30 range (-50 wind chill), we soaked up a balmy +22 at a lunch break in Nashville. We laughed maniacally as we passed signs warning Tennessee drivers of the dangers of their cold snap, cautioning them to stay off the roads. HaHa! Silly Tennesseans – +22 degrees Fahrenheit is a sign of an early spring in Chicago!

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We made it to Atlanta!

By the time we rolled into Atlanta, the temperatures were in the 50s and the girls shed their winter coats. We snapped a picture in front of a favorite pizza place in East Atlanta. The Georgian lady who took the picture was bundled up from head to toe. She seemed ready to admonish us for our parenting skills when she saw our girls running around without jackets, but when we told her we were from Chicago, she nodded understandingly and took the picture without further comment.

As Chicago continued to battle extreme cold into a second day, our salt-crusted minivan rolled onward into Orlando. We could easily spot the out-of-towners by the sheen of gray that coated the bottom two thirds of the minivans that we passed.  Shiny cars with Georgia and Florida plates besmirched by the unwashed crossovers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio… like refugees from the badlands of a Mad Max movie, we cruised down to the promised paradise of fast passes and meal plans, giving a knowing nod to each other at 75 mph.

Stands of palm trees greeted us at the Florida border and the girls could barely contain their joy at the warm sunshine that awaited us at our Cracker Barrel lunch stop. Frank suggested washing the car, but we decided against it. The salty coating became a banner of triumph – our vacation would not be ruined!

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“It’s a small world after all!” Turns out, it’s also a small minivan, too.

We arrived in Orlando at the Fort Wilderness Cabins with plenty of time to explore and marvel at all things Disney. It was barely 65 degrees and the sun was setting when we set off to check out the pool at the cabins. To our surprise, we found three swimmers and a chilly mom enjoying the water. Northerners, of course!

Our vacation was lovely. We spent our first night at Fort Wilderness Cabins and the rest of our stay at the Polynesian. The food was delicious, the theme parks comfortably attended and easy wait times for all of the rides. Memories were made, no doubt about it.

And then came the ride home.

We knew that we had to minimize how much school the kidlets missed.  The polar vortex threw a wrench in our absentee planning.  The day before, we simply said “we’ll get up early, go as far as we can, and when we get tired, we’ll pull over and get a hotel.”  And that’s what we did.  We got up at 4:45 central, wondering if we could do the Orlando to Chicago drive in one day. We eyed the girls, checked our supply of snacks and figured we would drive in the direction of Chicago and see what happened.

Well.

Not 30 minutes outside of Orlando, Ellie started puking. And running a fever. We stocked up on garbage bags and weighed our options: we could stop and Ellie could puke in a hotel room while the four of us watched or we could keep driving. Ellie wasn’t complaining, just puking, so we pushed onward. She puked through Florida and she puked through Georgia and she puked through Tennessee. We stopped at a Panera outside of Atlanta for lunch, and Ellie and I sat in the car working out the most optimal positions for the garbage bags.

Somewhere around Kentucky, Ellie started to feel a little bit better. She looked pale and felt feverish, but she got really excited about eating at Cracker Barrel for dinner. She cautiously ate some food and seemed slightly improved. Onward through Kentucky!

We stopped when we got to Indiana and changed the kids into pajamas. We enjoyed a rousing game of 20 questions and Annie and Carrie enjoyed some cookies they had been eying since Chattanooga.

Then, just south of Indy at 9:00 central, the kids are in their jammies, starting to fade into the dreams of children that have just been to Disney World:

“Mom, I don’t feel good.”

I turned slowly in my seat and was surprised to hear this statement coming from Annie. NO! Poop. (Not the actual word we thought loudly in our heads…)

With the speed and precision that only a mom who has been dealing with barf all day can achieve, I pulled out a black garbage bag for Annie and set her up with it. The opening of the bag had a three foot diameter, an easy target to hit at close range for a four year old.

“Just everyone go to sleep!” Frank pleaded while driving.

If we could just get home… 3 more hours…

A few minutes later Annie started puking, but her accuracy was lacking. Instead of puking straight forward, or even a little bit to the left or right, she turned her head a full 90 degrees to the side. When we pulled over at the gas station to assess the damage, we realized that Carrie had taken a significant puke hit – but had somehow slept through the initial barrage.

Waking Carrie up to tell her she had puke on her was both a parental nightmare – but also a strange sort of highlight as well. “Carrie, baby, don’t move, sweetie. Wake up, but don’t move, ok baby doll?” The look on Carrie’s face was a combination of stunned concern and contained anger as she grappled with the new information we were trying to share with her.

Bewildered horror flashed across her face as she assessed the damage. She raised her hand up and in a high screeching voice said, “It’s on … my…. thumb!”

Oh, honey pie – it’s not just your thumb, I thought – trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

At a gas station, in rural Indiana (is there any other kind of Indiana?) in driving, cold, 33 degree rain, I purchased a tub of Clorox wipes, paper towels and more garbage bags from a 20-something gas station attendant.

“You know what this is all for?” I asked him. He shook his head. “Puke. My kids puked.” His eyebrows shot skyward. If that isn’t good birth control, I don’t know what is. You’re welcome, young people of Indiana.  Gaze upon your future and weep.

I went outside to find Carrie next to the minivan, standing as still as a statue with a semi-permanent look of horror on her face. Over the next 20 minutes, we cleaned up Carrie, Annie and the minivan. We checked the weather in Chicago and found that all of the early predictions for an ice storm (because, of course) were actually coming to fruition.

I’ll spare you the details of the discussion that occurred between Frank and I as we weighed our options, but we eventually came to an agreement that five of us in a hotel room with two puking children was far worse than doing our best to make it home to Chicago. So onward we went.

By the time we made it to Chicago, the worst of the ice storm had passed and the roads were cleared and salted. We rolled into our garage at 1 a.m. with 14 miles left on the gas tank on the minivan.  If a hubcap had rolled off our car as we pulled into the driveway, we would not have been surprised.

The lessons from this trip are many. One, we are so grateful that none of this vomiting occurred while we were at Disney. It was awful driving home, but at least we didn’t miss out on the actual Disney experience. Two, we can do hard things. Three, we can laugh at just about anything. Four, always fly (preferably Southwest, now with service to Hawaii!).

For those wondering, our flights in both directions took off on time, despite nasty weather

carrie and the summer

Carrie’s skin bronzes in the summer sun. Her hair turns lighter with bright highlights. She is a child of the summer, no doubt about it. Meanwhile, her sisters with their red locks and ivory skin crisp in the sun with anything less than SPF 1,000.

Carrie is a tree climber and a pool jumper and a zip-liner. She sinks her feet into the muddy sand at grandma’s and pulls out worms and rocks and other treasures with glee. She catches small perch in a net and joyfully hoists them into the air.

“Mom! LOOK!”

In so many ways, Carrie is her dad’s daughter. She doesn’t know yet how to enter a room with anything less than full volume. It’s how she was born, truly:

“HELLO FRIENDS! I AM HERE! I AM ALIVE!”

She wants to help cook and help clean. Her big personality is surprisingly humble in many ways. She is fascinating to watch. She is rarely in a bad mood for long, bopping along to her own rhythm.  She has never met a person that was not meant to be a friend.

I look at her in wonder, often. Who is she becoming?

“Mom, when I grow up, I want to live in a house on our street, near you.”

I love that she wants that now, but I would be lying to myself if I believed that would be the outcome. She is a child who could strike out on her own, destined for big things. But man, I would be delighted to have her close by. A mom can dream, can’t she?

Carrie wants to be a “fashion styler” when she grows up. Her fashion choices are fascinating to watch – truly a matter of mood and expression for Carrie. A bright multi-colored tennis skirt and a red Parisian graphic top with blue Alaska-themed socks – she is the only girl I know that can merge the sophistication of the Champs-Elysees and the wonder of the glacial carved mountains of Sitka Alaska.

“Mom. Mom. Mom! Mom.” “Yes, yes, yes, YES!” “Hey. I forgot.”

She takes things in, observes, processes. She’s smart, but she’d rather be funny.

She has my feet, she has her dad’s eyes. She loves to draw her characters with curlicue hair that flows out to impossible lengths.  She’s our resident lefty.

And in the summer, she is in her glory. Bright, bold, a sunbeam dancing into the kitchen, ready for the day ahead.

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ellie in the sun

Ellie is squinting in the sun.

Wild honey-red curls, pulling straighter under the weight of her ever-growing locks. Freckles gather on the bridge of her nose. Her blue eyes are framed by pale red lashes. The red hair isn’t going anywhere, for now.

Her perfectly arched eyebrows remind me of younger pictures of my mom. I examine Ellie as she speaks, looking for my own mother somewhere in the rise of Ellie’s eyebrows, the perfect span of her nose or the sparkle in her eyes.

Ellie holds her self upright, wound-up in a way, observing and considering. Today, the object of her evaluation is a playground with an intentionally-rickety bridge and several sets of monkey bars and slides of all kinds. When she thinks no one is watching, she moves like a cat. She is faster than she lets on. Almost rhythmic in her movement. When she senses someone is watching (me) her movements become more childlike, her speech a little more baby.

She is not ready to grow up today.

Relief.

Ellie is squinting in the sun.

She is watching me as much as I am watching her. We are mirrors, reflecting each other’s imperfect attempts at perfection. No matter how I’ve tried to subdue my own anxiety or self-doubt or fear, she found it in her DNA, woven in with my mother’s eyebrows and my freckles and a distant ancestor’s red hair. She examines the doubt, the fear – the whole package – like a crystal in the sunlight, turning and turning and turning. Sometimes she turns the crystal over so frequently in her mind that I am the only one who can help her put the crystal down.

Ellie is squinting in the sun.

She says things sometimes that sound like me and then she looks at me, watching for my reaction.

Is this OK, Mom?

Yes.

Ellie is squinting in the sun. She stops between monkey bars and slides to tell me everything she learned about honeybees as she watches a honeybee in nearby a patch of clover. Nonfiction, she explains. The word is big and bulky in her mouth, but said slowly and emphatically nonetheless.

And she is off. She climbs a ladder, turns and pauses for a breath before flying across another set of monkey bars, her long limbs swinging.

She laughs and it is bells ringing across the meadow of the school yard.

Ellie is squinting in the sun, forever in my mind.

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anything plain can be lovely

When the Barenaked Ladies (BNL) took the stage at the Genesee theater in Waukegan this week, tears inexplicably rolled down my cheeks in spite of the big smile I was wearing.

My on-going co-habitation of conflicting emotions has baffled Frank for years.

Watching X-Files with no lights on… dans la maison… 

The single One Week went big in 1998, the year I graduated from high school. The song piqued my interest with it’s quirky, fun, often non-sensical lyrics. It became a staple on local radio stations throughout that summer. I had two jobs that summer, one at a Hallmark store and one at an insurance company. I was living life in between childhood and adulthood with only a very vague sense of where I was headed. It was free and exhilarating – although maybe also scary, but hindsight changes things. The song fit my mood that summer: fast and light, maybe bordering on frantic.

The foam on the creek was like pop and ice cream…

In college, songs like Light Up My Room transported me away to a colorful world filled with imagery that illustrated my own juxtaposed emotions. College was a lot of struggling and joy and frustration and hope all hanging out together. As Ed Robertson admitted last night, most of his songs only use three chords. These simple songs with quirky lyrics and imagery were a perfect escape and salve for the emotional bumps and bruises from growing up in college.

What if I lost my direction…

Life after college became predictably busy. We dated, we were engaged, we married. We worked and worked and had some kids. Throughout all of it, I perk up when I hear a BNL song on the radio or on a long-forgotten playlist. The BNL Christmas album, in particular God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, has become one of my all-time favorite Christmas albums/Pandora stations at the holidays. BNL’s songs have been artfully woven throughout a tender period of my life where I was jettisoning my childhood and growing up. The music remains with me even as I find myself in a similarly transitional period of life, although with less tumult than high school, college and my early 20’s. It occurs to me that I am becoming the person my children will remember. These years may only represent their early, somewhat foggy memories, but their impressions of this time will endure.

This is where we used to live…

I wish I could take the girls back to our younger selves to show them, to make them understand how fast time moves and how quickly life changes. I could impress upon them the things I think I’ve learned. And yet again, I don’t wish that at all. Let them find out on their own wonder-filled adventure with their own soundtrack. There is more magic in that, I think.

 

 

adulting

Adulting often means doing mundane, responsible, grown-up things instead of the thing you probably really want to do.

For example, I don’t really love making dinner a lot of nights.  Truth be told, I would probably make the kids scrambled eggs and toast or, gasp, cereal most nights if I didn’t have a voice in the back of my mind saying, “EMILY! Be a grown up; feed your children!”

Since I have yet to find a way to kill that voice, more nights than not, I will make my children a respectable meal with vegetables and a fruit and a protein and a grain… and they will hate it. They will look at me as though they are about to vomit in their mouths and, once they muster up the strength, they will say, with lower lip trembling and with wide eyes, “is this … ::gulp:: … dinner?”

Instead of saying, “OF COURSE THIS IS FLIPPING DINNER! WHAT ELSE COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE? IT IS DINNER TIME. FOOD IS ON THE TABLE. SWEET HEAVENS TO BETSY PEOPLE! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!” – I pull myself together and I advise them that their response is inappropriate and that this is dinner and they will try everything and sit in their seats.

And I will probably tell them another twenty times to sit in their seat. And one of my children, who I will not name here (Carrie) will likely take three meager bites and then run to the garbage to spit it out.

See why cereal would be so much easier?

But instead of cereal, most nights, I adult: I make a meal.

A lot of days adulting is fine. Sometimes even fun. Or good.

Even though I am in my mid-thirties, I am often still pleased with myself when I am adulting. I give myself an internal high five when I take the garbage to the curb early, thereby avoiding the morning race down the driveway in my pajamas with the always helpful garbage truck operators waiting to see if I fall this time.

I say “atta girl” to myself when I manage to get the kids to school, on time, with all the things they are supposed to have.

I stand proudly in the laundry room when both the washer and the dryer are empty, the clean clothes folded and put away. (This is an exceptionally brief moment)

And this one time, I had my minivan professionally cleaned out and nearly wept at the adultishness of it all.

But there are many days of adulting, especially with little people in the house, where I reach the end of my adulting capabilities. I am done adulting. Someone else needs to show up and adult. Que: husband.

Then there are other adulting times…

Like when Frank and I sat the girls down to tell them that their grandfather passed away last July.

It was such a vivid moment. Frank came home from the hospice, we walked upstairs with the twins and sat together on the floor of their bedroom. Frank started to tell them and I watched as all the things they thought they knew about life shifted. They knew sometimes that people died, but they never knew anyone that they loved who died. All of the feelings flickered across their face in rapid succession: shock, sadness, anger…

We helped them navigate their grief and questions as best we could.

Even months later, questions still arise. “How do we get to heaven? Is there a map? Will someone take me? What if I get lost?”

Truly, it reminds me of the hardest part of adulting. Harder than cooking a hated dinner. Harder than herding my children in the morning.

The hardest part of adulting is helping your children grow up to be adults.

Last summer, the girls shrugged off their preschool ways. They abandoned their smallish light up princess backpacks that contained finger-painted artwork for larger backpacks that carry lunch boxes and library books. They reached up on their tippy-toes in August and grasped the first rungs of the monkey bars on play equipment that had previously been too tall and too scary for them. They skipped through the double doors when the bell rang as though they had been doing it their entire lives.

And that’s the goal, right? To give your children the time to be children and the space and tools to grow up. But that needed space keeps growing. First it was sleeping in their cribs and now it’s a full day of school.

If I’m adulting correctly, then eventually these kids will strike out on their own. I am sure it will be terrifying and marvelous at the same time, as these moments often are.

The good news is, they will come back to visit (and do laundry and raid the pantry and bum our wi-fi). And hopefully when they come back they will pull up a chair to the dinner table and say, “Oh this! This is my favorite dinner! Thanks mom.”

Hey, a girl can dream.

 

has anyone seen emily?

Well hello, 2016.

My lack of blogging begs the age-old question: if a mommy-blogger type doesn’t blog, does that mean nothing happened?

Possibly.

But with three small-ish children, that’s unlikely.

What I want to tell you is that I spent 2016 becoming a student of life. I want to say to my three readers, one of whom is my mom, “Guys, I didn’t blog because I was soaking in all the things that make life rich and full and meaningful.”

And while I do feel like there was a lot of soaking and learning and experiencing this year, the truth is, I just had a terrible case of over-sharer’s writers block.

See, I told all of this stuff about my marriage and my life in late 2015 that I kind of felt like if I was going to write something down, it better be something my kids are going to be shocked and appalled by.

“Uh, mom, you wrote about your marriage issues on a public blog? Sweet heavens-to-Betsy, have you no sense of dignity?”

Although, I doubt my kids think I have much dignity left to lose, especially considering my horrific dance moves and equally traumatic vocal stylings that are regularly on display.

Dignity aside…

This year I read some books. One of the books I read was Love Warrior by Glennon Melton and one was Present Over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist. What I learned was this, in summary: Do what you love and breathe deep, full, belly breaths. I’m still working on applying these lessons to my daily life… I’m terrible at breathing.

So anyway. Here are some things from 2016 about our little family:

Frank. Frank is a major source of joy. Also, hilarious stories. But mostly joy.  This summer, while we were speeding home from church with the windows down because Annie was vomiting in her car seat and the twins were gagging at the horror-show, I thought, “God, I love Frank. Thank you for Frank.”

Frank is awesome at noticing moments, defining seasons and enjoying them. He also knows when to pull up stakes, pack stuff up and get out of town. We did a little bit of both this year. We soaked up family time at Disney World in February, but in June we hauled tooshie to get home from a nearly disastrous excursion to Dallas where 66.7% of our children vomited at some point in the trip. One of our children scream-vomited into a sick sack in the galley of an airplane on the way home from Dallas. I wasn’t going to name names, but it was Carrigan.

We spent a lot of time on the porch, drinking wine and talking this summer.  We also purchased our first season tickets for Great America. And Frank taught me how to drive a pontoon boat. Just doing life stuff.

The Kids. First of all, they have become more fun with each passing year. And more emotionally complicated. The twins can read! And write (ish)! And count! And spell! And ask really challenging questions about life and death and “if God is Jesus’s daddy, then who is God’s daddy?”

We wrapped up preschool for the twins in May and then with no warning whatsoever (aside from all of the letters from the school district, paperwork, school supplies, new shoes, etc), the twins started Kindergarten in August. I cried like an idiot. See – there was this moment in the NICU when I was first meeting Elliana and I looked down at her and despite being quite premature, she opened her blue eyes and looked up at me and I was just hooked.  And there was another moment, in the same NICU where I met Carrigan and she gripped Frank’s finger so tightly and we knew she was our ferocious little warrior. And I swear, those moments happened like ten minutes ago.

And then Annie.  Good grief.  That kid is talking… and talking and talking and talking. Who knows where she got that from? She grabs my face in her tiny, sticky hands and says “Mama, I love you. You’re beau-i-ful. I love your necklace. Did your mama get that for you?” I was worried about how she would do in her two year old preschool Christmas concert, but she strut right up to the stage, took her spot and waved at us before belting out an enthusiastic “Happy Birthday Jesus” with her classmates.

There were so many good moments in 2016. So much sweetness and love and kindness and joy.  And there was some sadness and frustration; it was a year like many years.

 

 

So that’s it. For now.

I’m baaaack!