Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bad Middles, Good Stories

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Last night, the kids crawled up on the couch with me to listen to the reading of a brand new book. All three attempted to climb into my lap at once which commenced a short brawl, but it was quickly solved with an awkward arm reach that pulled each of them close and made them all feel like my favorite. I was one page into the book when Lainey interrupted.

"Wait--does it have a bad middle?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You know, in the middle of a story when something bad happens."

I smiled. Ah yes, second grade writing curriculum. My girl's learning about narrative writing and the arc of a good story--a problematic middle that gets worked out in the end.

"Oh, I get it," I answered. "Well, I think the little girl in this story gets lost. Do you want me to read it to see if the problem gets fixed?"

She nestled in a little closer. "Okay."

We finished the book with Story Arc Detector oh high alert for problem and solution: Girl gets lost. Girl finds her way home.


Though we might not learn the most important life lessons at school (--except the quadratic equation. Thank God for the quadratic equation because I use it every day.), I decided this one's a pretty good one to remember, and I'm tucking it away to remind my kids later when their hearts feel a little broken: Good stories have bad middles. When life hands over some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, you have to remember it's just a middle. And you're writing a good story. And when it's your story that has a bad middle, you get to be a part of writing the ending. Of making sure that the bad middle has a purpose and a resolution and a character that finds her way home.

The idea of a life full of bad middles for my kids makes my insides twist, but when I think about it as a life full of good endings, that's not so bad. They'll be the authors of so many good stories. As a writer, that makes me proud. As a mother, that makes me happy.

I'm prepared for the next heartbreak, my parenting talk cued and ready: "Baby, this is just a bad middle in your big story. We'll help you fix it and you'll write a good ending."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Enjoying: Payoff in the Present

I practically waited by the door the other night for Brett to come home, my time card punched before my shift was over, my patience allotment all used up. My kids needed every inch of me that day—my arms to hold them, my energy to clean up after them, my constant attention to read that book and answer that question and pull that stool away, pour that milk, sign that paper, lock those pantry doors again. By the end of the day, I was tired and frustrated that all these ideas I’ve had remain dormant—no time or energy to feed them, or maybe even more frustrating, just pure unwillingness to act on them. I had work to do, and so the changing of the guards commenced. I passed Brett the baton of the frazzled remains of the day, apologized for the state of the kitchen and kissed the kids goodbye. There were toys on the floor and dishes in the sink, and Nella and Dash both cried for me as I walked out.

For a few hours, I breathed and thought and wrote, nurturing my own needs instead of juggling the demands of all of theirs, and it felt good. I ate by myself that night, quietly writing between bites and watching the sun set from my window in the restaurant. We needed milk, so I stopped at the store on the way home and used it as an excuse to wander—smell candles, sample lotion, peruse books, scout out flashy fall nail polish displays on the store end cap.

By the time I rolled back in the driveway, it was well past dark. And though I opened the door to the exact same scene I had left earlier—dishes still in the sink, toys on the floor, three kids just as needy—it felt different, my weariness softened by the perspective reentry gives. It was home—the bath toys that made it out of the tub and into the hallway, the ice cube melting on the kitchen tile in front of the refrigerator where Dash no doubt tampered with the water dispenser again, the homework that needed to be checked, the lunches that needed to be made, the excited little gasp I heard from the living room--a reaction to my arrival, arms that reached up to me with a "Hold you," and the other two that ran to follow her lead. We stood in the kitchen, all entangled in a giant hug of octopus arms, and I soaked up their little needs like super hero fuel.

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Sometimes I think I rely too much on the beautiful moments of motherhood to make the hard ones "worth it." And even though the beautiful far outweighs the hard (listen, I have a black belt in finding good moments), what if it didn't? If babies didn't sleep soundly on chests or ever stop waking up in the night, if toddlers didn't say "I love you" back or reach up to hold your hand, if daughters never smiled and curled up in your lap at night just like how you imagined they would when you dreamed of them, if sons never asked you to help them ride a bike or read a book or hold them when they're scared, if research and routines and therapists never delivered the breakthroughs you believed in, if teenagers never said "I'm sorry," if tough love never brought her back home, if you never stopped feeling this tired or unequipped or so completely removed from how you thought it would look, if it never got better...it's still worth it. Right now.


Loving, even when it's hard, is the payoff in parenting. Not our kids shelling out beautiful moments or loving us back or being good or becoming something different from what they are right now. The flip side to the hard parts of parenthood isn't shinier or easier--it's just clearer. Like coming home to the same needs and messes and volume and stressses that you left a bit earlier but seeing them for what they are--something you get to be a part of.


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So while I picked moments that might look shiny to share, know that they aren't what made parenting good or beautiful or worth it this week. They just gave us something to smile about.



Enjoying...

Hide and Go Seek.
I swear he'd hide for half an hour, silent and waiting, if that's how long it took for me to find him.

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Mermaid Tails.

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This Face.

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This Kiss.

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Predictable Rain Fun. 
Same time every day.

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Woodstock Traffic Jam

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Watching Brett Point the Leaf Blower at the Kids
...because gas fumes and power tools are fun safe toys, and we're responsible like that.

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Nanny Skills

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Spontaneous Witching Hour Get-Out-of-the-House Adventures

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The Westminster Trot
Am I right or am I right? See, look.

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All Three in a Pic.
Stroller seat belt for the win.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Bedroom for Two Sisters

For years, I shared a room with my sister when I was young--one big bed, two dressers and a shared closet that was mostly empty because every piece of clothing we owned covered the floor which, on rare occasions, displayed purple shag carpet that looked like thick yarn. If our room had a tagline, it was, "Why do you guys even have dressers?"

Because of my childhood--or maybe it was Marsha, Jan and Cindy--"sister," to me, is synonymous with shared room. And the moment I discovered Nella would be a girl, I started planning it out in my head--the big bed they'd share, the clothes they'd fight over, the Bop and Tiger Beat magazines I'd let slide because tweens gotta be tweens. For a short irrational moment after Nella was born, I let those dreams deflate. Pardon my silliness. But of course they'll share a room and of course they'll fight over clothes (Just did. Purple ballerina dress. Nella won.), and of course they'll buy Tiger Beat because however else will they drive their mother crazy?

This is the room I dreamed for them. Some stuff we made, some stuff we gathered from other places in the house, and some stuff we bought, stretching dollars as far as we could and mixing discount with a few splurges (let's call them thoughtful investments) to create a playful, homey nook that makes us all very happy.

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"You Can" Letters D.I.Y. 

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This room was originally an office. We added built-in bookshelves and a corner closet to transform it to a bedroom when I was pregnant with Lainey. The bonus is that we created a lot of great storage space, but the trade-off is that we limited our possibilities for furniture arrangement. We chose furniture carefully, opting for a discount bed frame so that we could afford my favorite thing about this room: the quilt.

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The quilt is made from seven years of baby clothes, maternity jeans, Halloween costumes, hats and nursery fabrics from all three kids. My dear friend Rebecca of Vintage Giggles designed and sewed it and included all these sweet details--pockets and buttons and straps and collars--to create a timeless gift for our family, one that's already initiated nights of storytelling ("That square right there? That was your birthday dress. You wore that when..."). You can read the story of this quilt and find answers to more questions about it on Vintage Giggles' blog this week.

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Other room details (including personalized cloud pillows which many people asked about on Instagram) can be found at the end of this post.

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Hair Accessory/Jewelry Box: The Adorned Adobe

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(saw a retro "Imagine" pennant in a Land of Nod display and fell in love with it. Couldn't find it anywhere, so we made one with felt) 

One of my favorite things about decorating kids' rooms is that the stuff they love--the toys and dolls, the stuffed animals and book illustrations and even the things they wear like their favorite sneakers or rain boots--works great as decor and naturally adds personality and whimsy.


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Print details at end of post

I fell in love with these pillows as soon as I saw them--reminds me of something my sister and I would have had in our room. Except they'd be on the floor instead of the bed and covered with clothes.

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The other thing I love about this room--and it took me a long time to master this with kids--is it's really easy to keep clean. Everything has a place, and if it doesn't, then something has to go before we make room for something new. I am by no means a naturally organized person, so when I figure something out like this, I want to jump up and down and drag anyone who might come into my house into the room and say, "Look! See? CLEAN."

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Look at that teeny tiny pocket on this quilt. Vintage Giggles is genious, I tell you! 

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Music was a must-have for this room because we need accompaniment for our bed-jumping and teenybopper tunes for sleepovers and, most important, a constant stream of Carpenters and Andy Williams to go with the little twinkly tree that will be hauled in at Christmas. We opted for an inexpensive record player because there's something fun and tactile and memory-making about picking out records and watching them spin. Plus--chipmunk voice mode is hilarious--a childhood must. Nella likes to run the record player herself, but the stool--as you see--causes problems.

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"Trouble Trouble" is a favorite bedroom soundtrack.

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My friend Annie Flavin, who moonlights as a poet, shares my affinity for saddle shoes on kids, cozy quilts, children's literature and getting sentimental about dreams and motherhood and making the best of life. We texted back and forth the day the girls' bed arrived, and she knew how much I had looked forward to this sisters room thing. "Did you set the bed up yet? Send me a picture." She shared my enthusiasm and yet remembered that this was a dream I stumbled over for a bit in the beginning. The night my girls enjoyed their first sleep in their new bed, she sent me a gift--a poem she wrote. And then our friend Tammi turned it into art, and now it's hanging on the girls' wall, and I couldn't love it more.

This Beautiful Life

There will be beds in the room;
there will be one bed.

There will be a girl in our home;
there will be two girls.

They will
look like
and be like
and ooze life like
I thought I had imagined.

Only it is different.
Only it is better.

Only my soul
knows that
the bed and
the girls--
oh goodness, the girls--
are exactly
what I needed
to break open and build
this beautiful life.

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I cannot wait for the memories my girls will make in this room. And, as all brothers should, Dash will squeeze in bed between them for bedtime stories and make fun of all the Taylor Swift songs they know by heart.  It's going to be fun.

*******
Room Details:

Bed frame: Overstock.com (currently not available in white)
Heritage quilt: Vintage Giggles
Cloud Name Pillows and Heart Pillow Garland: Gray Moon
Wall Prints: Pooping Rabbit, Irena Sophia and Gingiber
Hot Air Balloon Mobile: Schylling
Lamp, mirror and mushroom pillowcase: thrifted
Retro fan and (Ralph Lauren) polka dot sheets: Homegoods
Owl Hanging: Darlybird
Tiny Photo Hangers: Target (in store)

*Several have asked about how the room sharing is going, particularly for nighttime. It took a while to get Nella used to the bed, and I spent a few nights sleeping horizontal at the bottom of the bed to make sure she stayed in it. We ended up using a very thin specially-made coconut mattress that a friend loaned us (small size that only takes up half of the bed) because she likes the hard surface (usually if she crawled out of bed, it was because she wanted to sleep on the floor). We keep the mattress under the bed during the day and slip it over the mattress on her side at night. She's doing much better and hardly wakes up anymore. When it comes to transitions, I rely on "Patience, Grasshopper." 

*******

Tomorrow's Grandparents Day (Hoorah, Hooray! Hugs to all the grandmas and grandpas!).

I took my research notes from watching my own grandparents and made a little guide over on eHow...How to be a Grandparent. Click below to read.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Don't Wind Them Up

Brett and I are all about the United Front of Parenting in that we back each other up on matters of Be Kind to Your Siblings, Put Your Dirty Clothes in the Hamper and If Your Mom Said No, I’m Not Saying Yes. For major issues, our parenting philosophies are pretty similar, so we really don’t run into a whole lot of problems.

Unless you count bedtime.

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I don’t know how he does it, but Brett can take the kids from an energy level of 10 to 1 gradually and effortlessly so that, without even realizing it’s happening, they’re in bed with their eyes half-closed before they’re all, “Wait—it’s bedtime?” A professional winder-downer he is—just a high lace collar and an apron away from Mary Poppins herself. (Remember Stay Awake? Stealthy little put-‘em-to-sleep-er, she was.)

Me? I get my best ideas for fun when my kids have just slid under the covers. Hey kids, want to build a fort? Hey kids, want to have a dance-off? Hey kids, want to jump on the bed and turn the music up as loud as it goes?

Take the other night. I offer to lay with Nella to give Lainey a chance to stay up later. It's quiet and peaceful, and Nella looks at me with this precious twinkle in her eye that—yes—could be saying, “Goodnight, Mom,” but could also be translated as “one more fun, please,” the latter which, of course I’m going to hear because—duh, unicorn. So in the dark, we sing the newly memorized words to "All About That Base." Which leads to newly choreographed dance moves on the “Shake it, shake it” and the “Boom Boom” parts. Which leads to Dad coming in to simmer it down.

“Seriously, you can’t just count sheep?” he says. “Don’t wind them up.”

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That face? Wound up. You're welcome.

It’s not that I think my way is right because it doesn’t take King Solomon to point out the most responsible routine here—it’s clearly Brett’s. But there’s something super fun (imagine bubble letters there) about slipping in a “Hey Life, You’re Amazing!” right where you didn’t expect it. It’s like the opposite of my old days of thinking a long boring sermon was about to finish when the pastor announced, “And now to Part II: Fearing God. If you’ll turn with me to Isaiah…” And being the opposite of that is a very good thing indeed.

I realized this morning though, that it’s good I’m a winder-upper and he’s a winder-downer. We need both. I’m the first one up with my coffee, and pulling Brett and Lainey out of bed can sometimes be a challenging task. You know what they need? A winder-upper, thank you. Someone to walk up in there, fling back the curtains and Shake it, Shake it with a Boom-Boom and a We’re Bringing Booty Baaaaaack! See—winding up has its perks. Brett, you take the high road and I’ll take the low road and together, we’ll get our kids from sunrise to sunset.

Parenting calls for all the things, all the gifts, all the personalities. Whatever your characteristics are, bring them, and they’ll be put to good use. Organized? You’ll need that. Laid back? You’ll need that too. A great sense of direction? Bring it. An appreciation of the joy of getting lost? Hell yes. Strict? Fantastic. Lenient? Awesome. It’s all good, it will all get used up, and where there are gaps, growth and compromise and leaning on each other will fill it all in.

The result? Cool kids who inhale calm and exhale a great big zeal for life.