Some thoughts on the day Thomas turns 9

I’m up. It’s blessedly quiet here. 4:30 in the morning. In a couple hours I will have to answer for the time I stole from my own sleep. 

What woke me initially was the urge to write down all my tasks for the week ahead. Not least of all would be to kickstart that whole konmari process here since I recently binged the show after an argument with Paul—He, midway through instillation of a new sprinkler control board and donning a headlight, searched for a mini screwdriver high and low last week while I urged things like, “IT’S NOT IN THAT BOX” and “JUST GO TO THE STORE AND BUY A NEW ONE.”

But now I’m sitting here thinking about Thomas—-nine years old today. 

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Paul and I are in what I so often refer to as the golden stage of parenting with all 3 of our kids (ages 9, 5 & 5). They aren’t young enough to dice up our sleep mercilessly or old enough to do the same for other reasons. It’s delightful. Small hands set tables. Little boys ask for snuggles and one more book and we are still living fully in the season before Thomas’s pocket has a phone in it.

One thought dominates my view of Thomas on his birthday today: time. 

I’ve had time to read to him.  Countless picture books. Nursery rhymes. Harry Potter & the Chronicles of Narnia. Winnie the Pooh & Ralph books too. Dozens of chapter books.  Loads of poetry, history, science. Aesop’s fables and so many short stories. We’ve spent untold hours reading together. 

I’ve had time to listen to him. I’ve fielded questions about abortion and the atomic bomb as well as how to handle a girl whose got a crush on him. He talks lots. He jokes all the time. Even with all our time, I can’t always take it all in, but I’m glad I’ve caught a lot. 

I’ve had time to teach him.  Phonics lessons. Ancient history. Memorizing poetry and practicing math. How to form his letters and put together his thoughts. Etiquette tips and how to include others. How to navigate a recipe and how to learn through chemistry, especially when you fail. 

I’ve had messy time with him. Time to argue. Time to apologize. Time to cry in front of him and tell him we have to do better. Time to ask him for help and do the same for him. Time to discuss things respectfully. 


I didn’t set out to be so greedy in my claim of his young years. I worked as a teacher when he was little and that was just fine. Then I came home to be a stay at home mom when the twins were born and he was 3. And somehow, fast forward a few years and we are here, new state but same bubble— still surrounded by picture books and, to Paul’s distaste, gold glitter on the dining table. 

Time with kids seems to be like that tricky relationship we also have with humility wherein the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know. And in my experience, the more time I’ve had with my kids, the more I treasure that time. Now, more than ever (and admittedly, maybe because I’m in an easier stage, more seasoned, or just worn out), I am crazy in love with spending time with my kids. I’ll blame Ellie in part, by way of driving a wedge between me and all my loves (peace, routine, seeing my kids in their element and not being driven upstairs by a dog eager to bite…) of which I have mostly reclaimed. 

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This isn’t to say I don’t ever need a deep breath in Target or to send them to face a screen so I can collect myself from the bottom of a coffee mug. But I genuinely cherish our time together. With a blink, it will be gone and ghosts of Lego messes and dance parties past will haunt me with such longing—uncaring that I spent every waking moment with them. It won’t ever be enough… 

What if I hadn’t had this time with him? What of that? (Other than more digits in our retirement and likely a more polished look when I step out in public.)

I can speak of making smart use of snippets of time with loved ones too. Paul and I, after years of grinding work and swaths of absence from each other, are learning to reclaim one on one time together through small walks, porch chats, and laughing together at the end of the day. An argument for time well spent is not to be missed. And really, I’m not making an argument at all but only urging myself and maybe you too: let us return our attention to those absolutely closest to us.  

People farther out of reach have thought better of me. They might set praise to my (presumed) success at (fill-in-the-blank) area of life. They amuse me by laughing at my jokes (much appreciated, guys). They are generous with social media likes and hearts. But my family knows better. They know as well that I forget to close drawers, am not calm nearly enough, say things like “shit” [a lot] and “so help me if I…”, and that I don’t always put things back where they belong. So sorry about that screwdriver, Paul. 

Time with those closest to us is not … easy.  What’s easy is grabbing validation and attention elsewhere, distracting ourselves well from the work of developing intimacy and forming habits rooted in kindness. But where we experience some of the greatest fruit is in the deepest pain—-of being known fully and still fully loved. 

Today we will make Thomas’s day special. I will give him a letter that lets him know of all the particular and wonderful things that I see in him. I will hand him a few wrapped presents from us and grandparents, and while he holds up a box with whatever hundreds of pieces to put together and I look at those big brown eyes and wonder what else there is behind that smile, inside that brain, buried within this one soul that I’ve been placed in brief care of—- I’ll be praying, praying, praying that I know, that I will know, how to make best use of the rest of our time together.  

Getting My Hands Dirty IRL

Something's been at work in me this year. When I clean the car, vacuuming out crumbs and making it new again. When I teach the kids, their faces turned toward mine. When I fill the water canister for the coffee machine once again.  I’m thinking this one thing, and that is to serve the person who will show up next.  That might be my husband. It could be a guest. Often, it’s a version of me a scratch of time into the future. But someone follows this moment or this year or this stretch of time where I have with my kids.  And so I keep those people in my mind all the time, how I want them to feel when they walk into the room or shake Thomas’s hand or marry one of my sons. 

If there is 1 thing I want to be known for when I die, it would be that I left things better than before.  That because my husband married me, he had the chance to be better than before.  That because I owned this house, I left it better than before.  That because I solved little problems at home or work every day, the world around me was sprinkled with better than before.  

My modus operandi for all my life had been contentment (until I hit 30… which I will get to in a moment).  I was very grateful about all things. I liked to keep things calm and undisturbed in my marriage and in my work and in all aspects of my life.  I liked to please people and return to stillness and cling to beauty more than turn my face to the ugly. It was more important for me to quiet conflict than to harness it.  It was more important for me to make peace with others than to hold in my hands that disagreement.  It was a happy Ashley bubble of all things painted good, and that seemed to work for me, mostly, for a good while. 

But like I said, I hit 30 last year and slow rising panic hit me that I will die one day and what will be there to show for it? My inner life is (was) about 1000% more important to me that outer reality. I’m not talking about escape necessarily. Just that I can make do without a great deal of things because there’s a whole decked out mansion in my mind with all the things, the furnishings, the delights.  My inner life, my thinking life, is extraordinarily rich and I love it.  I’ve always been that way.  I have memories of being at the elementary playground for recess and sitting out on the side because I wanted time to think.  I wake up and do this same thing every single morning—barring a difficult night with the kids or battling insomnia. 

My vocation has been a ripe slap in the face of this stuff though.  I could wax poetic all day about how great my kids and husband are, but that’s gonna help little (although it will help a little) with the myriad of ways I have to solve, fix, delegate, communicate, and serve on a direct, practical, hands-on, day-to-day basis.   It’s been a million opportunities to crash into a reality of sticky mouths and little wants and a husband kissing on my neck. 

I want to scream at some of the BS I see about marriage online.  OF COURSE IT’S FREAKING HARD.  OF COURSE YOU WANT TO QUIT. (But who am I to say. I don't know their cross. All I know is that mine has been heavy at times.) Dude. That’s normal.  This life of two becomes one is all about bouts of discomfort and stretching and writing in selfishness … with a lot of love and generosity and goodness in between-- keeping us from killing each other.  Marriage and motherhood have drawn me out of myself. Literally have drawn me out of my attachment to tidying up my mind more than the room. It has hurt like hell (slight dramatization), but it has been the thing I needed most to save me from myself. 

And now at 31 I can see that fruit taking shape on the tree.  I’m becoming the best version of myself. I think. I read. I get quiet. But I also work. I serve. I solve problems. I get stuff done.  That’s how it should be. 

So yes.  Back to what this post was supposed to be about. Serving the person who follows.  This is what I’ve been up to all year.  I’ve got bad habits to break that circle around the sin of omission rather than commission. Laziness & not finishing things primarily.  But I’ve been punching those things right in the mouth lately.  I wonder how well all these personality tests and complex labels are serving us? I’m kicking those to the curb too because mostly they’re a thing to lean un, a crutch that’s not serving me well. Nobody puts baby in a corner. If I want to lead, I will lead.  If I need to be the one to do x,y,z because that’s what the context requires, you better believe that’s where you will find me.  I am not a bystander watching my life unfold. I’m unfolding it.

I was wondering the other day why I’ve blogged so little this year.  Is it because I haven’t made it a priority? Is it because I don’t love it anymore? Is it because I don’t have anything to write about? No. It hasn’t been any of those things this year.  It’s been something different altogether.  It’s because I’m more interested in fixing my life than in thinking I have anything to help others.  Sounds like maturity to me. It is.  And that has absolutely ZERO to do with anyone else and how they blog or where that fits into their life.  Likely, I’ll write again a good deal when I’m ready. Maybe that’s today.  But I can see that for most of this year, I’ve either not written because my head was on the grindstone or I’ve written posts (over a dozen times) only to not publish because it didn’t feel honest in the great context of all I have to do here in my home. 

Now that I’ve written this all out, I wonder if the opposite is true as well. Do people who run from quiet, discover it later too and embrace the balance of both action and stillness? I guess that’s why I enjoyed reading but didn’t relate much to Shauna Niequist’s book recently, Present Over Perfect—where she faced she need to relax or quiet herself, I’m experiencing the opposite transformation.  I’m curious how this interplay works in other people’s lives. How the quiet and the action has served them and when they’ve had to climb out of their skin to make things happen for the necessity of their lives (both by choice and fate). Necessary quiet. Necessary action.

Let me know your thoughts below. I would really, really love to know!