part one: drowning

Why?

As Frank and I were emerging from the fog of a hard season of our marriage, we both said that we never wanted to be so far from each other again. Frank asked me to write down our experience so that we could remember and learn and remind ourselves as needed. We also felt that perhaps sharing our struggles as openly and honestly as possible would help other couples in a dark season find their way back to each other.

This was not an easy thing to write. It took several months, many drafts, many starts and stops and starts. We had many conversations and a few texts about the topic. I wrote this in three parts because I think it’s important to share specifics about what we went through. Just saying, “It was hard!” seems too broad and too open to interpretation. “Hard” is a subjective word and for some “hard” may mean “a few times last week my spouse was annoying” and for others it may mean that their spouse had an affair.

The nature of our difficult season didn’t involve an affair or any other obvious transgressions; our hard season was more about two people living separately together.

So… here you go. Part one of our three part story:

We found ourselves in a therapist’s office two summers ago. Frank sat next to me, preparing to run through the highlights of “our issues.” I felt myself bracing for impact.

And how did we even get here?

When we really examined our marriage, sitting in the therapist’s office and in conversations at home, we realized that the situation we were in began months and maybe years before. As we swam through the murky feelings of loneliness and hurt and sadness, the image that stayed with me was that we were silently and slowly drowning.

This image of drowning is powerful for me: I witnessed a cousin nearly drown when I was in grade school. The transition from “fine” to “drowning” was so subtle that it was nearly impossible to realize what was going on. My cousin had been jumping into the pool and climbing out and jumping in again – and then one of his jumps was a little too far out and too far over. Just a few inches and he was doing the silent, terrifying bob. Mouth open, no screaming – only gasping, under water, above water, gasping, grasping.

I saw it happening and I was too young to really understand the seriousness of the situation. My mother, from across the pool, saw what was happening to my cousin and knew he was in terrible trouble. My mom is a woman who is more closely associated with fun and celebration and joy and laughter. But in those moments of terror, she was fierce. She took two, maybe three, efficient steps across the pool deck before executing a perfect, on-point shallow dive. When she came up for air, she had my cousin in her arms.

Those moments of witnessing him drowning and my mom swiftly recovering him were moments that passed slowly and without sound in my memory. And the moment he was lifted out of the water: the sound returned and time recovered. He screamed and then cried.  He sat on the pool deck, wrapped in a towel, understandably upset.

When our marriage was struggling, the descent into drowning was imperceptible. It was as small as a moment where one of us did what we would often do: forget to get dry cleaning, forget to fill the car with gas, forget to put away a gallon of milk before bed, and so on. In those small moments, when our marriage was healthy and strong, we would brush these minor annoyances away. But as we started to drown, these small moments were etched onto an ever-expanding scorecard.

And this score-keeping mentality began to define a deeper, more troubling mindset: my spouse is an asset or a liability. My spouse is good or bad.  My spouse is wrong or right. Judgement, accusation, resentment.

This mind-set transitioned into a game in subtle/not subtle maneuvering. If he got a “guys night” then I needed a “girls night.” If he wanted a back scratch, I needed a neck rub. Silly, trivial maneuvering that led us further from each other.

Sometimes we would have loud angry, arguments. But often, and maybe even worse, we didn’t argue at all.

So the thing about drowning is that people who are drowning don’t look the way you would expect a drowning person to look. They aren’t screaming or splashing or making a scene. They are trying to survive. Up and breathe. Down and panic. Up and breathe. Down and panic. Grab. Grasp. Gasp.

Drowning couples go to church. Drowning couples go on dates. Drowning couples go through the motions because maybe, at some point, they will grab onto a moment of normalcy that will become a life raft.

At some point, we forgot why we were arguing. We couldn’t figure out why “he/she just won’t (fill in the blank).” It felt like whatever it was I needed at a specific moment of time was the least Frank could do considering the spoiled milk/empty gas tank/etc. The truth of the situation was this: nothing either of us could DO would ever be enough. No action to fill our self-created voids would EVER BE ENOUGH. There would always be something else and something else.

I honestly think the path we were on was the path that frequently ends up in divorce, domestic violence and cheating aside. I think that we all know someone who has a particularly harrowing/horrifying divorce story, but so many marriages seem to end in a gasp and a defiant sigh. “Fine. Whatever. It’s over.”

The sad thing is, 18 months ago, I figured that the way we were living was the way it was just going to be, especially in our season of life.

Except…

On one of our dates, we had fun. This was a surprise – we both had expected to simply go through the motions: go on a date and have a meal. Check the box.

We stayed local, in a town we lived in but hadn’t really explored. We discovered new stores. We enjoyed a new restaurant. Almost inexplicably, our guard came down; we laughed.

We laughed the way we laughed when we were first dating. We talked and listened the way we used to when we were first married.

For an evening, the fog lifted – loneliness and hurt and sadness slipped away. The scorecards fluttered to the ground. Our separate agendas were forgotten.

I wish I could say we grabbed that life raft of a moment that God threw our way and held on. Unfortunately, we had a lot of work to do and that thick fog rolled back in at the end of the evening.

But Frank, my brilliant, brave husband – he didn’t forget that moment. That moment of closeness reminded him that we didn’t have to drown; we just needed help finding something to grab onto.

And so…

On a thick and hot July evening, we sat stiffly next to each other on the too-plump couch in our therapist’s office.

Frank drew in a breath and began, “We need help.”

And the rescue began.

Next week part two: the rescue.

gifts of service

I was a little bit nervous to take a spiritual gifts test last week.

For the uninitiated, a spiritual gifts test is basically an inventory of what you like to do, what comes naturally to you and how you interact with others. The end results are words that describe a unique set of gifts that help describe the kind of work you enjoy and the activities and interactions that energize you.

I’ve taken the test before and was disappointed to see administration rising to the top. For an inventory of gifts that were supposed to energize me, I felt disheartened at the results.

I suppose that I had really hoped that I would take this test and find out that I was someone else. It sounds crazy to write that sentence, but it’s true.

And truly, I spent so much of my life hoping that I was someone else, wishing that I would find a hidden talent or a secret skill. This pursuit of being someone else was ultimately a frustrating and exhausting endeavor. Even still, when I look back at those years I see some of the same themes bubbling to the top.

I really wanted to be a leader.  Leading sounded like fun – who didn’t want to be at the front of the line or the head of the class? There are some people who are born-leaders. They don’t care where they are marching, they just want to be in charge. That was not true with me – there were times when I was really uninterested in leading, but felt that not wanting to lead was a sign of weakness.

When I learned about servant leadership, I was so excited and relieved! I didn’t want to lead just to be a leader. I loved the idea of helping people along by taking a leadership role.  The idea of servant leadership gave me permission to be myself while also giving me the authority to do my work.

Looking back on my life and career, I notice similar themes emerging. I thrived under directors and bosses who embraced the idea that the goal was greater than getting credit. I loved working with people who embraced a culture that good ideas and great work sometimes came from unexpected and unorthodox places. One of the agencies I worked at adopted the phrases “One Team, One Dream” and “Winning Ugly Together” to focus and motivate employees. Sure, they were cheesy, but it put words around the spirit of working together for a common goal and gave permission to the idea that often the process is messy. I loved it.

Basically, the concept of servant leadership and the cultural attitudes of the teams I worked on encouraged and empowered me to look at a given situation and step in where there were holes. To address specific needs of an organization or group, I became good at things that others were not as interested in.

It was hard for me, though, because the gifts and words we seem to value as a society and even as a church, are leading and celebrity and influencing. The problem was, if I didn’t see a need, I wouldn’t lead simply to be a leader or strive for popularity for popularity’s sake.

I knew that I liked to help. I knew I loved to work.

And so, with all of that history behind me, I took a spiritual gifts test – half wincing – because if history was any predictor, gifts like leadership and teaching would not be in my top five.

Y’all: Those things are STILL NOT in my top five.

And that is OK.

My top five? Serving was number one. Like, big time, number one. Followed by mercy, faith, giving and pastoring.

I looked at the test results for a while. I mulled it all around in my head and heart, investigating what serving really meant.

And instead of being annoyed, I was relieved. And excited.

Serving has often been limited to serving food and giving people things. But the heart of serving is an attitude: What do you need? How can I help?

I think that the reason administration and hospitality were high on my previous tests were probably that those were the areas that I was stepping into most often due to gaps in the workplace and at church.  I really hate filing and calendaring and organizing, but someone had to do it. I filled the need.

People who serve stand in very important gaps in the workplace and in ministry – they fill these gaps in order to accomplish a goal and meet a need.  These “need-fillers” keep projects and work moving forward in important ways.

There are so many other need-fillers out there; these are people who have stepped up to keep all of us moving forward and onward. I find need-fillers to be curious, interesting people who don’t master one particular skill as much as they embrace learning about a lot of skills. Need-fillers will help move, help clean, help teach, help lead – not out of a love of any of those things – but out of a love for people and the end game.

But it’s hard being a need-filler, especially if you haven’t figured out how to name your gift. It’s hard to know when a season of helping with a specific need is over.  It’s hard sometimes when finishing up your season of work means saying “good-bye” to people you love. It can be hard understanding your value and role in an organization when don’t have the words to express who you are at your core.

To my need-filler friends, hopefully these are some words that will help describe your heart: you thrive in the space where help is needed and provide that help out of the joy of your heart. You fill the voids left by people who couldn’t lead or wouldn’t lead and keep organizations and groups not just on life support, but thriving. You see the space between a dream and a reality and help build a bridge between them. You spot the missing people like missing puzzle pieces and help work them back into their rightful spaces.

At the heart of a need-filler is a spirit and attitude of service. That spirit of service is a gift – not just to those benefitting from it, but to the bearer as well.

Want to know what your spiritual gifts are? Click here.

annie is one.

I started this post over a month ago:

Annie, my sweet baby, is one and on the verge of walking and talking and expressing herself.

It turns out, her past year of docile compliance was just a cover: she has been taking notes, identifying weaknesses and formulating a strategy.

As of this week, she has decided she will NOT stand for being locked up in a baby-safe containment area (or, crate, as I call it) while I work out and shower. Once she is free of the bonds of the minimum security baby containment facility, she immediately bolts for any doors she can find.  Cabinet doors and drawers that are unlocked are unceremoniously opened and slammed shut with deep, unmitigated baby satisfaction.

Annie did run into a minor hiccup with opening standard doors: once the door swings open away from her, she found herself standing unassisted. The first few times, she plunged forward after the swinging door in sheer terror. Now that she figured the tricky doors out, she smirks as she maintains her footing and the door crashes open.

A fan of her sisters, Annie is completely delighted by any attention they pay to her.  Ellie is much more amenable to Annie’s hair pulling and grabbing, while Carrie gets annoyed by these shenanigans rather quickly. Despite Annie’s interest in slapping her sisters silly, the twins adore making Annie laugh and giggle.

Annie says a few words that sound like “Hi!” and “Daddy!” and “MAMAMAMAMA” and so on.  I’m terrible at understanding baby talk. I’m lucky if I understand half of what the twins are hollering at me from the third row of the minivan.  All that to say: Annie may be reciting soliloquies from Shakespeare and I have absolutely no idea.

And now, almost a month later:

Annie is walking! It is unsteady, precarious walking, but it is walking! I am both relieved (my child can walk!) and terrified (my child can walk!). I recall, all too clearly, the poop-storm that ensued with twin toddlers and while Annie is only one child, she is one of three very active girls.

No matter.  We survived the twinpocalypse, I am sure we can make it through one more unstable toddling little one.

In short, Annie is one and is walking without fear, speaking without annunciation and drinking without a bottle.

And so… I think I better hit publish on this post before it’s 2027 and Annie has discovered the Internet (or whatever it will be called then) and realizes that I still haven’t published her first birthday summary!

Congratulations Annie!  YOU ARE ONE! (Or 13…)

We love you!

Kerous-29

three things: a summer frame of mind

Summertime and the living is…

well.

Complicated.

If you are a small child, the living is VERY easy. Popsicles, bike rides and splashing in the pool… repeat!

If you are the cruise director in charge with coordinating all of the activities and events that, when strung together in your children’s minds, will create the perfect symphony of childhood memories, then summer is your PRIME TIME.

I have good news for you: I do NOT have a magical list of amazing bucket-list-type activities that YOU MUST ACCOMPLISH by Labor Day or else. I also do not have a list of the top ways you are making your children hate you and hate summer and fail at life.

What I have is a very brief list of ways that I have adjusted my mindset and attitude so that I can actually enjoy summer and be more present for whatever shenanigans we find ourselves doing.

In no particular order:

Thing 1: Mess is Best 

I immensely dislike living in a disorderly environment.  It makes my soul itchy.  Quick fix for this? Accept defeat early on and try to never be inside my home.  If I can’t see the mess, it’s not happening.

If for some reason, you can’t put the blinders on to what is happening in your home, then do the dishes every night and wipe down the counters.  At least you can enjoy your morning coffee and Cheerios in peace. The rest is for the birds.

Speaking of which, the birds are outside and they do NOT care if your laundry is folded. So go. I promise the mess will be there when it gets cold outside.

Thing 2: Yes, AND…

In the category of “Everything I learned, I learned from Tina Fey,” I have to give credit to this mindset change to the wise Ms. Fey. Not only is she brilliantly funny, but her improv chapter of “Bossypants” is saving my summer – and maybe even the rest of the seasons. Essentially, the way improvisation works is if a character proposes something like “I am a moose” and the second character says, “Yes, and I am a moose rancher” or something. The idea is that improv only works if each of the characters in the sketch are building off of the other’s story in a positive and meaningful way. In short, improv is life and summer is the perfect season for living.

Example: This week we had a day that contained exactly two hours and twelve minutes of warm, rain-free sunshine. I was driving home with all three kids and groceries in the trunk when my neighbor announced she was filling the kiddy-pool and invited us over. Planner-me wanted to say, “Well, I have groceries and I need to put them away and start dinner and so on …” but SUMMER me said, “YES! And I’m bringing a fruit platter!”

I put away frozen and refrigerated items, had the twins un upstairs and put on swimsuits and we were in the freshly-filled baby pool down the street, noshing on fruit and juice boxes in less than 20 minutes.

That is summer. The girls loved it, we all had fun and life was lovely.

Say yes… and add to it!

Thing 3: Baths

If you can accept that your house is going to be a mess and that your plans may become a mess, then it’s time to accept that your children (and you!) will likely also be hot, sweaty, dirty, happy messes. I learned this one the first summer that the kids were walking.  I would drop them off at their sitter’s house in adorable summer outfits and I would pick up virtually unrecognizable sweaty, smelly, grinning messes. It took me less than two seconds to appreciate that my kids may have been messy, but they were also incredibly happy. Running, jumping, investigating dirty things, rolling down hills, playing in the “forest” and so on are the things that make memories and open up minds and free our children to be children. It delighted me to find my girls covered in the dust of their day, exhausted and happy.

It’s just that… baths, man. Baths are a process in our house.  I can’t speak for any one else, but bath time is just… ugh.

I realized that my desire to avoid giving baths to three children, every single night, was causing me to view activities through the lens of whether that activity would merit a bath. I finally just had to say, “Self. We are going to have to put on our big girl pants and give these kids baths. You’ve done harder and more dangerous things than give three kids a bath. Self, I’m asking you to step up on this one for the sake of the summer! GIVE THE KIDS BATHS AND LET THEM BE FREE!”

It was quite a mental process.

I am pleased to report that once I made my peace with the nightly baths, I felt free. Free to let Annie crawl around in muddy grass in her diaper becuase she was happy. Free to let Carrie hug all of the pollen-laden flowers in the backyard because, gosh darn it, those flowers needed big hugs.  Free to let Ellie roll around on the ground for reasons I could not understand (although, I did find out later she literally rolled in an ant hill, so, you know, maybe I need to reign in my “go forth and frolic” attitude a smidgen…).

Really, letting go and embracing the reality of nightly bath time gives me freedom to say “Yes, and” to a host of dirtier adventures.

So that’s where I’m at.  How about you?

fear, uncertainty and doubt

When we moved into our house several years ago, we couldn’t figure out our garage door key pad.  The previous owners had never used it and the owners before them couldn’t recall their code.  It turns out the key pad was dead.

Our actual garage door opener was so old that it would only accept programming from a similarly old keypad. I remember the garage door repair guy essentially challenging me with, “Well, this is really a basic install and you would waste your money having us install it.” I was game.

“Of course,” I said nonchalantly, “I can definitely install that.”

Sometime after that, I did tear open the box. I was immediately overwhelmed by all of the what ifs: What if I programmed the opener and it deprogrammed all of our other remotes (this had happened before)? What if I broke it? What if it took a long time to do? What if it was aggravating? What if I still ended up having to call the company anyway?

Marketers would’ve been delighted with my quandary – this delightful blend of fear, uncertainty and doubt keeping me from doing a simple task and pushing me toward unnecessarily spending money. Many times I considered calling the garage door repair company and paying them a ridiculous sum to fix the problem. I considered buying a new garage door opener – justifying it with the fact that our current opener was so old any way.  I considered bribing someone else to fix it.

That ripped-open garage door keypad box found a nice home in the cupboard over our refrigerator where it lived for almost two years.

Every time I took the kids for a walk and had to grab the door opener out of the car, I silently chided myself for being so silly about this keypad. Every time Frank went for a run and left the screen door open, I was annoyed at my silliness.

I could’ve asked Frank to do it, but I didn’t.  He was unconcerned by all of this unnecessary juggling and was actually unaware that the solution was tucked away in a cabinet.

Today, almost impulsively, I decided this fear of the unknown was going to be put to rest – at least as far as the garage door key pad was concerned.

Armed with the owners manual, an unhelpful You Tube video of a kid showing off his keypad in the bedroom (not a euphemism) and a new ratcheting screw driver that I love, I went out into the garage and I was the boss of that garage door key pad.

Not only did I program it, I removed the old key pad, installed the new keypad and checked to make sure that the car’s garage door openers still worked.

Everything. Worked. Perfectly.

All in less than 20 minutes.

What this makes me think of: in what ways are fear, uncertainty and/or doubt stopping me from moving forward? What silly work-arounds have I created to avoid addressing fear head-on?

How about you?

mother’s day

When Mother’s Day draws near, I hold my breath a little bit, as though I am anticipating a punch that never happens.

Mother’s Day has become, for me, like sitting down at a feast with all of my favorite girlfriends. The day is beautiful, the food is amazing – but there is a catch: not everyone gets a meal.

The first few Mother’s Days I experienced while we were trying to get pregnant and going through infertility and dealing with losing a baby, were just bone-chillingly sad and lonely. Sure, I was happy for my friends around me who were experiencing motherhood, but here I was with this deep sadness and pain, on a day designated to celebrate what I didn’t have. My plate was empty.

I was lonely and sad and scared. And let’s be honest, until infertility, the realest pain I had experienced was losing a grandparent, which is, while sad, a pretty standard part of life. Mother’s Day was an emotional bomb with shrapnel spread far and wide.

Four years ago, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day. I expected to feel unfettered joy on that first Mother’s Day morning, but instead…

I was grateful, absolutely, for the two little girls I was holding that morning. But looking around the Mother’s Day table, I noticed that there were still people with empty plates.  The abundance for some and the emptiness for others made a knot grow in my stomach. It just seemed unfair.

Not celebrating Mother’s Day is not the answer. We all have moms in many forms and fashions – the mothers we were born with and the women that mother us throughout our lives – and so celebrating their impact in our lives is appropriate and good and right. I am grateful for my own mom who is the embodiment of joy, friendship, kindness and hospitality. She made every day of my childhood an adventure and continues to be one of my dearest friends and confidants.

And still…

It also feels right and good and appropriate to acknowledge and hold space for the women (and men) who put on a brave face on Mother’s Day in spite of feeling incredible pain, loss and sadness. I don’t have a cure for this heartache, but I want you to know that you are not alone and that you are loved. May you have a supernatural peace this Mother’s Day in the midst of all of the noise.

housekeeping

Before I get caught up with the blog…

Entropy, or the concept that time moves in only one direction, has been a minor distraction of mine for the entirety of my life. I find it fascinating that we can physically move in many directions in space, but only in one direction in time.  So I love fiction (and non fiction) that talks about wormholes and time travel and other time-bending/reversing theories. The first chapter book my dad read to me was HG Wells’s The Time Machine.  Good stuff, even if I was only in second grade.

And so, here I sit, marveling at how precisely and fluidly time has marched forward, plucking away, while life happens. I am particularly aware of time’s effects when I look at our not-so-little Annie! Annie constantly grows and changes imperceptibly over the course of a day, but it isn’t until I look at pictures from a few months ago that I become aware of how she is no longer an infant and is verging on toddlerhood.

Speaking of Annie…

Annie is ten-and-a-half-months old.  If we were to assign labels, I would call Annie my “chill” baby.  She slept through the night at two months, rarely cries and loves playing little games with me.  Her favorite is when we grunt back and forth at each other until she dissolves into giggles.  As the designated “chill” baby, she is taking her time with mobility. A mighty-fast army crawler, she refuses to pull herself up on anything unless she feels the reward is greater than the risk.  She will walk assisted, but prefers to be on the ground, stealthily getting into things and finding little treasures (lint, dustbunnies). With a mobile baby, you can never vacuum or sweep enough – so – my new mantra: why bother?

Annie is eating table foods with ease, enjoys a good sippy cup every now and then, and is transitioning to reduced formula levels.  She loves to give “noseys”, but nose-beware: she is aggressive with her affection and has no fear of breaking a nose – yours or hers!

She is a dancer in the style of the groundhog from Caddy Shack, grooving in a herky-jerky rhythmic fashion while balancing on my knee.  She rolls with most things: no nap, no problem!, but occasionally develops a strong preference that she makes known.  Recently, she has developed a strong dislike for her “cage” – an open-air baby-safe area that she can roam around in our family room. Girlfriend knows her mind!

So that’s Annie the Awesome.

Her twinster sisters are four, which means, thank goodness, they are no longer three.  Three was a little bit of a debacle.  Considering the major changes in our family, it was actually not terrible, but three year olds certainly have an opinion that they enjoy sharing all-the-time.

At four, they are more reasonable and really quite smart.  They love talking about the natural sciences with Frank (how does the sun work? where does it go at night?) and ask surprisingly detailed follow up questions that demonstrate that they are trying to learn a topic.  While they need frequent reminders about manners and tidying up, most of the time they have it down right.  My current quest is to help Carrie word statements so they sound less like accusations (“Apparently you forgot to tell us what the day of the week is, Mom”) and more like reminders (“Hey mom, can you tell us the day of the week please?”).  I have a feeling that mastering this skill will be super useful to her in life – especially marriage.

We just had the girls’ parent-teacher conferences and it was interesting to see how the girls’ personalities come to light differently in the world than they do at home. Carrie has always been a dynamic little personality, but in the past year she has really blossomed and has been identified as a leader in her classroom.  She is encouraged to allow other children to also lead, but her teachers said that the other kids are quite happy to do whatever she suggests.  It will be interesting to watch that skill unfold and be refined.  At home, Carrie is often the laid-back kid who would prefer to sit slack-jawed in front of the TV for hours if we let her (we don’t let her!).

Ellie, who often instructs Carrie in what to do at home, is a little bit more introverted in the classroom.  She is also quite smart, grasping skills and concepts quickly.  She loves to take some time to herself to read a book while at school, but then is also happy to go play with her friends.  At home, we’ve seen her working on her teaching skills with Carrie and some of her other friends.  It’s quite cute to see her kneel down to instruct another child on how to do something.  When the other child accomplishes the tasks, she is so encouraging saying, “That’s right! Good job!” It’s really a joy to watch!

As far as staying at home – the short response is: it’s good.

The longer response is:

It is both what I imagined and nothing that I imagined.  I’ve kept busy with some free-lance projects and volunteering, but I’ve also loved just being with the girls to hear about their days and to go on little adventures.  Like many mothers before me have noted, it’s frequently hard to know where the day has gone. I rarely find myself just sitting on the couch or with free time to write, which is contrary to how I imagined it would be. I can appreciate why so many stay at home moms feel under attack by others who question “What did you do all day?”  There is a lot of time and energy that goes into keeping the operations of our household running, but the actual tasks are often not worth noting.  I cleaned a toilet. I fed the children. I paid some bills. I researched a project. I did some work.

I can also appreciate why some moms are totally unstimulated by staying at home.  Repetitive tasks like dishes and laundry have become monsters in their own right.  Boring, tedious monsters that scare – not by jumping out of dark corners when I least expect them to – but by just sitting where they are, staring quietly with eyes that plainly say, “Sure. Fold me/Clean me – I’ll just be right back here in a matter of hours or days. Try me.” These monsters are unrelenting in many ways.

Of course, these monsters existed even when I worked, but let’s be honest: I rarely cooked when I worked so we ran the dishwasher once a day (maybe). Now, I run that sucker two or three times a day. And when I worked, I had a lot of dry cleaning and only had time for laundry once a week, making it feel more like an exciting event.  Now with five people in our family, laundry has to be done twice a week or we will drown in laundry. Literally.

To finish my evolution into a complete cliche, the twins will start soccer in two weeks with one of their buddies down the street from us. So yes, I will be rolling into soccer practice in our minivan, drinking a half-caf latte and wearing yoga pants. It’s going to happen and there is nothing any of us can do to stop it. So I say, embrace it!

Over the course of my existence, I’ve come to realize that nothing lasts forever. I know that this stay at home mom experience is just a season of my life. I am doing this for now, and I will do something else later. In spite of the laundry and dish monsters lurking at every turn, I am trying to put into practice the concept of being content where I am and enjoying this season of life.

So that’s it.  I think I’m caught up now with the blog.  I am hoping to write on a few more topics in the upcoming weeks because so much more has been happening in the K-House than just laundry!

showing up

In 2003, for reasons I still don’t understand, we wrote our new family’s first Christmas letter. Frank wasn’t sure why we were writing it at the time and we both thought that this first entry into our family’s public narrative should be sent out for very limited distribution. Our first letter vividly featured our most pressing and passionate marital argument until that point: a debate on the number of pillows allowed on a bed.

My answer? Eleven.

Frank’s answer? Definitely less than 11.

What was funny to us then, and even now, was how many people responded to tell us how much they enjoyed the letter.  And also, to passionately declare their support for either Team Frank or Team Emily.

The important thing, though, is that we felt this surge of connection with the people who commented.

So, we wrote another letter. And another. And another. And we got brave and sent it to everyone on our mailing list. It was exhilarating!

There are only two rules of K-Fam Christmas Letter Writing: 1. Keep it light and 2. No medical drama.

There have been some years when those two rules have been easier to follow than others.

The letter-writing process begins with both a scrubbing of the year’s events as well as a suggestion of a concept.  This year, after spending approximately five minutes with his newest daughter, Frank determined that the letter should be a memorandum from Annie talking about the circus she joined called Our Family.

In the case of this year’s letter, I wrote it, deleted it, wrote it again, sent it to Frank, sent him some changes, he sent me changes, I sent him changes and then we were done. Many years, there is at least one request (from Frank) for a chart/graph representing of some sort of achievement (sometimes this achievement is vomit or diaper-related) and most years, I ask for a few extra pages.  We’ve remedied these requests by occasionally allowing a gratuitous graph to sneak into the letter now and then; I started a blog.

The most important thing that happens, though, is that first step: we scrub the events of the year.  I take out the unnecessary details of the somewhat emergency c-section, the intestinal drama with two toddlers that reside in our home, Frank’s inability to securely screw the top on the orange juice and Annie’s over-the-top cuteness (she’s too young to get into too much trouble right now). Not to put too fine a point on this topic, but Frank, what is up with the OJ? And the Tabasco? And anything else with a lid?

So the events are scrubbed.  Cleaned up. We put a bow on the whole thing and send it out first-class mail.

The other stuff I don’t include is how many times I look at my peers and see how they are being a better mom.  They have better crafts, better playdate ideas, cuter lunches for their kids, etc, etc, etc. And then I see how some people are truly excellent writers and I’m a hack blogger.

I actually almost didn’t write this blog post because, well, it’s not an original topic or theme and others have written about this particular theme better, funnier and betterer.  (That whole sentence is a beautiful mess. I can’t fix it.)

But since this blog exists largely so that my daughters can glimpse inside the brain of their 34 year old mother, I am writing it anyway.

I realize there are two things illustrated with the story about the Christmas letter:

First, that when Frank and I are sharing our story and delighting people and engaging with friends and family – that is when we are the happiest.  We love making people laugh.  We love the idea of people opening their mail and being excited to see another silly letter from those tall people. We love the connection.

Second, nearly every year I think, “meh. I don’t think I can write this letter.” I didn’t do anything remarkable enough.  I made mistakes.  I can’t even tell you how many times Frank wanted to write something fun about my job, and I told him to just chill out – write something generic – write something uninteresting that essentially says, “Don’t worry, Emily still has a job.” I did fun and cool stuff when I worked.  I worked with remarkable leaders and innovators and true public servants. I helped out with projects that were fun and interesting. I just never could say it because I was weirdly worried that someone would write back and say, “Um, yeah, Emily is lame.”

In a nutshell, I have a lot of anxiety about how people perceive me and I hate that about myself. (I am actually working on a post specifically about that anxiety, but I started it a year ago and I’m still not any closer to done.)

I am not the best writer.  I am not the best mom.  I am not the best human. I am not number one, I’m not even in the top 50%. The only immediately remarkable thing about me is my height – and that doesn’t help me on the Internets.

I would really like to use that lack of bestness as a reason not to try.  I want to say, “Well, I don’t have to write that press release or post that information or play tea party with my twins” or WHATEVER – because someone else is doing it better somewhere else.

Wiser people than me have said now-cliche things like “99% of success is showing up” and other such brilliant things. And they are right.

I write all of this to essentially steal borrow other people’s wisdom: show up.

Show up and do your job. Show up and be a parent. Show up and be a friend, daughter, son, sister, brother – whatever. If you don’t have the best words to share, the best dish to pass, the best outfit for the occasion – show up any way.

Be brave. Be courageous. Let your little light shine. Even if that light is just a Christmas letter. Even in the worst years, when your spouse lost their job twice and you moved and you were a little freaked out – show up and write the letter and connect with the people you love.

A lot of people don’t show up. Maybe they are scared, too. Maybe they were worried they couldn’t do the best or most interesting, so they stayed home.

I totally get it: It’s hard. I often don’t want to show up. Sometimes, I don’t show up.

And maybe people don’t know that sometimes all they need to do is show up. Sometimes they are worried about a lot of things, like what if they aren’t enough. Maybe, if you see someone not showing up, maybe you could reach out to them. Show up for them.

Stand firm. Be present.

Grab hold.

Because the other thing I’ve heard a lot is that possession is 9/10ths of the law. (Note: I am not a lawyer or someone who knows anything at all about the law. So, you know, take that possession thing with a grain of salt.)

why I quit

Well, it’s taken me a few months to come out with this, but I quit my day job.

Yup. Quit.

Good-bye.

Donesies.

You should know, first and foremost, I loved my day job.  Yeah, there were crappy days and sometimes crappy seasons, but I love to work.  I’m kind of a junky like that.

Specifically, I loved the people I worked for and with.  Every day was new and fresh and different. That was excellent.

But…

After a night of fitful sleeping (the twins did this sleep regression thing for like, a year, that just about ended me), I would awake to the sweet sound of my alarm clock.  Or, in a wave of terror and panic, I would awake to two eyes staring at me from three inches away from my face. Either way, most work mornings were terrible. Corralling twin two year olds, convincing them to wear the clothes I wanted them to wear (for expediency’s sake), getting them moving in the right direction (towards the door) and also making sure that I was presentable – all by 7 a.m. so that we could run out the door, stop at Starbucks, drop the girls at their sitter and arrive at work on-time – was a fiasco.  Nearly every day someone cried.  Maybe it was the twins. Maybe it was me.  Maybe it was a squall line of stormy tears that ended almost as quickly as it began.  Maybe it was a freaking hurricane that lasted two days (“Mom. Mom. MOMMY. Remember how yesterday SHE wore the pink dress and I didn’t?” Commence tears. For two days.).  But there were almost always tears trying to leave the house.

Oh, and last winter I was very pregnant and it was -20 several mornings.

It was … amazing? Yes. Amazing.  Like, amazing that I didn’t develop some sort of twitch.

Or maybe I did.

Anyway, that was just the mornings.  If I had night meetings, my mom (St. Mary Kay) did pick ups and I arrived home after bedtime, exhausted.  If I didn’t have night meetings, I picked up two tired and hungry two year old toddlers and schlepped them home to try to make something that looked like dinner that, very often, they wouldn’t eat anyway. And then, because hygiene has always been a priority in our house, I’d hose the kids off in a very unfun bath, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” as fast as I could, and put them to sleep.

I’d like to pause right now and give a big shout out to single parents out there.

SINGLE PARENTS! Holy crap.  How do you do this, ALL THE TIME? Seriously.  Good for you. GOOD FOR YOU.  Single parents do not get enough credit or sleep or time off. While Frank was gone for four days each week, I was by no means a single parent.  I had a safety net that came home and let me sleep and made breakfast and did tuck-ins. And baths.  So, all I’m saying is, I have a strong appreciation for the legit single parents.  You rock.

So, back to me.

I did this three days a week.  On the fourth day, because Jesus is kind and my Mother-In-Law loves her grandchildren (St. Sandy), the kids would get to stay home and paint and color and have fabulous tea parties with GrahSandy.

And THEN, Frank would come home.  Now, while a lot of people do point out that he had the benefit of a full night’s sleep at a hotel and dinners out and so on, WHICH HE TOTALLY DID AND I NEVER FORGOT THAT FOR EVEN ONE MINUTE, the flipside is that he was staying in a hotel with paper-thin walls, in an uncomfortable bed and eating at Chili’s-type restaurants for every.single.meal.  As an aside, I do not actually want to know how his body has been chemically altered by that lifestyle, but if any scientists are curious about the effects of Chipotle-Chili’s-Panda Express-only food pyramid lifestyles, Frank is totally available.

And then he had a terrible commute to and from work.  Thanks to the brilliant Wright Amendment (which ended on 10/13/14 – woot!), Frank could never fly non-stop to Dallas from Midway for work.  He always had to stop. Sometimes he had to change planes.  No matter what, a generally short 2 1/2 hour flight would be dragged out at least an extra hour or so – possibly more.

Once he landed in Chicago, he had another hour to two hour drive home, depending on traffic.  His route often covered four Interstates/Tollways/Expressways, so every time he has to exit/enter a new road, there was a significant opportunity for a back up.

So that was fun for him.

Often he would walk in the door and I would launch the nearest twin in his general direction as a means of saying “hello darling.” He learned to reflexively drop the suitcase in order to catch the child.  He’s spry.

Fortunately I didn’t work on Fridays, so we used Fridays to catch up on stuff like seeing our children. And chores and paperwork.  And moving houses.  We moved houses last year.  I just finished unpacking recently.  So, yeah, we got that going for us.

And laundry.  Do you know how much laundry a family of four generates?  That’s nuts.  Now that there are five of us, we’ve reached epic levels of laundry.

I’m saying all of this to say that the way that our family was operating was unsustainable.

Considering all that we went through in order to have a family, I was realizing more and more that I was going to get to the twins 18th birthday and probably say, “What the crap was THAT?” in reference to their entire childhood.

That’s not cool.

And then we were adding a third child to this situation.

When Annie was born, I found myself looking at her little fingers and her little face and thinking/praying, “Thank you God for sending this baby to save me from myself.”

I don’t think that’s hyperbole; Annie’s birth probably saved our family from the future we were racing toward.

I would’ve kept working if we only had the twins.  I would’ve muscled through it and done the “grin and bear it” routine.  I would’ve missed events at school and stuff at work, feeling inadequate and terrible in both arenas. Frank and I would’ve put our marriage on ice and hoped there was something left when the kids went off to their small liberal arts colleges along the Mississippi River or in Upstate New York (or maybe a Big Ten school, I don’t really know).  We could’ve done it.  I would’ve done it.

It would’ve been a mess.

I wondered while I was pregnant with Annie how it would play out if I kept the crazy cycle going. And always, I just sort of knew, we couldn’t stop the landslide – so we better just sidestep it.

At first, when Frank and I started thinking about this change, we kept looking at our checkbook.  But, in an unspoken way, we kind of knew that God would provide and He seems to open and close doors for us in a weird way. We decided to trust this rhythm we had with God and we had with each other and make this move.

On my last day of work, I was filled with relief and … something else.  Turns out, thanks to an abundance of psychologists in my life, this other feeling was grief.

It was hard to quit. As I said before, I love to work.  I love projects and check lists and people and ideas and all manner of work-y type things.

I just do.  It’s weird, when I think of it, how much I do like to do these things.

So while it was hard to release the death grip I had on working, I did it.

I did it because I love my family. I love my husband and I love my children. I did it because all of those stupid cliches are sometimes true – people on their deathbeds don’t say, “Gee, I wish I worked more.” People dying say, “I wish I had more time with my family.”

I give mad props to the women who work and have families and can do it all.  That is awesome.  I so wanted to be that woman – the one who could work and, like day to evening Barbie, transition effortlessly to caring for my family with organic homemade food and manicured hands. It’s just that, for me, the reality is this: I. Can’t. Do. It.

In some ways I felt like I was a failure because I couldn’t do it all.  I couldn’t sustain all of these fires I had burning without getting burned myself.

Staying at home with the children is work, no doubt. And I went through a hazing week a few weeks ago that caused me to see my hairstylist earlier than normal to touch up my roots. My dear friend, St. Eve, had to increase her data plan due to the insane amount of text messages she received from me, many consisting of things like “Sweet Jesus help me!” and “OMG YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT JUST HAPPENED.” It got so ugly, she stopped reading my texts while eating.

Enough of that, though. (for now)

When the rays of sunshine are long, stretching across the floor of our office/study/gathering area and the twins are busy drawing a very important picture for me to review and Annie is spreading spit-up across her blanket and the floor; when the sink is happily full of dishes from meals eaten at home; when the girls’ fingers are prunes from long bath times playing; when we have a stack of books to read at bedtime from the library; when we can take our time walking to school in the morning holding hands and saying “hi” to Miss Leslie-the-Crossing-Guard (and Carrie can give her a flower); when our kitchen window is full of pictures and when the five of us are snuggled on a couch – when those moments and days and experiences happen, my heart is full and happy.

And when a whole bunch of other stuff goes down (future blog posts, maybe), I sometimes wish I could be somewhere else. Like at a job. Or hiding in my bathroom with the door locked.

But no matter the situation, this is a pretty awesome gig: this staying-at-home business.

SInce I’ve been at home, I wanted to blog more.  Write about Ellie and Carrie and Annie.  After all, this blog is for them. But no matter the blog posts I was writing in my head, I could never put them down because before I could write all of that, I had to write this.

So here it is. Sort of word vomit. Sort of an explanation.

To my daughters: if you work outside the home and have children, awesome. If you work outside the home and don’t have children, awesome (but get some dogs that I can spoil or travel a bunch so I can bore my friends at The Home with the minutia of your latest adventures). If you stay at home and have children, awesome.  If you stay at home and don’t have children, seriously, what are you doing? Go to work. Or volunteer. Geesh.

’round here…

Just a few diddies, in no particular order…

I had Annie on her floor mat, working on rolling over. Ellie came over, intrigued by what was going on.

“Ellie, want to help me teach Annie how to roll over?” I asked.

“Sure. I got this.  Watch.” And I did watch as Ellie unceremoniously pushed Annie over. “There. Done.”

Annie, because she’s cool as a cucumber, was unfazed.

 

As we pulled into the Peapod Pick Up location, I told the girls to say “hi” to Peapod.

“Hi Peapod! We are here! How are you today?” asked Ellie.

“Oh, I’m OK. I’m just tired and taking a nap,” answered Carrie in a squeaky voice, apparently in-character as the Peapod building.

 

This happens nearly every morning at breakfast: Ellie gulps down her orange juice just as I’ve started feeding Annie her long-awaited, much-deserved cereal and/or bottle.  As I explain to Ellie that I am feeding Annie and cannot get her more juice, she says, “OK, fine, I’ll feed her, you get me some juice, OK?”  Girlfriend is a logistics queen already!

 

Ellie, upon realizing we have a library book that needs to go back, delivered the following monologue.

“Mommy.  OK.  So, we can ONLY keep a library book for SEVERAL days. We cannot keep it forever. We have to return it, OK?” Her little eyebrows went up and she nodded her head. “OK. So, we can go tomorrow, OK Mommy? And when we go there, we can get WHATEVER we want.  First, we can go down the movie aisle. And then we can go down the book aisle, OK, Mommy? OK. Good.  Here, let me show you this book.” At this point she started paging through the book a la Vanna White.  I couldn’t stop giggling.

 

“I want a (fill in the blank).” This question is asked daily in a whiney, plaintive, accusing voice by both of my children.  I hate it. I always correct them.

But they Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So instead, I’ve started responding with, “Well, I want an oompa-loompa!”

At first, that response stopped the whining as they pondered what I requested.

A few days after I started this response, their Auntie Cay-Cay said, “I want a drink of water.”

The twins responded, “Well, our mom wants an oompa-loompa!”

 

A storm came through a week or so ago, resulting in a lot of downed tree branches in my parents’ neighborhood.  We drove through to survey the damage.  Carrie’s eyes became as big as saucers as she took in the scene.

“Wow. This was a LARGE storm!” Then, deftly, Carrie merged the world she saw with her imagination. “Let me look at my phone. Oh wow. Yes, this was a LARGE storm. Mom, do you see the trees? It was a LARGE storm. We should call Grandma Gigi and tell her.  I think there were bad lizards. Mom, can you use your real phone and see if there is another LARGE storm coming? We better tell Grandma Gigi about the bad lizards.

After thinking about what she may have meant when she said, “bad lizards”, I finally deduced that she meant blizzards.

“Honey, do you mean blizzards?” I asked.

“Yes. Bad lizards!” she replied.

“Oh, no, it’s not bad lizards, it’s blizzards. Like lots of snow and wind. That’s a blizzard.”

Carrie was not impressed. I am sure that a bunch of naughty reptiles raining down from the sky seemed a lot more interesting.

 

Carrie, upon eating a Skittle, said,”Mommy, this jelly bean (she knows not what she eats) tastes like an eyeball: sweet and squishy.”

… Um, what?

That is all for now…