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 “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

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.

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Things I used to be…

Things I used to be
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There are things I used to be.

I used to be more careless. I used to be flexible. I used to be able to say “yes” loud and clear without worrying what “yes” would cost me.

I used to be OK in a bikini, stretched out across the front lawn with a magazine and an endless afternoon in front of me. Because I used to be younger.

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I used to be younger, and thinner and less affected by the one margarita I ordered with supper. I used to order two and then sing into a long night without worrying about the morning and the thin thread attaching me to the little bodies breathing in and out, eyes closed tight in their beds without me.

I used to have spare time that I didn’t spend on searching for sippy cup lids or calculating the coupon cost per diaper.

In my other life, I never once uttered the words, “Don’t lick the doorknob!” and I certainly never made 37 negotiations a day that involved two more bites or five more minutes and no, you can’t put the puppy in your purse.

And I certainly didn’t use the phrase “be careful” as often.

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There are things that are buried in me now under these new layers of motherhood. I think about peeling them back only when I’m looking through old photographs of myself toasting to the sky or in the rare quiet moments that last long enough that I’m almost convinced I could be her again, before the creak of the door or the cry out of the lungs of the fresh soul in her crib in the dark calling for her momma.

I am momma.

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Last week, I was driving the ribbon of Interstate 94 that stretched out west for home. My babies were tucked in the back as the landscape zoomed by their windows and my eyes were heavy with the weight of exhaustion my new body holds. It overwhelmed me.

I signaled, parked in a rest stop and found a shady spot to take a break. I used to be unprepared, but this new version of me had blankets to spread out under our bodies and so we all laid down in a big pile under clouds rolling slowly, slowly, slowly across a blue sky.

And I want to say it before it absorbs into my skin and gets lost in the bigger, more urgent stories of a life…

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If I died tomorrow, this 20 minutes at a rest stop along I-94 with the baby navigating the lines of my tired face, my husband lifting the toddler to the sky, her squeals, our laughter, all four of our bodies touching one another, touching the earth, looking up at the trees and the fact that we simply couldn’t be anywhere else in the world if we wanted to, will make the highlight reel when I close my eyes at the end of my life.

Because I used to be so many things, but now I have these layers attached to this wonderfully agonizing winding and unwinding thread, and I will never be who I used to be because now I am a mother.

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Garden wars continued…

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In case you’re wondering about the state of landscaping we’re in around here. ‘Tis the season.

Gardening season means secret manure stashes, friendly father-daughter rivalry
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Well, it’s officially gardening season around here, which means the friendly competition I have with my dad about who is better at keeping the cows from eating the bean plants and pooping on the radishes has begun.

And it seems we’ve both stepped up our game a bit. Turns out Dad’s had his eye on a big pile of old manure in the barnyard that he failed to mention until it was beautifully spread on his newly tilled and leveled garden spot. Which made me nervous because at the time he was planting his tomatoes in that fresh and fertile soil, my garden was quickly becoming a graveyard of seeded-out dandelions and Canadian thistle. And because Dad is still recovering from his illness, he’s home more… and restless… which means he’ll be in his garden. A lot.

So I decided to ignore the dead patches in my lawn, the retaining wall that desperately needs to be built and the deck that needs to be finished and focus on what was really important — growing better vegetables than my father.

It was time to get serious. I made plans to move my front yard garden into the spot below my house where we used to feed cows every winter, the spot that my little sister still calls “Cow Pie Heaven.”

The ground is more level, the soil is more fertile and I could just imagine the bounty of tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, beans and peas overflowing from the borders of the $400 fence I loaded up in the back of my pickup while my mother-in-law watched the babies.

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Yeah, that’s right, I called in the troops. This garden is gonna require child care. Which became even more evident in my 75 attempts to actually plant the thing over Memorial Day weekend.

Turns out it takes about two hours to get the girls fed, clothed, sunscreened and bug-sprayed, and another hour to find their shoes and sun hats scattered across my patchy lawn before I haul them out to my new little slice of vegetable heaven.

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And while in my dreams I imagined the three of us sun-kissed and laughing in that garden for hours, what it really looks like is 20 frantic minutes of me planting three seeds at a time between picking up the toys the baby tossed, shooing away the gnats from her chubby cheeks and trying (and failing) to keep the toddler from drowning the carrots we just planted and shoveling dirt on top of her own head.

How she did that more than once can only be explained by the fact that she’s my daughter.

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Three days and six baby baths later, I got the thing planted thanks to the help of Dad, who decided to show a little mercy and wrangle the kids while I made my cucumber mounds and he made sure to tell me his are up already.

So yeah, if you need me, I’ll be out looking for that secret manure pile (because only my dad would have a secret manure pile) and not giving any thought to the fact that I can get perfectly good tomatoes at the market…

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What Edie has to say…

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Coming Home:
2-year-old Edie thinks she’s 30-something, or 60-something, or something

Yesterday, I told my 2-year-old that it was time to take a nap. She replied, of course, that she didn’t want to. When I asked her why, she said, “Because it’s too dangerous.”

The day before I told her “never mind” after she asked me for the 40th time what I was doing. She replied, “Never mine? Oh, never yours.”

My daughter calls the fly swatter a “shoo fly,” and announces the presence of every bug within a 10-mile radius, demanding that I bring her the shoo fly to take care of every one. On nice days at home, this is about all we do.

Edie calls her rubber boots “scrubber boots,” and I hope she never stops

My 2-year-old thinks she’s a 30-something mother or a 60-something grandmother, or a teenage girl, depending on her most recent and influential caretaker.

When she’s wearing her jeans, boots and a hat, she’s just like Chad, her dad that she often calls by his first name. She also calls him a queen, which is fun for us all. And as it turns out, when she’s outside, she spits just like him, too. Discovered that little gem the other day.

Yes, little Edie Elizabeth transitions in and out of her personas with ease, keeping us on our toes. On our way home from town last week, she initiated conversation by asking, “How you doing girlfriend?”

That night at supper, her icebreaker of choice was, “So, how’s your mom doing?”

Then she insisted that I take the cantaloupe off of her cantaloupe, proving that she is indeed a toddler after all.

And that’s why these tiny humans are so amazing really, just the right miraculous combination of spitfire and inherent sweetness to keep us all on our toes.

For example, a few days ago she wrapped her skinny little arms around both her baby sister and I, declaring us her “best friends.” About a half hour later, she must have changed her mind as she tested the waters by gently slapping her so called best-friend-baby-sister’s cheeks.

These are the things parenting books don’t prepare you for, these big personalities that come out of a tiny human you somehow had a hand in creating.

This morning, on our way into town, we passed a man sitting on a big ol’ Harley in the parking lot of our little grocery store. He was a large man, bald, tattooed, wearing leather — a straight-out-of-the-textbook Harley-Davidson owner.

“Look Mommy, that guy’s got a motorcycle,” my daughter chirped from the back seat. “What’s his name?’ she asked, because she always wants to know, leaving me to make up a lot of characters to appease her.

“Larry,” I lied. “I think his name is Larry.”

“Yup, he’s Larry,” she replied. “He’s perfect.”

And then my heart swelled up big enough to leak out eyes that were seeing the world as Edie sees it… where naps are dangerous and biker men are perfect and I think I’ll just enjoy this moment and worry about it later, like when she actually becomes a teenager.

Work and motherhood: A gift and a struggle

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Before I became a mom I envisioned days spent with my babies like the one I got yesterday. The weather was beautiful, my daughters and I picked wildflowers and delivered them to grandma down the road, Edie ran through the sprinkler, played in the sandbox, rode her pony and spent the evening playing with her cousins while I cooked supper in honor of my mom and sisters with the windows open listening to the sounds of laughter outside. Besides the two giant pukes on my just-washed bedding, the baby was a dream. She slept and snuggled and was happy to be alive and learning.

It was a good day.

It was Mother’s Day.

But let’s be real now, not all days with kids and work are created equal. Some days it’s looks less like a dream and more a circus performance that has yet to be properly rehearsed and someone opened the gates and all the animals got out in the ring. At least that’s what it looks like on my living room floor, which matches what’s happening in my mind.

Last week, in an attempt to keep that sanity and the bills paid, we started daycare up again after losing our provider when Rosie was born. And while it’s only few days a week, it got me thinking about motherhood and work and keeping that part of yourself  that makes you tick engaged among the booger wipes and snuggles…and why it’s so hard to admit that it’s hard…and why sometimes you feel like no matter what you do, it’s not right for anyone.

And in those moments it helps to take a breath and remind myself that to have so much to love and so much I want to do that it makes me sorta crazy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it may drive me to make questionable decisions about M&M consumption…and maybe we need to work on things like that…

Coming Home: How to be a good mom, today and every day

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There are a million ways to be a good mom.

Handing your 2-year old one M&M after another in an attempt to keep her quiet while you’re on the phone conducting an interview for a magazine article that is overdue is probably not one of them.

It’s not one of the ways to become a great journalist either, but when it comes to motherhood and work, sometimes it’s about survival.

I’m thinking about this today as I sit in a coffee shop office after dropping my daughters off at their new part-time daycare perch for the first time. I’m thinking about motherhood and career and the proper amount of sacrifice and wondering if I should feel guilty about not feeling as guilty as I think I should about getting a break from my kids to get some work done … if that makes sense.

Does it make sense?

Since Rosalee was born five months ago, I have continued to work from my home office, struggling to keep my career afloat and my children entertained and happy three minutes at a time. And while it’s been wonderful to be home with them, it’s also been maddening and exhausting.

To have a career you love and babies you love at the same time is a gift and a struggle of distribution.

To have a husband with a full-time job and a ranch to run when he comes home at night makes our life look like “remember you have the babies tonight because I have a meeting” and texts about grocery lists and the triumph of finally finding the lost mermaid toy the toddler has been obsessing about. It’s about piling in the old pickup to “help” fix fence and Daddy getting in just in time to read story after story before falling asleep in his work clothes in a tiny bed next to his daughter and her pile of stuffed animals because he’s exhausted while I’m upstairs nursing the baby and finishing up the day’s emails on my cell phone.

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It’s a familiar narrative.

We’re not unique as a working family trying to make our dreams and our ends meet. But turns out there’s a lot of wondering if you’re doing anything right in between those lines of the happily-ever-after story.

Because once you put those dreams in motion, what comes next is the messy, wonderful, unpredictable, frustrating, fulfilling minutes piling up to create a life.

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But why is it so scary to admit that it can be exhausting?

I know from experience that I can be tired and grateful at the same time. Aggravated one minute and proud the next. Content in the moment while really looking forward to when the toddler can put her boots on all by herself and the baby pops those bottom two teeth already.

When I pictured myself as a mother I had expectations that I wouldn’t use M&M’s as bribery as often as I do. But that was back before I met the kids who created this new version of me who loves them fiercely and fully, but still has work she wants to do.

And you know now that I think of it, I can only wish the same dilemma on my daughters one day.

Happy Mother’s Day mommas!

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Spring’s little gifts

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We went from winter to summer here in Western North Dakota. Last Saturday it was nearly 80 degrees and so I loaded the kids up with sunscreen and attempted to clear the yard of dog poop while Edie sprayed the hose into the little plastic pool and Rosie watched and drooled in her stroller.

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The sunshine made us all feel so alive and happy that I didn’t even mind shoveling the dead squirrel in full-on rigamortus from the yard for the thirteenth time that week (country living is glamorous).

And when we heard the next day was going to be even warmer, we went ahead and made plans to go fishing, successfully transforming us from grumpy, nose to the grindstone workaholic types, to full-on retirees–if retirees wipe toddler noses and baby butts while they’re poles are in the water.

Oh, it was the complete heaven that comes when we get nice weather up here. Because when it’s nice, it’s glorious. The lake was still and the fish were biting, at least for Pops, who proves time and time again that he’s the luckiest of the lucky ones.

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I looked over at him who is getting better and better every day and said “Isn’t it a great day to be alive?”

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And it was indeed. It is indeed.

Cheers to spring turning rapidly into summer. Just make sure you’re checking for ticks.

Love, the Girls of Spring!

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Coming Home: Relishing the signs of spring, whether good or bad

Throw open the doors and bring out that old book that props up your window. Let the sun in and the breeze blow through the house because I think spring might finally be happening after all.

I wouldn’t dare say for sure, except last weekend I picked some crocuses and a tick off the back of my neck, and out here those two things might be the most reliable indicators that sub-zero temps are on their way out, for a few months anyway.

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It’s incredible what a 70-degree day will do to a person up here where winter drags its heavy feet coming and going.

After a February that lasted three months, I promised my friend who has been living on a ranch in North Dakota with her husband for just a few years, that spring always comes … eventually. She didn’t look convinced.

Maybe because I wasn’t so convinced myself.

But here it is, however late. It’s that promise that keeps us crazies living up here in the great white north, all bundled up and waiting to walk around in our Ice Cream Shirts (with a jacket in the pickup just in case). And now that I see it in writing, I realize that I might be the only one in the great white north who uses the term “Ice Cream Shirt.” I’ll explain.

Ice Cream Shirt: The term our grampa Pete used to describe a button up, collared cowboy shirt with short sleeves, the type of shirt a man might have to wear if he spends his days scooping ice cream. Also, a piece of clothing the man himself probably never wore, because of the thorns in the bullberry brush and frankly, arms that aren’t accustomed to the sun should probably remain in the protection of sleeves, no matter the weather.

It’s the same sentiment my friend’s husband has about shorts. “I don’t like things touching my legs,” he said. “Like grass or bugs or air.”

That’s a cowboy for you.

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And it’s my understanding that even the ones who live in the desert might only be caught in shorts on that Caribbean cruise his wife bid on at a church silent auction or something.

Oh, there are good reasons for these unspoken wardrobe rules out here.

My little sister found out firsthand last weekend on our hike up to the top of the hill we call Pots and Pans. We were both dressed in tennis shoes, leggings and had a baby strapped to our chests, practical for a sidewalk stroll but brutal when you march right into a giant cactus patch, proving once again that out here, sunshine comes with a few small, annoying price tags, some with tiny stickers and others tiny legs.

Oh well, shedding a little blood is a small price to pay for a spring crocus bouquet, said the girl with a cactus plant dug into her ankle to the other with the tick stuck behind her ear.

Happy spring everyone. Wear what you want and soak it in!

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Not enough coffee in the world

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We had a wonderful Easter weekend, with a house full of guests. We were lucky enough to have everyone from both sides of our family (minus one) under our roof which, made for just the right amount of chaos.

And no amount of snow could keep us from the annual outside hunt, so there was that too. Another snow bank Easter in the books.

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Today we’re paying for it all dearly though. Because I thought it was a great idea to say “Sure, Monday at noon will be fine!’ to the lady who wanted to come over for a TV interview with me about the Lifetime HerAmerica project. Which meant I had to get after cleaning up the crusted turkey pan, candy wrappers, plastic egg pieces, punch bowl and crusted on floor crumbs and tackle my sleep deprived face and messy mom hair before her arrival.

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I also had to pray to the sleep Gods for well timed naps, which I miraculously managed, except the interviewer was late, which meant that just in time for me to mic-up the baby started to fuss and mid-way through my answer to the question about “managing it all” the toddler, complete with bed head and pink paint in her bangs from the morning’s craft project, woke up with a temperament of a poked bear.

And she wasn’t having any of it.

Especially the shirt I made her wear.

At one point in the process I was singing to Rosie and from her perch on the potty in the other room, Edie screamed for me to stop. Which I’m sure was exactly the mood they were going for.

I hope no one watches the news. That was exhausting.

And apparently, if my patience had a chance today, it’s shot to shit. I told Edie to say please today and she said I was being crabby. She even made up a song about it…

She wasn’t wrong. I sorta am, despite feeling so grateful after celebrating my favorite holiday. Funny how you can be so many things at the same time.

Oh, its all sort of funny, even the hard stuff. And I’m not sure when, but they say I’ll look back on it all one day and miss it. And I know that’s true, because we tend to forget the exhaustion and that weird, unidentifiable blob crusted under the leg of our table that was discovered with a house full of company and only remember how fun it was to hunt eggs in the snow.

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So that’s what this week’s column is all about. And when it was published, I got a few sweet emails from people reassuring me that it goes fast and that they can relate. And then there was the one woman who spoke her truth, saying I will NOT miss it because little kids are exhausting and it’s hard and the later years are easier and you know what, today I love her for that.

Because apparently, I’m crabby…and I don’t know why…

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Coming Home: As parents, when will we look back on this stage and miss it? 

“Remember when we used to hit up places like this after a long night out?” he said as he held the drooling, wiggly baby in one arm and ate chicken fried steak with the other while I shoveled eggs into my mouth between the toddler’s incessant requests for more toast, because she had just discovered jelly, a condiment she is was convinced was sent down from heaven to this café from God himself.

That was back when we would stay up until two in the morning on purpose and come rolling into cafés like these for a stack of pancakes or a pile of eggs, twenty something, tipsy and childless.

It’s a far cry from our current state of thirty-something, hungry and sleepless.

But I’m not sure how our waitress would have categorized us that morning when she walked toward our booth and caught me absentmindedly singing, “I need coffee, I need coffee, I need coffee” into my fork.

I didn’t even know I was doing it until I saw her face pull up into a full-on laugh as she handed us our menus and took our drink orders.

“I’m thinking you need coffee then?” she smiled.

“Huh, yeah,” I replied. “And maybe a little time away from the kids.”

She left and we laughed too. Our idea of a fun had morphed a bit from planning a night out on the town to planning a trip to take the toddler swimming in a hotel pool.

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Sitting down to eat breakfast at a café like this used to be a relaxing way to spend a Sunday morning. These days it’s more like a bad idea, a chance to test our patience, my incognito breastfeeding skills and, apparently, experience the thrill of eating jelly out of those little plastic packets.

But in between cutting up chicken nuggets, cleaning up spills and sipping cold coffee, the reminiscing made me take notice of all the different life stages that were seated in that busy café that morning. The rumpled weekend college kids we used to be, the parents of teenagers trying hard for discussion, the elderly couple quietly and ritualistically sharing the newspaper, the 5-year-old boy out to eat with his dad who kept turning around to sneak a peek of our baby…

And behind me a woman talked with her mother about giving her teenage daughter relationship advice. And in her words I heard my own mom’s voice talking over the hum of the radio in the mini-van, driving us somewhere so we couldn’t escape it, the same technique this woman seemed to employ. And I couldn’t help but think that in a few short blinks that a different version of us will be in that café while our daughters are sleeping in or out with friends.

And we will say, “Remember when they were little and we would come to these places to make a mess and noise and barely take a bite? Remember when there wasn’t enough coffee in the world?”

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