The Magic of Christmas

Headlights cross our front windows, sending beams of light through the house. It’s early December, and although it’s only 7 o’clock, it’s already been dark for a couple hours. “Rhett and Allie, come see! Someone is here!” They run toward the window, peering into the darkness. A minute later, a man in a red suit appears, his black boots shining. Rhett pauses for a moment, then whispers, “Santa?” Last year he was nervous when Santa stopped by our house, and I’ve been wondering how he would feel about this year’s visit. Two loud raps hit the front door and the kids stand frozen by the Christmas tree.

My husband, Rich, opens the door and Santa booms, “Merry Christmas! Is this Rhett and Allie’s house?”

I walk over to the kids and start to usher them to the front door. “Hi Santa, how nice of you to stop by!” I say as Allie hides behind my legs and Rhett stands with his fingers in his mouth, inching closer to the door.

“Have you two been good this year?” Santa asks, kneeling on the floor. They both nod, their eyes wide.

“I heard that you have been and I wanted to bring you a little gift before Christmas!” He pulls two small bags from behind his back. Rhett cautiously reaches out to take one, but Allie shakes her head and hides behind me.

Rhett tears into his bag, while I slowly pull the gifts out of Allie’s bag, showing them to her. Santa says, “Well, I have to be going. Mrs. Claus is waiting for me at home!” He stands up and waves his goodbyes, then closes the door behind him as he disappears once again into the darkness.

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Click over to Coffee + Crumbs to read the rest of my essay.

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.

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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.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But this isn’t the end.
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It’s really just another beginning.

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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.

 

The Same Season Never Comes Back

“Mom? Dad? Come get me!” Rhett calls from his bedroom. 

I reluctantly open his door, easing myself into his room (and this conversation). “Hey buddy, Dad went to the field already. He had to leave really early.” 

He falls back onto his pillow and yells out, “He forgot to take me with him!”

Rich’s work can be busy or slow, but if I’m honest it feels like there are more busy seasons than slow. Life on a farm is dictated by the seasons. Spring means planting, summer brings haying and harvest, in the fall there is more planting, followed by snowy, cold winters full of feeding cows, and calving. Slow, downtime is scattered throughout the year. During harvest, the kids go to bed before he’s home, and wake up after he is gone. 

“Dad said he’ll pick you up in the combine after you’ve gotten dressed and finished breakfast,” I say, rubbing his back. 

Even though he’s almost too big now, I carry him from his room and set him down at the kitchen table. I pour his favorite cereal (Rice Krispies) into a bowl and make sure to give him the blue spoon I know he likes, in an effort to avoid a meltdown.

After breakfast, Allie wanders out of the living room and back into the kitchen, bringing me the remote. She wants to watch her favorite show, Pinkalicious. I sigh as I oblige. Somehow this has become our daily routine … one I’m not sure is the best. But, in this season of harvest and solo parenting, I find myself pushing the “easy” button more than I should. 

I start the water in the sink to wash the dishes from breakfast, watching bubbles form under the stream of hot water. One meal down, two more to go (including one meal that I will have to load in the pickup and deliver to the field). Then another bedtime by myself. I glance back at the calendar on the wall as I slip on my rubber gloves. It’s only the beginning of August; harvest has just begun. I sigh, feeling exhausted about the looming day ahead. I know this is the life I signed up for when I married a farmer, but sometimes the reality of long days and endless work is lonelier than I ever imagined. 

As I rinse off the last bowl and place it in the drying rack I hear, “Mom, mom, mommy!” I turn around to face the living room, “Yes?” I snap, irritated already by their constant demands. Immediately I regret my tone. I know it’s not the kids’ fault I feel so overwhelmed and alone. But how can two small people need so much? I stare down the hallway to the front door and wonder what it would be like to be able to leave without taking a kid or two with me or making childcare arrangements.

I envy Rich for walking out the front door before breakfast, unknowing to the kids’ schedule, but confident they will be taken care of. His day isn’t full of snacks requests, “play with me” demands or never-ending laundry. Although I know Rich’s days are anything but easy, when I’m feeling down, I imagine that his life is easier (and quieter) than mine. 

As I finish up the dishes I remember something an acquaintance said a couple of nights ago. The kids and I were waiting on the side of the gravel road to ride with Rich in the swather. As we were standing there in the 90-degree sun, a neighboring farm wife pulled up and got out of her pickup. She walked over to me, holding out two ring pops. 

“I’m sure this is just what your kids need.” She laughed. “I know the long days of harvest are hard for mom too.” 

I smiled and added them to the cooler I brought. “Thank you. The kids get all excited about riding with dad, but then get bored shortly after.” We both laughed as we watched the kids climbing the ladder into the swather.

“My kids did the same when they were that age. But it goes so fast, they will be grown up and gone before you know it.” She said as she held her hand up above her eyes to shield them from the sun. 

I looked over at her, the bright sun nearly blocking out her face. “I want to complain to Rich about how long my days are, but then I feel guilty—it’s not like he’s out on vacation. He didn’t get home until 2:30 this morning, after spending nearly 24 hours straight in the swather.” 

She nodded and touched my arm. “Oh, I know it. Sometimes it’s better to not say anything. You’ll get through.” 

“Dad’s here!” Rhett calls from the living room, bringing me back to the present. I hear the low rumble of the combine pulling up in front of our house. Glancing out the front window, I watch Rich climb down the ladder and make his way toward the house. “Grab your boots and hat!” I say. The front door opens and he kneels down in front of Rhett, who is sitting on the floor pulling on his well worn John Deere boots. As Rich starts helping Rhett with his boots he looks up at me as I pass him his cooler, “Thanks for lunch.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you around 5 for dinner.” I say as I hand Rhett his own cooler. 

“For me?” Rhett beams up at me as he takes the small cooler from my hand. He points to the writing on the side and says, “Does that say Rhett Bronc?” I smile, as he is still unable to pronounce our last name. 

“No, it was Papa’s lunch box, remember Grammy gave it to you?” I say as I put his baseball cap on his head. 

Allie and I spend the rest of the day at home, while Rhett spends the afternoon with the harvest crew in the field. When I think back to last summer, Rhett could only stay a couple hours in the field before he went stir crazy in the combine and Rich was ready for him to come home. I keep an eye on the clock, trying to make sure I get dinner to the field on time. Around 4 o’clock, I (somewhat reluctantly) head for the kitchen. By this time of day, all the cool air from the night before has left the house, coupled with the heat of the oven, I find myself sweating—wishing we had air conditioning.

“It’s almost time to go! We need to get the food out to the crew. Get your boots on, Allie!” I call out to her. She runs down the hall and grabs her pink boots. “I go see Rhett!” she yells. 

Back home, with the meal delivered to the field, the kids and I start our bedtime routine, and I miss Rich to shoulder half of the work. I hear the tiny patter of small feet on the floor and see Allie tiptoeing naked down the hall in front of me. She looks back at me with a half-smile and keeps running. I can’t help but smile. I imagine in her mind when she is tiptoeing, she thinks I cannot see her naked bottom. Even at this moment when I feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and lonely, I’m reminded of their littleness, and how much they have changed since last year’s harvest. Just like my neighbor said, “It goes so fast.” I feel an unexpected pit in my stomach, thinking one day the kids won’t be underfoot while I’m making dinner for the crew. There won’t be little shoes cluttering the doorway, or little bottoms running down the hall. Likely sooner than later, Rhett will be driving a combine or a tractor and will spend all day in the field.

After baths as I’m settling Rhett into bed, he starts to cry, “I miss Daddy.” I remind him that he spent half of the day with him, and he can probably spend the day with him again tomorrow. But I know he really misses him at bedtime. At this moment I’m reminded that this season isn’t just hard on me; it’s hard on them too.

Harvest will come again next summer, but I’ll never get this same season with them back. Even when the days feel really hard, as I give final hugs and kisses at bedtime, I’m grateful for the chance to do that each day.

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You’re My Best Friend

“Mommy lay with me,” Allie says as she looks at me with her big brown eyes. She pats the pillow on her Queen bed and reminds me, “This your spot.” Most nights I still can’t believe she sleeps in this big bed. As toddlers seem to do though, she takes up a lot of space, something I am uncomfortably aware of whenever we share the bed.

I sigh and walk back toward her. I’ve been counting down the minutes until bedtime all afternoon—longing to not be needed, my mind begging for quiet. As I sit down on the down comforter atop her mattress she says, “Tickle me.” I give in and tell her, “Roll onto your tummy so I can tickle your back.” As she rolls over, her dark hair falls in front of her eyes. She brushes her hair back with both hands and says, “Mom, you’re best friend.”

“I’m your best friend?” I ask. I’ve never heard her talk about friends before. Especially a best friend.

“Mom best friend,” she says matter-of-factly.

As I start to tickle her back, I think back over the last two-and-a-half years with her. I could count on less than one hand the number of times I left her that first year. She never took a bottle, making it nearly impossible for me to leave her with anyone. One night when I returned from book club, a rare outing without Allie in tow, she was still awake. Crying and hungry. Rich had tried his best, but she preferred me to everyone, including him. At times it felt like we were stitched together, and when we separated, we both could feel the seam ripping. While I loved that she loved me so much, at times I felt smothered.

Now here in her big bed, the crib long gone, I glance at the stack of books we read earlier. Fancy Nancy: Tea for Two lies at the top of the pile. Allie had sat “reading” her own book, Elbow Grease, as I read about the tea party Nancy had with her best friend. Most nights she sits and reads her own book while I read another book out loud. I sometimes wonder if she is even listening, or if I’m reading to myself. As her dark lashes begin to flutter, her eyes growing heavy with sleep, I start to slow the rhythm of my hand, my touch becoming lighter. Just like in the book, Allie has decided I am her best friend—she is listening when I read.

I slowly pull my hand from her back and tiptoe away from her bed. As I close the door, I start thinking about how our relationship will change over the coming years. When will she stop calling me her best friend? When will it not be okay for her to consider me her best friend?

I’ve read enough parenting articles and books (sometimes just the headlines, if I’m honest), about how your kids shouldn’t be your best friend. We need to be their parents and not their friends. Honestly, it’s not something I have thought much about since Rhett and Allie are still under the age of five.

Part of me feels sad thinking about her growing up. My own history tells me that at some point our interactions might consist of eye rolls more than “tickle me” and snuggles in bed. I know the day will come when she doesn’t think of me as her best friend anymore, and the thought of me being her best friend will mortify her.

As I sit down at my desk, I remember a recent interaction I saw of a friend with her tween daughter. Her daughter sat on her lap while the adults talked in a meeting, and she quietly stroked her daughter’s hair. Her daughter was snuggled into her chest, her long legs dangling nearly to the floor. I imagine that many years before, she had snuggled into her mom in the same way. Her needs different, but somewhat the same. It reminded me that Allie will grow up, but there will still be times when my touch is wanted and, perhaps, needed.

Soon enough, Allie will go to school and make best friends who are her own age. Slowly she won’t cling to me as tightly—the loops of our knitting will become bigger, but I hope they always stay entangled. Seeing my friend with her older daughter gave me something to hope for. A reminder that just because Allie will grow up, doesn’t mean our relationship will diminish.

Hours after I have gone to bed, I hear the bedroom door open and tiny feet stop beside the bed. “Mommy, come lay with me.” I swoop her up and we walk back to her room. We snuggle into her bed, and almost immediately she is asleep once again. I lay awake in the dark, her tiny toes digging into my back. Her breath rises and falls, sleep coming easily for her—snuggled next to her best friend. My breaths begin to match hers, soaking in this moment, not knowing how long it will last.

 

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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 “Remember This.”

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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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