The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning two years 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.

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.”

It’s Time, I Suppose

It’s time, I suppose, that I really looked at myself–my eyes, my body, my life.
“How have you been?” I might ask
but probably I won’t
because the answer is “I’ve been with the children.”
I already know.
Instead, perhaps, I could say
“What color of lipstick would you like to wear?” or
“Those shirts are so old and worn, let’s find something new.”

It’s time, I suppose, that I pulled out my notebooks
my scribbles, my art
and pored over them again
to remember where I was
when I quit writing.
My fingers have been drumming
on the dining room table
writing out a grocery list that goes
Broccoli
Avocados
Milk
the milk spilled
we must have more
Cream
my coffee needs
I need
a break from boring lists
to write about how I love
living near the wild things
where tall trees bang into each other
when the wind whips up
and dark clouds rush overhead
heavy with hail and snow and
it’s so cold
I can focus on one thing at a time
Butter
Flour
Eggs
Sigh.

It is time, I suppose
because I’m restless
and the children are napping
and I can’t remember who I was
I can’t remember what I was doing
what was important
before they came.
Not that I plan to try and go back
I don’t so much want to go back
as to figure out where to start
becoming who I am now.

It’s time, I suppose
after I finish this list
after I put together something for dinner
something with the jalapenos
which are about to go bad
a few diaper changes
some fresh pajamas
it’s almost time
bedtime is soon
I’ll tuck them in
and kiss their sweet heads
read a few stories
then it will be dark
and quiet
then I’ll start
maybe pour a glass of wine
then I’ll decide
where to begin
becoming who I am now.

“Mama”

One of my favorite things is to watch my eleven month old, twin boys eat. Partly because they love eating so much, but mainly because I love them so much.  This morning, however, while I started out grinning as they happily stuffed themselves . . . I suddenly found myself crying.  From the moment I first read the news I haven’t stopped thinking about George Floyd until today . . . when I started thinking about his mother.

One of the worst things I can imagine is having one of my children need me and not  being able to get to them.  My heart shatters into smaller and smaller pieces every time I try to imagine what it would feel like to be George Floyd’s mother.  To not only know that her baby needed her, but to have the whole world watching an actual video of her baby crying out her name with his last, desperate breaths.  And she couldn’t be there.  Couldn’t have even known he needed her until the ultimate too late.

I am sitting here looking at my beautiful, happy, baby boys and I am sobbing.

To George Floyd’s mother, in honor of her beautiful boy, I make these promises: I will do everything in my power to raise my children to recognize and stand up against injustice.  I will not just tell them, I will show them how we are strengthened and made wiser by respect and appreciation for our differences.  I will not just teach them how to use both their resources and advantages in life to help others, I will live as an example for them to follow. And, when they are old enough, I will teach them his name.

George Floyd.

May he rest while we put in the work to create peace.

 

Here I Am

On the phone with my Uncle Bubba last week, he asked if I was still writing my blog.  I explained that with the twins, the toddler, the new puppy, etc, etc, I wasn’t giving up my blog, but I just hadn’t had the time.  I assured him I was still thinking of posts and jotting down tidbits here and there when I could.  I expected him to say ok, makes sense, keep it up, blah blah . . . but nope.  He didn’t let me off the hook at all. Instead, he spent a couple of minutes reminding me why it is I write this blog and pushed me to keep going.

So, here I am.

Last week, I blew my nose into a diaper because we were late for swim classes for the kids and I was getting over a cold and thought we had napkins in the glove-box and we didn’t.

My toddler threw up with almost no warning in our bed at six this morning, but don’t worry, my ninja mom reflexes kicked in and I was able to catch ALL of it with my hands.

I’ve got her tucked into the couch watching PJ Masks and eating plain grits, one of my baby boys is sleeping upstairs, and I’m literally nursing the other as I type this with one hand.

I haven’t had a shower in three days, but I’m crossing my fingers that tonight is the night!

I’ve re-washed the same load of laundry three times over the past three days because I keep swearing I’ll get it into the dryer but I haven’t folded the towels in the dryer yet, and every time I remember to move them, the wash already has that mildewy smell from sitting wet too long.

Update: she missed me so she grabbed all of her play dough stuff, climbed into the chair next to mine, and is telling me all about the pista (pizza) she’s making while I try to wrap up this post.

And my Uncle Bubba is right, this is exactly where I need to be and all of the above is exactly what I need to be writing about.  A huge portion of my life right now is motherhood, cleaning the same things over and over like I’m living in the movie Groundhog’s Day, always being behind on everything, and trying to remember where I’m supposed to be before it’s too late to get there for whatever we’re supposed to be doing.

But there are other things, little moments in between the big ones where I remember myself outside of the roles that are currently dominating my life.  I am an adventurer, I love horses, and I love dogs. I am a reader, a knitter, a friend, a businesswoman, a problem-solver, an inventor when I need to be, and I am a writer . . .

So here I am.     (Thank you for the push, Uncle Bubba. :)
IMG_5136

 

Some Days (3rd Trimester Edition)

Some days I feel like a goddess–powerful, strong, sustaining life with the miracle that is my body . . .

And some days I feel like an over-stretched sack of humans, fraying at the edges and straining at the seams.

Some days I feel accomplished–homemade, healthy dinner on the table, laundry done, toddler happy and tired from a day of outside adventure . . .

And some days I feel like putting on pants is more of a challenge than I have the will to take on.

Some days I feel happy knowing my babies are coming soon and I’ll have two sweet, tiny boys to snuggle and feed . . .

And some days all I can think about is the sheer volume of gross bodily fluids I will be cleaning up for the next two-three years.

Some days, I look at my handsome husband in awe of all that he is to me and to our growing family–how hard he works, how much of my slack he takes up as I get more and more ungainly, and how much love, time, and energy he gives to me and our daughter.

And some days, I want to punch him in the throat for telling me he understands how I feel or complaining that his back hurts or whining as he slowly and dramatically perishes of a “man-cold.”

Some days, I think to myself I am never having another child as long as I live after these two . . .

And some days . . . just kidding, that one is actually all of the days.  ; )