Love & Gratitude

When life gets a little tumultuous, I find refuge in two very important things: love and gratitude.

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I couldn’t be more in love with or grateful for these four people.  They make even the toughest day better with their silly ways, gentle hands, or contagious love of life.

Every day is an adventure, and every new situation intriguing, delightful, and worth conquering when your comrades are three kids under six.  Like when I discovered an impossibly muddy riverbank that was like walking on molding clay–I knew I had to get the family down there to explore!

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Grateful for how having kids rekindles my adventurous spirit.

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Loving how I can always depend on my family to ease the chaos, no matter what.

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Always with me, in the thick of it!

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Simplicity

Remember when life was this glorious and easy?

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When all of the world’s pleasures were right there, at your fingertips: simple, innocent, and for free?

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When the only thing thing that mattered was the feel of the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair, the whirl of your skirt as it billowed around your knees, and the arc of your hand as you spun as fast as you could, creating a trail of bubbles in your wake?

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Having children is like living in the act of remembering; the joys of childhood are displayed right in front of you, yours to enjoy all over again. The feel of the wind in your face as you ride down a hill on a bicycle, the pure ecstasy of a Popsicle on a hot summer day: all of this to be relish all over again, but this time with the appreciation that comes with age.  Quite a blessing, indeed.

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Don’t Forget The Stay-At-Home Mom

I have noticed a small group of people on social media who tend to “like” my photos or comment on my posts more often than others, and it’s no surprise that many of these friends are stay-at-home or hands-on parents.  We stay-at-home parents make up probably 50% off my Facebook newsfeed, interacting, commenting, and connecting with others with like-minded stories and similar situations, and I’m sure it becomes tiresome to my friends without kids. God! Doesn’t your day revolve around ANYTHING other than finger paint and trips to the library?  I have no doubt that I am on social media immeasurably more often than my working counterparts, and that connecting to other people in any capacity helps make my day feel less routine, more adult, and more acknowledged.  I know that, like most people, I share the blessings, challenges, and delights of my days, and that pretty much all of that stems from my children.  I make a conscious effort not to air dirty laundry or complain on social media, unless it helps people feel less alone in a I’m-so-glad-someone-else-has-been-there! kind of way.  It’s about connection in a life where I could barely interact with anyone over the age of five if I so chose, about remembering who I am beyond the confines of my home.  Being a stay-at-home parent can be very isolating, and I know that those who are reaching out to me through social media, texts, or emails are just trying to feel like part of a community. And right now, whether it be by my choice or not, my community tends to be people with young kids.

Now that is a blatant generalization, and I know there are exceptions to both sides of that rule.  I myself love nothing better than a good, long chat with a friend whose life is the complete opposite of mine.  I’m fascinated by their stories of long-forgotten words like nightlife and spontaneity and live vicariously through them and their fast-tracked lives, so different from my own.  I want to hear about their nights out in the city, about their adventures and their vacations somewhere besides Disney World.  I want to continue to know them as people, about their families, their jobs, their goals.  But what I’ve been trying to ignore, yet is becoming more obvious each year, is how some of my friends without kids, or friends who are leading a different lifestyle than my more domestic one, do not feel the same.  Not all, but more than some.

As a stay-at-home mom, people assume I have little more to contribute to a conversation–let alone a friendship–than overblown accounts of my kids’ genius or TMI tales of what color the baby’s poop is today.  I don’t understand why this part of my life raises such a barrier between me and people who once enjoyed my company; I am still the same person, after all.  The assumption is that all my life is about are the mundane details of child-rearing.  As if the grown-up aspects of who I am that feed my adult soul–this blog, writing for the newspaper, teaching classes, a burgeoning photography business–all that cannot be interesting or worthy of conversation because I am too knee-deep in child-worship to hold an adult conversation anymore.  My life is interesting, if someone cared to ask, and would impress them if they took the time to listen.  My days are not just about yoga pants and ponytails and diaper bags filled with goldfish crackers.  Granted, the majority of my days ARE about those things, but this is how I choose to live my life and spend my days.  Just because my business takes places at home and my partners are my family, doesn’t mean my work and life doesn’t have meaning.  I am still valuable.

JDubbs says sometimes I don’t know when to let a friendship go; that I hold on too long when it is clear I am doing all the work.  Maybe it’s because I stay home with my kids and have more time for a random phone call or email during the day than I would if I was at some busy office or between classes teaching high school.  But I tend to think that even if I was working full time, with my kids and my husband getting a decent amount of my attention, I would still make time for my friends anyway.  My friendships have always been a huge part in defining who I am.  I am a good friend–it’s part of me–and my friends hold a spot in my life that no one, not even my kids, can fill.

I support my friends in grad school, my friends with high-flying careers, with lives (and wardrobes) unrecognizable next to mine.  I cheer for their successes, listen to their stories, envy their expendable income and opportunities to travel. What’s missing is the reciprocation; the time to measure what I am worth, beyond three pregnancies and an obligatory baby shower gift.  My life is fascinating, interesting, diverse.  My relationships are dynamic and important to me.  My marriage is still noteworthy seven years later.  Just because I had kids doesn’t mean everything I was went away.  How, in an age when everyone holds countless ways to check-in literally in the palm of their hands, could there be an excuse not to connect?  Is it because people don’t think I have anything to say, or is it because they cannot be bothered to listen?  I may be the one with three kids bellowing in the background, throwing food across the kitchen and demanding to be fed three different dinners at this very instant or else, but I am also the one up in the middle of the night to comfort a troubled sleeper, and could as easily respond to a text or like a photo at 3 a.m. as they could on the train ride home from work.  The difference is the desire to not only remember who a person used to be, but to take the trouble to discover who they are now.  And to remember that a stay-at-home mom is infinitely more than just that.

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Like A Dream

I have a secret cache of dream moments I hope to share with my girls.  I’m sure Jax and I will share many great memories together and that he will outshine any expectations I could have had for him, but somehow I don’t think they will involve tutus and leotards.  Em had her first dance recital last year and that, although not a roaring success, was one of those long-awaited moments for me.  Helping my girl into her costume and waiting for her to come onstage from the audience (which didn’t actually happen) has always been on my list of things I hope to do with my daughter.  We are giving ballet another try next month, mostly because Em and I shared a magical evening together earlier this month going to see the ballet Clara’s Dream.  That night proved to be even more fabulous than I could have hoped.

She was so excited for days leading up to the big night, and while we were getting ready she sat at my feet, asking for me to put some makeup on her and do her hair just so.  She picked out my outfit–literally–insisting that I wear a skirt and rifling through my jewelry box to find me a necklace.  She wore her fanciest dress–her Rapunzel costume–and fancy black shoes to match mine.  She wore her ballerina necklace and a pink sparkly bow in her hair.  Apparently, she has an idea of how nights like these are supposed to go, too.

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We went out after it was dark, which in itself was a treat, looking at Christmas lights and listening to holiday music.  We went out to dinner at a grown-up restaurant where she was stopped by many other patrons, oohing over her dress and her curls, asking her if this was her first time going to the ballet.  She was sweet and shy, excited and quiet.  She colored a picture of a Christmas tree and we had three full courses, from caesar salad to tiramisu.  I told her about the Rat King and Clara, and how they would meet the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Then we walked over to the Lebanon Opera House, holding hands and skipping as we went.

Once inside, Em was so impressed by everything, from the ticket booth to the big stage with the velvet curtains.  She had met the Sugar Plum Fairy at the David’s House fundraiser this summer and anxiously awaited all the ballerinas and their beautiful costumes.

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She sat literally on the edge of her seat, and whenever her interest would wane, she would lean back against me until the dancers changed and then whisper in my ear what she thought of the new costumes.  Her favorites were Clara and the purple flower fairies (as she called them).  She made it through the entire show, then asked to go up and touch the stage.  Finally, on the way home, she crashed.

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Program in hand.

What a night.  Exactly as I could have hoped it would be, and at the same time, even better.  Tucking the memories of this night away in one of the happiest compartments of my heart.

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One Small Moment

Here is one moment of my life encapsulated.  It’s the small, amazing moments like this that make my heart so glad that they’re mine.

A new notebook and markers.

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I bought these journals at Walmart for less than $3 each, and the kids absolutely loved them.  They spent 45 minutes drawing and coloring, then dictating to me what I should write underneath each picture.  Suddenly, with a special space to write in, their words seemed so much more important to them!  When they grew tired of that, I gave them a pile of stickers and told them to decorate their covers.  Another 45 minutes of creativity!  Worth every penny.

Em’s First Story.

journal writing @ Rub Some Dirt On It

While they worked I fed the baby her dinner and was rewarded with her sweet self and cheerful disposition.  She is getting so curious and loves to point at every new thing (in this case, my camera).  Oh, and she loves food, too.

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Meanwhile, Jax played quietly on the floor with his Cars vehicles.  I thought these might be ready to get packed away, but while we were at the store today we saw a big display of them and Em said, “Jax doesn’t have a little Mater.”  She was right; he has a larger one but not a small one.  She had brought money from her piggy bank to buy a new princess doll (hence the Ode To Ariel above) so I thought I could swing a $3.47 car for Jax.  He spontaneously thanked me about five times over the course of the day and then reinvigorated his love for these cars all evening.

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Quiet, busy moments can be the sweetest.  I love watching them without them realizing it.  It is such a reward when I remember to be present in the moment and not get distracted with my phone or computer.  Being their mom is a gift that I treasure every day, because everyone keeps telling me, they grow up so fast!

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Moments Like This

I said that we pulled Em out of her preschool without any preamble, and really, there wasn’t much to the decision.  I noticed that Em was becoming a little less joyful, a little more introverted, and overall not as happy as she was this summer.  When I asked her if she liked school she would say yes in a noncommittal way, and there was no enthusiasm for going or excitement about her day.  This is not a reflection on the school she was attending; she just wasn’t ready.  She wanted to be home with me and her baby sister, and you know what?  She can.  So she is.  And it’s great.

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I have the luxury of being home with my kids: JDubbs works incredibly hard to make that possible for all of us.  We have all benefited immeasurably from knowing that we put them first, that I have the time to listen and notice when they are not themselves.  Not to say that working parents can’t do that; I just know myself and I know that I don’t do things halfway.  If I am back in the classroom as a teacher, I won’t be leaving at three, and that’s not the kind of parent I am ready to be.  Right now, I’ll sacrifice some things to be home everyday with my girls, home in the afternoon with the boy.  For moments like this.

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 Being able to be home with this one for another year is a gift.  We thought she would follow directly in Jax’s footprints, heading down the exact same path that he took.  But even at three and five years old, no matter how close they are as friends, they are very different, and Em needed to be home a little longer.  She needs a little more time with her mama to strengthen her wings before she leaves the nest.  And I get moments like this, all to myself.

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For right now and this year, this is where she belongs.  And today, on Thanksgiving, and every day, I’m grateful for it.  Count your blessings, everyone!  I am so very blessed, and I know it.

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Wild & Precious Life

When I was in my twenties, I had a t-shirt that said No Regrets.  It became my mantra as I transitioned from a college girl who thought she had life figured out to someone who had the opportunity to lead a life that was riskier, but reaped infinitely bigger rewards.  The summer before I packed my life in the backseat of my car and moved to California, No Regrets repeated itself over in my head and I had it written on a sticky note on my bedroom mirror.  I also had a quote from The Secret Life of Bees alongside it that read, “Regrets don’t help anything, you know that,”  and so with that in mind I decided to be brave enough to take control of my life and make it the one I had always imagined.

I was introduced to another quote by Mary Oliver though Kelle Hampton’s blog, and ever since it has resonated with me regarding how I want to live my life and how I would like to raise my children.  I bought a beautiful print of it here and it hangs in Jax and Em’s room so I can remember to shape their lives that way every day, to remind them to live life in a way that inspires happiness and wonder. Lately I’ve even started to consider getting it as a tiny, trailing tattoo somewhere on my body, maybe even around my wrist as a bracelet, so I won’t forget to keep that sentiment in mind.  I could always just get another sticky note–that would be much less painful–but somehow I’d like a permanent reminder to savor life and make the right choices, even if they are difficult ones.  And in a symbolic way, wouldn’t it make sense if that realization is a little painful?

So I ask you, as I ask myself, my favorite question:

Wild & Precious Life

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