Holidays might be a scam, actually.

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By the time you read this, my kids will either be in an Easter candy coma, or the bitter owners of yet another complaint for their future therapists: “She didn’t even believe in Easter baskets. Easter baskets!” 

I can’t decide if I believe in Easter baskets. 

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My wavering faith in popular holiday traditions began in my garage a few months ago. I trotted out to put away the Halloween trick-or-treat buckets (a gift from kind neighbors, believe me), opened the cupboard full of our holiday paraphernalia, and the Easter baskets were right in the middle of the shelf. So I had to push aside three baskets, to store three buckets, all on top of a bin holding three Christmas stockings… and that’s when I realized that holidays are a scam in which we simply change the color of the container that we fill with treats and gifts. 

This feels like a conspiracy. Am I missing something here? Am I the only one just now realizing that corporate America has brainwashed me into thinking that each month has a color scheme? Does the dollar spot at Target determine more about my yearly rhythm than the actual Gregorian calendar? Do my kids think the world revolves around parties and surprises, with me giving and them receiving? Is my life a figment of a marketing exec’s imagination?

Christmas stockings. Valentine’s boxes. Easter baskets. Halloween buckets. Switch the foil on the candy, trade the red velvet dress for pastel sandals, and suddenly it’s a whole new holiday, kids.

I’m not sure what bothers me so much about all of this. It might be the lavish giving that each holiday proposes, and what this tells my children about what they “deserve.” It might be how the giving often eclipses any other meaningful traditions around a celebration, each intentional move towards faith or beauty or generosity blown over by cellophane wrapped bunnies and Amazon deliveries on my doorstep.

Maybe by now you’re wondering what’s wrong with me. In a world where Syria is falling apart, cities are burning, and many, many kids far and near need help or homes or both, questioning Easter baskets seems trivial. Asinine, even. There are bigger problems to solve, harder questions to ask. And really, how can it be wrong to give my kids a gift? I love them, I want to give them good things, I love the joy on their faces when I give them thoughtful presents, I love to eat all of their holiday candy after they go to bed; these things are acceptable and even expected, in some circles (I mean maybe not the candy stealing, but I’m not above it). But these traditions feel clunky to me, old-fashioned in the way that littering seems old fashioned- as soon as you think about what you’re actually doing, it’s too absurd to continue.  

Except, I want to continue. Because I love the stupid traditions. I delight in watching my kids skip in the sunshine towards a wicker basket full of little gifts and chocolate eggs. I can’t sleep on Christmas Eve, my heart aflutter with nervous happiness for my son to unwrap his astronaut helmet. I hang balloons on birthdays and make heart cookies in February and I am a sappy, weepy, holiday fanatic. 

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But here’s the problem: I don’t know if these traditions create the kind of people I want raise. I’m asking these asinine questions because I want world-changers in my house, kids who build safety nets for society and friendships that last, and dive into the world with open eyes and hearts. So when I give them too many gifts and then wonder why they act selfish, I may be delusional. Let’s get serious- the real problem isn’t the kids. I like to blame the children for their attitudes of entitlement, obviously. But last I checked, they don’t have any money. So whatever they are getting too much of, or whatever it is that fills their hearts instead of love and truth: I gave it to them. In a bucket.

 

I don’t think the buckets and baskets are wrong. But they’re not enough. I want my kids to question what they hear and what they see, to take in the world as a beautiful, marvelous, complicated place. I want them to stay curious, eager to learn and aware of what matters. So maybe I’m overthinking it, but I keep these end goals in mind when I consider things like baskets full of marshmallow chickens, or piles of birthday presents. Traditions are not wrong simply for being traditions. But, like everything else in my life, I want to hold these “certainties” up to the light and examine each one, weigh them in my hands, and decide with care whether or not they bring life to my family. 

Perhaps, with balance and sincerity and self-control, our family can create our own culture around celebrating each other and what we believe. We can enjoy holidays with imagination rather than (or alongside) rote traditions. We can hike through the foothills and find a wide view of the city, or serve dinner to others instead of serving ourselves, or meet the sunrise at a mountain lake, or make our own ice cream and laugh with friends; these are all gifts of great value. They speak an inheritance of adventure, kindness, and meaningful connection, a fresh way past the consumerism and passive, somewhat silly reception of a basket or bucket or long sock.  

I’ll probably do Easter baskets this year. Mostly because I saw some miniature gardening gloves and trowels at Target that can’t be avoided. And I will also keep working to create a new paradigm for holidays, a new way for our family to think about loving and giving, on normal days and special days alike. 

And after Easter I’ll buy the half-off candy for myself, because self-control is a journey. Amen. 

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(originally published in Idaho Family Magazine, April 2018)
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Is there a wrong school?

        Here’s how my parents decided where to send me and my siblings to school: They found out where the school bus that stopped in front of our house was headed, and they put us on it. My parents bought our childhood home because of its proximity to an elementary, jr. high, and high school, all three in walking distance, because who’s got time to shuttle 7 children to and from school activities? Make those kids walk, man. But then in a stroke of terrible luck, it turned out we lived on the school district boundary line. So while our neighbors walked to schools close by, we languished on various thirty minute bus rides for 12 years. That’s a lot of hours of potty talk in the back of the bus, believe me. This also happens to be where I learned where babies come from, because school buses are the suburban kid’s back alleys.  

A few decades later, here’s how I’m deciding where to send my three kids to school: Panic attacks, late night school district webpage browsing, and a level of soul-searching normally reserved for marriage proposals and Peace Corp applicants. 

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Why the angst, you ask? Why not just toss a rock and see which elementary school it lands on, since there seems to be one on every block in this town? Well, because these days, it’s not that simple. I mean, it could be, but us “modern” parents think our kids deserve what we didn’t have- a school that meets their every need and caters to their (our) special interests and specific scheduling parameters.  

And miraculously, these preferences can all be met. 

Should I send my 5 year old to the neighborhood school, a beautiful new brick building less than a mile from our house?

That can’t be the answer; too prosaic. She’s more special than that.

How about the arts charter school? What I wouldn’t have given for an elementary drama program that didn’t involve my music teacher plodding through Christmas carols on the piano while we all swayed on the bleachers in matching elf hats. My kids deserve more. They could learn to dance! To sing! To paint! To wear weird hats and take a staunch political stance in the fourth grade! I better get their name in the art school lottery, like, yesterday. 

Or there’s the math and science charter school, committed to STEM, and to progress; how can I not offer that to my little girl and her future? Shouldn’t I give her all the math and science I can find, so that she can get a real job someday? God forbid she becomes a writer or something. Tech is the future; shouldn’t I prepare my kids? 

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I actually homeschooled my daughter this year. Her birthday isn’t until the last week of August and I couldn’t stand the idea of sending my 4 year old to kindergarten, but she wanted to learn, so I compromised and taught her at home. Don’t roll your eyes too hard, homeschooling isn’t what it used to be. We didn’t even have to join a cult or grow our own wheat. Although we do memorize a lot of poems and spend most hours “just playing outside,” so maybe it’s exactly what you’re imagining. While homeschooling is another viable option for us, because I work from home and love to learn with my kids, even homeschooling offers option after option after hotly debated option, from Charlotte Mason to Classical Conversations to Co-Ops to online public schools attended at home…it’s endless. 

It’s exhausting. 

And these are just the free options! If I wanted to pay a college tuition rate for my kids to learn the alphabet, I could scoot them off to a private education. Maybe the Catholic school? They’d attend chapel each day, get a great education, and above all else, wear an adorable uniform. Navy blue jumpers! Crisp white shirts! The adorable uniform is a heavy factor here, I’m embarrassed to admit. Or, what about just a private school with cool rules, like no grading system, and calling teachers by their first name? Would I end up with a bunch of ski bums and (heaven help us) poets?

It’s March, school registration time, so I need to answer these questions soon. Will school next year be at our own kitchen table again? Or will my daughter be dancing with the art kids? Can I finally buy the tiny uniform and send her off to say prayers before class? Will she head to the STEM school’s engineering labs? Or will she walk out our front door and join the scores of kids skipping down the sidewalk to our neighborhood elementary school, just like my parents dreamed for me all those years ago? 

These questions, of course, float in a pool of privilege. The fact that we have so many choices, that she has a parent who could drive her across town to a specialized school, that the specialized school even exists, that my little daughter has access to a free education in a society that (mostly) believes all girls deserve the chance at success; this is a life of privilege. I won’t take that for granted. I clutch the treasure of my children’s minds and future close to my heart, while resting in the knowledge that it is not the school that makes the kid, but the kid who makes something out of what the school gives them. 

My parents gave me the only option available for school, whereas I have the freedom of preference. But here’s what hasn’t changed in the years since I stepped on that school bus in front of my house, and what never changes for parents: We are dreamers. We want good things for our kids, beautiful lives and better chances than we had. Sometimes we feel like world-makers, designing a reality out of school registrations and summer camps and sports teams and all the checks we write for all the opportunities…when really, we’re supposed to be guides. Our kids don’t need us to make a way, they need us to stay close along the way. So what if they end up in the weird hat, espousing misguided political views? So what if they wander away from the path we so carefully laid before them? Did we dream for them? Did we show them the way?

Then we did our job. They have to do the rest. 

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I’m sure whatever I choose for my daughter this fall, I’ll second guess myself. But she’ll thrive no matter what, because she loves to learn and because all of these choices are good choices. What a privilege to put on that backpack each day, I’ll tell her. What a life we have. 

 (Originally published in “Idaho Family Magazine, March 2018 edition)

Idaho Family Magazine: February

*Got some cool news! Each month I’ll be writing a “parenting” (ha!) article for a local publication, Idaho Family Magazine, and a few weeks after it’s released I’ll post the article here as well. February 2018 was my first column, and is an adapted version of a previous blog on Horney Mom Tells All. Thanks for reading!

 

The Horney Village

My oldest child is five years old, so in terms of parenting advice, I’m your basic punch-line. My friends and I talk about raising our children every time we’re together, but most of us are early on in the journey, babes in the woods with nothing but our flashlights and instincts to guide us. And by instincts I mean parenting books, research articles, and stories we heard from other people. I laugh when someone asks me for advice because I know I’m about 40 years away from having any real perspective on all of this, but I also love to engage in the fray with other parents.

There’s just no way to prepare someone for parenthood. It’s like explaining what it will feel like to survive a plane crash (grateful, but mangled). At baby showers they make you go around the circle and share advice for the new mom; find out you’re pregnant and suddenly aunts have opinions, grandparents have opinions, siblings have opinions; you turn on podcasts, read parenting blogs, and think you’re gathering up everything you need to raise a child. Even during those first few years with your first child, you might think you’re nailing it. You ask yourself, “Why did everyone warn me about this? Parenting is easy.” And then maybe you even have a second baby, and for the first few months you ask yourself, “Why do people complain about their kids? Glad I know what I’m doing!” 

But I have a theory about all that parental hutzpah, that unrelenting smugness of new parents. It’s all gonna end. Whether it’s our first child that breaks us, or our second (nobody makes it to the third fully intact), our ideals will crack just like the precious organic toys we bought for our precious organic offspring who are now throwing those precious toys across the room. And there is a deep, wicked part of me that loves when parents finally have to parent, when they finally have to drag a crying child out of a store or admit publicly that their kid will only eat chicken nuggets, not all those green smoothies and avocado rolls they pinned and planned and Instagrammed. It’s not that I’m rejoicing in their pain or laughing from afar. It’s that I’m thankful for the chance to actually connect. Because it is impossible to raise children with people who won’t be honest about raising children. And honestly, we all did it. We all said we wouldn’t have a house full of toys, and that our kids would never talk to us like that, and that our babies would sleep because we would create the perfect sleeping environment, and our kids would work around our schedules, and oh my gosh, remember how dumb we were? Now that we know, let’s be fair to each other.

There’s a lot of talk lately about missing the “village,” about the loneliness of modern parents. Parenthood today isn’t a support group, it’s a beauty pageant, complete with swimsuit and talent competitions. But in all that striving to outdistance one another, we overlook the final result: Distance. We are far apart, and we are lonely. There are many reasons for this phenomenon, like our digital lives replacing personal relationships, or playing in our fenced backyards instead of out front with our neighbors, or the image we work so hard to keep up; most of our loneliness is self-induced. We know that if we let people too close, they’ll know the truth, which is, I don’t know what I’m doing. 

Yes, the village is helpful, but the village is also observant. 

I started writing my blog after my daughter was born to create an honest online space. My blog title, “Horney Mom Tells All,” wasn’t just a joke- it was true. I write about everything (while trying maintain some privacy for my children) and I am continually surprised at the response to that kind of transparency. When I write about being seen in my underwear at Albertsons or the fact that the baby’s first sentence was “That’s mean, Mama,” people aren’t just laughing: They’re relieved. When I write heartfelt posts about the dichotomy of mourning my kids’ swiftly passing childhood but also anxiously awaiting the day they stop spilling water at every meal, the halls of the internet echo with a loud “Me too!”

 

I believe in the village, in person and in print. But I also know what it requires. I write not just for the sake of catharsis, but for the sake of community. I won’t lie to you. I’ll let you know that nighttime at our house looks like a version of the shell game, where I wake up and have no idea who is in what bed in any room by morning. I’ll also tell you that I’ve never been more myself than I am now, joyfully struggling through this season of young motherhood with those three beautiful kids on the front cover of this magazine. If I could make a line of greeting cards for new parents, I would make one that said on the outside,”Congratulations on a lifetime of heartache!” And then on the inside, “This will be the bravest love you’ve ever known.”

I’m new to this magazine, and I’m excited for this small space each month to share about life in a way that makes you laugh, cry, and look around whatever waiting room you’re in (where you are assuredly only reading this because your phone battery is low,) and want to shout out to the strangers around you, “Me too!” (And then have to explain that you don’t mean the other “Me too.” Good luck with that.) 

See you around!

I’m writing a book!

Hello, dear friends. How are your resolutions coming along? I’m doing a 30-day yoga challenge and I’m 1 for 1 on my daily practice, so… definitely crushing it. Next up: Curbing my sugar addiction.

Riiiiight after Valentine’s Day.

It’s a fresh year, you guys. What does 2018 look like for you? How do you imagine it unfolding? I’m a bundle of nerves, buzzing with ideas, and buzzing with anxiety over the ideas, but I am also firm with resolve. A lot of this is because of what I’m about to tell you. I’m nervous because saying it to you makes it real. In a swirl of contradiction, it IS actually the internet that makes things true.

I have some big news for you. And a big request.

You have supported me and encouraged me all these years as I’ve honed my writing, found my voice, and moved towards a career doing what I love. And I’ll still be writing here at Horney Mom Tells All, as well as some other places I can’t wait to tell you about, but I have something cool going on lately.

I’m writing a book. I’m writing a book! I hate exclamation points, but that’s how excited I am about this book and the topic! It’s a book about gender; specifically, a new way of talking about gender that has changed my entire life. And I think it will change yours. Since the book is sort of a whole new thing, I decided to create a new space for it, and for myself as an author. So I need you to do things:

  1. Click over to www.jessiehorney.com

This is the headquarters for the book. Go to the new website! SUBSCRIBE! You can watch a video about the book, you can read an excerpt from a chapter, you can click on some of your other favorite writing from my blog, and most importantly:
YOU CAN PRE-ORDER MY BOOK.

  1. Pre-order the book for $20

Ask yourself this: Has this space, has my writing, ever made you feel something? Has it touched you in some way? Have you ever felt compelled to share it with others? Has it made you think? Made you laugh? Made you cry? THEN THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU. Cause guess what? I’m crying and laughing and thinking of you the whole time I write it. Your support will help get this book into your hands!

I want to get 200 books pre-ordered before I shop the manuscript around to publishers, to make myself more appealing to their agencies. 200 is only a small fraction of you guys, my normal blog readers, but it still feels like a big number to me. Can we do it? I KNOW we can. So pre-order today! Oh and one last thing…

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Anyone on the pre-order list gets invited to the book launch party! Which is gonna be killer. You get a signed copy of the book, and a chance to get crazy with me when it’s all finally finished! I throw a hell of a party, so this is reason enough to buy the book, trust me. You have until January 31 to pre-order!

Thank you so much, faithful readers and friends. You have given me confidence and motivation through good times and bad, and your faces are the ones on my mind as I tap out this book with my hands and my heart. I love you guys. This book is my love letter to us all.

www.jessiehorney.com (see you over there)

-Jessie

 

 

At Christmas We Pray.

I’ve been married for 10 years and here is the number of times my husband has put Christmas lights up on our house:

Zero.

He doesn’t care about Christmas lights on the house, he barely even cares about Christmas, and no matter how much I love the season of lights, I’m not going to put them up on the house myself… I’ll just stay inside with my coffee, thanks though. So we’ve never had them out.

Until now. Because this year, we have the relentless persistence of a three year old and a five year old, in awe of the neighborhood light shows, wondering aloud when Daddy will put our lights up, because these relentless children cannot fathom a reason not to. So, up the lights will go, our house a cheery string of twinkling reminders that children are meant to get us off our seats and into a life we never could have imagined. Children are a decisive interruption of self; startling mirrors and joyful invitations all at once.

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Christmas with my children is startling, too. Tradition doesn’t matter to a young child- it is all brand new, all open to questioning, all free to close examination. Christmas is one of the only shared celebrations the world over, a holiday so steeped in cultural customs that most people blink in surprise when they find out other family’s rituals, like the bizarre people who open gifts on Christmas Eve or the crazy ones who use a pretend elf to spur on good behavior. We know it’s all invented, though, right? We invent traditions and then act like they invented us. These are where my children’s questions come from, the rituals they see acted out as though there is no other way to act. But to a new human, even after just a few years on Earth, all of these things are so clearly made up. Who is this Santa? Why do we give presents? Did Jesus have a Christmas tree too?

While it’s exhausting to be questioned about every decision all day long, I’m glad for the opportunity to consider my life and my habits. Childhood scrutiny is a powerful magnifier, and lately it’s given me clarity on this particular holiday season. I know this – I could leave every tradition behind, leave my house un-decked and the tree in the forest and the presents on the store shelves, and still have a reason to love the holiday season, which is this: At Christmas, we pray.

Every year, as Christmas approaches and we try to make it special with outlandish traditions and shallow rituals that often bring stress and debt, there is something more happening. There is a stirring in the world. There is something that happens on these winter nights, something that speaks mystery and love to us, even when we aren’t sure what that means. We know there is more. We might call it love or hope or peace on earth, but in our heart of hearts we know there is something better to be had, and at Christmas we are allowed to wonder what it is. So we “send love” or “hope for peace” or “wish you a happy new year,” but what we’re really doing?

At Christmas, whether we know it or not,
we pray.

I know it’s weird to talk about praying. Especially if you don’t usually pray. Or you think it’s wasted breath. Or you’re downright opposed to the idea. And we don’t really know what it is, right? We use the word ‘prayer’ like we use the word ‘wish,’ which is like swimming in a puddle and calling it the ocean. The unknown element, the secrecy with which we must approach prayer because it is so intensely personal and within, makes it all the more complex to write about, to speak about.

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My daughter said something last night in her bedtime prayers that made me laugh, and then made me think. Sometimes my kids just rattle off their prayers as a quick list of “thank-you’s,” thank you for mama, thank you for daddy, thank you for food, thank you for our beds. Sometimes they pray for people they love. Sometimes they don’t want to pray at all. And sometimes they pray in a way that brings heaven crashing into their bedroom, a stream of glory lighting their tiny bunkbed full of stuffed animals and blankets in a way that renders me silent, sets me still in the face of a God who listens intently to my children, and in the face of their astounding faith in the divine listener.

Then last night my 5 year old prayed, “God, Jesus, Holy Spirit- I just want to SEE you guys. Can you please make me see you? And Mary and Joseph, can you bring them back to life so I can see them too? I know they were here on earth a LONG time ago, but you’re still the Holy Spirit today, and I know you can do it! I love you. Amen.”

Ridiculous though it seems,  I felt such a presence in the exactness of her prayers. She said what she wanted. She said it with confidence because she thinks God loves her enough to listen to anything she has to say. I mean, she doesn’t even feel that way about us like she used to. She’ll preface a question or request with disclaimers like “This won’t take long to help me,” or “I know you might say no.” She doesn’t trust us to listen with an open mind, which is partly because we’ve been listening for 5 years and have developed a non-sense meter that tends towards suspicious, to be honest. But in her prayers? She speaks openly. She speaks with abandon. She speaks like a child, loved and free.

I read this a while ago and it struck a cord in me that keeps playing and playing:

“Prayer is God’s gift to those who pray.”

I could read that sentence one million more times and still wrestle with everything it means. Prayer is God’s gift to those who pray. Prayer is God’s gift to those who pray. The prayer itself, the very movement of the thing, is a gift. The unknown of the process, the slow blossom of a seed in the awaited response: the mystery is in the alchemy of the act.

Certain events in our lives make it impossible not to pray, even when we don’t know to whom or why we speak. Survive a terrible accident: thank you, we breathe. Hold a terribly ill child; please, we weep. Nothing is going right and we falter on the edge of despair; help, we plead. There is tug inside of us towards grandeur, towards a felt presence, towards a tender goodness, towards the sunset and the baby’s healthy heartbeat and the saved marriage and the miracle rent payment and the rescued children; the doubters, the hurt, the angry, the deserted, the lonely, we break under the pressure and open ourselves to prayer like the earth split open on a fault line. Disaster and beauty and desperation and joy bend our knees and soften our hearts until prayers escape our lips, messages to the sky that make us feel at once vulnerable and fortified.

Christmas does this. It reminds us of something. The traditions, silly they may be, can actually be a road inward, a path towards a feeling we can never quite shake:
We are homesick. And Christmas reminds us of that, so at Christmas, we reach for home. We light our candles and our windows. We give good gifts. We gather. We eat. We laugh. And though we don’t know it, through it all, we pray.

I can’t explain prayer. I can talk about it, I can tell you about it and how it changes me every day, I can write about it, but I can’t ever really give it to you. “Prayer is God’s gift to those who pray.” That’s the mystery. And that’s what I’m inviting you into this Christmas- let the mystery settle around you. When you feel yourself looking around, wondering who to thank or who to ask for help or who is speaking to your heart in ways you can’t seem to explain; close your eyes, whisper your prayer, and look towards home.

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Home.

After I got married, my husband Sam convinced me to live in Nampa, Idaho, his college town, a town so far outside my future casting I would’ve laughed in disbelief if you’d told me I’d spend ten years there. I grew up two cities east of Nampa, only 30 minutes away, but we rarely drove out there as kids, past the acres of mint and corn and rolling fields of sagebrush until we crossed the county line and entered what seemed like a whole other world. But then I married Sam and he bought our first home in the only place he’d ever lived since college, and here I am, ten years later, emptying cupboards and finally moving away.

I never liked Nampa. I didn’t try very hard, but childhood prejudices run deep, and the embarrassment of moving outside the “real” city nipped like a dog at my heel. Buying a different house 20 minutes away wasn’t a huge change, but it was enough to silence the angst. Hell, even the angst embarrassed me, because I think not liking where you live shows a discontent spirit. Isn’t it a kind of immaturity to complain about where you live? Just choose to settle in, and if you really need to leave, then go.

But here’s the thing: I’m sad to leave.

I am. I cannot believe I’m writing that, but somewhere between the cheese factory and the smells and the lack of bookstores, I found home here. I’m leaving with a clutch in my chest because leaving means more than I thought it would; it means stepping off the tiny stage of our life here, away from dear neighbors who handed out popsicles and cried on my couch, away from best friends a minute down the road, away from the circle of errands I ran each week (Winco-Costco-Library-Bank-Coffee Shop-Car Wash-Local Mailing Post-and let’s be honest-Target) and now I have to find a new way around a new town and a new gas station and a new mail place, which all sounds easy when I type it out but it’s the actual doing of the thing that’s awful.

I’m also afraid to go because I know what happens when people leave. I have 6 siblings and they all left, even me, and I’ve never forgiven any of us for growing up.

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I was never close to my oldest brother. We barely knew each other as kids. He’s eight years older than I am, so he left for college when I was in 5th grade. Still, you know what I did when he left for a university in Ohio? I sobbed. I climbed in his bed with his blanket that smelled like his grown-up cologne, pulled it up to my chin and cried so hard that I fell asleep. I would miss him, yes, but mostly: I knew something was over. Even as a 10 year old, I knew that an era of my family, a particular chapter of our story, was closed forever. We would never all live in the same house again, not ever. As a family of seven children, so much of my identity wrapped itself in the presence of my siblings, in the strangeness of our large family compared to small families. When our oldest brother left, it was the beginning of the end. We were fracturing, taking paths seven directions away from each other, and my ten year old heart knew it and hated it.

I’ve hated leaving ever since. Mine and anyone else’s.

Clara, my oldest child, will be five at the end of this summer, old enough for kindergarten. This feels like a blow. In all honesty, it’s a blow to my ego. For these past five years I’ve sort of marveled at my position in life, moving through the world with a certain amount of pride at the ducklings lined up behind me, my three small children all in a row. I’d state their ages like an apology, knowing the stranger in the store would do the math and be very impressed and very sorry for me, all at once. That felt good.

“Yes, yes, look at all these little ones I’m raising with such love!” I’d want to shout on the street. “Look at me, shaping their world with such intention!” It felt like a badge of honor. It felt like a statement. Even on the bad days, it felt like victory.8IMG_2858

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So, now what? Clara turns five and then Sammy turns four and then Audrey turns two and then suddenly they’re all going to Ohio for college and I’m crying myself to sleep in their beds?

As I prepare to leave the only home I’ve known as a married woman, or as a mother, I find myself counting steps between rooms, stretching my arms between walls, pressing kinetic memories into my hands and feet. I want to remember the weight of my babies in my belly in this hallway. I want to remember the smell of their hair while they slept in this room. I want to remember everything because for some reason, I can’t see past these days. Some people can’t wait until their kids are older and more independent; they can’t wait to have a bigger house and move on in life, stop changing diapers and paying baby-sitters. Not me. I know that leaving this little house in Nampa means a part of my story is over.  A certain melancholy settles on me when I see my kids exerting independence, taking steps away from me and smiling as they go. I’m glad to see them grow; I’m excited to have parts of myself back that I haven’t seen in years; to think and to write and to dream without them attached to me; but it’s a bitter kind of sweet. A wistful kind of glad.

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I pack up this house and I cry. I’m turning a page in our story, a page that changed me, one that holds the early arc of our marriage and the unfolding plot of motherhood, and that’s a heavy thought to carry around as I put pictures in boxes and unplug lamps. I don’t want to stay the same… but can’t we just stay for a little while longer?

A house is just a house and a town is just a town, until it’s not. At some point, it becomes a symbol. Nampa will forever be the place I saw God again. It holds my church, where I found peace after years of darkness, it holds the friends who held me up along the way, and it keeps the home where I really, finally, grew up.

The nursery where I rocked each newborn to sleep.
The tiny hallway I paced on endless nights of early contractions.
The kitchen sink where I gave three babies their first bath, one year after another.
A patch of front yard where we spent our afternoons learning how to be neighbors.
A front porch for sunset drinks and cracking pistachios, where Sam and I laughed at each other’s jokes and talked about our future.
The kitchen where I learned to use knives, to follow recipes, how to slice raw chicken.
The front door where my college diploma arrived on the same day as my infant son’s birth certificate.
The living room where I learned how to write.
The floors where my children crawled, toddled, and finally walked.
The walls that heard Sam and I learn how to fight, on painful days and through hard years.
The corner by the fireplace where we had our first ten Christmases.
The quiet bedroom where I taught my children how to pray.
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I never meant to stay  in this house or this town for this long. But I wouldn’t give back one minute of it, not one second.

This little house made us so happy for so long, and I’m afraid to leave because what if we’re never this happy again?

It’s nonsense. I know. People move. They survive. But me and Sam? We’re stay-ers. We land and we stay. We don’t move houses, we don’t move churches, we’ve both had our same friends for 20, 30 years- we stay. Leaving is uprooting, which requires replanting, and I’m nervous. Not just to start over in a new home, but to leave behind everything that this home represents. My identity is moving with my address. The kids are getting older. The house is getting bigger. The world is getting harder to keep out. The warmth and safety of our tiny life is slipping through my hands with every box I tape shut.

The future is too big to try and carry around while I pack my past, so I won’t. I’ll let myself be here for now. I won’t shame myself for being sad that someday soon my babies will be big kids who don’t remember the yellow walls of the nursery where we sang them to sleep.

I know we’ll have great joy in the coming years in a new town in a new house where my kids are big. We can’t possibly know the joy that waits, or the sorrows, or all the normal days in between.

But for now, in this nearly empty house? I already miss my ducklings, and I miss the place they called home.

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All of these pictures were taken by Audrey Choate of Raft Media, for an At Home session that turned out to be one of the greatest gifts of our life.  If you spend your money on anything this year, make it one of these sessions. Put all the beautiful, honest pictures in a book, and give a book to each of your children as the most valuable, lasting gift  I can imagine; a glimpse of a regular day of their childhood with you. 

Click here to contact Raft Media

Dear difficult child,

Dear difficult child,

Sometimes I wonder if I’m exaggerating how much trouble you make all day. Am I being dramatic, I wonder, just collecting your mishaps like funny postcards to share with people, or laying them out like a storyboard to explain why it’s not actually my fault that you are so hard? Here’s how I know you’re a difficult kid- I suddenly relate to all the other parents who have difficult kids. We exchange stories like shell-shocked war reporters, still stunned at the lives we suddenly find ourselves living, lives where we have no idea how to parent our own children.

I know you’re difficult because I have other children who are more compliant and easier to sway, children who cry and ask forgiveness whenever they even perceive my disappointment. They, of course, carry their own battles, a life spent overcoming their need to please and their desire to be “good,” which isn’t something I want for any of my children. ‘Good’ is false. I want you to be true. To be kind. To be passionate. To be wise.

So while other kids will fight their own battles quietly and with a little more grace, you are different. Your battle is not against the desire to be liked, or to please others. Your battles have no grace. Your battles are trench wars, dirty and transparent and exhausting.

Speaking of grace in the fight; have I mentioned all the ways I’m afraid I’ve already failed you? All the moments I fought with you instead of for you? All the days I wished away? All the times I couldn’t see your precious heart past the blur of your busy hands? The times I heard your name on my lips in a voice I pray you won’t remember?

I feel guilty writing about this. It’s your life. Your childhood. It’s your basic personality. Do I really want you to know how I felt so useless and inept being your mom? Do I really want you to have evidence of the war I carried in my own heart to do what is best for you? When I actually just had no idea what to do with you at all?

But this is my life too, right? You’re mine. For better or worse. For all my failures, for all your challenging ways, we are in this together. I am the sieve through which you are being sifted. You can’t go unchecked. I have to raise you up, I have to guide you towards adulthood, I have to hold your hand even when you’re yanking it away from me, because parking lots are dangerous and you may disagree but guess what? This is just the small stuff. The world is coming at you, and I have to get you ready. Ready for drivers who aren’t paying attention. Ready for friendships. For jobs. For love. For life outside these walls.

And being your sieve? It’s a sharp kind of work. Sharp learning curves. Sharp detours. Sharp words directed at me. Sharp words directed at you. Sharpening of us both. Being the sieve doesn’t mean I can’t have a voice about doing the sifting. Or that I can’t write about the pain. But it does mean I have to remember something important.

Here’s what I need to remember:

You are not broken.

You’re not broken. 

You are difficult. Some days you are impossible. Some days I am out of ideas before breakfast, so overrun and overwhelmed with your stubborn push and pull that I want to melt into the floorboards and be mopped away with the 3rd cup of water you just knocked over while disobeying again. I kneel by your bed most nights in tears, praying while you sleep, asking forgiveness for my mistakes, begging God for a small measure of mercy as I stumble through these days with you.

 But you aren’t broken. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re incredible, in fact. You are a force, an enigma, a complicated tangle of bad ideas, brilliant solutions, and paths that I can’t imagine taking, but that you somehow see without even trying.

There’s such a power in you, difficult child. I can feel it when you fight me, I can feel it in your defiance, I can see it in your pursed lips. Your body is strong. Your mind is set. Your will is flint. These traits are not easy to parent. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. With wisdom and time, these will be your greatest gifts.

Here’s what I’m not going to do: I’m not going to leave you to your own devices. Let you be. Ignore every “stage” and hope you mature out of yourself.

I promise you this, baby. Look in my eyes, you tornado of a person-

I will not give up.

I will pursue you and your heart to the ends of the earth. I will ask you to grow. I will sit with you in the dark of your cocoon. I will lean in and lean hard and hold you as you pull away, hold you until it’s time to let go, because you are my person and I am your mother, and the love I burn with puts the flames of the sun to shame.

Spill 1,000 cups of water. Break the things I love. Wreck our car. Fail a class. Skip curfew. Fight with us. Fight with all you are, with all you’ve got. We aren’t going anywhere.

And one day, you will be grown. So God help me, God give me everything I need, moment by moment, God be my manna in the desert of the hard days with you: I will fight for you. I will kneel by your bed each night. I will lay beside you when you fall. I will stand and rejoice as you become exactly who you are meant to be, sharpened and softened in all the right places, not by your tired and inadequate mother, but by the God she called out to when she did not have any answers at all.

You are my child. You are the dream of my heart. You are a million answered prayers all at once. And yes, you are difficult. You unbalance me, you shake me to my core, you humble me in every single way I can express.

Believe this: You, my love, are exactly who I wanted.

 

Love, from this day in this year and all the years to come, 

Your mama