Spring Board

In a lovely turn of events, Saturdays are now our quiet days, our days to do nothing (or everything depending on how you look at it) and will be for the next five weeks as tomorrow marks the start of Spring Sports in high gear for our fam. Miss Raegan’s already been at it for a few weeks with her running program, Girls on the Run, and the two biggest boys started with flag football practices this past week, but starting tomorrow our weeks will be full of all of that plus Sunday football games and then weekly practices for the new kid track program that Ben is helping coach here in town, and while we’re at it, why not throw in orchestra rehearsals for HD and Kinder Orientation for TJ, this week too, eh? Because, yep; all that is happening, too.

And this is why this sweatshirt has the best-ever job descriptor of what my life is like as a mama of five busy Littles because chaos coordination is exactly what I attempt to do all the live-long day, and especially now that we’re getting into high levels of activity again with this new season.

To be fair, I often find spring a little overwhelming for these very reasons – all the things happening at all the times takes a lot of organization and planning, not to mention remembering and executing. But this spring has that not-so-little extra bit of anxiety built into it because we’re coming into this level of activity after a year of basically going nowhere and doing nothing and the overwhelm is not just to our calendar but also our senses and energy levels, too.

The good part of this is that Ben and I have both been fortunate enough to receive our vaccinations for COVID-19 in the last month, at least the first dose. He actually had his second just yesterday and I will have mine this coming week, so once we get through two weeks after that, life going back to semi-normal will feel a bit more possible. But there’s still so much to process from everything that is happened in the last year that makes it hard to just dive back in to active, calendar-full life, on multiple levels, which brings me back to these quiet Saturdays.

I need them.

My kids need them.

My husband and my house need them.

We need some time to decompress and be away from all the going and doing because we haven’t quite figured out how to re-enter that again, which I think is OK. Actually, I’m not sure I ever want to go back fully to what life was like before, but with this many kids in our family, even keeping them limited on activities still means we have a ton going on and eventually I am going to have to find a way to navigate that that keeps us all happy and sane. In the case of this year, maintaining that meant saying “no” to soccer for the littlest two because we just needed to keep one day of the week to ourselves while we still could.

I’d like to think that we can still keep quiet days moving forward and we’re doing well to lay that foundation now. I have to believe that the spring board back to the world at large can still leave such space and grace for ourselves and our families. Time to take walks and think. Time to play games both inside and outside. Time to listen to music. Time to unwind and reset for all that is to come (because, again, even with just a little, it all quickly becomes a lot in this house).

Is it wishful thinking to hope we can keep this forever? Yes. I know that. But for this year in particular, this feels like the best strategy possible to keep ourselves in one piece while also putting some feelers back out there for what that semi-return actually looks like for us. I think coordinated chaos plus once-a-week quiet days are a pretty good way to start.

Hurricane Wilson

Call it Spring Fever or a celebration that March is finally over or that I know my kids are going to be home for the next four days and I just can’t stand the mess anymore, but today I drank my tea and then got after it on picking up/decluttering around the house (spoiler alert: it looks better but is far from done). As you might imagine, we do this quite often but with seven mess makers living here, it takes all of two seconds for it to become a disaster zone again, especially with this girl on the premises.

Don’t let the cuteness fool you. She is the No. 1 Offender when it comes to spreading randomness from one end of my house to the other at lightning speed. Here’s an example of said random toys that were all together in the same 2 ft. area of a room that is NOT a toy room, and it doesn’t include any books or Lego, which is misleading because those feature in every pile everywhere all the live long day.

It’s been like this for a couple months now (my mom will back me up because WA does the exact same thing at her house) and I have been trying to figure out why that is. Is this just her personality? I mean, it could be because she can’t seem to dry her hands in the bathroom without pulling the towel to the floor, but I guess time will tell for sure. But what I think is (also) happening here is that she’s our first 3yo to be on the literal loose in the house without a little sibling behind her and that has changed the game for sure.

In the past we always kept toys with lots of pieces and any sort of small part away from the youngest Welschie by keeping them all in the basement (or at least did our very best to do so). Only baby toys and things that couldn’t be swallowed by a crawling/exploring 6-24 month-old were allowed on the main floor up until Wilson graduated from that stage, and oh my, is she having a blast with this arrangement. In fact, she throws her fun around like plastic confetti on a regular basis and holy moly cow, I can’t keep up, not even if I switched back from tea to coffee.

Eventually the goal/plan is to sort all the kid chaos in our house and get rid of a bunch of it. The last year of pandemic living has left me wanting to do that task very badly and also having zero energy left to actually tackle the enormous job of it. So maybe this summer? Until then I’ll just be chasing Hurricane Wilson from one room to the next, giving thanks for her imaginative play ability while also (mostly silently) cursing the mess it creates.

2021 Reading List

Holy smokes. I didn’t expect to hit the ground running quite so hard with the books this year, but we’re a quarter of the way through 2021 and I’ve already hit 25 books. This has me thinking maybe I’ll up my goal from 75 to 100 for the year, but maybe I’ll just see what happens and how that plays out as the weather gets nicer and we’re outside more of each day and evening.

As always, what follows are the books I’ve read this year in chronological order. Bold titles are the ones I super recommend or enjoyed. The list that follows after the titles and blurbs is (just part of) my virtual To Be Read stack.

  1. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid — I zipped through this one mostly because I didn’t want to stop reading so I could see what was going to happen next. This felt so relevant and possible and real, plus it was great the way it moved back and forth from lead female character to lead female character.
  2. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett — Although the first 20-30 pages were a little slow for me, by Part Two, I was totally hooked and found this to be a great read. I was intrigued by the characters and their life choices and by how society/perception played into all of that as well.
  3. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare — This one took me a bit to get into and essentially the entire book is filled with intense hardship, but the language is beautiful and revealing and the determination in it is just as remarkable as the crisis. The story may be fiction but the facts sprinkled through the later chapter titles show how it may not be far off from reality for some (many).
  4. Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin — The connotation of a word on the very first page threw me for such a loop, I struggled to get into the rest of the book, and as it turned out, the book had nothing to do with the meaning of that word. I stuck with it for the sake of a virtual book club. Eventually I caught on to what was happening with the structure and the focal point of one particular day/night in young John’s life but this was a hard read for me.
  5. The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power — I have been wanting to read this forever and was glad to finally get my hands on a copy. It’s big – 550 pages of memoir meets journalistic reporting on life in war-torn countries plus genocide and then into politics, so whoa – that’s a lot of heavy stuff. But I have always enjoyed Power’s interviews in recent years and she is a great writer/reflector and I’m so glad she’s back into government work with the USAID.
  6. One Day in December by Josie Silver — Given the book’s title, I was surprised at how much time and content the story covered. Even though I found it predictable, I still enjoyed it as a quick, romance-y read and was interested in the character’s growth over time. I also found it more believable than the previous Silver book that I read last year, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird.
  7. Conjure Woman by Afia Atakora — This would make an excellent book club choice in part because I have questions and ideas I want to bounce off others after reading it. Also, this is a debut novel?! Whoa. I can’t wait to read what she writes next! I love how the book jumps in time but not in giant leaps (for the most part); this builds the story and characters in such an intriguing way.
  8. Our Time is Now by Stacey Abrams — This was such an informative read. Granted, a fair bit of it went over my not-in-politics brain, but I also don’t think you have to have direct ties to politics to get something out of this book. It really speaks to our civic engagement in general which is so vital and important. It was interesting to read this given that the book was written before COVID-19 really hit and so that discussion along with the drama of mail-in voting that became our reality in 2020 was missing here (and about which, I am sure, other books will one day be written). It was also interesting to read this after Jan. 6 because that too feels like it plays a role in what Abrams had to say about voting and leaders and concerns for our democracy. All together, I learned a ton and I am so grateful that the Stacey Abrams of the world are out there to guide us and keep us going through it all. (finished 2.11.21)
  9. Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn — I grabbed this online because it was being offered as a community read from our library and it proved to be more than just a typical romance as it had some intrigue and mystery to the characters, too. It was the perfect palette cleanser read after some of the more dense books I’ve been tackling as of late.
  10. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory — Sometimes a predictable, quick, romance-heavy book is just what you need to read and this series is so good for that. I actually read Book 2 last year, so I liked going back in time to the first and plan to read the subsequent ones later in the year. I like Jasmine Guillory’s style, but fair warning – these are Harlequin in nature so pick a different book if that’s not what you feel like reading.
  11. The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia — I loved the way this was written and the way the story unfolded. The in-depth discussion of the 1918 Spanish Influenza caught me off guard because I wasn’t prepared for how relatable that would feel to life in 2020/2021, but that was not the whole focus of the book by any means. Although I was confused by the shifting perspectives and occasional odd jumps in sequencing at first, once I hit a stride with this one, I couldn’t put it down.
  12. Tweet Cute by Emma Lord — This book was adorable. It’s a YA RomCom sort of read but it still caught me by surprise and delight while reading, which was great because it was witty and fun without being too obvious or over the top. (Finished 2/23/21)
  13. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi — This was neither light nor easy in terms of content but this book blew me away both in scope and style and I could not stop reading. I loved the approach of each chapter devoted to a new generation and how the stories and characters were woven together in this breathtaking, brutiful novel.
  14. Regretting You by Colleen Hoover — I expected this to be predictable and while it was, it was also a quick, enjoyable read and I liked some of the little nuggets that came at the end of the book in terms of life lessons. Also, if the characters had just freaking talked to each other, a lot of heartache and headaches would have been avoided, but then you also wouldn’t have had as much story to build, so, there’s that.
  15. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah — Although a relatively quick read, this is not light in scope or subject matter. I got so drawn into these characters and was so compelled by their story of hardship and struggle in the Dust Bowl 1930s. Oddly there were lines throughout the book that were spot-on perfect for and relevant to today’s (pandemic) world. I’ve read at least three of Hannah’s books and all were serious but good and I highly recommend this one!
  16. Kindred by Octavia Butler — this surprised me in content and style and was truly unlike anything else I’ve read. While I’ve read many books that travel between narrators and time, I’ve never taken on a story that follows one narrator through time in this way. Ultimately this was an interesting story with an impactful look at slavery and racism ancestry, and history.
  17. You Have a Match by Emma Lord — The miscommunication between characters drove me a bit nuts at times but then that’s probably pretty spot-on for teenagers, so I get it. I love how Lord weaves family dynamics into her books and that the whole story isn’t just about crushes or partying or totally typical teenage drama. (finished 3.13.21)
  18. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo — It took my editing brain a bit to calm down over the total lack of periods in this book, but once I got past that, I absolutely loved the characters and how this was written in interconnected trilogies that were multi-generational and so fascinating to watch (read) unfold. Loved it! Also, it had a totally unexpected connection to the book I read just prior to it which is always weird/cool when that happens.
  19. When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller — This was a great YA read that spoke so much to family dynamics and cultural backgrounds and young teendom. It was a quick read but I loved how it wove together in its own story the art, beauty, history, and magic that is story telling.
  20. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion — Even though the basic premise stems from an obvious and somewhat irritating miscommunication, that’s actually pretty on point with these characters and this series which remains enjoyable and fun to read. I read the first book not that long ago so it was easy to fall back into rhythm on Book #2.
  21. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo — This was far from a happy, light read, but it was very well done from a layered, unfolding sense of both the characters and the story that details not only relationships but also parenthood in raw, honest ways. I’ve read a number of Nigerian-based books recently and this one blew me away as a debut novel.
  22. The Archer by Paulo Coelho — A simple, short read that is, of course, layered with symbolism and meaning and told through a basic story that could be applied to connecting any action in life to one’s soul, not just archery. The illustrations throughout the book are beautiful. This could be read multiple times not just for dissection of meaning but also because it is such a brief book. (finished 3.22.21)
  23. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot — I didn’t expect this to be such a page-turner but even in the midst of the science, the story and reporting of this sucked me in and I couldn’t put down the book. I learned a lot about cell cultures as well as the rights, privacy, and privileges given to medical patients over the course of our nation’s history. Ultimately, I was blown away by the questions this true story revealed and raised.
  24. If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane — Although the basis of the meet-cute and subterfuge were remarkably similar to another book I read not that long ago, I still enjoyed the story and the way the twists and turns developed throughout the book. I also appreciate that every romance book doesn’t have to be Harlequin in nature.
  25. This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith — this one surprised me in how, devastatingly at times, human these characters were. I also struggled to suspend my disbelief at how the beginning of the story unfolded but from there it was a beautifully detailed look at how even a few days can leave a lasting impact and connection between people. And, on an odd side note, the basic premise for a marriage ending in this book was the exact same as what happened in the book I just finished reading. How does that even happen? (finished 3.30.21)
  26. The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory — I just praised a previous book for not being too “open door” and now I’m going to turn around a praise this one for being, well, perfectly open door in the way all of JG’s books have been. I read the first two books of this series out of order but that worked in my favor on Book 3 because the character carry over was more direct here and I liked that. For an it-is-what-it-is series, I really enjoy these!
  27. Vera by Carol Edgarian — It’s remarkable to read stories of survival after moments of devastating destruction and loss such as an earthquake + fire in the early 1900s which is the setting for this book. I liked how the story unfolded with a hyper focus on the days after followed by learning more of the story in a long arc sort of way beyond that. I ultimately was confused by a statement on page 1 that never did resolve (for me) in the rest of the book, which means either I missed something or something is missing. Either way, this would make for an interesting book club discussion.
  28. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayern — To be fair this style is outside my normal comfort zone so this was just an OK read for me but that may just be because I no longer read thriller/fantasy books much if ever. This one seemed part Hunger Games, part Handmaid’s Tale, part Twilight (not really, there are no vampires, just odd, surreal and supernatural messed up fairy tale stuff) but I appreciated the concept of a fairy tale turned on its head and the overall message behind the quest. (finished 4.4.21)
  29. Wonder by R.J. Palacio — Love this book so much. This is a second read for me as my own 5th grader just read it and wanted to discuss with me and all I could remember was how much I liked it. Now I remember why and can’t wait to discuss it with him.
  30. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy — I loved the way this was written (focusing on roughly a third of the members of a family with 13 kids) both in terms of the present day storyline and then the periodic flashback chapters to the POV of each parent each time it happened. It was such a good look at big family life, life in Detroit, and just life in general. I LOVED the line “Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do.” and the paragraph that followed it all about how houses become homes that mean so much to the people who reside in them.
  31. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall — This is a must-read and a must-read-again because the scope of everything being addressed within this book is wide and deserves to be given attention more than once. The subtitle on my copy is different from what is listed online; mine reads “notes from the women white feminists forgot” which is an accurate description of what the book entails.
  32. Behold the Dreamers by Imblo Mbue — These are characters and a story that crawl under your skin (in a good way) and settle in for longer than it takes to read the book. Set around the time of the 2008 Recession, this is written in such a tangible and honest way. It would make for an excellent book club discussion! (finished 4.15.21)
  33. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd —

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Dear Martin/Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Ordinary Light by Tracy Smith

Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Janye Allen

Queenie by Candice Carty Williams

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

A Song Below Water by Bethany Morrow

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillian

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

Well, That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey

A Black Woman’s History of the United States by Diana Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross

The Full 360/365

As a writer, as a mother, and as an individual, it’s hard for me not to notice and mark milestones. Patterns, too. For example, last year at the end of February, our family had a stomach bug rip through our entire household and unfortunately this week brought us the return of a similar sick fest. This is also the time of year when third quarter ends for Ben and the kids at school and I see my own end of Winter Term/start of Spring Term resulting in an excess of grading (which is super fun in the midst of caring for super sick kids, btw). But the real milestone that’s looming and feeling both heavy but remarkably hopeful is what I consider the anniversary of the start of our COVID-Year.

A year ago today, actually, my kids began their four-day Spring Break weekend and one of my dear friends and I were frantically trying to decide if we should still travel to Denver to attend an author event or not due to COVID-19 news sling-shotting around the country (spoiler alert: we did not). How little we knew then in terms of just how many plans would be cancelled or how long school would be out in the months that followed. How little we knew about the controversies and struggles that would come, much less the number of people who would be diagnosed, get sick and how so many would be lost due to this disease. How time would lose all meaning and make for both the shortest and longest days, weeks, months, and now year of our life. How is it already mid-March again? But also, haven’t we lived 10 years in the last 12 months? If gray hairs and worry lines are any indication, then yes, we have done just that but in the blink of a (tired) eye.

And yet, here we still are. Still marking the days, still doing our best to do our part by not making many plans (and keeping the ones we do make as safe as possible), and still masking up wherever we go. For 365 days, or 360 degrees if you’re following our trip around the sun as one of my friends likes to say, we have been in this and at this. Thankfully, mercifully, and sometimes frustratingly, we are are still here this whole year later happy at least because we have each other even as we mark what the experience and struggles have been for us.

Today, though, our family has a glimmer of hope, a sign of changes to come, as Ben received his first vaccine dose. He’s not the first in our immediate family to get one but we are so thankful his turn arrived. I haven’t been super worried and stressed about him getting this as schools here have found a way to keep open safely with masks and some protocol changes but it is still such a relief that educators are in the initial-ish round of shots in our community.

My hopes for a vaccine are quite different. I don’t meet any of the criteria to get a shot now or anytime soon, so instead I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing as we hope and pray the president was right in saying that all Americans who want a shot should be able to get one by the end of May. The thought of being able to go and do more with more confidence this summer than we’ve had at all in the last year is a lovely one, even if that is still months away at this point.

After all, if the last year has established anything, it is that time is a loose concept and we are much stronger and capable of navigating chaos than we ever knew.

Effing February

We made it. Can you believe it? I am both shocked and pleasantly delighted because this February has been a(n): ass kicker, doozy, shit show, mess, dark time. Seriously – take your pick of any of those words and they’ll be spot on for what this insufferably long short month has felt like.

I realize we’ve faced harder times than the past four weeks in our family, but to hit this gray, super snowy, super cold month right at the end of the Pandemic Year Calendar (that’s a thing, I’m telling you) has made things feel extra challenging. The hard stuff has been just that – hard, and more days than not have felt like I’m grasping at straws a bit to hold things together. And trust me, I’ve been trying and doing all the things to make the load feel lighter.

Here are some of those things:

For one, I’ve been keeping a Gratitude Journal daily since mid-November. I’ve done this on and off through the years and my favorite method is to list three unique things per day for which I am grateful. I can’t just say a person’s name or repeat what I said the day before – it has to be specific to a person or thing that happened during my day.

I love this gratitude practice right before bed because it helps reframe my brain just before sleep and helps me parse out my day a bit while the lights are still on in hopes that my brain won’t take off running in 20 directions at once the second my head hits the pillow. I also appreciate how it helps me document the days without taking as much time or effort as it would to write a full journal entry.

Another practice I’ve adapted in February is my seasonal affective light therapy routine. I don’t normally get the SADs this bad but this year has been far from normal and those lights are pretty inexpensive, so I got one and started using it every morning as directed for 20 minutes, even on the few days I’ve been able to get outside for actual Vitamin D.

I didn’t know if the light was helping all that much until this week when it got legit nice on Tuesday and I plumb forgot my light therapy session for the day (and then the next day, too) and then holy moly cow, did my mood ever slam in to me hard by Wednesday night. So. Note to self: keep doing the daily sit in front of the uber-bright lamp, even as actual spring approaches. It IS working!

Also working for me is the fact that I broke up with coffee, perhaps for good, but certainly for the foreseeable future.

It’s been three weeks now since I quit. Throughout the insanity of the last year, I’ve tried so many things to help my sleep and my anxiety, but it seemed that no matter what I/we did (drink less, make it weaker, etc.) nothing kept me from getting the shakes and getting more spun up in my head after my daily cup(s) of bean juice. But also, this was a total conundrum because I’m a mother of five, so how to survive (pandemic) life without some (damn) caffeine?

Enter: the help of good friends and some good old Big-Brother-targeted-marketing thanks to the fact that our phones listen to everything we say (you know it’s true) and mine heard my need for not-coffee loud and clear.

In January a friend and I were texting back and forth about yoga and knowing she was a life-long tea drinker, I asked for her secret recipe of her favorite cuppa. I don’t actually know that it was so much secret but knew it would definitely be British, and I was willing to give it a try. Over the course of a month+, I started doing a combo of coffee then tea and then finally flipped the switch to just tea (Irish or English Breakfast in the morning/green tea in some form in the afternoon or, thanks to my phone, a mushroom-based cacao drink) and guess what – no shakes! Still caffeinated enough! WhooHoo!!!

The other component to working through all the mental/emotional stuff has been, of course, the physical side of things. After starting off the year with a solid YWA challenge of 30 days straight of yoga, I jacked the heck out of my back on the final practice and had to take the next two weeks getting that and my forever sore knee back to OK. Spoiler alert: when you twist your knee, ask your dang chiropractor to look at it. You already see him once a month so don’t just assume it “just needs time” – ask him to check it and adjust it already! Seriously – I went about two months too long trying to be patient when really I needed to give my body direct attention and now that I have, things are finally back in place and feeling better.

As a result, I’m back in the movement game. I’m not doing any yoga at the moment but I have started up again with our elliptical and plan to keep at it, logging 39 miles on it before my 39th birthday in March. It takes longer to do two miles on that thing than it would for me to walk/jog that distance, but I like the workout aspect of it and since we’re still going to have more cool days than nice calm ones in the next four weeks, I like my chances with the indoor route for now.

Looking back, that’s a heck of a list. I didn’t even realize I’d taken on so many survival strategies until I started writing this, and now that I see it all, I’m both glad I did each thing and still a bit flabbergasted by how hard everything has felt even with all that good stuff mixed in to my daily habits. But that’s the kicker of all this…this isn’t about the last few weeks…it’s about the fact that we’ve been at this careful, cutoff way of life for so long now, of course my system is worn out despite all the trying and doing to keep me/us afloat.

I think acknowledging that exhaustion and the grief surrounding everything that as been these last twelve months is just as important as all the other coping skills mentioned here. And, while we’re at it, we can celebrate as we flip the actual calendar (and maybe the bird, too) and kiss this F**cking February goodbye.

Did You Grow Last Night?

Since Wilson decided to potty train 10 days ago, it seems the milestones keep flinging themselves in our faces and three years and almost three months after our last baby was born, it is really hitting me how much my family is this solid unit moving forward at break-neck speeds.

Before, as we kept adding person after person (after person after person? did I do that right?), we had to revert continually and learn how to be a new family as a unit of 3, 4, 5, 6, and then 7. Each time we revisited the newborn stage and the teething stage and the crawling/walking/running stages, only to start all over again when the next little new person came along.

But for three+ years now, we’ve been working through those early stages for the last time, and even though this isn’t news to me or you, it’s hitting me in all my feels lately.

Case in point, today in the mail we received information regarding Truman’s Kindergarten registration for this fall and I about fell over when I opened the envelope because how can my littlest guy be so big? When I made that same comment to my husband he promptly reminded that my biggest little guy is about to get info on MIDDLE SCHOOL registration and then I really did feel the shock in my physical body because, what? Are you serious? Already?! Again, I’m here every day, day after day, raising them and helping them and watching them but somehow this growth still manages to sneak the heck up on me.

Ask my kids and they will tell you, one of the questions I ask most often is, “Did you grow last night?” because they honestly appear taller some mornings than the night before when I kissed them goodnight. How do they do that? I have yet to solve the mystery, but if their ever-creeping-highwater-pajama-pant-legs are any indication, I really am on to something.

In addition to nonstop growing, this moving forward as a Family of Seven means we’re actually reaching stages where we can really get rid of baby stuff. I realize I should have started that process a long time ago (I have done some) but a year+ of house reno added to almost a year of a pandemic and you know what, sorting through toys and gear just hasn’t been a priority much less a possibility amidst all the chaos and people in this house that needs such organizing. But I do want to get to that task and we made a giant leap this week by kicking our highchair to the curb.

Now, I didn’t cry but it was bittersweet to see it go. We’ve had that thing as long as we’ve lived in this house and all five kids have used it over the years. But for months now Wilson has been eating meals at the island with the rest of the Bigs and even though she’s a holy terror mess maker while doing so, it really is much easier on my back than lifting her into that seat. Normally we give away our baby gear or sometimes try to sell a bit through FB, but not this time. That thing was nasty and even if I took my dad’s power sprayer and a gallon of soap to it, it wasn’t going to be worth trying to salvage. So it went “buh-bye” and we had to have a little Marie Kondo moment of thanking it for its service through all those meals and messes along the way.

And on we continue to roll, into a year that seems poised with firsts and lasts, all of which come with some happiness and some mourning and sometimes a mix of both because that is the privilege of getting to fill the roles I do of forever getting them to the next step.

Church Away from Church

It’s been ten months since our church has gathered in person in our church building. In that time, the church leadership has been so careful, considerate, and cautious which has been greatly appreciated as we have monitored local COVID-19 numbers and trends. Thankfully the church has also been extremely creative in keeping us connected during this time which has been possible thanks to technology and those who know how to wield such tools well. There have been outdoor services (last summer and fall) in the park, drive-through-town processions while listening to Sunday service on the radio, remote Sunday School lessons recorded and shared on the church’s YouTube page, and, of course, the weekly LiveStream on Facebook.

Since this post is about church, I must be honest and admit that I also have some confessions to make. The first is, although I have listened to/watched many if not most weeks, I have not made my family do much of that. The kids have been pretty consistent with their Sunday School lessons at home, but that credit goes to their dad, not me. When we were doing eSchool to start the year and I was in charge of three kids zooming and such from home every day I absolutely could not entertain the idea of making them do videos on the weekend, too. Thankfully Ben wasn’t as daunted by that idea and he’s continued to keep them engaged with those this whole school year. It helps that he is an actual Sunday School teacher and has even recorded two of the lessons along with some of our Bigs as helpers.

But the LiveStreams? That has been a time for me while the rest of the family does their thing around the house. The one part they consistently catch is the very end when our pastors sing “We are the Church” and as a giant side note: oh my, how all of us love that song and hope very much that that little benediction stays as part of service even when we are someday back in the actual sanctuary on Sundays.

So yes, I’ve been a little selfish with my Sunday mornings because I want to actually hear the message and not be so distracted by wrestling kids at the same time like I would during actual in-person church. This leads me to my second at-home confession: I’m not very good at just sitting and watching the LiveStreams. I blame this in part on the fact that in our 5ish years of attending First Pres, we have always had a bunch of little Littles in tow so, no, church service has never been a calm or still experience for me. I’m holding, shushing, feeding, or taking someone (or multiple someones) to the bathroom all the live-long (Sun)day, so how would I know how to just sit and listen?

At home my inability to just sit has transformed into some productive sessions while I watch/listen to service. I have had my coffee, I have done dishes, I have prepped and cooked meals, I have folded a LOT of laundry, and I have started feeding the kids lunch which is why they so often catch the final prayers and song around 11:30. I even used service to wrap Christmas books in December! But even with all this activity, I am listening and probably hearing even more than I get to when we are there in person.

This morning’s sermon touched on turning away from disconnect and distraction and it struck some cords with me. While I suppose my house-holder duties done during church might look like some icky, distracted multitasking to some, I’ve been quite grateful to have these months of hymns, prayers, announcements, and sermons to keep me company while I do the necessary tasks of caring for my family (even if I don’t let them listen with me) in a prolonged time of stress and loneliness. It makes me feel more connected to my broader community to use my church time to lighten the load of a busy mother (who is, yes, often distracted); it’s like a layer of blessing is added on top of those chores that would otherwise just be, well, chores.

There was another takeaway message from today’s service that charged us with checking in with our church family and to pray for those we would normally sit by on Sundays. I mean, seriously – maybe there is a church out there that doesn’t do voluntary assigned seats, but I have yet to be part of one, and in our current life we are Balcony People all the way where there are lots of wiggly, noisy kids and their tired parents plus some very patient other adults. As chaotic and sweaty as all that is, I miss it. I miss getting time there with the friends, family, and church family who love on and help take care of my not-so-little crew as we navigate Sunday mornings together. And now, as I reflect back on my own Sunday morning routines during the pandemic, I am also curious to know what those same Balcony People (and those who sit down below) have been doing with their Sunday services at home. Perhaps I am not the only one doing two things at once?

All told, I can’t wait to be back in person, as I’m sure all of my church family agrees. Will I miss being able to fold laundry or clean the kitchen at the same time? No, not at all because those tasks are always going to be there. But if we’ve learned anything in the last year it’s that what is is not a given. When we can safely gather again in places and spaces with our people, it is going to be such a welcome gift, one I hope we carry with us in the years to come as we continue to move with love, service, justice, and humility in this world.

Here We Go Again

After months (and months) of asking Wilson if she was ready to start wearing her big girl undies and use the potty, she finally decided this week that now was the time and she was doing this.

Before I go any further, let me remind you: this is not the first time I have blogged about potty-training and also not the first time I have admitted that I know nothing about potty-training. Five kids in and I still don’t know how to do it in a sure-fire way. Perhaps that has something to do with each kid being their own person, eh?

All I know is that in the past, we always had the incentive of places to go and things to do in order to entice children to start using the bathroom at a certain age. If 2020 hadn’t happened the way it did, we would have started WA with preschool in Jan 2021 (i.e. now) and that would have been our motivator to get on and off the pot, so to speak. But 2020 did what it did and we don’t go anywhere now, so what was the point in forcing the issue besides the fact that that is one thing I do know about potty-training…until the kid is actually ready, force is not the way.

So she got undies last fall (trainer style) and then in her stocking for Christmas (regular style) and still she told me an empathic, “NO.” each time I asked if she wanted to wear them. That is, until two days ago on Wednesday, when apparently she decided that a new dawn for our country was as good a time as any to start a new chapter in her own story, too.

And honestly? She rocked it. She went the entire day in undies (minus nap) and had no issues. Same on Thursday, but even better because she shocked everyone in the house by fulfilling both *ahem* duties on the potty-seat before the day was done. I mean, I have never been more shocked/pleased to hear a kid yelling, “I pooooooooped!” from the bathroom (and yes, that is the Bat Signal in our house; classy, I know.). She totally earned that handful of M&Ms, I tell you (not a technique we’ve ever used before, but again, 5th Kid. What do you do?).

This morning? Same thing. Undies all the way. Getting herself to the bathroom time and time again (we had hot chocolate after playing out in the cold, snow-globe-falling snow), no problem. And then nap time came and all the independence came right back to bite me in the butt because Not-So-Baby Girl decided she was NOT going to wear a diaper for today’s nap because, because, well, who knows? She’s 3? She thinks she a pro already? She can actually do it?

I guess we’ll have to see if she really can/does because I wasn’t willing to have the knock down, drag out fight to get a diaper on her, so I made her use the bathroom and then we did our normal go-down-for-nap routine with her in not a diaper, so help me Sweet Baby Jesus.

Will this work? I highly doubt it. She’s still in a crib with tall sides and assuming that none of her siblings have taught her how to crawl out of it, she’s stuck there until I get her up and I am fully, fully counting on there being a mess when I do. But I’ll still have time before bed to get her sheets and whatnot washed, and no matter what happens, she will be in a “night-night diaper” because Mama and Daddy don’t play when it comes to messing with nighttime sleep. But for now? Sure. Fine. This is a gamble I’m (sort of) willing to take.

On the flip side, as terrifying as this all is, it’s also terribly exciting because if we can make this happen, we will finally (11.5 years later) be out of diapers in this house. Now that is a New Era also worthy of great celebration (and definitely more chocolate for all).

Update: she did not make it through the nap unscathed but the mess was not the mess I feared, so I will take it! She also gave me a sweet little apology and agreed that she would put a diaper on for nap the next time mama asked, so I think we came out of that little experiment just fine.

Third First Day of Third Grade

Moving and/or starting over in the midst of a school year is something our family has never experienced before, but this year, our kids have had a number of transitions surrounding First Days. For the Big 3, it was eSchool in August, followed by in-person school in October. For Truman it was a new preschool in October. And, unfortunately*, for RL, it is a new classroom for in-person school today. That means she’s started over three times in one year of school (and we’re only halfway through!); even though kids are resilient as all get-out, that’s an awful lot for a little person to process, especially for a little person who asks so little of others but always makes life easier for those around her.

*As to the use of the word “unfortunate”: this is nothing against the teacher RL is joining today. It’s actually the same teacher she had for eLearning which is why this is happening in the first place. The District isn’t offering eLearning to those without a doctor’s note to remain doing so, so her eTeacher needed to return to the in-person classroom and that just happens to be in our kids’ elementary building. So the good thing is, Raegan already knows her and how sweet she is. And of course we understand that the school had to do something in this situation, but trust me when I say, I did not expect our eSchool option to come back and bite us in the butt right before Christmas break like it did when we got this news.

The thought of making Raegan change classrooms again (for the third time in less than six months) was heartbreaking because she worked hard to establish herself and make connections in her in-person class during second quarter. And that was after staying home and quarantined far longer than most, so the social aspect of all this was very upsetting. There were a LOT of tears shed in the last two days before break as all this went down and we tried to figure out just what was happening, and I don’t just mean from her and her friends; I mean me on the phone with the school, too, because if nothing else, my job as a mom is to advocate for my kids whenever and however needed, even if I’m a sobbing mess while doing so. And even when I know it’s not going to change a darn thing.

I was worried break might be a pretty blue two weeks for RL, but she had a really nice time up until the last two days when school was looming and then the quietness/questions started coming. And then this morning, on the actual day of First Day, Take Three, her tummy and her heart hurt and we definitely had tears while trying to get kids ready and out the door.

I did everything I could think of to send her wrapped in love today, from painting her fingernails last night (rock star color for my Rock Star Raegan) to putting Sharpie hearts on her new mask so she’d know which side was face-side (and so I could give her some love each time she put her mask on today), and even some Stress Away essential oil dabbed behind her ears after she got dressed – anything I could do to help her remember that I’d be here at the end of the day to listen to and love on her because she is capable of handling this sucky situation, even if I wish she didn’t have to do so.

The good news is, the day was good (enough). She came home full of stories and (enough) smiles to put my mama heart at ease because I can see that her heart is as at ease (enough), too. (My WoTY is coming in really handy, I see, even with parenting!)

May this please, please be the last First Day she has to have this year!

ENOUGH

Perhaps it is the contrarian in me, but I do not like the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve resisted them for years now and 2021 shall be no different. I’m not going to resolve to be a new me or a new anything for that matter. But what I am going to do is commit to staying active and present on this journey of life and I am doing so by picking just one word to be my guide for as many days as I need it in this new year.

If you’ve ever read anything else I’ve written or met me, I’m sure you know picking just one word doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. One of my favorite memories from college was calling my dad and freaking out over the phone about meeting the word count of an upcoming paper only to hear his loving and immediate response of, “Baby Daughter. You have never not had enough words.” and knowing he was right. I love me my words and I use them well and often, so here I shall continue, relying on my words.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a word focused approach to start a new calendar, but it is the first time I’m forcing myself to pick just one word to guide me. Looking back at 2020, I landed a lot on resilient and I was tempted to choose its sister word of persistent for 2021, but I think what I need to remember now more than ever is that I am doing enough. I have enough. I am enough. I can also, conveniently, flip this word to a more stern tone and sharply say “enough!” when the BS gets too heavy (online or in my own mind) or when I need some time and space for my head and heart. Enough of this. Enough of that. Enough of me. Enough for me.

Enough. Enough. Enough.

This word will have its work cut out for it in the first month of this new year. I’ve made commitments to myself in terms of my physical body (consistent bed and wake up times, plus 30 days of yoga) and I also have to navigate my mental energy in my return to online teaching two terms and the subsequent essay grading overload that comes with that. Then there’s all the momming and adulting that comes with the normal day-to-day as the kids return to school but of course we’re still in a pandemic, so there are extra concerns and care that need to be addressed as we wait for a vaccine and think more about what 2021 will look like for us in terms of activities (or not). And then there’s the financial commitment that we’ve made to knock out the lingering credit card debt from house renovations and see? There is enough to attend to; now I just need to remember, every single day, that I have enough within me to do it.

Will one word be enough to do all that? I think so.