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.

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!

bedtime

At first, they were quiet.  It was 8:35 p.m.  Well past bedtime.

And then they were talking and singing.  I ignored it.

And then I heard the first footsteps thunk on the floor over my head.

Crap, I thought.

The footsteps were quickly joined by their matching pair.  The footsteps padded around the twins’ room.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

And then, almost without warning, the footsteps were running at a frenzy down the hall and to the stairs. Bum da bum da bum bum bum bum bum.

“MOOOOOMMMMM!!!” shouted both girls.

“What?” I asked firmly, trying to walk the fine line between yelling and pleading.

“There is a GHOST! We saw HIM!” said Carrie, appearing around the entry of the living room, her eyes wide, but her lips betrayed her as they were curled up in a smile.

“Seriously? There isn’t a ghost,” I told her.  A curly red head popped around the same corner.

“Yes, yes there IS!” Ellie testified.

“No, there isn’t. C’mon girls, go back to bed,” I directed them.

Sensing that I knew that they were making the whole thing up, the twins scurried up the stairs.  I heard their footsteps round the corner of the banister and chase each other down the long hall to their room.

Whispering, talking and then outright hollering ensued.  I sighed.

THUNK! 

I cocked my head to the side to listen to hear if there was a follow up scream of pain. Nope.

And then there was the dull staccato of little feet running on the carpet, flying around the banister and drumming down the stairs.

“MOOOOM!” Oh, the whining.  Frank and I have been trying to break them of it.  Every word is stretched out by at least one or more syllables, often with sentences beginning with the word, “Buhhhhhhh-t!” (“But” is the original, un-mangled word). We correct them nearly every time the whining surfaces, sometimes even demonstrating for them how absolutely annoying the whining is.

So far, we’ve only been met with blank stares and more whining.

Parenting appears to be a lot of repetition without a lot of immediate gratification.  I’m guessing in 30 years the twins won’t even remember to thank us for breaking them of this nasty habit – they will just be consumed with the whining in their own homes.

But I digress.

“What now?” I asked. Again, working hard to maintain a firmness in my voice without sounding desperate. If they could please, please, please sleep, I could get some of the long, long over-due thank you notes done.

“Ayeeeee. Neeeeed. Waaaahhhh-ter!” complained Carrie.

“Stop whining, please.  You can get a glass of water.”

“Mooooom.  Ayeeeee. Neeeeeed. Kleeeenexxxxxx!” called Ellie.

“Well, first, please stop whining.  Second.  Please, for the love, go get a Kleenex.”

As far as I could tell, the feet and voices obeyed.  The footsteps wandered back to the twins’ bedroom. Another loud THUNK.

I sighed.  I put down the pen I was using to write out thank you notes.

Up the stairs I went, flipping off the light in the twins’ bathroom at the top of the stairs.

Their bedroom is at the far end of a long hallway, giving them ample time to hop into bed and to pretend as though they never left it in the first place.

“Girls,”I said upon arriving. “Get. In. Bed.”

Carrie stared back at me, deciding whether she was going to heckle me by stating the obvious.

“We are, Mooom.”

Oh no, she didn’t! I thought.

“You weren’t three seconds ago. I can HEAR you walking around and singing and hollering,” I told them.  Ellie’s eyebrows inadvertently shot up.  This was news to her.

“Girls. I am very, very disappointed to find you both out of your beds, wandering around and playing…” so began my lecture.

I am sure I said many wise and important Mom-things from the doorway to the twins’ room.  In response both girls tried to explain that they were only playing with the doll house.

But as my gaze around the room took in both the chaotic mess of their room (So.Many.Stuffed.Animals!), my heart softened as I looked at their little faces.

“Please, girls, go to bed.  We can do so many fun things tomorrow, but you need your rest so that you can enjoy them.” I finished.  Not quite General Patton, but I was severely limited by my own lack of stamina and restrictions on appropriate word choices (the twins’ expert-level use of the phrase “sons of bitches” is not what I want to get called into pre-school for this year).

“But Mom, remember when we went to the park with Daddy and the lightening and the thunder and we had to hurry home and it rained?” said Carrie as quickly as she could.

I started to interrupt her.  I started to tell her that the story about the storm was irrelevant, but then I stopped myself.

Her big blue eyes were serious. Playing at the park and leaving because of a storm was one of the riskiest things she’d ever done in her life so far. It was not a secondary detail, but an important thing to remember while I was telling her about future plans to play at the park.

“Yes, and everything was OK.  It was scary, but you made it home and everything was OK.  Now let’s go to bed and get rested for the busy day tomorrow, OK?”

There was some more whining and some more negotiating, but in the end, there were two girls in two beds, attempting (as far as I could tell) to sleep.

I went downstairs, stopping at the kitchen for a snack.  As I walked back to the living room, I had a realization that I am sure that every parent has.  It isn’t a new or unique or extraordinary.

It is as common as the way that time marches onward.

I realized that there will be a day when the twins and Annie are gone.  They will be at college or in their first apartments or wherever, but what’s important is that they won’t be at home. Around bedtime on that day, I will probably wander into the kitchen for a snack or a glass of water.  I will turn off the lights in the kitchen as I leave and round the corner to the living room, passing the stairs as I go.  I will look up those stairs and I will realize that there isn’t a light on, dimly, in the hallway for little girls to find their way to the potty late at night.  I will wander up the stairs, around the banister and to the end of the hallway.

I will stand in the doorway of the twins’ room, remembering that years ago I told them to please, for the love of all that is good, go.to.bed.

And instead of big blue eyes peering up at me from a lovely mop of blond hair or piercing blue eyes looking back at me framed by a mane of wild red curls – there will be two perfectly made twin beds.  They will be well-worn and indented in the middle from where two little girls grew up tall and strong and smart and brave.

I will stand in that doorway, holding a cold glass of water with the condensation making my hand wet and I will stare at that room for a really long time, remembering.

And I know, without a doubt, I will wonder, maybe even aloud, “Where did all that time go? How can they be gone already?”

So tonight I sat down in the living room, put away the thank you notes, and wrote this down.  Not just for me, but for my girls so that they know how deeply and profoundly loved they are – and as Frank says to them whenever he puts them to bed, “you can’t do anything to change that.”

I love you Elliana, Carrigan and Annabel. Every minute, of every day.

annie: two months-ish

Hello Annie!

You are two months and three weeks old. The Baby Center email updates are a wonderful reminder of the time that is passing.  Even though you have been here for a short period of time, it seems like you’ve been here forever. I commented to your dad that it seemed that our family was sorely missing you – and we didn’t even realize it! He agreed – you have been such a gift!

You are a lovely, delicious baby.  You have soft reddish hair that stands up on top of your head because, quite frankly, your daddy brushes your hair that way.  Your sky-blue eyes dance whenever I make funny noises at you.  Your plump little cheeks fluff out whenever you are smiling and delighted.  You have a smooth, expressive voice that coos and grunts and sings to me throughout the day.

You are a fantastic sleeper.  Sweet heavens to Betsy, please always be an excellent sleeper! You sleep through the night, much to the surprise of the doctors.  Since you are tipping the scales at 14 lbs 12 oz and are 24 inches long, the doctors have reluctantly decided that your sleep habits are just fine – albeit somewhat out of the ordinary. “Well, NORMALLY, if a baby was sleeping through the night THIS early, we’d be concerned, BUT, since she’s clearly gaining weight and eating well… I guess it’s OK.”

Miss Annie at 2 months 3 weeksish... Sleepin' like a rock star!

Miss Annie at 2 months 3 weeksish… Sleepin’ like a rock star!

Like all babies at your age, you prefer to be held, but if I can’t hold you, your second choice is to have a view of all of the activity going on around you.  You soak in your sisters wacky, loud antics while kicking your little legs to make your bouncy chair rock back and forth.  You seem to enjoy them for their entertainment value, but I’ve noticed you get a little concerned when it appears that you think I am handing you off to one of them.  You should be concerned – I’ve seen what the twins do to their dolls, so I’m not about to leave you with them unsupervised. (Carrie’s bitty baby hasn’t had clothes on since the second day she’s been here, and Ellie’s bitty baby has spent a lot of her time face-down in a stroller…)

It’s good to get to know you, Miss Annie.  While I can’t wait to see who you will become – I am certainly enjoying this time with you now.

Love,

Mom

three

We are pleased to announce that we are expecting our third baby in May 2014!

Having children is certainly an… adventure… for us and for a long time, we weren’t sure if we’d have any children, let alone fulfill our hopes for a larger family.  We can scarcely believe that we’ve been so blessed with the twins and to find out that we are expecting a third is beyond amazing.

Since my husband is Frank the Fifth, we’ve been asked plenty of times whether we are hoping for a boy next.  We’ve talked about our hopes and desires for the next baby, and as cliche as it sounds, we would just be beyond grateful for a healthy baby.

We figure a girl is great because we have all the clothing, toys and so on that a girl could ever need.  And also – we know how girls work.  The dolls, the moods, the sensitivity, the giggles – and we love everything about having twin girls – so one more girl would be delightful!

We figure a boy is great because, well, we don’t have a boy and boys seem like fun! Wrestling on the family room floor, trucks (which the girls love, too) and other dude stuff seems like a good time for everyone.  Plus, it helps Frank have someone he can relate to on a manly-man level.  You know, passing the torch and what-not.

So far, I’ve had six ultrasounds, thanks to a pesky bleed and other factors, and the baby is growing right on target and is a super swimmer – jumping and kicking all over the place. This one reminds me of Carrigan. Carrigan was always jetting around her amniotic sack, giving her sister a run for her money.

We haven’t decided officially if we want to know the gender ahead of time.  There are few great surprises in life – the gender of your children being one of them.

Final

 

 

an open letter to other twin-to-be parents

Congratulations!

And, yes. Twins are hard.

I want to be all like, “what? twins? hard? for you, perhaps…”

But that’s not true.

Twins. Are. Hard.

Know it, love it, live it… and then get your peace with it and eat some chocolate and then get a little more peace with it and eat some ice cream… rinse and repeat as needed.

Twins are also awesome and for so many more reasons than dressing them alike (or in coordinating outfits) at Christmas.

Which is, of course, still awesome.

Obviously, what makes twins twins is that they are born at the same time (unless you’re these people, in which case, I got nothing). The beauty of first-born twins is this: they are equally adored and equally ignored.

My friends having their second babies lament that their first will feel put off and that their second will never feel the benefit of sole attention.

Guess what? Twins have no clue. From day one, they always had a buddy.  To make up for the shared spotlight, twins are given a lot of public adoration and attention at the mall.  I’ve gone out with one baby and was virtually ignored.  I go out with two? “OMG! Twins! I have friends that are twins! Do you know all of the other twins in the world? Are yours natural? Identical? SQUEE! Twins!”

Parenting twins also has a ton of built-in grace. Raising two babies simultaneously means that you realize at warp-speed that you are not nearly as awesome or as awful of a parent as you may have initially thought.

For example: Ellie is a lovely, delightful child who HAS TO have her mommy Now. And Now. AND NOW.  Forget you if you get in her way.  For like, 23 seconds I considered that her neediness was a DIRECT result of MY parenting. I thought, “I HAVE FAILED! BAHHH!!” I look over at her sister Carrie who walks into a room, hugs everyone and hollers, “HEY FRIENDS! HOW’S IT GOING?” And for another two seconds, while watching sweet Carrie charm her way into Grandpa K’s lap for a cookie, I think, “Man, I’m an awesome mom. I mean, really.  Look at that kid. I rock!”  …Reality settles in. Neither situation has as much to do with me as it does have to do with the girls’ individual and unique and lovely personalities.

This realization also allows me to go to play dates and trips the park and not go into a tailspin because Joey is climbing higher and Suzie is saying more words and on and on and on. Raising twins is a daily reminder of the uniqueness of each child.

Twins keep it real.

When you have two infants flipping you the bird because breakfast is late AGAIN because you just need two more seconds of sleep FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, you kind of say, “forget the daily pictures of the kids in every outfit – I need a shower!” (and a drink and chocolate and ice cream and rinse and repeat as needed…).  You cut out the extra stuff – like organizing your diaper bag so that the bibs coordinate with the changing pad and your wallet – and you just make sure you have both babies when you walk out the door.

And your keys.

And your wallet.

And diapers.

And everything else.

While well-dressed, matching babies are totes adorbs and say, “I got this business LOCKED down” – it’s not the most important thing. Unless you make your living parading around your well-dressed, matching babies… in which case, I stand corrected.

Parenting twins means you figure out your most important things early on. The battles worth fighting.  The wars worth winning.

For us? Daily showers. Mascara for me, matching socks for Frank.  Snuggles with the girls. Walks to the grocery store. Trips to the park. Games of hide and seek. Bubbles on the lawn.

Were there nights where I walked the first floor of our house in endless circles with a baby in each arm singing “Fifty Nifty” and swearing whenever I messed up the order of the States? Yes.  Were there days where Frank and I bartered with impossible promises for an extra hour of sleep? Maybe.

But just as quickly as we were awash in the insanity of twin newborns with acid reflux, it was over. And nothing makes you more aware of your own humanity and mortality than watching your child grow up.  Singleton babies or multiples – you will blink and this time will be gone.

So yes. Twins are hard. But if you are fortunate enough to parent twins (or triplets or quads…or you know, a bunch), the blessings are multiplied as well.

Good luck and Godspeed.