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.

IMG_1296

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 🙂 ^^

Priorities, or "have bunny chair will travel"

Sam travels a lot for his job. This has been a fact of our entire relationship, and we work with it. He has times away and times at home, but for the most part he is gone about half the year altogether. We’ve built our life around that routine, riding the highs and lows of exits and entrances for the last six years.

But now we have a baby. (this one, in the cowgirl boots.) And things feel different.

It’s no longer easy to live separate lives every other week when he’s gone. Because his life exists at home with us. And our life exists wherever he is. It’s pretty killer, actually. So when he called and asked us to come stay with him for a few nights, it was hard to say no.

But I definitely wanted to say no.
It’s not like the guy works in Tahiti, you know what I’m saying? He works for Idaho Power, in the worst parts of Idaho.
Like eastern Idaho.
And this week’s particular destination? Burley, Idaho. I mean, there’s really no reason to go to Burley, Idaho.

(Unless, for instance, you’re in high school, on a roadtrip with your friend Cassidy to see some friends from summer camp, friends who happen to be an attractive pair of brothers who live in Burley, brothers who you and Cassidy plan on divvying up and getting to know on a more ahem personable basis in their backyard all weekend…maybe getting your first kiss…otherwise there is truly NO reason to go to Burley.)

It’s a 2 1/2 hour drive through the desert into nowhere. And have I mentioned that my kid hates her carseat? She screams so hard her round face turns pink and I swear I’ve seen CPS workers tailing me during errands while she wails in the backseat.
It’s a nightmare.
I had a million reasons to tell Sam no. The car trip alone with the baby. Our house that needs cleaned. Groceries that need bought. Nieces who need a babysitter on Friday night. But there’s been a shift somewhere in the universe, and all of those other reasons for “no” are now trumped by one tiny reason for “yes.” (See tiny boots above).
It’s silly to drive to Burley for one night with Sam. And I wanted to say no. But suddenly, lately, we became a family. It’s not just us anymore, making things ‘work.’ It’s us and her, making things wonderful.

Which means I packed up the car. I loaded the bunny bouncy seat. I drove for 2 hours, stopped to nurse in a Subway parking lot, drove for 30 more minutes, and got to see the look on my husband’s face as we all walked towards each other on the hotel lawn.
It might be silly, but it’s worth it. Because in the end, all we’re really guaranteed is today, right? The “no” starts to shrink when you see the “yes” for what it’s worth.

So put on your cowgirl boots. Get on the freeway. And drive to Burley.

Hey God- thank you for my little family. Help me to be intentional about our time and energy. 
I love you- Amen.