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!

Back to School

I absolutely love this time of year. Summer is losing a bit of its edge, routine is once again rosy and bright, and there’s a bouquet of sharpened pencils sitting on my wine cabinet. 

We started school last week. We’re in our 2nd year of homeschool, and the presence of that 1st year homeschool badge was felt—starting this time was so smooth and easy. Like butter, baby. 

Hardest part of our 1st day right here. Back to school photos to ward off the mom guilt. So easy, right? (They are waving at dogs. Always with the dogs.)

I’m really grateful for our summer. It was a little bit of everything. Bubbles and lightning bugs in the backyard. Watching underwear-clad boys chase each other and fart around with dirt piles. Visits with family and trips out for fun away from home too. Rest for all of us. Play for al of us. Only 1 very simple ER trip but mostly a chill, incident-free summer.  All in all, it was a true swing to the left of everything the school year was & I think that’s exactly what our family needed.

But now we’re back and I’m happy again to see the order and structure, stacks of library books around the house, and three handsome boys sitting around our table doing math and scribbling on the faces of animals (twins). 

Emerick was sick on our 1st day. Actually the whole 24 hours preceding our 1st day involved a lot of bodily fluid clean-up and constant running of the washing machine of which I've already, mostly, blocked out of my memory. 

Emerick was sick on our 1st day. Actually the whole 24 hours preceding our 1st day involved a lot of bodily fluid clean-up and constant running of the washing machine of which I've already, mostly, blocked out of my memory. 

We’ve joined a co-op. It’s called Catholic Schoolhouse & we’ll meet with them one half day each week. I’m excited to be plugged into a community, for the kids to have a bit more formality as well as hands-on activities in art and science (pulling out “all the things” for projects is not my forte), and for me to lead a group of older kids as a “tutor” as well.  I was told by one of the moms with several kids that her clan already reported to her post-open house that “That Thomas Anderson is NOT SHY AT ALL.” 

Last year the twins were too young, active, and averse to speak English any more than they were Klingon…to feast at the table of homeschooling. So it was that Thomas and I would be discussing a poem and the twins were kicking down block towers. Or Thomas and I would be tackling math problems and the twins were jumping off the fireplace while yelling. And Thomas and I would be studying whales while the twins were trying in earnest to be lions.  All this said, a lot can change in a year. And it did. And now the twins, at 3, are happy to be quiet for swaths of time, speak more English than twinese (barely), and sit at the table for good chunks of time pretending to be students. It’s great. What a world of difference! 

One of the most wonderful things about falling apart is that you rise stronger. You look back and say, “not that. ever again.” I’ve fallen down so many times since becoming momma. And each time it’s so damn ugly. Falling apart in a mental sense. Falling apart trying to do it all. Falling apart because toys multiplying under my feet.  But all the falling apart is so beautiful because it so viscerally breaks something old to make way for something new. 

This year I feel so new. More new than a shiny notebook and sharp pencils. I feel new because I’ve taken excellent care of my body all summer. I feel new because last year I kinda broke, crushed from the weight of running frantic circles around expectations as a mom and wife. I’m in a really wonderful space right now where I’m comfortable being in my skin, both the literal and figurative. I own that I’m not enough just as I own my job well done.  Something has changed in me deeply. I feel powerful and energetic and capable of magically beautiful things. I feel in charge and decisive and exactly where I am supposed to be. I’m in a very good, calm, joyful place. And I’m happy this is where our year kicks off because a happy, healthy mom is what every child deserves, homeschooled or not. 

What else? There are so many things to say! 

But I’ll end here. Wherever you are and whomever you are, I hope you are enjoying a new start too.  It’s wonderful at these starting lines to remember where we were a year ago. I have to laugh and put my hand over my heart to think of how small my thinking can be, where I was a year ago and what little foresight I had for knowing that all would be okay. We grow and learn and love much more in a year than we think we will. And that’s why we should whole-heartedly, delightedly embrace this fresh start. It’s thrilling to think there’s much, much more than even our eager, ready to run selves can imagine. Isn’t that just the most wonderful thing?

* I’ve missed blogging. I’ve missed you. That’s all. 

**Curriculum post soon if you're into that sort of thing. 

You are Here

Growing up, I absolutely loved the colorful cartoon maps Six Flags gave out to their guests. I don’t know if they make them like that anymore.  Days after visiting the park, I would let my imagination walk through the paths of that map as I lay on my floor in my bedroom—map opened up— riding the Log Flume and the Screaming Eagle again and again.  I enjoyed all the goofy faces of the cartoon guests, the greenery dotting the pathways, and how similar the rides really were to the really thing. 

You are here. 

To point to a place on a map and see that it really is a long walk to the other side of the park, even in happy drawing form, that was something too.  

I think of motherhood this way sometimes.  I think of a map. Colorful. Silly.  Happy—even if there are turd emoticons and the cutest little cartoon barfing baby you ever did see. 

You are here.

You are on the island of loneliness. 

You are in babymoon bliss.

You are in hormone hangover.

You are on the emotional roller coaster of I - want - another - baby - but - - - - hmm. 

You are stuck at the gate (holding a balloon). 

You are on a bench soaking in the view & smiling.

You are lost.

You are waiting. 

You are laughing huge and ridiculous. Like, seriously you look ridiculous. Get it together. 

You are riding the new ride and shitting your pants.

Your toddler is shitting his pants. 

You are waking in the middle of the night in tears of guilt and sweaty stress.

You are holding your sweet baby and memorizing her every everything and praying “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

You are singing Old MacDonald again. 

You are overwhelmed, looking for the nearest exit. 

You have heart eyes. All the heart eyes. Stop. You look ridiculous again. 

 

Yeah. I think of motherhood this way.  I don’t love every minute. But a lot of times I’ll think Okay. I’m here! Now where are we?

Oh, we’re disciplining? Ok. Oh, we’re saying prayers. Got that.  Oh, we’re stopping / failing / winning / learning / reading / tickling ? Sweet. I know how to do that.  

I don’t love every moment of parenting but I’m learning how to bring love to each moment.  I’m slowly learning to first and foremost recognize what is it this moment is about.  Because it’s not all snuggles and heart eyes. But it’s also not all grit and guilt either. In fact, everything is all over this map.

One moment I’m nurturing. The next I’m training. The next I’m opening the door to wonderment. The next I’m answering my sweet boy’s question about death and hearing the twins laugh in the other room. 

Heck. As moms, we’re holding entirely different maps than one another too.  One mom leans over and asks about Fillintheblank Zone on the other mom’s map and that mom says, “Uh, pretty sure that’s not on my map.” <scratches head> 

So here I am.  Here you are.  Where are we?

 

  • I am in summer, my favorite season (fall is a tight, tight runner-up). I plan on wearing my swim suit come low or high water, but hoping for very high water. 

 

  • I am tying up the strings on our 1st year of homeschool & happy to see a fresh stack of brand spanking new books on my desk for fall ready to be cracked open—-but not just yet.

 

  • I am reading On the Banks of Plum Creek with Thomas. I am ordering too many books on Amazon. I am still still still reading In This House of Brede. 

 

  • I am potty training twins & days away from celebrating their 3rd birthday. This is huge!! This past year was the roughest. Yes, worse than the death-knocking-on-door sleep deprivation I had their 1st year. I’m so excited to see so much growth & growing up in them right now.  (And yet they still want to snuggle and squirm into my lap as well.)

 

  • I am finishing up the 1st year of the hemophilia diagnosis.  Some days I’m so tired of the calls from the pharmacy I want to scream. But mostly, I am very grateful this isn’t so much (cross my fingers) a season of waiting room visits and wondering what information I’ll be leaked next.  We have definitely found our new normal and that’s all there is to it.  It feels totally okay, just as it should be by now.  I look back and feel sorry for Superhero Ashley that spent dozens of hellish hours in waiting rooms with the boys…but what can I do? She was prideful and she needed a swift punch to the gut to get over wanting to do all and be all. She got it last year. ;)

 

  • I am taking care of my health. I’m doing the BBG program with my sisters—mix of cardio and strength.  I feel myself truly, distinctively, measurably, visibly getting stronger with every session.  I’m so happy we are doing this together and that I’ve got such a great support system to cheer me on!

 

  • I am texting Paul lots of kiss face emoticons and also computer emoticons and Panda emoticons and any other emoticon. All the emoticons.  

 

  • I am still off Facebook. Still in need to not be there with everybody.  Still thinking about noise and distraction and what part I need or should play in all of that, but mostly just happy to have a little more time away, tucked up tight here minding my own business. Mostly. ;)

 

  • I am grateful.  Always.  

 

Okay. Your turn. Where are you? 

Looking Back / Looking Forward: Our Homeschool

Well, helllllooooo blogging break. That happened accidentally like my 5 pound weight gain this past winter. Annnd here we go. 

It’s 4:00 am and I can’t get back to sleep. I thought I would come out here to my big comfy chair in the living room to type and tell you a bit about our homeschooling situation.   I feel like sharing that cup of tea with you. 

We are wrapping up our 1st year of homeschool.  This week I’ve been gathering our resources and making plans for next year. The UPS crew have showered us with goodies to look through, organize, and assemble. It’s been fun seeing everything so crisp and new and just a lot more than what we had last year because 1st grade is more and … we made it!

When we decided on giving homeschooling a whirl, it was for lots of great reasons but mostly just a natural progression of already teaching and learning (phonics) here just because we could and because Thomas was eager.  We are still very much on that path of continuing on with a thing that is so much fun because we get to go at our own pace and in our own way. 

There is a truth that I think is not unique to us in that once you’ve entered into homeschooling, you (can) find yourself in a place where you are more nervous about walking away than staying put.  There are things that would pain me now for Thomas to miss. The liberty, luxury, and time we have to read anything we want and discuss it (or not discuss it) in any way we want is at the top of the list, but there are a few other small ones as well.

But let me get very real about something before I go all happy happy homeschooling is heaven on you.  Homeschooling ONE child while TWO toddlers sit / run / jump / laugh / tickle / play fight / destroy in a toddler-y fashion just feet away is no small thing.  We got their diagnosis of being mild hemophiliacs just weeks before our official schooling began and while their condition isn’t THAT big of a deal I look back now and have such tender feelings for a woman (1 year ago me!) who was trying her best but almost constantly two breaths away from heart failure (my blood pressure was so freaking high worrying about those boys hurting themselves all the time because they are crazy, or crazy because they’ve got a big brother to rally them, and having toddler twins with hemophilia was just that much crazier) .  There were moments where Thomas and I were being studious at the table and A & E were in front of us being fun little tornadoes of energy in the most ridiculous of contrast to us with books open and considering questions … lots of moments like that. I just have to laugh at all of it now. 

I’m glad we are in a better place now and even moreso that I’m truly tired of playing any part as mom or wife. White flag right here. Done with running in fear or feeling like a poser.  Our homeschooling, my mothering, my romance with my husband, my home—-I want it all to be honest.  So crisply, drink-it-all-in honest. 

And in that honesty, Alistair & Emerick need a bit of catching up.  They have taken their sweet time learning to speak English.  They are missing a whole gamut of learning that we couldn’t get to without that speech in place.  I’m so crazy excited to actually hear their progress and know for sure and not just in theory that every little bit of one-on-one time and reading books and singing songs is bearing fruit. I have hope that this will be the year (they turn 3 next month) where we see a ton of progress.  

They are smart little boys. Eager to help and solve problems, very mechanical and incredibly physically able. I love watching them draw and color. They have an interest in it at 2 that is so curious to me. I’m excited to see them take off this year! 

I’m not doing any official program with them, but I do have a list of lots of little tidbits I want them to pick up this year.  Reading is a huge focus with songs thrown in and one-on-one teaching here or there as I can manage.   We do a half an hour of reading picture books here every day and also a half an hour of read aloud of which they have usually missed due to their nap time but will get more and more of next year as we let the naps fade out of the picture…. let’s take a moment of silence for that loss… 

We won’t get to all the nitty gritty of Thomas’s curriculum just yet.  I’ll likely post about that closer to the start of the school year even though I’m tempted now because everything is in place. 

I do want our homeschool experience to expand a bit this year in two specific ways. #1. I want to put the boys to meaningful work often and purposefully & #2. I want for us to link arms in some sort of community As that takes form, I might write about that here.  

My goodness. What a post. I should have broken this up. I didn’t even get to talk about what did and didn’t happen this past year.  Ah. No time now. But I can sum it up with 1 huge and happy accomplishment that I could not be more proud of and that’s:

Thomas can read.  (Anything, everything—really, really truly read.)  Paul and I overheard him reading last Friday on the couch and it was so awesome. The fluency just blows me away.  

I’m so happy taking the phonics route that we did, having the very thorough instruction in The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading to make the way! It has been one of the most meaningful and happiest experiences to sit with Thomas for two years as he learned day by day how to read.  

And not just read. But read so well.  He has the toolset to read anything he could ever want.  That makes me so happy as his mom, to see a billion invisible doors open to him that over a lifetime he will be walking into because he knows how to read.  

Parallel to this has been that we haven't wavered in our commitment and enjoyment of our read aloud time. I have oodles and oodles of special memories reading to Thomas. We've read so many books together. It's so incredible. I'm excited to read even more this year!

And our kindergarten year was mostly that--lots and lots and lots of reading.  Yes, we practiced math every day, read hundreds of picture books, studied all sorts of science, and practiced our letters until they were very good—-but mostly it felt like sticking a landing.  It makes such a natural progression for where we take his schooling next, and I’m so excited for him!

If I had more to share (always), it will have to wait.  

Just had to pop in and tell you that we are cleaning out that homeschool binder and filling it back up with new goals and book lists, checklists and fresh paper.  We’ve stored away all the workbooks we completed and rotated new reads into our school basket so there's good stuff at arm's reach. 

We’ve got a summer bucket list and we intend to make this summer a great one! To have a ton of fun and return back to the books in a couple months with fresh eyes and renewed minds! 

Happy Friday, friends!

 

Loving the Season I’m In

Today the boys were playing in the backyard together, rag tag & muddied band of stick-wielding brothers huddled around a makeshift fort, while I built quesadillas out of leftover meat and bit and blocks of cheese that called for a final hoorah. 

One. Two. Three. I lay their plates out. No chips on Alistair or Emerick’s plates or else mutiny / mayhem, take your pick— and almost all our plates are chipped at this point.  Our counter stretches a length to hold each boy right there with me standing on the other side, for filling water and wiping messes.  I smile at how repetition beats onward in the ordinary moments over and over in my days like a towel folding onto itself for eternity. Gentle. Disappearing. Quiet.  Good. Glasses full. Plates of food. Forks set. 

I call them in: Door slides open. “Lunch is ready!” Sweet toddler feet come running and arms pump in excitement because boys. love. food. And my boys eat a ton of it.  

I felt a nudge this morning to lean in with just a bit of joy when they are eating because that’s, oddly enough, the most difficult part of parenting clawing at me at the moment.  And I do love, in theory and in the prep and the post of it all to feed the boys.  It’s just the little nuances of tacos split open and messy hands and toddlers not comprehending that food things can break accidentally and yet still be edible.  And whether or not I’ll succeed in turning on its head the one little trouble of my day is yet to be determined…

But I do want to do a better job of acknowledging all the good in my particular season.  It’s so easy for me to feel burdened by all there is to do, to always be stretching my arms out as far as I can, and to have mommy guilt for things Thomas has not yet learned and for words the twins have not yet spoken.   

I feel so grateful today.  I have three healthy boys, a home, and a husband who loves me and works tirelessly for our family.  I have time with my boys at home round the clock and while that is a broad spectrum and mixed bag ranging from tedious to tremendously fun, it is namely and simply good to be with them so very much.  

 

The twins are actually talking more. April was the biggest growth in Alistair’s speech ever. Figures. Last month I waved my white flag, cried a bit (READ: sobbed ugly shaking tears) over the phone to a good friend that their delay in speech has been heartbreaking, maddening, and humiliating—and after pouring myself out like that I turned my back on my longstanding practice of sitting for hours a day encouraging speech through song, play, reading, etc., etc. etc. and …. effectively tore through my house for a month painting, decluttering, purging, organizing, and praying that a break from being “just mom” would heal me and help me return whole-heartedly to the good work of making the boys civilized creatures once again. 

God is always with us and isn’t that wonderful! He is with us when we are rushing and when we are waiting and when we are angry and when we are at a loss.  He’s with me today, happy in my happiness to fold back into the gentle, quiet work of stay-at-home motherhood.  

Yes. I feel grateful today. And I know that it’s not because the dust in our lives is permanently settled or that the wrinkles in our stories have been ironed out—forever.  It’s because I feel a little zen about it all.  There’s always difficult just as there’s always good.  I want to see the difficult for what it is so that I can take it on effectively, but I don’t want my zest in tackling it to overshadow the good at our feet. And with the spirit of St. Thérèse, today I just feel like bending down, getting small, and pulling together a bouquet of all my good.  

How do we love the season we are in? I think the answer is simply to be fully present in it. To let our thinking form our joy. To put a name on the difficulties (I am anxious right now. I am tired right now. I am growing right now. —Just examples) but to laugh and to walk light and be present in all of it, a quiet rebellion of hope by way of the rope thrown out for us in the redeeming power of Christ, regardless of how much we are not enough—maybe even particularly because we are granted opportunities to see and feel deeply that very truth that we are honestly not. enough.  

Alistair & Emerick tumbled over my lap over and over a hundred times two days ago as Thomas giggled and did his best to finish his schoolwork as we all sat together on the office floor. I pointed at his work and led him through while Emerick climbed on his back and whispered in his ear.  We were a tangled web and it felt like such a labor and a strain and yet a happy mess all at once.  My heart lifted happy and pierced sad in this one distinct moment where I realized one day I will be in my forties and my boys will have far outgrown my lap and maybe, probably even much more than I can even grasp right now in this season of quick succession diapers and worrying over who is in the bathroom running the water.  I don’t want to long for any more at any season that to be fully engaged in where I’m at.  I know that doesn’t wipe out sweet memories, later on, of babes nursing in the dark or days when all my children where housed under one roof…

But I do think that in saying I will find joy today.  I will gather good in this season of (motherhood / fill-in-the-blank)—every day, every hour… I do think it makes us return our gaze to our feet (over and over again—because honestly we forget this and run ahead and then come back to it). This declaration of making and find good makes us get creative. It helps us to search a little bit more, to lay claim to gratitude, to remember to rest in all the beauty.  

So that is where my heart is at—a student of being present so as to be grateful, to do the work that needs to be done, and to gather the good at my feet. 

I’m human just like you.  I have high aspirations of rising strong to the needs of the day, of the week, of the month and of the year. Sometimes I sprint on out ahead & I can feel the sun on my face of all my accomplishments or in howwell things are going. And sometimes I crash after sickness or months spent tag teaming medical visits.  I rise, I rise, I rise, and then sometimes I deflate, a little worn out with all there is to do and be. We all do.  This is the ebb and flow.  And I’m finally, humbly, and a bit worn-out but happily okay with that.  

But I want to return always to this home, this space at the core of things that life is simply about little beautiful moments strung together and that each moment is all we have and, mostly, all we need to concern ourselves with.  We can walk light in this huge thing of life because we must just get through dinner and then we must just enjoy the soccer game and then we must just smile when the kids want one more story for their bedtime. 

To be fully present.  This is what I’m opening my hands, my heart, and my mind for.  Bring on the difficult. Bring on the beauty. Bring on the mundane and the sacrifice and the long days and the bite of chocolate and the sunrise over the neighbor’s roof. 

I don’t have much to give.

But I will stand fully and whole-heartedly in this moment. And then one more. . .