Saturday, September 20, 2014

Making our way

The tree was ablaze in an orange color usually reserved for crisp October days, yet there it was in the middle of the September evening. We'd already been treated to a sunset full of lilac and peach over rolling hills and beyond lakes. The beauty of it all had been reported back and forth from kid in Vehicle A to kid in Vehicle B via walkie talkie. But now the sun was grasping at the horizon before the final hurrah of the day and we were stopped at a random rest stop, Parking Only the sign reported, in the middle of Iowa for yet another unplanned potty break. No, wait, this was an unplanned nursing stop to hopefully usher Asher into the Land of Nod. The other three were unplanned bathroom breaks. It's hard to keep it all straight. I sat in the car, nursing Asher in the driver's seat as his feet pushed on my forearm and his hand gave me high fives. He's a busy littler nurser bee. And there was the tree in the background. Majestic. That's the word. And the big kids were playing a game of ultimate tag, happy for a chance to break up the road trip with some time to run. It involved rock, paper, scissors and tag and statues and funny dancing. They flopped and ran and paused and tagged, but mostly they laughed the big, raucous laugh of childhood. It rang through the crisp evening air, carefree and happy and only there in that fun moment. Not wishing for more or wondering what was ahead. Just happy to be playing in an open field under the darkening night sky with a majestic orange tree as the background.

And that was my first glimpse, my first moment, of knowing it was going to be okay.

Approximately 1% of our day went as planned on Thursday. The part where we signed our names on lots of paper and became homeless and neighborless and what felt an awful lot like friendless.

For weeks I'd been in the hunker down and get it done stage. I'd start to think too much and get too sad and I'm just tell myself, "Don't think. Just pack." It worked. I got through a lot of emotional times without breaking down because there was just so much that had to get done. I wanted to be strong and positive for my kids. I wanted to focus on all of the good stuff coming down the pike for us.

All of which is fine and good, but the time still comes when you pull up to your driveway at 9:28 for your Thursday morning walk-through and realize you'll never pull into that driveway again.  The time still comes when the new homeowners walk into your house as you wipe snot and tears off of your face and you realize that this house that used to be your home would be their home. Their laughter would ring off the walls and their tears would splash on the countertops and their pictures would line the walls and their memories would fill the house with life again, turning it back into a home.

We walked through the house and answered their questions and I started to tell them something about the boys' room, but realized to them it was just the blue room and then about Asher's room, but remembered they knew that as the gray and yellow room. These were our rooms. Our home. Our walls for pictures and our place for making memories.

It was a really hard time. I could not stop crying.

Everyone went downstairs. I walked through those bedrooms. The ones that have housed my babies for 6+ years. I stopped in our room first. "Thank you for this space and for the memories we made here." Then Asher's room, which used to be Elliot's room. The room I brought my two littlest babies home to. The room I painted "Elliot blue" and now gray with a splash of yellow. "Thank you for this space and the memories we made here." Audrey's room with its "perfectly Audrey" yellow walls that again look overpowering without the taming power of the furniture. "Thank you for this space and the memories we made here." Isaac and Elliot's room, where just two nights ago we had three mattresses on the floor and all five of us (asher was sleeping in his crib) laid on the floor and talked about our favorite memories and what we would miss and what we would look forward to. We hugged and talked and teared up, but never cried because someone would lighten the mood and because we were talking about such happy, beautiful times. The years we've spent growing and becoming us, a family of five, now six, happened in this house. What a gift. So, yes, in that room too, "Thank you for this space and the memories we made here."

And then it was time to go. They left first. I stood in this empty space and looked around and wished I had about a thousand more minutes to soak it up. But if I had a thousand more minutes I'd get greedy and wish for a thousand more. So I walked out. I loaded the kids into the car and looked at our house and wiped more snot and tears and drove away.

We went and signed paperwork and did the 3,512 other things that weren't on our scheduled agenda for the day, but popped up just to make sure that the day was absolutely insane instead of mildly amusingly insane.

Then we drove and drove and drove. And now we're in Omaha and it's weird and it's not home and since we're only here for two months it'll never be home, but I hope it won't feel quite so foreign after a few days. The kids keep going by the front door to walk up the stairs, but this house doesn't keep the stairs there. I look around for a trace of us, but it is just sterile pictures and lots of pillows on beds.

We're making our way. The kids are doing really well. We're giving extra snuggles and talking more and offering a little more grace and forgiveness because we're all tired and out of sorts and hungry for a safe place to call home. We don't have a home right now in the physical sense, so we can only be home to each other. So that's what we're doing.

And we're hanging on tight to those moments that remind us that we're going to be okay.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Life still goes on

I want to wrap them up in a little bow. All of the words and thoughts and emotions flying mad dash through my brain, giving me whiplash as I try to make sense of them all. But I can't wrap it up pretty and I can't make it make sense because it is a constant contradiction. I"m so excited. And I'm so sad. I can't even find time to tap them out since packing the boxes and distracting the baby and running with my friends as often as we can squeeze it onto our schedule takes up all of the hours of the day.

We've lived our last Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in Minnesota. On Sunday, I hugged people at church and clung to them like a shipwrecked person clings to her life jacket. I am going to miss that place, that community, those people so very much. There is so much of this life I want to hang on to.

On Saturday we said a really tough goodbye to my nephews, my kids' cousins. They had a wonderful time playing at the park together, like those kiddos always do. It was the first time I thought, "Maybe we made a mistake." They have such a neat, easy, fun, loving relationship. Distance will make that more difficult. I hate that.




On Sunday, all of our furniture got carried out of our house and put into pods. It echoes in here. Not the beautiful echo over a steep valley. A lonely echo of emptiness and barren land. I walked through and I said, "Our home isn't our home anymore. It just became a house again."

On Monday we said "see you later" to Audrey's best friend from co-op. Then we had dinner with some of our beloved neighbors and friends. We are having our last moments with our favorite friends and it is really hard.

The other day I went for a run with three of my favorite friends. I had all four kids along and Asher kept tossing toys out of the stroller and Elliot kept slowing down to wipe his nose and he wanted to bike right by me because he likes to talk to me while we bike/run. Well, goodness, I'm not going to argue with that one. So, my friends got ahead of me. I watched them run ahead of me and I realized this is how it will be now. They will keep going together, sharing stories and life together, without me. And I know I signed up for this and I am excited for lots of pieces of it, but that realization stung. I know our friendships won't end, not by a long shot, but the ease and immediacy of it will.
Insert big, sad sigh.

Life is chaos right now and we are handling it as well as we can. Even though it is something we're looking forward to, there is obviously a lot of stress involved. I'm hugging kids more often and asking open ended questions to make sure they're doing okay. I'm forgiving Asher for being up every hour and a half around the clock since he's getting four molars and learning to talk and learning to walk and we're packing up every single thing he's familiar with. We can talk about our stress. He can take separation anxiety to a whole new level and need his mama. Not ideal, but it's just how life is right now.

Life goes on. Even when it kind of feels like it won't. Like Thursday is the end of all of the best. But life still goes on. Thank goodness.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What day is it today?

That's the question my 6-year-old asked me over breakfast this morning. "Thursday," I replied, head bent over Asher's oatmeal slop, scooping up another bite. Elliot looked up at the calendar, searching for the date. Dates matter to us now that we're in countdown to move stage. Dates are a big deal. "So. . . that means it's. . . .," he hesitated, eyes scanning the calendar. "September 11," I interrupted, not needing any calendar to tell me the date. His eyes lit up and he said, "That means we move in exactly one week!" He and Audrey did a little happy dance in their breakfast seats and Asher clapped because excited kids means excited baby.

To them it's one week before we move. To those of us alive in 2001, it's a life marker, separating our memories, our understanding of the world, our place in the world, our assumed rights as Americans, into before and after. It's the day everything changed.

Before 9/11. After 9/11.

One day changed everything.

We know where we were. We know how our heart rates skyrocketed in fear as our hearts dropped in sadness and anger and disbelief. We remember the tears. We remember the shock. We remember the heroes. So many heroes. We remember the aftermath of people coming together and people reacting inappropriately out of fear and ignorance.

I remember all of that today with a heavy heart as our world looks scarier now than it did then. Uncertainty looms overhead like a storm cloud barreling in. I have no more answers than I did thirteen years ago.

So, for now, I'm glad that September 11 is one week until we move to Audrey and Elliot. I'm glad they live in the safe, naive world inhabited by children who are too young to know and lucky enough to feel safe in their homes. Isaac lives in an in-between world where he knows there is plenty of evil in this world and has rudimentary knowledge of 9/11, but doesn't yet see how it could hurt him. All three of them will have their own before and after. Their own day that changes everything. I can't keep that from them. It'll come in its own time.

When that day comes, depending on how old they are, we will talk about it and pray about it and cry about it and hug a lot.

We'll talk about evil and hate, fear and intense pain, of course. But more than that we'll talk about love and unity, friendship and faith. Maybe we'll talk more about Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa. Maybe we'll talk about the beauty and kindness in the world and how it can't erase the evil in the world, but it can at least dampen the flames of hatred in the hearts of some people. How it can make the world a less scary place to be. Maybe we'll just sit in that quiet place of pain and worry and let the tears speak and the hugs comfort.

Today is September 11. One week until we move. And so much more.

Never forget.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Great Perhaps

I've hit the part of moving where every time I think of driving away I kind of think I'll vomit. I wrote yesterday about some of the reasons this will be so terribly hard.

So, why in the world are we doing this? Uprooting our family and moving halfway across the country. Leaving all we know for the unknown. Saying goodbye to people we love and cherish.

I read a book recently that wasn't stupendous as far as books go, but that left an impression on me nonetheless. Looking for Alaska started with a teen who was leaving his family and hometown behind to go to a boarding school where he knew no one and he was doing it all because he believed in "The Great Perhaps." He knew what to expect from his life. He knew he'd sit at the same lunch table feeling lonely, be ignored by the same kids, memorize more last words of famous people, and spend a lot of time wondering what else was out there. He was tired of wondering and ready to find out for himself.

I think the world can be divided into people who search out the Great Perhaps, the adventure and possibility in life, and those that don't, but instead prefer to stay within their comfort zone and live the life they know. I don't think that either philosophy of life is right or wrong and the fact that there are both types of people make the world a more interesting place. They are just different approaches to life.

We know it here. We really love it here, too. (In case that wasn't obvious.) But we also wonder what else is out there for us. Jim and I fell in love with the mountains and the beauty and the lifestyle of Colorado when we visited two and a half years ago. We felt a physical pull to the place as we imagined sunsets over mountains, exploring mountain trails, and skiing and snowboarding opportunities. We couldn't exactly put our finger on it, but we knew we wanted to be there.



Maybe it was the Great Perhaps talking. The Great Perhaps and I converse regularly, but Jim is more of a here and now, don't rock the boat kind of person. We are both direct descendants of our parents in this department. Again, neither is right or wrong, just different. Although it does make for some interesting decision making conversations. So when we both got the same itch for Colorado, we decided we'd better listen. This move took longer than we expected due to a junky housing market and a baby Asher, but we're here.

We're on the cusp of The Great Perhaps.

And we're really excited. And really scared. And really sad. And really overwhelmed. And really happy.

We got the call today to schedule the walk-through. I simultaneously got the goose bumps and teared up. Excitement and sadness fought for control of my body. But neither one could win because they're both appropriate. I feel both of them fully almost all day long.

This morning the kids and I had a meeting about our upcoming school year. We talked about our hopes for the year, what went well from last year, what we should change, what we want to learn, and what we're worried about. We also chose a name and found some quotes to print up and keep in our (roving) schoolroom to remind us of our goals.

I talked to the kids about how proud I am of them and how I already know they're smart and that they'll learn a lot this year. Then I started to wipe the tears from my eyes as I got to the tough part. I told them that the most important thing I wanted them to do this year was to be brave and courageous and take risks. To do things that were hard, like meet new people in new places and keep trying even when they felt stuck in math or grammar or friendship or life. They can look up definitions in a book or check the internet for a history fact or divide with a calculator, but I want them to walk out of this house, both tomorrow to play at the neighbor's house and someday in the far, far-off future (let's just pretend it's far, far off, okay?) when they head out on their own, confident in themselves and able to handle life's challenges. They have a whole slew of people to support them, but they have to believe in themselves. They have to be able to call on that place deep within them and get down to the tough job of living this life well in spite of sometimes seemingly insurmountable odds. We also talked about God's plans for their lives and God's place in their problems and their joys. It was a big conversation spoken with small words and lots of love. It's no small task, this raising kids business.

We talked about naming our school and they wanted it to be something with brave and Audrey said, "Brave Boulders." I thought it was because Boulder is a town in Colorado, but instead she said it's because boulders are rocks and they're very strong. Dang. Good call, Audrey! So, Brave Boulder Learning Academy it is. Well, the 3rd and 5th graders attend Brave Boulder Learning Academy. Elliot was insistent that 1st grade was called Brave Boulder School. OK. Whatever works.

We looked up quotations and bible verses on bravery and these are the quotes that the kids chose.
They thought this was perfect, considering our earlier conversation. Plus it's Harry Potter, so that's always a win.

They loved this one, too, especially because Nelson Mandela said it and we were learning about African independence in history. 

I'll remind them of this one when they're struggling with an assignment and want to give up.

We're ready for adventure. We're ready for life!

There are hard things in life. There are huge pay offs. We're ready. Some days it's begrudgingly and some days we're ready to dive in, but we are heading to our family's next Great Perhaps. It'll take strength and bravery and courage, but together we'll do it.

What are you looking forward to today? What are you scared about? How do you psyche yourself up to get down to the hard job of living life well? I'm all ears! We need all the help we can get. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Growing roots.

I don't settle down. I don't grow roots. I don't stick around long enough.

By my best approximation, I have moved 19 times in my 37 years on this earth. But a change of address is only part of the story.

Hiding behind a veil of sarcasm and self-deprecation, I kept people at arm's length so they would "know me" without really knowing me. If I gave people a caricature of me instead of the real me, it wouldn't hurt so badly if they rejected me. If I didn't try so hard, then it was my own choice to not be close to others instead of an attempt to distance myself so they'd never have a chance to see how truly flawed I am.

It is no way to live. Or, rather, it is a lonely, sad, forbidding place to live.

So I've had a long list of acquaintances that I've said goodbye to with each change of address and very few friends that I've kept in touch with. I thought that was okay. I thought I was okay with that.

We have lived in our current house for 6 1/2 years. This is the longest I have lived anywhere in my whole entire life. I've settled down here. I've grown roots. I've stuck around.

I walked into this house with an almost 4-year-old, a 1 1/2-year-old, and a growing belly housing Mr. Elliot. We will walk out of this house a family of six, with a 10 1/2-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old, and baby Asher rounding out the family at 1-year-old. We've grown up here. We've made memories and friends and mistakes and joy here.

I've made friends that I will know and love for all of my livelong days. I've made friends that, for the first time in my life, make leaving feel really, really hard. Almost impossible on the sad days.

That's partly because I've had the time to settle in, but it's more than that, too. My recipe for roots isn't just time + sunshine. My recipe for roots is time + vulnerability + a willingness to say yes to all that life has to offer. ALL of it. That means I put myself out there and I might get burned. It also means I put myself out there and I might be accepted and loved and cherished for the broken, silly, flawed, caring, melancholy, goofy person that I am.

I feel like the richest woman in the world because, in living here this long and letting people in, I've gotten the chance to know some incredible people. Really know them. And I've given them the chance to know me. Really know me. I won't lose these friends when we drive away. I know it will be different with all of those miles between us, but I also know I'll keep most of them as always friends and I'll take the gifts that they've given me along for the rest of this crazy journey called life. Because of their love and acceptance, I'll feel safer to take risks with people and open myself up to all the pain and beauty that friendship has to offer.

We are made to connect. To be in relationship with others. To hold each other up when life is rotten. To toast each other's biggest accomplishments. To sit side by side in silence when words can't do justice to the sadness. To cheer in delight when life's sweetest moments abound.

I learned that all of that here. I can never thank my many teachers enough.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Today

It is cool and overcast and rainy. There is an occasional flash of lightning. It feels as though we flipped the switch from summer to fall in just one night. I crave a good book, a blanket, a cushy pillow, and a few uninterrupted hours on the couch to read and write and doze off.

I watched the buses come to pick up the neighbor kids yesterday and then went to Target with my four kids where moms luxuriated in the aisles, actually reading the food labels and trying on shoes instead of throwing stuff in the cart in a mad dash to get out of the store before the kids get antsy or noisy or probably both.

Don't get me wrong. I know they came from a 12 hour night shift or are going home to a trashed kitchen and 13 loads of laundry or are rushing to the office and are already late since the bus was late to pick up the kiddos. It's not easier or better. It's just different.(Although I think we can all agree that any 20 minutes alone in Target are pretty sweet.)

Instead I have four children, hundreds of boxes, school review so that our official September 22 school start isn't such a shock to the senses, and piles of stuff (junk?) everywhere.




It's not quite as easy and relaxing as life was 11 years ago. My time is not my own. My money is not my own. At this point, even my body isn't my own with breastfeeding and people tugging me in different directions.

And that's ok.

I'm foregoing today's nap for math review, lunch time, a few arguments, laundry, another probably futile attempt to figure out Asher's sleep schedule, and whatever else the day may bring. Because the day always, ALWAYS brings something I don't expect.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

So if you're home alone or with older kids, how about you take a nap for me. And if you're wishing your kids were little again or you're wishing you had a baby to hold, I'll give my kids an extra snuggle for you.
This is the face I get when I say, "Smile at mama." Cheesy smile every time

We just never quite know how life is going to turn out. The only thing we can do is make the best of whatever plops right smack dab in the middle of our day.

 How do you like to spend a rainy, dreary day? Does it ever actually happen that way?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

This just in: we're all doing just fine.

It's kind of weird to revisit Asher's birthday when I just wrote about it, but I'm overly emotional AND philosophical on the subject so that gets me chomping at the bit to type it out. Free therapy, if you will.

Asher is one.

I typed that and just sat here for about three minutes letting it sink in. Even Isaac said, "How can Asher be one already? It seems like he was just born yesterday!" Yep.

I keep waiting to feel okay about him turning one. I keep waiting to remember a defining moment with him that ensures I am doing okay. I keep waiting to feel like I did enough and was present enough for all four kids during this past year. Like I wrote down enough of his stories to remember when I'm old and blue haired. Like I didn't spend so much time trying to get him to sleep that the others felt slighted. Like I didn't spend so much time teaching Isaac, Audrey, and Elliot that Asher felt slighted. Like I took enough pictures. Like if I ruined him by not getting him a babysitter or not having him fall asleep in his own bed.

In my head I know this is ridiculous. Good grief, these kids know they're loved from the tips of their toes to the littlest hair on the tops of their heads. But in my gut I feel like I missed something. Like I am missing something.

And, again, I know this is ridiculous. I'm not writing this so people can tell me what I'm doing right. I'm writing this because maybe you do the same thing. You listen to the little dumb voice that says you're not doing something right. You bypass all the good things you do in a day and focus on what went wrong.

Asher's babyhood is just so different from the other three kiddos. I touched on it in my last blog post. With three kids in four years and our decision for me to stay home with them full-time, we were home and playing and reading a lot. There were daily walks and music class and lots of time to just be.  I'm sure I'm romanticizing it as tends to happen. I know I was tired and lots of little people needed lots of attention and help. I remember wondering how my other friends seemed to have it so together. When I asked them they admitted they didn't.

Why do we do that? Think we are never enough. Compare our worst day to someone else's best day. Pick apart the day and hold tight to the very worst. Obsess over a number on a scale or the gray of our roots or the size of our jeans or the wrinkles on our forehead.

Asher is one. He loves forehead kisses. He loves to be held. He loves bathtime. He loves music and dancing. He loves being outside and going for walks and swinging high. He loves food. All of it. He loves to nurse. Again with the food. He pulls up on furniture and cruises along. He laughs at his siblings and accepts their forehead kisses, but doesn't like tight hugs. He says up and mama and dada and hi and  all done and ooh ooh aah aahs like a monkey and oof oofs like a puppy. He signs bath and all done and sometimes eat and more. He is a rotten sleeper. He screeches like an injured pterodactyl with hearing loss far too often. He wants me to hold him. Exclusively. He's not a fan of dogs or cats.

He is loved. And he knows it. So do his big brothers and sister.






We aren't perfect. I'm not a perfect mama and they aren't perfect kids, but gosh darnit, together we are pretty great.


And I'm not missing a darn thing. I'm here. With the people I love living a life I (almost always) love. How lucky am I?

Maybe today is your kids' first day back to school or maybe you're getting started with a new fall routine or maybe your baby is growing up too quickly or maybe you're getting used to life with an empty nest or maybe you're saying goodbye to someone you love or maybe you're fighting a terrible illness. I don't know what you're going through today.

Here's what I do know. Most of us are doing our very best. Most of us beat ourselves up way too much, expecting much more of ourselves than we would expect of others. Most of us spend a lot of time asking "what if" questions instead of embracing the life right in front of us. Most of us are pretty great.

So here's my advice to myself and to you, too.


Happy Tuesday! Look at that. It isn't Monday so we're already winning. Go forth, smile big, believe in yourself, and be awesome!