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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Unexpected Long-Distance Relationship

“Mom, who’s this?” my son calls from the living room.

With my hands fully immersed in the kitchen sink full of soapy water, I turn to face him. I can see the kids have pulled out a photo album. “Hold on, let me come look.”

As I walk toward them, drying my hands on a towel, I realize they’ve found an album from my final semester of college. Memories start flooding back as I kneel down beside them on the floor.

“That’s my friend and me when I lived in D.C. It’s a long way from here,” I reply, pointing to us, with the Washington Monument in the background.

As we continue to flip through the album, I remember my first day there. I was only 22. I took one step out of the airport, and a wall of humidity met me. The sun was beating down on that hot August day. Wide-eyed, I stared up at the tall buildings around me, traffic whirring by. I stopped walking and stood beside my brand new suitcases. People scurried past me with their rolling luggage. No one made eye contact. I definitely wasn’t in Wyoming anymore. Reaching into my purse, I pulled out a single sheet of paper. Although I’d read the address several times in the last few weeks, I paused and leaned on my luggage to steady myself. This was my new home.

Glancing up, I drank in my surroundings: high-rise buildings, concrete, and hot sticky air. I watched as yellow cabs slowed down in the street, people in suits raising their arms to stop a driver. I inhaled, grasped the handles of my suitcases, and tentatively stepped closer to the curb. My eyes wandered cautiously, and I slowly raised my arm in imitation of the other travelers. Eventually, a cab pulled up and the driver hopped out of his car. He came around to help me load my suitcases into the trunk: my entire wardrobe for the next four months, crammed into two bags.

With a thud, the driver closed the trunk. I walked to the back door, climbed in, and sat down. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. The blast of the AC was a welcome relief on my sweaty face.

“Where to?” the cab driver asked.

With false confidence, I recited the address, and he nodded. The cab accelerated, and we were on our way. I peered out the window, taking it all in.

Three weeks before, I was living at my parents’ house on summer break from college. Earlier that year I’d applied for an internship with a senator in D.C., but weeks and months had gone by without a word. I’d mostly forgotten about it until I received an email in early August. “You’ve been accepted as a press intern in our senator’s office. The internship starts at the end of the month.” My stomach turned flip-flops. Was I really going to do this?

I said yes.

The next few weeks flew by as I found someone to lease my apartment, adjusted my school schedule, and said goodbye to my friends and family.

The night before I left, I went to my boyfriend’s house.

“You’ll come and visit me, won’t you?” I cautiously asked him as we sat on the lawn. In the silence, I passed my hand back and forth over the newly cut grass. The dark night surrounded us. An occasional car drove down the street.

He sat across from me with his arms draped over his knees. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s only a few months. We’ll see each other at Christmas.”

Pulling my hand from the lawn and folding it into my lap, I replied, “Okay.” I was thankful for the darkness which hid the disappointment on my face.

Weeks later, with my briefcase on my lap, I sat on the orange seats of the Metro. This was my daily commute to Capitol Hill. The hot summer had faded into an east coast fall. The humid days floated away as the leaves began to hit the ground. In the previous weeks, I’d traded some of my false confidence for real confidence. In the mornings, I put on comfortable shoes to walk the few blocks to the Metro stop, taking the Red Line to the Capitol. When I arrived at my office, I sat at my desk and swapped them out for the dress shoes tucked inside my bag. My days were spent researching topics the senator was involved in and writing press releases with the deputy press secretary. She was only a year older than me and quickly became a friend and mentor, not only helping me with my writing but navigating the Senate and the city.

Changing shoes once more at the end of the day, I walked back to Union Station, swiping my Metro card for the ride home. One of my roommates, Chrystal, greeted me at our apartment. We’d never met before August but were paired together: a girl from Wyoming and a girl from Idaho. Both a long way from home. I dropped my bag on the floor and sat cross-legged on the couch as we swapped stories about our workdays. We passed the evening in an easy conversation. Once the dinner dishes were cleared, I called my boyfriend back home. In a typical conversation, I ended up arguing with him, not happy with who he was spending time with while I was away. I moved into the hallway and sat on the floor, so my roommates wouldn’t hear my sobs. As I hung up the phone, I wiped tears on my sleeve, quietly opened the door, and walked back into our apartment. Chrystal greeted me with a hug but didn’t ask me any questions—her presence was all I needed.

In the remaining weeks and months, Chrystal introduced me to more people. We visited monuments and museums and tried new food. She felt like an anchor when I kept trying to pull away, back to the comfort of where I grew up. She was mature beyond her years, and her confidence was contagious.

A year and a half later, I stood at the end of an aisle. My dress flowing, my hands clutching a bouquet. I’d spent the morning getting my hair and makeup done while butterflies popped up in my stomach. It was a warm spring day, the perfect day for a wedding.

The guests stood up and the bridal march began. I turned to face the white chairs filled with people. Chrystal walked up the aisle toward me, toward her groom.

She said yes.

We said yes to a friendship that crossed state lines. Through the years we’ve kept in touch through Facebook, text, and the occasional phone call. I flew back to D.C. to visit when her career took her back there after college. Later, we met for a long weekend in San Francisco, seeing the sights of a new city together. When she relocated to Texas, I spent a weekend exploring her new state with her. When I got married, she was there with me in Wyoming and later came to visit me at my new home in Montana. We’ve been there for each other in the good times and bad, and everything in between. Like most long-distance friendships, we go through phases where we talk often, followed by times when we’re out of touch. Even then, I know she will always be there for me.

Almost 15 years have passed since that fall in D.C. Now, sitting here with my kids, I run my fingers over the prints in the album. The Washington Monument, a football game in Virginia, a group of interns huddled under umbrellas, trying to stay out of the pouring rain in New York City. These are experiences I know I’ll never forget.

Flipping to the end of the album, I find one of the last photos: Chrystal and me with our cheeks pressed together. We have big smiles on our faces. I left D.C. that winter with more than a degree. I left with a friendship I knew would last a lifetime.

I close the album and pick up my phone, typing out a quick message to that girl from Idaho. Chrystal responds back, and we pick up right where we left off.

//

This essay was originally published at Sweatpants & Coffee.

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.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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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The View From My Kitchen // On Coffee + Crumbs

In the kitchen, I can hear the kids yelling in another room. It sounds like my son is trying to get his sister to play and from what I can hear, she isn’t being compliant. I am about to call out for them to “play nice,” but think better of it and let them be. When I glance down at the floor I notice the flour dusted on the carpet. I can’t remember when I had the flour out last and suspect the kids might have had something to do with it.

I hear the hum of the fridge and the tick of the old oven as it heats up. When I turn toward the window I notice the crunchy snow that is still on the ground, surrounded by patches of brown grass peeking through. Out of the corner of my eye I see the dishes stacked beside the sink, and think it’s a never-ending cycle of cooking and cleaning. The snow on the ground is a lot like my kitchen lately. As soon as the snow begins to melt and I think I can finally shout “spring is here!” It snows again. In the same way I feel a satisfaction when I wipe down the counters at the end of a long day, tomorrow there will be another meal to cook and another sink of dishes to wash. Our dishwasher has been acting up lately, leaving me to wash all the dishes by hand. Surprisingly it hasn’t bothered me as much as I anticipated; it’s somewhat relaxing to have my hands in warm water and the feeling of accomplishment when the dishes are clean and dry.

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Read the full essay on Coffee + Crumbs.

Why I Take My Wild Child Out in Public

This post was originally published on Her View From Home one year ago today. I wrote this after a particularly challenging day in town with my kids. I wrote this and submitted it for publication without telling anyone, I was afraid it would be rejected and I wanted to keep the rejection to myself. But, it wasn’t rejected! Thank you to Her View From Home for accepting my first piece for publication (and all of those since then) and giving me the courage to keep writing. And thank you to my kids for continuing to challenge me, giving me things to write about.

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“You’re a brave mom for being out in public with him.” I could have easily been offended by the older woman’s words, but truthfully, I was feeling like I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide, or at least go home. The words she said after that, as she squeezed my shoulders, told me that she wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings—but that she had been there. “My boy was the same way. I had to tie him in his crib for two years.”

My three-year-old gets referred to in many different ways: spirited, busy, wild, a handful, and many others. And he is all of those things. There are times I do feel brave for being out in public with him. But mostly it doesn’t feel brave, it’s a necessity. I have to get groceries, and sometimes I have to take him with me. Sometimes we need to eat lunch in public, although I would prefer to avoid it.

I never pictured myself being a “boy mom” (although I don’t fall strictly into the Boy Mom Club, as I also have a one-year-old girl). I was that person in the past who would see a spirited child in the store or at a restaurant and think, “Wow, do they not care that he is jumping around and making so much noise?” Now I realize, yes, they do care.

I’ve read a lot of articles on how to deal with “spirited” children and it seems like whenever I’m in the moment, I don’t know the right thing to do or say. And then it just seems like I have zero control over my child. But I do care. I would love for him to sit quietly and eat his lunch. I would love to be able to enjoy a meal in public without having to reprimand him every 15 seconds. But that’s not who he is right now. What most people don’t see though are the times when he will say, “Hug you,” meaning he wants a hug. Or when he says, “I’m going to give you a kiss.” Or when you have a Band-Aid on and he says, “Are you okay, Mama?” He is a wild boy with a big heart.

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The older lady reminded me that kids do grow up. And I’m sure if she had sat down and had a conversation with me, she would have told me to enjoy his wild ways and big smile and to not feel like everyone is watching me (although I am certain they were). She would have said that someday I would be able to sit and have lunch with a group of my friends in the quiet. But would I enjoy the quiet? Or would I want for the times when my little boy is testing every ounce of my patience?

I know that this window of time is so short in comparison to a lifetime. He will spend most of his life, God willing, as an adult and on his own. I won’t get to be on other side of all of his sticky hugs and slobbery kisses. I won’t hear, “Mama, look at this!” or “Mama, watch me jump!”

I know how cliche it is to hear, “You’ll miss this time when it’s gone.” And I know that I truly will. But some days, it really does feel brave to be a mom of a spirited boy. I could have been offended by the woman’s comment, but really, I took it as a compliment. I am brave. I have been reading Annie F. Down’s book, 100 Days to Brave, and every chapter feels like it was written just for me. I have never really thought about being brave and what that means in everyday life. God wants me to be brave, and not just live my life passively. My little boy teaches me that I can be brave, too. If he can jump off the couch without any fear (although sometimes I wish he would have a little fear), then I can be free to be me, not just a mom. I can explore my interests and hobbies and remember who I was before I was the mom of wild boy. And sometimes it takes a little nudge from a three-year-old and from a stranger at a restaurant to remind me that I am brave.

This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.