Hair Cut

“Your hair!” she exclaimed,
as she pulled up alongside me,
shock and a hint of horror in
her tone and wide-eyes

“I know!” I replied with a practiced, rueful smile
she was not the first and would not be the last to ask
“Why did you cut it?”

In a blink
every truth whipped through me:

We were tired,
my hair and I
straightened out by circumstance
when we were born to be curly
.

Like Sampson, I mistook it
for more of me than it was.

I was feeling more like myself than I had in years
but still seeing someone else in the mirror.

Every time I pulled a wad of it out of the drain
I was disturbed anew at how closely
it resembled my thoughts.

My neck was creaking ominously
under the weight

of it–
living life
with so much death–
It had to go
I couldn’t carry it all
not one more moment . . .

“I needed a change.” I replied.

But she’d already seen–
she understood.
Her expression shifted to one of approval.

“It looks good.”
she said.
Then drove away.

Balance

Hi. I’m sitting on my couch drinking a cup of water right now while my boys, both of whom are sick (again!) fitfully nap upstairs. They were up several times last night and we started our day at five am with some coughing, runny nose, cry time. I’ll let you guess which of us was doing the runny nose cry time. It’s been like this all week. I haven’t slept much or well. I keep forgetting to drink water and make myself decent food. I spent all day yesterday cleaning because the kids were a mess, I was a mess, the house was a mess, and I just wanted to feel like I’d accomplished something.

We’ve had a lot of easy, not great for you food lately, I feel like I’ve been phoning it in on every level, and still, I’m gripping the last thread of my sanity with both hands. On top of it all, I’ve been bombarded with writing ideas. Inspiration is coming at me like a spider monkey and I have no time to sit with it. When I do have time, I’m so tired and run-down, I can barely string two words together. All of that said, I just looked at my phone to post a funny dog video and saw an ad on my Facebook about how there’s an app that can help me balance my life.

And if heads could spontaneously combust, mine would have. I’m literally on my blog today in this slightly crazed state to write one thing: YOU CANNOT BALANCE YOUR LIFE.

Life is too big, too ungainly, too full of surprises. Just when you’re hitting that perfect mark in the middle, something will break, fall off, fall on, change, give, or grow and you’ll be teetering when you were just tottering to keep from dropping it all. And sometimes you will drop it all. Then, pick up most of it, leave some, and hop back on to keep going. We really need to stop talking about life like there’s something you can buy, a habit you can develop, or something about yourself you can adjust to balance it all.

Instead, I wish we talked more about how to find balance moment to moment. Like me right now, so tired, wanting to write, a little scatter-brained and a little dehydrated, knowing that what I have to do is take care of my kiddos when they wake up/get home from school, but also knowing what I want to do is write until my fingers fall off. It’s just a moment, but I’m going to take it, sit on this couch, drink this water, and write this post before I have to close my laptop with one last, longing look, and start digging around for a snack to feed two grouchy toddlers when they wake up.

A Clear Midnight

I’m off for a weekend completely by myself. Let me type that again: I’m off. For a weekend. Completely by myself. Alone. No one else. Just me and some books and some knitting and some coffee and some wine and my favorite writing utensils. And, of course, my fleece-lined leggings and coziest, fuzzy socks.

When I first planned this little trip, I made a list of goals to complete with all this time to myself. I haven’t been alone for more than a few hours at a time since my five year old was born. I’ve daydreamed about what it would be like to have hours and hours to do so many things. But yesterday, I was starting to make lists of what to pack and I realized I don’t have the mental or physical energy for a to-do list right now. I’m behind on literally everything and everyone I care about, including myself, in a way that a weekend is not going to be able to fix.

I felt pretty disheartened when these thoughts crept in. I have a lot of guilt piled up from all the things I haven’t been able to do, things I haven’t had time or headspace to write, and all the lovely people in my life that I haven’t been able to connect with the way that I want. My cup runneth over with blessings and is somehow empty at the same time–a feeling I’ve become well-acquainted with since becoming a mother.

Then, just as I was setting myself up for a nice, long guilt trip, a favorite poem came softly and gently and quietly to mind. It’s by Walt Whitman and it goes like this:

A Clear Midnight

This is thy hour, O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing,
pondering the themes thou lovest best
Night, sleep, death, and the stars.

Now, all I hope for the next few days is to step away from lists, away from goals, and to give my soul a free flight into, well, probably not the wordless, my soul really likes words, but you get the idea. : )

Bedtime, Glitter, and Disappointment

My Sunshine is five and since she started school, she comes home most days a little maxxed out. It’s no good asking her for details about her day, she usually needs to eat then move her wiggly self as much as possible whether that means running up and down the stairs and through the hall with her brothers, heading outside, or dancing in the kitchen. But after dinner, when the boys are in their bed, and all is quiet, she’s ready to talk.

For a day or two back when she first started school, I discouraged this. I worried she wouldn’t get enough sleep if she was up chatting too long, but by day three-ish, I decided it was more important for her to have a time when we can just talk about whatever she wants.

Now, nighttime conversations with my girl are one of the best and most interesting parts of my day. She asks me questions, tells me what she’s been thinking about, and I get a glimpse into the inner workings of her busy and complicated mind.

A few nights ago, when we were done with books and had moved on to the snuggle portion of her bedtime routine, she said, “Jane got purple glitter and I got silver.” It was clear from her tone that purple was far superior to silver and she was quite disappointed.

I responded with, “But silver is so beautiful! Like the silvery snow glittering in the moonlight or your silver, mermaid necklace.”

I knew I’d headed down the wrong road when she replied, “I know, but silver is just boring and it’s not what I wanted. I really wanted purple. Purple is more beautifuller and I didn’t get any purple.”

This was my moment to pause. Lord, it’s tempting to make everything sound great to young children. And I’m so lucky to have a firstborn who regularly and without hesitation speaks her truth. She didn’t want silver, folks, she wanted purple and purple didn’t happen for her. My unintentionally toxic positivity was not helping. So after a moment, I changed my tone to match the bummed out tone she was using and I said,

“Girl, I’m sorry. Purple is so beautiful and I wish it had worked out that you got the color you wanted. Sometimes things go the way we want them to and sometimes, they just don’t.”

“Yeah . . . Wait! Did you ever not getted what you want?” she said.

Ooooohkay, I was feeling really good about switching gears and as quickly as I felt like I’d made it to solid, parenting ground, I was back in over my head. I decided to stay the course and said,

“Yes, lots of times.”

“Like when?”

What followed was an amazing conversation about disappointment and how life can be unfair. We shared a few secrets, a few giggles, and lots of snuggle hugs; nothing too big or deep, she’s wicked smart, but she’s still five. And when we were all talked out, we concluded that some moments in life just suck, we can say that they suck, and we don’t have to like them or pretend we like them. No buts.

And I’ll just leave you with what I’m always left with after these moments with my wild child: Whatever it is I think she can do, she can do more. Whatever it is I think she’s capable of understanding, she understands more. And I only ever find out her capabilities and growth edges by giving her a safe place to explore (be that out in the world or in her mind/heart) and following her lead.

Moments in Motherhood: Art? Or a Mess?

So this happened today:

No, not the marker on her face. That happened yesterday. The hearts happened today.

My initial reaction was to be upset. There was paint on the floor, the wall, her . . . It was a mess! I took a breath, looked at her, and said, “Babe, we put a lot of paper in your desk for painting.” It was a toss-away line–something I said, hoping I sounded neutral, to buy myself time to think about what to do. Have her help me wash it off and explain that we don’t paint on the walls? Give her extra cleaning chores as discipline? Take her paints away for awhile? . . .

We’d never made a specific rule about not painting on your walls, although by the look on her face when I entered the room, she was expecting a negative reaction. When I mentioned all that paper we’d bought for her in a calm and normal voice, her relief was evident. She went from tense to relieved to excited in the span of a second. Jumping up from her desk she went to the wall and said, “I really love my hearts mom!”

I replied, “They’re beautiful, baby, but we should get them washed off before they dry.”

“NO! Pleeeeeeaaaaaaaasee? They’re beautiful and I want to keep them!” she didn’t say it with attitude, just genuinely begging to keep her work. She’s always liked to have her room her own way. I’ll hang something up and she’ll move it or put it in her toy box and replace it with something else. And she’s always loved any form of art, but especially art that involves lots of bright colors.

When she was three and Carl had to go back to work after the boys were born, she painted the bathtub in all blacks and browns. And when she was four and Orion was on his last day, she drew him pictures of them together to thank him for being such a good dog. Now that she’s in school, she comes home almost every day with a new, colorful picture that says “I love you Mom” on it.

Out of nowhere, The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery came into my mind and I thought of “Drawing Number One” and “Drawing Number Two” (if you haven’t read it, please do, it’s beautiful.) . . .

And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I decided to let her keep it.

Of course I want my girl to grow up respectful. I also want her to grow up with seeds of joy in her heart that she knows how to tend. I want her to know how to make her own moments of sweet, happy freedom and you can really only get that feeling from things like roller skating in the kitchen, having a mud-fight, jumping in puddles, or painting on the walls. And it only works if you don’t have to feel mountains of guilt afterward.

I did have her help me clean the paint off the floor and explain that if she wants to do more painting, we’ll wash off the hearts first and put any new artwork in the same spot. She agreed and then, so happily and so proudly, told me more about her hearts and how much she loves her room and paint and the color pink . . . and somehow, those hearts don’t look like a mess at all to me now.


Gimme a Break

I wrote this post yesterday morning while Carl was getting ready for work and the kids were enjoying their couch-toast/movie time. I ended up choosing both the longest shower ever AND a nap. And don’t worry, I threw some fresh fruit at the kids along with all the other stuff I fed them. I didn’t take the time to edit so I didn’t post it yesterday and now I’m glad I didn’t because I can tell you how it all came out at the very end . . .

I’ve been fighting it since Saturday. I should have known better. So many little things going wrong: kids all fussy and waking up several times a night, getting up for the day around 4:30am every day. I’ve been spilling my coffee even more often than usual, tripping over random stuff, not finding time to shower, always missing at least two ingredients for what I’d planned to cook, and the list goes on.

Today has been no different. Kids all up far earlier than normal, another morning spent without a single minute to myself, I forgot to comb my Sunshine’s hair before school, I forgot I put my coffee on the bookshelf and it got cold, and I can feel myself wobbling on that razor’s edge between sanity and insanity . . .

So, for today, I’ve decided to just let it all go. More specifically, lunch is going to be hot dogs and then I’m going to shamelessly follow hot dogs with a dinner of frozen pizzas. I’m not going to write a to-do list. I’ve just put Moana on for the boys to watch while I write and I’m letting them eat toast on the couch. Instead of cooking and cleaning while they nap, I’m going to take the longest shower ever or maybe just sleep or write some more–whatever I feel like when we get there.

I won’t play Sisyphus today–rolling the boulder that is trying to keep house with three kids under six, only to have to start again at the bottom of the hill the next day and the next. And, here’s the very best, most important part of all;

I’m not going to feel bad about any of it.

Not even a little bit. Not even at all. I’m running on fumes. I need a break. I want my kids to see me take one and internalize that breaks are important and necessary. Everyone in my life wins along with me in the end if I take one. Whoever you are reading this? The same is true for you.

After a long shower AND a nap, waking up with no worries about dinner or anything else, I fed my boys a snack and put the pizzas in so they’d be coming out just before my Sunshine got home on the bus. We all ate pizzas then I was feeling so good and the kids had so much energy, I put on my headlamp and we took a long play-walk through the field in the pitch dark. We got to listen to a pack of coyotes run past in the woods nearby, play on a giant, mossy boulder and in our frozen leaf pile that the kids just aren’t ready to give up, and everyone went to bed worn out and happy.

My last act of self-care yesterday was to ask my man to take care of the horses’ water so I could go to bed at 8pm. And I woke up today feeling like a completely different person in the loveliest of ways. So I repeat, if you’re maxed out, see about giving yourself a break, even something small like not worrying about preparing a healthy meal or letting some cleaning go for a day so you can rest a little. The smallest amount can make all the difference.

Shifted–Body Image

This is a story about a shift in my perspective on something I thought I understood better than I did–body image.

Several months back I was showing my four year old daughter a stack of new clothes I’d ordered–mostly jeans but a few shirts as well. I was excited. They were the first new, non-maternity clothes I’d bought since I’d been pregnant with her and half of them actually fit me perfectly. I know I don’t need to tell anyone how exciting it is to find jeans that fit perfectly, so I’ll just move along to the real topic here.

I held up my favorite pair and said, “What do you think about mama’s new pants?” She’d caught on to my excitement so she jumped up and down and said, “I love them, Mama! They’re SO BIG!”

I laughed and opened my mouth to say, “Hey! Who you callin’ big?!” but by some miracle, those words got stuck on the way, maybe in my throat, maybe in my heart. It was one of those moments in life when your whole world tilts and suddenly everything that was familiar seems foreign. And I realized something so sad and so important.

All my life I’d thought girls and women grew up to hate their bodies because of society, because of bullies, because of impossible beauty standards in movies and magazines. But in that moment, it was crystal clear that it doesn’t start with society at all.

It’s mamas trying on clothes in their kitchens while their beautiful daughters and sons watch. Mamas who say things like “Who you callin’ big?” making it clear that “big” is bad, an insult, something you shouldn’t say and it isn’t good to be. When to a four year old, “big” is just a word you use when you notice that your mom’s pants are bigger than your pants. It starts with the faces we make when we look at ourselves in the mirror and we think they aren’t watching. It starts with the words we use to describe ourselves when we think they aren’t listening or won’t understand. And all those words we sling so carelessly build our babies into adults. Adults who know before they ever enter into society what to value based on what they learned at home from people who love them but may not have learned to love themselves.

I stared a beat at her sweet face, eyes still lit with happiness at my happiness, and instead of saying those dangerous, poisonous words, I said, “Heck yeah they’re big! I need room for my big, mama buns!” and we laughed and when I tried on the last outfit, she said, “You look beautiful, Mama.” and I felt that in my soul. So I thanked her and said, “I feel beautiful, baby.”

Being Mama When Baby gets Hurt

Yesterday, one of my precious, nearly two year old boys, fell off of and hit his face on the toy box he’d climbed. He fell so hard, his teeth went right through his upper lip and gouged the wood. Luckily, the cut is completely inside his mouth, the teeth involved seem fine, and he didn’t meet criteria for stitches. That said, his swollen upper lip looks like black and red hamburger meat inside and every time I look at his sweet face, my heart hurts.

One of the choices I’ve made for my children is to give them a great deal of freedom to explore their world, make mistakes, and learn. This often results in awesome photos of messy, happy kids running wild in the woods and fields around our home. They ride horses, play with our giant dog, pick up bugs, paddle board and kayak with us, and while they aren’t fearless, they are all quite independent for their respective ages. Most of the time, I feel confident in my approach.

Then something like this happens and that confidence crumbles a little more every time I conjure the image of my child sitting on the floor sobbing with blood covering his hands and running down his chin. I hold him close, I clean him up, and thoroughly investigate the injury. But even after determining a good rinse, some ice, and time will heal the wound, I know that another little piece of my heart is wounded in a way that won’t ever heal. This is motherhood. And I finally understand how my mama can so quickly recall and describe in excruciating detail every one of my own and my three brothers’ injuries throughout our childhood.

It’s a process, but after working my way over mountains of guilt and fear, I eventually find myself back where I started. Whenever possible, I want to give them more tools to successfully navigate the world. Only as a last resort do I want to make more rules or restrictions to prevent them from being hurt. Now is the time for them to take risks and experience the results. Now, while I’m here to scoop them up and make it okay. Now, while I’m able to create spaces for them to learn where even when they fail spectacularly, the ultimate risk is relatively low.

One day, my sweet, wild girl and boys will go out into the world without me or their dad there to kiss knees, rush them to urgent care, talk them through their options and possible outcomes, tell them no, cook for them, wash their clothes, and the list goes on. Motherhood is fun, painful, beautiful, terrifying, and exhilarating . . . but it’s also a job. And navigating the delicate balance between keeping my babies safe and preparing them to take on the world on their own is one of the hardest parts that job.

At the Top of These Stairs

I have spent countless, late-night hours nursing babies at the top of these stairs. It’s quiet and peaceful, if not the most comfortable place to sit. When my sweet Sunshine (my first baby) was born, I set up a whole nursing station with a cozy chair, books I was reading, phone charger, snacks, water . . . but with the boys, we were so far behind before we even got started, nothing like that ever came together. I used to bring them into our bed to nurse, but once we moved them out of our room, it felt like more trouble than it was worth. More and more often, I found myself stopping just outside their door and sitting down on this top step.

Sometimes, I think about what I need to get done that week or words I’d like to write. Sometimes, I think about the kids’ antics that day and make plans for fun and interesting things we can do later. I make grocery lists, budget, and sometimes read . . .

But on nights like this one, and there have been many, I just stare at the top of their heads and think about them–their whole lives from the moment I met them to this one: noting how much their hair has grown and how long they’re getting, mapping the feel of their weight in my arms, measuring their feet with my palms, pressing kisses into their soft hands, and watching them slowly-slowly drift back to sleep against my chest.

Then I sit here, much longer than necessary, the words from a book I loved as a child but didn’t understand at all echoing through my mind:

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”