To My Children on Mother’s Day

What a privilege it is to hold you in my arms, to have you sleeping on my chest, to already feel nostalgic for these days when I am everything you need.

What a privilege it is to be the recipient of your first love notes, the receiver of your brightest dandelions and your sparkliest rocks. How I cherish them.

What a privilege to feel your breath in my ear, for you to beg me to sing you one last song, that you learn to speak just so you can call my name.

What a privilege it is that you come to snuggle me in the night, bleary eyed and stumbling in the dark, so we can recount our adventures together.

What a privilege to trip over legos and step in squished bananas, to never see the bottom of the laundry bin. Someday you will be big and gone and I will miss these things so. Yes, even the bananas.

What a privilege to have a constant companion wherever I go. Even if that companion does require extra snacks and bathroom breaks and needs to be carried before too long.

What a privilege it is that I get to stay up way past bedtime, baking birthday cakes, wrapping Christmas presents and writing Tooth Fairy notes. To make your world as magical as you make mine.

What a privilege to be your first friend, your first teacher and your first true love.

It is my greatest challenge and my greatest joy, being your mother. There are days when it is hard. Really hard. When you ask me what’s for dinner and I could have sworn I just made you some yesterday. When I lose my temper and fear that is all you will remember about our early days together. When your heart is breaking and so mine is breaking, too, because I can’t stop the pain.

Sometimes I think that this life is not my own anymore. Because it’s not. It’s yours. And it is my greatest privilege to give it to you.

Photo by Becca of Lady and Gent Photography

On What I’ve Learned from Simplifying

Simply put: I’ve learned a lot of gratitude. For things, certainly. For people and the circumstances in my life, absolutely. Taking the time to consciously comb through the possessions in my house has also enabled me to do the same with my life and I have come to realize what a great life it is. Is it perfect? No. Are there bumps and disappointments and anxieties? Of course. But there is so much to be truly grateful for. And a feeling of contentment, with myself, my home, my relationships, everything, has spread everywhere.

I have discovered a beauty in simplicity. In making what I have work. I feel more creative, more free and more accomplished. I feel less lust for things and more lust for life. I spend less time cleaning up and more time checking items off my to-do list. I feel more confident and put together. Less like I’m faking it. And more like I’ve found what I truly care about.

simplicity is the way back to love

These past six months or so I’ve been seeking to really and truly simplify our home and our lives. I’ve cleaned out everything. Closets, storage, the kitchen, the toys, everything. It’s kind of a trendy thing right now, simplifying and downsizing, but it’s probably the best trend I could get on board with.

Because when you go through every inch of your house with the perspective of, “Do I really need this? Is this helping us?” it completely changes the way you look at new things about to come into your house. I mean, I love Target just as much as the next person. But now when I go in there, (which I surprisingly feel the need to do much less often) I see things as what they really are: just things.

I think there can be a tendency in our culture to really be defined by our stuff. And don’t get me wrong. I appreciate pretty clothes and good taste just as much as the next person. But pretty clothes don’t define a person. They don’t define me. The things in my closet or home don’t make me who I am. My mind, my heart, my compassion, my skills, the gifts I have to give… those are the things that define me. In fact, I would hate to be so caught up in appearances and accumulation that only that defines me. What kind of a life is that? What kind of a contribution is that?

After this experiment I started wearing less makeup and I cut down my wardrobe to a capsule wardrobe. I’m okay with the fact that skinny jeans aren’t made for me and I’m going to have to bide my time until boot cut jeans are available again. I’ve learned that I don’t need to impress anyone by the things that I own. I would rather inspire them by the way that I live.

Disclaimer: My life is not completely simplified. But it has come a long way. Here are some of the benefits I have experienced:

  1. I’ve stopped holding onto things out of guilt. Guilt is such a tricky little thing. It’s that nagging little voice that can keep us rooted firmly in the past, instead of embracing everything that the present is offering. For instance, I had clothes that I didn’t really like but this nagging thought of “I paid for this… so I have to keep it” kept these unworn things in my closet, as if keeping them would somehow make up for my financial mistake of purchasing them. It was easier to let go when I thought, as I told my kids, “this could be bringing someone else joy. So why am I hoarding it?”

    There’s also the guilt of sentiment… “someone I love gave me this so now I have to keep it forever.” The purpose of their gift was to show love and it has fulfilled that purpose, so I can give it away. Or, even harder to tackle, “this belonged to someone I love who is now deceased, so if I let go of this thing I’ll be letting go of them.” I don’t feel that need anymore. I’ve let go of that guilt, and even that assumption that they are defined by my possession of an object. I don’t have to keep the actual item interminably – I know their love. I carry it with me in my heart, in my memories of them. And I appreciate their love and friendship more than a tangible object can represent.

  2. It’s so much easier to say “no.” After intentionally paring down, giving away extras or things that we just don’t really need, it’s so much easier to say, “I’m okay without that.” It’s easier to admire all the pretty seasonal decorations, and then walk away, knowing full well that if I spent money on them, I would probably be ready to discard them before too long. In fact, going into stores in general has become a bit overwhelming, when I see everything through the eyes of a box of future Goodwill donations.
  3. And because it’s easier to say no, it becomes easier to say yes to the things that will actually improve my life! I had been wanting to get a food processor for years, but always put it off thinking that they were too expensive. Well, when I stopped spending that money on smaller, useless things, I could buy the food processor and it is amazing. I use it constantly and I feel so much better about that purchase than about one that would be wasted before too long. Simplifying shouldn’t just be about decluttering in this moment… but in saying no to letting junk invade your life and home in general.
  4. And with that comes an appreciation for what I do already have. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo talks to her things out loud, thanking them for a job well done. While I haven’t gone as far as talking to my things, I do take the conscious effort to look at something and be thankful for it. I’m thankful for my handbag that helps me carry everything I need for the day. I’m thankful for my water bottle that keeps me hydrated. Paying attention to these little things makes them feel like luxuries (and in fact… they really are luxuries if you think about it!). And that gratitude makes it easier for me to stop being on the lookout for a better this or a better that. Mine is working just fine. I don’t need anything else.
  5. It has made me re-think almost everything I do to ask myself, is this the best use of my time? My family’s time? Our resources? We have practiced saying no to cluttering up our house, and we can say no to cluttering up our lives. Which, in turn, means we can say yes to the things we do want to do. Basically, it has taught me to be very conscientious about how we make decisions. (And not letting guilt factor in was a pretty huge lesson here, too.) After decluttering our schedule, we’ve been able to find that lost time for things that were important to us, but were being put off. Like having friends over for dinner or starting a book club. That nagging to-do list of projects is actually getting accomplished because I don’t feel so drained by the mere task of keeping up with the daily chores. (Although I’ll just throw it out there that if we didn’t have to make dinner every. single. night, that would be nice. Ha!)
  6. Practicing letting go of tangible objects has made it easier to let go of intangible things – maybe ideas about how things are supposed to be, or guilt over past misdeeds, even the idea that the things I have are what defines me. I have noticed less anxiety in my relationships. I quit following people on social media who made me feel lacking or like I needed to buy more things to be special and cool and authentic. I unsubscribed from all those deals emails that were cluttering up my mind with thinking I needed more, more, more. It has freed me to be more content with myself, while also truly enjoying the people and things that I do choose to make a priority. I feel more confident in my decision-making abilities, because I’ve practiced making little decisions that had a big payout.
  7. I don’t keep things for a special occasion or “just in case.” Thomas Morton once said, “Don’t keep things for a special occasion. Everyday of your life is a special occasion.” I’ve cleaned out so much storage with that very thing in mind. What good is my grandmother’s crystal if it’s sitting in a box in the basement? Either I’m going to use it and enjoy it and yes, risk it getting broken, or I’m going to let it bring joy to someone else. Because it’s doing nobody any good in storage. If you love it, use it. Enjoy it! If you don’t love it, lose it. Let it fulfill it’s purpose elsewhere.
  8. Tidying is easier and cleaning is less of a chore. Let’s be honest. If you walked in my door right now, you would see pillows and blankets strewn about. A counter and sink full of dirty dishes, so many school papers that Ellie just brought home on the dining room table, toys and socks littering the hallway. But if you gave me a 15 minute warning, I would feel pretty confident in my ability to tidy almost everything up. It gets way less chaotic than it used to around here. And since everything has it’s place, putting it back in it’s place is easier, even if it doesn’t happen immediately. (Because who honestly does that? I alway read these tips about tidying your house and how you should wash every dish the moment you are done using it and that just doesn’t seem practical with kids, especially ones too small to wash their own dishes… Those must be tips for homes with only adults in them…?)
    So it’s not perfectly tidy all the time. We live here, and it’s messy a lot. But it is easier to maintain with less meaningless stuff invading every corner. I find that keeping things clean is much simpler and less time-consuming than it used to be.
  9. Basically, it all comes down to this: choosing what we own is choosing how we want to live our lives. Ellie and I were talking today about how all of our actions have reactions, everything we do has a consequence, whether good or bad. Because I feel powerful in my ability to say no to unnecessary accumulation, I feel like I am actually making a choice about how I live my life. I am less a victim of marketing and sales and peer pressure and more in control of my time, my mental space, and my desire to bring something good to the world around me.

Simplifying has changed so many things for me. It has sharpened my senses and increased my gratitude and contentedness in a world thirsting for more. It has sharpened my decision-making skills, helped me clarify what I think is important and develop a system for actually accomplishing those things. I guess there’s a reason that Marie Kondo calls it, “The Life-Changing Magic.”

P.S. Attempting a capsule wardrobe is really what got me started on this journey. And I love it so much that I will sing it’s praises to anyone. It’s so practical and easy to maintain that I’ve made sure my kids and husband have one, too. There’s lots of info out there about capsule wardrobes for adults (try here and here if you’re interested), but not much on how to do one for kids. But I’ll be back with some thoughts on the subject.

P.P.S. If you want to start simplifying but feel overwhelmed by the prospect, I’d recommend “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. It’s a best-seller for a reason. Although there are parts that might seem (really) weird, the basic premise and guidelines are super helpful. Especially helpful, I think, are the specific categories to tackle and the order in which to tackle them. I think it was no coincidence that this started for me by a thorough decluttering of my wardrobe. // More practical ideas to come in another post.

On Girlfriendship

I have always been lucky to have amazing girlfriends. Some people define the stages in life by age or grade in school, I can define mine by the most significant friendship of the time.

These girls have made lasting impressions on my life – so much of who I am today and what I think about the world can be attributed to my friendships with them.

I’m thankful for my friends who don’t have kids yet, and are still perfectly content to accommodate mine so we can still spend time together. These are the women who can meet me for breakfast while my kids are in school. These are the ones who can stay up until all hours of the night talking and talking. They drop off presents at 11:00 at night, and I catch them and invite them in for pie. They can stay late for game night or are content to watch movies with me while the kids nap. I am exponentially grateful for you. You have made my life so much better. Your willingness to make room for me and my kids means so much more to me than I can ever say. And I promise that one day, when you’re in the young-kid-phase, I’ll come by at midnight with cookies and I’ll come hang out with you while your babies nap.

To my college besties. We have forged bonds over broken hearts and late night Commons cookies. You have let me be really angry and you’ve listened to me complain about it. You have allowed me to be confused and frustrated. And you have also shared joy and adventure and happiness and contentment with me. You have crashed on my couch countless times and neither of us is above napping together. You have taken my kids to the park so I could catch my breath. You have encouraged me when I felt like I was going nowhere. You have admired me when I was admiring you. You have given me insight into things I had never imagined. You have been just as content to explore new cities as to stay at my house and cuddle with my kids.  You are the surrogate aunts of my children. I have chosen you and you have chosen me and I depend on you. I love you and am so very grateful for you in ways I can’t even say.

And to my fellow mothers. You are irreplaceable. I love that our kids get along and we get along. I wish I could say that wasn’t a rare gift, but it is. And even if our kids don’t necessarily get along, I love and appreciate you and enjoy our friendship. I love you for your perspective and your advice and your ideas. I love that I have someone to turn to when I just don’t know how to navigate the world of family and parenting. Thank you for sharing your hearts and your lives with me. I love you.

And to my mentors. I tear up when I think about you. About how your lives of love, devotion and wisdom are such a beacon of hope to me. I get lost sometimes, wondering who I am and where I am going and then you pop into my mind. And I remember. Yes. It doesn’t matter if I don’t accomplish much if I am a friend like you are, if I love my family like you do, if I care for people as you care for them. I will count my life worthwhile if I can emulate you at all. I love you for showing me the way. For setting up roadsigns along the path, even when you didn’t know you were doing it. I love you for loving me in my immaturity and childish delusions, and for still being nice to me as I try to grow up and figure things out.

My sisters and my mother. My first girlfriends. You fit into the other categories, but deserve a special one, too. I love you because we will always be family, because we will always have each other’s backs. Because no matter what happens, you are the ones I would give anything for. You are the ones who love me and my children in ways no one else can. The haven of your love made it possible for me to go out and seek far off adventures, knowing you would be home when I came back.

And even to you, perfect strangers who have offered a helping hand or a package of cookies when it was clear we were having a bad day, thank you. Your friendship, your willingness to suspend judgement and react in kindness to an unknown situation – these things overwhelm me. You are the greatest example of the sisterhood of womankind – that if we let go of all the nonsense that can get in our way, we will find such joy and comfort in our camaraderie. Thank you for being a beacon of hope on a cloudy day.

To you, my friends, you wonderful women who inspire me so much. Thank you. We don’t always agree or see things the same way, but there is a bond between us that runs deeper than any of that. It is like our souls are connected through time and space and politics and jobs and locations. There is something that will always connect us, and I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful that you have loved me when I couldn’t love myself. That you have forgiven me for my mistakes, and you have let me be who I am.

One of my greatest hopes for my daughters is that their whole lives they are blessed with friendships like these. That these friendships will be an anchor is stormy weather. They will be the first ray of dawn on dark nights. And they will be a palm tree of shade in beautiful sun.

I love you, I love you, I love you. You mean the world to me.

All of the Feelings

You guys… today has been a hard day. A really hard day. And not because the kids were losing it… because I was losing it. Because I felt all the emotions. All. Of. Them. Joy. Sadness. Anger. Pain. Fear.

We watched Inside Out today. Have you seen it? It made my cry and ache in ways only a mother can. Not to give away the plot of the movie, but as that little girl is growing up and losing her childhood, basically every fear I have is being realized.

There are times, as an adult, when you look at your children and you can be so very envious of their innocence. Of how happy they can be because nothing in their life has been that hard. They haven’t known what it feels like to be rejected. They haven’t known abandonment. They have never experienced real fear of the unknown. Or of the known, for that matter. They can look at every person and every situation with perfect optimism – they have no reason to believe anything but the best will come to them.

There are times, like today, that I wish I could keep them in this vacuum of innocence. This perfect world where the biggest problem they face is having to sweep the dining room (oh the horror!). It hurts so much to be broken hearted in front of them, and to not even want to say what it is that is hurting me so much, because it will take away from their happiness just by knowing about it.

These moments of overwhelming sadness. Of the magnitude of the responsibility of parenthood weighing heavily on me. Of struggling with the “why’s” of life, that I feel an urge to write everything down, so I don’t forget.

I want to remember this feeling of anguish so I don’t cause others this pain.

I want to remember how deep a wound inflicted by someone you should be able to trust can be. How easily the scab is ripped off and the blood gushes and the pain comes back. How just when you think it’s starting to get better, bam! There you are needing to be stitched up again.

But there’s more that I want to remember.

I want to remember how Henry likes pretending to be a baby. He’ll lay perfectly still for a long time if you cradle him like a baby. Of course, since he can talk, he likes to give stage directions like, “I’m a baby. I need a blanket. I need to go sleep in my crib.”

I also want to remember how he loves to go to grandma’s house. All the grandmas are his favorites. He was playing with his bunny and he asked the bunny if she wanted to go to bed. “The bunny” replied, “No! I don’t want to go to bed! I want to go to grandma’s house!”

He’s very funny, too. He’s already got a great sense of humor. The other day Steve was cleaning him up after a trip to the beach. He said, “Henry, you’re all sandy.” And Henry replied, as the sand fell out of his shorts, “I’m not sandy! The house is sandy!”

I love how he talks slowly to make sure he gets all the words. “I like you (your) hair, mama. It’s… pitty (pretty)… wainbow!”

I want to remember how all three of them just hugged me as I was crying. I couldn’t tell them the details of what was wrong. But they were all there with me. They held me close. They didn’t leave my side.

I want to remember how Liv is getting so tricky with her balance bike. It took her a few days of riding it to figure out how you can balance and now she is trying crazy things. (And maybe falling sometimes, too.) But she’s so adventurous.

She has a giggle that should be in cartoons. And she told her dad the other day, “Dad, you tell the best jokes in the whole world.” And then she told him that she loves mama’s voice.

When we were at the lake house with my grandparents, she said to me and my grandma, “You two look like you’re the same age!” Grandma Ellie replied, “Well, that’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in 20 years!”

Olivia’s very good at making people feel loved. Even our cat who is maybe causing a few issues gets love from Olivia. “Oh Snugs. I know you’re really lovely, but you can’t poop in our garden, okay?”

And I want to remember how Ellie makes beautiful paintings and likes to give them to people. And yesterday Henry got a cool set of Minion goggles from Aunt Jo. Ellie wanted some, too, so instead of whining about it, she went into the craft room and cut up a plastic package she found and made herself some Minion goggles. It filled me with pride to see her be resourceful and creative.

And she loves listening to the Bible on audio CD at her rest time. Afterward she likes to come up and tell me things she’s heard. Like, “Jesus said we are salt. But if salt isn’t salty anymore, how can it get salty again?”

She also interpreted the “Field of Blood” as a “big field full of bloody plants and stuff like that.”

She is growing up and having her first real friends. And that is marvelous to watch. Having wonderful friends has been one of the cornerstones of my life, and I pray that she also experiences good and deep and lasting friendships that will be a source of strength and encouragement to her.

I love that she is really understanding when we talk about life. She’s really getting it on a level that is new and wonderful.

I love how she loves music. She is always dancing. Always singing. Always asking us to play her songs. And she loves to make things special. Every day is an opportunity for a special occasion with her.

I want to remember these little things that make life big. I want to remember the way their hair smells salty. I want to remember how they say hi to every person and dog we ever pass. And they always ask to pet the dogs. And sometimes to hold the babies. And then Henry always says, “I like you (your) baby!”

I want to remember holding them in my arms, and wanting to give them the whole world.

Hello, 2015

Everyone does these “looking back on the previous year” posts, and so I’m going to do one, too.

2014 was a great year. A hard year and a wonderful year and a year of adventure and simplicity and enough. Really learning that I have enough. That I am enough.  I think that over this past year I’ve gained a better perspective on myself, all my faults and talents, of my job as a mother and a wife, learning to accept that there are bad days, that I have a bad temper, and then praying for peace as I approach each situation.

Each New Year’s Eve we spend a little time as a family reflecting on the past year, and telling each other things we have loved most about each one throughout this past year. Usually the kids don’t pay much attention, but this time, whenever it was someone’s turn to say what they love about Ellie, she turned so intently to them, soaking up every word of love and encouragement they had for her. She was so eager to know what her family loved about her. It melted me a little bit. To see her growing into this person, a person who is so kind, compassionate and also passionate, who is knowledgeable and lovable and loving.

My kids, in general, have been especially grand this year. Henry turned from a very cranky 9-month-old, to a more well-adjust 1-year-old. I feel like we understand each other a lot better now. And now he’s the perfect “littlest” for our family. He’s learned to talk so much since the Christmas season! I guess Christmas is a great time to encourage talking because then he can ask things like, “I want candy cane.” and “Please help stuck.” about his new toys. He’s super snuggly and goes around hugging everyone all the time. It’s the best. My favorite thing he does is when he climbs up into my arms with a toy and then just hangs out there as long as he can, fully enveloped in my arms, fully content to be beside me.

Olivia is our little light. This past year has brought on a more uneven temper for her. But she is still our snuggle bug who just wants you to be with her. I always say to the kids, “I’m going to keep you forever.” and she has started saying it back to me randomly, “Mama, I’m just going to keep you forever.” She is so imaginative and bright. There is always a new story playing in her head. She loves to sing and draw and practice her letters. She is the perfect intermediate child, playing so well with the cars and trains and also the dress-ups and princesses. She and Ellie can certainly get on each other’s nerves, but it is always clear that they love each other very deeply. They are always taking care of each other and reporting on the other’s needs and talking for hours into every night. (Which always makes me curious as to what they have to talk about for so long? I need a Go Pro or something to figure that one out.)

And Ellie. Ellie is my star. When Henry was littler and more, ahem, difficult, she had to take on the role of caring and getting less care of her own. I feel terrible, being the older sister myself, and knowing that she was taking on too much responsibility because I needed her help. Her needs grow less and less tangible and immediate, and so the ones who are crying for food or sleep get taken care of first. But when she started school again this fall we began reading chapter books every day. I’ve read A Little Princess and Little House in the Big Woods and we are almost done with Little Women. (And perhaps we should break out of the “Little” titles – 101 Dalmatians, Charlotte’s Web and her Kit books are next on the queue). How I have loved this time with her. Definitely there are afternoons where I’m just tired and don’t want to read to her, but it’s the one time of day that is just hers. She snuggles up to me and we read and talk about what we are reading and then you’re bound to hear me reference the books we’re reading a little too often. Mallory can attest to the number of times I’ve started a sentence with, “Well, in Little Women“…. I have really seen her blossom during this time together. Ellie is becoming so thoughtful, changing more and more to have her own thoughts and ideas. She is creative and pays attention to the details of things. She loves and listens and laughs readily.  And she cares so deeply for her brother and sister. She never wants to grow up (which she reminds us of daily) and I never want her to.

I am learning more and more each day to be patient, to let the little things go, to realize that I don’t have the perfect way to do things, to let them be kids because they don’t get to be for very long. I have embraced imperfection a lot more this year, learned to not apologize if my house isn’t always clean, because we’re living and loving and being here, and it would be a shame to interfere with all that for cleaning. (Although we do clean sometimes. Usually before people come over, because my mother taught me that was the polite thing to do. And also, it’s gotta be cleaned sometime I guess. But if you drop by unannounced, do not be surprised if there are toys and laundry everywhere.) My motto recently has been, “The secret to a fabulous life is to live imperfectly with great delight.” So what if I just cannot be organized and creative at the same time? So what if I can’t make up my mind? So what if I sometimes say the wrong thing? So what?

I think we live in a world bent on perfection, or at least the facade of perfection, but really, it is the anomalies, the outliers that bring beauty. Someone photographed on Humans of New York Instagram said, in reference to her boyfriend, “I love everything about him. The good. The bad. Everything.”  At first is struck me as odd, loving the bad about someone. But as I’ve thought about it, that’s what love really is, isn’t it? Accepting and opening up to someone completely, flaws and all. Loving them because of their flaws, instead of in spite of them.

One of my favorite speeches of all time is by the comedian Tim Minchin. He’s got a lot of great advice in there, but one of the things I like most is when he talks about defining yourself by what you like instead of what you don’t like. I think there can be a tendency to say, “I don’t like this or that,” and that can become what people know about you. But wouldn’t it be better to be known by what you love? What you’re passionate about? “Be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.” And by stuff, he/I don’t mean actual tangible things like clutter or whatever, but stuff like art or serving or teaching or loving. Let’s be pro-living, pro-being, pro-people.

So this year, I have no resolutions like “exercise more” (because if I feel the need to do that I should start that day and not wait for a new year to come). Instead, this year, I want to just embrace. Embrace life in whatever way it comes to me. Embrace imperfections in myself and others. Embrace beauty and hope and pain. Embrace life in all it’s bumpiness, all it’s rough edges and quiet strength.

Around here, our little family can’t get enough of life. We’re always trying to squeeze in a little extra by talking late into the night or having a pizza movie night or singing Frozen karaoke until our ears bleed. We’re going to keep doing that this year. Not waiting for special occasions to throw a party or show affection, because our whole life is a special occasion. Today is our someday.

On What I Wish I’d Known (As A First-Time Mother)

With Ellie turning five this past week, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it was like to be her mother in the very beginning. Sometimes I feel so badly for her, being the guinea pig kid. I had have no idea what I’m doing. Becoming a mother is a very wonderful and complex thing. There are so many moments of happiness mixed with frustration and bliss and insecurity and excitement and an absolutely inexplicable love and devotion. There’s absolutely nothing anyone could ever say that could really prepare you for being a parent. But, from my experiences and talking to other mamas, I think there may be a few things every mom should hear that can make hard days easier and good days even better.

Me and Ellie back in the day.

These are some of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) along the way. Some of these things get easier with more kids. But as they grow and change, I have to learn them all over again.

1. Friends are better than the Internet. Even five years ago when I was pregnant with Ellie, the Internet was full of confusing and contradicting information. (There’s some helpful stuff out there, like a quick Google search for “normal colors of baby poop” so you don’t have to rush to the doctor because something weird is in your baby’s diaper.) But now, even more than then, there is so much information that it is just overwhelming. There is a lot of fear-mongering regarding everything from what to feed your child, how to get them to sleep through the night, whether or not to vaccinate, etc. etc. etc ad infinitum.  I’ve always found it much more helpful to consult friends with older children, or even those who are right in the thick of things with you. Choose a pediatrician you feel comfortable with and they can also offer you a lot of advice. Read books and articles as much as you want, talk to your own mom and other seasoned moms you trust and admire. And trust your own instincts. But don’t let some blogger who doesn’t know you or your baby make you feel guilty. Don’t even let the critiques of some Facebook acquaintance make you feel like you’re failing. You’re not. You’re doing just fine.

Also, haters are gonna hate, so just ignore those who aren’t supportive of the way you have chosen to raise your baby.

2. All parents are insecure. There are so many possible ways to do things. And so many people who have opinions about how one way is better than the other way or if you put your child down for one minute so you can go to the bathroom they’ll be scarred for life or if they suck their thumb they’ll have teeth problems or whatever. Total strangers are going to come up and tell you how to be a better parent or how you’re doing X, Y, or Z wrong. They’re only doing that because they feel insecure about parenting. Because it’s hard. It’s a lot of decisions and a lot of possible outcomes and, if you love your child like any parent I’ve ever met does, you worry about those things. And so sometimes you take it out on other people by telling them how you figured out this magical way to do things that is THE WAY to do things. Cut them some slack. Nod and go about your day. You may agree with them, you may not. And that’s fine. You don’t have to do what they say. You’re not a bad parent. They’re not a bad person for telling you what they think. Everything is going to be okay.

3. This too shall pass. I remember feeling so impatient for Ellie to be born. It was all I could think about for long before she arrived. I wish I would have savored the last few months of being child-less. Of course, babies are amazing and wonderful and they change everything forever, but they change everything forever. It won’t be so easy anymore to see a movie at midnight  or try out a new restaurant. (Not that those things are impossible, they just take more planning, coordination and money with a baby involved.) It seemed like every day I waited for her was the longest day ever, and I wish I’d enjoyed that leisure a little more. (Also, having been through three births I can tell you that electively induced labors are horrible compared to natural ones.You know, just in case you were wondering.)

Maybe it’s just me, but after three kids I’ve learned that the clouds part and the sun shines a little brighter as soon as your baby turns one. I don’t know if it’s because you and your baby both have a year of experience under your belt or because they’re finally getting past all the trials of being new in the world, but it really makes a huge difference. Everyone’s mood picks up and 1-2 years is probably my favorite baby age. It is so fun to see them learn and grow and walk and talk, and you have the added benefit of having made it through some of the real trials like night sleeping, teething, learning how to eat, etc. But even after a year old there are plenty of challenging stages. And when your child is throwing a tantrum or can’t be taken outside without running directly into the street, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it won’t always be this hard.

And with that remember to seize the really good moments. Your baby’s feet won’t always be so tiny and kissable. She won’t always cuddle up with a book and lay her curly head on your chest. He won’t always fit just the right way on your hip. His laugh is going to change into a kid’s laugh someday, and that baby belly giggle will fade away. So many times when I’ve been upset to be up in the middle of the night rocking a baby who just won’t sleep I remind myself that in a blink they’ll be too big to sleep on me and I’ll miss it. Hold those moments close. Commit them to memory and take pictures of them and remember them during the times you wish would pass more quickly. (And if you’re yet to become a parent, I can tell you that the moments you want to hold onto forever will far outweigh the ones you would be quick to kiss goodbye.)

4. When you know, you know. There are a lot of things that bring up a lot of questions. Are these contractions real labor yet? Is my baby sick or just fussy? And the answer is, when you know, you know. There will be no mistaking real labor. Don’t worry. You will definitely know when it has come. And if your baby is doing something that is slightly abnormal, at least according to the information available on babycenter.com, just remember, if your baby is really sick or something is really wrong, you will definitely know. As Steve once wisely told me when I was afraid I had accidentally sprayed stain remover in Ellie’s eyes because the cap malfunctioned (p.s. keep that stuff away from babies as a good precaution), “I don’t think she’s going to just be laying there calmly while being blinded by poisonous liquids.” So yeah, if something is wrong you’ll definitely know. And until then, see item number 1.

5. Sometimes babies just cry.  Just because your baby is crying, that doesn’t make you a bad parent. They can’t talk yet, so crying is kind of all they have to communicate a myriad of emotions. Ellie had colic and just cried and cried and cried for hours even though she was fed and warm and held and all that. If you need a break from the crying, it’s okay to leave your baby in a safe place and take five minutes to collect your thoughts (and your courage to face everything again). Be willing to ask for help from your partner, friends, and family when you need it. It’s okay. Even when your child is older and they’re screaming in the grocery store and you feel like everyone is silently judging you, you are not a bad parent. Sometimes people just have bad days. I bet you’d throw a fit in the grocery store every once in a while, too, if you didn’t have any self control (especially when considering the prices in there!).

6. Cut yourself some slack. Be reasonable with your expectations. That first year is hard. It takes all of your time to take care of that baby. It’s okay if you don’t get any books read or projects done or don’t do much besides eating and cuddling with your baby. You may see other moms who seem like they can do it all and don’t need to sleep or something. Maybe you read this blog and think that I do lots of things while also having kids. All that gets put on hold for a while when the babies are tiny. Do what you feel you’re up to, and let go of expectations. Do as much as you can and want to, but don’t waste this time measuring yourself against supposed “super moms.” They’re cutting corners somewhere.

7. When you are ready, being productive can make you feel like a human again. I remember meeting someone in the craft store or somewhere who said it’s nice to have something you can accomplish every day when you’re raising kids because the whole child-rearing thing is such a long-term game. I have found that it does feel really good when I get out into the real world or snag a few minutes during naptime to do something that I want to do. So when you’re ready, it’s okay to do something for yourself. Take your baby to visit your friends. Make something cool from Pinterest while the baby sleeps. Let daddy watch the baby so you can get a latte or go to girl’s night or take a yoga class.

8. Reflect. At the end of the day, it’s good to step away and reflect on how things are going. If you didn’t handle a situation as well as you wish you had, make a plan for handling it better in the future. Go on vacation with your hubby, or at least out to dinner, and talk through issues and make a team decision on the best way to move forward.
And also reflect on your own life. My mentor, Tammy, once told me that you can do things differently than your parents did them, but it takes a conscious decision every day because you’re going against your natural instincts, the ones that have been bred in you from watching them happen over and over again. You have to choose to do and be better. And I’ve found that to be very true. Things only change if I make a forthright effort to change them.

9. You are more than just a mother. You’re a person in your own right. And being a mother, although completely and wonderfully life-changing, doesn’t have to be your whole identity. You can have your own friends. You can talk about things besides your baby. You can go on dates with your hubby and pretend you don’t have a baby at all. You can read books that have nothing to do with parenting. You’re allowed to be a woman, a friend, a person and everything else you are besides mother. “Mother” might be the name you get called the most now-a-days, but it’s not the only name you have. It’s okay to want to wear clothes that don’t have spit up on them. It’s okay to want to go for a walk all by yourself. It’s okay to want to go and be and do away from your children sometimes.

10. You don’t have to be “the perfect mom.” This is actually something I think I’m learning more now than ever. Because I don’t always feel like, “I’ve got this!” it’s easy to want to at least appear to have it all together. To have little girls who always have hair bows. And boys and floors that are never dirty. But then it occurred to me that I have never, ever disowned a friend because her floors weren’t clean enough. I’ve never ever walked away from a playdate upset that there were toys on the floor before we arrived. In fact, when I do go to someone’s house and they don’t have it all together, I breathe a sigh of relief because, “I’m not the only one who can’t keep up with the laundry!” (Besides, who could even determine what the “perfect mom” even looks like? Opinions are drastically varied.)

I was talking with my friend, Kirsten, the other day and she said, “Why can’t I be the one who has toys everywhere and makes the other moms who come to visit feel better about themselves. Why would I want to be the one with everything so seemingly perfect that they leave feeling distressed and unhappy?” I am really working on taking that to heart. On the one hand, if I didn’t clean my house for when guests come over it would never be clean. But on the other hand, who cares? Seriously. And I really don’t want to be the one setting impossible standards that make other moms feel bad. That would just be sad. (If you only know me via this blog and not in person, please see more on this subject here.)

Basically, if you love your child and are conscientiously making decisions for your family, and if you have their best interest in mind, you are a great parent. Surround yourself with parents who are doing the same thing as you, get and give encouragement. Share the joys and the frustrations and you’ll find that you are not alone. Being a parent is the most wondrous, fulfilling and difficult thing you will ever do. Relax, honey. You’re doing just marvelously.

I’ll leave you with the words of Jill Churchill:

Seriously. She is a very wise woman. We could all benefit from letting that sink in.

P.S. If you haven’t seen this Coke commercial from Argentina, I think it is possibly the best 60-second description of parenthood I’ve ever seen. I love it so much.

P.P.S. If I could do it all over again, I wish someone would have told me not to buy baby stuff. Well, there are some things you need. Like a place for the baby to sleep and clothes and a carseat. But beyond that, there’s so much that the Target baby registry wants to convince you you’ll definitely need. And most of that stuff is taking up space in our basement. You use most baby things for such little time that it’s a great idea to try borrowing from friends or family instead of investing your money in something that will be in use for a few short months. And wait to see what you actually do want. I can’t tell you how many things we bought or were given that we didn’t even use. I could have bought so many cute dresses for myself had I saved that money until I knew what I really needed for the babies.

P.P.P.S. Washi tape images in Jill Churchill quote from here.

P.P.P.P.S. This is getting ridiculous.

A Little House Love

This post, it’s mostly for my future curiosities.

It’s not about trying to have a “Pinteresting” house or anything like that. I just happen to really like the little home we have set up. It’s not too fancy, but it’s just perfect for us. And I have really enjoyed making it feel like home.

There are a bunch of little things that aren’t perfect and that I could see and complain about, DIY projects that need to be completed, professional projects that should be hired out, etc. But I don’t focus on those. I want to focus on all the little touches of our personalities we’ve put into this space. And someday, maybe my kids might want to be able to look back and see pictures of the place they grew up. And maybe someday I’ll want to look back at these pictures and giggle about things I chose and say things like, “That was soooo 2010s to do that!” But even if it is, who cares? I’m grateful to get to live here, in a city I love, in a neighborhood we enjoy. We have everything we need and I am very content.

I used to think this would be our “starter home,” that someday we’ll move on to something bigger and better (isn’t that the American dream?). But recently I’ve just let go of that. Maybe we will move. Maybe we won’t. I don’t know. The point is, it’s not important. It’s not so important that I should waste my time pinning things to my “Someday Home” board or pining for a bigger kitchen or subway tile or French doors. Right now I have a beautiful home. It’s warm, has running water, a roof with no leaks, toilets that take anything nasty far away and dispose of it for me. But not just that, I actually get to paint it whatever color I want. I get to occasionally pick out new things to decorate it with. I am very lucky, and that’s not lost on me for one moment. And I don’t want it to be. The minute I start dreaming about something better, I check myself. And I choose to be grateful for all these little, wonderful things that make this place feel like home.

Full disclosure: I definitely cleaned my house before taking these pictures. It doesn’t look like this all the time. The pillows are rarely on the couch. There is definitely not a little breakable vase of fresh flowers down where the babies can hurt it. That’s just for the fun of dreaming, and not for the sake of reality. If you’d like to see a tiny glimpse of what my house normally looks like (dirty floors and all), see here.

This is the living room. It’s one of my favorite places to be. It’s so cozy and I’ve spent so many late nights talking to friends and eating good food and drinking good wine while my children sleep soundly a few yards away. I’ve filled it with little treasures from our adventures together, seashells from the lakehouse and posters from New York and a tiny trolley from San Francisco. I picked the globes up one by one while antique shopping with my mom or my girlfriends. That skyline below the globes? My brother did that by hand for us one Christmas and I love it. And then there are the gifts from wonderful friends and see that box on the shelf below the cake plates? That’s where I keep all the love letters Steve wrote me when we were dating but were separated for the summer. All my favorite books lines the shelves and the couches, while not my favorite aesthetically, are super comfortable. And I love that many people have contentedly crashed on them.
Steve’s parents gave us the rug we have in there and it has been the site of so many tickle fights and horsey rides and when I look at it I almost feel like I can hear baby Henry’s giggle, which is, by far, one of my most favorite sounds in the whole world. Those board games have been put to good use in that living room and we’ve made some hilarious memories with them. And don’t worry about those shelves. They are zip-tied to the walls, earthquake-proof style so no kiddos can pull them over on top of themselves. Which is nice for my peace of mind.

This beautiful console that the TV sits on? It was left by the previous owners. It’s so beautiful and I wouldn’t be able to afford an antique like that, but I got it for free, yo! (Except for the whole house payment thing… so I guess you could see that as either free or outrageously expensive. I’m going to go ahead and choose the former.)

Those “HAPPY” signs greet you as you walk in the door. They’re very fun because they make it seem like it’s a party all the time. Which it pretty much is.

Our dining room furniture was also left by the previous owners, and we are so grateful for it. Someday I’d like to paint the table white. I try to keep this place as clutter free as possible because this is kind of where we live. There is always something going on in here, like eating or art projects or the kids bringing all their toys out of their room and stacking them out here in their forts. It’s kinda mayhem-y.

Mallory gave me that mirror which says, “Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words. -Plautus” It was a limited edition line by one of my favorite artists Dana Tamanachi at Target. Isn’t it so pretty?

Here’s the hallway. It’s pretty great because of the Instagram wall. It was a project completed mostly with tape (and pictures, obviously). I like Target the best for printing, so whenever they’re having a sale on their prints, I have a couple new ones made up to keep this gallery updated. Of course, now it’s so full of some of my very favorite photos that I might have to start on the wall on the other side of the hallway because I don’t know if I can bear to replace any of these ones. I guess that’s a problem you deal with when you have over 2,250 Instagrams. Also, that little poster at the end on Henry’s door is a school project Ellie brought home after Earth Day. Isn’t it so cute? It says, “Christ has no hands on Earth but ours.” It’s one of those quotes I like to remind myself of as much as possible.

Here’s our bedroom. It’s nice and snuggly. It took my almost six years for me to admit that having a headboard would be nice. Before that I liked feeling like a vagabond who just sleeps on a mattress. But this tufted headboard sure is comfy, especially for reading in bed. I also have to admit that sometimes I pick books solely on how pretty they will look on my nightstand. And I’m particularly fond of that sketch of the ballerina next to the pretty books. My friend Cara sketched it and gave it to me as a Christmas gift. I’m lucky to have so many artistic friends.

The bathroom is tiny, which forces us to be creative with our storage, and also to keep our bathroom amenities paired down. I like that it has a little counter space. That’s always nice. And I never bother to hang the picture in there because I swap it out pretty frequently. I’m a big fan of just setting framed things on tables and counters and such. Much less commitment than actually affixing them to walls. And commitment, at least when it comes to house projects, kind of scares me (obviously more than getting married and having kids and all that jazz).

And then there’s Henry’s room. Besides the living room, it is probably my favorite room in the house. Possibly because of the travel theme. Maybe because of the color we painted it. Maybe because it’s so much more fun to have a boy than I ever thought it could be (and not just because of the decorating).

I love the map wall that slowly gets maps added to it. They’re all just “wrapping paper” maps that I get for $5-$6, mostly at Paper Source. And I’m nothing if not easily excitable by something that is awesome and simultaneously only $5. I keep his toys in little antique suitcases from garage sales and Mallory brought him that hat that’s hanging on his dresser from Peru. He loves that little rocking horse, which is similar to one I had while growing up. And that green minky dot blanket in his bed has kept all my babies warm at some point. That couch is a hide-a-bed so we can turn Henry’s room into the guest bedroom for when people visit us. When he went through his whole “never sleeping ever” stage, I spent a lot of time in that room rocking and rocking and rocking and it certainly helped that it was so nice to look at.
And this kitchen. It’s tiny, but it’s actually really practical. I’ve had a slew of kitchens in my renting days and this one is really easy to navigate. There’s not a ton of counter space, but that’s probably good because it forces me to keep things a little more clean. Maybe. I’m still not great at that. And I really love the gallery wall above the stove. I spent a long time not knowing what to put there. And then I saw that my friend Melissa used washi tape to hang up little prints in her home and I really liked that idea. So much easier than finding or making frames for everything, and then there’s all that nail hammering you have to do to hang frames. I like tape much better. And now I can change things whenever I want. The little beach scene is a painted tray I got at a flea market in Illinois and the fruit prints are postcards from New Orleans. Everything else is from my stash of notecards or paper products I find to be worth saving and hiding away until a perfect gallery wall opportunity presents itself.

We have a double oven in there and it is so handy. We had to buy a stove/oven when we moved in and the double oven was basically the same price as a single! It is not only great for cooking a turkey and everything else all at the same time for Friendsgiving, but the upper oven is small so it heats up really quickly if I’m making nachos or cookies for the family. And now I can bake all my cake layers at one time! Woohoo! And then there’s that pistachio Kitchen Aid Steve gave me at the end of busy season a few years ago. I know it’s silly. But I like the color so much. And I also like all the delicious things I make with it. It’s very useful and also very pretty. Win-win.
And finally we have the girls’ room , which was a big project. It used to be our attached garage, although because our house was built around 1950, it really wasn’t big enough to hold a modern size car. So we converted it to be our daughters’ bedroom. We insulated and sheet-rocked the walls, took out the door to the backyard and put in a window. We put in two little chandeliers and armoires from IKEA to make it functional as a bedroom. And I really like how it turned out. It’s a big space for them to play and they can run around like crazy in there. It’s nice to have some room to move around, especially in the winter when we can be trapped inside for long months.

Maya Angelou said, “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a lot to give in this stage of my life. Except then I remember that I’m raising my children to be givers and teachers, those who want to make the world a better place in whatever way they can, and don’t just mindlessly consume it. That can come from the way we live in our house, when we choose simplicity and to pair down and give whatever we have left over to those who need it. I can teach them to be content with fewer toys and gadgets by being content myself. I can be conscientious about my consumption and cut down on our waste in as many ways as possible at the time. I can’t be perfect, and I haven’t yet decided to give up everything and live in a mud hut. But I can commit to buying in bulk whenever possible and taking my reusable bags to the grocery store. I can make do with the things I already have instead of getting new ones. When I have extra, I can give it to those in need and I can reuse and repurpose as much as possible. I can make good food for people and talk about important things and how we can make the world better with our little actions, however small they may seem. I can make my children feel safe and loved here, so they always know that this is place is a refuge from whatever storms may come. I can be a content wife who welcomes my husband home with a happy heart that is thankful for everything he does for us, instead of stressing him out with my financial demands for “more” or “better.” I can enjoy that we’re not perfect, we don’t keep everything clean all the time, but that’s okay. We’re happy to be together. We’re grateful.

So I’ll leave you with a view of our front door. My bike is parked right there and I get to ride it every morning while Steve makes breakfast for the kids and gets them ready for school. And then we tag out and I make him coffee and lunch while he takes the kids to school and I stay with the ones who don’t go yet. And then he comes home, drops off the van and walks 10 minutes to his job down the street. It’s a nice change to have him around so much after years of traveling and working long hours. And so the little sign I have out there remains true. I made it for Thanksgiving last year but left out the whole year because it’s always appropriate:

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”
 -Henry David Thoreau

A Few Disclaimers

I’ve thought long and hard about what kind of content to provide on this blog, especially, what and how much to share about our personal lives here.

I’ve heard some complaints that my life as portrayed here seems too perfect and unreal and that it’s setting an unrealistic standard for those who have an outside perspective. A few years ago a blog reader that I met in person was surprised that I wasn’t all glitter and cupcakes and am actually a bit “snarky” – to borrow her impression.

Anyway, when I mostly post cute, fun things that my kids do or say, I am not trying to present an unfair view that they’re always angels who never throw fits or hit each other or don’t eat their vegetables. I choose to write about the good/funny/cute things because those are the things I want to remember. Just like everyone else, my kids make huge messes and color on hotel room walls and play in the toilet and break things and talk back and refuse to get dressed so we’re late places and scream at the top of their lungs in grocery stores. They whine when I tell them it’s time to come home from the park, or don’t take their naps or whatever. They are real, human children with lots and lots of faults and shortcomings that point a bright light on my faults and shortcomings as a parent.  We all have bad days, weeks, months, even, and my children are no exception.

Working out a relationship with a child is tricky business. Each of us has needs, desires, and personalities that must be navigated through. And that’s hard to do. In person, I discuss these things ad nauseam with friends, fellow parents, anyone really.

But in all the trickiness of navigating parenting, I have found it essential to me to keep things simple and positive. If I got bogged down in all the trials and repeated them here for you, lovely readers, it would start to consume my perspective until negativity and bogged-downness was all that was left.

I do believe that a bad memory is one of the most critical coping skills a parent possesses. We would be insane to ever have more than one child if we couldn’t forget the fussy first weeks, or the waking up at night for the first year(s). There are many, many nights when I can’t wait to put all my children to bed because it has been such a long, rough day. And then immediately I’ll lay down on the couch and start wishing they were awake because I miss them so much! (Does that sound like a rational, sane thing to think? No. No, it does not.)

Long before I became a parent, a mother I very much admire told me to remember that “The days are long, but the years are short.” I’ve found that to be the most true statement about parenting anyone has every said. The individual days are a long and hard struggle. Sometimes the weight of the responsibility of guiding my children towards independence, towards reasonable and conscientious adulthood, seems like a task I will never survive. Sometimes I can’t take any more crying or screaming and I just want to curl up in a ball and cry myself. We all get mad sometimes, we lose our tempers, we handle situations poorly (even when we know we can and should be handling them differently), we think we won’t make it to the end of the day,

But then it seems that in a blink each of them has grown into an unfathomable being, with their own thoughts and ideas. All at once one of them will turn and say something that is so completely their own, a clear sign of who they are, that it takes me by surprise. Far too quickly, they are growing and changing and being. And so, when I look back on this brief time I had with them, I know it will be easy to remember the struggles. It will be easy to remember that they were cranky, and sometimes inconsolable, and that at times they made me madder than I ever thought I could be. But I keep this blog so that I will remember the good things, too. The sweet things or the funny things. The little glimpses into their minds that they shared with me.

I do believe that deciding what we share on the internet is a delicate matter. For one, it’s a very permanent thing. And for another, it reaches a wider audience. I have a general rule about not over-sharing negative things about anyone on the world wide web. If I had a disagreement with Steve about something, I wouldn’t share it here. If a friend did something I didn’t like, or hurt me in some way, I wouldn’t write a blog post about it. I hold my relationships sacred enough to know that I wouldn’t want a moment of frustration to be left a permanent mark against their character or mine. And I regard my relationship with my children as even more sacred. Someday they may read this blog. And I would want them to know that more than anything else, I loved them. I cherished them. I made myself crazy trying to think of how to do what was best for them. Because at the end of the day, that is what is true. That is what I hope will last and those are the thoughts that I hope will stand the test of time.

So, if you want the real inside scoop about my experiences as a parent, please, ask me in person (or via email even) and I will be happy to share my struggles and commiserate with those of you who are also in the trenches with me. (Or who have been in the trenches and think my portrayal of them is too rosy.) My children are not, never have been and never will be, perfect. Neither am I or my husband or anyone that I’ve ever met, ever. Because we are humans. And being a human is being a wonderful and complicated mess. And we respect each other’s imperfections and give each other the benefit of the doubt as often as we can.

Normal state of the girls’ room: chaos. This is only one corner.
We stay in our pajamas all day if we have nowhere to be.
Also, our floor is very rarely clean, mostly thanks to the littlest guy here.

 

On Losing Candace (One Year Later)

Today marks the first anniversary of my sister’s death. Has it really been a year? It seems like yesterday. It seems long ago. It seems impossible. It seems mundane. It’s strange to have one day in your life which you can point to and say, “That’s when it changed.” Of course, not everything changed dramatically. But since she left us, everything has been coated in a layer of sorrow. Sometimes the dust is so thick I can’t see what’s underneath. At other times, it only thinly veils something really enjoyable, delightful even.

In December of 2012, I read The Time Traveler’s Wife. I didn’t know then how much the story of the ill-fated lovers would prepare me for the year ahead. That beautiful book made me fall in love with sadness. Audrey Niffenegger’s words showed me how wonderful tragedy can be in it’s own way – because it fills us with awe at everything good we would have just taken for granted. I’m not saying that the tragic thing itself is anything we have to be happy about, but if we let it, sorrow can increase our joy by magnifying our feelings of it.

It only hurts so much because I loved her so much. Because she was a part of me and I was a part of her. I could be endlessly bitter about that pain. But I can’t bring her back. So instead I’m going to be grateful I had someone to love so much.

In a whole year of grief, sometimes unbearably hard, sometimes a new piece of my regular existence, I have learned to be immensely thankful for the 21 years I had with Candace. For all the lives she touched and the way she made her world a little better. She had her struggles. She had her pain. She even caused pain. Because we all do. But I wouldn’t give any of that up to not have her at all.

We can’t chose how people treat us. We can’t choose when or how the ones we love will leave us. We can’t even change how they perceive the relationship we share with them. But we can chose to love them anyway. We can to choose to support them in their struggles. To listen and try to understand the pain – and maybe make it easier to bear by sharing.

***

Dearest Candace,

I can’t believe it’s been a year since you left us. I won’t be able to believe it next January when it’ll be 2 years, or the one after that when it’ll be 3 years. No amount of time will lessen the disbelief. Maybe it won’t lessen the pain either. Although it’s always changing, for me it’s like a dull, perpetual ache right now. Like when you’re feet hurt from walking in heels but you don’t notice until you sit down. And then you can’t stop noticing.

It’s crazy how you can be everywhere and nowhere all at once. I try to remember every detail, but they’re already fading. I don’t want the only thing left to be the hole created by your absence. I won’t let it be. I’ll keep remembering. I’ll keeping seeing you and looking for you. I’ll keep you close in my heart and forever on my mind.

Yesterday I went to that Cinnabon in the mall. Remember the one we ate cinnamon rolls at while Mom and Dennis shopped for rings? I wish we could be there together. We could laugh at how hard it is to eat so much sticky sugar with such flimsy plastic silverware. But instead of us laughing together I was there alone, threatening to burst into tears in the middle of the mall.

I miss you. I miss the part of me that was made up by your life, by your love. Sisters have a special bond no one else can understand. A bond that comes from sharing everything in life. There’s nothing that can replace it when it is taken away.

If I could talk to you now I would ask you so many unanswered questions. I would say so many unsaid thanks. Tell you my fondest memories.

Do you know the earliest thing I can remember is playing with you under the dining room table on that nasty orange carpet? Remember that stuff? It was awful. And I also remember coming upstairs one night wearing that old Little Mermaid shirt. You must have still been up in the nursery because I told mom and dad I was lonely and I wanted someone to come sleep with me. And then when we finally did share a room, I crawled into your bed so many nights. You filled that first void, relieved that first feeling of loneliness. You became like a second nature. Just being with you lessened my fears and gave me confidence.

It makes me so happy to see Ellie and Olivia together. They’re always singing and dancing just like we did. They hardly leave each other’s side. It makes me think of you and long for you. Long to tell you that I’m sorry for the ways that I hurt you. That I’m sorry for being so selfish and stubborn. I wish I could thank you for being so thoughtful and generous – a perfect opposite of me.

I wish I could have seen a way to help you. I wish I could tell you how beautiful you are. What a kind heart you have. How proud I am of you for making the difficult decisions that you did.

Many memories have flooded back to me throughout this year. A few months ago I came across a little monogrammed bag you gave me for my first trip to Mexico when I was 13. You were only eleven, but I remember you saying you didn’t have much, but you wanted to get me something that I needed for my trip. I used that little bag to keep my necessities in on that trip and over the years it has many different uses. I have come to take it for granted. But when I found it the other day that simple act of generosity and kindness overwhelmed me.

It’s these little things, these moments almost lost to time, that I carry with me. The love we shared, the five of us, will always be a part of me. No matter where I go, it will always be a part of who I am.

Thank you for being a part of my life and a part of me. Thank you for loving me. Though you are gone from sight you are never gone from my heart and mind. I love you now and forever. And I’ll be missing you until I join you someday.

To sign off I’ll take a line from one of our favorite movies, “…with a loving guarantee, that even if we part, I will hold you close with a thankful heart.”

Love you always.

P.S. To anyone who has read these posts, who has shown us their love and support this past year in any number of ways – thank you. I realize that in the blinding flurry of grief we may not have actually expressed how much your kind words meant to us. But all of them have been re-read many times. Your thoughtfulness has brought us comfort in this storm. You and your love have not gone unnoticed, but have been deeply felt and embraced. Thank you.  

On Gratitude

Well, it’s that time of year. Everyone makes lists of all the things they’re thankful for. My list could be long. I have so many things for which I am deeply grateful. But instead of making a list I thought perhaps I’d just ramble a bit.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Happiness doubled by wonder. I love that sentiment. Not just being happy. Not just choosing to be happy. But wondering at how beautiful life is. And being thankful for it.

This has been a hard year in many ways. It hasn’t been all the fun and games that other years have been. It has been tedious. It has been gut-wrenchingly painful. It has been frustrating beyond what I thought I was able to bear.

I have mourned the untimely death of my young sister and worried endlessly about how my family would fare in the aftermath. Many of my friends have moved away (although some came back, yay!) and left little emptinesses for a while. I have shed hot tears of grief and struggled against the confines of my life. My heart has wrestled with unanswerable questions over and over again.

And yet, as I sit here, I cannot help but wonder in gratefulness. Even for all these sad things. Because these sad things have made the good things even better. My sister’s death has brought me even closer to my family. It has welded us together and forged a bond only fire can. It has made me thankful in a new way for who she was, for every gift of life and love she gave me. And the memories I hold close continue to inspire me. Her passing has taught me the value of every day I have with my children. Even the hard days; I am learning to let those roll off my shoulders a little quicker. The void she left has taught me to soak up their sweetness while I can. To laugh and relish in their innocence. To listen to their stories about princess and cars and dolphins and ice skating. It has made each time I hold them seem more wondrous. Because I know it could be gone in an instant. But I will not succumb to fear. Instead, I will thank God for every kiss, every tiny hand clenched within mine, I will soak up every kind word they exchange, every funny anecdote. I cannot control how long I will have them. I cannot know what the future will bring. But I can take hold of the present. So that I can always look back and say, “I loved every minute.”

This isn’t to say it is always easy. Sometimes I have felt trapped. I have kicked against my responsibilities. Lamented the pressures of motherhood. And then I come back. And I see that motherhood is a gift. It’s not just a gift to me, although it certainly is that. It is my gift to give, as well. At first we think we want to have kids because it will make our lives better – and it does. But ultimately, it’s not about me. It’s about giving my children the best gift I can, the gift of my life, my time, everything. Because I love them I will provide the safest, happiest, most peaceful home I can for them to grow up in. Knowing that I am giving this gift to the ones I love gives me a new meaning, and a new reason to be grateful. I am thankful I have this gift to give.

Missing friends who have moved away has shown me how much love I have received. It has made me grateful for the many teachers and companions I have shared this road of life with. I am thankful for what they have taught me, for the new ways they have helped me look at the world. They have presented questions that change my perspective. And sometimes answers that bring such relief, a little peace to my warring mind. I cannot even fathom how much I have been shaped by the wonderful friendships I have been privileged to have. From the Fabulous Filler Five and all the love and imagination that we have always shared to my mother who fought hard for us and the new family we are becoming. From the families who gave me a second home when I was in grade school, to the girlfriends that broadened my horizons in high school, to friends that turned into family in college, to the fellow mothers who give me such hope, such encouragement, such a lovely role model to follow. My husband whose love gives me the confidence to become who I was created to be, whose love is both a safety net and a springboard. Just when I think I couldn’t ask for more, he gives my soul something I didn’t even know I needed, heals pieces of me I didn’t know were broken. My children who have brought me such joy, who have challenged and emboldened me. I will never stop being thankful for all of these. My heart is overwhelmed with the wonder of it all. To each of you, if you know who you are, and even if you don’t, thank you.

I never want to say that I have gotten what I deserve. I don’t deserve any of this. And that makes me even more grateful for every little thing. Every relationship. Every opportunity. Every good book. Every view of an incredible sunset over the Willamette River. Every golden leaf littering the ground. Every courtesy given in thoughtfulness. Every grand gesture of generosity. Every kind word. Every warm hug. Every sincere smile. Every everything.

So there you have it. Some mushy ramblings I have about how wonderful I think life is. And so I’ll leave you now with the lyrics of a song from the Muppet Christmas Carol (which is the best Christmas movie of all time, in case you’re wondering):

Stop and look around you / The glory that you see / Is born again each day / Don’t let it slip away / How precious life can be // With a thankful heart that is wide awake / I do make this promise / Every breath I take / Will be used now to sing your praise / And beg you to share my days / With a loving guarantee / That even if we part / I will hold you close in a thankful heart.

Let your heart be wide awake with thankfulness. You’ll see your blessings are unending.