Safety Net

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This spring has been slow and strange. Two months ago, we were easing into a new preschool routine and making plans for t-ball and family vacations. Then, COVID-19 hit, and I was suddenly balancing a full-time job and a part-time job with overtime mothering. At first, all of my mental energy went to logistical planning: How much can I actually accomplish with two young children at home? How do we limit our exposure as much as possible? How do we stay hopeful and loving toward others, instead of terrified and suspicious?
After that, though, it became:  What activities should I set up for the girls while I’m working? Can I alter this recipe since the store was out of these ingredients? How do we reach out to loved ones while safely cocooning here?
And once we found that mark, it became easier. I’d only been working outside of our home for a few months prior to this, and we slid so easily back into our routines of being home all day. The girls sleep in, Adam runs our errands and picks up groceries, and aside from seeing a couple of family members who have also been staying home – the four of us have been home, together.
As an introverted homebody, this is really all I’ve wanted. I love hearing my girls’ belly-laughs over nonsense, acquiescing to the yell of “cuddle break!” at random times of the day, and witnessing their relationship strengthen from being in each other’s constant presence.
It’s because of this that – aside from the constant, nagging fear in the back of my mind and the utter strangeness of it all – I am happy. Is that awful to admit? 

***


I am striving to balance this with a greater awareness of the world. It is often (admittedly, nowhere near always) in my mind that most of the world has so much less than we do, and COVID-19 has given this a starker contrast. By we, I don’t even mean the average of all Americans – I mean my own middle-class family. I know well that I am happy right now because of this middle-class privilege. I have a great job that has allowed me to work from home. We have access to what we need and more. So many, in this country and around the world, do not. Many cannot afford to stay home and stay safe, because that means going hungry. When the difference between feeding your family or not is risking your health to possibly contract a virus – wouldn’t you play the odds? Would there be a fair choice? 

My happiness is tempered with anxiety, not for my own family for once, but for others. I worry about the children who are trapped in abusive homes for whom school was a safe haven. I worry about the single mother who is trying to maintain an income while daycare has been closed. I worry about the elderly who don’t have loved ones close by to check on them. I know, I am sure – we can’t yet see the other side, so there is still good to come. Beauty does come from ashes, but how many feet must be burned walking through to the other side?

***
I have a running prayer of gratitude that I follow throughout the day, tacking on new items here and there. I list things that I’m thankful for that might not normally make my prayers: the light through the trees, the fresh country air, the sound of my daughter humming a hymn, the sweet taste of fresh grapes. And I beg for continued safety, for help in making wise decisions. It feels like we’re walking a tightrope; one wrong move and we go crashing down, right through our precarious safety net into the unknown.
I don’t want to crash.
We have even more new ground to navigate in the near future. In our state, businesses and public areas are opening back up. How safe is it, really? I don’t know, yet. I only know that I can do my part to keep my family safe and that I’m lucky to be in that position. I will practice patience toward others and not let suspicion and indignation win out. I will keep praying: Thank you. Please.  
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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here  to read the next post in this series “Together, Apart.”

Together

These days
are wildly changeable 
and annoyingly predictable. 
We are together, together, together. 


It looks like short tempers, patience long gone. 
It looks like dirty dishes, scattered toys. 


But then, the light shifts. 


And it looks like baking from scratch, extra snuggles.
It looks like unfettered giggles, the most grateful of hearts. 


These days,
I can see the love as a physical thing, 
floating from room to room and filling us. 

We are together, together, together.

Trail Runner



We live in a rural area. To put it less delicately: we live out in the sticks. It’s only a few miles outside of the nearest little town, and only about 25 miles from the nearest big city, but it feels far out enough to forget about what’s going on there. I’ve started running again, after taking the winter off. There’s a lesson in giving myself grace in there somewhere, but I’ll save that for another day.
I’ve spent the last two summers training to run a 5K race in September. I’m notably the least athletic person in my extended family. My lack of coordination combined with asthma sealed the deal, and I spent the better part of 30 years believing I should stay on the sidelines. It wasn’t until after I had borne two children and pushed my body to its limits, coming out stronger and better, that I thought maybe it was worth more than what I’d been led to believe. I had faced down childbirth and finally felt brave and strong for the first time in my life. So, I downloaded a tracking app, learned how to stretch, and slowly, so very slowly, put one foot in front of another until I could jog 3.1 miles without quitting. I’ve always done the majority of my training on our country roads. They are familiar. I know the landmarks: the big oak tree marks half a mile, the house with the two big dogs marks a full mile. I take comfort in the routine and the sights I know so well. Recently, Adam, as a surprise, carved out a trail in the back part of our ten acres. He spent days clearing out small trees in the wooded area and brush-hogging the pasture to create a clear, 4-foot wide loop that comes out to be a third of a mile. “Isn’t it great? You don’t have to run in the road or worry about cars back here, or dogs. I even cleared an area I’ll keep mowed down so the girls can play right here while you run. I recognized this immediately as an act of love, but I felt a little misunderstood. Doesn’t he know that I like running in the road? Or that I’m kind of terrified of what is in the woods besides cars and dogs? He walked me back through the trail, giving me the grand tour. “I think there’s something that lives in this burrow, but it won’t bother you.” Gulp. “And I did my best to cut these flush to the ground, but there’s a knot right here that you should try not to trip over.” Great. “Okay, so I have seen a snake near this pile of wood, but not recently.” Are you kidding me?! “Yeah, no. I can’t. I’m sorry, but I know I am going to fall down, and I’m positive that every living thing in here will come out in the broad daylight even if they usually sleep all day, and I know for a fact that I will step on a snake and die.” I said this with what I’m sure was a wild look in my eye. “What are you so afraid of?” “Everything,” I said in a small voice. “Just try it. I think you’ll like it. Good luck!” And with that, he walked back up to the house and left me to stew in my own fear. I walked the trail once, muttering to myself and dodging imaginary predators the whole way. Then I realized, very reluctantly, that it was actually okay. Maybe even a little nice. No cars, no dogs, no witnesses when I get a weird cramp and need to stretch in compromising positions. Best of all, I’d be running around a field of wildflowers. I put in my earbuds, started The Office Ladies podcast, and slowly began to trod my way through the trail. Over the course of two miles, I didn’t fall once. I saw nothing with scales or sharp teeth. I didn’t even wind up with a bug bite. I was a little brave that day, and each time I have gone out since, I’ve done so with a little more confidence. I’m turning into the kind of girl who runs through the woods. That literally makes me laugh out loud to say, but there you have it. This summer, instead of only focusing on one foot in front of the other, I’m stretching my courage along with my hamstrings. Strength and bravery are in me, somewhere. I’m ready to bring them with me on the trail.

Happy Birthday, Annie


Dear Annie, 


Happy birthday, big girl. You’re six! It feels like you should be ten already, but also like you should still be small enough to strap in a carrier and be toted around the grocery store. The other night, your daddy said, “Do you think she’s getting too big to be carried?” It was an honest question, not accusatory in the least, especially because he’s the one who’s carrying you around. I replied, “Not as long as she’s asking.” You ask him to carry you from the car into the house pretty frequently, even when you qualify it by saying you’re tired or that you don’t want your shoes to get wet. Really, I think you just want to be held tight in your daddy’s arms, and we’re fine with that. I can barely hold you, and when I do, your impossibly long legs dangle along mine so that we look almost comical. I know you’re growing so quickly that I’ll pick you up and put you down for the last time one day in the near future, and I’m not ready for it to be the last time. 


I do love seeing you grow, though. You started kindergarten this year, your first experience with full-time school. Your teacher said she wishes she could have a classroom full of kids like you. You’re kind and smart and always willing to learn something new and try your best. That’s really all I’ll ask of you, now and as you grow. You love school; you always look forward to going. You’ve got a cute little girl-gang of friends, and it’s so neat to see you blossom and create your own section of life that I’m just not a part of. It stings a little, too, of course. But it helps me stay focused on making the most of the evenings and weekends and paying attention to those little teaching moments, where we talk about who might have been mean that day or who was extra helpful. 


We are aging out of the stage in which I just help you stay alive. I do that, too, but we’ve passed survival mode. You’re already pretty self-sufficient, so I don’t have to make sure you’re eating every bite or brushing your teeth.You recently started making your bed every day, without my request. Still, mothering you feels harder these days. Instead of cutting your grapes, I’m worried about how you observe relationships and the behavior of those around you. Are you taking in the good stuff? I hope so. I try to answer your questions about everything, even when it’s bedtime and you’re asking me things like. “Why is holding up this one finger bad? Emma said it was bad!” Yikes. So it begins. I hope I’m giving you the right answers, and showing you that it’s okay to make mistakes. 


You’re my first baby, and so each new stage is experimental. You’ve always been accepting and patient when it comes to my trial-and-error methods, and I’m thankful for your good nature. I’m so proud to be your mama and introduce you as my mini-me. You look and act like me in so many ways, but you’re already much braver and stronger than I was as a girl. I love that, and I love you. Happiest of birthdays to you, my girl.

Love,
Mama

Sick Day: A Practice in Gratitude

Motherhood is hard and holy work. So hard, so holy.

It’s been a week. We started with Lu, fresh out of the bath, running headlong into a busted chin and her first set of stitches. The next day, Annie came down with a nasty fever virus, and six days later, she’s still not well and Lu has started her turn with it. Neither girl is sleeping well at night, and the days are filled with tracking doses of medication and trying to hydrate two littles who keep throwing up whatever goes down. Throw in work and all the laundry and basically dousing the house in Lysol — doing all these things over and over — and well… I’m tired. But today, tending to Lu, I pulled out my camera, looking for the light in the form of silver linings. All these worries and inconveniences are opportunities to seek out blessings and practice gratitude. So, these images – from backpacks home with their owners instead of at school, modern medicine, quiet moments to catch up on work, all the laundry, to a little girl who trusts me to the utmost and feels safest in my arms – are blessings among all the murmuring I’ve surely done this week. Pressing a cold cloth to a hot forehead, coaxing a piece of toast into a tummy, and praying that tomorrow is a little bit better are all ways that I’m serving my family, and I’ll let these images serve as my reminder that this work is hard but holy. 


Word for the Year: Resilient

I’m not one to make resolutions for the new year. I have in the past, but it seems like I’d either get bored or the (admittedly self-imposed) pressure would be too much and it became paralyzing rather than inspiring. I know myself better now. I know I am capable of achieving major goals and completing big projects, and I’m more self-assured. I have a lot of work to do on myself physically and spiritually for sure, but I’m more aware of what actually motivates me and what just doesn’t work. So this year, I made zero resolutions, and I’m not a bit worried about that. Instead, I chose a word for this year, one that I feel will ground me and keep my actions aligned with my overall intentions: resilient.
Last year was difficult. There was a lot of transition in our household, and while I struggled plenty, I also feel proud of how hard I’ve worked for our family to keep things afloat. I didn’t make a lot of time to wallow in self-pity (though I did make a little time, naturally). I learned a lot about myself, what I truly need and what I can live without. I’m no longer spending my prayers asking God to make life easier or simpler; I’m trusting that He’s right beside me whatever I face.
For my purposes, resilient can be viewed not just as tough. Rather, when I think of resilient in relation to myself, I think of these two phrases: strong but soft and quietly rebuilding. I am proud of who I am becoming, but I want to hold on to the parts that make me the most myself. I’m an INFJ. I’m an Enneagram 9. I’m a Hufflepuff, for Pete’s sake. No one would describe me as tough. But they might say I’m strong in my convictions and in my determination to do my best. And they’d certainly say I’m soft, in my love for others and giving nature. While last year did its best to knock me flat out, I’m still standing, albeit it shakily some days. I want to rebuild my heart, patch up my wounded ego and make it better. I’m not trying to create something flashy and gilded, but something steady and true that stands through storms and lets the sunshine right in.
I’ve got my word posted where I can’t miss it, so I can reflect on my journey often. This isn’t a resolution, per se, so the results aren’t exactly visibly measurable. Any change will likely go unnoticed by others. That’s alright. I think I’ll be able to tell, and that will be enough.

2019: A Year of Questions

We were right where we should have been, where we always thought we wanted to be. Adam’s pharmacy school loans were paid off, we had two beautiful daughters who I was blessed to stay home and nurture full-time, and we were on track to pay off our home and start looking for our dream property. We were comfortable, until we weren’t.

After years of planning, working, and praying, Adam made the decision to leave pharmacy and pursue medical school. Working for a corporation as a retail pharmacist was slowly draining him, and his heart was yearning for something else — a different, better way to serve others. He just finished his first semester as a medical school student in the rural primary care track. He hopes to become a family physician in a small, rural town, running a low-income clinic for those who may not have the money or means to seek medical help in a bigger city.

I knew I married a man with a servant’s heart. I just didn’t see how much God would use him to teach my own heart to serve, and how training my heart would wreck me. My heart is being reshaped to understand how our new life will be used to serve others and not just ourselves. Our life was easy, but not everyone has that. I let go of my dream life, what I hoped it would always be, to sign up for a few years of struggle. I know it’s temporary, and if all goes well, we can make things easier for other people one day. Love is built on sacrifice, and I’m walking through it, trusting we come out whole.

It’s been the truest joy of my life to stay at home with my daughters. I knew returning to work full-time, even with a wonderfully flexible job that allows me to do school pickup and dropoff and make all the classroom parties, would be tough. But “tough” doesn’t come close to describing it. This fall has created a fault line in my heart — shifting, breaking wide open, and settling back down to form something new.
***
In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” I read this years ago, not having experienced many of those years that ask questions. I am now. So much has been asked of me:
Will you find a place for your precious three year-old, a place that you trust to love her almost as much as you do?
Will your nervous five-year-old settle into kindergarten smoothly?
Will you keep your heart in check, staving off resentment?
Can you keep up with the household work?
Can you ensure the transition isn’t too hard for your children?
Are you tough enough to handle this?
Can you remember to sign the permission slips, pack lunch, pay the daycare, and grab the hats and mittens?
Are you still a good mother if you’re not there?
Are you?
I want so desperately to answer, “yes.”
***
We’re getting there. We’re switching my youngest to a routine that will suit her better, and it turns out my oldest loves school. We make time for extra snuggles on the hard days to help with the transition, and I catch up on laundry on the weekends. I haven’t forgotten a permission slip or class party yet.
And I’m trying to be a good mother, trying my best every single day. I’m exhausted. I’ve started having stress migraines. I miss my girls and my husband, who’s naturally a little busier than normal, all the time. But I’m working on myself, too. I’m carving out time to take care of myself physically and spiritually. I’m learning to ask for help when I need it, and even when I don’t think I need it.
I’m giving answer to all those doubts and fears that question me. Some days, it’s only a whisper, but I eke it out to keep going: 
“Yes, I can do this. Yes, I am a good mother. Yes, I am enough.”


This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “2019.”

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Image Credit: Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy for Coffee and Crumbs, 2019

Happy Birthday, Lu

Dear Lu,

You’re turning four years old soon, and this is the first “letter” I’ve written you. But I think all those things I would have said in those letters have been said in other ways: out loud to you, in my heart, in those many daily rituals that exist only for us to say “I love you.” Several times a day, you pop your head around the corner or peek around my leg and chirp, “Cuddle?” I say yes as often as I can, and we head to my bed where you snuggle your way into me, the way you’ve done since you were a few months old. We co-slept, even though I said I’d never do it. Motherhood is humbling that way, because I had an idea of how these things should go, and you came along and showed me another way – your way. Your way was better anyhow; it was full of closeness and trust and an elemental need to be together.
Since then, you’ve been teaching me how to live — I have so much to learn from you. You don’t hesitate to call me out if you think I’m wrong, but you’re quick to praise, too. Together, your names mean “pure light,” and you shine it all around, upon everyone you meet. There’s a lot of love in your little body and you seem determined to share every bit of it. These big feelings go both ways, though. Last weekend, you were upstairs playing with your sister and cousins, and you let out a blood-curdling shriek that would make a grown man cower. Mary was alarmed — “did her arm get cut off?!” — but I assured her you had likely suffered what you deemed to be a great injustice. Sure enough, seconds later, you came down the stairs indignant at the way you’d been mistreated (someone wasn’t sharing). You have this idea of what is right. The right way to play, to sing, to arrange your toys. If something or someone isn’t fitting in that mold, then your little world shifts.
That’s why I’ve been worried about you the last few months. When your daddy started medical school and I went to work full-time, your little world shifted. The closeness we’d experienced every day for nearly four years – your whole, entire life — took a hit. For 8 hours a day, you’ve been with a new person, in a new place. Away from home, away from me. I don’t think it’s unfair to say neither of us has been thrilled about the arrangement. I know while you’re there, you’ve been learning new skills, forging new friendships, and growing braver and smarter. But I know it’s been difficult for you. You don’t have the words to articulate it all yet, but when you say “I just want to be with you, Mama,” I understand completely. I just want to be with you, too.
While we adjust, I am making my best effort to be with you. The hours we have together are precious to me, and I hope you can feel that. I think you do. Before I drop you off at school, we go through a type of mantra, which goes something like this:
You are kind.
You are brave.
You are strong.
You are good.
God loves you, and I love you, more than the stars and bigger than the ocean.
You repeat this back to me, and have come to know it as an expression of love and offer it up to me at random times, even when you don’t quite get it right. Your rendition — “You’re bigger than the ocean” — always makes me smile. Well, my love is, anyway.
So, Lu, before your birthday, I guess I just wanted to write this all down for you to read one day. I want you to know that I am trying my best and that I know you’re trying your best — and I am so proud to be your mama. You’ve handled this transition like a champ, and your resilience helps me be brave, too. Thank you for that. Happiest of birthdays to you, darling girl.

And Spring, You’re the Best

As soon as Adam walked in the door, I was setting out dinner plates. The three of them ate at lightning speed and ten minutes later, they were outside, stealing the last light of the day. I finished dinner inside alone, listening to them play through the screen door. The girls’ shrieks of laughter, his playful taunts; all set against the cacophony of the trampoline springs. It was true and full and sounded just like love to me.

Note: I’m working on what I’ll call snapshots; in which I’ll make an attempt to capture a moment and put its feeling into a few words. I hope I’ll catalog some significant and silly moments along the way.