My {Most Likely Last} Maternity Pictures

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“Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be.” – Carrie Fisher

We are excited to welcome another baby (boy or girl—we don’t know!) to our family in May.

Thank you to Josey Miller (@storyanthology) for coming out to the farm to take our photos.

Embracing the Light

The change is so subtle, it feels like it happened overnight. And maybe it did. Slowly, the morning light breaks through the prairie skies sooner, and the light lingers well into the 5 o’clock hour. Wasn’t it just yesterday it was pitch black by five? During the winter months, the light would vanish, enveloping our house like a cacoon—calling everyone in for dinner. The end of the light outside acting as a signal to come in. When I think back to an afternoon outside with the kids, I recall an edge in the air—so crisp it felt like I could reach out and grab it, and like a reflex, I would reach up to pull my hat down over my ears.

“Mom, I’m hungry!” I glance at my phone, not realizing it’s already nearing 4:30, and I have zero plans for dinner.

“Do you want a cheese stick while I figure out what we’re having for dinner?” I ask. 

Once I’ve passed off two cheese sticks and a sliced apple, I search through the fridge and pantry, hoping something will magically appear. At the same time, I begin to wonder what time Rich will be home. I think back over the last few months of winter and how we had begun to fall into some semblance of a routine. 

In the fall as the days shortened, his schedule did too. After a long spring of planting, followed by hot days of haying, then harvest, which rolled right into fall planting—the shorter days of fall and winter felt like a balm to my weary soul. A bit of the weight of carrying the kids, both literally and figuratively, had dropped from my shoulders. In the long seasons, I rarely count on him being home before dark—which in the peak of summer is after 10 p.m. The sun acts as a time card, he punches in at sunlight and doesn’t punch out until dusk or dark. 

While I love the longer days and the extra sun hours of sun that stream through the windows. The longer days also mean more hours of being alone for the kids and me. 

The next day, the kids open the shed in the backyard, pulling out their outside tractors and bikes, getting out their John Deere Gator, which was stored away for the winter. While they are still wearing their stocking caps to break the wind from their ears, they can feel a change in the season too. Even though it’s barely March, we all are ready for a change. But with that change also brings a sense of dread over me. 

I feel guilty complaining about the hours of light coming back, and the sunny, warm days ahead. Instead of thinking of the hard moments yet to come, I close my eyes and think of all that spring brings. From the buds on the trees to my tulips in the front yard to the afternoons spent watching the kids ride their bikes up and down the gravel road in front of our house. I’ll switch out my stocking cap for a baseball cap. I imagine in the coming weeks I will sort through the box of hats and mittens, hoping to find all the pairs (a losing game to play). I’ll store them away, knowing that next winter some of them will be outgrown, the kids another year older. 

While I know the coming days will bring hours of time when I’m alone, I want to remember how good the sun feels. I want to embrace the extra hours of light. I know some days that will be harder than others, and I’ll still find myself counting down the minutes until bedtime—while also reminding the kids that sometimes we go to bed when it’s still light outside (thank you, blackout curtains). 

As I look out the window, I hear the sound of the Gator on the gravel. I pull the curtains back and see Allie driving alone—her bright pink hat contrasting with her blue jacket (Rhett’s hand-me-down). I watch in amazement as she steers the Gator into the garage, parking it without hitting anything. Last year she couldn’t reach the pedals, no matter how hard she tried. Now here she is, proudly driving alone. I quickly walk to the garage door and open it. 

“Allie! Look at you!” I say. Her broad smile matching mine. 

In the light of day, the changing of seasons brings more than just daylight—it reveals the growth that’s happened over the winter, and a gentle reminder of all the goodness yet to come. 

 

On Cake and Love

“Not that I’m counting, but I see you with your second piece,” Rich says with a wink as I bring a forkful of tiramisu cake to my mouth. 

I smirk and happily scrape the rest of the cake from the bowl, not wanting to waste a bite. “I’ll probably regret that tomorrow, but it’s so good.”

“Nah, you deserve it,” he says. 

A couple of weeks earlier, while digging through the chest freezer looking for something to make for dinner, I found a Rubbermaid container filled with Rhett’s birthday cake. Dinner was pretty much forgotten once I discovered the cake. While the cake itself is made from a box mix, I use my mom’s recipe for buttercream frosting and then I decorate the cake. I don’t consider myself a pro by any means, but it’s my one “crafty” thing I do for my kids. And it’s the only true tradition I have kept going for five years. 

Growing up, my mom made all of my birthday cakes too, which I know has influenced my desire to make my kids their cakes too. In the early years my mom picked the cakes she would make, but then I started picking my own designs, from Winnie the Pooh to the Tasmanian Devil. Each year on the night before my birthday, after I went to bed my mom would stay up and finish my cake. When I woke up on my birthday, the cake was perfectly made and displayed on the kitchen table. 

I know my mom was up well past when I went to bed, and I only know this now because I’ve found myself up late, putting the final squeeze of frosting on the cakes for my kids. And every year I ask myself, “Why did I want to do this again?” But the next morning when the kids wake up and I see the looks on their faces when they see their cakes for the first time, I remember why I stay up late. 

Now back here in my kitchen, I open the Rubbermaid container, impressed to see the cake still looking delicious—not a speck of freezer burn. Rhett sees the bright blue frosting and says, “My birthday cake! Is today my birthday?” 

I pause, honestly surprised he remembered his cake from almost six months ago. I laugh, “No, this is just leftover from your birthday.” 

After dinner, I slice the cake and each of us has one piece—and I am impressed at how well it tastes for being frozen. 

One-piece remains, and I put the container back on the counter. 

The next day, Rhett asks for the cake again and Rich tells him, “Nope, that’s Mom’s piece.” Whether he said it because he loves me or is scared to get between me and a piece of cake, I’m not sure. But I love him for it anyway. 

According to Gary Chapman’s book about the five love languages, quality time is my love language. And while I definitely know that’s true, I believe cake is part of my love language too. It’s more than the taste of the cake, which don’t get me wrong, I love. It’s the time my mom spent making 18+ cakes in my life, and now the time I’ve spent making cakes for my kids.

Cake marks special occasions and traditions. From birthdays and weddings to the everyday—such as a solo trip to the grocery store. There are also the vacations I’ve taken to visit friends, where I’ve dragged them to the nearest Sprinkles cupcake store (shout out to Melissa and Sprinkles in Scottsdale). Or the times Rich has surprised me by bringing cupcakes home from town when I knew he had to go out of his way to get them. 

Just like I can picture most of the cakes my mom made me, I hope my kids remember some of the cakes I make for them. The fact that Rhett knew this was his cake six months after his birthday, already gives me hope that this tradition is meaningful.   

I don’t expect them to remember each cake, I just hope the memory of how they felt on their birthdays doesn’t completely fade. Even though my cakes are far from perfect, I want them to know I did it out of love for them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a piece of cake in the kitchen that’s calling my name. 

//

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

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I surprised Rich by having this groom’s cake made for our wedding.
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Accidentally lit my hair on fire on my 30th birthday.
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@phoenixfeatherscalligraphy for C+C, 2020

What She Remembers

She can’t remember who called to tell her the news. Although the call wasn’t unexpected, it was the type of news no one is ready for. It was a cold Friday in January, there was probably snow on the ground, but she couldn’t tell you for sure. 

A few weeks before, she’d traveled home for Christmas. Her new boyfriend drove down the day after the holiday to meet her family. They had only been dating a few weeks, but they’d both agreed the timing felt right. She wanted him to meet her dying aunt, her mom’s only sister. She was the aunt who never missed a birthday party and passed on her love of baking to her niece.

They went to her aunt’s house and talked while she laid in bed, but the aunt she once knew wasn’t there anymore. When they left, with tears in the corners of her eyes she whispered, “I wish you could have met her before.”

She thinks that was the last time she saw her alive. When she looks back on 28 years of memories she feels guilty she can’t remember the last moment. What did they talk about? What was the last thing she said to her? She assumes it was, “I love you,” but it feels like there should be something poignant she can clutch in her memories—a lingering hug, or her aunt’s words of wisdom to carry with her.

After she received the call, she went through the motions of her workday. She didn’t make plans to leave early—she thought she had enough time. She went home for lunch to pack her bag and put it in her car. Then she sat through her last class of the day, wishing she was with her aunt, instead of in a classroom with 12th graders.

When the school bell rang, she locked her office and left the building. It was dark soon after she was on the interstate. She didn’t hear any new updates from her family and assumed no news was good news. 

Three hours later she arrived in her hometown and went to her sister’s house. She thought they would go see their aunt together, for what might be the last time. As she sat on the couch, she thinks she asked, “Do you want to go and see Aunt Dee?” 

Her sister said something like: “Haven’t you talked to Mom?” The details are fuzzy, but the confused look on her sister’s face is clear in her memory.

“No, I just got here,” she said. Shortly after, their parents’ headlights crossed the front window. She isn’t sure who said, “She’s gone.” Was it her mom or her sister? She wishes she could remember. When she tries to grasp at the memory, when she tries to make sense of it all, she doesn’t have a face to put to the words. 

Her first reaction was anger. Why hadn’t someone told her? As she sat in tears, her dad said, “We knew you were driving and we didn’t want you to be upset while you were on the road. And there was nothing you could do.”

She knew she should have left work earlier. Maybe if she had been able to say her final goodbye she would actually remember the moment. There might be a final word she could cling to, something she could hold in her mind as her memories started to fade. 

The boyfriend became her husband, and now they have two kids. Her kids will never meet her beloved aunt, gone too soon at 50 years old. She has albums filled with photos she will show them over the years—but it will never be enough. 

She doesn’t talk about how she feels losing her aunt. She didn’t lose a mom, or a sister, a wife, or a grandma. It seems like her loss is less than the others. So she keeps her feelings tucked close to her chest, thinking of her aunt often. She keeps their texts saved, wishing the conversation was still ongoing. That instead of the last text being about a guy she was bringing home to meet the family, she was sending photos of her kids playing in the snow, of them on their birthdays. 

She knows there never could have been a perfect “goodbye.” And had she known the last time was going to be the last, it wouldn’t have been any easier.

Most of all, she wishes her aunt was still here. She wishes that January day never happened. But that’s not how the story goes.

Instead, she walks into the kitchen and takes out her recipe book. She reaches for the card with the familiar handwriting, running her fingers over her aunt’s lettering. She might not remember her aunt’s exact last words, but here in her kitchen—she is filled with her aunt’s voice, one scoop of flour at a time.

//

Deanna Ruth Walker was born May 5, 1962, and died on January 11, 2013. She was a beloved mom, wife, grandma, sister, friend, and, my aunt.

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Mom, Should I Have a Snack?

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From morning til night,
The requests never end.
We just had breakfast.
It’s almost lunch.
How can you still be hungry?
Someday I know I’ll miss being the keeper of snacks.
But until then, can you go and ask your dad?

 

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@pheonixfeatherscalligraphy for C+C, 2020

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

Our Kids Are Only This Age Once

While we get our kids ready for bed, my son climbs onto his top bunk. He doesn’t sleep there yet but loves the somewhat “off-limits” idea of it. My daughter looks up at her brother and immediately points to him and says, “Up!” My husband gently lifts her onto the bunk and she starts running from one end of the mattress to the other.

My stomach starts doing flip-flops as I envision her falling headfirst onto the floor. “Sweetie, no running. Crawl.”

She looks down at us, “Huh?” as she tilts her head to the side, using both hands to brush the hair from her face.

My son looks down at his dad with a big smile and says, “You come up here, too?” My husband agrees and starts to climb the ladder.

I stand down on the floor, arms crossed, secretly counting the minutes until the kids are asleep and I can get back to my book. But eventually, I give in to their cries for me to “come up here!”

Truthfully, my heart swelled knowing they want me to join them. All too often I choose to sit on the sidelines, letting these moments pass by, worn out by the demands of motherhood and mentally clocking out before they are asleep.

To read the rest of my essay, click over to my newest story at Motherly.

 

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Writing Over the Noise

I walk over to the calendar and put my finger on the square that has written in pencil, “Rhett’s first day of school!” It’s only four days away. Earlier that morning I woke up to the kids crying out for me–jolting me out of bed. I was immediately met with breakfast requests, which feels like a lot to ask of someone who isn’t fully awake yet. Remembering how I felt, I grab my phone and go to the alarm settings and slide the toggle to ‘on’ for 5 a.m. Starting tomorrow, I am going to get up before the kids. I know once school starts, the bus will pick Rhett up around 6:45 a.m., so he needs to be up by 6 o’clock anyway.

That night, after the kids have gone to bed, I grab my favorite blanket and the remote as I curl up in the recliner. This is the time I’ve been craving all day. I remember that my mom has told me many times that I have always been a night owl, often staying up later than I should have as a kid. Was I really going to try and change my internal clock? Even though my alarm is set for 5 a.m., I stay up later than I should.

The next morning, the alarm goes off and I roll over, fumbling in the dark for my phone. Once I silence the alarm, I exhale. I look out the window, seeing only complete darkness. I’m tempted to roll over and go back to sleep but I know I will regret it. I put my glasses on and step out of bed into the cool room, leaving the warmth of my down comforter. I slip on a sweatshirt and tiptoe down the hall, trying not to wake anyone—the last thing I want at 5 a.m. is an audience.

As I walk to the kitchen to fire up the Ninja coffee maker, I think how fast this summer went. Every year, time seems to go by faster. Rhett finished preschool in May, then I blinked and it was August. All summer we kept the windows open at night to cool the house down. Then one morning there was a crisp edge, the warm summer mornings giving way to the beginning of fall. For most of the summer, I was in ‘survival’ mode. Rich was gone for long hours and bedtime was always a zone defense: me vs. the kids. I was waking when the kids did; then I stayed up late, trying to soak up as much “me” time as possible—only to be tired and cranky in the morning. For weeks it seemed like no matter how early I woke up or how late I stayed up; I never had enough time to myself. I was greedy for more. When I had an hour to myself, instead of my cup feeling full, it felt like I had been in a desert—there wasn’t enough water to quench my thirst.

I jump a little when the coffee maker beeps—the sound piercing the silent house. I grab the cup, pour in an excessive amount of French vanilla creamer, and walk to my office. The washing machine clicks off (thank you, delay wash cycle), and I move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. The clothes begin to tumble, filling the room with the rhythmic beat of the dryer balls. I pick up my devotional book, read a chapter, then I lift the screen of my laptop. The house is completely quiet, other than the dryer. My fingers begin to tap away at the keyboard, trying to catch my thoughts before they drift away.

Every once in a while, I stop typing, listening for sounds of the rest of the house waking up. I take a sip of my hot coffee, knowing that the minutes are ticking until the kids wake up. When it’s close to 6:30, I hear a bedroom door click open and tiny feet on the floor. 

“Oscar, no!” Allie shouts. 

I save my work and close my laptop, then walk down the hall to “rescue” Allie from the puppy, who greets her each morning with lots of unwelcome licks. 

I didn’t finish an essay or start a book. But in those 90 minutes, I was able to do what I enjoy—without being interrupted for a snack request or potty breaks. The quiet of the early morning is a welcome respite to an otherwise noisy life.

A week goes by, I am still getting up at 5 a.m., and Rhett has already finished his first week of school. On the next school day, I wake him up shortly after 6 a.m., feeling well-rested, my cup filled up. After he is gone for school, it’s just Allie and me. Later that morning as I’m picking up toys, she brings me the bag of magnetic letters. 

“Play with me?” she says. Instead of thinking I need just five minutes at my computer, I say, “Okay, let’s spell your name.” I sit on the floor in front of the fridge and spell out all our names. Just as soon as I put them up, she slides them down the stainless steel even faster. When we are both bored with the game, I begin to pick the letters up and get ready to pick Rhett up from school.

Later that evening, after the kids are in bed, I walk to the living room, turn on “Nashville,” and sit down to watch an episode before I go to bed myself. I thought back to the summer months when I felt guilty for watching TV after the kids went to bed. Guilty that “If I love to write so much, why am I not writing right now?” But I’m able to relax, knowing I already spent time writing this morning, and I have my alarm set for the next morning to do the same. 

After I click the TV off, I walk to bed. I think back to the times when I have told Rich that accomplishing a lot of my goals feels impossible. “How will I ever write a book? The kids need me so much.” His usual response is, “It’s like eating an elephant. One bite at a time.” 

I laugh whenever he says it because the image of eating an elephant is an interesting visual. But it’s true. I know that getting up early won’t solve all my problems, and I still find myself wandering to my office throughout the day, but it feels good to carve out time just for myself, not waiting until 8 p.m. to scrape together whatever energy I have left from the day for me to write (or read, or just sit in silence).  

Instead of expecting the time to magically appear, or waiting until my kids are both in school—I’m taking the time now. (It only took me six years to adapt to a farmer’s schedule, but here I am.)

I know there will always be challenges in finding the time to write, and there will be some mornings when it doesn’t work out. There are also the days I have to wade through the noise of my inner critic who says, “You’re not really a writer.” But I’ve found that my inner critic is a bit quieter in the morning.

No matter if it’s morning or night, I’m going to write anyway.

 

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

Image from iOS

Another Beginning

A letter came in the mail last week for Rhett, a note from his new pre-k teacher. While he already completed one year of preschool, this felt more significant. He will go to this school until he graduates; many years from now, some of the kids in this class will walk across the stage with him and receive their high school diplomas together.

As I opened the letter, the last five summers flashed before my eyes.

My belly bulging, the days punctuated with Braxton Hicks and the excitement of our first child.

The next summer he was learning how to crawl and wanted to put everything in his mouth.

The following summer, my belly was swollen with his little sister. On hot afternoons we would curl up on the couch, his head resting on my baby bump—trying to stay as close to me as possible.

The summer he was almost 3, it felt like we had finally found our footing as a family of four.

Last summer, he rode his balance bike non-stop and wanted to spend every waking minute working with his dad in the field.

What will I remember about this summer, the summer before he’s 5?

I can slowly feel the days slipping through my fingers, the days when our lives are just our own. No school schedules, no sports, no homework. His closest friends are his sister and cousins. His dad is his best friend.

I want to soak up the moments of this summer that feels like a last: swimming with the cousins, fishing with his dad, and late nights roasting marshmallows. My days full of random hugs and “I love you, Mom.” This is the last summer where the hot days of play aren’t seen as a break from school.

The weeks will fly by, as summers always do.
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But this isn’t the end.
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It’s really just another beginning.

//

I wrote this in June and it was shared on Coffee + Crumbs in July. Today is Rhett’s first day of pre-k and I wanted to share this note to mark the occasion.

 

Some Days I Feel Like a Terrible Mother, But He Loves Me Anyway

I start putting a load of laundry in the washing machine when I hear the kids begin to argue in another room, no doubt over one of the many tractors that line the halls. “No, you need a time out! You go to your room!” my son yells. As soon as I hear it, a familiar sense of shame builds up in my stomach. I walk down the hall and calmly say, “Please don’t talk to your sister that way.”

Why wouldn’t he? He had obviously heard those very words before in this house.

 

To read the rest of my story, click over to my latest on Her View From Home.

 

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Take Your Time

 

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“Okay, I just need to get a few things. After we’re done we’ll get lunch and go home, okay?” I said as I peered into the backseat of the car.

I glanced down at my list before throwing it in my purse: diapers, wipes, new socks for Rhett. Get in, get out. You can do this.

After unbuckling both kids from their car seats, with Allie on my hip and Rhett’s hand clasped in mine, we marched into Target. We went straight for the cart rack and I grabbed the behemoth cart, wondering how many racks I would accidentally ram it into before we left the store.

Rhett immediately started climbing into the bottom rack of the cart.

“No, Rhett. You need to sit IN the seat. Not underneath.”

I braced the cart with both arms and began pushing us down the aisle. Have you ever tried to drive one of those? You practically need a special driver’s license to operate it. After I managed to get the cart going in a straight line, we headed for the baby section. I parked the cart in the center of the aisle, hoping neither one of them could reach out and grab something from their side of the cart.

Diapers. Wipes. Check. Check.

As I pushed the kids through the rest of the aisles, I felt like an ant underneath a microscope. My parenting was on display, magnified for everyone to see. Allie began pulling shoes off the shelves and putting them into the cart, while Rhett begged for a snack. I looked around before lowering my voice to its stern, “I mean business” tone. “We are almost done. If you don’t stop pulling things off the shelves, you won’t get a snack. Do you understand?”

When my kids misbehave in the store, do people think it’s because I’m a bad mom? Do they think I have bad kids? Or maybe they aren’t even thinking of us at all.

I tried to squash any outbursts before they became too big. Too big for me to handle in the home goods aisle, at least. I glanced at my list to see if all the items were checked off, then made one last stop for an item not on the list: fruit snacks. I wondered as I opened the box and handed them each one package if I was doing the right thing by giving them a sugary snack to get through the checkout line.

As we were checking out, I’m sure I looked overwhelmed (that’s how I felt on the inside, at least). I didn’t notice the older woman that was checking out behind me. I don’t know what she saw. Had she watched me from a distance the whole time I was shopping? Or had she only seen us at the checkout line . . .  when each kid had a package of fruit snacks in hand?

As I was trying to wrangle my bags and contain both kids through the automatic doors, their hands now holding empty wrappers, she looked at me and said, “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

I was so taken aback, I’m not sure I even said thank you. I smiled and we walked out the door.

As I strapped my kids into their car seats, I kept replaying her words over and over.

I’d spent most of the time in the store rushing. Ramming the cart into the ends of the aisles in a race with myself to get out of the store. I wanted to cross all the items off my list and be back in the safety of the car as soon as possible—my jaw noticeably clenched, my face tight. My voice growling. Did I even smile once at my kids? Smile when Rhett helped his sister get into the cart? Smile as the kids pointed to books they recognized from our own bookshelf at home?

What gave her the impression I was a good mom?

As I drove out of the parking lot, I wondered, What if we told each other that more often?

What if we told ourselves that?

I left the store that day feeling a little bit better about myself. A little better about my parenting. I don’t know what she saw. Maybe when I wiped the tears from Allie’s face when she pinched her finger. Or me standing in the diaper aisle, scrutinizing over all the brands: making sure to pick the good ones, yet not the ones that cut into their college fund. Or maybe she just recognized a little bit of herself in me: a woman trying to be a good mom, but also acknowledging the challenge it is to shop with two young kids. Whatever it was, I appreciate that she saw my struggle. Saw me.

So if no one has told you lately: “You’re a great mom. Take your time.”

//

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