January blues

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A lot can be said about winters up here in North Dakota, but for anyone who has lived through one (or one hundred), whether new to the area or born and raised, we all have January in common.

January is hard. It’s cold. It’s the longest month no matter how well things are going. And I’m guessing it’s the number one reason that half of our 65 and older population lives in Arizona during those thirty days. They’ve learned their lessons…

Being a mom to young kids in North Dakota in January is no joke.  All I have done today is wipe noses, mine included. And when you live 40 minutes from civilization, the isolation can weigh heavy on the days that feel hard.

I admit, I wondered if I should publish a piece in all of those newspapers about how I cried on my basement floor surrounded by all of my first world problems and so many of the things I’ve always wished for. But then I thought, well, there is likely another mom somewhere out there crying on her basement floor, and, well, I don’t want to feel alone either.

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January’s a little too good at loneliness

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I sat on the floor in the basement and cried.

I cried while my 3-year-old’s voice bubbled and babbled a narrative for her dolls as they navigated the new house her auntie snagged for them secondhand last week.

I cried while my 1-year-old wobbled over to hand me her little karaoke microphone because it was my 150th turn, so I smiled and gave her another little “la, la, la,” because that’s what mommas do, even when they’re crying.

Even when they have nothing to cry about really, except, sometimes, I’ve come to understand, that even the best of us have our moments, or days (or weeks or months), where it all feels a little heavy on us. Not just the hard stuff, but the good stuff, too. Because even the snuggly, sweet and syrupy things we’ve always wished for come with crumbs we have to sweep up sometimes.

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And so it was the smallest disagreement as my husband walked out the door after the waffles were half-eaten and the dishes were put in the sink that made me feel like maybe I will never have the crumbs under control.

And then, when the door clicked shut, it was a moment of loneliness tacked onto a selfish feeling of maybe not being OK missing the only thing I don’t have that I want, which is a moment to walk to the top of that hill out there and get away from the crumbs I used to pray so hard for when I was just me.

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So I cried. And I let myself because sometimes, it’s possible to be grateful and frustrated.

Sometimes, it’s possible to be lonesome for ourselves. Motherhood isn’t the only thing that taught me that.

January in North Dakota is good at loneliness. And so I cried for a bit. And then I stopped and carried on through the afternoon, trying to think of ways to tend to the ache.

I read an extra book or two to the toddler and laid down to close my eyes with the baby for a few moments. And when my daughters woke up, fresh and sweet, I turned on some music and watched them both twirl, so innocent and so unaware of the cold outside.

And when my husband walked through that door after a long day of working on the outdoor chores I desperately wished I could be helping with, it occurred to me that on the other side of these walls, he might have been wishing to be dancing while I was wishing for the bite of that wind.

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I looked at his face and the lump our morning exchange left in my chest dissolved, reminding me that this is life. And I’m OK.

So I cooked us supper, my husband, my daughters and me. And we all made crumbs we left for tomorrow so we could head down to the basement, sit on the floor together and laugh.

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How to take the perfect Christmas Card photo

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Hello friends. We’re in the final countdown to Christmas. We’re heading out the door tonight for the in-laws and I should be packing and wrapping and looking at my list and loading up the car, but I wanted to thank you all first for the beautiful Christmas cards. I know capturing that special photo wasn’t easy. So I wrote some tips for this month’s Prairie Parent.

How to take a Christmas card photo

14 easy steps

Read it here.

Courtney-Crane

Photo submitted by Courtney Crane

Merry Christmas! Love you all.

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Like a spider mother

Rosie and Me

Coming Home: Not that different from a spider mom

On a long, late night drive last week, I stumbled upon a radio program that aims to explore the topic of love and how it unfolds, beats, bends and connects us.

It’s a big task, telling love’s story. I wasn’t convinced I was up for a bunch of sappy romances, if that’s how it was going to roll out, but I put in a lot of road time and good radio has the potential to save my sanity, so I gave it a try.

How did they kick it off? With a story about a common spider — the kind that is likely spinning a web in my basement right now — that spends the majority of her lifespan spinning an unexceptional but practical web in which to lay her sack of eggs that will hatch and feed on another set of eggs she’s laid specifically for that purpose. And when they’ve run out of other options for nourishment in the web, the mother taps on her silk, summoning her babies, and then, well, I didn’t really see this one coming… They eat her.

And in that moment, driving 65 mph down the highway after a late night of work and a long and challenging week with my children, I cried.

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

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Last night, I was leaving my mom and dad’s house when I remembered I needed to make a dish to bring to a party I had the next evening. I forgot about it, so I didn’t have any ingredients for the promised festive appetizer, and a trip to the grocery store with two kids is a good three-hour extravaganza that I didn’t have time for the next day.

I swore.

And my mom went to her freezer and gathered all the ingredients I needed for a dip and she sent me on my way, just another small act in a lifetime of having a mother who would just as easily give me her life as she does her frozen bread bowl.

It sounds silly saying it that way, too trite for the magnitude of the sum of all of motherhood’s parts, but in that moment, driving down the highway with the vision of that spider’s sacrifice, it felt like I was allowed to feel the true weight of my children on my body.

Your heart forever walking around in the world? Yes. We’ve all heard that one. But this spider’s story resonated more with me.

Piece by piece by piece, we give — our time, our milk, our lessons, our worry, our words, our sleep, our hopes, our songs, our bodies, our space, our home. Our freezer bread.

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And it may not be a big, grand finale gesture like our sister in the web weaves, but if she could see beyond where she sits in the corner with the dust and her life’s mission — if she could see you up there at 3 a.m. laying on the hardwood floor outside your toddler’s bedroom door, because it’s the only way she’ll quiet down now — she would nod her spider head and admit we’re not that different.

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Click here to listen to the spider episode, which is the introduction to the great podcast “This is Love.” I recommend it for heartwarming and unconventional stories about what it means to love

Do you have a favorite podcast? I want to hear it! Seriously,  a good podcast saves my sanity!

And the sparkle of childhood followed us home…

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The light of childhood reminds us to embrace life
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It’s no secret there are things in this life that are ruined by adulthood.

I remember thinking this as a kid when I was jumping into the cold water of Lake Sakakawea on a hot summer day. The water couldn’t be too cold. The sky too gray. The wind too wild. None of those elements existed to me at 7 or 8 because there was the water and I needed to swim. And so I did. And when I emerged and looked over at my parents visiting with friends on dry land, I wondered how anyone could be so close to a lake and keep their hair dry.

When does it shift in us? When does that water become too cold? The sky too gray? The wind too wild? When do we decide that in order to have fun, the sun must be shining in the most optimal way?

I wondered this again as I watched my 3-year-old daughter put her nose down to the freshly fallen snow, stick her tongue out and lick it up. I laughed as her little sister mimicked her, sitting up to look at me with pink cheeks and a kiss of frosting on her lips, and I remembered then how fresh snow tasted, although it hadn’t hit my lips for years.

And neither had an icicle, even though every time I see one hanging sharp and crystal clear off the eaves of a house, I think about pulling it down and having a taste. But I never do it.

At least I hadn’t for years, until I became a mother, and then slowly, the magic of the world that seemed to have faded out to dull tones of beiges and grays started to glimmer and pop and shine again in the little fluffs of light and sparkle that follow in my daughters’ wakes.

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Last weekend, I wrestled my girls into their snowsuits and loaded them up in the pickup for a drive out into the pastures of our place, determined to get our Christmas tree cut, in the house, thawed out and decorated before the weekend was over. I was on a deadline. My husband was on a deadline.

But that morning, we stepped out into the bright sunshine after days of fog to find our whole world sparkling. We couldn’t make out a cedar tree from an oak tree in the hills because of the glare, so we got out and walked into the hills to take a closer look, to lift Edie on her daddy’s shoulders, to let Rosie eat snow. To come up for air.

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And when we were trying to find a way to get us all back to the pickup with a tree just a little too big for the space, looking down at a steep icy slope of a hill, I think it was the 8-year-old version of me that whispered, “Let Edie ride on its branches, like a sled! Her daddy will pull her down!”

And so that’s what we did. We stepped off the shore and let the fluffy, glimmering light of childhood follow us home.

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The making of me

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Last weekend I had thirteen hours in the car alone to trick myself into thinking that I might have time to resurrect and revisit parts of my old life. It happens every time I’m in the car alone with my guitar in the back and whatever I want loud on the radio. Snacking without having to send a handful to the back seat. I feel like I did three years ago, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, on the road to a different town with time to think and plan and scheme for my life. A little free. A little nervous. Sometimes a little later than I want to be.  A lot myself.

Then I returned home and was reminded that while in the quiet moments there are parts of me that are who I’ve always been, my life will never be what it was yesterday…or two minutes ago.

Because I have children.

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And we have calves to sell this week.

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And a dog that went missing only to be found 60 miles away three days, which meant I spent my Sunday driving (thankfully) 120 miles with a toddler in the back to get her.

And a job that I can’t quite get done because I discovered last night that those children I now have, well they now have hand, foot and mouth…or something that looks and acts a lot like it.

And I want to say that I miss it, the alone time. The time to think, to create, to just be me. If I’m being honest, I will admit it. Being a mother to two young kids is not just physically draining, you can get lost in it. I miss the freedom I used to have to just walk out my door and up to the hills without calling in reinforcements, coordinating schedules or negotiating time. I didn’t know that would become so far out of reach when I became a mother.

I didn’t know I would feel so guilty and ungrateful saying that out loud, but I’m certain I’m not the only one.

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As I type this in the quite of my room, my almost-three-year-old found her way out of her bed and to the bottom of the steps, a last ditch effort to avoid bedtime. My husband is driving home from the big town with a load of sheet rock. I probably won’t see him much this week as we get ready to roundup and ship.

But that’s life and the reality of all these little dreams coming true…no one ever said all these little dreams would be easy to get or hold on to…but I think I might have heard someone somewhere say it’s worth it.

We’re the lucky ones.

Maybe that’s me, whispering to myself as I lay my daughters down at night.

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So I get up a lot earlier these days so I can have the morning for my thoughts. And one day, when I’m an older woman and I have regained the freedom to walk out my door on a whim and up to the top of my favorite hill,  I will tell a younger woman to take it all in, to not be so hard on herself, to love every minute because it all goes so fast. I will say that, because it’s true. But I hope I also remember to tell her to do what she can to keep her passions ignited in the middle of the Legos and Fruit Loops on the floor, even if she can only manage a flicker. Because we need that little fire in us, for the moments we get to breathe, but especially when the wind blows hard…

This week’s column…

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Coming Home: The Making of Me

I made a trip down to South Dakota last weekend to perform. In the early morning, before the sun burned off the cold fog, I sneaked quietly out of the house to make sure my family stayed sleeping while I took on the miles of road.

In a different time in my life, a six-hour trip alone was just another workday. These days it’s empty car seats, my guitar in the back of my SUV and the strange feeling I get when no one’s demanding I hand them pretzels. I turn up my music and let my mind wander, something it used to do so much of before my children stole half of it.

In my other life, I might have taken my time and stopped to see friends along the way. These days, it’s there and back quickly because the babies are at home, and the last time I called, my husband thought Rosie might have eaten a Band-Aid.

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“What am I doing?” That was the question that came up in the 13-plus hours I spent alone behind the wheel. “Is it worth it to go this far? Am I doing it for the money? Is this selfish? Maybe I should act more like a normal mother. Are the kids OK?”

After my concert on Saturday evening, a man came up to me to talk about the value of recognizing the sacrifices and struggles of our ancestors. My great-grandma Gudrun, an immigrant from Norway, comes up in my stories and songs, and he wanted to relate.

“When I was a kid, I found a little welder at a garage sale,” he said, remembering how he worked on lighting it over and over again before, frustrated, he declared it a rip-off.

“Then, my mother came over and grabbed it out of my hands,” he recalled. “And just like that, she had it lit up and running. She wrote my name on a piece of metal, straight and perfect, and I just stood there, sort of baffled.”

It turns out in his mother’s other life, she had been a welder who worked on ships during the war. And at 10 years old, watching his mom who wore nothing but dresses expertly handle his garage-sale purchase made the boy wonder how he had missed it. He didn’t want to miss it.

“It was like she had a secret life!” he declared.

I’ve never met this woman, but I can’t stop thinking about her. Because her story carried with it a little lift on the weight of my doubts.

I was a woman before I was a mother. And I am a mother and a woman still. A mother to daughters who will want to do things, see things. Be things. Travel. Maybe sing songs. Or write books. Invent. Or advocate. Haul horses. Plow up fields. Sit at a desk in a high-rise in New York. Maybe weld ships.

And the only way I can show them that they can be who they want to be is to show them who I was.

And who I am.

And, every day, how they’ve been the making of me.

The best times are now

The Best Times are Now
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Apparently love is in the air this fall. In the past two months, I’ve attended four weddings, sang the couples love songs and watched the brides walk toward their grooms wearing big, beautiful dresses and holding big, beautiful dreams.

I like weddings for the reasons most people like weddings — a good excuse to get together in the name of celebrating a happy occasion and a fun reason to dress up and dance. But I’ve noticed as I’ve grown up in years and in my marriage, the rest of the reasons have shifted on me a bit.

Like now, instead of getting my own groove on, it’s more fun to watch my little girls spin, clap and twirl to the music, outlasting most of the adults in the room. I could watch that all night.

But more than that lately, I’ve appreciated weddings for the little reminder they spark in me. Those big beautiful dreams these couples are holding, that was us, with the world just waiting on us to make plans or make it up as we went along.

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We’ve been married over 12 years now, so that familiar feeling of being 23 and carefree is fading as we wade through the muddy waters of what it actually means to be married. Like full-in, full-on married.

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I was contemplating this a bit last night as I coaxed my husband up to the bedroom after finally getting our two young daughters to sleep and the dishes cleaned up from supper. He just kicked his feet up in his chair and I remembered that I just washed our bedding and, well, I could really use some help with the dang fitted sheet. Romantic.

He sighed and trudged up the stairs after me and as we stood in our room discussing our pillow preference and laundry situation, I was struck by the partnership of it all. In those big, beautiful dreams we held at our own wedding, I doubt we thought of moments like this.

Like, isn’t it just really nice to have someone in the house to help us sort out the annoying parts of the everyday grind? I mean, I can do the sheets and the dishes, the baby bath and bedtimes alone, but it’s all just better with him.

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And when it comes to the tough stuff, the sad things, the grieving, the uncomfortable decisions, the worries and wondering, if I could give advice to any young person looking for love, I would shout, “Pick someone you want next to you in the trenches of life!”

Because there will be trenches. And then be prepared to be your soldier’s soldier as well.

On our way home from a wedding last weekend, I was thinking about time and how it can wear on us. I commented on when I thought I might have been in my prime, less stressed, more hopeful maybe. Younger. More beautiful.

“I think it was around 23,” I said to my husband.

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“No, I think it’s right now,” he said back to me.

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And I believed him. Because love is in the air, and the best times? What can we do but believe that they’re right now.

The “good days” are a mess

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Happy Halloween.

Whew. October 31st, I think I’m happy to see you. Not just because I’m looking forward to dressing up as a mermaid with the toddler and trying to convince my baby to keep the fishy bonnet on her head as we traipse around town this afternoon, but also because this is the last day of what has been a month that’s been chaos.

Chaos with a month-long chest cold on top.

Chaos as in working nights and every weekend.

Chaos as in a house addition project that’s not going swimmingly.

Chaos as in I thought I filed my column last week but got distracted by something (Lord can only guess) and I forgot to hit send, which marks the first time since I started this gig that I missed a plan for the column.

Oh well. We’ll try again next week.

Next month.

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And we’re getting by on coffee and granola bars and trying to go with the flow even when the flow looks like dragging my meltdown-mode toddler out of gymnastics and negotiating every holiday and birthday and gymnastics class in her little life to get good behavior out of her for the pumpkin painting event at the Nursing Home we were headed to. It was likely the fact that the kid likes grammas and would do anything to paint and not my threats that made that experience more lovely than stripping her out her leotard while she swung at me and I pretended to be one of those calm moms who wasn’t going to get to the car and threaten to take away all her birthdays.

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And right now it’s 8:45 am and she’s asking for candy…soooo…we’ll see if we survive today.

We will survive today. Because, as dad reminded me in one of my long “trying to figure out my life” discussions: “These are the good days.”

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And the good days are messy. Perpetually messy, like my toddler’s hair and our bedroom.

Messy like the bed and the floor under Rosie’s highchair.

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Messy like the best laid plans and the never finished dishes and the bathroom floor with every drawer emptied by the baby in the name of keeping her occupied so I can finish my makeup.

Messy like the seats and the dashboard and the cubbies of my car.

Messy like the desktop of my computer. And my desk for that matter, because I have projects going on and little people who don’t take very long naps.

Messy like my closet full of things I wear too much and things I used to wear in a life that looked different. Less complicated.

Not as sticky.

I feel like I’m never going to get caught up. Does anyone ever feel like they’re caught up?

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Last weekend I spent the entire Sunday morning cleaning the main floor of my house, sweeping, scrubbing and vacuuming while my toddler followed me around telling me that it hurt her ears, only to watch it all unravel as almost every member of my extended family made their way through the door to play with the kids and encourage them to walk around eating crackers.

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I looked around at the crumbs and the toys and the laughing people and realized what my problem was. I can’t seem to get caught up on things like the landscaping or the window washing, not necessarily because I can’t find the time, but because I am using that time for other things.

Like trips to the playground outside with the kids.

Trying to do a good job and my work. Driving to town to go to the doctor to get the girls’ flu shots and make sure I don’t have pneumonia. Daily phone calls to my little sister. Constructing my baby’s Halloween costume out of felt and hot glue.

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Cookie decorating with Edie while my baby unloads the Tupperwear cabinet.

Staying up too late catching up with my husband while we ignore putting away the laundry. Visits to the pool and to the horses and to the nursing home and to gymnastics and Sunday family visits and crafting projects and pumpkin painting and all the things that make messes…

So I guess I will get to the mess when I get to the mess. Because the absence of crumbs must not be that important to me. If it were, I would spend more time on exterminating them. Because in my life there has never been enough time available to fit in all of the things I think would be fun or important to do.

And I guess fun or important to me doesn’t always include getting to the dishes first.

Oh, sometimes it does. Like when I know company is coming.

But mostly, I’m just a little embarrassed by the sticky spot on my floor when someone unexpectedly drops by, but I always let them in.

Of course I always let them in.

Because one day these girls will be old enough to help me dust the shelves and unload the dishwasher and make their beds and I fully intend on teaching them the importance of taking care of our things and our house and our ranch, but maybe sometimes not at the expense of a good ride or a trip to the pool on a hot sunny day.

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Because I like to do stuff. To keep busy and engaged and sometimes that makes us all crazy, our kitchen countertops cluttery, and my toddler collapse in a pile in the middle of the parking lot while I try to make her hold my hand and walk with me so she doesn’t get hit by a car. So then sometimes I need to learn to step back and chill it out and give us all a minute so that we can continue on with the “good days.”

Happy Wednesday Halloween. Here’s to candy and chaos and surviving the rest of the week!

Mermaid Edie

Dear Daughters

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Coming Home: Dear Daughters, From Mom
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Dear daughters,

While I type this, I’m sitting in the living room. Rosie, you’re crawling around the floor, picking up things to put in your mouth and pulling yourself up to stand along the couch. Your big sister is sleeping, but your nap ended early like it usually does, and so the toys are all yours for now.

I’ve been watching the two of you grow over the summer, not just into your selves, but into each other. Rosie, your first year of life is wrapping up quickly as you, Edie, look forward to celebrating your third birthday with a pink mermaid cake.

You think Rosie needs a mermaid party, too. And she wants to be where you are.

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Girls. My daughters. Sisters. You won’t remember this phase in your life, the phase when you were so little together and how it felt to be crawling around on the floor of this house that will forever be the backdrop of your life together, the setting of big and quiet moments that will come to define you.

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And as much as we, your parents, want to do right by you, more than any of that we want you to do right by one another.

Because Edie and Rosie, to have each other is a gift, one that you will take for granted over and over again throughout your life. Rosie, you’ll borrow Edie’s favorite sweater and take it off when the sun gets too hot and leave it on the bleachers or the bus. Edie will be mad. You will be sorry.

And you will fight. And it will be a drop in a bucket of annoyances and disagreements about dishes and who fed the dogs and why Rosie read your diary, Edie.

Yes, if you keep a diary, the other will find it. And yes, you will have secrets. But my hope is that if those secrets need to be kept, they will be kept from the world, but not from each other.

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But in order for that wish to come true, you, my wild girls, will have to be true, too. Because the world can be scary. I know because I’m big. And as much as I want the hardest thing about my life as your mom to be the constant reminder for you, Edie, to stop hugging your little sister so hard, I know harder problems loom ahead. That’s the cost of a life worth living.

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And I will tell you over and over in a hundred different ways in my life as your momma that this world is so much easier to face side by side.

Even though I think you’ve already figured it out.

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You proved it to me yesterday, Edie, in your attempt to save Rosie from the loud and terrifying vacuum cleaner, rushing over to her, wrapping your arms around her tight and demanding me to shut the thing off.

“You’re scaring my sister!” you yelled at me with a glare across the room.

And my laugh released a little knot in my chest I didn’t know I had until that moment.

Dear daughters, you’re going to be all right.

Love,

Mom

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Back to school can make us wonder if we’ve done enough


If you’ve missed it along the way, for the past couple years I’ve had the privilege (and fun) of developing and acting as the editor of Prairie Parent, a parenting magazine in Western North Dakota.

This month’s issue tackled the fun, worry, stress and excitement of back to school. And while I don’t have kids in school yet, I know with time flying the way it does it’s just around the corner.

and so is driving…

After a conversation with my friend up the road who is raising four kids, with only one left at home now that school has started, I started reflecting on that time and what we do with it.

And why, as parents, do we feel like we’re never doing enough.

Back to school can make us wonder if we’ve done enough
Prairie Parent

Have a read on the site and then browse the rest of our contributors take on the season at www.prairieparent.com. I’m pretty proud of the thoughtful and heartfelt material these parents put out into the world each month.

Because at the end of the day, as parents, sometimes we just need each other to get through it. (I say this as I’m in a one hour, going on three week and counting bedtime battle with my two-year-old…Lord help me)

 

The moon’s named Carlile

The moon’s named Carlile
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If you see my almost 3-year-old daughter bouncing around, following behind me at the grocery store or at an event, playing at the park or with toys in Gramma’s store in town, she will likely ask you for your name.

She’s really into names. And who belongs to whom in this world.

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Like Great-Gramma Ginny is Gramma Beth’s mommy, and Gramma Beth is Mommy’s mommy, and Edie is Mommy’s daughter, and it gets a little blurry to her about how the rest works.

Somehow, the chain collapses there and Papa Gene becomes her granddaughter. Papa Gene almost always becomes her granddaughter by the end of these conversations.

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But it’s fun to hear her try to figure out how the world works in this way and how she understands that the people who love her are connected in some special way.

One day as we were driving home from town, Edie noticed the moon. It was big and bright and hanging in a darkening sky like a lone bulb in an empty room.

“The moon! Mommy! Look at the moon!” She exclaimed from her perch in her seat in the back. I said yes, yes, it’s so beautiful. Look at that. And then, for fun, because just minutes before she was giving the hills and the trees and the deer grazing in the fields names of their own, I asked her what she thought the moon’s name was.

“Carlile,” she responded, almost immediately, as if the two are old familiar friends who talk on a tin-can phone with a long line up to outer space every night before bed. “His name is Carlile.”

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Carlile the Moon. I laughed at the thought of it, picturing what Carlile might look like way up there in the lonely sky, surrounded by quiet, twinkling stars. Maybe he wears a fedora and tiny glasses that sit on the tip of a big, bumpy moon rock nose.

He’d adjust them a bit and clear his throat when he heard the little girl’s voice shouting, “Carlile, Are you there!?” from the tin-can phone, taking a deep breath before tackling the thousand questions about the universe that his tiny Earth friend was about to fire at him.

I imagine they would spend a lot of time discussing the names of the stars.

And then I pulled into our driveway and put the car in park, my little moon story coming quickly to a halt as I tackled the task of unloading my babies and getting them bathed, fed and ready for bed under a moon that suddenly felt a little more like a friend to me.

“Mommy, is your name Jessica Blain?” Edie asked as I finished our lullabies and I went in for a hug.

“Yes, that’s my name!” I agreed.

A hundred times a day, I can’t believe these tiny humans are my children. In quiet moments, the weight of what it means to belong to one another often overwhelms me…

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“Mommy, you are my mommy,” my daughter confirmed with pride.

“Yes, and you’re my baby,” I replied.

“No, I’m your big girl.”

“Good night then, big girl.”

And good night, Carlile.

Night Sky