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Rotten Excuse for a Christmas Card…

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I’m always a little bit torn about whether to send Christmas letters, or even cards. On one hand, I love to send and receive personal notes, even if I don’t manage it very often. On the other hand, my little family usually doesn’t have a lot to report. Also, while I love getting them (friends and loved ones, please don’t be offended), I’m not very sentimental about keeping cards. My best friend is a card-keeping ninja. She puts me to shame, but apparently not enough to change my ways. I hope you’ll accept our cheap, online approximation of a personal card.

This year, we shook things up a bit. We moved back home last spring, after nearly 13 years in Iowa. Shortly after we sold our home, my husband injured his shoulder, which complicated his job search. Lovely, lovely friends helped us load the moving truck and we said our goodbyes. Less than a month after our move, the husband underwent (expensive) surgery and quite a lot of physical therapy before starting at a new job in a different field. Our eight year old left good friends and started at a new school. One of our beloved dogs died, and we brought home a rambunctious, athletic, seven-month-old puppy shortly thereafter. I recently started working part-time and our three-year-old started preschool. To sum up, we made all the life changes this year.

Moving is always difficult, even if the move is a good one, and ours was no exception. That said, our families have supported us in every possible way. They graciously shouldered so much of our stress and continue to offer their help and company. Having them close is a huge source of joy for us and we hope that we can return their kindness.

Our fantastic girls are full of irritat– vibrant energy. It is never not noisy at our house. Our oldest is trying ballet, loves to read and play outside and lives in her imagination. She talks non-stop. She surprises, amuses, and terrifies us with her quick mind and tongue. It is beautiful to see her growing thoughtfulness. Her little sister is a sweet, cranky, articulate, mischievous little thing. She is methodical where her sister is creative. She also screams a lot.

Honestly, the last eight or so months have left me too tired to reflect on any insights or draw any pretty conclusions about our experiences. We’re just looking forward to continued settling. Being nearer family has triggered some nostalgia and greater desire to honor/create traditions for my own kids. We’re looking forward to a 2019 full of opportunites to do just that.

Cheers, 2019! Have a peaceful year, all!

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Celebrating My Little Women

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My beloved copy of Rose in Bloom

I know – this post title is unforgivably sappy, but it’s my nod to Louisa May Alcott, whose books I devoured as a young girl. Disappearing into her simple, sweet, almost agonizingly wholesome worlds was like eating roast and potatoes on Sunday. Considering her own less-than-traditional bent and the challenges she faced as a woman advocating for greater equality, maybe Louisa May’s writing offered her a similar escape. Today seemed appropriate to recognize her since it is, apparently, National Women’s Day. I was only recently (an hour ago) made aware of this holiday; thank heaven I have Facebook to educate me about such things.

Never in one of Ms. Alcott’s books did surly, half -asleep parents try to get a surly, fully-awake, kicking-and-screaming kid to the bus stop in time. Jo’s strong will was romantic, and her mistakes were always rewarded with valuable life lessons that she took straight to heart. Her mother seemed ever peaceful and confident that her girls were not, in fact, little miscreants destined to drive her mad. On this particular, rocky morning, I look to Louisa May Alcott to remind me of the beauty of a strong will. I am blessed to have one daughter who knows what she wants, who feels that her opinions are valuable. The other, just two, is clearly following in her sister’s footsteps as she screams “Mine!!” and chases Olive to her room, arms flailing.

There are plenty of challenges ahead, but both of my girls show kindness and vulnerability, too. Today, then, I take a page from Mrs. March’s book, and celebrate the depth, strength, sweetness, and beauty in my girls while I pretend to be sure that we can successfully bring them up. Thank God for my rosebuds, not yet in bloom.

 

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On Rare Moments Alone

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Like so many parents, I seldom have time alone.  I love my kiddos, even like them, but I’m an introvert and the relentless noise of childhood and the availability my children require of me can take their toll. My fantastic husband knows me well and encourages me to get out of the house by myself when I can. Still, quality time – even if it’s just with oneself  – takes a certain energy. Often, I wind up at some store or another despite the fact that I hate shopping. I know that a walk around the lake, time to read or pray or write, even exercise would be much more refreshing but I just can’t quite bring myself to do those things when I’m already burned out. But, I digress.

Even when they aren’t spa-like and zen, I need those moments when I’m not physically responsible for another person. Surprisingly, I often find these times most directly impact me physically. The feeling I have when I can walk at normal speed, when my hands aren’t ushering and guiding little backs and my head is not inclined toward a baby on my hip… it’s wonderful. I know that those experiences are gifts, too; that they are precious and short-lived. But I have such an unexpected sense of self when I can square my shoulders and enjoy unrestricted movement; although, I suspect it will be a long time before I can be alone without the occasional, sudden rush of fear and adrenaline as I wonder for a split-second where my child is.

Even if I don’t exactly feel like a new woman when I come home from these field trips, it is good to remember who I am apart from my kids. I feel vaguely guilty saying that, and I’m not sure why. Maybe I feel a little like I shouldn’t have an identity apart from them. I do, though. Of course, they are a huge part of who I am and I believe that mothering has deepened and stretched me but it isn’t all of me. I want to teach my girls to embrace who they are and use their unique personalities for good, so remembering my own doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

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No-Niche Moms

I manage to stumble across multiple mom blogs each week, without even looking for them (thanks, Facebook). Some of them are better than others, but to me it seems that almost all cater to a stereotypical mom – whether she stays at home or works. There are ideas for that mom who has it all together and is rocking the mom thing for her perfectly-photographed brood. There are posts urging the mom who is struggling to hang in there – reassuring her that things will be different soon – and a handful of other themes. I can appreciate some of these posts, but I never feel like I’m the intended audience, exactly, and I think many moms can relate.

Part of the reason for this is the blog medium. Writers tend to romanticize things because they want to make them appealing, sweet, witty, whatever. This is paradoxically engaging and alienating. And readers happily take those cues. More than that, we take reading between the lines way too far. Maybe you read the simple words “play room” and conjured a sun-soaked, white space with a few tasteful toys and hip art on the walls (I know you’re filling in the blanks right now!). And perhaps that’s accurate. But, more likely, “play room” means the messiest room in the house in desperate need of new carpet. Even if it is a serendipitous place, in my experience real life never feels like a  glossy magazine spread. We might be able to set the stage and there can be value in that but the sought-after bliss is either fleeting or entirely absent because that just isn’t the stuff of true and deep satisfaction.

Here’s some of my real: I don’t have a niche. I stay at home. I keep up with the chores. I love my husband and children more than I can say. I read to my kids and take them outside to play and make pretty decent dinners (but not often enough). I love being in my yard. I also look at my phone too often, sometimes wish those same kids would bugger off and waste lots of time thinking about how I should probably meal plan (so much time that I miss my window of opportunity to actually go to the grocery store). My little house looks messy a lot despite my efforts to keep it neat. I long for a little romance. I pray and thank God often for this gorgeous life but my spirituality is a bit hard to find these days. Some days it’s tough to get out of bed. I know my problems are first-world. Forgive my self-indulgence, but I’m trying to be as honest as possible.

I am blessed to have lovely and wonderful friends, but none of them who live close stay at home right now. I’m the kind of home body who needs motivation or accountability to get out the door and some meaningful conversation to keep things interesting. I know that life won’t mold to a fantasy so I am not desperately seeking an ideal; I’m just trying to find satisfaction in the everyday. And I do find it in bits and pieces. There is nowhere else I’d rather be, but this season happens to be hard for me, too. Being at home makes many things easier but it takes a different kind of discipline than working. I’ve done it both ways and respect the challenges for each path.

So whether you work or stay at home, if you are feeling a lot blessed but also a little overwhelmed, a little isolated, a lot tired, a little like you should be enjoying things more but you can’t quite get there – this post is simply my fist raised in solidarity. I don’t have much advice, except that if you have that just-finished-watching-a-rom-com taste in your mouth every time you read a parenting blog, remember that a few words on a screen do not and cannot fully represent a person’s life or their feelings about that life. Even when we already know that, I think the overall impression can add to our feelings of discontent. And if any of you are in a particularly sweet and wonderful season – that is awesome! I’ve been there, too and have faith that I will be again. But even if not – this struggle is a GOOD struggle and there is satisfaction here, too.

Mom on.