Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And the Word became a clump of cells

And dwelt among us.

As I sit here halfway cooked with this latest addition to our little family, feeling the effects of pregnancy with every fiber of my being, I'm also thinking about Mary.

I'm thinking about how her life changed radically with a message from an angel, a shocking invitation  into something so far beyond her own plans that all she could manage was calm and reasonable "Yes, but how can this be?" - going straight for the logical inquiry over the more obvious "why is there a terrifying angel appearing in my room," or the more nuanced "God wants to have a baby with me?!" route.

One thing that didn't seem to have occurred to her?

To question whether or not there was, in fact, a baby involved.

God's proposal to humanity, sealed in the flesh through Mary's fiat, was - and is - a Person.

Not a potential person. Not an eventual person.

A real person. From the moment of His conception, miraculous (note: NOT immaculate. Wrong feast day) thought it was, He was both fully divine and fully human, and Mary became fully a mother that day when she gave her consent and conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Which is why the argument against the personhood of the unborn has always struck me as so profoundly stupid in light of the Incarnation.

He was there, from the beginning. His little cousin John the Baptist knew as much, and he leapt in recognition at 12-week-old embryonic Jesus from his own uterine perspective.

Any woman who has ever been pregnant can attest to the incredible other-ness of being with child. From the very earliest days following conception, that baby is there, growing and changing and developing as humans continue to do over their entire lifespan, but undeniably and irreversibly there. You can kill the baby at any point, of course, but you can't undo what has already been done: the creation of an entirely new human person.

And that's what makes today so special. That's why if you count forward in time 9 months from today in the Church calendar you land on the embodiment of the Incarnation: Christmas. He arrives today in a  real sense, tucked safely in the womb of His Mother and ours, and while He remains hidden for another 9 months of growth and development, history is forever altered because He now exists in human flesh.

So happy feast day, Mama Mary, from one gestating mother to another. Thanks for changing the course of salvation history and loosing the bonds of Eve's disobedience by your generous and unreserved "yes."

We owe you - quite simply - everything.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

House Tour + Insta-gratification

It's been a good long while since I posted an old school straight-up mommy blogger style post. And I'm sorry for that!

I'm still trying to find the right balance to keep you, my faithful old friends, satisfied and entertained without traumatizing my new audience at CNA. Because let's be honest, I'm not going to radically alter my voice or content, but some trauma you have to ease into.

The new blog is almost up and running, the design is going to be beautiful, and I can't wait to show it to you. In the meantime, I'm still "here," and so I figured why not post a little fluff to pass the time?

Oh, also, I finally embraced the modern world and joined Instagram yesterday. Welcome to the 90's, Mr. Banks. (And you all were right: it's the most fun of all social media.)

So something that I really, really love (because I'm a creeper?) is seeing other people's homes. I'm a would be decorating junkie and an HGTV addict, so there's nothing more fun to me than seeing somebody else's style/space and being able to envision them more accurately in their natural habitat when I'm reading their words. (If you're trying to decide if you're disturbed or flattered, go with flattered: I want to see your living room.)

Anyway, do you want to see my house? It's been enjoying a little TLC while I KonMari'd the shit out of my wardrobe/kitchen/bookshelves/decor, and I'm much happier with the way it looks now as opposed to 2 weeks ago. Much.

It's still not perfect, you know, because it's a work in progress. But it makes me happy to coax it along; I get a rush of satisfaction from finding a new spot for a tired piece of furniture or a neglected vase. Cheapest of thrills.

So, here you go, a virtual tour of casa del coffee:

First up, the living room/front entry way.

I just bought gorgeous (and cheap!) long white curtains at IKEA and I'm dying to get them up around that bay window. I have aspirations of hanging them high and wide and framing the gorgeousness of all that natural light that floods into the front of our southern facing house. And since we have a blackout shade we can close at night for privacy and light control, I was free to go with my heart and choose impractical ineffective and oh-so-lovely white. 

The oriental rug was a wedding gift and, while beautiful and expensive, is totally not my taste, but it's here and it's lovely and so I work around it and let it do most of the heavy lifting in terms of pattern/color in this room.

Next up, the family room. The blankest of blank canvases right now because I just spent an afternoon "quieting the space" ala Myquillyn and now it's sitting pretty and plain and waiting for the right touches, not just putting up with whatever I happened to have on hand the weekend we moved in. Not that there's anything wrong with going ahead and throwing something up on the walls, but after a year of not quite right, I'm happy to let it sit semi-undone for a bit while I figure it out.

(I should have disclaimed this sooner, but me + my iPhone 4 are do not a professional photographer make, and I'm not really that skilled on the layout end of things, either, in terms of uploading images. So if this looks like the work of an amateur, at least I'm transparent.)

Most of our stuff is thrifted, and here's the big fat caveat with that: it takes multiple visits to multiple thrift stores over multiple weeks and months to arrive at a "finished" product, at least for me it does. So even though I've found some amazing stuff over the past year and a half since we moved in here, it did take lots of time and patience to get there. Not thrifted: the white china platter (wedding gift), the leather couch (our first repatriation purchase upon arrival Stateside, American Furniture Warehouse), and the round framed mirror (Walmart. Shudder.) Everything else: Goodwill/Saver's/Homegoods/mom and dad's hand me downs.

Next: the opposite of a gourmet kitchen. But whatev, it's a decent-ish size and I have a huge pantry, and my husband is really gifted in the charism of doing dinner dishes before bed. So I've got no complaints. Wait, no, I do have one; the heinous "white" linoleum hanging onto the beleaguered floor for dear life. At least it's not carpet?

Heading down the hall we find ourselves in the master bedroom. It's big enough to fit our king sized bed (the luxury!) but not really big enough to fit anything else, and that's fine by me. I keep it as visually uncluttered as possible because I feel 100% less stressed when it's clean and calm.

(How do I get such amazing shots? I'm telling you, it's the 2 year old camera phone and the steady caffeinated hand. #gifted #blessed)

Oh, I forgot, here's a shot of the basement which contains two semi finished guest rooms, an avocado green full bath with some missing ceiling tiles, and a laundry room and play room. 

That stairwell, my friends, is the reason there's zero toy clutter on the main floor. (That and I'm ruthless with the donations. Ruthless.)

Moving on to the nursery wing.

How cool is the boys' dresser? It weighs 200 lbs and our landlords didn't want to bother taking it with, so we inherited it. Legend has it the original owner/saint decopauger is now happily tucked away in a convent somewhere, none the wiser that her lovely original piece now primarily houses Pull Ups and filthy pajama pants.

And my favorite space in the whole house? (Well, at least until this past weekend's decluttering fest); Genevieve's room.

We don't have a dining room because we're not fancy like that. Actually, it's because I opportunistically transformed the space into my gym/home office while nobody was paying attention. I'm sure if we were trying to fit teenaged boys around our kitchen table we might need this space, but for now I'm super super lucky I can use it this way. Nothing fancy, but it's a happy place that lets me get my work done.

And finally, some random shots of the front porch and our front yard, where the children frolic as I survey my kingdom from behind the storm door or the bay window. I'm sure the neighbors can't handle how hands on my parenting is.

Okay one last shot: Evie can stand! If anyone is still hanging on after this endless stream of blurry cellphone pics, you deserve to see something cute.

What about you? Up for showing a little behind the scenes of your home? Maybe you could throw a little something together and drop a link down below? I'm all eyes, because the only thing better than Pinterest is personalized Pinterest, you know?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

You are my luxury

Sometimes, thanks to social media, the internet feels like a very small place, a limited orbit. I shared this on the blog's Facebook page last night after seeing it posted on another site, but by morning it was everywhere.

Maybe you've read it by now, in which the "luxury" of stay at home motherhood is contrasted with the "necessities" for survival, as so deemed by society at large. 

I thought it was a well written piece that walked the fine line between values statements and judgmental proclamations handily. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, but I think that's more to do with the emotionally charged nature of the debate (mom-at-home vs. mom-at-work), and not any fault of the writer's.

My own impression? I thought it was spot on. And before that gets me in trouble with my working mama friends, hear me out.

I see you, too. I know you must struggle to leave them every day, to put on your professional face and set your primary mom identity aside from 9-5. I know because you love your kids as much as I love mine, and that while I get a thrill of freedom and relief over the occasional half day in the office every other week or so, spent in meetings or working on a special project, you have to do it every single day, and that it probably doesn't feel much like escape to you. 

Home probably feels like your escape when you pull into the driveway at night, because that's where you left your heart when you pulled the door closed behind you that morning. 

And I don't envy you for that. Because I know that no matter how much you love your job, that can't be easy, and that no amount of uninterrupted time in the restroom can make up for the pain of that separation. 

I'm not saying you shouldn't be working outside the home, by the way. You've made your choice and I've made mine, and we're both doing our very best for our children.

But when I contemplate the idea of luxury like the New York Times piece touched on, when I stop to think about what makes life sweet and satisfying and ultimately, worth living, it isn't cars or a beautiful home that come to mind, or honestly, even being able to pay my bills on time.

It's them.

My children are my luxury. 

So in that sense, yes, I have embraced the most luxurious life possible, in choosing to stay home with them, to work a job that fits mostly into nap times and late nights, and in forgoing some of the more typical decisions that might otherwise accompany one's early to mid thirties in modern America.

We're nowhere near buying a house, but that has more to do with me choosing to spend invisible money on higher education more than a decade ago than with the cost of diapers. We drive older, sort of ugly cars. But there are two of them, which sometimes causes me to catch my breath at the sheer indulgence of it. We did the one car thing and then, living overseas, the no car thing. A car is an enormous luxury.

But I'd trade my minivan for the chance to be home with them if it came to it, honestly I would. And I know couples who have made that decision, no regrets.

There's something that only another parent can understand: your child is an unstoppable and ever-changing force of nature, and childhood is fleeting. 

And every time I leave them, even if just for a weekend away with their daddy, or an hour or two at the coffee shop, I long to be with them again. Sometimes I even miss them while they're sleeping, an admission that only hormones can be responsible for. (You know you've made the late night forehead kissing pilgrimage too, don't deny it.)

And I know too, that no matter how far my eyes roll up into my head in Costco when yet another well-intenetioned stranger tells me that I'm so lucky to be able to stay home with them all the end, they're right.

I am so lucky. And I need to do a better job keeping that in mind, day in and day out. Because I chose this life, and we are choosing it daily, as a couple, and there are sacrifices and sufferings and little deaths involved, as there are in any other big decision. But when we add them up nothing compares to the immeasurable luxury of time with our children. 

And I don't have to explain that to a single other person. Besides, they couldn't possibly understand what I do: that these particular kids are beyond worth it for this particular mother, and that no matter what else I could be doing in a professional capacity, it pales in comparison to what I've been asked to do within the 4 walls of my own slightly ill-kempt home. 

And that's not a judgement on anyone else's lifestyle choices. Just the recognition that my own life is, indeed, immeasurably privileged.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bond of brothers

My boys are lying facedown and soaking wet in a patch of sun on our thawed-out deck, relishing the 79 degree Colorado sunshine after a long winter (which, in all honesty, is probably nowhere close to finished, but I don't have the heart to tell them...) and taking turns slapping each other on the back.

"What's happening?!" they trade off shouting, dissolving into giggles as they slap each other over and over again, imitating a character from one of their favorite books. They're drenched from freezing hose water and their rash guards and tiny swimsuits are plastered to their bodies. And they are supremely happy.

Just a week or two ago, down with fevers and ear infections and endless 20 degree days, these same boys were scratching each other's metaphorical eyes out in unrelenting Lego squabbles and disagreements over whose turn it was to open the garage door with the special remote. And to be fair, they'll probably be fighting again in 15 minutes.

But for now they are deeply content and completely engrossed in one another, their 19-month age difference barely a blip on their consciousness except, of course, when Joey feels the need to assert his chronological superiority with every checkout guy, barista, and random stranger in the library.
Then there will be a reckoning of birth order, a rattling off of personal information and an unbidden recitation of names.
RIP, mohawks.
Their personalities are so different, and yet they have a sameness between them that can only be explained by a shared pedigree. 

One is bossy, loud, impatient, slow to see the needs of others; the other more gentle, more reflective, more willing to console and to share. But I see the way they rub against each other's temperaments, one emboldened by the fierce desire to keep up with an adored big brother, the other occasionally gentled by a younger one's needs.

It's amazing the way they were clearly designed to be together. And I'm amazed at how very little I had to do with it. I mean yes, I produced them both, but I couldn't have planned the ways they complete each other, the ways they compete with each other, the ways they force generosity and coax cooperation and unselfishness out of day to day situations.

I have no doubt they'd learn these things eventually, be it in school or the workplace. But I'd rather they learned them here, now, they have as much time as possible to sink deep in, becoming woven into the fabric of developing personalities.

Their baby sister is beloved by them both, but not fully of their world yet. She's been grudgingly allowed into the bathtub after dinner time, and I'm seeing increased efforts to include her in playtime (or at least throw toys in her path to prevent screaming fits), but she hasn't breached their shared imaginary world.

Maybe as she grows she'll be welcomed into the club, or maybe the next sibling, growing now beneath my beleaguered ribcage, will be her match.

But he or she will be so much more than that, too. More than just another playmate or a contrasting personality to add to the crew; a unique and wholly unknown other to enter into the intimate world my kids share only with each other. Sometimes while I watch them play my heart constricts fiercely at the thought that my time with them is limited by the difference in our ages. I might get 50 years with them if I'm lucky. Their siblings might get 80.

They'll grow old together because they're growing up together. I know it's true, because every week on  Wednesday or Thursday night I slip out of the house after bedtime duties and drive a few miles to a predetermined spot to meet two of my sisters and, occasionally, our brother who live nearby. We have drinks and sometimes dinner, too, and we laugh about stuff only people who survived life with the same crazy parents (hi, mom and dad!) under the same roof can.

And now that babies have come and jobs have demanded relocations and friends have dispersed across the globe, we've become, just as mom and dad endlessly reminded us we would, each other's best grown up friends.

I can't wait to see that for my boys. Even though I probably won't be privy to the inner workings of it. Even though I'm already being left behind, imperceptibly, day by day as they grow and change and need less of me, but arguabley more of each other.

I hope when they're sharing beers together one day 30 years from now they can forgive a whole host of my failures and shortcomings as a parent for the simple fact that I gave them each their best friend. And I hope they encourage each other to strive tirelessly to improve their aim, because their bathroom smells exactly the way you might imagine a small space shared by two masculine preschoolers would.

Love you, boys. And I love your love for each other. Don't ever let it grow cold.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sanity hacks for the tired parent

As demonstrated so, um, eloquently? Painstakingly honestly? in my post last week, I'm tired. I'm a tired, washed up old young mom, and I need all the help I can get.

I'm guessing, based upon the overwhelming response of solidarity, that there are a few of you out there, too. 

Jen Fulwiler wrote a great piece a couple years ago that examined the fundamental difficulty we face in modern motherhood, focusing on the way the breakdown of physical community - real community - like the kind that used to be found in neighborhoods (and maybe still is in yours, if you're fortunate) has fundamentally altered our daily landscape.

It's more or less necessary for mental health for most adults to have some human interaction on a daily basis. If it must be virtual, then so be it, and hence, the explosion of social media and the mommy blog movement.

But it's so much better if it's in person.

Even I, a dyed in the wool introvert if ever there was one, will cop to the truth that staying home all day alone with little kids is hard. Part of what makes it so is the isolation. 

Another large contributing factor? Being "it" in terms of entertainment, authority, empathy, etc. for a small army.  Or even for a single kiddo - some of my toughest days of SAHMing were with my firstborn in his infancy, when I, still fresh from a dynamic office environment, found myself suddenly and deafeningly alone all day long, all week long. It was a huge adjustment.

Of course, now I look back on that time and long for uninterrupted stretches of napping potential and housekeeping prowess (though, to be fair, at the time I was probably crouched over the packnplay making sure he was breathing if ever he did sleep), but, c'est la vie, hindsight is blinding.

I'm 5 years into the game now, which isn't a lot of time, but it's long enough to get through college (ahem, just barely, in my case) and so it's long enough to pick up a few tips and tricks of the trade for surviving the eternal winter of staying at home with small children. Here are some of my favorite go-to's:

1. You are not their entertainment (but sometimes Netflix is)

I had really high hopes of being a screen free, hands on Montessori style mother when my first two were very small. I set up little activity corners for them and filled them with objects to sort and stack, and I monitored their consumption of media carefully. 

I still do this, at least as far as piles of toys in the basement corners can be considered "curated content for exploration" and I'm still very careful about what they watch. See me painstakingly select "Netflix Kids" and pull the screen up, inviting them to thoughtfully choose between the Wild Kratts and Daniel Tiger. Watch me scrutinize the clock, calculating the time between now and dinner, and then make a generous dispensation for "just one more" episode. Notice me generously donating additional siblings to the dynamic to make playtime more interesting (and giving our sports teams a deeper depth on the roster, down the road.)

Y'all, this is survival mode. And a wise old mother once told me that the advent of television was God's gift to mothers to offset the decline in childhood mortality in the industrial age. 

(Which is horrible, okay? And a joke! But definitely one that I'm still laughing at...)

Oh, and a painfully necessary addendum to the above paragraph? Nothing against screen free parenting, Montessori schools, or moms who like to craft with their kids. We're all wired a little differently on the inside, aren't we? And that's ok.

2. DVD players are in cars now

When we bought our nothing too fancy 9 year old mini van, it might as well have been a spaceship for all the upgraded features it boasted over, say, a Roman city bus. One of those prominently emphasized by our enthusiastic salesman was the drop down DVD player. I scoffed, because surely my children could enjoy car rides around town in the MIRACLE OF A SINGLE FAMILY VEHICLE and not also be expecting onboard entertainment, but wouldn't you know, the thing does come in handy at times. 

For example, during the 12th consecutive day of light snowfall and temperatures in the 8-11 degree Farenheit range. You know what those days are awesome for? Driving aimlessly around town blasting the Frozen: Sing along! edition for 50 or 60 minutes of choreographed boredom busting. And maybe hitting the drive through at the end. Boom, morning over.

3. Indoor wading pools

At our house, summer is for backyard water play. By 9 am we've got the slip n slide unrolled, the baby pool filled, and a sizable mud pit attracting diaper clad cousins fermenting in the side yard. In the winter when the mercury rises about 50, my poor native Coloradan children who were born without a sense of temperature or a knack for appropriate public attire (geographical disabilities) have been known to strip off their shirts, kick off their shoes and run hopeful into the backyard, searching for the hose. (No, kids, it's rolled up for the season. Please put your Tevas on and curb your enthusiasm till May.)

But there's always the bathtub. I know the trend this week is to breath a deep sigh of relief and admit that your child hasn't been bathed in 2 weeks or longer, but when I read the articles that starting circulating last week on the importance of building up microbes or something, I laughed until the tears came, because not only have we had the most hideous winter of illness on recent record, but my kids take 2-3 baths per day. Yeah. Can't believe they're not immune to all sorts of ailments!

And you know what? I don't care if it has destroyed their delicate immune systems (which I don't believe for a second) because of two things: first, they're just as wet all summer long because of the aforementioned wading pool fetish, and second, we don't use soap. Because it was long ago emptied down the drain in a fit of toddler creativity.

Bam, microbes intact.

4. Costco is a wonderland 

You probably recall that Target and I are on a break right now (3 months strong, and the budget to show for it!) but you'd best believe that the biggest adjustment to life outside the Bullseye was what to do with the children on those frigid days when milk and diapers and morale were all running low. Well, now we go to Costco, the magical land of free samples, giant carts, and comfortable furniture to lounge about on. And maybe a salty hot dog at the end, if everyone behaves themselves.

And you know what else? There are no dollar bins at Costco. Nobody has ever "accidentally" spent $13 dollars on crap at Costco. You know why that is? Because no single thing there costs less than $13 to begin with, so you tend to think through those purchases.

I'm never excited to go, but I'm always glad we went. Because everybody's tummies are full and 2 hours have mysteriously ticked by and I have 48 cans of crisp cold La Croix to stock my fridge for preggie happy hours.

5. Phone a friend

Some days are just beyond redemption. So why not throw reason to the wind and welcome another 2-4 dirty children into your home for some good old fashioned team parenting with a friend or sister? 3 whining kids of your own might feel overwhelming, but when there are 7 of them all clamoring for snacks and thundering through the kitchen in superhero capes, it usually feels more comical than anything else. Some of my most successful "playdates" have resulted from 3 pm phone calls to a desperate friend in a similar situation, only to find us 40 minutes later sipping wine in relative chaos while our beautiful babies trash one or the other of our basements. If you can't beat 'em, multiply 'em ... and pour yourself a drink.

6. The one-hour recharge 

For some days there is simply no other remedy than escape. And so, with dinner made (or not) and kids handed off to daddy, I flee the house at the bedtime hour. This accomplishes the twofold purpose of preserving my mental health for another sunrise, and allowing daddy some wonderful bonding time when the children are at their absolute most precious. Wink. 

Sometimes it's a hot tea at the coffee shop down the road, sometimes it's a solo trip to the grocery store, and sometimes it's a half hour in Adoration, but I swear by these little escape trips that leave me exponentially refreshed and recharged and able to kiss sweet sleeping foreheads and mean it when I return by 8 pm.

So there you have it, some of my most effective trade secrets (and admissions that would have shamed me 5 years ago. You live, you learn.)

What helps you keep your nurturing neurons firing?