Happy First Birthday, Nora!

“Mom, when’s she gonna be bigger?” Allie asked, looking at Nora.

“What do you mean? She is big! And getting bigger every day!” I said, already defensive with Nora’s birthday only a few days away.

“No, she’s not,” Allie insisted. 

On that day, I didn’t say it, but all I could think of was at that moment a year ago, Nora wasn’t even born yet. And now, here she is, with seven (!!) teeth, crawling all over the house and able to stand for a few seconds by herself. In one short year, she went from a baby who slept the majority of the day to crashing her walker into whatever gets in her way. She says mama, dada, and bye-bye. She knows she’s not supposed to get into the dog’s dish, yet she smiles and crawls faster toward the bowl, hoping to get there before I catch her.

From my perspective, Nora is big. And it breaks my mama heart a little bit, knowing that today is her first birthday.

But from Allie’s four-year-old perspective, she’s tiny. Nora still can’t do all the things Allie can do. Despite Allie’s wish for Nora to be “bigger,” I vividly remember the day this winter when Nora crawled for the first time. She went straight for Allie’s stuff, and Allie wasn’t impressed with Nora’s newfound skill. (And she’s been getting into their toys ever since.)

I enjoy watching my kids get bigger and learning new things—like writing, reading, and riding a bike. But I think I’ll always miss them when they were babies.

***

Nora, 

From the moment you arrived in the front seat of our pickup, you’ve kept us on our toes. (You’ve also kept me sleep-deprived, but that’s not what this is about.) You have the best smile that lights up your whole face. I love your chubby cheeks, which can only be described as doughy, and I’ve kissed them countless times. I hope never to forget the soft, buttery feel of your skin and how tiny your toes and fingers are. (Okay, I’ll stop before spiraling too much, and your dad gets concerned about me eating you.)

I love how excited you get when your dad gets home, crawling to the door to meet him. And how even though you spend the majority of your time with me, you spend most of the day saying, “Dada.” (If you would like to start calling for Dad at night, go right ahead.) 

I love how you bounce on your knees, waving your arms around, screeching for me to pick you up. I never want to forget the way you turn your head and giggle when I catch you eating toilet paper in the bathroom (again).

You’re our only baby to take a pacifier. I love watching you stroke the Wubba-Nubba on your face, as you hum with contentment. At night, on the monitor, I sometimes see you reaching out and searching in the crib to find it in the dark. Then you rub the owl’s ears between your fingers, plugging the pacifier back into your mouth. Then slowly, you fall back asleep with your hand clutched around its body. 

Your fluffy hair, which surprisingly seems to have a hint of auburn in the light, and your gray eyes (or are they hazel?), are a reminder of how different and unique God has made each of my children. Also, you have the beginnings of a fabulous mullet. 

And even though you’re much bigger than you were a year ago, your head still fits just right in the crook of my neck, resting on my shoulder. I can’t help but wonder if you still recognize the beat of my heart. 

This past year has gone by in a flash, yet so much has changed it sometimes feels longer. You’ve changed. I’ve changed. 

And I can’t imagine our family without you.

Happy First Birthday, Nora Kate. 

Love,
Me

Dreaming of Someone I Used to Know

I unload the last box from my car and close the door to the apartment behind me. Turning back, I remember to lock the deadbolt, then collapse on the floor between the boxes. 

My mom walks into the living room, “Well, it’s all in! Do you want to start unpacking now or eat dinner first?” 

“Let’s order something in. My first take-out in the city!” I start to search on my phone for Thai take-out, excited to have so many choices right at my fingertips. 

“How are you feeling?” she asks, placing her purse on the kitchen counter. “The apartment is really nice.” She looks around approvingly. “Lots of good light.” 

“I’m thankful to not be in a basement apartment anymore.” I laugh, remembering the sound of the dogs running above me in my last apartment. “I can’t believe I’m here—that I actually moved. It still feels a bit unreal.” 

She nods, “I can’t believe you’re going to be so far from home. But I’m proud of you. I haven’t been to Seattle since I was a kid. What day does your job start, again?”

“Orientation for the new employees is Tuesday. I’ll get to meet some of the other counselors then too. So I have a few days to unpack and maybe explore the neighborhood a bit,” I reply. 

“That’s good you have a few days to settle in first,” she says. 

“I hate unpacking,” I sigh. “Thanks for coming with me to help. Maybe one of these times it will be a last move,” I say, laughing.

The food arrives and we sit in silence until the rain begins to fall—the sound filling the room. The temperature seems to drop suddenly, and I begin to shiver. Looking around at the boxes, I rummage through them until I find a sweatshirt and quickly pull it over my head.

//

Click here to read the rest of my essay at Kindred Mom.

On Baby Teeth, Rejections, and Mediocrity

Mediocre • / me·di·o·cre
/ˌmēdēˈōkər/ adjective: mediocre
1. of only moderate quality; not very good.

//

Since I became a mom of three, most days, I would describe myself as mediocre. All the other moms in my life appear to have more patience; they do fun things and have kids that follow the rules.

Last summer, Rhett had to have a tooth pulled, and I blamed myself for the whole thing. Did I not brush his teeth well enough? How did I miss this cavity—a cavity that got so bad it became infected, without me even noticing. As he sat crying in the chair, I felt guilty as the dentist tried to numb the tooth. Rhett was nearly six at the time but hadn’t lost any of his baby teeth yet, and this was a tooth he wasn’t supposed to lose until he was 10 or 11. 

Mediocrity. 

That night, he put the tooth under his pillow, excited for the Tooth Fairy to come for the first time. I snuck into his room after he was asleep and carefully pulled the tooth out from under his head. I replaced the tooth with a one-dollar bill (no glitter or notes, just a bill I found in Rich’s wallet). After closing his bedroom door, I stood in the hallway with the tooth in my hand.

Unsure what to do with it, I walked into my room and put it in my nightstand drawer. Throwing it in the trash seemed sort of sad. Am I a bad mom if I throw it away? Should I keep it, to remember him as a baby?

//

I’ve been trying to be a writer (cringe) for about four years. I started submitting my essays to online publications when Allie was a baby. Early on, I had success after success; my acceptances outweighed the rejections. 

Any writer will tell you, rejection is part of the game. If you’re not getting rejected, it means you’re not putting yourself out there. While I believe that’s true, the rejections still hurt.

In the last year, my rejections have far outweighed the acceptances. The initial sting hurts a bit less than it did a few years ago, but overall it’s affected me more than I admit. 

I think it hurts a bit more now because I feel like I’m mediocre in mothering on top of it. I’ve lost count of the times have I’ve hushed them, “Mommy’s working!” While trying to steal a few minutes to put down words on the computer.

Am I ignoring them only to be rejected, to be a mediocre writer?

//

“Mom, what’s this tooth doing in here?” Rhett called down the hall. “I thought the tooth fairy took it.” 

I groaned. “What tooth?” But I knew what tooth he was talking about. I walked down the hall and into my room and found Rhett and Allie with his tooth in hand. 

“Hmmm… I don’t know what it’s doing in here,” I said, trying to come up with an excuse for why the pulled tooth was next to my bed.

“She must have accidentally dropped it when she came last night. I’ll take it,” I said, holding out my hand. 

“Can I put it back under my pillow and get more money?” Rhett asked. 

“Nope, she just comes once for each tooth.” 

He handed me the tooth, and I put it in my pocket to properly dispose of later.

//

On a Sunday afternoon, we were all driving home from church, and I was skimming through a local magazine, looking for my latest article. 

“Hey, Mom, can I read that?” Rhett asked from the backseat. 

“Sure,” I said, passing it back to him. He flipped through the magazine for the rest of the drive home, stopping when he recognized a picture of one of his dad’s tractors.

Once Rich parked the Suburban, I started unloading everyone and all our stuff. 

Rhett, still in his car seat, looked at me, then back at the magazine. 

“Mom, it’s your name!” he said, his face beaming. 

“It is. I wrote that,” I said. 

“That’s cool,” he replied, still smiling. 

Turning around, I met Rich, who was coming out of the garage to grab another load from the car. 

“Rhett’s proud of me; he saw my name,” I said, nodding toward the car. “I think this is the first time he thinks I’ve done something cool.” I laughed; but, it felt good, knowing he was proud of me.

(Being a stay-at-home mom married to a farmer with a farm-loving son is hard to compete with.)

//

This past winter, Rhett came home from school and excitedly said, “I have a loose tooth!” He shook the tooth back and forth in his gums to prove it. 

A few days later, after all the lights were out and we had tucked him into bed, he called out, “I pulled my tooth out!” 

We cracked open the bedroom door and flipped on the lights. He sat up, squinting into the now bright room, grinning with his new smile. This time it was a bottom tooth—front and center. 

A couple of hours later, I snuck back into his room and took the tooth, replacing it with a dollar.  

Then, I stood in the hallway with the tooth in hand. The tooth was one of his first two teeth that came in when he was eight months old. I could still remember his smile with the two new teeth on the bottom, a contrast to the months of gummy smiles we were used to.

Feeling a pit in my stomach, I paused at the memory, then I walked down the hall and threw the tooth in the trash.

//

Recently, Rhett spent a whole Sunday afternoon outside, seeding lentils and chickpeas in our tree patch. The weather was too cold for Rich to be in the field seeding, but that didn’t stop Rhett. He was outside for hours. He even asked me to pack a lunch to take with him, along with his handheld radio. He left one radio in the house with Rich with instructions, “I’ll call if I need you.” 

After a couple of hours, his voice crackled through the radio, “Dad, you got a copy?”

“Yes, Rhett, go ahead,” Rich replied. 

“I’ve still got a few hours left; I’ll be back after dark, okay?” 

Rich put down the radio and, with a big smile, said to me, “This has got to be a story.”

I nodded, my fingers itching to write. I wanted to remember Rhett in his navy winter jacket, speckled with mud, a stocking hat, and Muck boots on a chilly April day. I didn’t want to forget how proud I felt watching him from the house, as he used a hoe to make his rows, then carefully poured the seeds into the tilled soil. I never want to forget how serious he takes this “play,” copying phrases his dad says and how much he already knows about farming.

//

Comparison often steals my joy in motherhood and writing. I don’t know all the struggles another mom has—the ways she feels defeated. The same with writing, I only see the pretty squares of acceptances, their byline successes—but I don’t know their rejections.

I think part of me hopes I can look back at the baby books and journals and essays I wrote during this time, and I’ll not only remember who they were, but who I was too—I’ll see that I was more than just average. 

Writing helps me remember the good stories I never want to forget and gives me a way to reflect on the challenging moments.

My writing might not be one of the greats, but I’ll take being average—if it means I get to tell my family’s story. 

(And I think my words will have a longer shelf life than baby teeth in a jar. And less smelly, too.*)

*If you’re a mom who keeps her baby’s teeth—no judgment. My mom kept mine and gave them to me when I was in high school. Then I threw them away.

Cleaning My Closet

The hangers rattle across the curtain rod, the metal on metal scratching with each shove back and forth. Then, I pause at the bright yellow pencil skirt—I can’t remember the last time I wore it. My mind scans years of memories. Could it be eight years ago? Each time I see the cheery yellow in my closet, I’m taken back to a spring day, 300 miles and a lifetime from here. Yet, I can’t remember the last time I took it off the hanger and put it on.

//

I pulled up to a house I had never been to before but had found the address online. A new yellow skirt, one size too small, sat folded on the passenger seat. Putting the car in park, I clutched the skirt in my hand and walked to the front door.

The woman directed me to go behind a curtain, where I was to change clothes. Now, I couldn’t tell you what the woman looked like or how old she was. I can vaguely picture the room—scattered with different colors and textures of fabrics slung across the backs of chairs. Sliding the skirt up as far as it would go, I stopped, unable to zip it. I walked back into the room, where she examined the seams and pulled out her measuring tape. Once she figured out her plan, I went back behind the curtain and took the skirt off, putting my clothes back on. I left the dress behind and got back into my car to drive home. 

I don’t remember picking the skirt up when she was finished. It was a purchase I made for work back when I worked full-time. Now, most days, I find myself pulling on a comfortable sweatshirt and jeans paired with my slippers—the perfect outfit for sweeping floors, chasing kids, and cooking meals. I couldn’t tell you the day I wore the skirt last. But I’m almost positive it was eight years, one wedding, and three babies ago.

//

Today, I rub my fingers along its fabric, remembering a little bit of who I was then. I put most of my value in my career and my degrees. I was in my second year as a high school counselor, and I was planning a wedding.

If I donate the skirt, is that admitting I’ll never be that girl? 

And if I’m honest with myself, Why would I want to be her again?

I’ve moved, gotten married, had children, and learned to love farm life. All the experiences I’ve had since I hung the skirt up have forever changed me into the person I am today. There’s nothing wrong with the version of myself I was then. But there’s a reason we can’t go back in time—we don’t belong there anymore.

My body has changed to grow and birth and feed three babies. At this point, I don’t even know if the altered skirt fits my body or if it’s me who doesn’t fit it. 

For years, I’ve held onto the weight of that skirt, giving the linen fabric more substance than its worth. I thought it meant something to keep it—to show who I was before and someone I felt I should be again. 

I believed putting it in the Goodwill box said something about me.

I’m a failure.
I’m less than I used to be. 

I pull the hanger from the rack and unclip the skirt. Running my fingers along the fabric one last time, I add it to my box of donations. 

What if giving it away means something simpler.

I’ve grown.
I’ve changed. 

And the skirt has stayed the same.

Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash


// This post was inspired by a writing prompt in the
Simple Style: The Art of Creating a Capsule Wardrobe” workshop. //

After Dark // A Love Story

I walk into the half-lit room, a soft glow from one single bulb. The only sound I hear is my bare feet sliding across the hardwood floors. I hold my breath, not wanting to wake the kids. Inching closer, a familiar scent fills my nose. When was the last time we were alone? The house is quiet until the thermostat kicks on—the vent forcing hot air into the already warm room. I jump, then giggle, startled for a moment—thinking one of the kids had snuck out of bed. 

My hand grasps the back of my neck, and I close my eyes. I can feel the day’s weight sliding down my shoulders and out of my body. My day was filled with diaper changes, making meals, cleaning the kitchen, getting more snacks, and refereeing fights. I sigh. Bedtime feels like a finish line to cross, and we’ve almost made it.

Through the window, the full moon’s light illuminates the two of us. I reach out my hand, feeling the heat rising between us.

My hand cups the ceramic mug—the cake is still hot from the microwave. The rich chocolate clings to the edge of the cup, bubbles forming at the top. The individual packets of Duncan Hines “mug cakes” are hidden at the back of the cupboard—they are mine alone. 

I grab a spoon from the drawer, the silverware clanking in their slots as I close it. I breathe in, exhaling into the quiet kitchen. 

Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, double chocolate—I love them all. But chocolate in the dark, alone, just might be my favorite. 

The hours between 8-10 o’clock are mine. 

And sometimes I have cake, too.



This post is 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 view the next post in this series “280 Words”.

The Kitchen That Built Me

The Kitchen That Built Me

It was a Friday night, and my then boyfriend, Rich, and I pulled into the driveway of his house. Though we were in a new relationship, and long-distance too, without actually talking about it—we both knew it was getting serious. This was the first time I was seeing his house and meeting his family who lived nearby. We drove up to his farm house, and he mumbled something, but I only caught a few words: “Retro kitchen . . . someday I want to remodel it.” 

I brushed it off and said, “I’m sure it’s not that bad.” 

We walked into the house and down the hall—the hardwood floors were a welcome surprise, their modern look a contrast to the dated exterior of the house. We turned the corner into the kitchen, and the salmon-colored cabinets were the first thing I noticed. On a second glance, I realized they were made of metal. I looked down and saw orange carpet—the kind that’s flat, without any fibers sticking up. Retro was definitely the right word

“I was thinking I could sandblast the cupboards and repaint them. But it might be easiest to just tear them all out and start over. I don’t think much has changed in the kitchen since the house was built in 1955,” he said. 

“It’s fine. I don’t like you for your kitchen. It feels huge compared to the tiny kitchen in my apartment,” I laughed as I squeezed his hand.

Our relationship was still new and I didn’t know how much time I would end up spending in this space.

              //

Two years later, I bounced my newborn around this kitchen, trying to get him to stop crying.

 “He won’t stop crying!” I said to Rich, now my husband, who was leaning against the laminate countertops.

“I fed him, but he just falls asleep while he’s nursing. Then he wakes up crying. I think he’s starving,” I said, glancing at the salmon colored cabinets that I felt were beginning to taunt me.

“I’m sure he’s getting enough to eat, babe,” Rich gently said as he took Rhett from me. 

“I’m going to weigh him. Do we have a scale I can use?” I asked, my hand cupping the back of my neck.

Just then I remembered the kitchen scale in the pantry. I set the tiny scale on the old countertop, then grabbed the baby bathtub and balanced it on top of the scale, and zeroed the weight. 

“Next time I feed him, I’ll weigh him first, then feed him, then weigh him again.” I was mostly talking to myself, but Rich nodded along. “Then if he’s not getting enough, maybe I should give him a bottle?” 

We had been parents for only a few weeks, but I think he already knew I wasn’t looking for an answer. I just needed to work through my thoughts out loud.

Later we balanced the whale bathtub on the scale—the underlit kitchen making it hard to see the numbers on the scale. Just as I began to shrug my shoulders in defeat, I noticed a bit of sunshine coming through the window behind me. The sliver of light fell over my shoulder, giving us just enough light to see the numbers go up on the scale after I had nursed him. 

Satisfied he was at least getting a few ounces, I put the scale away. Later that night after he had gone to bed, I stood at the kitchen sink scrubbing the dinner dishes. No light came through the window this time, the room was barely lit by the dim hue of the single light overhead. I wondered what would happen tomorrow that I would need to survive. Not even one month in, and motherhood felt so hard. I heard a creak, and saw a cabinet door had fallen open, again. I was doing it all wrong, I thought with a slam.

//

A year later, I turned around from the sink and saw my crawling baby licking the cabinets in the kitchen. “Rhett, what are you doing?” I laughed. 

I grabbed my phone and snapped a few pictures, wanting to remember this. His cheeks were so chunky and full, no one would have guessed I ever worried about his weight. He continued to crawl around and I imagined the sixty years of boots and shoes that had walked over the floors. I shuddered, thinking of how dirty the old carpet was, knowing the only way it would feel clean would be to tear it out. Did we want tile or hardwood floors? I silently wondered. I pulled up my Pinterest board, “Future Kitchen” and added more pins for the kitchen remodel. 

The years went by, and we brought another baby home—the kitchen remodel always at the back of our minds. Finally, after being married for over six years, with two kids (and a third on the way) we made official plans to start the renovation. In the last few months, Rich and I had gone over all of the choices we had to make. What color did we want the cabinets and appliances? What type of flooring? What color for the backsplash? What style of handles for the drawers? 

For years, part of the reason I had put off the kitchen remodel was that I was worried I would make a wrong decision and be stuck with it. It felt like too much pressure to get it “just right.” Looking over the proposed drawing from the interior designer, I remembered how overwhelmed I had felt with my first baby—wondering if he was getting enough to eat, immunizations, nap schedules, and when to feed him solids. I was always exhausted from all the decisions.

The night before the construction crew arrived I stood alone in the kitchen. We had emptied all the drawers and cabinets and I stood in the entryway one last time. My stomach bubbled with sadness—an emotion I wasn’t expecting. When I looked down the hall, I pictured myself walking in for the first time and seeing this kitchen. I saw myself standing here, wide-eyed and in love—with my then-boyfriend. At the time I thought I knew what love was, and what marriage and motherhood would look like. But I didn’t know how often I would second guess every decision I made with my kids. Or how long the days would feel waiting for Rich to get home, trying to keep his dinner warm in the oven, with two kids crying at my feet—all in this space. This was the kitchen I became a wife in, then a mom. It’s where I learned to cook meals that would feed more than just myself. I burned food, tried new meals, and accidentally dropped eggs on the carpet. Even as I stood there in the silence, I could hear the sound of the oven door creaking—its hinges well-worn from decades of use. I always imagined this day would only feel exciting—a chance at designing my own kitchen. But at that moment, all I felt was a bit of sadness.

“You ready to go?” Rich called from the front door. I nodded and gave the kitchen one last glance before I walked out of the house. 

//

Thirty-four days after we moved out of our home, the remodel was done. I walked down the hall toward the kitchen—anxious to see it all put together. The white tile shone in the sunlight, a bright contrast from the hardwood floors. The deep white sink caught my eye and drew me in. I walked into the room, and reflexively my hand reached out toward the nearly black countertops. My fingers skimmed over the smooth surface, cool to the touch. I paused and glanced around taking it all in—amazed at how much had changed.

I turned to face the living room, the hardwood floors running from the kitchen into the rest of the house, tying it all together. It looked like it was meant to be.

Rich opened the door from the garage, “What do you think? It looks like it could be in a magazine, doesn’t it?” 

I stood and nodded, at a loss for words.

In the following days, I carefully washed the pots and pans in the brand new sink, taking special care not to scratch the white porcelain. Each time I walked toward the kitchen it was like I was seeing it again for the first time. The old kitchen stood the test of time, refining me along with it. My edges were worn down—my expectations of what a home would look like, along with what it would be like to be a wife and mom. Neither of us was perfect, but we did the best we could. I know now that just because the kitchen is new, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect either. The corner cabinets next to the dishwasher can’t be open at the same time. And while the “fingerprint resistant” appliances might keep off fingerprints, we’ve learned the hard way that magnets scratch them. And despite being cautious, I already put a tiny nick in my new farmhouse sink. 

The kitchen is beautiful—there’s no denying it. But part of the reason it’s beautiful to me is that I know what it once was, and the life we’ve lived here. When I close my eyes, I can still see the old kitchen—the retro cupboards and orange carpet. I can see the younger me taking it all in for the first time. I’ll always remember the years I baked in the cramped oven—the tick of the oven matching the amount of time it took to heat up. I’ll remember the sound of the metal cabinets banging shut—their doors full of scratches and worn from decades of opening and closing. The carpet was stained with flour, dropped eggs, and honestly, who knows what else. But it was full of happiness too. I watched Rhett take his first step in this room. I can picture the time I found Allie covered from head to toe in powdered sugar, the orange carpet around her dusted in white. Or the late nights when Rich arrived home from the field, greeting me with a kiss and a “thank you” for the dinner I had brought to the harvest crew.

Part of me wishes I could go back to the “first-time mom” me and tell her not to worry so much, not to stress over every decision. But I know those moments and decisions carved me into the mom and wife I am today. Despite all my imperfections, like the cupboards and worn carpet, it was never about how they looked. It was what they could hold—their role in our home. The woman who walked into this house years ago isn’t the same one who stands in this kitchen now. All the decisions and worry, happiness, and joy molded me into the woman I am today.

And I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what my cupboards and cabinets look like—what matters is who I will continue to become.

Photos by: Josey Miller // @storyanthology

A Few Good Things

A Few Good Things

As a kid, I remember thinking of Christmas as a mile-marker. I would look back over how much had changed from one year to the next. In high school, I’m sure I wondered if the next Christmas I would have a boyfriend. (Spoiler alert: I did not.) Or the year I went from not being able to drive (legally) to driving on my own. Then a couple of years later, I went from living at home to my first year in college. There were sad reflections too. The Christmas we spent with my aunt, knowing it would be her last. A couple of years before that, we gathered around my grandpa’s bed for his final Christmas—he passed away a couple of months after the new year. The following Christmases felt different. It wasn’t that it just felt like something was missing. Someone really was. 

As an adult, I see Christmas mainly through the eyes of my kids. Last year, Rhett and Allie were 5 and 3 and they were both old enough to be excited about Christmas. Their eyes sparkled with the magic and lights, the wonder of what would be under the tree on Christmas morning. I never even brought up Santa, they remembered from the past year. Last Christmas, my belly had the hint of a baby bump—and we didn’t know if the growing baby was a boy or a girl. The overwhelming feeling of adding a third baby to the family was slowly wearing off, and finally, my appetite was back to normal—my days of nausea behind me. We celebrated with my family in Wyoming, with yet another empty space on Christmas Day—my cousin had passed away two months before Christmas. 

This year, I know many people around the world will have empty places around their Christmas trees and tables. Maybe because someone passed away since last December, or maybe because they aren’t gathering together this year.

As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but wonder what Christmas 2021 will look like. Will masks be something we are talking about in the present tense or a thing of the past? (Let’s hope.) Will Rhett and Allie still believe in Santa? How many words will Nora be able to speak? I pray my family will still have the same people around the tree, even if we aren’t celebrating together. 

Even though this Christmas won’t look like year’s past, I know from experience that no Christmas looks the same as the year before. There is always good and hard. But I believe both can exist together. 

//

These are the good things I want to remember about 2020. 

In January we remodeled our kitchen that was stuck in 1955—and it’s beautiful. I’m grateful for it every day, and haven’t once missed the orange carpet.

Nora was born on May 21st in an exciting roadside delivery. Adding a new baby to our family is at the top of my “Good List” for 2020. I don’t take it for granted what a blessing a new baby is—one wished and prayed for by many.

Rich turned 40! I don’t know if he would consider it a part of the “good list.” But I’m reminded every year that growing older is a gift that’s not afforded to everyone. 

A few weeks before his birthday, we celebrated with friends. We rented a cabin on the river and the guys fished and the girls got pedicures. We ate good food, watched The Office, had cake, and relaxed.

We had another successful and safe harvest. I also survived my first summer and harvest season as a mom of three. I spent most of harvest cooking meals, with one half day spent driving a combine (with a three-month old in tow).

I kept the flowers in my garden boxes alive all summer—which is truly a miracle. 

Rhett started kindergarten in August and can go in-person. We’re thankful for his teachers and the school for making it possible in this crazy year.

 This year I was especially thankful to live in a rural area. With hundreds of acres surrounding us, the kids were able to run, play, and farm with dad, and life went on (mostly) as normal for them.

Rhett is learning to read and write and wrote me this note last week. 

“Rhett loves mom”

Allie started taking dance class once a week this fall and loves it. Since Rhett started school, there is a lot of talk at home about his teacher and class and learning, and Allie loves having her own teacher and class. She taught herself to write her name and is excited to be in school next year.

In October, Nora was baptized in the church I grew up in. When the pastor was pouring the water on her head (in the silent church) she had a huge blowout in her diaper. Rich remained calm under pressure and held onto her bottom to keep everything in place. He held it together long enough to finish the baptism and get a few family photos. Afterward, my mom admitted that at first she thought it was my sister passing gas and was worried she was getting sick. My sister was slightly offended.

Rich and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary in September. We spent the weekend before with the kids (on our first trip as a family of five) in Glacier National Park. We ate Chinese take-out and enjoyed the absolute beauty that is Glacier. On our actual anniversary, I baked a cake. Mostly because I like to eat cake. 

Nora cannot wait to be on the move to keep up with her siblings. She thinks their crazy antics are hilarious. She just turned seven months old and her two bottom teeth came in at the same time. She is so happy and always has a smile on her face. Allie and I often say how much “we want to eat her!” Rich still finds this disturbing, but has come to terms with it three babies in.

Above all else, one thing remains the same—the true meaning of Christmas. We will be celebrating the birth of our Savior—and that is something great.

There’s Something I Need to Tell You

There’s Something I Need to Tell You

The hot water pours down my back, steam surrounding me. “Babe. There’s something I need to tell you,” I say through the fog. 

I turn my head toward the bedroom, his outline is faint through the dingy hotel shower curtain. 

“Okay,” he slowly replies. 

“Nevermind,” I say. Butterflies feel like they are going to jump out of my throat. 

I hear the bed creak as he sits up, followed by the sound of him placing his phone on the nightstand. 

“You can’t start something like that and not finish,” he says. 

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s true, so I don’t know if I should tell you,” I reply. 

“Just tell me.”

I pause, wishing the water pressure matched the pounding of my heart. I let the water continue to run down my back, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Stacy. You’re making me nervous. What is it?” his voice rising. 

I take a deep breath. 

“I might be pregnant,” I breathe out. 

The silence that fills the room is deafening.

“I haven’t taken a test yet, but I’m a few days late . . .” I say. 

I shut the shower off, then move the curtain to the side—the curtain rings rattling overhead. Despite the clanging from the bathroom fan, it’s clearly not working—my shape is barely visible in the mirror above the sink. After grabbing a crisp white towel from the rack, I begin to dry myself. I reach up and wipe the condensation from the mirror, taking a look at myself for the first time since I’ve said the words I’ve been carrying out loud.

Tightening the towel around my chest, I walk to my suitcase perched on the table by the floor to ceiling windows. I begin to get dressed and look down the 20 floors to the busy street below. My mind flashes back to the last eight months of negative pregnancy tests, coupled with my knee surgery that forced us to postpone trying for three months. The past two months I didn’t even bother with the ovulation sticks. Despite them saying I was ovulating for the last year—the negative pregnancy tests outweighed their positives.

He leans his head against the headboard. “Should we go and get a pregnancy test?”

“I’m sure there’s a store around here somewhere,” I say, grabbing my phone from the table. “Looks like there’s a Target a few blocks down the street.”

We chat for a few minutes, a mixture of excitement and nerves fill the hotel room. I picture our two kids at home on the farm with their grandparents, feeling like it’s too soon to get excited about a baby. But then picturing a baby with two older kids sends me into a slight panic.

I collapse onto the bed. “I don’t know if I can handle three kids,” I exhale. “I thought I wanted another baby, but now I feel like we waited too long.”

I pause, running my hand across the maroon bedspread. “We can actually travel and leave the kids for a few days.”

He nods his head. “Well, we don’t know anything yet.”

After I’ve dressed and blow-dried my hair, I grab my purse and room key and we head to the elevator. We silently ride down the 20 floors and walk through the lobby. The sounds and smells of Chicago hit me as soon as the revolving door opens. The shock of concrete, people clogging the sidewalk, and traffic is such a contrast to our life at home, it makes me pause. Outside our front door on the farm I’m surrounded by dirt roads, wheat fields, and cattle. For a moment, I’m able to forget about the tiny being that might or might not be growing inside of me. 

We step onto the sidewalk, making sure to stay out of the way of the other pedestrians. I look down at the street, still wet from last night’s downpour. Then I squint my eyes from the sun and glance up at the tall buildings around me.

“Which way?” he asks, grabbing my hand. 

I squeeze his hand with more confidence than I actually feel.

I nod to the left, “This way.”

//

**This essay was written as part of the workshop, “Reading Well, Writing Well.” The assignment was to focus on writing dialogue.**

The Last Time

The Last Time

“Feel how soft this blanket is,” I whisper, rubbing it against her chubby cheek. I lean back into the recliner—the leather stained with milk and my sweat. I pull her into my chest and gently rub her back. She yawns, her little nose scrunching up as the yawn takes over her whole face. “You could just take a short nap on me,” I say, rocking the chair back and forth, trying to coax her into sleep. The house is quiet, the snow gently falling outside. She nuzzles into my neck and I close my eyes. 

I picture the last five and a half months, and I’m hit with the realization time has swept by in the blink of an eye yet again. In the first month, I was glued to this chair. The first weeks after Nora was born, I moved from my bed to the chair, then back to the bed again. She guzzled milk here, then fell into a milk-drunk state—my body was her bed. During the first month, she didn’t sleep anywhere but on me. Now she pushes away from me, the serene moment has passed.

I can’t remember the last time she napped on me. 

An hour later, she naps in her crib, after refusing to nap on me—proof she’s not that tiny newborn anymore. Rich has taken the two big kids “on an adventure”, so I can have a few hours to myself at home. I putter around the house, stopping to pick up Legos, chunks of Play-Doh, and school papers while I wander. I think back over the last few months and the times I’ve wished for quiet space to read, write, or just be alone without interruption. But now, I don’t know where to start, and even though it’s only been 32 minutes, I’m grateful that, like clockwork, Nora wakes from her nap. Because I don’t remember the last time I was truly alone, and I’m not sure I’m ready to find out. 

I can’t remember how to be alone. 

The dryer kicks off, a load of towels slows to a halt. With Nora on my hip, I walk to the laundry room, where my laptop is propped open. The screen blares white: an empty Google Doc. The cursor blinks where my words are supposed to be. I sigh, shifting her up my side. I bend down and pull the hot towels from the dryer, sorting them by the bathroom and kitchen. She babbles and pushes against me. I bounce her and talk to her, knowing if I lay her down on her playmat she will cry. 

I can’t remember the last time I did something with both hands. 

Naptime rolls around again, and I place her in her crib. I grab her pacifier and put it in her mouth, and she immediately begins to suck. Both her hands go to the giraffe attached to the pacifier, and she holds onto it tenderly.

“Night, night, have a good nap,” I say, shutting the light off. I walk back to my office, the dryer now quiet. I watch her big eyes sparkle on the black and white monitor. Part of me wants to snuggle her, knowing she won’t be this little forever. The other part of me hopes she naps for longer than 32 minutes. 

I can’t remember what it’s like to not live in 30-minute cycles. 

She wakes again, and I know with certainty the time will come again when I’m completely alone in this house. My life won’t be in 30-minute intervals and my body won’t be feeding and nurturing a baby.

I walk to her crib and I wonder, Will she sleep on me again? Or did I miss the last time, without knowing it was the last time? 

I pause beside her crib, simultaneously filled with sadness at the passing of time and wonder at the child growing in front of me. For the last six years, I’ve been immersed in babies and toddlers and big kids—and now back here again. While I’ve caught a few glimpses of life beyond the nap and nursing and then toddlers stage of life, it’s never been long enough to get comfortable there. 

I pick Nora up from her crib and snuggle her soft, chubby cheek into mine. 

In the past, I’ve gulped up the free time, not knowing when I would get it again. But now, as much as I want to be alone, I’m not sure I’m ready to find out what it’s like to really be alone. 

Today, I’ll savor the snuggles when I can get them. And I’ll enjoy the minutes I have to myself—knowing there’s more to come later. 

//

Today marks six months with our sweet Nora Kate. I don’t know what we would do without you, sweet girl. (Well, I would probably be getting more sleep, but that’s a story for another day.)

Happy half-birthday, Nora!

My Own Little House on the Prairie

The five of us piled into the van before the sun came up, my grandpa hunched behind the wheel. We crested the mountain as the sun came up, the elevation wrapped us in cool air, despite the summer season.

We spent the rest of the day driving, miles of open space and nothing but highway in front of us.

Eventually, I peered out the back window of the van and saw a green billboard, “The Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder Next Exit.”

“Grandpa, can we go there?” I asked from the backseat of the maroon Econoline van. I don’t remember his response, or maybe he didn’t give me one. The interstate whirred by as we continued our family trip to Michigan. My parents, younger sister, and my grandpa—all packed into the van. This was the early 90s and my sister and I spent most of the trip lying down on the bench in the third row—no seat belt or booster seats in sight.

We made the drive from Wyoming to Michigan, and I’m sure that I passed some of the time reading, either the Babysitters Club or anything by Beverly Cleary, Goosebumps, or Little House on the Prairie

On the way back from Michigan to Wyoming, my grandpa took that exit—and we spent the day where Laura had once lived. I was able to walk the same places she had, and I imagine I felt like I was inside her books. 

I was 8 or 10 at the time, maybe 12. My elementary years all run together, with bits and pieces sticking out. I wish I could say I remember more specific things that happened that day in South Dakota. Did the air rustle through the prairie grass, reminding me of Laura and her beloved Jack the bulldog? Was it everything that I had imagined?

Every Christmas one of my favorite gifts in my stocking was a gift card to Barnes & Noble. My mom, sister, and I would drive the 90 miles to the nearest city where we could use our gift card. I searched the shelves for the newest James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Then made my way to the historical fiction shelves. The well-worn red and black paperback, Number the Stars, a favorite on my bookshelf at home since the 4th grade. Annemarie and Ellen were two characters I often imagined myself as. Ellen’s dark hair made it seem more likely that I was her—except I’m not Jewish. I often wondered if I would have been as brave as Annemarie’s family, had I been in their shoes.

College was full of textbooks, course syllabuses, and homework. I know I read for fun, but I couldn’t tell you any of the books I read outside of the classroom. I left my beloved Number the Stars and Little House on the Prairie in my childhood bedroom to collect dust throughout my 20s. After college, I spent those years finding myself, sometimes between the pages of books, getting lost in them when I was too scared to admit to myself that my life wasn’t where I had hoped it would be. 

Near the end of my 20s, I met Rich. His farm on the prairie was nowhere near where I expected I would end up. Could I be as resilient as Laura and Ma? Even though I have the luxury of electricity and running water, it still takes some grit and a different mindset to live in the middle of nowhere. All those years ago when I convinced my grandpa to take me to Laura’s house in South Dakota, I never imagined I would find myself living on the prairie. But now I’m surrounded by it. 

//

“Mom, it’s a rattlesnake!” Rhett runs from the dirt pile to the back of the house where I’m watering the newly planted trees. 

I glance up from the tree, dropping the hose. I follow him to the edge of the yard that connects with one of the many fields we are surrounded by. The grasses sway back and forth, and I wait to hear the sound that upset him. Knots form in my own stomach, hoping it’s not a rattlesnake. Rich isn’t home, and I am not looking forward to having to deal with a big rattlesnake on my own. 

The hot dry air surrounds us. Then I hear what he heard. The many grasshoppers that have filled our fields, yards, and the grill of my car, move their legs in rhythm, almost making a rattling sound.

“It’s just a grasshopper, buddy, not a snake. But good job coming to find me.” I reassure him. “Let’s go inside and get a drink,” I say.

We walk past the bookshelf, stacked with books I’ve read, books I plan to read, and Laura and Annemarie are here too. I knew when I got married, I was changing my story, and I was ready to bring them with me—their years in my childhood bedroom over.

Whether it was living in apartments alone after college or motherhood—but I’ve mostly given up suspense novels. Number the Stars was my gateway to historical fiction, and my GoodReads shelf of “Read” books is dominated by that genre. Despite the sadness, I’m still drawn to their stories. I’ve read the Little House series a few times since childhood, and hope to pass them down to my own children (along with the twig I have from DeSmet—tourism dollars at it’s finest).

Reading and writing come in waves for me. My book club often asks me, “Have you been writing a lot?” And the answer always depends on if I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t been able to manage both well at the same time. When I’m reading a lot, I’m hardly writing. When I find myself inspired to write my own story, I find it distracting to read someone else’s. 

Years ago when I was a high school counselor, I never picked up a pen or put my fingers to the keyboard to tell a story. My love of writing was pushed to the side, my new career taking all of my time and brain space. But motherhood and farm life has brought back that urge to tell a story. And I’m surrounded by stories—from the farm to being a mom, and usually a mix of the two.

Over the years I’ve traded post-it notes lists of books to read for GoodReads. And I’ve tossed the guilt of starting and not finishing a book. Because I’ve learned that when you know, you know—with books and love.

This essay was written as part of the “Reading Well, Writing Well: Building a Writer’s Toolbox” workshop through Exhale Creativity.