Sunday, September 11, 2016

Dear Char-Gri-Ha-YOU!: An apology letter to my 4th kid

Dear Char-Gri-Ha-DANGIT!

I guess I should start with saying that I'm sorry that I never call you by your actual name.  I usually just shout out random syllables until I give up and yell at you to stop whatever it is that you're doing. To be fair, I call your siblings a bunch of random stuff, too, so maybe that one doesn't have anything to do with being the youngest. But there are some things that are totally different for you than for your brothers and sister. And I know they're there and I'm sorry. So, here goes. I am sorry for the following things...

Your Medical Care
I'm sorry that we are iffy on your medical care.  On the plus side, we have never driven you 45 minutes to the world class children's hospital emergency room in the middle of the night because you were vomiting. Just throwing up. No other symptoms. That was your sister.  After the hypochondriac phase of our first child, we swung way back the other direction and assumed we could handle anything. One of your older brothers has a permanent scar from that 2nd degree burn for which we did not seek medical attention, but should have. Oops. No, we're probably about the right level of emergency response with you, but I have no idea what any of your stats are. I don't know how much you weigh or how tall you are. Or what shoe size you wear. I don't remember which illnesses you've had or in what order. Sorry. I can probably look it up, but I don't know. Periodically I quiz myself about what you're wearing while I'm in the carpool line to pick you up and I'm never right. Which brings up my next topic.

Your First Day of...
I am not all that excited about preschool. I realize that this is your first time in Pre-K, but I've been here 4 times. Well, 5 if you count the time I, personally, was in preschool. Whereas I was totally excited to be the Mystery Reader for your sister (Oh, I'll get to see what her class is like!), I signed up for yours thinking, "I'll sign up early so I can get it over with." Oh, I'll actually love being in there and seeing you, but I'm also thinking, "You go to school for 12 hours a week. I need this one back." In fact, I posted a really cute first day of school picture of you, but it wasn't your first day. It was the second. Or third. I'm not sure, Daddy took that picture. I'm sorry. I love you and I'm proud of you, but I do not think everything with your fingerprint on it is adorable and I don't need ornaments with your picture on them. Speaking of pictures...

Not the First Day of School

Evidence of Your Existence
Daddy takes lots of pictures of you because you are adorable and hilarious. They are very rarely, however, the kind of thing a middle schooler would like to see of themselves in 7-9 years. They are frequently with your lovey, or under a blanket fort, or running away from us. I have almost no pictures of you because I am constantly catching you right before you careen off a cliff or into traffic and thus the pictures I could take fall by the wayside. I also don't even bother to get pictures where you are smiling or looking at the camera. We have thousands of pictures of 3 kids smiling and you off to the side somewhere doing whatever you felt like at the time. We just don't care anymore. We got a picture, all of you were in it, we move on. But your wedding rehearsal dinner video is going to be embarrassing because that's all we have.

The Only Kind of Pictures We Have of Your Face

Your Emotional Pain
While we're talking about embarrassing things...I'm sorry we laugh at you every time you cry. Its just that you're the only one that's still a little bit of a baby and your crocodile tears are incredibly cute. Also, you cry for hilarious reasons. You wanted to drink your milk on the floor. You wanted your monkey to pick you up from school. You wanted anyone but your brother to hand you a plate. But you also cry because no one is listening to you and that's probably true and I'm sorry that we still think it's funny. I'm sorry.
You fell on the Appalachian Trail and got a bloody nose. You are crying, however, because I picked you up to comfort you. and you were offended. Hilarious. So I took a picture. Sorry. 

TV and Movies You Watch
I'm sorry that your little voice gets drowned out by bigger ones, especially when you pick TV shows. You have never seen Sesame Street or Caillou. When you discovered Word World existed you lit up in a way that made me really guilty that you've never actually watched an age-appropriate cartoon. You do have a pretty good vocabulary from Martha Speaks and you know a lot about animals from Wild Kratts, but you don't have any idea who Dora is. Sorry.

Your Toys
You don't have any age appropriate toys. I'm sorry. You have a bunch of brothers that you wrestle like a maniac, but I'm pretty sure you never had stacking rings or that popper thing you pull or blocks. You do know how to read and can name all the months of the year, but that seems to be primarily through osmosis while I gave you random "school work" to do while I taught your brother those things. If you one day really need that phone you can pull on a string, I'll get you one. I'm sorry.

Your Tiny Legs
We forget you are little. We went to Washington, D.C. during the Cherry Blossom Festival and we decided we didn't need a stroller. You were 2. We made you walk the whole Mall and when you finally fell asleep in the Museum of American History, I just carried you. We have never given you scheduled naps or let you ride when you could walk. I like to believe it will make you tough. It might, however, just make you have ridiculous expectations for your own kids one day. Sorry, future grandchildren.

The First Ladies' Dresses were Exhausting
Your Middle-Aged Parents
I'm sorry that you get tired parents. We are a lot older than we were when we started this parenting thing...both in years and in miles. Oh, but we love you. My hardest thing with you is not spoiling you absolutely rotten due to your charm and laugh and smile and general adorable adorableness. Seriously, you're cute. So I'm sorry that I over-correct and yell at you and give you the mean Mommy voice because I'm raising you to be a responsible man and not a man-child who thinks that charm is a character trait. I'm sorry if that is not always clear.

I hope when you're a grown man you will be able to see past the forgetful Mommy and distracted Daddy to the parents who deeply love and cherish you. You asked me why God made you this week...and without hesitation I told you it was because God wanted another little boy with big brown eyes who loved life and made everyone around him smile. So you gave me one of your smiles...the one that lights up the world around you...and snuggled into my lap.

You are my treasure and joy and I'm sorry when we forget to tell you. And I'm sorry that the only way I'll ever remember this is to write it down and put it on the internet. Feel free to ask my estate for therapy money. We probably left your oldest brother in charge of it. Sorry.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

10 Ways to Win at Parenting This School Year

I’m kidding. I don’t have any actual tips to "Start the School Year Off Right", or "Make Mornings Your Family's Favorite Time of Day", or "Love Every Minute of Carpool."

To be honest, I actually have no freaking clue what I’m doing. I’m wandering around blindfolded in a dark room filled with mostly shin-high furniture and scattered Legos. Instead of beautifully crafted memes filled with misty lakes and burgeoning sunrises, I have the refrain “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless” to offer. 

OK, that may be a bit bleak. I don’t actually think my parenting wisdom is meaningless, but I do think it may or may not be useful and there’s really no way I can be sure for at least, like, 40 years or so.

As we rocket toward another school year (that calendar by which parents measure time far more closely than by the New Year), my social media feeds are full of "10 Ways to Keep Your Kids Organized" and "13 Tricks to Healthy Lunches all Year Long". And maybe they work. If you find a suggestion or color coded calendar available for download that helps you out, Brava. I hope it fulfills all of your #momgoals for the year. But I don’t live with your kids in your house and you don’t live with my kids in mine so there’s really only so much that either of us is going to be able to teach the other one about how to do this parenting thing “right.”

You know who’d I take advice from? Some grandma with lovely grown grandchildren who were raised by her well-adjusted, productive children. She, however, is probably not writing a blog or posting carefully distressed signs with messages of love on Pinterest because she has transcended the realm of daily motherhood and no longer worries about such mundane things. She may also not exist because no matter how great of a parent you are, our kids can all decide to be drug addicts or shack up with a stripper named Glitter that they met during that gap year we convinced our spouse to let them take.

All the best advice in the world, all of the best ways to do this, or creative ways to do that may or may not be “best” in your life, or my life, or—and this is terrifying—even for all of our own kids. What works with one may or may not work for another. We really can’t tell in the middle of it.

I, for instance, teach my kids random things through pop songs written primarily before my birth.

Having trouble with prepositions? –“Under the Boardwalk”The Drifters, 1964
Wondering if there is such a thing as a Space Cowboy? –“TheJoker” Steve Miller Band, 1973

I send my kids to a pretty conservative private Christian school where I have to say things like “I think dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago no matter what your teacher said” and yet I also am explaining phrases like “we’ll be makin’ love…under the boardwalk” and “I’m a midnight toker” to my children. Fortunately, none of them asked about “I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree.”

What in the world am I doing?! Have I no sense of the middle ground?!? We've got Creationism and stoner anthems at the same time??!! I am totally afraid that I am breaking them most of the time. That they will turn out weird or ignorant or lost or lonely or afraid or….well, I don’t even know what. The reality is that they will be one or all of those things at some point. We all are.  

One of my kids has spent the last year in therapies attempting to address both physical and academic challenges that we can’t seem to find a cause for. In our last meeting our pediatrician looked at me and said, “This is a unique case for me.”

Well, damn. Is that unique like “that’s a unique smell” or what?

He said, “unique in that most parents aren’t as involved or knowledgeable about their children’s development and education as you are. Honestly, most of them want me to just fix it so they can go back to playing tennis.”

I suppose that’s a compliment (I took it that way because I have an overinflated ego at times—not all the time, mind you—that might actually be useful to my sense of accomplishment—just sometimes), but it was also terrifying. I don’t want to have a unique case. I don’t want my kid to suffer because maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking I know what to do or how to fix it and I’ve just made it worse. Maybe I am blowing this whole parenting thing to hell even in the one field I thought I may actually have had an advantage. Maybe I should have just gone to play tennis. I’ve heard they have wine there.

Earlier today, my oldest was looking at her brand new binder and said, “OOHHH, it says, ‘resists taaares.’ So the binder doesn’t tear on the inside.”  When I looked up she said, “I read it as ‘resists teeers’ and kept thinking, ‘how many people cry onto their binders’”?

Having taught AP World History to 10th graders in a highly academically competitive environment, I’m pretty sure I could name several kids who may have cried onto their binders. I also think that if you could sell a binder that could resist tears, the kind that pour from your children’s eyes and into their lives and hearts, Target would never be able to keep that thing stocked.

But we would be wrong to buy it. Our teeers and taaaares and hurts and heartaches and struggles and successes and even false successes are what make us valuable human beings full of love and compassion and not fragile robots prone to general jackassery. (That’s a word. I promise.)

I am probably breaking my kids. You are probably breaking your kids. We are, probably, right this very minute, doing something that could have been done with just a little bit more patience or grace or love or joy or meaningful stares at one another. Although that sounds vaguely creepy.  

Our parenting choices are far from meaningless, but they’re not all paramount, either. I think it’s easier for us to focus on the logistics and look for advice about discipline tickets or chore charts because that feels like something we can DO, not something we have to be. 

And that's the rub, isn't it? Really great parenting is when WE are full of peace and patience and kindness and love...not when we manage to do the back-to-school paperwork on time. This is both the most important job we’ll ever do and also the one in which there will never be an accurate year-end review until the job’s all over. Our only option is to go hard for the duration in the hopes that we get something right.

So, what are my actual "10 Ways to Win at Parenting this School Year?" 
  1. Do your best—at whatever thing it seems to YOU needs attention at the time.
  2. Ignore all the other parents’ social media feeds. They don’t have your kids.
  3. Pray. This is actually 3-9. We’re all just guessing at what our kids need, but God in heaven knows.
  4. (AKA number 10) Do it all over again every day for every year you get to be a parent. It’s the only totally exhausting job that you never want to end.

I hope that all of our kids have meaningful years of growth and maturity. I hope they learn and expand and rise. I hope they experience, and recover from, tears of all kinds. And I hope we all remember to treasure it as much as humanly possible. Happy Back to School.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Most American Week Ever

It's been a rough week for America and if you don't know why, you need to read this more than most. Or, if not this, then almost anything other than your heavily curated Facebook feed. But I'll assume that you do know why, and that you, too, are hurt and angry and disoriented by the violence and pain in our nation over the last several days...or decades...or centuries, depending on your point of view.

I'll assume that, like me, you want a better America than the one you've seen on television or out your window, or through your own experiences. I'm going to, for the sake of this one-sided discussion, begin with the assumption that you are both proud to be an American and willing to make that mean something greater than it already does. It's a decently large set of assumptions, but I think we're all up to that challenge.

I've seen and heard multiple versions of the comment, "this isn't my America" or "what is this country coming to?" --not just in reference to this last week, but also during our incredibly weird election cycle and never-ending spate of mass shootings. But I actually think this week may be the most American week we've had in a long time.

The major news stories of this week have involved police shootings of minorities, a suicidal/homicidal soldier, mental illness, death of police officers, peaceful protest, arrest of protesters, and, as is increasingly common, the proliferation of guns. If we could throw in immigration (although one of the fallen Dallas officers was, in fact, Mexican-American) and a privileged white guy getting away with campus rape we'd probably have the crux of every news story of the last year.

There is chaos and tension and blood. As disturbing as that is, it's not exactly new.  From our violent beginnings in the Revolution to the Civil War that nearly broke America's back...from the gang riots of immigrant groups in New York to the violence of Bloody Kansas...from the Civil Rights Movement to border wars no matter where our border might have been at the time.., the pain and the violence and the continually readjusting to a new normal, a new people group, and a new way of doing our lives has always been present.

It is, in fact, the most amazingly beautiful thing about the American Experiment--that we can face the inevitable clashes that come with living in close proximity to those with whom we do not feel related and find some common ground to stand on anyway.

When I taught AP World History to 10th graders, one of the tasks they needed to learn was to answer Document Based Questions. They were given a set of historic documents and expected to draw conclusions about the time and place in which the document was made. To be honest, most of them were very bad at it, especially at first. They continually wanted to use the documents (ships' logs, photographs of pottery fragments, royal decrees) as they would an encyclopedia.

They wanted to believe what they could see in front of them was absolute fact.

Over time, and with a lot of practice, they learned to always, always look at the source first. Was that ship's log made by a captain for his own use or to hand over to his investors or boss? Was that pottery used by an everyday citizen or was that something only elites had access to? Did the king have the power to enforce that royal command or was it just for show? Who, what, when, where, why, and how--those interrogatives you learned if you ever took a journalism course--became the bedrock of understanding historical events.

In order to accurately assess what happened in any given moment, students had to put themselves in someone else's imagine their motivations and experiences...their worldview and sphere of influence..instead of looking at it solely from the students' own points of view. Although not all students became equally proficient at this task, every single kid I ever taught about sourcing a document got better at it over time. Every single one. Every single time.

I wish I could lead courses for adults to teach this skill (because it is absolutely a skill) and use current news articles as our documents. There are kind, well-meaning people who are completely clueless when it comes to thinking about life outside of themselves. And our social media obsessed society makes it so much easier to look like an insensitive moron. These social issues--race relations, policing, mental illness--they don't lend themselves to 140 characters or a snap shot.

I understand the desire to say something, anything, when there is pain...but your Insta-ready white family's pic at the beach in Seaside stating that you "stand with your African-American brothers and sisters" doesn't hit quite the right note. Find some actual humans with brown skin to stand next to when they need a friend, not when you need a "black friend."

If you commented that "perhaps some good will come from this" after the assassination of police officers, you clearly aren't related to any cops. Only victims, of any race, of any crime, of any profession, get to look for the silver lining. Bystanders should bring blankets and water and hugs and only say, "I'm sorry."

If, every time there's a mass shooting, you post that the problem isn't with guns, but crazy people with guns and we really just need to "fix" our mental health system, you just prove that you don't know anything about mental illness. I know about both guns and mental illness and only one of those things can be locked up in a safe.

If you post passive-aggressive messages about the "sanctity of the family" even if you don't ever actually say anything about gay people, your gay friends and relatives read between the lines even if you really didn't "mean it that way." Stop that.

If you post that you "support our troops" but don't bother to learn that Memorial Day and Veteran's Day are two different events (neither one of which is about active-duty soldiers), your thanks sounds kind of hollow. Same goes for complaining about your out-of-town husband on Facebook when you have a military spouse as a friend.

Social media is fun and interesting, but it is far more about blips of information than about relationships and understanding.  Your one comment about a complex issue is never all you think and feel about the topic and you know it...let's all try to imagine what it might sound or look like to the people we love who might be listening.  Save the other comments for face-to-face conversations.

If you want meaningful social media, go ahead and follow DeRay and the Dallas PD and the White House and Mitt Romney and It Gets Better and Focus on the Family. If you don't want political social media, that's cool, too. Stick to food and vacay pics and we can all keep following each other and looking at each others' kids.

But in real, actual life, this is my proposal:

Find someone you're afraid of and love on them, without ever expecting anything in return. We owe it to our children to get this right.

Go to a police station and take some food at a random time. Cops work weird hours and they're hungry.

Ask a woman in a head scarf at the gym how her holidays have been. Can you imagine the dedication to fitness it takes to work out with your head covered?

Talk to a gay coworker about their kids. Gay people have kids sometimes and they love theirs just as much as you love yours.

Learn how to both pronounce AND spell the names of your neighbors from India.  It may not sound "American", but that's o.k., you can do it.

Listen when your classmates and coworkers and friends from church with brown skin say you don't have any idea what it's like to be black in America. Because you don't. And I don't. But we can both learn a little bit more every day.

I'm going to be honest...if we do this right...if we do this well, it's gonna get real awkward. You might say something ignorant and feel dumb. You might mispronounce a holiday or misunderstand a comment. You might ramble like I do.

I'm still feeling stupid about the rant I went on about the treatment of the history of enslaved people at Mount Vernon---to African-American friends of Jay's I had never met before. (Uh, if you guys read this...sorry, y'all. My mouth works faster than my brain sometimes. Hope it wasn't weird.)

We're going to have to get over the strangeness and love each other anyway. And listen. And learn. And be generally uncomfortable. It won't kill us, but it might just save us.

I, like a lot of people who like both music with great beats and Revolutionary history (I'm assuming there's more than just me), have been singing the songs from the Broadway musical Hamilton. It's amazing and you should listen to it right after this if you haven't already. There's one song with the refrain, "when are these colonies gonna rise up?" It's about actual, violent rebellion, but the story of Hamilton is also about rising beyond the violence to get to something better. One of Lin-Manuel Miranda's lines (as Alexander Hamilton) is "for the first time I'm thinkin' past tomorrow." It's about achieving freedom and equality and hope and opportunity without burning the house to the ground in the process. It's about change for the present in hope for the future.

Conflict in America is not new. When this many different groups of people live together it will never be "over," merely always evolving. But this IS America--to rise up, rise on, rise through. To forge better and truer, stronger and braver not in spite of, but because of our differences.

So sing along everybody, "when are these colonies gonna rise UP, rise UP?" We can do it together. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What It's Like to Travel with Four Kids

The short answer: It is amazing. In every possible way one can be amazed. By joy, by discovery, by time spent together; by sunsets and nature and adventure. And also by whining and chaos and uber-closeness and vomit. Really, truly, amazing.

Last year we embarked on a new life journey that we are still exploring and figuring out and touching tenderly like when you have a sore spot in your mouth you keep poking with your tongue. Part of that journey is a family mission to spend the night in all 50 states. These are our own arbitrary rules, but all 6 of us have to spend the night and do something iconic for the state to count. So, my layover in Minneapolis does not count as having been to Minnesota. That time I drove a snowmobile on a frozen river in Alaska counts for me, but not the whole family. When the whole family camped in one 4-man tent in Yellowstone and managed to suffocate a small rodent under our tent at night, that felt like we pretty much covered Wyoming. You get the idea.

In the last little-more-than-a-year (we started in February, 2015), we've been to 35 states including Georgia. And it really has been amazing. I get a lot of questions about how we "do that with four kids," but honestly, I do everything with four kids so you just kind of get used to it.

I know what people mean, though. They want to know what it's like to schlep through the airport or ride in the car for hours every day or to be in a new hotel every night. They want to know how we keep that many personalities happy and relaxed on vacation (we don't, so don't expect that miracle piece of information). They want to know if it's something they might be able to do (or want to do) with their own kids. So, here's what it's been like so far. I'll let you know what it's like again after we get those last 15.

Really Inconvenient
Everything about having children is crazily inconvenient. It takes for-freaking-ever to get in and out of cars. And in and out of hotels. And in and out of restaurants. If we fly, we travel with car seats that we take through security and onto the airplane. People sometimes groan out loud when they see us coming. Strangers will comment on our children--sometimes with "you're doing such a good job with them" (usually from old people) and sometimes "are they ALL yours?" (usually from anyone else).

Kids get hungry and tired and irrational and don't always get the significance of what they're doing.
This is the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. See how thrilled the kid on the left is?

Where the Wright Brothers Invented Flight. Nailed the family photo. 
It is totally inconvenient to schedule and go and shake up anything about the systems in place to function that we have at home. We go anyway. With children who are at times irritable and ungrateful and grumpy--because we are a family team and life wasn't going to be much more convenient at home anyway.

Travel is kind of unpredictable no matter who you take with you. Hotels are not always as great as they seemed online. The new town you're in may not have anything your kids like to eat. We never know when someone might melt down, need to go potty, decide they're having a terrible time, or just plain rebel against an activity.  There's more crying in the airport than when we go places without kids. There're a lot more bathroom stops. We also don't know where we're going a lot of the time and that makes the whole thing unpredictable.

Instead of being a negative, though, I think it's good for the kids. They see us have to make decisions based on new information and new problems. We've changed hotel rooms while driving down the freeway because we realized we could get further than we thought and we'd rather drive less tomorrow. We've had to use real, actual maps because cell service doesn't work everywhere in the nation (especially near national parks).
Actual map of Montana--see how there's no blue dot for my car?
Life is unpredictable and this is a pretty fun way to practice making decisions on the fly and negotiating with loved ones and communicating when we're tired and hungry and stressed. Jay and I get frustrated, but we're stuck in the car or the hotel and the kids get to see us work it out without ruining the day.

Children are disgusting. For that reason I travel with an elephant's worth of Wet Ones and hand sanitizer. This is so ingrained in my daughter that she pulled hand sanitizer out of her purse at church today when they got a snack. We've had vomit in the car more than once (different kids, different trips) and diarrhea in the car once. That was not good.  We have had children with enough sand to start building a hurricane barrier in their shorts and a flight to catch in an hour (poor parent decision making there--and also why I wound up in an outdoor shower with a Russian man and a naked toddler). We have had loveys left in horrible places, rubbed all over hotel room floors, and then kissed profusely when they were found. Seriously. Super gross.
Aah-Aah the Monkey was found in the parking lot of The Big Texan Steak House (home of the 72oz steak) underneath two guys smoking in the parking lot in Amarillo, Texas. At least as gross as it sounds.

We do not enter any location unnoticed. We take up the entire escalator at the airport. And the entire elevator in hotels. We are not quiet. We are not stealthy. We were asked to leave the tour at Independence Hall, laughed at (good-naturedly) by retirees in line at the National History Museum in D.C., and directly addressed by TSA agents in Atlanta, Seattle, and LA. So many people comment on our four kids (it's not like it's 40, people) that I don't even notice it most of the time anymore. A Japanese man and I had a conversation in broken English outside Yellowstone Lodge about how I did, in fact, give birth to them myself. Mostly I find this hilarious, but it certainly takes more bravado than I expected.
What we take on an airplane. Not subtle.
Sometimes it's our own fault. It was really funny to have an Elvis wedding (actually a vow renewal--we have been married for quite a while) in Vegas. I did not, however, anticipate how much courage it took to walk through the lobby of Paris Las Vegas wearing my veil and followed by the children. I was told congratulations, so that was nice. But definitely not low key.

Headed to our Vegas wedding in a rented KIA minivan. It smelled better than our own minivan, so that was luxurious. 

Sometimes, where we go is just plain terrifying. There's a fence at the Grand Canyon, but it's made out of chain link like the one we had that couldn't keep our dog in when I was growing up. And there are gaps. Giant, child-sized gaps. The Tidal Basin in DC has no rail or fence and it was really crowded with wall to wall people down to the very edge. Crater Lake had a thin guide wire strung between two trees that was the difference between standing on actual rock and standing on snow cornices. The ranger there said, "Be careful here because it slopes downward before the rope. If you start sliding, you will die."

View from Hoover Dam. See how we did NOT get the kids in this shot?
New Orleans has lovely trolleys, but they are located in the middle of the street so there's about a 5 foot gap between child-killing traffic and child-killing trolleys. We've driven on roads that had us white knuckling the steering wheel and drugging the children with iPads to ensure silence. Hoover Dam...yeah, both sides of that were horrifying. So, it's frightening. And I kind of like that.

Walkways with absolutely no rails over the geothermal features in Yellowstone. Some also have water in them, not just earth fire.

Sure it is educational in the actual history way. We've learned a crazy amount about Lewis and Clark and the Civil Rights Movement and the American Revolution.  We've learned about Westward Expansion and Pilgrims and the Civil War. But we've also learned how other people live and how big our country is and how much of it still doesn't have people in it. And yet, at the same time, how many other people there are living lives parallel to our own thousands of miles away.
Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began. Our kids are wearing gloves (that they would lose five minutes later) because it was the one day in Charleston that it got cold. Also, can you see the 4th kid? Another perfect pic. 
We learn about each other and what we find interesting. We learn our children's personalities in new and unusual circumstances. We learn how to communicate with each other better because there's no where to escape and the children can always hear us. We learn how to entertain ourselves for hours on end of driving and staring out of the window. We learn...and for my teacher soul that is so very satisfying.

Very, Very Precious
For all the embarrassment and inconvenience and uncertainty and vomit, I am so very glad we are on this silly mission. It is so much fun. Life itself is one very big adventure filled with all of these qualities--what an amazing way to get to teach our kids how to roll with it. What an amazing series of moments to share. This past week we took another rented KIA minivan 3 miles down a dirt road off a crazy curvy highway in California to find a stand of redwood trees. We were the only people there when we arrived--it was about 5pm and getting dark and misty. The sunlight filtered through the giant trees and the rain chilled us a little and the only sounds were our kids (of course) and the nearby river. We found a spot where giant logs lay in a semi-circle underneath towering trees and I could not help but think that it looked like the kind of church that God himself had made. So we made our own family circle and prayed in that sacred place...thanking God for the sky and the trees and the river and the rain and the chance to see them all together.

Boys and a giant tree. KIA minivans can go anywhere.
This is why now, with my jet-lagged children irritable and grumpy and picking at each other after the let-down of home again and back to routine, I'm already planning the next trip.  No matter what happens on our trips, what lives up to our dreams and what doesn't, it was always absolutely worth it because we are on the adventure together. I can't wait to see what the next one brings.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why I Have Hot Pink Hair

So, in case you haven't noticed from Facebook or Instagram or my picture on this page, I am currently rocking a very unnatural hair color. It's hot pink. In darker light it looks kind of a crazy red, but in the sun, it is full blown hot pink.

And I love it. I feel like a super hero. I feel like I am so much cooler than my minivan driving self has a right to be.

Sweaty pinky-red hair is awesome

I am somehow more approachable to random strangers. I've been shown the new rib cage tattoo of a female med student in the middle of a Starbucks. I've had total strangers yell at me across a parking lot that they like my hair. The women at Ulta, and Sally's, and the MAC counter treated me like one of them. When I asked for a fun new lip color for spring, she brought out PURPLE lipstick. Purple! If your job involves wearing a black smock for a living, we would probably make an instant connection if we met.

I make eye contact and share smiles with a different group of people than before. Not just the moms wrangling children in the Target, but also 20-somethings and maintenance workers and the white girl with dreadlocks at my church. We apparently share the bond of people who feel slightly off inside.

The reactions I've gotten from people who actually know me have also been enlightening. "I wish I could do that," "I wish I could get away with that," and my favorite (spoken by a beautiful and graceful homeschooling mom) "I wish I had the balls to do that" have been the most common. There have also been people who have not mentioned it AT ALL. People I see at least once or twice a week who have made absolutely no mention of the fact that my head now kind of glows in the light. Can they not see it? Are they practicing the Southern proverb "If you can't say anything nice...?" I suppose that's better than the fair amount of "look at your hair!" (not a compliment), "wow, that's different" (also not a compliment), and "THAT'S a big change" (still not a compliment).

Almost everyone asks me what prompted me to dye it all. And I haven't given any great answers. I've always wanted to (true), I'm probably having a midlife crisis (possible), I just felt like it (weak, but technically true). The real answer is a little bit long and a little bit dramatic and a little bit because I'm getting older.

When I was in my early 20s I had very long, very dark brown hair. And, although I loved the drama of short hair and bright hair I just didn't have the courage to change it. There's a special sense of self-consciousness that comes with your 20s that you really regret in your 30s. Anyway, I found myself thinking "if I had nothing to lose I'd cut all my hair off and dye it red." Over the next couple of years I saw a loved one lose her hair to cancer. A few months after she eventually lost her life I found myself thinking about cutting my hair again and realized that I actually have a lot less to lose than I thought. Some fleeting sense of attractiveness? The ability to blend in better with a crowd? I don't know what I was afraid of losing, but I was suddenly aware that I might not get as much time or hair as I originally thought I would.

After that first radical change it was easier every time I've cut it all off or dyed it blond or red or purply brown. It's been super short and pretty darn long and everything in between. There have been cuts I did not like. But it's hair so it grows and people forget if you looked weird for a few weeks.

So why now and why so bright? Well, I am getting older. I will be 40 this summer and I certainly feel that crunch of time and the fear that my best years may be over and the worry that I will be less and less interesting from here on out. But that's not the main reason.

Over the last year I've really struggled with feeling less-than. I don't have a job, or an amazingly Pinterest-worthy house, or a side business that (according to what I see on Facebook) I'm apparently supposed to have. I have gained weight and not worked out. I've made some big life changes, but been really uncertain about why exactly or what benefit they may have.

And I've been hiding.

Hiding in my baggy clothes because my others don't fit. Hiding in gym clothes because, really, why should I actually get ready everyday? Hiding by letting my striking pixie of two-plus years ago when I felt strong and brave grow into a nondescript shaggy mess. Hiding by refusing to write anything about any of this because I just wanted to sit on my couch and watch TV and eat chocolate in the quiet and not deal with my feelings.

So I decided I was done hiding. I don't want to keep the extra weight I'm carrying or the fear I'm holding onto or the self pity I've wrapped around me like a puffy coat. A puffy coat made of my jiggly stomach.

I was explaining this to my friend Erin who, conveniently, used to own her own hair salon. I casually asked if she thought I could pull off pink hair. She enthusiastically said yes. She also spent two years of her life with a buzzed head that she bleached every three weeks so I probably should have seen that coming.

When I told Erin that I thought it might just be a midlife crisis I said, "if I get 40 more years, 80-year-old me will enjoy this memory. And if I don't..." and just kind of trailed off. Erin finished the sentence for me with "And if you don't get 40 more years and you don't dye your hair your epitaph can just say 'she lived a short life with brown hair.'" Which is hilarious and also clearly made me want to go ahead with it.

So I did. Erin did all the leg work and make cookies and brought out toys to entertain my kids which eliminated the bulk of the expense and inconvenience. And I got to just chat with her for 4 hours so that was also a plus.

And I am definitely no longer hiding. I feel brave again. Terrified, but brave enough to move forward anyway--with writing and actually losing this weight and just generally walking around knowing that I am not imagining it and that people are actually talking about me when I walk by. As my friend Allison said, "at least you know what they're saying."

I don't have any idea how long I'll keep up my pink hair. It does take maintenance and I have a towel that will never be the same. I also drip pink sweat at the gym, but I'm choosing to call that fabulous instead of horrifyingly gross. I do know that I certainly don't regret it. Maybe I am kidding myself by thinking that I'm young enough to pull this off, but who cares? It's fun and ridiculous and makes me smile. Also, my daughter gazes at me adoringly and says things like, "It's just so PINK!" which is a grand compliment in her world.

You should do this. Maybe not pink hair, but whatever that thing is that you've thought "if I had nothing to lose, I'd..." You really don't have anything to lose that you're going to get to keep long term anyway. And maybe you'll get to feel like a superhero, too, and then we can roam around the world saving it all together. With or without pink hair. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Grow, Little Bloom, Grow

Such a Perfect Tulip in my Front Yard
I kill things a lot. Not like, animal things, but pretty much all plant things. I have two large peace lilies that I have managed to keep alive for about a decade, but they mostly survive on the force of my guilt. One was a gift at my grandfather's funeral and the other was from the funeral of his sister, so every time they start turning brown and scraggly I water them... because how terrible would I be if I let my dead relatives' funeral plants die? Have I no soul? Fortunately peace lilies are incredibly resilient so this plan is keeping them pitifully far.

But, basically, without strong guilt motivations I will just let stuff die. Because I am tired and moving seems too hard. Because I am poor at planning things ahead of time and "gardening" is not on my list even when I do make a plan. Because I am lazy. It is apparently not much of a priority so I don't create time for it in my life. It feels wrong, though...

Some part of me, perhaps the part that loved visiting my grandparents' farms as a kid, really wants to grow something. Both of my sisters-in-law are actually quite good at this despite their busy lives and little children and more than average levels of responsibility. They grow things to eat and lovely things to look at and I definitely do not.

The other day my brother's wife offered me extra seeds she will have after her first spring planting in their new house. I told her I would happily accept the seeds, but that I had no idea what I was doing. She said, "First rule of gardening: if it grows, take the compliments. If it doesn't, blame the weather."

I thought of this wise advice when I pulled into my driveway today and saw this:

Mailbox Joy
Tucked around my mailbox are 80 or so tulip bulbs that my sweet relative game me for Christmas. She and my niece snuck over to my house last fall and planted them while I was out of the house for the day. On Christmas, I opened an adorable picture of my 5-year-old niece posing with her handiwork and the information that, although they couldn't guarantee anything would grow, they promised that they worked hard to plant something.

Earlier this week I was writing something else (I'm working on a book even though I'm terrified that it will turn out that I've spent months and months of my life working on the world's least interesting pamphlet) and I was pondering the idea of investment in others.

None of us are going to live forever (depressing thought for the day) and the only thing of real value that we leave behind will be our impact on other people. And that impact, whatever it may be, is never the result of just one moment. There are days and weeks and months and years of words and touches and acts of kindness that go into forming how we influence those around us.

Right this minute, I am writing with little feet in my lap. As I sit here, snuggling a sick boy and his monkey, it is hard to imagine that this act will have a lasting impact on him. By itself, it probably wouldn't. But if I add up the sick snuggles and the words I speak and the moments I offer him attention, they become not just a series of moments, but rather something alarmingly momentous to his life.

A Boy and His Monkey

Our relationships, like the lovely tulips planted by the sister-of-my-heart, need those first acts. They need us to dig and plant and cover with care in the hopes that something will bloom. Even if we have no idea if anything will come of it. Even though we cannot predict the weather in which our efforts will get the chance to grow.

Our children need us to think that way. So do our parents, siblings (both biological and by marriage), our friends, and spouses. What relationships have we forgotten to plant? Where have we been watering just enough to keep it from dying like my peace lilies and where have we just let it die (like every other green thing I plant).

I am so grateful for people in my life who have bothered to plant things in me and for me out of love and grace. I am a better person than I could ever be without them. Let me plant things that grow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

I Have Pretty Hands (a compliment of motherhood)

I have four kids.

Sometimes I'll be doing something like reading the newspaper or running errands and I'll though I've forgotten... that I am the Mommy.

It's surprising and ridiculous and somehow did I become the responsible adult in the lives of FOUR human beings? Clearly someone in charge has made a terrible mistake.

The first moment that Jay and I were left alone with our oldest child, she stopped breathing. She turned grayish blue and the nurse came running and we were terrified. And then they made us leave with her 36 hours later. To take home. To our house by ourselves where we mostly ate dinner on the floor while watching Seinfeld reruns and staying up crazy late binge watching DVDs of 24 (no Netflix yet).

I cannot POSSIBLY be the Mommy. I have pink hair.

But I AM the Mommy. And the Mom. And the Mama. I'm the finder of school pants and the re-builder of Lego sets. I'm the healer of cuts and scrapes and hurt feelings. I am the soft place to land and the watcher of countless "amazing" dance moves.

I am also the cleaner of pee soaked sheets, the nurse to vomiting children, and the wiper of behinds with diarrhea. Motherhood is a mixed bag.

A few weeks ago, my three year old lost his mind at bath time. I don't know if you are aware, but three-year-old children are clinically insane. They lull you into this false sense of security because they are adorable and squishy and can form intelligent sentences and then BAM! they go nuts because you cut their sandwich wrong.

Or they lose all sense of significance over small events. "I wanted to take the wrapper off the straw by myself" becomes a wail of pain as though flesh were being flayed from his body. It is not appropriate to flail about on the floor because you had to wear a green shirt instead of a purple shirt because you peed on the blue shirt. I don't really care if you even wear a shirt at all.

Anyway, he pitched a fit because it was bath time and then he pitched a fit because I made him get out of the bath and we wound up sitting on the floor in his room while I wrestled him into underwear and pajamas and he got so red he turned purple and had great big fat alligator tears rolling down his face.

Because this is my fourth kid, I found it hilarious. In the beginning, I would have been worried that there was something wrong with him. As a new parent to a three-year-old I would have looked for deeper meaning to his disobedience and inability to control himself. Now I know that tired children act like crazy people and you really just need to get them to sleep.

So in that moment I started to stroke his sweaty little tear-covered face and tell him that I love him. That I didn't want his day to end like this. That he is a kind boy with interesting things to say and I love him so, so much. That I am so grateful I get to be his Mommy.

He sighed, took a shuttering, shaky breath...


My bony, unkempt, pretty hands

I have pretty hands. Not because they are visually appealing. The crooked broken finger, knobby knuckles (is it really because I crack them?), and bitten-down finger nails prevent any kind of aesthetic pleasure. No, my hands are pretty because they are gentle. Because they are strong. Because they help change clothes and clean off dirt and make dinner and build shelves for Legos.

I have pretty hands because an irrational three-year-old was soothed and comforted and then angry that he wanted to let go of his fit and rest. Which is still hilarious.

How many Mommy compliments have I brushed aside because they came from one of those four people while still listening to the implied criticism of people I don't even know? When I feel less than because I no longer have a job...when I'm bummed because my stomach is jiggly...when I look at someone else's Insta-perfect account and feel like I'm missing out...why do I even care?

Why do so many of my thoughts and feelings of disappointment in myself come from the random people I don't actually care about?

Because, dammit, I have pretty hands.

My pretty hands shape the world of four entire human beings. How they view the world, what think about themselves, and what they learn about God and the universe is molded in my hands. They are their own selves, sure, but my hands are the beginning and end to their days, the comfort in their fear, and the only home they know at this point.

I have pretty hands. I pray I use them well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Triumph of Trivial Distractions...

When Jay and I were younger, before we had children and a mortgage, we took the money we'd been saving for a down payment on a house and we went to Europe for a month.

We wandered around, finding hotels when we got to a new city and seeing all the things we'd read about or heard about or, in my case, had just started teaching about--that we could afford to get to. To be clear, that really only included Western Europe (except Spain, they were having a ground transportation strike. An older Welsh man tried to convince us that this was normal and happened in the US, too, but his only evidence was that air traffic controllers went on strike sometime in the '80s and we didn't know what he was talking about).

So we ate cheese and chocolate in Paris and had good beer in Munich and discovered gelato in Italy. One of the places I was most excited to see was Rome. Not just because of the aqueducts and the Roman roads that made my history geek heart soar, but also because of the art. I couldn't wait to see Raphael and da Vinci and Michelangelo.

You can't take pictures inside the Vatican Museum so this is me in the Coliseum on that trip. Those are the lovely tickets to the museum that I saved because we used to make scrapbooks before there were digital cameras and the internet. Also I was blonde for some reason.

On the day we toured the Vatican Museum we waited in an incredibly long line that wrapped around a large portion of the perimeter walls of the Vatican. It was crazy hot and there were very loud American teenagers in front of us, one of whom was wearing track pants that said "juicy" on the rear end and I thought, "that might not be the most appropriate outfit for touring the home of the Pope." Sadly, Jay and I don't speak any languages but English well enough to pretend we weren't American so mostly we just tried to edge farther away from them in line.

After moving through room after room of priceless art in what used to be the papal palace we entered the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is perhaps the most famous series of Biblical scenes--most people know that moment of God reaching out a finger to meet Adam and deliver the spark that ignites the soul of mankind.

But the image that caught my attention was the The Last Judgment painted behind the altar. Michelangelo created the ceiling toward the beginning of his career and the far more frightening and overwhelming Last Judgment toward the end. It showed hundreds of nude figures engaged in the battle for the immortal souls of mankind with Jesus at the center. Michelangelo himself is painted into the work as a flayed skin.

I loved it.

Picture of The Last Judgment I totally stole from the internet

When I would teach the Renaissance to 15- and 16-year-olds, I always pointed out that the nude figures had caused quite a controversy (because saying nudity to a room full of 10th graders makes them pay attention). And although Michelangelo was following the Greek and Roman tradition of nudes (which he also did in sculptures--think the statue of David), critics condemned the use of nudity in this painting and eventually many figures had loincloths painted over them so as not to offend those critics.

The other day, Jay and I were watching a TED talk about the Sistine know, as we are wont to do. Art historian Elizabeth Lev gave a passionate overview of Michelangelo's work and if you're at all interested you should take the 17 minutes and watch it. Around minute 13:40 is when she gets to the part about the nudity controversy in The Last Judgement.

It's during that segment that she spoke a phrase that grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. When she described the cover-up job done to make the nude figures more palatable to the critics, she refers to the entire conflict as "a triumph of trivial distractions over his great exhortation to glory."

I made Jay pause the video and go back. There was plenty to wrestle with in the painting: Does the raised arm of Jesus bring any comfort or just some good old fashioned smiting? Are the saints and angels rescuing people from hell or are those people crying out for God or is there even a difference if the end is finally actually here? Rumor was that the pope fell down and acknowledged his unworthiness when he saw it (no clue if that's actually true or not).

But instead of dealing with challenging thoughts concerning the struggles of the human condition or mankind's interpretation of God and expressions of faith, the naked people is what got the press. Veeeerry early press as the printing press was still relatively new, but press nonetheless.

The triumph of trivial distractions over the exhortation to glory.

How much does that phrase sum up our current political climate? Our current religious climate? Our over-scheduled and tech-filled lives in general? Will there one day be some historian using such a phrase to describe the years in which I lived most of my adulthood?

I just spent 3 minutes watching a trailer for Ice Age: Collision Course, also known as Ice Age 137. Why did I do that? They're woolly mammoths. I KNOW how this ends. And I'm sure I'll get to enjoy this artistic treasure when it comes out in a few months due to the whining of my kids. I don't need a trailer for more information.

I cannot in any way account for the amount of time I've spent on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter because it's become a weird sort of default while waiting in lines or, more embarrassingly, at red lights. But these are the obvious trivial distractions in my life...these are the ones I'm aware of caving in to when my mind is sleepy and wants brain candy.

My bigger fear is this: what other things in my life will look like trivial distractions the further I get from them?

When Biagio da Cesena, the pope's Master of Ceremonies and outspoken critic of the nudes in The Last Judgement, complained about Michelangelo's use of nudity I bet he thought it was a good use of his time. Maybe there were crazy nudes everywhere in Rome in the 1540s and he was just trying to keep his city clean. Maybe he was worried about distracting the future popes and cardinals to come (no one else was allowed in the Sistine Chapel at the time). Maybe he just found Michelangelo to be personally offensive.

But he wound up ignoring the pain of those descending into hell, the concern on the faces of the saints and angels, and the awakening of the dead in Christ. If he really wanted to point out perceived flaws in the painting he could have called out Michelangelo for using just as much imagery from Dante as he did from the Bible. Instead, he harped on the nudes and got painted into hell by Michelangelo for his efforts. In fact, his,,,um..."bathing suit parts" are tastefully covered by the mouth of a snake.

Biagio as Minos--another picture I stole from the internet

Whether or not Biagio was justified in his criticism isn't really my point. My point is that it was the easiest topic to fixate on, to spread information about, and to argue over. My point is that discussion was bogged down on one small aspect of the whole to the detriment of everything else. He spent his time and energy on a topic that, in the end, didn't really matter all that much.

Do you know what I talk about with people the most? Summer camps for the kids, places we visit, upcoming projects for the house. Occasionally I get into political discussions or talk about a movie I've seen. These aren't bad topics. They're things I'm doing in my life and things that have to be done.

But am I missing my exhortation to glory? Am I allowing my to-do list to triumph over the call to love my neighbor? Am I sinking into the safety of my ordered life while the battle for justice and freedom rages around me unseen?

I'm gonna go ahead and say yes.

What are my trivial distractions? What could glory look like? What might my imaginary future historian about this moment say if we all try to find out? What if we attempted to look around at the lives of others without jealousy over our carefully culled social media presentations? What if we stopped obsessing over raising perfect children or getting perfect bodies?

Let's not be known as a generation of people who allowed the triumph of trivial distractions to overcome the exhortation to glory. I think we can do it. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Stuff I Didn't Instagram in 2015

My blog and I have been in a fight. We haven't been on speaking terms and it's a little bit hard to explain why. The easiest reason is that I just haven't felt like talking, but that's not really an answer. A better explanation would be to say that I have been oddly melancholy. Not sad or broken or in pain, but blah. And blah does not want to write. I miss her (my blog), though. We think about things together and she helps me organize my thoughts. She also becomes a set of talking points with my actual friends in the actual world in between yelling at children and folding laundry.

So I decided to mend the fences and return to this old friend by writing about some of the things I didn't bother to talk about while they were actually happening. Here are 5 things I didn't share on social media in 2015:

Travel Fails
As part of our desire to live "more closely" we made a pact to visit all 50 states as a family over the next 2-3 years. We wanted to show our children adventure, the beauty of our country, and that Jay and I are not always completely in control of what happens in life. We have been to 31 states so far and it looked like this:

Beach in Los Angeles
And this:

My 7-year-old Contemplating the Grand Canyon

And this:
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park
Clearly these would be the kind of pictures that I DID share on Instagram. But right after that shot at the beach we got on a plane for Atlanta. Which meant I had to wash off sandy children. Which meant that there was a moment when I shared an outdoor public beach shower with a naked three-year-old and a Russian man. And then I put wet, sandy clothes into a plastic bag to carry onto an airplane. Well played, Sally.

That day at the Grand Canyon was pretty amazing. I saw it for the first time with my babies and it was beautiful. But that picture was taken in the brief few moments that weren't pouring rain or covered in fog. Fog settled so deep into the canyon that the canyon itself ceased to exist. That fog stayed there for the rest of our time we had inside the park. I still had a good time, but it wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

The last picture is of Yellowstone and I would go back there in a heartbeat. It is as amazing as you've ever heard. It is also where one of my children caught an unfortunate stomach bug from one of the other children. The end result was that I spent a good three quarters of an hour cleaning both vomit and diarrhea out of a car seat in the parking lot of some fascinating geothermal features. The upside was that the horrible sulphur smell made the horrible car smell a lot less noticeable.

There are so many more trip stories that didn't go as we planned; kid meltdown in the airport security line of the world's busiest airport...getting kicked out of Independence Hall in Philadelphia... our first attempt to see Mount Rushmore that resulted in me crying in the car in the dark. I didn't share any of these events because it sounded totally whiny in my head--we have been on several amazing trips this year and I certainly wouldn't trade them.

But I realized, especially through the holiday season when I kept seeing people I don't see very often, that other people seemed to think our trips were easy. They were not. They take effort and lifestyle sacrifice and planning (but not too much planning) and a healthy dose of reality at every turn. When we hadn't even made it to Birmingham, Alabama (about 2 1/2 hours from Atlanta) before a kid lost a pair of underwear in a Starbucks bathroom on our drive to Wyoming, I had some serious doubts.

I wish I had written more about the difficult parts because I'd love for more people to believe that they can take their kids anywhere. There may be poop to clean up, but that's true at home, too.

Homeschooling is Hard
I fully admit that until three or four years ago I thought that anyone who chose an option other than public school was a weirdo. As with all generalized judgments, I began to change my mind when I actually met some people who were making different choices and it broadened my mind. But, seriously, I never EVER thought I'd go down this road for my kids. It has allowed freedom for our family to travel more, certainly a degree of close that we didn't have before, and I have been amazed at the conversations I get to have with my tween kid. BUT.

It's hard.

What I shared about homeschooling did not reveal that.

Adorable 5-year-old Working on that Tricky S

Amazingly Fun/Cold Field Trip to the Etowah Indian Mounds
I shared an occasional pic of domestic adorableness with kids crowded around colorful school work. Or shots of field trip days while other, sadder, children were cooped up in cement block walls. I did not share moments like today, when I yelled so loudly that I kind-of hurt my voice. Also, I put a kid on the back porch to calm down and HE screamed so loudly that our elderly next door neighbor was on my back porch checking him for injuries when I came to check on him. So I expect DFACS any day now.

I don't even stay home with them every day. The kids attend a nontraditional private school two days a week and then complete their work with me. I don't make up the curriculum, they're not home all the time, and I'm still a horribly yell-y person. I'm confessing this because every mom I've ever told that I homeschool has said, "oh, I couldn't do that. I don't have the patience."  Yeah, well, me neither. But here we are.

My House is Broken (with rats)
Here's what I shared about my house this year:

This Super-Awesome Wallpaper. And I own a Record Player

More Super-Awesome Wallpaper with Snowflakes and a Mirror I Love
What I did not detail was that everything is broken. We have replaced the electricity. And the roof STILL has leaks..the new leak is THROUGH the stove's exhaust fan so now I'm afraid to use that. We replaced a toilet, but it still works funny. Also, the pipes's too long of a story to explain why. The yard is mostly moss. We hired a guy to replace the counter top that was broken in the kitchen and he disappeared before the job was done. We hadn't paid him or anything, so I have no idea where he went, but it's been months and months and I still haven't dealt with the functioning chaos that is the stupid freaking kitchen.

I didn't mention any of this because it is warm and safe and the roof mostly works. I am very lucky to have these things. But, again, I feel like I gave off the impression that downsizing into an old house has been emotionally freeing when the reality is that I have felt like I had a splinter under my fingernail for a year. It's not debilitating, but it is a constant irritant.

Oh, and there were rats. RATS, I tell you.

I Gained 30 Pounds
I gained 30 pounds and I only posted pictures of myself that didn't make that obvious. I am not going to change that pattern now, but I will admit to it. I have, in the past, shared marathon and half-marathon and triathlon successes, but I didn't at all mention that moving and suddenly having my school-aged children home with me really screwed up my workout plan. I apparently also eat when I am stressed, nervous, or worried and that has been all of 2015.

The friends I have mentioned this to have seemed surprised I've gained that much weight; that either means they're lying so as not to offend my jiggly-stomached self or that I am a terrible dresser who really needs to wear better clothing. Both are strong possibilities.

Anything Actually Sad
O.k., I realize that social media is not exactly the place to deal with deep dark personal problems, but it's why we all feel totally inferior when we see other people's lives through the lenses of Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat/FuSizzle. (I made that last one up, but I think it could catch on.) Actual sad things deserve face-to-face conversation and prayer and maybe a casserole.

A man I went to college with committed suicide and for some reason he contacted me a few hours before he did so. Another friend has a child fighting to regain a childhood while dealing with cancer. None of my problems or musings for the last six months have been because of my own deep struggles so I just didn't mention any of my stresses or annoyances. How can I chat away about parenting irritations or travel snafus or my damn kitchen when so many people are in pain so thick they can't breathe? So I didn't say anything.

I don't know what any of this means for my 2016 blog. I miss it and I miss connecting with friends I see out in the world who say "I feel the same way!" and then suddenly this fake community is tangible and real. So for now I'm committing to posting throughout the year and I'll see what that means as I go. I'm also really sorry if my scatter-shot sharing of my life made any of you feel jealous or inferior or randomly annoyed. You're welcome to come over and hang out in my little house and we can chat about life face-to-face and remind each other that our lives are all more alike than not. (I promise we got rid of the rats.)