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. 

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.

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.