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.


The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning one year ago and since the moment I opened that beautiful box of possibilities, I’ve failed more times than I can count at seeing my vision for it come to life. I’ve told myself its because I’m always so tired. It’s because my thyroid meds were significantly off for nearly a year. It’s because I don’t have time. But these days, though I am still always tired, I do get a day off from my usual responsibilities every week, and I’ve started getting up at four a.m. so I have quiet time to write each day, and my thyroid meds have been back on track since June . . . so what is it?

To find the first piece of the puzzle, I had to stop looking at the lipstick and start looking at my home and my life. Something I did completely by accident, and if I’m being honest, I wish I could undo and push off for just a little longer.

I was getting Wilbur his breakfast from the little closet under the stairs where we keep his food. And for some reason that morning, I noticed Morris’ carrier on it’s side in the way back. (Morris was our sweet and salty cat who passed away in September.) Then, as my eyes traveled the floor of the little room back toward my own feet I saw that his remaining cat food is still in there along with Orion’s collar and leash. (Orion was our precious dog who passed away of old age in March.) Finally, I looked up to the shelf and, though my eyes have passed over them without seeing for years now, they were still just where I left them–tufts of my 17 year old, Why?lee dog’s undercoat I brushed the day we put him down and lengths of my beautiful horse–Tristan’s tail I cut moments after he died of colic. My mind took me straight from there to the deaths of my friends, Tammy, Brent, and Kerry, my beautiful cousin-Gena, then on to the baby Carl and I never got to meet. All these losses having occurred over just the past four years. I closed my eyes. I took a shallow breath . . .

Then, I poured Wilbur’s kibble into his bowl and did what I’ve been doing. I took my twins outside to play and when we got home, I made them lunch, cleaned up, put them down for a nap, and spent their nap time prepping dinner and cleaning. When they woke up, we got my Sunshine off the bus from school, had a snack, played, ate dinner, brushed teeth, read stories, and then I put them to bed. Once they were in bed, I cleaned some more, took stock of what was in the fridge for meals the next day, prepped the coffee, folded the towels, walked Wilbur again, fed him, brought in the horses, fed them, too, then went to bed. But I was up the next morning at 4am to write. It was still dark, the house was silent, and I tried to write about a shade of lipstick called “Memory” but the only memories I could think about were the ones piling up and collecting dust in that closet.

And that’s how it’s been every day since. Even though I don’t want to think about it any more now than I have at any point since I put all of those things in there. There hasn’t been time to fall apart so I’ve been holding it together but in that 4am stillness, I can’t ignore the call of that dark, sad, somehow both tiny and unimaginably large room under our stairs. Large enough to hold every moment I nearly broke, every tear I’ve held back, every minute I would have ached, hurt, sobbed, screamed, or shattered into a million pieces but didn’t because there wasn’t time.

So here I am, up at 4:30a.m. again, sitting on the couch in the beautiful glow of our Christmas tree, staring at a closed closet door that I’d rather just burn down than ever look in again. But, since burning down a closet that happens to be under your stairs in the center of your home is not recommended, I’m going to have to tackle it’s contents another way. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to have to accept that my heart needs to pick these things up, so I can set them down properly. My soul needs to experience and write this first. Then we’ll see about the letters. Right now, I’m just love and grief inside. It’s too heavy and there’s no room for a new project, no matter how exciting and worthwhile it may be.

I don’t know how this is going to go or how long it will take so I’m not setting any expectations. I just know that when it’s all done, I want the closet to be clean and the things I’ve chosen to keep to be in the light. A dark, dirty closet is no place to hold any part of the most treasured loves of my life.

So, if you want to come along with me while I thoroughly clean out the near-literal “skeletons in my closet,” come along. Maybe you’re holding onto to something you want to let go of, too. Maybe you’re like me and even though you’re about to start, you have no idea how to actually do it and the prospect of facing these memories is terrifying. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.

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.

The Short Version

I had been getting up at 5am to write, but ever since daylight savings time, my children have been getting up around 5am, so today I got up at 4am because I am a glutton for punishment, but also because I love writing and if this is the only way, so be it.

I’ve overhauled my plans for The Lipstick Letters and I’m sooooooooo excited about it! Instead of posting one blog for each shade, I plan to post a collection of thoughts, poems, and whatever else strikes my fancy over the course of a month for each word. When I’m done, I plan to pull it all together, add to it a bit, and edit the full body of work into a book.

The best uncle and cousin in the world (if you know me at all, you know who I’m talking about) bought me a beautiful briefcase for my birthday which I keep packed with my notebooks, pens, laptop, etc so whenever there is a moment to write, everything is in one place, ready to go.

Writing time has also been scarce because someone in my family has been sick every week since my sweet Sunshine started kindergarten. I was warned it would be this way and all those warnings have come to pass.

Momming at the level I want and writing at the level I want are currently mutually exclusive. This is frustrating, but also simple. Momming comes first and writing will simply have to fit in the cracks for now.

Lastly, we finally got our first snow of the season and it just happened to be on the day we got our Christmas tree . . .

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.