Life with Clara Horney.

I’m just gonna go ahead and say it:
I didn’t really enjoy 1 year old Clara.

I mean, sure, we had good days, great ones even, and there is nothing she could ever do to change how much I love her. Nothing.
But like her?
Those days felt few and far between, especially right around 16 months. Which is coincidentally when I had baby Samuel? So maybe my patience was a little thin (and reeking of hormonal rage) as well, but I’m putting most of the blame on her thin toddler shoulders.

Call me what you will.

I think, for me, the hard part about the year between 1 and 2 was the cognitive leaps paired with the language barriers. She was smarter than ever and turning daily from ‘baby’ to ‘child,’ but the gap between her brain and my ears was astounding at times. We were frustrated with each other, and we also had a new guy on the premises, and then there was potty training and big girl beds and just a general smattering of 3 feet high growing pains. I would never trade a day with her, not for anything, but I have to tell you- I am glad we are done with that year.

Becase TWO years old is where it’s at, guys.
She’s so fun. SO fun. She’s a mature two, if such a thing exists in a world of people who fall off furniture for laughs. For instance, I just saw her eating candy off her gingerbread house and told her to stop; she took the M&M out of her mouth and placed it back on the frosted chimney. She’s a rule follower to the max and not much of a fit-thrower, and loves to use her manners. (These oldest daughters, what a bizarre breed, huh? I’ll never understand it, but it’s a joy to raise.)

She’s sassy as anything and the whining can make me want to slice my ears off but for the most part- she’s a joy. She makes me laugh all the time, on accident and sometimes even (miraculously) on purpose, so I started writing down the things she says. Because like every good parent, all of my children’s memories and stories are collected on scraps of paper all over my house with barely legible notes scribbled on them. Here is my attempt to keep them somewhere safer than the piles on my desk.

——————

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(After I handed Sammy his breakfast at his highchair.)
Clara: Sammmmmyyyy…you say “Thank you, Jessie.”

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(During a dinner discussion about the veggies on her plate.)
Jessie: You love carrots. You have to eat both of those.
Clara: Yes, but Mama, I’m too LITTLE to eat carrots.

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(Wandering into the kitchen while I’m making breakfast. Leans casually against the fridge.)

Clara: What you doing, Mom?
Jessie: I’m making coffee.
Clara: Oh, coffee? Cool.

(Sitting with me in my bedroom while I’m putting on make up. Her brother crawls in and heads towards me. She stands in his way, arms crossed.)
Clara: No, you go play, Sammy. I want to talk to my mommy. Go.

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(As I’m standing in the kitchen and drinking my coffee, a few minutes after I dropped a cup of water while handing it to her.)
Clara: Ummm, Mom? Don’t walk with your coffee. Sit down at the table.

(In a busy aisle at Costco.)
Jessie: deep in thought over the list in her head, makes a thinking noise with her lips…which comes out like a fart noise.
Clara: EXCUSE you, Mom!
Other people: Staring.
Jessie: Nervous laugh towards staring people.
Clara: Mom, did you POOP?
Jessie: What? No! I made that noise with my mouth.
Clara: (Shouting now.) You pooped with your MOUTH?

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*I know my kid isn’t the only ridiculous one. Tell me some stuff your toddler is spouting off and let’s laugh together.

what the hell happened last night?

When Sam is on-call for work, it’s sort of a known factor that I’ll be doing everything by myself for a week. This is fine, it’s better by about a million and a half miles than him being gone every other week like his old job required; I can do a week “alone” every other month. No problem.

Except last night, when it was a problem.

Sam’s phone rang at 6:22 p.m. with a power emergency he left to tend. (Did you know that happens? Like, when you call the power company because your lights are off, or you just ran into a power pole with your car- someone is leaving their house to come help you. Fact.)

So, his phone rings, he leaves, and it’s 6:22 p.m. Do you have small kids? Do you have any kids at all? Do you know what is happening at 6:22 p.m. in a home with children?
Everything. That is what’s happening. Every feeling, every emotion, every complaint, every need, every chore, everything is happening. My mom calls it the witching hour, aptly named, because your children will indeed turn to witchcraft and evil spells for the next 2 hours until they are sound asleep.
Or actually, maybe it’s because the mom turns into a witch for the next two hours until they are sound asleep?

I’m not actually sure. Either way, aptly named.

At 6:22 at our house last night, dinner was almost over and the kids were ready for a bath. Which, spelled out a bit further, meant that my kitchen was torn apart by dinner preparations, my table and floor were torn apart by dinner consumption (and food throwing by my youngest, WHY SAMMY WHY) and the kids were dancing around naked in the bathroom while straining to get into the bathtub filled with warm water. This is normal, because we usually split ways after dinner, me to the bathing arena and Sam to the kitchen, me cleaning our slippery children while he cleans all the dishes and dinner mess. It’s a good system, except when he leaves in the middle of our loud little circus. This was also, interestingly enough, the night I had prepared myself to throw down the hatchet and make the baby “cry it out” for bedtime.

The last week or so (or even more? I don’t know. Life has been a blur of travel, holidays, and illness) Sammy has been terrible at night. He falls asleep fine, but then he is up constantly, from about 10:30 on, wanting to nurse or play or cry or whatever his dumb baby brain is thinking about at that particular hour. Like most bad habits that my children start to exhibit, it snuck up on me, one instance at a time. We slept in 4 different houses in 4 consecutive weeks when we were traveling last month, so I had a lot of grace for my kids and their sleeping needs. Especially because we were staying in other people’s homes and I didn’t want any unnecessary crying or bedtime shenanigans, more often than not I was rocking, singing, and nursing when it was time to go sleep, and way more often than not, both kids ended up in my bed sometime during the night. But. Now we are home. Now it is time to settle back in to routine. Both kids in their beds at 7:30 p.m. and falling asleep on their own and staying asleep until morning. Right?
Wrong, says Sam the Fifth. Very wrong, Mama. Now let’s play “bite the mommy and daddy until they wake up and play with me” one more time tonight, whaddya say?
Egads. That is what I say.

So last night! Was the night! When I was going to put my tired foot down on my drool covered wood floors and say Go The #$%& To Sleep, Baby Sam!

After many splashes of bath water, a wrestling match into pajamas (Sammy, that is. Clara is an angel at bedtime, seriously), a toy cleanup whirlwind, and reading a book, it was time for bed. I  tucked Clara in her bed, rocked Sammy while singing a few Christmas carols, then laid the baby in his crib and tiptoed out of their shared nursery. Sammy immediately started crying. I cursed.

Cut to 45 minutes later:
After several failed attempts to lightly pat Sammy’s back and lay him back down, after a few hugs, after a few desperate “It’s night-night time, buddy. It really is!” in my most convincing voice, he was still crying. Standing up, shaking the bars of his crib, furiously crying. And of course his poor tortured sister was also crying, because unlike the maniac across the room, she actually wanted to fall asleep.

I gave up on the “put them to bed in their own beds” mantra and carried a very upset Smoochie to our room, along with an armload of her pillows, stuffed animals (“my guys, mama. Don’t forget my guys!”) and settled her into my bed. Where she continued to cry, asking me to fall asleep with her, too tired to be rational at this point. But not, as it turns out, too tired to watch an episode of Bubble Guppies. Thank God for those weird mermaid kids.

23 minutes later:
Sammy still wailing intermittently. Bubble Guppies end credits rolling. Me speed reading tips on crying it out at 11 months old. Clara still awake. In perhaps the best parenting move of my day, I press play and let Clara watch the exact same Bubble Guppies, again. In case you’re counting, it’s close to 10 p.m. at this point and she is about to get 46 minutes deep into a cartoon haze. I’ll pick up my mothering award at the door, thanks a bunch.

23 more minutes later:
Bubble Guppies is almost over. The baby is still upset. I am slumped against the three feet of wall between our room and the nursery, my phone the only light in the hall, defeatedly reading bedtime tips for babies. Suddenly I find a list about “crying it out,” a sort of “are these things true of your baby?” list to help you determine why they’re waking up during the night.

-Will he only fall asleep with a binky? No. He hates binkies.
-Will he only fall asleep while nursing or drinking a bottle? No. He nurses in 5 minutes flat.
Will he only fall asleep to music or rocking? No, he can skip either one.
-Does he nap well during the day? At least 4 hours combined.
-And most importantly, Does he fall asleep on his own? YES. Always has. 

“Your baby does not need to cry it out. He needs to be night-weaned. Slowly and gently.”
OH GOOD LORD IN HEAVEN. Why have I been torturing my son all night? WHY AM I THE WORST MOM EVER? And why didn’t I read this stuff before we started?

I rush in and pick up my sad son. I cradle him to me and tell him I’m sorry. I climb in my bed next to Clara, turn off the tv, pull both of my tired babies close to me. I nurse Sammy while Clara snuggles up against his back, both of us kissing his head resting between us. He drifts off to sleep but his sister is still awake, breathing slow and even in the dark. I feel her delicate hand reaching across the pillow, searching for me. She touches my cheek and then presses her hand to my chest, right where my heart lays beneath my sternum. She’s done this since she was a baby; impatiently pulling open my robe or tugging aside my shirt to rest her cheek or her hand on my heartbeat. It’s been such a long night, alone, making decisions and unmaking them and feeling so tired before we had even begun; I am so tired. Clara drapes herself around her sleeping brother and falls asleep with her fingers brushing against the warmth of my beating heart.

I laid there for a few minutes, praying over my kids and feeling so thankful for their lives. I took a picture of them sleeping and sent it to their dad. I crept out of my room and cleaned the kitchen. I cleaned, took out trash, measured coffee grounds for the next morning, turned off lights and blew out candles, brushed my teeth and crawled back in my bed full of babies. I tucked myself around them and fell asleep with a sigh.

Parenting is so hard. Parenting is so amazing. Parenting makes me cry happy tears and sad tears and frustrated tears, all in the same hour. Parenting is the gift of real, messy love. The gift of perspective.

Parenting is a small hand holding your heartbeat, counting on the steady rhythm of your blood and breath to make sense of the great big world beyond their sleepy eyes.

And all of that,
every bit of it:
is so, so good.

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i just want to keep the curtain shut tight.

This morning Clara climbed up on the couch and snuggled next to me while I watched the Today Show and nursed Sammy. The camera panned over to Jennifer Hudson right before a commercial, and the singer waved to the camera with a happy hello. Clara smiled, waved back and said “Good morning!”

After a second, she turned to me with furrowed eyebrows and asked, “Mom? Can she hear me?”

There are all these Wizard of Oz moments as a parent, when you have to decide whether to pull back the magic curtain a little bit further and reveal a truth about the real world, or let them keep imagining a more exciting existence. These moments are a teeter-totter of emotions for me: excited to see her mind exploring the limits of reality, sad because I know what disappointment lies ahead, hesitant to reveal too much too soon or too little too late. When they ask these questions, when they finger the folds of the curtain and look to you with curious eyes, what do you do? How do you know which conversations to have when?

This morning it’s an innocent question about the limits of a television screen. But what about tomorrow? Or next year? Or ten years from now, when her friends and the world around us are whispering and shouting messages that I can’t begin to sort through and file away for her?

If parenthood doesn’t send you to your knees in prayer, I don’t know what will, I’ll tell you what.

For today, for now, I told her the truth. No, Jennifer Hudson didn’t hear you. That’s not how TV works. She nodded, kissed her brother’s head, then slid off the couch and asked me to pour her a bowl of cheerios.

And so it goes.

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my people becoming people.

Sam and I wanted our kids to be close in age. So late last April, when Clara was 8 months old, we decided to try and get pregnant again. A few weeks later I snuck a “I’m a Big Sister” book into Clara’s bedtime reading pile and Sam joined me in celebrating that another miracle, another sweet baby, would join our family. And close in age to Clara just like we had dreamed. Turns out 16 months apart wasn’t a totally genius idea (16 month olds are actually just large babies, that was more surprising than I’d like to admit) but we are forever thankful for the two lives that have made our world a colorful, tearful, sometimes terrible, always joyful chaos.

It’s been 18 months since we found out our second baby was on the way, 18 months of waiting and waiting for our kids to be friends. That’s all I wanted. Little friends, the start of a lifetime together just like Sam has with his 4 siblings and I have with my 6 siblings, the gift of a friendship that (when cultivated and appreciated) rivals no other. A shared history, shared eye-rolls about parents, shared holiday traditions, shared memories, both terrible and great. Shared lives. Shared hearts, really.

Last night at my parents’ house, I watched Clara and Sammy play a game together, some stupid game involving a plastic truck being rolled off the edge of a coffee table, and I watched them becoming friends. It was so good. I cried. (Moms are so lame.) I cried as they laughed and I sighed with relief that the last 18 months have been worth every single second.
Everyone with kids who are close in age tells me,
“The first year will be terrible. Then it will all be worth it.”

Sam guy is almost 10 months old. Our first hard/crazy/tiring/incredible year with these two people of ours is rounding to an end. And yeah.

It’s definitely, definitely worth it.

because motherhood will crack you wide open.

A few nights ago my parents had a Bible study at their house and one of their group members asked me,

“How is your visit to Boston going? Are you just here to relax, or did you come for some sort of business?”

It was 8:00 at night. Both of my kids were bathed and in jammies and still awake, full of whatever business they seem to get full of when it’s dark and they are late to bed. I was in my parents’ small home which was filled with adults I’d never met before, and I’d been travelling alone with a 2 year old and a 9 month old since 3:30 in the morning on Saturday.

So I wasn’t sure how to answer him. ‘Cause while I’m definitely not getting paid to do any business during my visit, I’m sure as hell not relaxing in any definition of the word. In fact, these last few weeks have hit me hard. Hit me like an airliner trundling down the runway, like a wind whipping through trees, like a bottle blunt over the head. Sam was on-call the week before we left which meant we didn’t see him for days at a time, and then I packed up a big suitcase full of my jeans and sweaters mingled with their smaller jeans and tiny sweaters, and left for a ten day trip with Clara and Sammy to see my family in Boston. I’ve been planning this trip since my birthday in April when I asked for airline tickets to see my parents, my brother Robert,  my sister-in-law Malia, and my baby niece Elsie. It’s good to be here. I am supposed to be here.

But hey, man. I’m tired.
I’m tired from worrying about our plane rides.
I’m tired from the actual plane rides.
I’m tired from parenting alone the last few weeks.
And tonight;
oh, gosh,
tonight?
I’m tired. Of. My. Kids.
Not of them, themselves, though they can be a little awful,
but of their never-ending need for me and my space and my time.

My friend lost her baby this week, 20 weeks into her pregnancy. Her little boy, she’ll never meet him. She’ll never hear his heartbeat again or get to shush and sway him to sleep, never get to cut his hair, never have to put him in time-out. It’s a heartbreak I’m familiar with, the searing, burning pain of losing a beloved baby. It’s a loss a mother does not forget. I’ve lost a baby and I’ve kissed the quiet face of another mother’s lost baby and I’ve prayed in anger over lost babies and there’s something that breaks in that empty mother that doesn’t get fixed. It does not repair. Like a crack in the earth that now contains a formidable rushing river, it is a break so violent that it can absolutely never be repaired.
It can grow a river.
It can produce beauty.
But it cannot be fixed.

Tonight, after another long day with my two year old, the one who never ever ever stops talking and the one who never ever ever stops pushing boundaries, I called my husband behind closed doors and whispered that I wanted to run away from his daughter. I don’t know what to do anymore, Sam, I said. She’s pushed me to the edge. I’m here. On the edge. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. I was calling him from thousands of miles away and two time zones ahead and I just really needed to hear his voice, to hear from someone else who knows the difficult loveliness of our Clara and her complicated, intelligent, manipulative brand of disobedience. I needed another soldier to remind me why we’re fighting this good fight at all.

My fellow warrior gave me some advice (he was irate, he is as stubborn as she is and doesn’t put up with nearly as much as I do) and then said with resolve,
Don’t let her break you, Jess! You know she’ll try to break you! 

It was funny, and we laughed, mostly because it’s true, but let’s be honest.
Motherhood breaks us.
There is no place on a man’s body that breaks open and produces life.
But a woman?
No matter what way a baby is born, through a cesarean cut or a birth canal,
a woman is broken open for her child.

These little people, these beating hearts, they break us open. They devastate our bodies and our lives in the most resplendent fashion, carving paths and valleys so deep that they hurt, changing our very landscape with every breath that they do or do not take. The pain of raising my children is carving away at me, with every argument and every defiance and every stumble away from my instruction, the pain of their pain is widening a crevice inside me. This relentless love for my children, the terrifying and determined love of a mother, it chisels in me walls steep with miles and miles of edges and cliffs. I cannot help but love them with a wonder awash in fear, cannot help but want the best for them with a need akin to desperation.
And so the valleys extend.

But then?
Then come the currents.
The river waters begin to swell, begin to swirl, begin tumbling over those dry and sparse grounds we thought we knew so well.
It’s all changing, it’s all hard, and it’s all so achingly beautiful.

It is the very essence of God, of a holy refreshing love, breaking and changing and making space for what will come.
In the suffering, may there be promise.
In the silence, may there be hope.
In the pain, may there be the scent of fresh water. May the rain be fruitful and may the land find healing.

I am in Boston on a dark and cold autumn night and I’m so glad my babies are asleep. Somewhere back home in the chill of an Idaho October, I imagine my friend would do anything to give her baby more time.
Motherhood breaks us open. It cracks us through and through. Tonight I’m praying for refreshment, and for new days. For rivers to come. For cliffs to be beautiful and not just dangerous. For Clara to listen and for more patience and wisdom, and most of all for a mom who is getting ready to tell her son goodbye.

May joy come in the morning. 

 

don’t read this if you don’t want a baby.

This kid is just your basic dose of anti-birth control.
He is happy.
He is cute.
He is friendly.
He is sweet.

He doesn’t have those stupid looking top teeth yet, the ones that turn babies into hillbillies. I found pictures of Clara at this age and was horrified at her hillbilly teeth.

I dread the day this happens to Sammy.

Although that bottom one is looking suspicious.

He crawls, he stands, and he falls all day long and I would recognize the sound of that head hitting a hardwood floor anywhere, anytime. He rarely cries when it happens, but he always crawls to find me for a tight hug of reassurance.

He puts up with a lot of different business from a lot of little hands and he is eternally patient and long-suffering.

I tell him “no” and he grins. I tell him “no” again, more stern, and he laughs. He’s gonna be difficult to discipline, that’s pretty clear.

He loves being held. He loves giving hugs. He loves everyone.

His sister lights up his world. Here’s the scene at my house every morning at 7:30, when we hear him stirring and chatting in his bed:
Clara bounces towards the nursery shouting “He’s awake! Brudder’s awake, mama! No problems, I get him!” His grin beams across the room as she reaches through the crib slats to stroke his cheek and say “Good morning, Sammy. Hi! I miss you! Good morning, bubbies!” He smiles and chatters to her. I smile and try to memorize the way they look at each other.

And even when he’s sad, it’s pretty damn adorable.
Samuel Iradell Horney V.
You’re nine months old and still hanging on to that favorite child slot, buddy. I’m sure you’ll be bumped once you start sassing me or fighting with your sister or flushing jewelry down our toilets, but for now? Enjoy the prestige.
And your dad should bow down to the maker of the almighty IUD, because you make me want to get pregnant by like, YESTERDAY.
Love you Sam guy! Love you so so so much!

The Explosion.

OK so last night I posted this picture on Instagram of me, with my car full of babies in the background, and laid out the woeful story about how my week (HOW IS IT ONLY TUESDAY) has been, and the overwhelming response was,

“Yeah, but your hair looks great.”

And while this affirmation couldn’t have come at a better time, seeing as I spent the better part of an hour on Sunday evening plucking out gray hairs (how long does plucking precede hair dye? When should that bridge be crossed?) and bemoaning my extreme post-natal hair loss (seriously, it does not stop. I’m sure an entire underworld, complete with a mayor and a bustling city square, has taken up residence in the nest in my shower drain). So, my hair situation has been depressing, at best.

Especially because I haven’t had any hair products or hair tools since July 25.
July 25, 2014.
The Day I Blew Up My Bathroom.

This is the story of the Explosion of 2014. Would you like to know how to take the worst family pictures of all time and eternity? Gather in, I’ll tell you. Listen closely so you know what steps to take.

1. Have your baby get really sick the night before your photo shoot. 
I’m talking waking up screaming at 1:00 am covered in vomit so thick that he can’t open his eyelids, crying for hours on end and downright miserable sick. This way, he will be pale and limp in the pictures the next day, and you will also be pale and shriveled due to only sleeping for two hours the night before. If you’re looking for pallid, squinting into the blessed light of day pictures, this is a perfect beginning.

2. Plan a 15 hour road trip following your photo shoot. 
We planned ours for a family reunion in Colorado. This created plenty of frenzied packing, stressing, and a general sense of urgency around the day that translated really well into the photos.

3. Have out of town family stay at your house the night before the shoot. 
This way not only will your sick baby leave you tired, cranky, and in a hurry to make that 9 a.m. golden hour of light, but you will also feel an unnecessary pull to make coffee and breakfast for your brother and sister in law and their sweet baby. They won’t be expecting it, they’re much better people than that, but you might as well kill yourself to make it happen. It will make sense later, I promise.
Just kidding, it will never make sense and your pictures will blow.

4. Hire a photographer site unseen because you’ve been pregnant and/or nursing for almost three years and after one glass of champagne you’re cross-eyed drunk and ready to BID THE CRAP out of that silent charity auction. 
It’s three months before I will actually make a date to take these pictures, but sure, $100 for a photo shoot and an 11×14 print? Here’s my bid number, gents. Just let me know where to pick up my prize. Also, is there a private room where I could use the hand-held breast pump in my purse? Thankssomuch.

5. Try to get yourself, your husband, a 6 month old and 2 year old out the door dressed in their best and beaming with smiling faces. By 8:20 a.m.
Go ahead.

6. Get up first and get ready fast.
Don’t worry, you can do a few touch ups before you leave.

7. Leave your make-up on the counter and your flat iron plugged in.
Again, ready for touch ups right before you head out to the photo shoot that you barely remember paying for.

8. Is everyone almost ready? Go drink some coffee. 
You deserve it. You need it. Put your tired feet up for a quick minute and talk to your sister-in-law about how fun the family reunion is going to be.

9. Startle at the sound of a bomb going off. Wonder what that alarming noise just was. 
A shelf that ripped from a wall? A gun shot? A broken water pipe? Everyone needs to slowly lower their coffee mugs and go find the source of the cracking thunder that came from somewhere inside your house. 

10. Search the house. Then open your bathroom door. Blink at the carnage. 
At first the shrapnel on the floor won’t make sense. Neither will the mist hanging in the hair, choking all of you. It’s ok. You’ll start putting the (literal) pieces together.

Yes…
That’s part of the flat iron.
And there’s the blow-dryer, cracked in half.
And here’s another piece of the flat iron.
And what’s this?
A slick and lethal piece of metal, blown across the bathroom, etched in gold with the words “Root Booster”.

A tall and thin aerosol can, $50 worth of root boosting magic from my overpriced and snobby salon, BLOWN TO BITS BY THE HEAT FROM MY STRAIGHTENER.

My straightener is strewn in 29 different corners, springs and titanium and cord spread all around my bathroom.
My toiletries bag, packed for our trip to Colorado, packed with at least 5 pounds of shampoo and conditioner and make-up and hygiene products-
has blown over the top of my shower.
Over. The. Top. Of a 6 foot shower door.

Such was the force of this explosion. Weeks later, I would find a tampon on the window sill above my shower. Find scraps of metal plastered to the wall in a film of hair product. Find tiny pieces of make-up brushes and hair spray bottles on the shelf above the towel rack.

So not only was the baby sick and his parents exhausted, not only did our photographer spend two hours calling our son “Sawyer” because we didn’t catch it the first few times and eventually were too embarrassed to correct her, not only did she tell us to let Clara “be Clara” which basically just meant disobey our every command because she knew another grown up was letting her get away with murder, not only did this result in Clara skipping away from us and quite deservedly falling into an ankle deep off-shoot of the Boise river and ruining her dress, NOT ONLY was all of this happening on a Saturday morning right before we drove in a rented Yukon for 15 hours to Montrose, Colorado;

but I was also dealing with a minor case of PTSD.
“That could have killed one our kids,” I sobbed to Sam as we attempted to clean up the mess before we left the house that morning.
“It could have blinded me, or killed one of us, or sliced our necks open!” I could not stop crying, could not stop imagining all the ways my idiotic mistake could have ruined my life. Sam tried to console me (after starting to chastise me and quickly realizing I was doing a fine job of it on my own) and told me to wipe my eyes and get in the car, because we had pictures to take.
Pictures I was forcing him to take, he reminded me.

I haven’t allowed myself to buy any expensive hair product, or replace any of my hair tools since that day, in deep and sincere penance for my stupidity. I have been using a 4″ hotel-sized hair dryer I used to keep in my guest bathroom. I have stopped by my friends or sisters’ houses before I went somewhere if I really needed any heat styling, sneaking into their bathrooms to use their straighteners or curlers and hair spray.

I have been having a bad hair day since July 25.

Until yesterday. When I finally gave in and bought another flat iron.
Thus, the amazement via internet at what I had the possibility of looking like. Thus, the approval of the world at large.

And in case you’re wondering, I don’t have any of those pictures to show you. I can’t blame all of it on the photographer, because most of the blame lies with Sammy being sick and Clara being naughty and Sam being annoyed and me being strung out on fear,
but the pictures were not worth purchasing.
Not even the free one.

So thanks, internet and instagram friends, for the kind words about my hair. Thank you for reminding an irresponsible, graying old lady that with a little bit of heat and product and trapping two kids in a pack n’ play in order to shower and style this head of falling out hair,

I still got it.

with my niece at the pumpkin patch.
before I bought another straightener.
aaaannnddd 3 weeks later.
Oh bangs. I just can’t quit you.

Sam’s new job.

There are moments, like this one that I’m sitting in right now, moments so rounded out and perfectly in my grasp that I wonder if I’ve ever felt so completely settled. Don’t get me wrong; I still fight with myself every day, an on-going neurosis within my own head that plays back worries and failures and what-ifs like the grooves on a vinyl record. But still, in this moment, babies both asleep and pumpkins on my porch and a house all to myself as the afternoon quietly drifts forward; this moment is warm and still and good.

When these times arrive, maybe just for one afternoon or maybe for an entire month or maybe even a whole year of round and peaceful moments, I tattoo them on my brain. I sew them into the stitching of my story because I find it useful for later, when things are not so good, when things are perhaps downright shitty, to run my fingers along those happy threads and believe in quiet afternoons coming again.

Seven years ago when Sam and I were engaged and planning a wedding for early January, I started praying that he would get a different job. He was a lineman at Idaho Power, a great job that put me through school and takes care of our family very comfortably; but he also traveled all the time.

Since the day we met, his schedule has been:

Home for 6 days and then gone for 8.
Home for 6. Leave again for 8.
Home for 6. Gone for 8. Home again and then leave again and again and again, an endless parade of hard goodbyes on Tuesday mornings as he drove away before dawn. We made it work and before we had kids we could survive- after all, it’s not like he was in the military and gone for a year at a time. I always told myself to just deal with the weird schedule and be thankful for the income. Still, it hurt. A friend once pointed out that Sam was gone for over half of every year. That’s a lot of gone. So, I joined soccer teams, I joined reading clubs, I was in school full time, I worked full time, and I led two lives.
6 days of married life.
8 days of single life.
And yes, ok, the 6 days at home after a long absence? There were benefits. There were more than excited hugs being exchanged. 8 days apart is a good amount of time for some feverish use up every chance we get kind of sexy time attitudes and I really can’t complain about the peppering of DO IT NOW romance sprinkled throughout our life together. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t awful either…

But still, every day, I prayed that Sam would be transferred to a team that worked in our city instead of all over the state. That he would stop leaving. That he would be home.

After Clara was born, the pain of Sam’s absence magnified. A new awareness of how much we needed to be together came with her birth, and as much as we enjoyed 6 full days together when he was off work, the 8 days apart seemed longer and longer. I could barely contend with leaving Clara for half the day while I was in class, and could not imagine leaving her for 8 full days at a time. I felt bad for Sam. And truth be told, there were days that I felt bad for me. I was not a single parent –  I had a loving and supportive spouse – but I was raising my daughter alone for over half the year. The nights I stayed up while she teethed, the nights I did not sleep because she had a cough or the flu, they seemed infinite when I knew that it would be me alone again in the morning, me alone again the next night, me alone again until Sam got home. He missed birthdays, he missed anniversaries, he missed milestones, later he missed ultrasounds for baby Samuel, and I KNOW I KNOW so very well that there are struggles a million times harder than this, but for me?

For seven years?

It was hard. It was lonely. And it got old.
I’m a little tearful as I write this, actually. I don’t think I realized how hard some of those days were, or maybe I didn’t feel the freedom to be sad or lonely because who can complain about a good job? But I will give myself permission here, in this moment, to say that it was really hard. And I was really tired of it. And no, he wasn’t in Iraq, but he also wasn’t in our home. He wasn’t here for more than half of our life together and that was really hard.

Sam’s name has been on a transfer list to work on a ‘home team’ for seven years. These lists rarely move along because Idaho Power is an amazing company to work for and people either die or retire before a position opens up. We knew that, but to wait the better half of a decade to be together more than 6 months of the year seemed ludicrous. Why wasn’t God making this change for us? Why wasn’t he listening to my fervent, tired prayers?

I don’t know! I don’t know why we waited so long. Maybe it’s because “waiting” should have left my vocabulary a long time ago. The idea of waiting for a change in order for life to get better or for life to move on is a denial that life IS moving on. Life is happening. This is happening, I say to myself sometimes, three words meant as a reminder that I can’t change the now. This is happening. Move with it. Live in it. Rise above it. Dig in. Whatever. Just be here and live here and remember that better days will come but if they don’t? These are still your days. The only ones you get. 

Earlier this fall, Sam was offered a permanent position with Idaho Power as a lineman in our town. He accepted. It was a bizarre and sudden change in our lives, to accept this job that we had been waiting and praying for, so many many years of wondering when it would actually happen.

It’s here.

This is happening.

Every afternoon around 5:00, I hear the garage door groaning open. A minute later, I hear the muffled movements of Sam taking off his boots outside the laundry room. And then, lo and behold, day after day after day, Sam comes home. He picks up his baby, he chases his daughter for a kiss, he cleans the kitchen after dinner, he turns up Guns N’ Roses while he bathes the kids, and he falls asleep next to his thankful wife. After seven years of living life far apart and in a constant state of flux, we are home together. 

Sammy is pulling up and cruising along the furniture, and no one has to watch it via FaceTime.
Clara says things like, “I need an ice pack for the blue marker on my fingers” and both of her parents can roll their eyes together.
I play soccer every Sunday and miraculously do not have to find a baby sitter.

We love and we fight and we are tired and we are raising kids and we are having sex and we are doing laundry and we are growing as a family, growing through the good and the bad and that sweet, sweet taste of the everyday, re-learning our place in each other’s lives on a Sunday-Saturday repetition that has never felt so steady and right.

We are home! We are together.
And it’s good.

^^ The first time I ever met his family or watched him climb a pole. 
Look at his little baby face! ^^
^^ The second time we started dating… ^^
^^ His birthday a few days before we were married. He was 28, I was 21 and good LORD we barely even knew each other!  ^^
^^ Engagement pic that I still love. Also the last time Sam was ever seen in a sweater. ^^
^^ No kids. Less wrinkles. So blissfully unaware of real life 🙂 ^^

Elevate.

I love reality tv. I do. It’s shameful, I’m sure, and most people would probably not admit to such a low-level pleasure, but COME ON. It’s addicting to watch ‘real life’ on screen, scripted or no, because it feeds the obscene voyeuristic side of my personality- the same reason I read mostly non-fiction, the same reason I like to watch my neighbors out my kitchen window while I wash dishes, the same reason I have to delete Instagram off my phone every few weeks or so because I just can’t stop looking.

Shameful confessions aside, one of the shows I like best is Master Chef. I’d never watched any cooking shows before this one, and there’s this one phrase that they use all the time. I wonder if it’s part of every cooking contest, but one thing the contestants aim for is to “elevate their dish.” Basically, this means that instead of making macaroni and cheese, you make macaroni and cheese with, say, a truffle sauce. To ‘elevate’ food is to give it finesse, give it flair, make the flavors new again and make the dish a product of imagination and love. With the right skill set and the right open mind, a good chef can elevate even the most basic of foods.

That idea sticks with me. Not just because I love to cook, and I love to try new dishes. But because the thought that something like a stupid hotdog, in the capable hands of a talented chef, could become a surprising and delicious meal. That’s fascinating. And challenging. And pardon my love for a good metaphor, but isn’t that the key to living a good life? What can I do to elevate my daily living, to re-imagine its place and reassign its value?

How do I make the basic into the beautiful?

Most religions have some pillar based on this very idea, actually. Buddhists call it utthana-sampada, or working diligently at all you do. Mormons work hard to do good because they are aiming towards their own godhood, attaining deification.
And Christians offer themselves up to a life of being “holy.”
Or, the way I learned it, being set apart.

All of these theologies encourage an elevation of the mundane, an understanding that everything matters. Every act, every word, every moment of every day has a meaning with roots deeper than we can see. Some elevate for the sake of understanding, some for the sake of castles in the sky. For me, as a Christian, the reason for elevation isn’t a reason at all. It’s a calling.

It’s not about ‘inner peace’. Or karma, or any sort of celestial reward system. For me, learning to sanctify the act of hanging tiny t-shirts in a closet, or nursing my baby, or teaching my daughter to be kind: it’s all a matter of re-branding. Re-branding the mundane for the sake of the Holy, for the sake of my soul and my place on this earth as a loved daughter of the King. Elevating that which seems lowly by way of a changed heart, because I know for a fact that all of this matters very, very much.

And while I know this is a short season of my life, this home bound, inward universe of raising my young children, I’m learning a lesson that I couldn’t have absorbed anywhere bigger than my house.

It was easy for me to feel gratified in past occupations. It was easy to elevate my day to day activities.
Running an after school program for elementary school kids? Easy to see the purpose, easy to accept the love and thanks of the families we served. Attending college the last 3 years? It was easy to push forward because finishing my degree seemed pertinent, to me and to my future.

I’ve served coffee at Starbucks, I’ve directed summer camps, I’ve worked at churches and insurance offices and even a Japanese karaoke bar in Hawaii. Some of those jobs were draining and some of them were exciting, but every single one of them came with some sort of extrinsic value, like paychecks or community support or free drinks.

But now? Being a mom? It has a different sort of value system. It’s more difficult for me to elevate. It takes purposeful heart checks throughout each hour to remember the incredible investments I am making in my family, in my kids and every person they will ever meet.

I miss having a paycheck. Or feedback. But I have to say, there is a sincerity to my every day movements that has not been there before. I think it’s the lack of external motivation, the lack of accolades from any sort of public opinion or authority figure, from professors or managers, because it’s just me. It’s just me and these kids and honestly, they won’t even remember most of what goes on during these early years of their development. These days belong to us, to our ins and outs, to our moods, to our small but meaningful accomplishments. These days belong to me and my God, and the act of elevation is a discipline that is at once softening me, and also hardening a core of truth about What Is Holy and What Matters.

I think at some point, we all fight that hollow feeling of What Am I Doing Here? We work at jobs we hate, we are in relationships we don’t understand, we forgot what we meant when we started out and everything looks like cold noodles and hot dogs.

We have to elevate.
We have to know that when we are loved so enormously by a God who gives every sparrow a nest and every heart a new mercy with each sunrise, our moments surely matter.

When we sit in a planning meeting.
When our hands are dirty with another day of work.
When we pay our bills at night.
When we feel stuck.
When we fight against the injustice of poverty and yet it never seems to be enough.
When we write into the void.

It matters. More than we could ever know, it all matters.

I’ll try to remember that later, when I gather baby Sam in tight while he cries through another night of teething. When he sighs with desperate relief because his mom is near.

Elevating. It’s not feigning relevance. It’s not inflation or vanity;
it’s perception.
it’s mindful.
it’s the heart of God, one day at a time.


“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.” – Paul the apostle