Finding yourself in parenthood…

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Finding yourself in parenthood
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Before I became a mother, before I realized that you’re not always in control of the timing of your life and throughout my six pregnancy losses, I was worried about the way in which becoming a mother was going to impact me creatively — in my career and in my process.

Because, looking back on it now, I didn’t see any women like me out there who were mothers on the road singing and performing and speaking with their kids in tow. And if they were, then maybe I wasn’t hearing them talking about it, or complaining about, or, what I really wanted, writing a step-by-step instruction manual on how it was done.

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And so I only thought I could be one or the other — a creative person or a parent. But since I was a young teenager, I’ve been performing and writing music and stories as part of my living in most of its phases. After 20 or so years in some sort of a professional music career, 10 years of marriage and pregnancy losses and crying and trying, by the time I became a mother, I had fully developed a version of myself that had dug in, planted roots and wasn’t going to change without a fight.

Cue a battle with postpartum depression that I didn’t see coming and didn’t dare admit after all that time and all that struggle. Because no one tells you that even if you’re finally granted everything you thought you’ve ever wanted, you still have to learn how to exist with it.

This new tiny human was an endeavor that had changed my body, changed my mind, changed my sleep patterns and sucked me of all the freedom from which I drew my creativity, that had for so many years been tied to my self-worth and my bottom line. Turns out, nothing squashes that whole freedom-to-let-your-thoughts-wander vibe quite like a new human life in your house.

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And from what I can tell so far, it’s pretty clear that my children will never stop interrupting me. When I became a mother, I found it profoundly difficult to find inspiration beyond my new child, partly because there was nothing I found more fascinating or magical and partly because the long walks alone taking photographs of the sunset became a long-lost memory of a different version of myself.

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Now I’m almost four years into this parenting gig with, God willing, a lifetime ahead of us all, and I’m finding I’ve managed to wrestle and push and grind and hustle (and medicate) my way back to a version of myself that feels whole and connected and fulfilled and creative again. And it doesn’t look like it used to.

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So let me tell you what it looks like now (because I wish someone would have done the same for me). It looks like me trying to do a promotional photo shoot for a new album with just me, the photographer and my two young daughters dancing, singing, fighting and crying for a snack while I yell “Just a minute baby!” and smile with my guitar while the light is still golden.

It looks like them getting a hold of my phone and Facetiming my little sister and then China and me letting them go ahead and do it if it gives me three more minutes of time to try to get the shot.

It looks like “Mommy, I have to go pee,” and then helping her pop-a-squat in the pasture and getting back to it.

It looks like the one epic meltdown and the guitar dropped in the dirt that ended it all and sent us home for pizza and wine (for me, not the kids). It was nuts. It was sort of embarrassing. It was on the edge of chaos, but it got done. And we all survived (except my guitar).

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And then I found myself wondering out loud to my little sister on the phone (who was checking in after the Facetime call to see if we all survived) why do I do this? It takes me a little time after the kids go to bed to quiet the negative voices in my head and listen for the reminder.

I want to be known as my daughters’ mother. I want them to know that I am there for them fully and completely and that I love them entirely, but not exclusively, not solely. More than a strict bedtime schedule, I want to show my daughters what it looks like to have passion, to love beyond.

Because, ultimately, that was the greatest gift my parents gave me — they live and are living their lives as love in action — for the land, for the arts, for the community and, of course, for their family.

And truth be told, sometimes love and passion looks and feels and sounds a lot like work. And maybe it’s a mistake, just like the one I made tonight by keeping the photo shoot on my schedule without any help with the kids.

But I’m just out here trying to be true to myself so that my daughters can see what that looks like and lean on it when they’re out there in this big, wide world struggling to do the same.

 

 

Rose soap and the woodwork of our memories…

Lasting memories of my great grandma

When I was in kindergarten, I lived in Grand Forks with my family in a small white stucco house by the Red River.

I don’t remember too much about this time in my life, except the blond neighbor girl named Jenny, my blue bicycle, drinking Dad’s cold coffee in his basement office, my little sister’s run-in with a hornet’s nest, my sparkly jelly shoes and my Great-Grandma Rognlie. Actually, her name was Eleanor, but we called her by her last name because she was the kind of woman who took formalities seriously.

She lived in a red house a few blocks away from our little white one by the river dike, and every day I would walk there to spend time with her in those free and unplanned hours kids used to have between after school and suppertime.

And that time for me as a little girl meant saltine crackers arranged on a plate and spread with peanut butter, reading books with her giant light-up magnifying glass at her antique fold-down desk, watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS while laying on the carpet in front of her couch with the birds on it and her screened-in porch and her garden and this sophisticated woman with immaculate hair that was curled and styled every Tuesday at the salon.

When I pull from my memory, I realize that walking into my great-grandmother’s house was like walking into a different time that smelled like rose soap, tasted like frosted gingerbread cookies from the bakery and looked like a woman who worked to make money so she could put a roof over the heads and food in the mouths of two boys by herself in a time when women didn’t do those things without a man in the house, or at least they didn’t dare declare it.

But I didn’t know that about her then. I didn’t know how strong she was or the sacrifices she made or how hard it must have been or how proud it made her to see both those boys go on to graduate from universities, marry good women, contribute to their communities, succeed in their careers and raise children of their own.

I just knew she let me have Juicy Fruit gum and play her old piano and try on her fancy hats and shoes and she would order my sisters and me things from the Lillian Vernon catalog. And I knew that she always had a tablecloth on her table and a centerpiece and a game of Skip-Bo or Uno or Wheelbarrow or Solitaire and that she took the time to play cards with me after “Mister Rogers” and before my dad came to pick me up.

And on Sundays, I knew that she liked to take us all out to the Village Inn where I’d get three crayons and a paper menu and a pancake with that little dollop of whipped cream and I better behave.

And I knew that she had another husband later in her life, because I saw him in a black-and-white picture framed in her hallway, but I didn’t know him because I wasn’t born yet when he died, or maybe I was, I just wouldn’t remember, but somehow I knew that they didn’t have enough time together. None of us who love really do, do we?

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And I’m thinking of my Grandma Rognlie today because last night I watched my mom, dressed for the occasion, help my little Rosie put on her peacoat to head out the door of a theater event and I swear I could smell her grandmother’s rose soap…

And it occurred to me there is no way for my daughters to understand the complicated, compassionate, strong and beautiful story that lies within my mother. I can only hope that one day they will all grow old enough to ask the questions, woman to woman.

But right now, they know they’ll always find M&M’s in her drawer conveniently placed at their height, and on Thursday she’ll take my oldest to dance and then for a smoothie at her coffee shop and then the two sisters will run and play under the racks at her store until it’s time to head back to the ranch without sidewalks.

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And my daughters, they don’t know it now, but when they grow older these moments will lie quiet in the woodwork of their memories, waiting there for them when they close their eyes, searching for a way to feel safe and special and loved.

And they may never know the full story, and they surely won’t remember much about being small, but they will remember what matters, and it will always matter: that red house, that rose soap, that card game, those M&Ms, that Juicy Fruit gum…

Call it a day

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Here’s a photo of my precious daughters having a moment of sisterly love.

And when I say “moment,” I mean it. Nothing lasts too long around here in the world of little girls. Sweet turns to sour and back again at the drop of a hairbrush.

So I tried to keep that in mind last Wednesday when my little family outing went a bit off the rails, which isn’t much of a surprise at all when you take a one-year-old and a three–year-old on an hour car ride to run errands and eat in a restaurant. But still somehow I’m a little shocked when my toddlers are both testing their lung capacity in the car, that this is my life.

Oh, I know this too shall pass, but there are times that argument is more convincing than others…

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OK, real talk here: Today was a day. I would use the word tough, but I’ve had some days that truly fit that category, so I’m just going to Call. It. A. Day.

It was supposed to be an easy 60-mile trip to Dickinson with my kids. And when I use the word “easy,” I guess I don’t really mean it, because nothing with a 3-year-old and 1-year-old is easy. But my husband was going to come with us, which meant that running errands, getting my driver’s license and our passports renewed and hitting up a couple doctors’ appointments looked a little more doable with another set of hands.

So doable that I had the delusion that we could eat a nice lunch, hit up a park and maybe even get ice cream afterward. From where I stood on Optimist Hill, it looked like the perfect opportunity to turn our annoying adult responsibilities into a family outing. (Cue all you veteran parents pointing and laughing hysterically…)

But it seemed like it had potential. The kids only sang (screamed?) at the top of their lungs for the last 20 minutes of the trip and I only had to threaten to “pull this car over” three times along the way, but the first one was because the 3-year-old thought she might have to poop. Or puke. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, so she decided that she had to do neither.

Turns out she was saving it for when I left her with her dad and her little sister while I went into the DMV to pull my ticket, fill out the form and wait for 20 minutes (not bad, not bad) only to realize that to get the new “Smart ID,” I was going to have to come back with 16 forms of identification, five pieces of mail, the title to my house and my mother’s signature written in blood. Probably should have Googled that one… Yeah, nothing bulldozes Optimist Hill quite like a trip to the DMV that results in the promise of another trip to the DMV.

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Meanwhile, in the public bathrooms, my husband found himself in a situation in which he had to manage two small girls in emergency pooping situations, all while, ahem, holding it himself. When I caught up with him, the youngest was running through the door without a diaper while the older one was playing this weird toddler game where she runs as fast as she can and then throws her tiny body on the filthy floor while her bare-bottomed sister followed suit.

In our life, this was all pretty standard stuff really, so we proceeded on to the doctor’s office where my poor baby had to get a shot, which went surprisingly well thanks to a nice nurse and a couple suckers. Which, coincidentally, is what we were when we made the day-shifting decision to bring our entire family to a sit-down restaurant during naptime. Cue an in-transit crisis over sucker color choice on the way followed by empty parental threats that defied every parenting book in the history of the world.

We arrived at the restaurant and settled in for three minutes of quiet coloring, followed by sporadic singing (screaming?), negotiations, a drink spill, the food order, some crying, a Styrofoam to-go box tower collapse, two “situation removals” and “talking-tos,” actual eating and an early momma/kid exit to wait out a meltdown in the car while my husband wrapped up the check and slunk out.

We left the restaurant fully annoyed, which was exasperated by my daughter’s new favorite “bad mommy” refrain, which she was in the middle of when my husband dropped me off at my chiropractic appointment.

Turns out my chiropractor also makes a good therapist. We compared toddler war stories and he suggested I try to do more things that help ease my stress and tension.

So we skipped the trip to Menards and Called. It. A. Day. Godspeed to you parents. Godspeed.

If you need me, I’ll be on my deck with a glass of wine.

Nothing’s Forever

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When I first moved back to the ranch almost 10 years ago, wondering what I was going to do here, I spent my first summer reuniting with every inch of the place that raised me.

I walked to the top of every hill, down every draw, crossed the creek beds countless times, looked up at the sky and maybe, more importantly, down close to the ground where the secrets seemed to lie.

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I was searching for inspiration, the same way this place inspired me as a kid, and I found it over and over again. The time I was able to take for myself those first few months back home shaped the career I am able to chase and build upon today, writing and singing and helping to make inspiration for others in my community through the arts.

But once the babies came, those long walks by myself for creative inspiration have taken a backseat to the responsibilities that come with motherhood and work and trying to keep it all ticking, just like the clock that never stops.

I celebrated my 36 birthday a couple days ago with my family–my one-year-old and three-year-old, my nephew and niece and parents and sisters–and I couldn’t help but look around at the cupcake frosting and chaos and I feel like that twenty-something woman who walked those hills was simply a million miles away.

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And so the next night, after we put the girls to bed, and before the sun went down completely, I walked. To the top of the hill to watch the sun go down on another year older on a crisp August day and I felt like my old self again for a minute. And even though you all know I wouldn’t change a minute of this motherhood journey–even the hard part, even the losses–because they all brought me here to these children I adore, some days I miss me, you know?

Please tell me you know.

My kids are getting older and soon there will be a bit more time freed up for things like walks.  Soon they may want to join me (I hope they’ll want to join me).

Nothing’s forever…

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It’s a phrase that haunts me and comforts me every day in a way I never anticipated when I wrote it in a song all those years ago.

So this week, for my newspaper column, I went back to the archives to republish a piece of writing that was shared all over the world. It’s a piece that simply takes us all off the beaten path, to look closer, to take more time to be part of the extraordinary parts of this world, and it seemed to resonate with many people at the time.

Who knew ten years later it would work to inspire me again too.

The extraordinary ones.

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There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.

Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.

The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cactuses, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.

So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way, deeper in.

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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

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And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.

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So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.

Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.

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With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look of it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.

And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

Dear Husband on our 13th Anniversary

Next week we will be celebrating our 13th year of marriage. Thirteen doesn’t seem so lucky, but I’m only really superstitious about those sorts of things when things go wrong.

And what I’ve learned from 13 years of marriage is that the only thing you can count on, really, is things going wrong. And then, right again.

And what’s life but a series of triumphs, roadblocks, joy and heartache? But my favorite times with you, well, they’ve always been the millions and billions of heartbeats in between.

And so here were are, you and me and the kids and the dogs and the cows and the plans that seem to be going in a reasonable direction, until they aren’t. If we were sea people, we would say we’re good at readjusting our sails.

But we’re not sailors. We’re just two kids hell-bent on being landlocked in this rugged and unpredictable place, trying to belong here in our own way, in our own generation, knowing that even without the waves to take count, the wind can wear you down.

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Dear husband, last night I left you with the kids at suppertime so I could drive into a rainstorm and sing about our lives on a stage somewhere a few hours away. When I pulled out of the drive, my guitar and stories loaded up in the back seat, our daughters were standing naked in the mud puddles, dancing and splashing in the aftermath of a glorious late summer rain and you were laughing and waving and loving them. And I was loving you there with them.

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I love you. I always have.

A few days ago, our 3-year-old daughter asked me about my wedding. She wanted to know what I wore and if we danced and if I married her daddy. So I pulled out our wedding album and showed her photos and talked about that day in the cow pasture when you married me underneath the 100-year-old oak tree while our oldest daughter squealed and smiled and instructed her little sister to stop turning the pages so fast.

Wedding TreeThere was a simple quote in that wedding album that I pulled as inspiration for the special day, when I was just turning 23 and thought I knew what I was up for. It read: “Love is enough.”

And it struck me at that moment in the living room surrounded by Barbies and baby doll strollers, half-drunk milk cups and things that cost money spread out on the floor that’s never properly vacuumed in this sweet and maddening little mess we’ve made, that I was wrong there. Love is not enough. I’m sorry, all you romantics out there, but it’s true.

In order for love to be enough to survive this life together, the affection can’t stand on its own. You have to expand it, to stretch and define it more broadly so that it also means kindness, especially when you don’t feel kind, which will morph itself into patience.

And then patience lends itself to selflessness and turns the other person’s joy into yours if you let it. And if you look at love as less of a feeling and more like a doing for the other, that’s how love turns to freedom, which is one of my favorite parts about love.

And my favorite part about loving you. Because you let me be me, even in the times that makes our love a bit lonely. But I don’t have to tell you that, dear husband, because you’re the one who showed me.

And I didn’t marry you because I simply loved you. I could have loved other men, I know. Although I never really tried. I found you and here we are, more tired than we’ve ever been and more human, too. Adding years and payments and lawn care and cattle and children who spill things and who will always need us and make us worry and wonder if we’re screwing it all up will do that to the definition of love. Make it more human.

Because the stakes are higher, the days are longer and the floor is stickier and the ground is muddier, but we’re still standing on it, which comes in handy when this prairie wind blows.

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Outside the fence

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Coming Home: Outside the Fence
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There’s a little stem of a willow tree growing wild in our backyard. I wouldn’t have known it except my dad pointed it out in the thick of the wild grasses, bushes and weeds that we have been meaning to turn into a retaining wall for years.

Willow trees aren’t common out here among the bur oak and the ash, the bull berry thorns and chokecherry brush, except for the big ones that line the edge of the stock dam outside of our fence line, so Dad thought it was special, suggesting maybe we keep it there to grow instead of digging it up to make room for petunias or paving stones or domesticated bushes. I looked out at those big willows then and couldn’t help but think what a big jump that little seed took from home to here, what strength it had to dig in among the clover and weeds, successfully avoiding lawn mowers and chubby, curious hands.

Last month, while I was attempting to assist my 3-year-old daughter at T-ball practice, she told me to go wait outside the fence and watch like the other parents, because apparently now she’s a teenager.

Today at her little preschool Bible day camp, she gave me the same direction — and this time I was even offering a cookie.

She was sitting at a tiny table with a group of her friends and it was as if my presence immediately reminded her of her small place in the world at a moment when she was really feeling quite big. And hilarious.

Her little sister Rosie has already taken the “no parents allowed” stance on important things like hand-holding down the steps, drinking out of lidless cups and, recently, getting in on the dance circle and the horse-drawn wagon rides with the big kids, reminding me that the letting go part happens slowly and then all at once, like the way that we all noticed that tiny little willow tree that had been working on growing right under our noses day after sunny, rainy, snowy, windy day.

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Below the boards of our deck, in the corner on top of the beam, a mother robin spent her springtime gathering sticks and mud, grass and rocks to build a nest for five little blue eggs. Her work was so unassumingly diligent that we didn’t even notice the life and home she created there until among the laughter and frosting and pony rides of my niece’s birthday party.

This time, my dad looked up to find four tiny little fuzzy heads attached to beaks open wide, stretching up to find a mother surely coming with a worm or a bug.

I took the girls to get a better look from above through the cracks in the deck, instructing them to close one eye and keep the other one open to help them spot the tiny creatures who were close enough to feel our breath. I noticed the mother then, perched on the cedar fence rail that serves as a symbol, a barrier between the tame and wild world, safe and unsure. She was waiting there, watching, a worm dangling from her beak.

Tonight I am sitting alone in my backyard listening to the day quiet down with the chirping of those birds and the howling of the coyotes. That nest below me has been empty for weeks, because as fast as we think our babies sprout wings, real birds fly in a blink.

And I am the willow, the robin, the mother, on the other side of the fence with a worm, with a prayer, with a hand reaching out to steady them as they stretch toward the sky.

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Mother of Daughters

I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

I am a full-grown woman with almost half my life behind me and they are children, so young and fresh, running wild down the gravel road in rain boots in search of mud puddles.

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I look at them, the 1-year-old’s cheek flushed from the chill of the early spring evening, pointing to the sky and trees, digging her hands in the rocks, pulling on the grass, picking up dirt, trying to place it all, trying to name it all, doing what she needs to do to become the person she needs to be in this mysterious world.

IMG_0506I watch my 3-year-old stomp her sparkly new boots in the cold, dirty water of the season. Her gold hair flying out from under her knit hat, the bottom of the dress she insists on wearing swoops and swings below her barn jacket, collecting the elements. And she’s singing and she’s yelling and she’s dancing and she’s stomping and she’s making up stories and I think to myself, “Well, isn’t she just everything all at once?”

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And she’s not afraid. They’re not afraid. They are not worried. They are not wondering if they are smart enough, funny enough, talented enough, pretty enough, good enough.

None of that exists for them. Not now, anyway. Now, they are just unabashedly who they are.

 

I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

And when they were born, I knew I would have to teach them things that I haven’t figured out yet myself, even though I am a full-grown woman and maybe I should know how to be brave by now. And sometimes, maybe I do. But sometimes I don’t.

And I should have had plenty of time to conquer how to love myself despite my flaws, the flaws and failures I catch myself counting sometimes.

“My daughters would never do that,” I thought to myself as my 3-year-old ran down the hill declaring she was the fastest runner in the world. “Not now, anyway. They don’t know how to be flawed, they only know how to be human.”

 

And it hit me then, standing in the middle of that gravel road as the sky opened up and dropped a sprinkle of cold rain on a trio of girls in muddy boots: My girls came into this world knowing and it’s my job to do what I can to keep it that way.

But they have a job, too, and it’s to remind me of what it looks like before the world gets in.

Because I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

I am a full-grown woman with almost half of my life behind me and I am holding their hands and we are running wild down the gravel road in rain boots in search of mud puddles, together becoming the people we need to be in this world.

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The part not found in parenting books

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On pet fish and falling in love
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As a wife and a parent to two toddling humans, I find that I don’t have to look very hard if I want to feel like I’m doing something wrong.

There’s contradicting advice, opinions and experiences lurking in every day care pickup line and waiting on the other side of every click, swipe or ding. On any given day, I’m certain I’ve faltered far more than I’ve conquered, the feeling of desperation creeping in on me as I negotiate suppertime cooperation for a promise of a pet fish or no treats ever for the rest of your life.

In moments like these, I find myself wishing I were the mother I just knew I was going to be before I actually had children. But now that the current version of me has two little reality checks in tow, the one thing I’m trying to not lose sight of is the thing that got us into these “one-more-bite-of-lasagna” negotiations in the first place: our marriage.

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Last week a headline caught my eye: “Date nights could have saved my marriage.” A little twinge of panic shot up from my gut. I wanted to see the rest of the story, but I was terrified of discovering a familiar play-by-play. I wasn’t ready for that kind of reality check.

So I made a plan, one that favored the whole “work-life balance” myth, and I convinced my husband to attend an event I planned for the community. We called my parents to watch the kids and he met me at Paint Night Date Night, where I registered guests and then met him at our seats, drank a glass of Champagne and tried our hand at creating a unified painting of two tree branches reaching out toward each other under the moonlight.

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How fitting. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but just like the other couples in the room with us, we didn’t show up to become artists, but to carve out some time to sit side by side and do something other than fall asleep to Netflix.


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And so I kept it going, and the next night I made arrangements to head to the big town to attend a community symphony event. It was a trip that was part work research, part construction supply shopping, part the perfect chance for an uninterrupted meal and part Sunday morning trip to urgent care because we have young kids and the little darlings like to cough directly into my eyeballs.

And I bet you know what I’m going to say here, but I’m going to say it anyway. Sometimes in the thick of being in love, it can be hard to remember what falling in love means. Being in love is the man sitting with me in the waiting room of a strange hospital and laughing at how my illnesses always seem to coincide with our romantic plans.

Being in love is an insurance card. Comfortable. A lot of times predictable. But falling in love is not knowing quite how the painting is going to turn out, or if you really wanted to try it in the first place, but taking a swig and dipping the brush anyway.

And I think the falling in love part should be in those parenting books. I mean, it won’t get the toddler to finish her lasagna, but it will at least help the two of you laugh about it when you’re out shopping for a pet fish.

 

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Dear Husband, I miss you.

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Dear Husband, I Love You
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Dear Husband,

I’m writing this at naptime because I have a moment and I’m worried when I try to say it I’ll get interrupted for a snack request or to break up another argument over the toy purse. I love being a mother, but I miss you and me.

I’m not sure we’re really supposed to admit it as parents, but sometimes I’m sad we will never go back to being the same people we were when we both squished on the easy chair together every night after supper. And it’s not that we don’t still want to be close like that — it’s just that for the foreseeable future, us two and the babies can’t all fit on the fancy new chair we bought to replace the big, ugly hand-me-down that used to sit in our living room.

Slowly, we’ve replaced the newlywed stuff with grown-up things. Yes, we are grown-up things now, with grown-up aches, grown-up plans and grown-up arguments about chores and bills and schedules, and I know, I know, this is life.

And I know how hard we’ve worked to get here and how grateful I am to see some of our dreams play out, but man, I didn’t realize the compromise this phase of parenthood would put into the equation of our partnership.

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ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

I didn’t realize how little I can be by your side when there’s work to be done and naptime and diapers and wild little girls who aren’t much help yet. And so we compromise indeed. We divide and conquer. You take the babies so I can work and I do the same and so we’re apart more than together.

But remember when we could just load up the car and take off to anywhere? I looked at you the other night as you helped the baby feed herself and negotiated two more bites with the toddler and I said this out loud to you: “Don’t you think we just took all that time for granted? Like what were we doing?”

You echoed my thoughts so completely. And I was surprised I felt so relieved.

Funny how time works on us humans. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time that hand-me-down easy chair was a big score in our lives and so we sat in it together, looking out the window at the snow falling on the city street outside, making plans for this day at the ranch, feeding babies after feeding cows. I just didn’t know getting what we wanted would mean missing you, and that easy chair, sometimes.

Nobody told me that. So I’m telling you today.

Because last week when you were late coming home and I called you 6 million times about the icy roads, or when I check in every afternoon about supper plans, or when I’m annoyed at a chore that turns into your all-weekend absence (as every ranch family understands,) instead of the sighs or the calls disguised as grocery lists, I think I should just tell you.

So I’m telling you today, husband. I love our life together. And this magical and maddening phase that we’re in? Well, we’re both going to miss it sooner than we’re ready to. But just because that’s the truth doesn’t mean that the rest of what we’re feeling can’t be, too.

And so today, I will call you about supper and then I’ll just say it.

I miss you.

Love,

Your wife

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Fifteen

jessie

A photo of me at 15, which is now considered vintage 

And now, for this week’s column on a trip I took to teach a writing workshop to classes full of teenagers where I mentioned mixed tapes and records and a time before the Internet and felt old.

When I was fifteen
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“Oh, you’re going to feel so old,” my husband told me as I explained that my plan for the week was to drive across the state to conduct a few writing workshops for high schoolers. “Just remember, you were their age once…like twenty years ago.” And then he took a drink of his coffee, laughed and turned out of the room.

Funny. Real funny.

But twenty years ago? That can’t be right.

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Wasn’t I just fifteen last week when I was grocery shopping and gave in to the nagging instinct to buy the Double Stuffed Oreos?

And I was certainly fifteen the other day, walking down the hallway at work with my hair flat ironed, new boots, feeling pretty good. Until my coworker said she saw me coming and didn’t recognize me with my new “do.” “Who’s that lady?” She wondered to herself.

And I wondered when I became a lady.

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Me, on the right, about thirty birthdays ago…

Wasn’t I just fifteen, swearing I would never forget what it was like to be fifteen and then all of the sudden I woke up to find myself standing in front of a room full of teenagers talking about record players?!

“And yeah, I know, record players are vintage cool now, but this was before the Internet. And YouTube. And, have you ever heard of a mixed tape? Well…anyway…”

I spent an entire day in that high school, talking and guiding students through creative writing exercises, sharing my career path, drinking chocolate milk out of those little cartons and listening to snippets of their lives play out in the hallways: A paper is late and there’s an excuse. Her sister didn’t put her clothes in the dryer last night and she was so annoyed. Someone’s not pulling their weight in the group project. A sign needs to be painted before tonight’s game. Did you study for the test? What are you doing this weekend?

And suddenly I was transported back to a time when so many things were out of my control, my sensitivities were heightened, I simultaneously knew everything and nothing, and, what I probably remember most, was just being so completely unsure of myself.

I was reminded of that uncertainty because of the juxtaposition of the kids sitting before me that day. They did not appear unsure at all. I mean, yes, there was hesitancy in completing what I was asking them to do, which was to be vulnerable, to write down memories, to approach their identity, to open up their creative vaults, which was big. But these kids were open to it. They were given the task and they spoke up and shared things out loud, in the open, that I’m not certain I would have been brave enough to share when I was in their shoes. And now, I just wish I could really remember if that was true. I’d like to think I was more like them.

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I doubt any one of those teenagers would have been caught dead in this for $5.15 an hour. 

But what I do remember is that when I was fifteen I thought there was a magical time when you suddenly became an adult and that uncertainty made way for self-definiteness. Like, I am 35 and this is my house, this is the way I wear my hair. This is the cut of my jeans. This is my job. This is my plan.

But that’s not the way it goes is it? I know that now, because I’m not fifteen. I am thirty-five and I’ll tell you there are some things the years just don’t change. I just didn’t know until now that I would be glad for it.

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