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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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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A thousand breathless moments

How little, not big moments, remind you about living

There are moments in this life that remind you what living is. And I can say from experience that it’s only a little bit the parts that you plan out to do the trick, like jumping out of an airplane over the Gulf of Mexico. Making it safely to the sandy beach after swallowing the atmosphere in the world’s most terrified silent scream does indeed make you thrilled to be alive, but I think it’s a lot more the quiet moments after the jump that stick with you in playback.

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Like the margarita I had with friends on the beach afterwards, laughing at how close I came to throwing up my breakfast on the way down.

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This chapter in my life doesn’t involve any sky diving plans, although some days the story feels a lot like jumping out of a plane with a prayer and no parachute. Right now the adventure is supper negotiations with a toddler when we’re all spent from the day, evening hours wearing a path in the floor bouncing the baby to sleep and balancing schedules so the cows can get fed, the taxes can get filed and the work can get done so the bills can be paid.

And in the in-between moments the floors are swept and spilled on, the laundry is cleaned and soiled and the plates are filled and washed over arguments won and lost while we make plans.

When they say they lived “Happily Ever After,” they mean for you to fast-forward to the highlight reel. Only sometimes the highlight footage is found tucked in the mundane.

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Last weekend I took my two-year-old to watch the High School production of the Wizard of Oz. My daughter loves to dress up, and so I made a big deal out of it. She chose her dress, her hair bows, we painted her nails and she picked out a necklace from my drawer to wear. She didn’t know what a play was, but she was thrilled anyway.

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“Mommy! You look so different!” she exclaimed after I put on the purple dress she suggested and we both did a twirl. Then we put on our fancy coats and headed to town, and while the high school students were making moments for their highlight reel they were also making memories for me, watching my little daughter worry for Toto, her little body hardly heavy enough to keep the theater chair from folding in on her.

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And it was that. And then, later that night, it was looking over to find my usually stoic husband dancing with the little neighborhood girls at the fireman’s fundraiser, and then it was my dad, who had been deathly sick for months, now able to sit in a vehicle to watch the neighborhood kids fly down the sledding hill and his granddaughter build a snowman,

and then the baby’s first giggle and all of us racing upstairs to lay out together as a family on our brand new bed that had just been delivered and about a million tiny little moments between that carry momentum to me these days that render me as breathless as a jump from that plane.

Love. An explanation.

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What is love? It depends on who you ask.
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My dad once told me that he didn’t believe that there was just one person for everyone. I was sitting shotgun in the pickup as he drove us somewhere. He likely asked me about my boyfriend, and I think I responded with a sort of fed up answer.

I was in that transition from teenager to adult, heading off to college and thinking I might be in love. And I was wondering if I should break it off, because that’s what most people do. And at that age, what most people do sort of means something.

“Think about this,” he said. “What would it be like for you if you couldn’t talk to him tomorrow?”

From there he explained his theory on love and how he believed it was more about timing and choices and kindness than it was about destiny. And it wasn’t romantic really, but hearing that there were more people out there I could love, or who could love me, helped take the pressure off, even if the teenage poet in me didn’t appreciate the practicality of it at the time.

Anyway, it turns out that particular relationship did work for me. My husband and I became one of those couples who found each other as teenagers and hung on tight, not because of big romantic gestures or a dramatic series of events, but because, I think, neither one of us could imagine not being able to talk to each other every day. And although it’d be more passionate to say we were destined to be together, the truth is, in the end, it was a choice.

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Last month, I asked a group of preschoolers to define love. I wanted a few cute quotes in the name of Valentine’s Day for the parenting magazine I edit. I don’t know what I expected, but it got me wondering how I would respond if someone pulled me away from my Lego tower and asked me.

One little boy summed it up perfectly when he told me, confidently, that he shows his mom he loves her by “cooking her turkey.”

I smiled as I wrote down his answer, thinking how refreshing it is to hear such an uncomplicated take on what we grown-ups come to muddy up along the way.

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Then I thought of my mom sitting by my dad’s bedside day after day after day while he was in the ICU and unable to speak, not knowing if she would get to talk to him tomorrow, the choice no longer hers to own.

There will be a time when my girls will need me to talk to them about head and heart, and I hope I’ll be able to remember what it felt like that day in the pickup, to be a teenager on the edge of a wide open life, reminded that love looks less like Prince Charming and more like turkey dinner turned into turkey sandwiches turned into a lifetime of conversation with the someone you can’t bear to lose.

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Motherhood, you’re a mess…

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I’m telling you, this winter deep freeze is starting to get to us. Couple that with the fact that Edie is on a daycare hiatus and we’ve been sorta sick and stuffed up for a week or so I admit, I’m digging deep here.

Today in particular.

Because as a sweet test from God I woke up this morning without a voice. Like, I’m not just a little scratchy. No. I can barely make a squeak come out of my mouth, no matter what I do. And it turns out a mom who can only whisper is fun for a two-year-old. Because if a kid jumps up and down on the living room couch and there’s no mom-voice there to tell her to get down, is it really happening?

Apparently not.

 

This kid is driving me nuts today, it’s like she knows I’m weak. Because the other one gave me no chance to get some rest and avoid this last night. Sleeping in 1.5 hour increments is another form of torture.

Anyway, to get me through the morning and keep Edie from trying, repeatedly, to feed Rosie her baby doll bottle full of water before attempting to lift her out of her seat,

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I decided I would sacrifice cleanliness and make this Moon Sand I’ve been seeing my mom friends do for their toddlers.

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It’s an easy to make, sensory activity for kids. I used the recipe off of happy-mothering.com because I figured with a URL like that, she must be on to something.  I mixed 8 cups of flour and 1 cup of baby oil together in the mixer long enough to get it all combined. I then poured it in a long, flat Tupperware container, thinking I was being really proactive about the mess by putting newspaper down on the table underneath. But it didn’t matter. By the time she was done the stuff was in my hair, under everyone’s fingernails, in Rosie’s ear as she slept in her swing across the room and the dog’s fur in the garage.

So, yeah, it’s more of an outside-on-the-porch kind of activity, but parenting up here in the great white frozen north where it was like twenty below zero here this morning is no joke. We make sacrifices in the name of our sanity. Today my sacrifice was my floor.

But it did keep Toddlerzilla engaged for a good 45 minutes or so. And she loved it. So I think it was an ok trade off for the 45 minutes I had to spend cleaning up the mess she made.

Ugh…Spring, you can come anytime now.

Until then, here’s this week’s column on the other messes I’ve created in my attempt to make it through this season with young kids…

Not all messes in life are created equal
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“Sorry for the mess,” my friend’s husband said as he opened the door to the pickup he was letting me borrow during the week I was waiting for my new baby to be born in the big town.

I looked around to find an orange hunting vest lying on the back seat and (GASP!) a stray penny on the floor. And that was it.

Clearly, we have opposite ideas of what a mess is, I thought as I wheeled around town in that spotless pickup like a fancy pregnant pageant queen, careful not to spill any crumbs from my occasional muffin pit stop on the seats and making sure to bring my water and juice cups inside when I parked it.

I’m pretty sure you could make a dozen new muffins from all the crumbs that are residing on the floor of my vehicle these days. And don’t get me started on the extra cups. And I know I’ve explained my car situation here before, how living 30 miles from any civilization means that a girl accumulates things, just in case — like extra socks, a stash of snacks in every available crevasse, lawn chairs, spare gloves, napkins upon napkins, a 2012 issue of Glamour magazine, a talking Elmo doll and a partridge in a pear tree. But if I thought I had an issue before I gave birth to two small children, well, I had no idea what was coming.

Like two, 75-pound car seats that come with said children.

Do you know what also comes with children? Stuff. So. Much. Stuff. Like all the extra things I thought I needed for those miles when it was only me? Multiply that by three and then add a giant stroller, a Pack ‘n Play, a couple stacks of kid’s books, a stash of fruit snacks, burp rags, baby dolls and at least one dirty diaper changed along the side of the road. Oh, and Edie’s lifejacket just in case.

By the time I get the car loaded and both girls out the door and buckled safely into their seats, I’m sweating like I’ve just come in last place at a Texas marathon.

Last week we finally did get around to going to that indoor swimming pool. I slowly made the trek from the parking lot to the door with a diaper bag backpack on my back, a swim bag overstuffed with suits, clothes and towels dangling off the stroller with a car seat and the baby inside, stopping only to pull my toddler in her puffy coat out of the snow bank where she decided to lay down for a half-way break. If it wasn’t so cold, I might have joined her and if you were flying over Watford City that day, I’m pretty sure you could see us giving up on it all from your window seat.

Three days later, when I went searching for that swimming bag, I found it, of course, in my car, stuffed full of very frozen swimsuits, towels and an ice cube of a life jacket.

And that, my friend, is the sort of mess worth apologizing for…

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January. Or, Mom vs. Mittens

IMG_3820Being a mom to little kids in the great white north comes with its unique challenges. All the extra steps we need to take to go anywhere without suffering frostbite is one of them…and along with that comes my newest and biggest rival: Tiny Mittens.

Squeezing a pair of those buggers on a two year old’s wiggly hands while she’s bundled up like a puffy mummy, repeating “outside, outside, outside…” while I’m bent over, sweating and the baby’s squawking in her swing is a reason only the strong survive up here.

And now my sweet darling daughter has started to do this new thing where she goes boneless and drops to the floor with her eyes closed tight whenever she senses any sort of urgency from her mother, so getting her dressed is like dressing a large, limp, noodle. And getting her to find that nice balance between limp noodle and escape convict is really fun…It’s fun in the grocery store. It’s fun walking out of gymnastics. It’s fun in parking lots in freezing temperatures and it’s fun at potty time…and suppertime…and bath time…and bedtime.

And so I’m dreaming of summer and 80 degrees where the girl can run wild (or flop on the ground) buck naked if she wants, because by the time July hits we’ll have lost all patience for clothes…along with all the mittens that don’t fit anyway…

Here’s this weeks column, where I complain more about it…

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Spring-it’s just around the corner. I promise.
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Congratulations North Dakota! You’ve made it to the end of the longest month.

From here I can see spring — if I stand on the top of the highest hill, on a rock, with my binoculars, but probably only because February’s a short month and the past week we’ve had a break from the sub-zero temperatures long enough for us to find optimism and wrangle the toddler into her snow clothes and play outside.

If I start the process after breakfast, we’re usually ready to hit the small sledding slope in the backyard just in time for her afternoon nap. Because there’s nothing more fun than a tired, over-bundled toddler who just face-planted in the snow and has lost the will to save herself because it took too dang long to put her mittens on.

Seriously, if there’s a children’s mitten out on the market that doesn’t require a team of engineers and detectives to maneuver two tiny thumbs in the thumb holes and a therapist to convince the kid to keep them on, I’ll pay you for your recommendations.

Think of all the free time I would have if someone could solve the mitten problem. I might actually get supper on the table before dark, which currently isn’t possible because dark starts at 4 pm.

Oh, I’m only complaining a little, but I think it’s allowed in January. Our mutual annoyance with this long, cold month is what keeps us Northerners bonded together. January is the reason that there’s an entire colony of North Dakotans who abandon ship and relocate to Arizona each season.

And I would be jealous, except who can blame them? Especially when most of the Arizona-bound population has put in their years of earflap caps, long underwear and toddler mitten holes.

People in Arizona don’t have to deal with mitten holes.

Oh, but they come back eventually, usually around mid-May or June, when 42-below zero has become a distant memory, leaving only a scratchy little patch of frostbite you acquired on that one January night you had to walk home because you got the feed pickup stuck up to its floorboards in a snowbank.

If only we could ship our cattle to Arizona for January as well. I’m sure they’d be pretty pissed if they knew there were cows in this world that have never had to lean in against 40 mph winds whipping ice pellets at them, so I haven’t told them.

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No, we keep them blissfully unaware and fed each evening with giant bales of hay that smell like the beautiful, green, sunny summers we get up here.

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For that reason I hope that cows have memories. Because there’s nothing like the scent of that hay rolling out behind the pickup (that just conveniently dropped its four-wheel-drive) to remind us that this weather is fleeting and the tall lush grass, crystal clear creek water and sweaty, tick-filled days of summer are just around the corner.

Come on over, I’ve got a telescope and a tall hill, so I bet we can see it coming.

Just don’t forget your mittens.

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Time reminds us.

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Rosalee Gene came into this world quickly on Friday, December 1st at 9:14 am. Before she was born she didn’t have a name. We hadn’t found one that we were set on, should the baby we were growing be a girl. We decided we needed to meet her first.

And when I met her I knew. I looked up at my husband looking down at the squishy, wailing, slimy, dark haired little human resting on my chest and he said he knew too.

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“You say it first,” he said.

“Rosalee,” I said.

“Yes. Rosalee.”

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And so we have our little Rosie Gene. Gene named after my dad who has, for over a month, been in a fight for his life, battling a pancreas that is dying on him.

It’s been excruciating, this wait and see. The long hospital stay. The ICU, the terminology, the air flight to Minneapolis, hearing my mom’s tired voice on the other end of the line. Our hearts stopping at every ding of our phones.

As I type my dad’s in critical condition in the ICU in a hospital in Minneapolis known for their expertise in pancreatitis. He is intubated. He can’t talk. They are making plans to remove the fluid that builds up as a result of the inflamed pancreas, a dangerous condition stemming from a dangerous condition and the whole healing process is a Catch 22.

And we can’t be there with them. Because we have to be here. Taking care of our daughters and the ranch and each other waiting on news.

To be so simultaneously happy and terrified is exhausting and overwhelming, but we’re taking it day by day, minute by minute, praying and hoping and dreaming of an outcome that brings dad home to the ranch to meet Rosie Gene. We have so many people, a whole army of community members doing the same thing and we are grateful. And I am so grateful for this family of ours.

I wrote the piece below as I was waiting in Bismarck for Rosie to arrive. Since then dad has taken a turn for the worse and we have had a week at home with our new baby girl. Today is my husband’s first day back at work and my first day home with both of them. We cut our Christmas tree last night off the place, determined to keep in the tradition and spirit of the holiday because that’s what my parents want and that’s what we need to do for these kids of ours, and really, in times like these, what choice do we have but to chin up and be strong.

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Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and casseroles and cards and texts and phone calls and emails and love. They mean so much to us.

Coming Home: Time is a reminder to love one another
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By the time you read this we will be a family of four.

I’m writing this from a borrowed laptop in the basement of my best friend’s house in Bismarck, waiting on a baby who has shown us that it’s not safe to drive the three hours home, because we might not make it back in time to deliver.

It’s fitting really for this to be the sort of in-limbo news I’m sharing considering the tough and unpredictable month we’ve had as a family.

Since October turned to November, my dad has been fighting for his life as his pancreas does the hard work it needs to do to heal itself. After my dad was rushed back to the big town for another week in the hospital, the Friday after Thanksgiving, my mom called in the family to see him off on a plane ride to seek the help of the experts in Minneapolis.

We left Edie in good hands with my in-laws and found ourselves surrounded by close family and skyscrapers in the big city, not knowing if our dad would come out of this, reminded, once again, what living minute by minute can feel like.

It’s excruciating.

And as we sat with him in the ICU, we slowly sunk into a world so far from the buttes, golden grass and the peaceful calm of the ranch we kept telling my dad to visualize that we barely remembered it existed ourselves, the foreign sound of the monitor beeps and the taste of lukewarm coffee from a Styrofoam cup becoming our new normal.

How many times can you ask a person how he’s feeling before sending you all off the rails?

If we really wanted to know we could ask the people in the room next door who’ve been there longer or are fighting harder, the ones we walked by in the hallway in a weeping embrace, saying they did all they could for her.

And then we can say a prayer of thanks because, for now, we are the lucky ones.

We are the lucky ones who still have some hope here.

My husband and I left my dad with my mom and good doctors to heal slowly in a hospital bed in one of those skyscrapers that lights up the city skyline at night, each twinkle in the rearview mirror reminding me of the millions of stories beginning and ending under the light of the moon, living room lamps, restaurant candles or the fluorescent hum of the hospital lights we’ve come to know too well.

Any day now those lights will be the first thing our new baby sees as he or she takes that first breath in this world. And I will never forget the way it felt to try to hold life in my womb so tight these past few days, terrified to bring a new soul into a world that suddenly felt so unfamiliar to us all.

But time, you see, we don’t own it here, no matter the grip we thought we had on it all.

I think, at the end of the day, the only thing we really have to hold on to is our capacity to love one another, which is even more amazing when you realize you just get more of it when you give it away.

Time is just a reminder that you don’t have forever to do it.

The Everything…

I had a rough week of pregnancy last week. And by rough, I’m not saying anything other than I was just ridiculously uncomfortable, sleepless, full of heartburn and reflux and backaches and all around moderately suffering to grow this baby who’s been continuously punching my bladder for months now. And it’s a good thing, to feel him or her move around in there so vigorously, reminding me that all is well and I am grateful for that. But I’m also, you know, pretty damn uncomfortable. So I’ve been whining about it to my husband, which I don’t take for granted. It’s a gift to us to be able to whine about the little inconveniences of creating a miracle and a dream come true.

I have about one month to go in this second pregnancy. This week I have one more trip to take across the state to talk with students in a few schools about poetry and writing, and I’m looking forward to it. And then it’s home to hunker down, wrap up some work and follow my husband around and annoy him about moving furniture, and boxes and desks and getting things ready for our new tiny roommate.

I can’t wait to meet him. Have I shared that my guess is it’s a boy?

Which probably means it’s a girl.

Either way, the child is going to be forced to wear his or her fair share of dresses, I’m certain.

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This week’s column is a reflection on what that means: looking ahead and behind and soaking in the right now.

Memories and planning and everything in between 
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I woke up this morning to the baby in my belly kicking, rolling and stretching his or her arms, snapping me instantly out of a dream and into the reality of another day spent being a pregnant mother.

Inside this dark house, long before sunrise, my other loves were slowly waking up too. I lifted my daughter out of her bed and got her dressed for the day while she worked on slow blinks, little hands pressed to her face to wipe away the night.

She doesn’t know what’s coming in the next month or so and I’m torn between the excitement of a new arrival, the nerves of handling the chaos that’s about to ensue, and nostalgic about the time we’re spending together, just us two girls, the way it is most days.

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Yes, the look of my “most days” is about to change, and I realize I spent so much time worrying about becoming a mother for the first time, I never gave much thought to what it would be like to become a mother to a second child.

My little sister brought her baby out last weekend. I kept her inside with us while her mom was out and about on the ranch. I looked around the living room scattered with toys, the autumn sun shining through the windows on my tiny niece laying on the floor and watched as Edie brought her cousin blankets, toys and kisses, stopping every so often for a quick twirl in her dress.

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I remembered a time when this house could be so quiet that I could hear my thoughts bounce back to me from the walls of these rooms.

Scooping the baby into my arms, I realized how many of those thoughts were memories of all the mittens my little sister and I dropped in the coulees, how many times our boots filled with creek water, how many burs and grass stains we accumulated as we stepped out of our parents’ footprints to march our way to growing up.

It’s funny how quiet those memories can become when you use them to start making plans.

 

And so much of my time these days I spend worrying about the logistics of those plans — the cattle, the crib, the unfinished garage, the landscaping, the money, the potty training, the birth, the casserole, the disorder of every closet in this house — some days it’s hard not to think that if we could just get it all done we’ll have finally made it like we promised each other all those years ago.

But this morning I sat my daughter on my lap to comb her hair and the baby in my belly kicked at her back. I laughed as my husband, all dressed for work, stood beside the chair beaming while his daughter beamed right back, knowing the next step was being scooped up in his arms to head into the day.

And here I sit, in a quiet house, listening for those thoughts, the ones that remind me that this … this, is the plan.

And the memories.

And the everything.

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In her dress, life’s just more beautiful

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This week’s column is a little more about “The Dress.” Which my darling daughter is, of course, currently wearing as she sits on the potty and watches videos as I sit on the bathroom floor in front of her typing this on my laptop and waiting to hear a tinkle.

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On Saturday she actually plopped a poop in that potty, but that’s likely only because we rushed her there while she was clearly working on somethin’.

This is what my life has become.

But I have to admit that my daughter’s obsession with all things dresses, and pretty, and hair and painted fingernails has provided such an unexpected reality for me, a mom who, until I discovered her love for a good twirl in a floor length gown, has never played a legit princess movie in the house and really doesn’t get dressed up too fancy unless I’m heading to a performance.

But she’s been watching. She see’s what’s special, decides what she makes her feel good and smart and beautiful and independent and she goes all in.

And she’s not even two yet.

I didn’t realize this identity development, these preferences, started so young.

Last week I had her up in my room with me while I was getting ready for a meeting. She went into my closet and tugged on the bottom of one of my dresses and said “mommy dress, mommy dress,” and so I pulled it out and put it on. Her smile lit up that dim room. She was thrilled, she bounced up and down and told me I was “bootiful. Bootiful mommy in a bootiful dress” And then she instructed me to twirl. And so I did.

And there we were, the two of us, mom and tiny daughter alone in the house, in my bedroom, in the middle of nowhere, laughing and singing and dancing and twirling, telling one another how fabulous, beautiful and lovely we are in dresses way too fancy for an ordinary day. But to Edie there’s no such thing as an ordinary day and I hope I never forget the complete innocence and freedom in that moment with her. Because it was everything.

My only wish is that she could always remember it too….

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My daughter’s love for dresses
Forum Communications

We have an issue in our house these days. At least that’s what I’m calling it, dare I utter the real word and ignite the flame.

I’ve been dealing with the “issue” moderately successfully for the past few weeks, but last night it raised its voice loud and clear while I was chained to a phone with a cord, trying my best to have a professional conversation as the last human on earth who still owns a landline and my daughter let out a series of loud, desperate and relentless cries that only got louder and more inexorable as my poor husband worked to remove her from the room.

Did she fall and hit her head? I didn’t hear a thump, but maybe she’s bleeding. Did she need stitches? An ambulance? Or maybe she saw a ghost — you know like one of those supernatural phenomenons that only innocent children can spot?

That’s a thing, right?

“Do you have to go?” The now-concerned voice on the other end of the phone asked me as I tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to pretend that nothing catastrophic was occurring in my household.

Which turned out to be true, despite my worst-case-scenario predictions. I hung up the phone and opened the door to my daughter’s room where she sat on her daddy’s lap, in her jammies, tears streaming down her face.

“What on earth?” I asked him in the best version of the mom voice I now posses.

He looked me straight in the eyes with an expression as defeated as any strong, healthy man can possess and simply replied, “The dress.”

Yes. The dress.

He dared suggest she wear anything else and there were not enough bribery lollipops in the world…

I blame my sister-in-law for handing it down — this floor-length, checkered, floral and quilted little number with just the right amount of twirl to bring a toddler the high she needs to become addicted.

But I think it’s also a hereditary thing. Because I wouldn’t wear anything but a pink leotard, purple tights and legwarmers for my entire second year of life, God gave me a daughter and then introduced her to “the dress.” Needless to say my mother is loving every minute of my peril.

Leotard

She wakes up and it’s the first word my daughter says, and she will say it — “dress, dress, dress, dress” — until I retrieve it from my unsuccessful hiding spot in the hamper.

The other day she wore it out to the pasture where the guys were building corrals, and I suddenly became sympathetic to the prairie girls who came before her as I watched her unsuccessfully try to run and frolic, making it only a couple steps before getting tangled up and pummeled to the ground.

“Well, maybe she’ll want to take it off now,” I thought as I hoisted her up for the 50th time in five minutes. But I knew better. Judging from her smiles and squeals of delight, I realized it was quite clear the challenge of the dress only made living more fun.

And, according to my darling girl, infinitely more beautiful. Proving that the only ones who have an “issue” is her parents.

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It takes a village to raise a mom

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It takes a village to raise a mom 

Sunday Column, Forum Communications

This morning I drove Edie to town to daycare so I could get some work done. My husband has been gone hunting in Montana over the past few weekends and into this week, and so I’ve been on my own a bit more, managing a schedule of deadlines, performances, doctors appointments and fun, calling on my mom and dad, sister, mother in law and daycare provider to fill in the blanks of caretaking along the way so that my husband can have time to do the things that make him feel like himself, obliging, of course, because he does the same for me.

I’m sitting in my mom’s coffee shop to work, the occasional shrill of the latte machine cutting through the background hum of conversation and music coming from the speakers. If you sit in a place like this long enough you get a good glimpse of the characters that make up a community, or at least the characters who prefer to get through their day with a proper dose of caffeine and conversation.

When I was a kid my grandma would take my little sister and I into town to run errands. After a stop at the pharmacy and post office we would inevitably wind up at the Chuck Wagon Café on the corner for a hamburger or ice cream. If Dixie, my favorite waitress was working, she would serve us chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup and chocolate M&Ms, a sweet indulgence and a simple gesture that seemed to stick with me throughout my life the same way I’ve kept the memory of a teenage neighbor giving me words of wisdom about an unruly horse at a 4-H show when I was eleven.

And there are dozens others—my third grade teacher who would let me write plays for our class to perform for the school during lesson time, our hired man who drove an El Camino and saved our puppy when he got his head stuck in the Christmas tree stand and caught my sister and I a grass snake to keep as a pet one summer, the older neighbor boy who taught us girls how to play football by running plays on his knees and letting us tackle him, my aunt uncle who would have me at their ranch for a few weeks in the summer to eat popsicles and help my cousins groom and show their sheep and steers and pitcher of KoolAid that was always waiting for us in the plastic pitcher on the kitchen counter in the house.

These are the moments embedded in that old saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’ve been thinking about it lately as I’ve been relying on my extended family and friends more than ever to help me balance mom life and work life and making sure the laundry is done once in a while. And a parent could start to feel guilty about leaning on others in the hectic times, especially someone like me who is under confident about asking for help and thinks she can handle it all on her own.

Except the older Edie gets, and as my big belly grows along with our plans, I have slowly come to realize that not only can we not do this parenting thing alone; I don’t know if we were meant to.

Because that little village of 4-H leaders, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, nice waitresses, neighbors, baby sitters and teenagers I looked up to are characters woven into the story of my life who not only taught me lessons, but sweetened my life experience beyond the borders of our barnyard

And you know, now that I think of it, the influence of that village didn’t stop when I found myself all grown up, it’s just that I think I took them for granted until now when I feel I need them the most. Because it turns out it takes a village to raise a mom too, and I am thankful for mine.