Everything and Nothing

I have a confession: I desperately miss the carefree days of blogging at Minivans Are Hot. It was time to move on, and I’m glad that I did, but I do miss that space. I miss the random and ridiculous, and all the laughter.

So I decided that this space is going to have to lighten up a bit every now and again.

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Here’s the thing – I’m really not that deep. I don’t find great meaning in each and every day. My life is crazy. It’s a fight to keep my head above water most days, what with ALL THE CHILDREN, ALL THE TIME. Seriously, there are kids everywhere right now. I feel like Miss Hannigan.

Everywhere I turn, I can see them.

And then there’s the laundry. Lawdy, all the laundry. As I folded clothes tonight, I tried to think of something I could write that would really encourage and bless the internet, and you know what I realized?

Laundry is just laundry.

I can’t always find a Jesus-y application in a pile of clothes. (Wait…hang on. I’ve got it. The clothes were dirty, but they were made clean, just like our sin made us dirty, but Jesus washed us clean.)

*groan*

Okay, that was awful.

So I don’t have something super deep to share today, and there are so many reasons for that, one of which is the fact that I am completely and entirely distracted by the roaches in my kitchen.

Roaches.

In my kitchen.

This is not as horrific as the time I killed a roach in my bed, but it’s a very close second. You want to know why? (Of course you do!)

Because they have apparently made a nest somewhere in my kitchen, and I’m fairly certain that nest is somewhere inside, or above, or under, or behind my microwave. Which can only mean one thing.

It’s time to burn the house down.

At least that was my suggestion, but Lee said I should call the bug man first and see if that works. Seems like a waste of time when we could just torch the place, but I figured I’d give it a try just to make him happy.

I killed three roaches around the microwave the other day. Yesterday, when I opened it to reheat my coffee, another one came crawling out between the glass panes, then he turned and laughed in my face because he knew he scared the bejeebus out of me, but I couldn’t smash him.

He then proceeded to do a little jig while I pawed at the glass, trying to figure out if I could somehow kill him without breaking it.

The bug man is coming out tomorrow, and I’m perfectly content with him taking a hatchet and a blow torch to the microwave, or really to the entire kitchen. We don’t need a kitchen. That’s what restaurants are for.

So there are the roaches who are distracting me from any deep thoughts. Then there’s the whole not sleeping all night thing, which leaves me sort of fuzzy most days. There just isn’t enough coffee.

And I mentioned ALL THE CHILDREN, ALL THE TIME right?

Sweet kids. I love them so much. But we’re going on day four with daddy out of town, and my brain cannot ingest any more talking, and three out of the four really enjoy the talking. They have words they want to share, and stories they want to tell.

Detailed stories. So many details, all of which I am apparently supposed to remember. Then they all start talking at once, and I go into a zone. Then suddenly Sloan is waving his hand in front of my face and yelling “Earth to mom!” Which they all think is hilarious, and they laugh while I stare at them blankly, trying to remember what they were saying…and their names.

And did I eat anything today? Sometimes I forget to eat, which is probably fine since THERE ARE ROACHES IN MY KITCHEN!!!

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There’s also the baby, God bless her. She’s wickedly adorable, and a welcome distraction. Until she starts crying.

So let’s see, I can’t think of anything deep and profound to say because of the children, the roaches, and because I can’t find Jesus in a pile of laundry.

I did, however, write some pretty words for Extraordinary Mommy this week. Words about gratitude and family, and tender moments with my daughter. So if you want more pretty words, join me over there.

But if you want nonsense, stick around. I’ll be here, babbling semi-coherently until Lee walks through the door.

Have a good weekend, everyone! Go have some fun! Pour a tall drink! Share a laugh with friends! Talk about everything and talk about nothing, and when you do, think of me.

I’ll be here, digging out from under the laundry and listening to all the words.

Living to Live: Thoughts on Building a Platform

I sat on the bench and marveled at the birds splashing in the puddle in front of me. Sitting high on a hill overlooking Kiev, Ukraine, I reveled in the warmth of the midday sun. Winter was fast approaching, but one last Indian Summer (or Baba Leta as it’s known in Russian) pushed off the impending cold, filling the sky with that warm fall glow that sits nicely inside your soul.

It was the fall of 1998, and I had been in Kiev for just a few weeks. I’d finally learned my way around the city enough that I felt confident exploring on my own, and I’d stumbled upon a lovely little grassy area on the hill overlooking the Dnieper River. On this particular day, I struggled with a serious bout of homesickness, and I just needed to sit in the warm sun and remember why I’d chosen to take this adventure.

This was back before Twitter and Facebook let you remain active in the lives of your loved ones far away. I had just learned how to use email, but I had to track down a smokey internet cafe to sign on, and even then the connection was slow and unstable. Calling internationally was expensive, so I had to rely on once a week phone calls to my parents that were short and sweet.

Basically I was living in the dark ages. HOW DID WE EVEN SURVIVE BACK THEN?!

No one knew who I was during those four months in Kiev. I didn’t have a “platform” on which to share my adventures, or my stupidity depending on who you ask.

(It truly is a miracle that I survived some of the situations I put myself in. God’s grace is real, my friends, and it is sufficient even for a 20 year old who chooses to traverse the world on her own without fear of consequence.)

I lived that semester in relative anonymity, choosing to relish life not for the stories that I could chronicle, but simply because life is short and we must live while we’re here.

Living to live

Blogging and social media have changed the way we live our lives. In some ways this is a good change. We can see one another and remain connected like never before. My parents are living abroad now, and yet I can still send daily texts through an app on my phone, which kind of weirds me out a little bit.

I hit send on a text and the words float through the air, ACROSS THE OCEAN and land on their phone in a split second. WHAT?!

We are officially living in the future.

In other ways, however, this social media thing has had a negative impact. Instead of simply living for the sake of the adventure, we get caught up in living for the sake of the next great post.

We don’t share the messy as much as we should, but instead life has become a perfectly edited, overly filtered Instagram shot. We share the happy moments, which can almost make it seem as though our lives are filled with rainbows and puppies and all things nice.

I don’t have a problem with this, by the way. There is a lot of talk about “honest blogging,” and “being real” online. I agree with those sentiments, but I think we should be careful that our honesty isn’t at the expense of the ones closest to us.

The platform building aspect of social media has become a bit of a rat race to the top. It’s a necessary evil for those of us who are working toward publication, and who are making a career out of our creative pursuits. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t exhausting.

There are days when I long for the anonymity of that Ukrainian hilltop. I want to do a better job of living to live, rather than living to be seen. There was nothing significant about that moment in the sun. No one around knew who I was, nor did they really care. It was just a moment of peace that I didn’t share with anyone but a few birds splashing in a puddle.

May we all strive for those quiet moments whenever we can.

Do any of you get exhausted with the perceived need to build a platform? For those of you who, like me, need to have platform in order to best do your job, do you seek out quiet moments that are yours alone, not to be shared with the online world? How do you strike this balance?

I want to tell you about the rainbow

“Mom, can you get me some milk?”

“Mom, he hit me!”

“Mom, I don’t get this problem. I need your help.”

“Mom, does the ‘Y’ at the end of this word make the ‘EE’ sound like ‘happy,’ or the ‘I’ sound like ‘cry?’

“Mom, I can’t find my (fill in the blank).”

“Mom!”

“MOM!”

“MOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!!!!!”

And then the baby screamed for an hour.

It was one of “those” days. You know what I’m talking about. The kind of day that doesn’t contain enough coffee to make life not feel like a freight train crashing around on a Tilt-a-Whirl. Like you’re being squished and pressed in from all sides, and also on top and from the ground up.

It was a day that came after a night that was too short, and several times interrupted by a baby with a bird mouth who couldn’t find her sleeping groove, and so eating was her go-to coping mechanism.

And so many cries for “Mom.”

As the day drew to a close, I found myself dragging through each motion. With daddy out of town, it all falls on me. Gymnastics, soccer, meals, homework. On a good day, I can rock our schedule with gusty flair, but on a fatigued day, I move a bit like an elephant in quick sand.

I slogged my way through the showers and the late night studies of multiplication tables, my eyelids so heavy that Tia finally looked at me with deep concern.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “Your eyes look weird.”

We’re working on tact with that one…

As I warmed up the baby’s bottle, while quizzing Tia on her math, and listening to Sloan tell me about the new book he was reading, Landon tugged on my shirt.

“Mom?” he asked, eyes all big and hopeful.

“Just a minute, buddy.”

“But…Mom?” He pulled on my shirt again.

“Hang on, babe. I’m listening to Sloan right now. Tia what’s 8×4?”

He leaned against my side and waited for a brief moment before tapping my arm again. I sighed and look down. “What, Landon?!” I was exasperated. He could tell.

He motioned me down so he could whisper in my ear. “I love you,” he said softly, then he smiled wide, thin lips stretched across soft cheeks.

You can’t have him, friends. He’s all mine.

With a lighter heart, I finally got all four (four!) kids settled into bed, and I stood in the middle of my kitchen for a few moments, relishing the stillness and quiet that is rather elusive in our home these days. I felt almost giddy at the thought of my own warm bed waiting for me, and I began preparations to make my way to it.

“Mom?”

I turned to see Tia standing in her doorway. She came padding out and tossed me an impish grin. “I need to get a drink,” she said.

I sighed. “Okay, but be quick, alright?” I was exasperated. She could tell.

“Okay,” she said, then halted. “But I also want to tell you about the rainbow.” She looked at me, her eyes so big they made her look like a Disney princess. How could I say no? I nodded my head reluctantly.

“Did you know that the first color in a rainbow is red, but you can’t see it because just above it is blue, and the red and the blue blend together, and that makes the first stripe look purple? Isn’t that so cool?” Her smile was so wide, and her eyes so delighted to share this information with me that, once again, I felt my fatigue roll off my back like the droplets of water that streak across the windshield.

rainbows

To all the exhausted, overwhelmed, stretched-too-thin moms out there, I raise my glass to you. We’re fighting the good fight, heels dug in, determined to enjoy this ride called motherhood. We’re told to cherish each moment, but the moments all blend together into chunks of time that feel like they’re just.too.much.

But we’re doing it. We’re living this mothering journey, and it isn’t really glamorous, and perhaps we get exasperated more than we should, but at the end of the day we know we’re loved, and we learn really cool things about rainbows.

So we tuck those brief moments deep in our hearts, and they become the fuel to get us through the next day, and the next night, and the one after that, until we find ourselves on the other side of this journey. I understand why older women tell us to cherish this time.

They know that on the other side of mothering young children, we miss the magic in a rainbow.

Praying magic for all of you this weekend.

These are the stories you should tell

soldiers

The sky was grey the day I met him. It was 2003, and I was in Kiev, Ukraine looking on a quest to speak with the men and women who’d fought valiantly in “The Great Patriotic War.”

Leonid sat behind his desk and looked at me warily, not generally accustomed to people wanting to hear his story. His back was bent, his face bearing the lines of one who’d lived through hell on earth. Through the translator, he asked one simple question.

Why do you want to know?”

I was a 24 year old pregnant American in Ukraine with a thirst for history. I wanted stories. I wanted to hear them and to tell them. But this man – this man had lived the stories. They weren’t romantic, and they certainly wasn’t as neat as most movies had made them seem. Leonid’s history was alive with the sounds of men dying. He could smell the gunpowder and fear, all mingled together in a story of heartache.

He was a veteran.

The men and women who lived this history are slowly fading into the past. Their stories are all we have left, and we must be willing to listen. We must gather them, and preserve the words if we cannot preserve the sights and sounds. This is why I continue to search for the right publisher for my novel. Because I believe the stories must be told. 

We must continue to write books and make movies so that these veterans will understand that we want to know because we want to honor them. And for the men and women who are serving today, the ones living new stories, fighting against our own modern day terrors, we must show them that we respect their sacrifice. That their stories are worth hearing and telling and honoring, too.

“Why do you want to know?” he asked.

“Because I believe your story is worth telling,” I told him.

His eyes glistened and he leaned back in his chair, folding his hands gently in his lap. He took a moment to gain his composure before speaking.

“I was 16 when the Nazi’s invaded my country. My father went to the front immediately and died very quickly. Though I was not yet old enough to enlist, the Red Army allowed me to fight as a volunteer. When I was 17, I entered the front lines.

The men in my unit were not much older than me. They were 18-25 years old, all of us boys. We were afraid, but we had courage in our hearts.

There are a lot of stories I could tell you of those years, but I won’t tell you all of them. Most are too painful. I do remember one evening, though. It was near the end of the war, and we knew that we were winning. We were in Russia at this time, and the winter months were finally ending. It was still cold, but we could feel spring coming. We were by the fire after another long day of walking. We hadn’t seen battle that day, but we knew we could meet a fight at any time. That was part of the fatigue, knowing that we would run into the battle at any moment.

We heard a sound coming from the trees behind our camp and we all stood up. I remember my heart beating so fast I could hardly breathe. A man shouted from the darkness in a language I recognized, but didn’t understand. He was speaking English.

My friend, Pavel, spoke English and responded. He told us to put down our guns because these men were friends. 

The Americans sat with us by the fire that night. They gave us cigarettes and vodka. I didn’t understand the conversation, but I remember the camaraderie we all felt. We were different, but we were also the same. We were young men who had survived. We had seen the very worst of mankind, and the very best of mankind. We were all scared, and we were brave.

We were soldiers.

They left the next morning, and not many months later we got news that Hitler was dead. This is the story I want you to know. I want you to know that those years were dark and painful, but there were good things that happened, too. I will always remember that night when I sat with friends from another land.

These are the stories you should tell. Thank you for listening to me.”

To all the veterans who have served in the fight against oppression, I thank you. And to the men and women serving now, I am so very grateful. Your story matters today, and it will matter fifty years from now. Thank you for your sacrifice.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

The Tenuous Art

I had big plans for after Annika was born. Because I’d done this baby thing three times before, I just assumed that life would go back to the way it once was, forgetting completely that babies change everything.

There was, of course, a small part of me that new it would be tricky these first few months. But I was only thinking of it from the vantage point of being fatigued. I figured that I would just live tired for a little while, but that’s no big deal, right? I mean, I can do tired.

I also knew that a little more would be required of me as a mother. Whereas the older three can all bathe and dress themselves now, and are relatively independent in the day-to-day tasks of life, I knew that having a baby would be a set back in some of that mothering freedom I’d come to enjoy.

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Friends, I forgot completely that babies require just about every ounce of your strength from sun up to sun down, and even a bit of the moonlight hours as well. I mentioned in my last post that Mother’s Amnesia is a real thing, and I had it to the hundredth percent.

I forgot that an eight pound human being needs almost constant care, and that the fatigue nearly obliterates your brain cells. I didn’t just ignore that little fact, I TOTALLY FORGOT IT.

Which makes it laughable that I thought I could just go on with life as it once was, completely uninterrupted.

I don’t say any of these things to complain. In fact, I am about as content and joy-filled as I possibly could be. I am absolutely, madly, deeply, and fully in love with that baby girl, and holding her in my arms feels like a blessed privilege. The weight and warmth of her little body against mine make every sacrificed moment worth it.

But I am also overwhelmed. I feel both sentiments in equal measure.

We are slowly falling into somewhat of a routine these days, and for that I am grateful. She wakes up only once at night, and she is figuring out how to nap during the day. These are good things, and they are gently giving way to more structure in my days. I haven’t yet figured out how to make it to the grocery store, and the house is in a perpetual state of disarray, but no one has starved and we aren’t in need of intervention from the TV show Hoarders just yet, so I think we’re in good shape.

This is just the tenuous art of motherhood that slipped my mind fully. Somewhere between Landon growing from toddler to preschooler, I forgot that life with young children is a beautiful hard.

In addition to the daily crazy, I have a career to nourish now that I didn’t have when my other three were babies. I love what I do, and while I’ve scaled back considerably in the last year to focus more on my family, I still want to nourish and grow this part of myself that I feel God has led me to. So I’m learning and practicing this tenuous art of motherhood and life and creativity.

I’m remembering and I’m growing, and I might be eating a little too much chocolate, but there has to be room for too much of something right now, and the chocolate is at my fingertips.

I’m happy, and I’m busy. I’m overwhelmed, and I’m content.

This is life right now, all rolled up tight in a mess of wants and needs and not enough sleep. There are moments when I want to run away, but they are far outweighed by the feeling that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Maybe you’re there, too. Maybe you forgot, or maybe you didn’t and you’re simply in that joy-filled overwhelmed phase of life where it seems impossible to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished in a 24 hour period of time.

I’m here to say I get it, and I stand in solidarity with you. I wish we could get together and share a cup of coffee and a plate of chocolate together, but that would somehow require both of us to leave the house. So instead, I raise my mini-Hershey bar to you and offer a proverbial pat on the back.

We’ve got this, friends – this beautiful, messy, hectic crazy life.

Now excuse me while I go take a two minute shower because I hear the baby stirring and I am DETERMINED to wash my hair today!