Living Life Unfinished

 

 

If I were organized, I’d be a killer list person.

Alas. If I manage to find a pen in my house (the child security locks on the office cupboard have long been hacked) and write out a few daily tasks, more often than not, I find myself staring at them at the end of the day, in all their bullet point glory, whole and uncrossed.

Let me tell you something. It’s tough to never, ever finish things.

The work ethic in my family is strong. My mom still wakes up at 5:00 am most days to exercise, shower, make breakfast, and tackle what needs to be done. My dad will run the combine at harvest time long into the cool fall nights. My husband will stick with a project for hours until it’s done, or he’s reached a finishing point.

Me, on the other hand? I move around my home in never-ending circles. Load more dishes in the dishwasher. Pick up the deflated socks that seem to be everywhere. Comb someone’s hair. Change the baby. Check the dryer.

Kitchen. Laundry room. Bathroom. Circle. Circle. Circle.

It’s work of the most frustrating kind. Things never, ever stay finished. As soon as the holy grail bottom of the laundry basket appears, someone throws another wrench in my Indiana Jones-like quest for clean clothes. Dishes get dirtied. Something spills and the floor has to be swept. The circle starts all over again.

I know it’s a phase, and that these days of my children being little are like the sunlight hours after daylight savings time: so very short. So I’ve been trying, trying to sit down in the middle of the chaos and be present. To be silly. To take *awesome* family pictures so I can remember life in this season. I’m learning to leave dishes in the sink. I don’t pick up toys every night. I can’t tell you the last time I deep cleaned anything

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But somehow, it’s still not working. I still find myself a little on edge most days, wanting to recount just what it is I’m doing besides endlessly picking up gently browning apple cores left out from morning snack, and supervising cleanup of whatever catastrophe happened while I was nursing the baby last.

Last night at a family birthday party, my sister in law recounted the wonderful stuff she’s been up to lately. Then the tables turned on me. My mind went blank. What have I been doing? Um. *Scramble scramble scramble* I’m…reading a manuscript for a friend! Painting a bedroom! Teaching Ellis not to use an entire bottle of shampoo in one sitting! Making a small attempt at national novel writing month (#nanowrimo y’all!) with the goal of two chapters!

See my exclamation points? Isn’t that big? And exciting? Have I convinced myself I’m worth something because I made a list? Yes? Yes? Yes?

Sigh.

As much as I’ve always wanted to be the serenely-listening Mary in the new testament story when Jesus visits two sisters, deep down, I’ve always know I’m the Martha clanking away in the kitchen, furiously working the dishrag, trying to do all the things.

The things that could have waited.

Because they were just that. Things.

Jesus didn’t care about a clean counter or a swept-up floor. He wanted to be with his friends, Mary and Martha. Likewise, when my daughters come tromping down the stairs in the morning, they aren’t looking around going, Wow. I sure feel safe and secure at home because the house is picked up. Not a chance.

They’re looking for me.

Which means maybe I need to figure out a new approach. Maybe I need to stop measuring the value of my work by the things I’ve accomplished, and starting looking for more places to be available.

Maybe I need to listen to more Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, because if home is wherever I’m with you, then the best things I can offer my family are my empty, waiting hands.

And maybe one of those creepy automatic vacuum robots.

Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To the Woman in the Bathroom

bathroom-signDear friend,

Can I presume to call you that? I hope so. Because that’s how I felt when we met eyes for a second in the women’s bathroom today.

I walked in with a baby in a car seat on one arm, a purse slung across my tired shoulder, and three little girls pushing to get around me. The girls were chattering excitedly, for a minute, I saw them as a stranger might.

I saw the black and white striped pants with the over-sized pink dress that Gabby loves to wear. I saw Ellis’s stained white tank top with the pink sparkly flamingo, and her black stretch pants that have somehow gotten a little too short over the summer. I saw Lucy and her curtain of self-cut bangs, trimmed up by her auntie but still managing to look like a short haired version of Farrah Fawcett. Gabby turned and I noticed I’d forgotten to comb out the bird’s nest in the back of her hair, the one she manages to recreate every night with great skill.

Then the baby started crying, and I whipped back in to the present, racing into the stall so we could get out before he started a full-blown beller of discontent.

I sat there on the toilet, counting the pairs of feet running past my door, and I thought of you, the stranger standing at the counter, watching all of us with a smile on your face and not a hint of judgement in your eyes while you washed your hands.

Friend, I’m so grateful for your kindness. I know most of the time, we are all a hot mess trying to get out the door. Someone’s shoes don’t fit, someone’s pants are dirty, and I’m desperately hoping that the blush I managed to swipe on my cheeks will make me look at least a little bit like I tried.

Heaven knows, I try. I wake up with Ellis at 6:45 most mornings, and haul the baby downstairs with us even though he’s not totally awake yet so that if he cries, he won’t wake up his twin sisters. I attempt semi-health conscious breakfasts and a load of laundry each day so that we have clean clothes. I remind myself to slam a glass of water after my two cups of coffee so I don’t get totally dehydrated and give the baby too much caffeine.

The day keeps going like that – full of tries that sometimes work, sometimes fail, but generally keep the wheels on the bus, and right now, that’s the best I can do.

So us out of the house this morning, dressed, fed, and generally in good moods, is a pretty good accomplishment. We’re definitely not the most stylish, but we’ve managed to get into the world and interact, and that makes life better.

And you, with your warm smile and kind heart? Well, I want to be more like you. I want to smile at people more. I want to not think twice about snarly hair or mismatched clothes, or even looks in general. I want to heap grace upon grace on everyone I come in contact with, knowing that being comfortable in another person’s presence is one of the greatest feelings ever.

Thanks friend-that-I-don’t-know. I needed that.

Maybe we all need a little more of that.

 

 

 

When “Some” Becomes “Enough”

A couple of weekends back, my brother and sister in law’s family of six came rumbling up our sun-dappled driveway, camper in tow. Almost as soon as the diesel truck engine killed, three eager bodies bounded out of the back seat, excited to join their cousins in play. Hugs were given, backs were slapped, baby cheeks kissed. And with the first slam of the screen door, the weekend began.

There were giggles and arguments. There were summer suntanned legs jumping circles around the trampoline. There were endless pushes on the swings underneath the maple tree, bodies sailing through the humid August air. There were acts of generosity scattered about like the water cups we left everywhere.

The adults rested best we knew how – simple meals, paper plates, life unscheduled. A beach day. A farm day. A meal out. Ice cream so blue it matched Ellis’s eyes. Late at night after the children were in bed, we sunk into the cushions of my worn-in sectional and had uninterrupted conversation, and it felt like luxury.IMG_20160813_173743967 (1280x720)

I love gatherings. I love the connection that flows through the compilation of people and shared experience. Somehow the hours that pass in the presence of others are like in-season blueberries – they taste sweeter, fuller than than the hours alone.

I also want to be honest. Planning, hosting, or attending gatherings with my four children is work. Capital W. O. R. K. work. Our house is in a constant state of flux. Entering it means the likely chance of sitting on rogue My Little Ponies or stepping on hidden legos that blend in with my rug. The sink is usually full of dishes, the fridge is half empty, and the bathroom never has toilet paper.

On the other hand, leaving home requires half a day’s packing and the Spanish Armada to carry all the bags, clothes, and supplies each child needs (or thinks they need) at this stage of life. Case in point: Sunday, we brought no less than two stuffed horses, one stuffed pig, four My Little Ponies, three miniature backpacks, two packages of kinetic sand, one ziplock bag of wikistix, one car seat carrying one infant, a diaper bag, a purse, and a jumbo pack of gum to a one hour church service.

You see what I’m saying.

Gathering with people in any fashion is suddenly like doing the limbo; it requires lots of “just do it” attitude and a fair amount of back-bending in order to get to the cheering on the other side.

That bugs me. I’m already paranoid that people won’t want to hang out with us because big families of small children are overwhelming. I wonder if my constantly distracted (hey stop eating that) demeanor is making me a bad friend. I worry that even when I try to connect with people, my imperfect efforts are not enough.

The other day, we were driving in the van and listening to an audio book of bible stories. Most of the time, I move all the sound to the back of the van (brilliant feature, Toyota) when the kids are watching a movie or listening to audio books, because let’s be honest. Even if it’s not silence, it’s at least a little bit more quiet, or a chance to catch up on a few phone calls, and every parent needs more of that.

But that day I forgot, and ended up listening along to the tale where Jesus feeds five thousand people. In the story, a huge crowd met up on a hillside to hear Jesus teach, but apparently no one had brought lunch. Clearly not in the days of McDonalds, and nowhere near their own homes, the people were starting to get hungry. So Jesus asked his friends to go find whatever food they could.

Just then, up walks a little boy. He has five loaves of bread and two fish in his lunch. I’m sure he knew it wasn’t enough to feed everyone. He probably questioned if it would be enough to feed himself for the whole day. Here the CD narrator pauses for a moment, and then the little boy’s voice pipes up.

“I have some.”

I’m still driving, but sudden tears blur the edges of my vision. Somehow I’ve stepped into the little boy’s sandals up on that hillside. I look down into his woven basket, taking in the meager amount. I look behind me and see crowd and their need. And then I lock eyes with Jesus, who reminds me of a simple truth.

Even if it doesn’t seem like enough, I always have some.

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image via pexels.com

Some means under-abundance. Some might require me to offer a messy, lived in home in lieu of a sparkling, well-managed house. Some means I usually leave the house with mismatched clothes and one wet wipe left in the diaper bag. Some means that right now, as mama of four, I work hard to do things most people don’t have to think twice about.

But Jesus says none of that matters. He wants my five small loaves and two stinky fish not because they’re enough, but because I’m willing to trust Him to work with the little I have.

Slowly, I’m relearning the value of offering myself within the context of getting together with people. Circumstances and surroundings don’t matter nearly as much as how I listen to and love the other person.

I’m finding that even though it’s work, or that it might be easier to hunker down alone with my kids, I’m blessed by the grace I find in others.

Imagine what could happen if we all pulled the real, crinkly some out of our back pockets. Imagine our personal offerings becoming a collective sum, with all of us feeling whole.

That’s a gathering I’d do almost anything to be a part of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: How Not to Open a Coconut

A couple of weeks ago, I inadvertently sliced open the skin below my thumb knuckle with a butcher knife. For a brief moment there was a lightning sear of heat and redness, and then I came to my senses, pinched the wound, and closed my eyes.

Cardinal rule #34 of motherhood: Don’t. Pass. Out.

I leaned over the counter, still pinching my thumb. It had begun to throb in a low, dull pattern. I didn’t dare let go of the skin, but somehow, I needed to get…  to reach… to open…

The kitchen began to spin, a kaleidoscope of morning light and the silver gleam of the sink.

I sank, cross-legged, on the cool hardness of the black and white floor.

Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out. You’re the adult here. Lord help us, you’re the adult. 

***

adulting stickers

Thanks to PeanutParade over at Etsy, you can now buy stickers to celebrate you and your friends’ life accomplishments. 

I don’t know why I still get all twitchy about the fact that I’m an adult. I just celebrated another birthday, firmly establishing my place in the mid-thirties set. But somehow, I still want affirmation for doing the grownup things. Moving appliances when I wipe off the counter. Dusting. Sticking to only the items on my grocery list.

For the record, the mid-thirties rock. I mean it. Being a full-blown adult gives me the freedom of accepting, being, parenting, and living as I choose. I love watching my husband grow into new hobbies and skills, and my daughters outgrow their shoes. I love wearing my favorite, worn in clothes and not caring if they’re stylish anymore.

I love being firmly gripped by Grace, every day a brilliant rescue, another reason for gratitude to my Maker.

Still, there’s a part of me that has a hard time believing I’ve been left in charge. It’s like when you babysit for the first time. The grownups leave, the kids stare at you, and the unfamiliar oven and range top you’re supposed to make macaroni and cheese on looks like a nuclear weapon.

Now my own small tribe of pink and ponytails depends on me for almost everything, and some days, that’s the hardest part.

Being needed. 

Strangely enough, I don’t ever feel ready for that role… the one role I feel like I should, somehow, innately just get.  And yet somehow, motherhood is the role I love. The role I play, day after day, sometimes turning in Oscar-worthy performances, sometimes wanting to hide all day in my dressing room.

The scary part is, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel ready.

Adulting is like that. Just when you finally get accustomed to scrubbing the bathroom sink once a week like a BOSS, you have kids and realize the toothpaste crusted to the basin is something that needs daily attention.

Whine. Sigh. Get the towel. Realize it takes twelve seconds. File it away as a mental note the next time you want to complain. Move on.

Nothing really prepares you for adult life. Nothing except the moments when you simply suck it up and do the work. And nothing you can see, at least, in the dizzying minute when you have to gather, rally, wipe away the blood, and haul yourself back to standing.

***

It took me a second to stop the spins, sitting there on the kitchen floor, clutching a bloody hand and desperately needing a few band-aids.

Thankfully, help appeared in the form of my four and half year old, who was more than eager to climb on a chair and dig in the coveted medicine cabinet. She emerged a minute later with the first aid box, along with some professional airs about being a nurse.

“OK. Hold still. This might hurt, but just… for a second. There. All better.” She gave my double band-aided thumb a well-meaning pat, which made me suck air like an industrial shop vac and confirmed that I probably needed stitches.

coconutStitches which I got, thankfully, in the form of glue (God bless those in modern medicine who understand us needle phobes) a few hours later, along with a strong admonition from my husband about trying to cut into a coconut with a butcher’s knife, at-home science project or not.

The YouTube tutorial was wrong. You can’t open a coconut by pounding the exterior with the butt end of a butcher knife. Or the sharp end, either.

Adulting is hard. End of story.

But the next time my daughter plies me with requests for exotic fruit with a hairy but cement-like exterior, I’ll know enough to say no.

That’s something, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a Mama Needs Most on Mother’s Day

The internet has literally exploded in the last few days with all things mother. My inbox is a glut of all the different ways one can celebrate moms – Flowers! Brunch! Pastel clothing! Chocolate! Workout gear! Kid-friendly recipes! Family time! Jewelry! Craft Projects! Plants!

I’m starting to agree with Anne Lamott when she says, “No one is more sentimentalized in America than mothers on Mother’s Day.” I can’t go anywhere online without being confronted by tear-jerking, snot-inducing, warm and fuzzy YouTube videos about the sacrifices of moms in bathrobes making school lunches before the sun comes up.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally watch them. I’m a sucker for a good emotion-inducing experience. And if you’re in the mood, definitely check out this one about the one word you’d associate with your mom, and this one where the little blindfolded kids pick their moms out of a crowd, and this one and this one from the Olympics which both make me BAWL.

It’s OK. Go get some Kleenex. You’re welcome.

There’s something that sticks out to me from all these videos and pictures and ads. The ones that really get me sniffling are the ones that show moms in the mess and mundanity of every day. I love watching a mother combing a child’s hair, adjusting a baby’s blanket, wrapping a twisted ankle. Why?

These are the moments that no one usually sees.

Let’s face it. Motherhood is comprised mainly of stuff no one else will ever notice: the late night stumble into a crying child’s bedroom, the scrubbing of stains, the lunch that no one mentions. These things are done every day by a quiet army of women across the world, women who know at least one thing about motherhood that’s always true.

Mothering is lonely work.

Care and love and constant attention are draining on even the most patient of women. And just when we think we have a hold of what motherhood is supposed to mean, or look like, or feel like, it twists and flips and we’re left with nothing but a handful of slime.

Big_4391833_0827Sometimes it’s a day to celebrate. Sometimes it’s a day to feel, to remember, to be overwhelmed. But always, it should be a day where mothers everywhere are SEEN.

Seen for the work they do, (or did.) For the carpets they vacuum. For the meals they put together. For the budgets they balance. For the clothing they wash and the miles they drive and the hours they spend at the table, the piano, the game.

Not that motherhood is all about work, but those things – those boring, every day unseen things – are acts of love. When we shine a flashlight on them, even for just a day, we tell our mothers a very important thing.

I see you.

I see your love tucked in Tupperware and folded in clean jeans. I see your heart in your offers to help, to paint, to take my little ones for an overnight. I see your attentiveness in your phone calls, your emails, your vigilance, your prayers.

I see you even when you’re gone. I look at pictures of you, and see the laundry basket in the background, the pot simmering on the stove. I see clean clothes and combed hair. I see the way you held me as a baby, like I was the most precious treasure you’d ever found.

I see you.

Which can also lead to other great phrases like, I love you. I appreciate you.

You know. Gooey stuff. Good stuff. Heart stuff. It’s Mother’s Day after all.

See her, and let her know she’s seen.

Leveling the playing field of importance (why wiping butts counts for something too)

Minnesota autumnIt’s November, and darkness narrows the margins of my landscape. It lingers later and later into the morning, and calls again far too early in the afternoon. Much of the color has been blown from the trees and fields. Only the framework of the growing season remains.

Sometimes I think bears have it right. Hibernation is a great idea.

I’m looking in the direction of winter, steeling myself. It has been a challenge to get out with the girls even when the sun is warm and daylight streams through the branches of the oak trees in my yard. But now there will be the need for hats. Mittens. Boots. Blankets. Extra everything just in case of emergency.

There will be long afternoons when everyone is restless. There will be floors to mop. A bathroom to clean, over and over. More art projects to stock for, and another collection of rags covered in glue and feathers to toss in the garbage.

There will be stretches of days when the weather is so inclement that it’s safer for me to keep the girls tucked in at home. There will be wind. Cold. More darkness.  And it will be very easy for me to listen a little bit longingly when I’m at the table with family and friends who are out and about, active in their worlds, doing their work.

I took a walk this weekend with a friend, and had the privilege of listening to her explain her work in the realm of therapy and healing. We kicked along in the leaves and dirt, pushing air through our lungs, needing the exercise in different ways – calm and contemplative for her, world widening and leg stretching for me.

IMG_2194(Let’s be honest. Sometimes the furthest walk I get in a day is to the chicken coop and back. PS. Our chickens finally started laying this week. Phew.)

At one point in the walk, she laughed and said something like “do you really want to hear all of this?” and I couldn’t say yes fast enough, because it was so nice to have the luxury of extended, uninterrupted discourse. But another answer, hidden and a little bit ugly, was there too.

I loved listening because I felt as though I didn’t have as much to say. And I didn’t have as much to say because I felt like what I spent my days doing was not as important.

I tried to laugh this off in some sort of offhanded joke about spending my time wiping bottoms. My friend laughed too, but then she said something I won’t forget any time soon.

She reminded me that there is a huge importance in raising a child who loves others instead of harming them.

That the world can be a dark place unless we know the One who is the light of the world.

That everything a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or extended family member does to further and support a child is necessary and beautiful because it creates a healthy, well-adjusted little person who cares for those around him or her.

It is important work.

I adore being home with my girls, but I’ve also had to push hard against feeling like I’m no longer contributing as well to society, to my church, to my family, or to my friends. That my home is now a place of chaos instead of a welcoming calm. That maybe I shouldn’t go out, see friends, or even take walks because of the potential for all hell to break loose when the girls get tired and hungry.

(This is where I also love being married to someone trained in psychology, because the best way Jason encourages me when I am afraid of something is to make me visualize the worst possible outcome. These days that’s basically a lot of screaming for a fairly short period of time until the problem is solved.)

It’s easy to keep spinning the unspoken fears that live in the back corners of our minds. But the broad and bright reality is that when we actually voice them, testing their truth against the air, we can finally see them as what they are. Fiction. Story. Nothing more.

But maybe what I also needed to hear was external validation. Validation to believe that I what I was doing was just as important as any the work of any doctor, teacher, or architect.

KindnessI’m not trying to get all “motherhood is the highest calling” here. The problem just repeats when any one person claims more importance than anyone else. I just want to believe the truth that raising a family is important, not because I have anything to prove, but because I owe it to my girls.

If I believe that my work is small, I may as well tell my girls that they are insignificant.

If I believe my world to be small, how can I show them how wide and big it actually is?

And if I believe that my worth is small, how can I teach them the steadiness of their value?

These are hard realities. They require action every time an unfounded fear darkens my eyes. But the practice of pushing them back, and the grace that results, is like the fire we continue to build night after night when the cold settles in sharply outside the windows, the crackling amber heat a solid wall against the pressing chill.

It may need to be coaxed day after day, match after match, but coals that are well-tended need only a brief reminder to burst brightly again into flame.

 

 

 

Life as we know it: the first two weeks

This Friday evening, we went to Night on the Town in Almelund. It was a quintessential small town celebration – brass band in the park, classic car show, ice cream, Swedish sausage. I was just happy to get everyone out of the house on a perfect summer evening.

We loaded the girls in their stroller. Granted, it’s kind of a spectacle. But it must have been too much for one woman, who commented as she walked by:

You have my sympathies.

I have a strong case of Midwestern passive aggressive, so I just raised my eyebrows a bit, smiled, and said “Thank you.”

Your sympathies?

She hasn’t been around to see everything that transpired this week. Ellis made us roll on the floor laughing when she used her newest phrase, “No daddy, I don’t think so.” And Gabrielle sometimes smiled when she finished her bottle. Lucia still wanted to curl up like a little frog when I held her on my shoulder. And Jas and I? We kept each other sane with humor during our middle of the night dual feeding sessions.

Sympathy. Huh.

Yes, life as we know it is pretty different. Everything during the day revolves around a three hour schedule, which can be thrown out the second someone decides she’s hungry early. Entertaining Ellis (or just making sure she’s not coloring on the computer screen with a ball point pen) continues to be a challenge when I’m feeding little ones. Eating 3000 calories of the right kind of food every day is a feat of strength, and waking up in the middle of the night and the early hours of the morning makes me tired down to my bones.

But no matter how long the days get, I still wouldn’t say they’re worth sympathy. This period is short. (I think.) I’m taking the time, wherever I can, to hold the babies close. Let them fall asleep on my chest. Play with their long fingers. I love nuzzling the soft smoothness of their cheeks, which will soon enough be flushed with busyness and playtime.

Sympathy can take a hike.

However, in case you want a laugh, here are the top ten family changes I’ve noticed in the past two weeks.

  1. We cannot leave the house with any less than three trips to the van.
  2. Preparing to leave said house takes a solid hour and half.
  3. No matter how well I pick up the house at night, by noon, some sort of hurricane will scatter every bottle, diaper, rag, mega block, and plastic toddler toy we have in our possession.
  4. Ellis has developed a new word in her vocabulary. MINE.
  5. Ellis needs a dog.
  6. I need a new collection of recipes that I can prep in 15 minutes or less. Either that, or a personal chef. And a maid for the aforementioned mess hurricane.
  • PS. If you’re interested in helping us out with a meal, my friend Shara set up a meal tracker website for us. Just go to takethemameal.com, and sign in with our last name (Riebe) and password (1114). You may be promoted to sainthood in my book.
  1. The twins do better together than separate. All nap
    Bedtime stories require a little more arm strength.

    Bedtime stories require a little more arm strength.

    times find them crammed in the same bouncy seat, crib, or blanket. This is starting to be a challenge now that they are growing.

  2. Gabrielle will take any and all opportunities to relieve herself during diaper changes.
  3. We are averaging about a 100 diapers a week.
  4. Sleep is like Dairy Queen. I never get enough, and if things are really bad, I actually start to crave it.

There you have it. Life with newborn twins and two year old. I’m sure it will continue to get even more interesting, but for today, this is plenty. All I can say is that Grandma Doreen traveling here as I type, and we are more than looking forward to her helping hands for a week or two as we settle into the new normal.