Frog, Toad & Snow

Two days ago the “babies” turned three.  It snowed.  Buckets.   This is disconcerting, I told my husband as I envisioned trash islands and swiss-cheese ozone layers.  In the morning we had marveled at the big, wet flakes.  In the afternoon we watched the nearly green grass steadily disappear, and by the time I was set to make a last minute run to the grocery store before their birthday party, we stared open-mouthed at the road which was predicted to simply be  “wet”  become completely covered with snow.

I made my way to into the grocery store determined to pick up the twins’ birthday cakes and balloons, sloshing through the giant, wet puddles of slush and snow in the parking lot. It was April 14th.  Snow in March you can complain about; snow in April you just kind of stare in wonder. As I struggled to evade the deep wells of slush and water, I realized people weren’t complaining, per se, instead they appeared to be too befuddled for negativity.  What?  Really?  Three inches of snow in April?  As she handed me the two birthday cakes (one Elsa, one velociraptor), the woman at the bakery noted how there was an inch of snow outside for every year of the twins’ lives.  The clerk who filled up the balloons said her friend had triplets, and now they’re in their 40s.  “She would try to feed them with separate spoons, but eventually she gave up and just went down the line,” she smiled to herself.  “I’ve always wanted twins,” she said.  Later on, as the cashier scanned the balloons and cakes, she advised that we “should take pictures of them having a snowball fight.”

The snow still hadn’t let up when I returned home.  “Ba-oons!” they squealed with delight.  I wanted to take their pictures, so Jacob brought in the small bench from the porch outside.  “We take your picture on this bench every year,” I told them, pointing to the one from their first birthday that hangs on our family room wall.  “Except this year we have to take it inside!”  “Yeah,” they said matter-of-factly, convincing me they understood. As I took their pictures, Mae volleyed between kissing Everett on command and eying the camera with her no-nonsense, diva scowl.


I realized Everett and Mae are like snow in April too– maybe that’s how they get away with anything– with their shenanigans of snacking on whole loaves of bread and distributing orange peels over the carpet like bits of confetti and dumping small bins of matchbox cars for the fun of it.  Their antics are like snow in April– challenging and frustrating, yes– but mostly just a source of bewilderment to the point of wonder. Really?  You just worked on opening that bag of shredded mozzarella cheese with baby scissors for the past ten minutes to eat it by the fistfuls?  Really?  It reminds me of over three years ago.    The ultrasound tech’s nails tapping on the screen: It’s twins, she informed.   You’re sure, really?  Confusion, to shock, to wonder.

After the party we read Frog and Toad.  We read about how Toad cannot come up with a story to tell Frog when Frog lies sick in bed.  Frustrated that he cannot think of a tale for his friend who is feeling “green”, Toad chooses to walk back and forth on the porch in an attempt to find inspiration. He even bangs his head (literally) on a wall to come up with a story– only to exhaust himself with trying, winding up in the bed himself. So Frog, now upright and feeling better, tells Toad a story instead, and it is simply the story of Toad’s trying.  He tells the story that was there all along, because it was the story he had been given.  There is always a story- even if it’s just the story of what is.  How often do we discover that in our attempts to find a story, we have already been living one.

The night of their birthday, Mae fell asleep clutching her tube of M&M’s from her great-aunt.  Everett had to be replaced in bed several times.  I kissed them long and hard- my babies who aren’t really babies.  Clutching the moment so I could feel it, weirdly smelling their hair and smoothing their temples. They are the story I have been given.

Now, two days later, Sunday’s snow has melted.  Now, three years later, they walk and talk.  Yesterday- the middle day– between the beginning and the end– I noticed how the large clumps of wet snow on the newly budding branches might also be flowers in the right light.


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Holding the sand

Like sand through a sieve, time slips through my hands, and as I read to Everett and Mae, I realize I can no longer see over the heart-shaped space that is their heads meeting.   They’re too tall. Time sketches angles in Sophie’s cheekbones and broadness in Cohen’s shoulders and fullness into Ellie’s curls.  I pull into work and out of work and into work again, keys in, keys out.  I teach one year, five years, ten years.  I see the dashboard of my car;  I’m in the parking lot, reaching for the car handle, pushing the door into summer heat, closing it to the sting of winter, and opening it tomorrow for spring.  It’s moving that quickly:  in, out, open, shut, sleep, arise.

Everything is moving so quickly now; it always is.  We brush off skin and chop hair and clip toe nails. Growing and moving toward an end that we know is coming as surely as we know the eyes of our spouse.  That is to say- we know them, but we will never quite know them completely, as we also know within them is their own abyss, their own universe which is large and vastly unexplored.

I needed to write today.  I write to stretch  the seconds, stretch them out like a rubber bands, to create a space in the stillness between them. I see time slipping and I write to remind myself I’m here, to mark an unmoving space in this earth that never stops; I want to put a flag in that space and on the flag it will say: I am!

If I’m honest, I write to not be lost.

But perhaps nothing that lives is lost.

Since I have been, I’ve been breathing, and I write to hold the breaths, to feel them in my palms and observe them like small worlds, each one holding infinite detail.  I write to hold the seconds; perhaps I write to become part of the ever-slipping sand, since I know it is fruitless to hold it.

Words cannot capture the sway of Mae’s hair, how the light blonde strands swing horizontally like a pendulum.  Words cannot capture the gentle heat of another human hand or the vastness of a star or cell.  And try as they might, words will never be able to capture Truth.

And yet- the space between the words might.  There in that space we feel the hum of connection that sounds something like “I know” and “me too”.  The space in between the words will stretch out the seconds just long enough for us to be fully alive.  That space holds the moments, just like time holds reality, even though we know full well reality is too big to be held.

Right now, Cohen is laughing at something he read in Big Nate, a car’s wheels screech outside, and Ellie’s breath ebbs and flows like waves.

I write.

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Prepping a lesson on Norse Mythology—(do I google Thor?  I briefly panicked.)   I stumbled across this:  The Norse believed in an enchanted world.  That is, they didn’t “feel the need to seek salvation from the world, but instead delighted in, and marveled at, the way things are.”


“How do you make a good pork chop?” I texted my mom.  I should really know these things by now- mid thirties, five kids, I’m a lady who should know how to cook a decent pork chop.  But I didn’t, and so I asked my mom.  I’m thankful I could ask my mom.  My co-workers who have lost their mothers have told me they wish they could text their moms all the time, with silly questions like how to make pork chops, and serious questions like what should they tell their daughters about dating and beauty and friendship.  But mine was here, and she answered within minutes, and I was grateful.  Coat it with an egg, breadcrumbs, and fry it up in olive oil, she texted back.

I made the porkchops while Everett and Mae scooped out ranch dressing with their bare hands from the center of a veggie tray.  They sat on the island in their diapers, and Ellie shaded in her “sets of ten” on her homework.  She asked me: “Do you think we’ll do boxes of twenty next?”  And I said, “Maybe you will even do addition.”  And she said “oooooooo” like she had just seen a cool magic trick (but only after asking what addition was first.)

Cohen and Jacob missed dinner because the poor kid was getting poked and prodded and made all kinds of itchy by his yearly allergy test.  “He was so mature,” Jacob couldn’t stop gushing when they arrived home.  “So tough.  I— I just couldn’t believe it.”  And his eyes got all watery at the thought of Cohen’s “grown-ness”. In fairness, Jacob’s eyes can get watery at almost anything. Just yesterday he recounted a commercial in which packages were delivered “from the viewpoint of the package.” He tried to explain more, except he couldn’t, because there was “just something about those people opening their doors for those packages.” (When we were first dating in college, we watched the Rock Island Labor Day parade, and an old man with kind eyes placed candy in each of our palms.  No one else could see it, but we did.  We cried then too.  Enchantment.)

After dinner– 15 minutes late– we finally arrived at Ellie’s “investiture” ceremony for her Daisy troop.  The five-year-old girls stood in a line, uncharacteristically quiet  because they noticed the four short rows of plastic folding chairs for the “audience” turned toward them.  The small church multi-purpose room had become a stage of sorts,  and their blue vests stood out against the flourescent-lit white walls; a space that had nothing personal about it became special, important.  The girls stared at the onlooking smiling parents and committed to uphold the girl scout law, and they got pumpkin and ghost sugar cookies to commemorate the occasion.  Do you know that kids still believe that it is special to pledge to be their best selves?  (Special enough for cookies!)

When we returned home, I showed Jacob our new “Daisy” and the babies quickly followed him downstairs, still naked from their baths.  I made up a weird song “We got a Daisy, [pause] We got a Brownie [pause] , We got two-ooo naaaaa-ked Babies.”  There was a rhythm, and the kids found it and danced.  After football, Cohen got dropped off by a coach who had bought the kid a quesadilla for dinner because there are good people who lead Daisy troops and coach football teams and even knit together in church basements on rainy September nights like this one.  (The wizened knitters were in the room next to the hopeful girl scouts, old and young, separated by an ordinary beige partition.)

Last weekend Jacob and I watched “Won’t you Be My Neighbor?”, a documentary about Fred Rogers. (Good Lord, if we cry at old men in parades and commercials about packages you might correctly predict we created a brief monsoon watching this one.) In a commencement speech, Mr. Rogers told the recent graduates that there was no need for them to do anything sensational, that they were loved as they are.  After a hell of an afternoon- in which I showed up late, added too much season- salt to the porkchops (Damn!)  and probably barked commands more than I listened– grace let me see there was something more to the story, something real.  Enchantment in it all, not beyond it.



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Lose the legacy.

Tonight Jacob stayed late for parents’ night at his school.  Would I survive? I prepped myself with a very-berry hibiscus on my way to pick up the kids.  (I never feel more suburban than when I am jamming Everett and Mae in their carseats with the bribery of scones from Starbucks.)  Before making it through the drive-thru, they were cashed out in their carseats.  Both of their necks tilted to the right, both their chins touched their chests like, well– like twins.  (Except Everett was sweatier.)

I waved enthusiastically to Soph as she made her way to the car in her mint green, horse-patterned dress.  She lost her glasses this morning, and her hair was down.  She skipped a bit when she saw me.  As we drove up West Main, we saw Cohen and waved.  He waved back, but with the cooler reserve of his new 4th-grade-walk-to-school-self.  We pulled into the driveway where my mom, Cam, and Ellie were sipping freeze pops.  After saying bye to Gaga, (and waking Everett and Mae up with a freeze pop of their own), I asked them the daily litany of questions about school.  Ellie sang two songs in music and “ran” in gym.  “Did you do anything else in gym?” “No,” she said.  Sophie was allowed to pick out free- reading books today, and she informed me incredulously that someone was allergic to raspberries, plums, and milk in her class.  Ellie said the spelling of “all of her colors right” but just because Gaga told her the “secret” of looking at the word on the crayon.  Cohen is going on a trip to the library– he played gaga ball at recess and had strawberries with his hotdog at lunch.  I listened and got distracted and tried to listen some more.

I made spaghetti for dinner and made myself feel better about my motherhood by adding cucumbers and green beans that no one would eat for sides.  The kids chased each other with blankets over their heads back and forth across the family room a bit.

Soph and Ellie eventually came up for baths and determined that they would play “Kiara and Kovu.” After prying them out of the tub 15 minutes later, Sophie admitted she had forgotten to play because she was “daydreaming about Christmas.”  After baths, they became “tiny eggs” under their towels and Mae demanded that I “boe-dyer” her hair.  We tried to all read in bed.  We tried.  Everett got kicked and Ellie got shoved and Sophie quickly left after her Samantha Saves the Day chapter was over.  But there was a moment (approximately 30 seconds) when they all were lying quietly as I read Don’t Forget the Oatmeal for the hundredth time and there was a bit of peace.

I rocked Everett and Mae.  Everett climbed out of bed, then Mae climbed out of bed, and finally Everett started snoring.  Mae sobbed by her door when I went to tuck in the other kids.  I “blanket-tucked” Cohen in his “cave” (the small column of space between his bed and his wall).  I tucked in the girls and Ellie started to scream.  Sophie demanded headphones which made Ellie scream louder and I said “Mama’s gonna blow a gasket!”  Soph said, “What’s a gasket?” and I said “It means I won’t be able to control my temper.” And Ellie said: “What’s a temper?”  I told her I’d come back in 5 minutes for more kisses.

Today we heard a speaker at school (the annual “kick-off-the-year” assembly) who cheerleaded the crowd of high school students into “leaving a legacy” by “helping others when no one is looking.”  Here’s the thing though–  I’m sort of done with the leaving a legacy advice. It’s not that any of that is bad, and we should help others when no on is looking.  But maybe the really heroic thing is to find the joy and sacredness with or without the legacy.  The joy and the very real ache of being human, co-mingling side by side.  Nothing– no action or vocation or travel or service– will completely fulfill you; there will always be moments you feel empty.  But being okay with this might be the closest you’ll actually get to feeling full.

Ellie told me to come back 10 times, so I’m off.  Jacob- are you home yet?

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Wonder as peace.

Last week I memorized the 23rd psalm. I haven’t memorized any prayers since grade school, but Texas and Indiana and North Korea just got to be a little too much. I realized I was afraid as I would carefully braid Ellie’s hair or gently hold Mae’s hand or kiss Everett’s cheeks, because when I did these things, I would ask: What does this all matter? What does it matter when I have to let them go out into a world that I can’t control? I’ll kiss their scrapes and clean their fingernails and make sure their blankets are tucked up under their chins– but what is it all for when the world doesn’t care?

And here’s the thing: there are only moments to think “what is it all for?” when there are moments to think at all. In short- letting yourself think can be scary. So before I memorized the 23rd psalm, I did a far safer thing to avoid thinking: I cleaned. (You’d never be able to tell, because as I picked up the pieces to Connect Four Mae was literally dumping out hundreds of dominoes– a veritable GIF for futility.) As far as avoidance and escapism goes, I suppose chronic power washing and decluttering is about as innocuous as you can get– but I’m still aware enough to know they are my escapes nonetheless. And what the heck? My house is still a mess. (There was a fork in the closet today. A fork in the closet.)

But when I eventually had to stop cleaning to rock Mae in the darkness- I brought my fear forth. I laid it at the alter and said I was so scared because the world doesn’t understand. I guess I chose to leave the fork on the closet floor and sit in the darkness instead. I whispered the 23rd psalm, and I felt something a little like peace. Which is also something like: you are loved, you are blessed, you are chosen. And so are they.

A few days later,the seven of us drove north amidst the seemingly endless plains of corn and soybeans along Rt 39, with only the occasional barn and silo to interrupt the horizon line. As I drove, the sun began to set to my left. I watched as what was once a full circle morphed to a half circle to a mere glow within minutes. A bona fide time lapse video. Mae was the only one awake and was demanding that we play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on repeat. “Tar! Tar!” she would cry. So we played it, and the music swelled– and I saw the fading orb to the west, vast and diminishing, dying as it gave life. Anything but little, anything but merely twinkling. And in my mind’s eye I saw the billions of other stars operating as the axis points of galaxies far vaster than our own. For a few seconds, I returned to wonder. I broke out of the mechanization and monotony by a means far better than fear– I broke free through wonder.

I get how all of this might not be everyone’s jam. Like- Liz- stop all the sentimentality and just go enjoy some sushi and wine and West World podcast. But I can’t, (at least, not yet) because I have learned that wonder is how I return to peace.

Even now as I type, I picture Mae as an old woman, driving north along Rt 39 in her self-driving car. There will be no need to stare out the window at the setting sun. She could just as easily be on her phone.  She will have to choose to look at the sunset herself.  And she will.  “Star,” she will say with astonishment. “Star!”

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Forget the point

I’ve been bored lately.  “I feel like a machine,” I told someone at work recently.  “I’m too efficient for my own good,”  I’m either in task mode, checking off the boxes, or I’m sedentary.  Those are my two speeds.  It’s all or nothing with me, baby.  I’m either walking away from you as you’re talking to me because I’ve got more productive things to do, or I’m falling asleep.  Maybe this isn’t true, but it feels true.

Today Sophie learned how to ride a bike.  I backed the Expedition into the driveway and kids tumbled out the doors, stripping off coats even though it wasn’t quite 40 degrees.  Sophie asked me to get her bike, a hand-me-down from our neighbor whose daughter is now in junior high; the bike’s frame pale blue and slightly scratched, the pedals a bit wobbly on their pegs.  I heaved the bike out from under the mounting pile of Stuff in the garage, pulling it from scooters and baseball bats and empty girl scout cookie boxes.

She said “don’t let go” and I clasped my right hand under her left armpit as she mounted the bike.  She leaned dangerously close to me and I held her hard, she steered in circles so tight I was pivoting on my left foot.  “Make the circle bigger,” I instructed.  “I can’t!” she cried.  Eventually the circles got bigger, she leaned less and less.  Soon I wasn’t pivoting, but instead running beside her.  “Don’t let go!” she cried.  “I won’t,” I said firmly, my hand now gently cupping her elbow. The length of my stride increased; I was no longer pivoting anymore, but loping along next to her like a focused, crazed cat.  Jacob found his phone and began to film.  We were getting close.  She would only turn in the direction that leaned her body toward me.  “Try to turn right,” I told her. “I can’t turn right!” she giggled, pedaling faster, her speed increasing.

And then there was a moment when I knew.  I knew I could let go.  Her hair fell out in wisps from underneath her pink and yellow helmet, her eyes squinting in the cold March breeze, her gaze set and determined.  I jogged next to her, my hand no longer holding her elbow.  “You’re doing it,” I said excitedly.  “Do you feel it, Soph?   You’re riding your bike!”  And I got this view, this glance from just a few feet away, of a smile that couldn’t be contained by her mouth.


When I thought I was bored, I wrote a note to snap me out of efficiency-mode and hung it on the fridge.   It said “Do something pointless.”  I took it down within the hour because I didn’t want people to see it and not understand, but I try to remember it anyway.  “Sit on the floor,” my co-worker told me.  And she’s right.  The kids will find  me within minutes. They’ll stop climbing on the counters and coloring on the floor and maybe even fiddling around with my phone. They’ll pile on top of me and I won’t be asleep, and I also won’t be productive, but I might be a little more me.

And I’ll start to notice.  I’ll see how Cohen spent a half an hour constructing a cardboard, golden “T” trophy in order to present his friends with “award” certificates he created online.  Levi: Big Catches, he wrote, AJ: best football player.  “Why is the trophy shaped like a T?” Jacob asked.  “Because it’s the T awards,” he said matter-of-factly.  Sophie wrote a story about a new girl in class who was supposed to be a witch, but as it turns out, was only just a wearing her costume for the school play.  Ellie cut out shape after shape in a coloring book only to re-paste them on other sheets of construction paper to illustrate her own story.  Mae lined up crayons, Everett lined up cars, both in neat little rows, carefully moving one object, then the next, then the next.  Over and over again, they put their toes behind imaginary lines; I count One, Two, Three and they run to me and laugh as I swing them up into my lap. They run back to the same starting line and run again toward the finish-  starting line, finish, starting line, finish, again and again and again.

When I’m bored I stop noticing.  I stop paying attention.   And I think it’s a sin to not notice- or for me it feels that way.  We watched Lady Bird last weekend and a very practical nun asked “Don’t you think they’re the same thing?  Love and paying attention?”  And I remembered that the truest things are the things we have known all along, but have maybe just forgotten.

The weirdly beautiful thing is that in the letting go of the “point” we notice something a little like meaning and aliveness, or something as close to those things as we are going to get.  Grace creeps in unexpectedly.  In the fierce pedaling of a seven year old, in the choice to sit on the floor, in the running from start to finish just for the joy of running.   We notice and we remember the thing we have known all along: this is what love is.

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To see a boy

Last Friday night, a brood of nine-year-old boys skidded around the corners of my living room in their socks, jumping to greet each new friend as he appeared at our doorway.  They wore hoodies and sweatpants and addressed each other by “dude”. There were four altogether, but it felt like forty.

They immediately picked up hockey sticks and without clearing away any of the scattered blocks, dolls, and toy vehicles from the basement floor, proceeded to have a game (that would last ten minutes before devolving into a version of girls against boys warfare because Sophie and Ellie had made their way to the basement. Oh sisters.)

They’d stampede upstairs upon arrival of pizza and their feet would curl around the bottom of their kitchen chairs, their legs just now long enough to touch the ground. They would talk about nothing and everything in frenetic bursts, and in another ten minutes they were up in Cohen’s room (“wow! That’s messy!”) eating chocolate chip cookies under a desk covered by a blanket that had become a “cookie fort.”

Nine trips around the sun make for this odd amalgam of big and little, of quirkiness and curiosity, of innocence and experience.   The boys volleyed back and forth between these  worlds, and the evening became this ebb and flow, this rhythm of little to big and back again.  At one point in the night, an argument sat at the tip of their tongues- who would have to be the “seeker” in a game of hide and seek? (whole house version, of course. Basement included!)   “Dude- no, I’m not it!”-playful shoves in the chest, “Dude- no, not me!”  And then– innocence again- gangly legs and bony elbows shoved in a tight circle to perform a round of “Bubblegum, bubblegum” in order to “fairly” nominate the victim.

Later, I would hear enthusiastic commands toward Alexa to play the latest Imagine Dragons song only to be followed by a round of “Pink fluffy unicorns”.  They wanted nothing to do with the girls. At one point in the night Ellie repeated at least seven times “guys, I’m in karate!” with virtually no response from the boys whatsoever, but later in the evening, during a raucous nerf gun battle, they commended her for suggesting that the troops “head into mama’s room!”– (Good god- don’t look at the laundry!)  “Nice job Sergeant….” the young lieutenant reached into the recesses of his mind for the name of the girl who had been trying to get some verbal reaction from him the entire night…. “Ellie!” she reminded him proudly, “Sergeant Ellie!”

This ebb and flow continued until the end of the evening when dads trudged through the snow-covered walks for pick up.  Cohen lay on the couch, exhausted and sugar-stuffed, this fusion of big and little now tired and quiet. (Youth in his drooping, smooth cheeks and age in the increasing definition of his eyes.)

Yesterday he was different, and tomorrow he will be, too.  But for a little bit that night, it was the now I noticed.

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Broken Drummer Boy

Christmas has recently erupted in all of its glittery, commercial glory  in our home, and each new piece of decor is met with Everett and Mae’s inquisitive stares.  For the past few days, they have awakened to some new red and green monstrosity in our family room: a tall, sparkly snowman with its cracked carrot nose, blinking colored lights around the kitchen window that is already adorned with garland, and eventually the the nine-foot Christmas tree residing in the corner which used to house their playpen.  What must they be thinking?    Have all of our fridge-scouring and pantry-foraying antics finally pushed mom and dad off the deep-end?  Now we’ve done it.  That last onslaught into the pancake mix must have been the final straw- the ‘rents are actually cutting down giant trees and heaving them inside.  Totally nutso.

The lengths we went to decorate!  It’s so weird.  We made holes in the wall to hang a “drummer boy” wreath.  We’ve lost both of the drummer boy’s sticks so he just looks like he is giving REVOLUTION! fists with both of his upturned hands.  We’ve got a snowflake banner hung across our basement which I precisely and painstakingly thumbtacked to the wall, all the while ignoring the legos that crunched under my feet.  I made Jacob buy white quilt stuffing so I could arrange it in a purposely haphazard way around two holiday candle holders, only noting after the fact the weirdness of candle holders in snow.  I bought Ellie a ridiculous fancy “holiday” top to wear, and only after she tried it on did I realize she looked less like the chic fashionista I had envisioned and more like an ungroomed sheepdog.  We chopped down a tree in the pouring rain because the tree farm is out of town and it was the only day we could.  The place wasn’t even open.  We caught the unsuspecting owner pulling out of his driveway and he looked at his visitors– cold and wet and expectant, and said “sure, just leave the check in the mail box.  Here’s a saw.”

We do crazy things in the name of tradition at Christmas time, and I don’t think we’re the only ones.

Both sets of neighbors were outside this weekend, wrestling with piles of cords, balancing giant candy canes precariously from garage frames and carefully arranging fake reindeer amidst foliage. Have we all gone crazy?  Or is there a point to all of this tradition?  I’m willing to bet there’s a point, as long as we acknowledge it’s not THE point.  Because, of course, what we’re trying to create is not sugar cookies or gingerbread houses or intricately architected Christmas villages. Whether we have kids or not, what we’re creating with all of these things that we can taste and touch and smell is a feeling.  A feeling of HOME, a feeling of peace we can harken back to in the midst of a chaotic world.

And I think maybe when we acknowledge that it’s CRAZY it becomes a little less crazy.  I’m aware enough to know the season is not about the hustle or the lists.  Or tasty cheese balls.  The tradition is not the point, but it can help lead us to the point, which is (as usual): love & each other.

Thanks for wrestling with your Christmas lights this year.   Also it’s okay if you don’t. But if you do your crazy, do it guilt-free and with joy, because anything that leads us back to the point, however empty the drummer boy’s hands, is worth doing.


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Working hard at work worth doing

Today is another day.

We pulled in after school and Cohen raced to his scooter, handle bars dare-devishly adjusted to their lowest level, his helmet dangling unbuckled from his head.  I unloaded Everett and took off his sweaty shoes and kissed his smelly feet and returned to the garage to unload Mae.   The girls found brownies and their way inside, and we sat around the paper-laden kitchen table feeding Everett little crumbs of chocolate which quickly spread like muddy goo across his cheeks.

Minutes passed, Cohen returned, and Sophie said “what can we do?”  Cohen chucked a new “Capital Mystery” book in my lap,  and the big kids scattered around my shoulders and squished couch cushions in the way we nag them not to squish.  I opened to chapter one and said “Where’s Mae?” and found her on top of the kitchen table chewing a marker and fanning napkins out over the floor like large wads of confetti.  I made my way back to the book and the couch and the misshapen cushions and made it to page two before Mae was back on the kitchen table again– tongue blue from her teal marker– smile wide and mischievous– palms sticky and clutching now unusable napkins that we will probably use anyway.

We managed to finish a chapter and Cohen laid out several pieces of cut-out notebook paper across the floor, explaining the different rooms of an army base he had created.  He had a pool on the roof.  “I just– ” he laughed to himself, “I just don’t know why I put that pool on the roof!” he kept on giggling.  The babies climbed atop the book trunk to tumble over the arm of the couch and continued to bounce precariously on the ill-shapen lumps of the remaining cushions.  Ellie sat behind me twisting my hair into a pony tail and Sophie lay sprawled in the big chair trying to sound out every other word in another mystery book.  I listened and watched and was happy.

Jacob walked in from his dentist appointment and a now somehow shirtless Mae buried her head in his knees; he kissed the other kids’ heads and Mae still clutched him, and he hugged her long and hard because she was in need of an extra long hug.  Cohen made his way downstairs and we felt the tiredness of Thursday– Ellie screamed for me to hold her while Cohen moaned that he didn’t understand his math homework, and I had to lock the former out of the latter’s room in order to help brush up on my 3rd grade addition skills.  Ellie found a cracked cue tip to pop the lock and bust into the room, and Cohen managed to drag out the entire process by writing with his left hand, but eventually the homework was done and we were around the table.  Bumping into one another we carried water filled glasses and crumbly garlic bread; we slid forks across the table into hands, and Jacob prayed “God help us not go crazy.”

There was talking all at once and then there was sometimes quiet– quiet even I was too tired to disturb with my “how was recess, how was lunch,” litany of questions. Cohen hustled (slowly) into his cleats and futilely searched for his flags for football practice and eventually left without them.  The big girls played “Marissa and Mario”, crawling under tables and roaring like lions and chasing the babies around. “They are the monkeys,” I was informed.  I jammed markers and seemingly endless bits of paper into the art cabinet, and swore to myself about the way the previous cleaner uppers had decided to store the crayons, which fell like a colorful torrent off the shelves.

After several pleas and threats, the girls eventually found the shower, and I wrangled the babies into giant white t-shirts before putting them to bed.  I sniffed the towels on the floor, decided they were clean, and calmed Ellie as she screamed that soap was in her eyes.  We were lying in bed reading Junie B Jones and The Million Dollar Mystery when we heard Jacob and Cohen walk in from practice.  Jacob told me he was impressed with the clean kitchen.  “It was a shit show,” I tell him.

Tomorrow we will get up and do it again- we will choose to work hard at work worth doing.  Whatever is in front of us– whether it be tending to the young, tending to the old, or just treating yourself with tenderness– this is the work worth doing.  At making a life for the people we love, as annoying and belligerent and smelly as they can be.  We will do the honorable thing of choosing the next right thing, and it will be sacred and monotonous, and probably semi-boogery.  But there will be beauty in the mire, for there is most assuredly beauty to be found in the hard work of being our best selves.  This good work is enough, just like you are enough. Cheers to not going crazy!


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Three days ago, thanks to my amazing sister and brother-in-law, I became an aunt for the first time.

I was reminded of the newness of it all– the careful cradling of the neck, the tiny arms through tinier sleeves and seemingly endless snaps and swaddles.  The newborn latch, (is he getting enough milk?  do I have enough milk? should it hurt like this?)  The minuscule nose– is it being squished by my swaddle, by my elbow, by my boob?  When did he poop last?  Which side did I nurse last?  Yikes- his nails are small and those clippers are sharp.  Should he have a pacifier this early?  Is nipple confusion a thing?  He only wants to sleep in my arms….

There will be countless more questions– some of the questions will have clear answers, most won’t, and some will even have different clear answers depending on the time and place.

When we visited today, there was a moment when the gaggle of cousins was corralled downstairs bouncing on couches and chucking remotes when I found a time to join my sister as she fed her new baby boy in the nursery.  She sat in the rocker and sunlight seeped gently into the room behind her through closed blinds.  I watched her nurse her baby and noticed how she was enamored, absolutely captivated; I sat in the nursery at her feet watching and there was no one in the room but them.  I saw how the previous questions hung lightly in the air, almost like floating words– until they evaporated gently into a mist and finally were gone.  And all that was left was my beautiful sister staring at her baby with a love so strong you could scoop it up in your hands.   And the questions didn’t matter anymore.

I still remember what someone wrote in a card after Cohen was born: “remember,” the mother of four grown boys wrote to me, “just when it becomes overwhelming, it will become fleeting.”  My sister has been ushered into an existence in which she will be utterly and irrevocably needed.  Just as we all are needed– to hold one another up and bear witness to the beauty that surrounds us.

And in this vocation, in this call to fulfill Need, you will likely find yourself empty, completely exhaled; you will have spent everything in this great exhaling, to find that the only next possible step is to breathe in again, to be filled, by the air that will be so thick with love you will taste it.

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