Always wear nice underwear to buy groceries.

I should have seen this coming when the lady at Albertsons saw me in my underwear, but listen: I cried a lot on my birthday this year. I tend to feel an expectational forcefield around holidays and special events, and I work hard to create happy, lovely holidays. This was an easier feat before we had three small children. Not that our kids don’t make life happier and shinier in exponential amounts; they are the reason we keep traditions at all. Those three beautiful faces are the reason I make pink pancakes in February, the reason I stay up late hanging decorations before birthdays, the reason the dollar section at Target suddenly seems like a very important stop before any holiday (Tiny buckets. Tiny sponges. Tiny buttons. All useless.) I love to make my kids’ lives happier, even though I don’t want to worry if they’re happy, because I know happiness doesn’t really matter or last. They have to choose joy, eventually. (This is the absolute conundrum of motherhood- to love giving them what we know does not have much to do with us in the end.)

My kids are 4, 3, and 1, which means their world keeps spinning on special days and they just keep on being themselves, which is a fast way to ruin a party, I am sorry to report. “Kids ruin birthdays,” I told my brother the morning I turned 31, hoping my kids didn’t hear me say it. But also kind of hoping they did. I was in a bad place, ok? The morning was hectic and full of fits. Then the older two injured the baby because of their wild wrestling, and I was furious. Like, wicked stepmother tossing people into dungeons, furious. I don’t like animals but I found myself wishing for a mean pet to follow me around and scare my kids straight.

On a normal day, my kids are 85% wonderful and 15% mean-pet deserving. On my birthday last week, I cried because their percentages took a dive in the wrong direction. Bear markets all around. Again, I should have seen this all coming when the night before my birthday, I ended up nearly naked in front of an Albertsons grocery store employee.

In every grocery store, there is a sign outside the bathroom that says, “No merchandise permitted in bathrooms.” Which, fine, I understand, and who wants their cart full of groceries in a public bathroom anyway? But what- and I am asking this in all sincerity, and would appreciate tips- what are you supposed to do with the baby and the cart when the other kids need to use the restroom and they’re not big enough to go on their own? I never know what to do. Leave my cart and food in the hallway and hold the baby and my bag while helping the other two kids? Leave the baby and take the bag and pray that no one wants a grumpy baby with a runny nose anyways?

On this particular occasion, I was in a very small hallway that barely fit my cart and the bathroom was small too, and only one child needed to use the toilet. So I left Clara, my four year old, in the hallway, with the baby and the grocery cart, and tried to take Sammy in as fast as I could so the girls wouldn’t be alone for too long. We went in the bigger stall together, and after he was finished I sat down to pee, knowing it would be a long time before we were home and everyone was unloaded and I was allowed a few minutes to go to the bathroom.

Here’s where the trouble starts.

Toddlers, as a people group, love two things:

-opening and closing doors

-not listening to their parents

This is especially true in bathroom stalls, I’ve found. They love to turn that shiny latch and let themselves out, I think simply for the power of it. But since I always have to be the one who pees last, and we all use the same stall, they’re always opening the door while I’m still sitting there. I’m usually sitting on a public toilet with gritted teeth while anger-whispering “Do. Not. Open that door” and slapping my kids’ hands away from the handle.

Again, my kids are actually decent human beings whom I enjoy very much.

But public bathrooms aren’t their sweet spot.

So I’m sitting there in the Alberstons bathroom with my pants around my ankles and I hear a small commotion in the hallway where my girls are, and then I hear the baby crying. I stand up to put my pants back on, and in a perfectly timed sequence of humiliation:

  1. Sammy opens the bathroom stall door,
  2. I stand up in my underwear,
  3. An Albertson’s employee opens the bathroom door,
  4. I am still standing in my underwear,
  5. The employee looks at me standing there in my underwear,
  6. I hastily pull on my pants,
  7. Sammy marches out of the stall,
  8. The Albertson’s employee apologizes,
  9. I apologize,
  10. The employee gestures towards my crying baby,
  11. I rush out to the baby,
  12. The employee informs me that the baby is ok, she’s just crying because a  man who came out of the men’s restroom said hello to her,
  13. I finish buttoning my jeans and then pick up the crying baby,
  14. Clara loudly retells the whole story,
  15. I hustle Sammy back in the bathroom so we can wash our hands,
  16. The Albertson’s employee steps around us so that she can use the restroom,
  17. I get my kids out of the hallway and hurry up to finish my shopping,
  18. I field 100 questions about life and liberty and where gum comes from while in a long line to check out,
  19. I get out my debit card to pay for our groceries,
  20. and hand it to the checker,
  21. who in turn asks me if the baby is doing ok,
  22. because it is the lady who minutes ago saw me basically naked in a bathroom stall.

On our way out of the store, as Clara was singing a love song at the top of her lungs and Audrey was throwing a screaming fit because she wanted out of the cart, Sammy walked in front of me and I didn’t see him before his heel got clipped and he fell to the floor crying. Not a huge problem, of course, because he was wearing his new bike helmet that he refuses to take off, so his head was fine. This all happened right as my friend Stephanie waved hello from where she was watching us stumble down the aisle in mass chaos. I was sweating profusely at this point, from my efforts to contain Audrey’s 18 pounds of fit-throwing, and also from the kind of humiliation reserved for mothers with small children.

After putting all our groceries away that night and staying up late to clean my whole house (because the only way I wanted to wake up on my birthday was to a spotless home), I woke up tired and surprisingly surprised at how the next day went with my kids. Because really, people who bust open bathroom stalls and sing loudly in public and lay down on dirty linoleum floors to cry cannot be trusted to make sure you have a happy birthday.

They cannot.

Still. I had many beautiful surprises on my birthday; flowers and sandwiches and cherry pies and friends who love me; it was a sweet, sweet day. And when my little family sang Happy Birthday to me at home that night, my three year old son, that helmet-wearing bathroom bandit, was so overcome with emotion he couldn’t even finish the song- he just lovingly kissed my cheek and buried his head in my shoulder with tears in his eyes, and told me he loved me “the whole world, even to heaven.”

Happy birthday indeed.

So, now I know. This is my version of 31- sticky and exhausted, and often surrounded by bare bums- and as humiliating as mothering can be, it’s the ultimate gift. My joy is deep, and their love is as good as it gets.

Now I just need to find a new establishment where I can buy our French bread, and everything will be fine.

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Birthday with my babes.

Blessingway.

e0f7c-clarahorney_073 I gather birth stories like smooth pebbles along the shore. I know some people hate to hear them, hate being forced to listen to “horror stories” from birth and labor and becoming a mother; but I’ve never seen the stories in that light. I gather birth stories like precious stones, made smooth by enough time and space and distance from the actual event, smooth from being turned over in a mother’s warm palms over and over again, formed by the shocking event of birth no matter how many times you’ve been through it, forged in the heat of a brand new human heart beating it’s way through a birth canal and into the light of day. I gather birth stories and mothering stories and stories of grand and brave women because story is what guides us. Stories are true. Stories are the best gifts of all, small round weights that anchor us to each other and steady us in the storm. So I collect them. I hold them in my own hand, touching the strange turns and curves of another woman’s truth, touching in reverence and awe, so glad to be a part of this tribe. So glad to be of those who create, those who cry out, those who mother whether their children come from their womb or from the body of another.

My friend Alyse is due with her third baby any moment now, and last week she invited me to a different kind of a baby shower. It’s called a ‘Blessingway.’ There’s no gift giving and no games, no registry or awkward sitting around. (And by the way, why are men not forced to attend parties with terrible games and stilted conversations? Is this part of the curse? Baby showers, bridal showers and direct-sales parties? Is this our self-inflicted, hummus-soaked punishment for all of time and eternity?)

Alyse had a very strange kind of baby shower, the kind where women actually get to encourage each other and move right past the boring games and dive right into the oldest kind of gift-giving. The gifting that women invented from the moment they spoke across the fire, to each other and their daughters and each other’s daughters:
The gift of story. The gift of encouragement. The gift of love through shared experience.

But since I didn’t get to attend Alyse’s ‘Blessingway,’ I thought I would write to her on here, and share my encouragement in this bigger space, because I love this tribe of women I belong to. Here in my community and over beyond every boundary, beyond every barrier and cultural shift and difference in opinion: a mother is a mother is a mother, and the best we can do for each other is recognize our oneness and celebrate each of our strengths. So.

Dear Alyse,

Any day now you will hold a new child to your breast. You will suffer the pains of contractions, that tightening grip over your body, those insistent rolling waves of change. Your breath will catch. Your eyes will close. Your blood pressure will sway with the heated pressure of your body, all four heart valves straining ever so slightly with the incredible bearing down of motherhood.

Others will guide you through this journey, just like our mothers and their mothers and all the mothers who came first; we carry each other not because it lessens the pain, but because it eases the burden. Those are two very different things, aren’t they? The pain and the burden? We can mask the pain. We have the modern miracle of the epidural, that magic eraser of a needle. But even if the pain is gone, the burden remains.

And that’s why we hold each other up.

That’s why our husbands whisper over us, and our mothers pray, and our tribe gathers round.

The burden is great. The journey is not a sure one. I’ve seen lots of births, cried with relief at the stuttered first wail of many newborns, and never once has a new life arrived with no surprises. Whether in how early or how late it all began, how difficult or easy it all came, how the birth twisted and turned down unknown paths and plans gone awry; delivering a child is a shock. This is your third baby. You’ve done this already. You know the births of your children, of your daughter and your son, you know their stories like you know the smell of their skin. But this baby is his own story. This baby will come on his own time, with his own plan, with his own surprises and disappointments and stunning tear-soaked joy. Yes, yes, yes, he will come! Your son!

And someday soon, as you cradle him to you, leaning into the exquisite folds of his neck and wondering how you ever lived without him in your arms; you will suddenly remember his birth. You will feel the achievement of his arrival, the scars of his growth on your body, the lingering pains of his exit; you will feel and remember, cry and remember, hold him and remember how he felt fluttering inside you. And someday, when you’re watching him play with his siblings, smiling as the sun warms their fair heads while they crouch in the grass counting ants; you will remember his birth and marvel that this boy with skinned knees was ever small enough to sleep in your arms.

Someday his birth will belong to you, and you only. He will grow up, he will take steps away from you in every meaning of the word, and though you will always be his mother, he will not always be your baby. His labor and delivery, those painful minutes that build into hours and evolve into a birthday: that will be his birthday, yes, but also yours. The day you mothered three. The day your family changed. The day you learned again, forever and always, that parenthood is a harrowing experience, one that wrecks you and rebuilds you, through the dark and the agony to the glaring light of midday.

Treasure these days in your heart, my dear friend. Let yourself be wrecked, and as the rebuilding comes, moment by moment of each day with each child, gather the stories like stones. Remember their births. Remember the pain of raising them. Remember the joy of being their mother. Gather the stones and let them anchor you and steady you, and when the time is right; share them. With your sweet girl. With your precious boy. And with this new baby who has yet to come.

We will never be perfect parents. Or even great ones. Some years we will not even be adequate ones. But this is your story. And as their mother, it is their story too. That’s a family. Stories intersecting. Birth stories, bad days at school stories, crying all night stories, laughing in the car stories, when you were my baby stories, wedding toast stories, begging for forgiveness stories, you always meant everything to us stories. I love you stories. Funeral stories.
We carry their past. They carry the future. We carry on together, smooth stones of stories in our pockets.
May this birth be beautiful. May this son be a blessing. May this day be a perfect metaphor of motherhood: a surrender and a victory all in one. The end of your family as is; the beginning of your family anew.
The end of you, again, just like every other day as mother,
and the beginning of you, again, just like every other day as a mother.

Love,
Jessie

Clara’s stutter

For months and months, Clara has insisted on saying our prayer before we eat dinner. Every night it’s the same rushed breath of thanks,

“DearJesusThankYouFoodAmen.”

She folds her little hands and bows her little head, squeezes her ocean-tide eyes shut in a squint and her two year old liturgy tumbles out in a hurry. Sam and I barely have time to close our eyes before she finishes. And though sometimes we’ll follow up with our own prayer, we grin about the swift manner of hers every night, smiling across the table at each other as we pick up forks and napkins and start our meal together.

For awhile, Clara didn’t want to pray until her baby brother assumed the posture she deemed necessary; that is, bowing his head and closing his eyes, and folding his pudgy hands on his tray. He never obeyed her requests for stillness, of course, and she would sigh in exasperation at his incompetence, then proceed with her nightly thanks-giving ritual. This first born girl of ours loves a good ritual, and she especially loves a sense of order.

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For most of this winter, I’ve been worried about a stutter that Clara developed sometime in December. She started losing the start of sentences- it wasn’t the kind of stutter where a syllable is repeated, it was the kind where a syllable is held. So she would have a thought and get stuck on the first word of her sentence, or maybe just the first letter. Instead of a quick two-syllable “Mama,” her lips would press together in a long and forceful “Mmmmmmm,” unable to move through the rest of the word.

The stutter came out of nowhere, like a wall of flood water, rushing over her speech and drowning her voice. She’s always been verbose, babbling coherently since four months old, but hearing this stutter take over stole my confidence in her communication. I had to hide tears as I watched her try to speak, her eyes rolled back in concentration, her entire body tense, fists at her side, perched in frustration up on her tip toes; if I could have spoken for her, I would have. She had something to tell me and she couldn’t. She had a need and didn’t have the words to ask. She wanted to talk with me and instead found herself wading through the thick mud between her thoughts and her tongue. It was the first time I’ve had to wonder if there was something wrong with her, and I spent many nights laying awake thinking about it, sick with concern.

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After a few months of no improvement, and seeing the exhaustion on my little girl’s face when other adults or children couldn’t understand her, I reached out to my friend Danielle, who is a speech pathologist. I wrote with Clara’s symptoms, her ticks and struggles, and wept as I typed. There was nothing physically ill about her, and her health didn’t seem to be in danger; it was the emotional toll of her speech difficulties that was killing me. I watched again and again as she gave up, starting sentences and then quitting, frustration radiating from her body. It broke my heart to see her in that kind of darkness, her world cloaked in jittery misunderstanding.

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I didn’t have to wait long for a reply. Danielle wrote back the next day with advice, and with a blessed ray of sunshine: don’t worry, she said. Don’t worry! Stutters are very normal for kids her age. They almost always start at 2 1/2 (which was almost her exact age) and wouldn’t be considered a problem until she turns 5.

Between Danielle’s advice and some research, I counted the things we needed to avoid:
-Finishing thoughts or words for her (did that constantly, whoops).
-Telling her to slow down or take a deep breath (did that every day, shoot).

And a few things that would help:
-Sam and I speaking s-l-o-w-l-y and clearly, modeling a relaxed speaking style.
-When we saw her getting irritated with herself, gently remind her that we were listening and that we weren’t in any hurry.
-React to her message, not the delivery. Basically, pretend there was no stutter. Just respond to what she said, no matter how long it took.

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It’s March now, spring unfolding on sunny patios, floating on afternoon breezes, stretching into trees heavy with blossoms. It’s spring and it was 75 degrees outside today, so I took my kids to the park. Truth be told, I’ve taken my kids a lot of places this week. More places than usual. I tend to be a “one outing a day” kind of a mom, if that, but this week I blew off our normal pacing and we went. Despite the fact that my kids have spring colds. Despite the fact that they’ve missed a few important naps. Despite the fact that sometimes they just didn’t want to go. They wanted to stay. But the sun keeps getting warmer and I have that energy I get at the rise of new seasons, so we didn’t stay much at all. And today my house of cards came tumbling down, joker sides up all the way around.

Neither of my babies slept last night. Their coughs choked them awake every hour, their bodies restless without the anchor of decent naps all week. This means, of course, that I didn’t sleep either. But I plan a park and playground meet-up for a bunch of my friends every Friday, and I didn’t want to miss today. So I gathered up my coughing, weary kids and wished for the morning sunshine to clear our heads. Clara was a mess. She cried all day. She didn’t nap again, too tired to find sleep. Wilted by the sun and my somewhat reckless scheduling, she fought me all day. Her attitude was impossible to deal with, not only because I felt responsible for her exhaustion but also because she’s not usually so volatile. So we fought, and I was tired, and she was tired, and Sam is on call so it’s been a lot of parenting alone this week, and Sammy ate an old sticker off the trashcan at the park, and yes. It was a long day.

We finally sat down for dinner, happy that Sam was home with us and that bedtime was finally in sight. Our dinner, a lackluster collection of leftovers and cut up fruit, wasn’t exactly inspiring. But at least we were eating together. We bowed our heads to pray, Clara taking the helm as usual, and I snapped my head up in surprise as she began.

“Dear Jesus, Thank you for food. Please keep Nona and Poppi safe. Thank you for Mommy making our dinner. Amen.”

She pinched a green pea in her fingers and popped it in her mouth, oblivious to my tears and Sam’s shock. It was the first spontaneous prayer she’s ever shared at dinner. It was the first time I’ve ever heard her thanking God for me. And it was a moment, for me, of two points in time touching in delicate completion.

Her stutter has vastly improved over the last few weeks, and her language has taken on a new sophistication as her speech corrected, marked with a new sense of memory and time stamps, correct sentence structure and polished thoughts. It’s a noticeable difference to everyone who knows her, but especially to me, and tonight was a tender reminder of how far she’s come.

It was just like Danielle told us: She was stuttering because her mouth was working to catch up to her rapidly forming 2 year old brain.

And it was just like we pray for our children every single day: That we would raise them to be observant, kind, and thankful people.

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She is both. She is sharp like flint, soft like moss. She’s our baby but so, so quickly becoming a little girl. She fights us and she whines when we say no. She rushes to her brother when he wakes up each morning, eager to reconnect and kiss his soft cheeks. I love her so- I love her so. I love the synapses firing in her head, I love the bruises on her shins, I love the curls on her head, I love the blue and the green in her eyes, I love when she laughs and I love when she teases, I love all the ways we are different and all the ways we will one day be the same.

My God, what a gift. What a gift, this and every part of motherhood. This and every day with her and with him. The babies sleeping as I write. The children I longed for. The ones we get to call ours. 

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When you love your kids but also they are the worst.

When Clara was three months old, my friend Josh was holding her, trying to make her smile, and asked me,

“So, have you ever hated her yet?”

I was appalled. Hated my precious baby? Hated this incredible newborn I was lucky enough to call my own? What in the world was he talking about? And this coming from the guy who was the most annoying new parent in the world just a few years before, believing his son was the best and only child that had ever taken a breath. Talking about hating a baby? Laughing at my outrage, he assured me that one day, maybe soon, there would come a time when I would want to throw my darling daughter out the front door. It would probably be in the middle of the night, he said, when I hadn’t slept in days and she was crying for no apparent reason and I would be completely over parenting in one fell swoop. I didn’t believe him, of course, he was just jaded with two little kids at his house driving him bananas; I would never feel that way. Never.

You know what? I didn’t. Not with Clara. Not for a long, long time. It wasn’t until after her brother was born, when she was suddenly a toddler and not my delicate newborn anymore, and no one was sleeping, and none of my clothes fit, and I spent day after day with the two cutest, MOST SELFISH PEOPLE I had ever met; that’s when it happened. That’s when I thought to myself,

“These babies totally suck. And I want to throw them out the front door.” 

But you can’t tell people that! You can’t say that! People shouldn’t talk about their blessings like that. Because kids are a blessing and I wanted them so badly, and I am so glad they are mine.

But also, sometimes they totally suck. I was so glad Josh had unwittingly given me permission to feel that way. To be able to love with abandon and also want to run with abandon. To admit that though we would die for these kids, we also at times want to get on a plane and fly far, far away. We feel all of these things. All at once. Altogether. One and the same.

My friend recently asked me: “Do you ever feel judged or looked down on for trying too hard? Like your passion or talents make people dislike you?”

She was referencing an article from a mother asking people to stop assuming you’re judging them based on your own performance, or thinking that you are annoying for doing something you love. I had to laugh when Abra asked me if I ever feel this way, because I definitely tend towards the other extreme. Mostly in an attempt to be transparent and to avoid self-inflation, I spend a lot of time highlighting the harder parts of parenthood and the rougher edges of myself. Also because my siblings and friends read this stuff and they know WAY too much about me for any falsehoods to make it safely across the pages, so. Truth it is. But because I focus so much on these difficult areas of me and my life, people tend to assume the worst about me and my kids. I cannot begin to tell you how many sympathy messages I receive when I write about rotten days, nor could I catalogue the volumes of unsolicited parenting advice, or tell you all the times people have assumed things about my kids or my life that just aren’t true. And this is my fault, I know that, because this blog represents about 8% of my life but reads like 100% fact, and I get that. And for the most part, I’m fine with that. I don’t want to share everything, I don’t want to tell stories that aren’t mine to tell, and I try to be very careful about details and intimacies that do not belong solely to me.

ON THE OTHER HAND.

I don’t want anyone to think my kids are awful, or that being a parent is a nightmare, or that I’m day-drinking my life away. The real truth is that just like everything else in the whole wide world, parenting these little people of mine is a complicated clutter of joy and heartache; grief and satisfaction; fun and monotony. And while I have no idea if the internet will be around in this form when they are old enough to read these pages about themselves, someday I want my children to have this virtual record of our life together. Sliver in time though it may be, and a simplified version of all the days and years we have together, I want them to read this and to know that it was hard AND good. Ugly AND beautiful. Fulfilling AND draining. All at once. Altogether. One and the same. So while I try not to brag about my kids and I actually don’t think anyone’s children are as wonderful as their parents might believe (sorry, except yours, I’m sure your offspring are those rare perfect ones) I do have some good guys on my hands over here. And I do happen to think they are fascinating, lovely people, and I want them to know that. Here and in person, now and when they are older.

Sam and I are not the kind of people who are going to worship their kids. And even when one of us is tempted to do so, the other is quick to find some grounding in reality. We have to be able to groan about and laugh at our kids just as much as we adore them, or we’ll go nuts. What I’ve noticed in writing about parenting is how many people don’t have that kind of reality check in their lives. You know how I learned that? The onslaught of texts, e-mails, facebook messages, and even phone calls from people needing to share about a hard time with their kids. And I’m not just talking about my sisters or my best friends; I’m talking about people I’ve never met before. Almost every day of the week, some mom or dad reaches out to me in hopes of getting some solidarity in how difficult parenting can be, how awful our kids can act, and how tired we get of teaching the same lessons. We are all desperate for someone to say, YES. I hear you. My kids are the best thing that ever happened to me and also I can’t wait until I can get away from them for a few hours.

I hope you have friends to talk honestly with, about your job and your family, your good days and bad. I hope you have someone in your life who loves your kids enough to absorb your annoyance about them without assuming the worst about them. If you don’t: If all of your people think admitting the bad days makes you a bad parent – I’ve got your back. I know what it means to love your kids and also grind your teeth in exasperation. I get it.

Our family recently suffered through a long round of stomach flu. Early one morning, Clara came to my bed to tell me that her tummy hurt and promptly threw up on my pillow and my face. Puking is not a great part of motherhood. It’s just not. But after we cleaned up (and after Sammy crawled crying through a trail of Clara’s throw up because I wouldn’t pick him up, since I was busy cleaning up throw up), after everyone was bathed, I settled Clara on the couch and laid Sammy down for a nap. As I stood in the middle of the living room, worn out by nine in the morning, my sweet, thoughtful daughter said, “Mama, do you want to do your yoga while Sammy sleeps? I’ll get out your yoga mat if you want.” Which she did. She dragged my mat across the floor, unrolled it carefully and then snuggled back into her blankets, watching while I stumbled through my balance positions, encouraging me with lots of “You’re doing a good job, mommy. You’re trying hard with your yoga!”

And that’s it. That’s all of it. It’s vomit on your face and it’s yoga mats twice their size, it’s tired tears and it’s earnest cheering from the two year old on the couch. Altogether. One and the same. I hope I share enough of both elements for you to know that my kids are incredible and incredibly frustrating, one and the same. It’s ok to feel both.

All I want my kids to know is this:

Sammy and Clara,

On the teeter totter of my life with you, on that long rough plank of ups and downs, in the balancing act of motherhood-

My love for you can not be outweighed. Not by anything. Not ever.

Those kick-you-out-the-front-door days are like blades of grass in rolling fields of wildflowers. Recognizing them is important to the landscape, to the integrity of the vista; but they are simply a part of our story. I share them to be a welcome heart for other parents, to give permission for honesty and relief to the exhausted, but please know how little I care about those bad moments. How often I just sit and watch you play on the floor, watch with delight as you pretend to cook me pancakes, how I kiss your hair and trace your shoulder blades while I hold you, how I count each breath as you fall asleep on me. How I write down the funny things you say and clap with pride when you learn to walk. How I can’t wait to put you to bed and then miss you after you’ve fallen asleep. How my days are wound up with you and your needs, but with a wary eye to the future, when your needs will extend beyond my reach and I will long for these hours on the floor together. Please know how much we treasure you, how much you are adored, how much you drive us crazy, and how much that doesn’t matter.

You are loved. 

 

And if nothing else? You’re real, real cute when you’re asleep. That’ll save you most days, trust me, kids.

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They have their own beds, I promise. She asks to sleep in the crib with him almost every night, and I can’t say no to this level of cuddliness. 

Cause you’re a mess too.

Sam and I used to be minimalists. At least, that’s what my friend Cassidy said the first time she came to our house after Clara was born. Clara was 4 months old, and our house looked very different than it had only a year before. Not just because there was a bouncy seat by the fireplace, or a carseat in the dining room, or a basket of toys by the couch. See, before Clara was born, we sold almost every piece of furniture we owned. Then we bought new furniture. Then we replaced our carpet with hardwood, set up a nursery, and have slowly added shelving, rugs and art pieces the last two years. When Cassidy called us ‘minimalists’ what she really meant was ‘you used to own nothing.’ Sam and I didn’t spend a lot of time at home before our kids were born. We went out a lot, hung out with our friends all the time, and then he worked out of town half the month and I never wanted to be home alone while he was gone. I can barely remember that life. I used to finish work at 6:30 p.m. and be able to do anything I wanted until 10 the next morning. Half the time didn’t even have a husband at home waiting for me. The freedom! What did I do with all that time? Mostly I recall eating a lot of cold cereal and making a lot of plans for the weekend. My gosh! Why don’t I like, know Italian by now? Or have a PhD in something? Young people! You there, the ones with the hours of time dictated by no one. TURN OFF NETFLIX and DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF. Love, your old and tired friend, Jessie.

So now, here we are, finally actually living within the walls of our small home in our small neighborhood, living amongst all this strange IMG_3778new stuff. Living with our kids and the strange new stuff that came with them. It’s not even like our children have completely taken over the house, either. We make them share a room so that we can keep a guest room. They have one corner of the living room for their toys. That’s about it. But still, we seem to be surrounded. Tripping over their shoes, cleaning up their crumbs, buying diapers and socks, washing their blankets, reassessing their closet and editing out clothing sizes- it’s never ending.

The other night after a wildly unsuccessful bedtime, Sammy still wasn’t asleep and needed another snuggle. I wrapped my arms around him and then Clara joined him on my lap in their rocking chair. I rocked and sang, smelling their clean hair and rubbing their backs through their soft jammies, still amazed that they are mine at all. There I was, in a big green comfy chair that I hadn’t owned a few years ago, in a nursery that hadn’t existed, flanked by a crib and a toddler bed I had never really imagined, holding two children my body had grown from sesame seed heartbeats to two warm and tired bodies melting into my lap. Their stuff is all over our previously-minimalist house. We don’t have any more empty drawers or cupboards; our corners and nooks are full of our babies.

And it turns out, we don’t mind it at all.

Because all of this stuff? It’s evidence of their existence. It is mostly outside of me in the sense that I don’t use it, unless invited to play; I wouldn’t own it were it not for their presence in our home.

It is silly, maybe, and it is cluttered, at times, but it is there because they are here. 

Their voices bounce off the hardwood, just like everyone warned us when we installed it. They smear fingerprints across the glass french doors, they spill food every day, we pick up on their toys over and over again. Two hooded towels hang behind the door in the bathroom, their names embroidered across the terry material. Clara and Sammy. There they are, in our bathroom. Splashing in the bathtub. Sleeping in our bed. Climbing on our couches. Crawling around our feet as we make dinner, crying our names in the middle of the night, laughing as we chase them and complaining as we discipline. They fill up our home with noise and mess and a joy that squeezes us, wrings us out like a dripping sponge.

We used to be minimalists. We used to be free.

We didn’t know what we were missing.

We don’t sleep that much anymore. We don’t go out on a whim, or see many movies, or leave the house without the fanfare of a small, disorganized side show. Our world overflows with their presence. Our home is full of them and their stuff. Our hearts burst with pride and thanks when we see them. Our lives are interlaced with theirs, threaded so tightly together that to pull one string apart would change the entire tapestry.

The inconvenience of loving someone often shows up in the form of their stuff. Their clothes on the floor. Their files of old baseball cards. Their spread sheets and organizational charts, pinned up in the office. Their beer in the fridge, their dishes in the sink, their toothpaste flicked onto the mirror. Their jacket on the chair. Their particular brand of mess, emotional or tangible, probably both, fills up our lives and we make room for them. Just like we want them to make room for us. Even when the mess is too much. Even when the mess has us a little bit buried.

When we love, we make room.

The space that our things occupy is a physical manifestation of the space we occupy. Learning to live with the stuff of others; the mess; the bags on wheels that we all lug behind us; that is love.When we love, we welcome one another, stuff and all. Maybe we sit in it for a while. Maybe we help clean it up. Maybe we point the direction to the trash heap and let our loved ones decide the next step to take, because the hard part is that our stuff keeps changing. Like my children’s blankets and dolls will soon be replaced with school books and muddy soccer cleats, like our home has altered over time, the things we must make room for will change too. A battle will be won only to have another soon waging in its place. My temper will cool over time, I will learn to hold my tongue, and other painful shortcomings will crop up instead. This is the way of life, and it simply must be the way of love. I will love you in your messes, old and new. Embattled and triumphant. Until death do us part.

I think realizing what all we accept when we decide to love gives us a better understanding of how sacred it is to hold someone’s heart, to love with abandon; it’s not to be taken lightly. It is important, difficult work that comes with a lot of stuff. Love doesn’t just see the stuff and passively agree that it exists; love sees the stuff and says “Welcome. All of you. Whether you ever change or go away or get better or get bigger- my love will have room for you. My love will always make room.”

I come with my grandmother’s tea cups, a penchant for breakfast goods, and an unhelpful, selfish avoidance of mundane chores or errands. Sam comes with an absurd amount of baseball hats, an incredible commitment to cleanliness, and an annoying habit of refusing to make decisions.

Clara is a little lady. She has an impeccable sense of order, a tenderness that frightens me with its fragility, and a maddening way of whining and arguing. Sammy brought the summer sun into our home, has a smile that never leaves his face, and recently tore up four beloved books in one infuriating morning.

This is our stuff. This is our family. This is the room we extend to each other, room to be and room to grow, room to rest and room to become the ones we are meant to become. It’s not easy, this love. It’s work. It’s mess.  It’s steady, faithful, messy work and it’s worth it, we say. Torn up books, bedtime shenanigans, a tired “I love you” whispered as you fall into bed- it’s all so very worth it.

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someday you will miss that robe.

Dear Jessie,

Someday you will miss that robe at the end of your bed.

Someday you will miss that pink robe, the one draped over your bed covers. The one worn thin by round baby cheeks pressed against you in sleep. The one with the left shoulder constantly caked with spit up or animal cracker or drool, that left shoulder where so many nights and early mornings you invited a sleepy head to rest. You wear that robe like a cape some nights, tossing it on as you rush to save your crying baby. You are not even completely awake, but you know the tone of their cries, you know the sound of their breaths, you know something is wrong even through the walls of your house. You are not a hero, but to them? In those long and dark midnight hours of pushing through new teeth, waking up with painful coughs, or that restless newborn confusion: you are everything they ever wanted. You are mommy. In her pink robe. Warm and quiet and soft, swaying with that ancient dance of motherhood that has rocked civilizations to sleep since Eve held her boys to her breast. You are home, you and that robe.

Someday, I promise, you will miss feeling tiny hands climb over you and into your bed. You will be more rested, I think, when these days pass, but your bed might feel bigger than necessary without those warm, wiggling bodies twisting between their tired parents. You will miss her curls, his chubby feet, their dreaming fingers fluttering inches away from you in deep slumber.

I know you’re tired. I know you are so, so tired. It’s ok. These are hard nights. It’s hard to be woken up, it’s hard to always be a parent, even in the middle of the night, even when you are exhausted. It’s hard to be kind in the morning after you slept on the couch with a sick baby, or when two-year old molars were coming in all night, or when no one has slept well for a week. It’s hard to wake up and make breakfast and say “Good morning, babies,” and be patient when people are fussing on a really good day, much less on a really tired day. But you’re doing good. Good job for apologizing when you snapped at Clara for whining. Good job for knowing you needed to take the kids to see their cousins this morning when you couldn’t handle telling Sammy’s book-tearing hands “NO” one more time by 9 am. That’s good. You’re not a hero, remember. You wear a pink cape that rests on the edge of your bed and you pray all day long for more and more and more of whatever it is that makes God love you and your fussing so much, and that’s great. That’s it, that’s all you need. Because He knows. He sees you. He will bear with you, and teach you to bear with them, and He will show them love through you, at all hours of the day. That’s good.

And remember, ok, remember this when the days seem impossible, or you are almost afraid of how happy you are to be their mom, or you just can’t remember how to be a mom at all: remember that life is meant to be interrupted. Your broken sleep is merely a reflection of this breaking inside you, as your old way of life is interrupted and a new, thick thread weaves it way through your story. You won’t be the same anymore. You aren’t meant to be, after these babies come. This thread is pulling, tugging, changing your tapestry in ways you cannot imagine. It’s gonna hurt sometimes. It’ll feel too tight. It’ll feel wrong, this piercing, tugging thread of motherhood. But it’s just right. These minutes filled with the needs of others, filled with the clatter of disruption and disorder; they are the thread that is hemming in your story and creating the rest of you. 

Because these precious, beloved children of yours? They won’t be here forever. In fact, they’ll leave soon. Someday they will sneak past your bedroom door instead of through it. Someday you will throw on that robe to answer midnight phone calls instead of cries, to whisper advice instead of lullabies. You will still be you, changed by their very heartbeats, and they will still be them, hearts beating outside of your grasp and in a world all their own. Don’t lose yourself in these tired nights. Don’t forget the astonishing joy of being their everything, nor the price you pay to raise someone well, nor the woman beneath the robe who exists beyond the nursery door, in a world all her own. Remember that the thread of motherhood is a part of your story; but not the very end. Remember that these babies and their needs are a gift, and will not last forever. Remember that the love in their eyes is saved for no one else.

Someday you will miss that pink robe on the edge of your bed. You won’t miss being woken up all night, or feeling hung over with exhaustion, or planning your sex life around a nap schedule. You won’t miss being thrown up on or changing wet pants or the onslaught of questions and requests that begins every morning at sunrise. But you will miss this simple kind of tired. The one that means you are doing your job well. The one that goes away with sleep. There will be new kinds of tired, you know? As these babies grow up, and hurt themselves or others, you will not be able to sleep away the pain you share with them. And when those days come; when you feel lost and hurt and wonder how on earth you can ever help them find their way again; remember that a long time ago, you held them tight and loved them well. You kept a robe waiting at the end of your bed so you could hurry to meet their needs, and that kind of love will dig into them. It will grow with them. It will teach them to love others and to love themselves.

These midnight hours matter. These tired days matter.

You and your babies are going to be ok.
Tomorrow morning,
and all the mornings after.

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travel with kids: everything nobody else will tell you.

When I was 22 years old, freshly married and kid-free, I had the moronic confidence of someone whose main job is to take care of themselves. So when my sister offered me a free plane ticket to Hawaii, a free ticket which was a carrot on the end of a long stick named “but you have to bring my 3 kids with you,”  I was like yeah, sure, bring it on! I think I may have said, and I quote,

“How hard can it be to fly with three kids?”

Laughing, laughing, laughing all around, cue my inevitable humiliation and whatever disasters awaited me. No matter WHAT happened on that trip, I would deserve it, if only  for the foolish audacity to imagine everything would be juuuust fine. And happen things did.

Everything was fine all the way to San Francisco, where I fed them lunch, the 1-year-old, 4-year-old, and 6-year-old who I was about to cart across the Pacific Ocean. We had just boarded the plane for Honolulu when the 4-year-old announced that her stomach hurt. After we settled into our seats, she leaned over and hurled that airport lunch all over herself. I cleaned her up in the spacious confines of the airplane bathroom with the wet wipes and extra outfit her mom had advised me to pack, praying it was an isolated moment of motion sickness. And then she proceeded to projectile vomit for FIVE. HOURS. STRAIGHT. I am not exaggerating. She threw up on her clothes, she threw up on her second set of clothes, she threw up on her seat, she threw up on her sister’s seat, she threw up on her brother’s seat, she threw up on my seat, she threw up on her stuffed animals, and in the very worst move of the entire stomach emptying episode from hell, she threw up on the DVD players.

I don’t even remember the middle three hours of that flight. I think I blacked out for a while, purely for self-preservation. At one point I found myself asking the annoyed flight attendants for yet another large plastic bag, which I was ripping into with my teeth to create head and arm holes, and making my embarrassed and miserable niece wear as a puke poncho. An older woman walking down the aisle patted my shoulder, then leaned in and said,

“Honey, you are a saint.”
I gripped her hand and pulled her down to face me, and with wild eyes I whispered back,
“These aren’t my kids.”

The point IS, we made it to Hawaii, where I promptly caught the same stomach bug and threw up for two days straight while my sister, in gratitude and slight amusement, tossed toast and magazines to me from her guest room doorway.

Since that adventure, I have traveled thousands and thousands and thousands of miles with my own kids, by planes, trains, and automobiles,  with my husband and (foolishly, again) by myself. I gladly share all of my hard-won and pathetically earned secret information to make your travels as painless and smooth as possible when accompanied by small selfish people who think gum is a food group.

IMG_0364^^ On our way home from Boston. To be fair, I took the kids across the country by myself for 10 days. I needed a lot of stuff. ^^

 

 Travel With Kids: Everything Nobody Else Will Tell You

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PEOPLE’S PITY.
For the most part, your fellow passengers are so glad to be traveling alone and oh so glad to not be you, and this translates into a helpful attitude. When they ask if they can help, be ready with an answer! Can they hold the baby for a split second while you rearrange your carry-on full of toys? Can they pull a bag out from the stroller basket? Can they unzip that DVD case for you? Can they carry your bag up to that bench by Starbucks?

Give them a chance to do a good deed and give yourself a chance to breathe for a split second. Everybody wins.

BE THE LAST PEOPLE ON THE PLANE.
Not the first. Never the first. You’re just wasting precious running around time- run their little legs ragged while you can, people. And then you won’t have to wait in a long quiet line, or walk slowly in a line down the aisle, or have to hustle your kids out-of-the-way when you finally find your seats. Go on last. Trust me.

PICK THE FLIGHT WITH LONGER LAYOVERS OR NONE AT ALL.
Because old-you might have been able to make a 20 minute connection with a bathroom break AND a coffee run, but parent-you needs to find the family bathroom, change a diaper, nurse a baby, let the kids run up and down a few empty hallways, eat lunch, wash hands, repack carry-on bags and then maybe finally buy an over-priced latte. Give yourself a few minutes to do all of this, or plan a direct flight. Short layovers are a bad idea.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO OVER-PACK YOUR CARRY-ON BAGS.
In the world of traveling with kids, there can be this undercurrent of competition in who does it better. I saw a mom in an airport who was wearing her baby, had a toddler on a leash,  and ONE SMALL DIAPER BAG on her arm. Meanwhile, I had a double stroller, a backpack, and a weekender bag JAM PACKED along with my two small children and their various blankets. In the world of who did it better, it might seem like she was winning. This is false. Here’s why: Because I know my kids. I’ve traveled with them a million times, and I knew I would need everything that was in my arsenal of stuff. Think through your whole day of travel, no matter the mode, and plan hour by hour. If your kids are old enough to watch 3 full-length movies and eat apple slices all day, simply pack their DVD player and an apple. If your kids are babies who need constant attention and soothing, pack their favorite blankets and movies and snacks and little toys, so that you can move your day along in 20 minute increments of survival if need be.

PLAN FOR TERRIBLE THINGS TO HAPPEN.
I always, ALWAYS pack two extra outfits for each kid, and enough diapers/undies for an entire day without our luggage, and in case of: spilled apple juice, peed pants, diaper blow-outs, smeared animal crackers, delayed planes, et cetera ET CETERA. Pack their extra clothes in gallon Ziplocks so that you have somewhere to put their dirty clothes, and don’t forget to bring a fresh shirt for yourself as well.

THERE ARE NO ATHIESTS TRAVELING WITH KIDS.
I don’t care what you do or don’t believe about a supreme being. When you are 37,000 feet in the air or 237 miles away from your highway exit and one or all of your kids are crying because you can’t hold them/let them walk/feed them lunch yet/find their binky/get them to sleep- YOU WILL FALL TO YOUR KNEES IN PRAYER. You will cry out to God to fast forward time and space and to please make your baby stop crying, and you will whisper a grateful “thank you” when everyone arrives unscathed. There are no atheists in fox holes, and there are absolutely no unbelievers traveling during nap times. So don’t be afraid to go there; you’ll be better off with a prayer on your lips than a curse word. Although a few of my prayers included curse words, so. Whatever it takes.

BE THANKFUL.
Recognize the incredible privilege of even being on airplane or on a road trip, the magnitude of wealth that a plane ticket or a tank full of gas and a working car represents to billions of people all over the world. You might be getting stressed in the circus of TSA security measures or really tired of hearing your kids ask when you’ll get there, but there’s a mother out there who isn’t sure where her babies’ next meals are coming from. So. Put your shoes on the conveyor belt and be thankful.

IF ALL ELSE FAILS, Screw ‘EM.
My sister in law told me this once. It’s helpful. If things just aren’t going your way, if the day has been long and hard and your baby or toddler just cannot be consoled,  please don’t worry about the passengers around you. They will likely never see you or your kids again. They will go on their merry way and not give you a second thought, so why worry about what they think? Most of them probably feel sorry for you, honestly. And if they are actually upset about a helpless, tired, confused baby who dares to (God forbid) cry on a plane…. then repeat sentiments above. 

So! Happy Travels this holiday season and beyond. May your flights be smooth, your roadtrips be jolly, and your snacks be filling. Much love from the Horney house to you and yours!