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

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.

The Best Kind of Surprise

whitneyriehlphotography-38“Do you know what you’re having?” My friend asked as she pushed her stroller along the path.

Gripping my stroller, I looked over at her and said, “A girl.”

“A girl?! Aren’t you so excited?” She exclaimed.

Two years earlier, with my belly swelling, I sat eating cake at my baby shower.

“Well, I think she’s definitely having a boy. Boys run in the family.” I overheard my sister-in-law say.

I put my hand on my belly and smiled. Girls run in the family on my side, although I suppose science would argue that doesn’t matter.

“It’s probably a boy.” I agreed. Part of me hoped if I said it enough, I would be okay if it was true.

“I can’t believe you’re not going to find out what you’re having! That would drive me crazy!” one of my best friends laughed.

I was well over halfway through my pregnancy, happy with our decision to not find out at the 20 week ultrasound what our first baby would be. Maybe I’d seen too many movies growing up: the woman on a hospital bed, the magical moment when the doctor held the baby up and announced, “It’s a boy/girl!” 

Before my baby shower, I walked the aisles of Target, scanning items for my registry. When I made it to the baby clothes, I paused when I reached the girl section. My fingers reached up to touch all the pink outfits: dresses, rompers, onesies. All the outfits looked so cute and I imagined years of dressing a baby girl. I kept pushing my cart to the boys’ section: everything looking dull. Nothing jumped out at me.

That night I came home and told Rich about all the cute girl outfits I saw when shopping.

“You do know it could be a boy, right?” He said, raising his eyebrows at me.

“Yes, I know. But I have no idea what I would even do with a boy! I never imagined having one.” I replied.

It was true. Having grown up with one sister, the thought of having a son never crossed my mind. I am one of two girls, my mom is one of two girls, my dad is one of two boys, and my sister had one boy, with a second one on the way. The way I saw it, I was bound to keep with tradition and would deliver a baby girl that fall.

Summer quickly passed to fall, and seeding time kicked off, keeping Rich out in the field most of each day. After months of Braxton Hicks, I found myself having what I thought were real contractions and thinking this might really be it. When he came in the house around 9 p.m. to grab something to eat, I headed back out with him in the tractor, knowing I would be unable to reach him (no cell service) if things really ramped up.

After uncomfortably bumping along in the tractor, I decided to sit in the pickup at the end of the field. After lying in the backseat and reading for less than an hour, the contractions were picking up and my excitement and nerves did too. I turned the headlights on and started flashing them: letting him know it was time to go. Fast forward to the next morning, when, after eight hours of unmedicated labor and two hours of pushing, the doctor held up our baby. Rich, beaming with pride, announced, “It’s a boy!”

My head hit the pillow, exhaustion taking over as the adrenaline wore off. When I think back, most of that morning still feels like a blur. Later that day with my new baby clutched to my chest, Rich hesitated as he said, “I was a little nervous to tell you he was a boy. After you’d done so much pushing, I felt bad. I didn’t know if you would be disappointed.”

I was shocked when they placed a seven pound thirteen ounce boy on my chest. I had really been carrying a boy for nine months? Even though I’d packed two outfits for the hospital, I didn’t really believe the girl outfit wouldn’t make it out of the bag.

Almost two years later, pushing the stroller with my busy toddler boy, I hesitated to tell my friend I was having a girl. We’d known for almost a week, yet had only told my parents and my in-laws. When we decided to find out the gender for that pregnancy, I assumed I would be elated to announce it to everyone I met. But the biggest feeling I had was guilt. I felt guilty that I wanted to be excited. If I acted excited, did that mean I didn’t love the boy I already had? Guilt washed over me, so much so that it took me weeks to get excited about having a girl.

Although I never expected to have a boy; I’ve never regretted or been disappointed to have him for a moment.

Since having a son, a few of the phrases I often hear are:

“He’s all boy!”

“Boys are so wild!”

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I have to admit, for him, they’re all true. Rhett will find any mud puddle to jump in or ride his bike through, even if it’s the only one for miles around. Slow is not a gear he has, he runs everywhere he goes. (My favorite is when he runs to greet me at preschool pick up. I’ll never tire of that.)

But.

He often tells me, with his arms wrapped around my legs, “Mama, you’re beautiful! I love you.” 

He plays hard, but he loves even harder. While I didn’t know what I would do with a boy, I’m thankful I get to keep finding out every day.

 

Photo by: Whitney Riehl Photography

// 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 “Rewriting the Script.”

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.

//

Read the full essay on Coffee + Crumbs.

Still Looking for Love

Still Looking for Love

Despite the wind blowing outside, I’m comfortable and warm with the down comforter pulled up to my chin. The kids are fast asleep. The only light I see is from under the door—a glimmer of the last strand of Christmas lights hung above the picture window in the living room. I turn my head to Rich and say, “I want to write an essay about ‘love after babies’, what should I write?” I hear the bed creak as he turns over, and even through the dark I can tell he is looking at me.

He pauses and teasingly asks, “Is the title going to be ‘Still Looking for Love After Babies’?” We both laugh.

I gently nudge his arm. “Maybe. I’ll let you know when I find it.” He rolls back over, and it isn’t long before I hear his heavy inhales and long exhales: his rhythmic breathing telling me he is fast asleep.

I lay there, eyes wide open, beginning to think about what he said. I close my eyes and picture our wedding: his gray suit, his eyes fixed on me as I walked down the aisle in my white sequined dress. I was about to marry a man I’d met less than a year before. But it didn’t feel crazy. It felt right. I had found my soulmate—the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Much of the preparation before our wedding was about the ceremony itself, not the marriage. I knew he wanted kids, but how many? Was he a morning person or a night owl like me? (Spoiler alert: he loves mornings and I’m a night owl.) I didn’t worry about any of those things. Instead, I agonized about the details right in front of me: what flowers would be in my bouquet, what the groomsmen would wear. It didn’t feel like we thought much about what came next. We just knew we were in love.

“Mom, mom, mommy!” Rhett cries from his bedroom. I let out a sigh, I’m not sure I’d even fallen back asleep after getting up with Allie only an hour before. I gently nudge Rich’s back, loudly whispering, “Rhett is awake, can you go in?”

He quickly inhales a breath, finally awake. He doesn’t say anything as he gently eases himself out of bed. I hear the door shut behind him and through the wall I hear his mumbled voice: “It’s okay, Rhett. I’m here.” I snuggle back under the covers, grateful to stay in our warm bed.

Five years into marriage and two babies later, love comes in different ways. It might look like getting up with the toddler while I sleep. Or bringing home pizza when I don’t feel like cooking. It’s easy to feel like our marriage isn’t as exciting as it used to be. We don’t go on weekly, or even monthly dates. But you will find us holding hands in church and going for drives to check on his crops in the field. Some mornings he leaves Post-it notes for me when he rises for work, long before the sun comes up. And other times it looks like grinding coffee beans for me, right as I’m about to brew my first cup of the day.

While what he said was meant to be a joke, it reminds me that we always have to keep looking for love. Love before babies felt easy and exciting: an adventure. But our wedding day was the start line, not the finish line—our signatures on our marriage license the silent crack of the starting gun.

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The next morning as we are getting the kids’ breakfast, he stops to give me a hug and says, “Are you still looking for love?”

I laugh and kiss his cheek before grabbing my cup of coffee. The months of December and January mean feeding the cows every day on our ranch, which has become the kids’ favorite time of year.

As the sky finally starts to redden around the edges, the first light appearing, he says, “Get your boots on, let’s go feed cows.” Both kids jump down from the table and run to the front door. I instinctively look over at Rich. His eyes light up, creases forming at the corners as his mouth widens in admiration of Allie.

She starts pulling on her cowboy boots and exclaims, “I go feed cows!” We both smile and laugh as she runs back toward us, boots on the wrong feet, but her heart in the right place.

As the kids and Rich head out the door to feed the cows, I watch out the window with my cup of coffee in hand. Sometimes, love feels hard and I can’t remember what it was like before we had kids. But mornings like this when I see the excitement on the kids’ faces and the admiration on his: I’m reminded why we started this race together.

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This essay was inspired by the writing prompt #love after babies from Coffee + Crumbs.
My friends, Molly & Cara, also wrote essays about #love after babies and I would love if you would click over to their essays (and give their blogs a follow too).
52 Minutes” by Molly Flinkman
Butterflies” by Cara Stolen

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.

When a Farmer Has a Son

The first step into our home brings me onto the chocolate and caramel colored floors, which run the length of the house. The rich color attracts dust, something that is in great supply on the farmland that surrounds our home. The floor is smooth under bare feet, but I feel the grooves as I walk over each plank. My feet have become worn, my heels, smooth. I have trudged these floors bringing in groceries from the garage and pacing them with my newborn.

We spent nine months not knowing if we would be bringing home a boy or a girl. I had dreamed of a daughter, not imagining what it would be like to have a son. When the doctor announced, “It’s a boy!” my eyes widened and my mouth was empty of words. After the initial shock wore off, I was in total awe of this dark-eyed boy. I never could have imagined the heart-stopping moments that come along with raising a young boy. Or how much I have began wondering what having a boy means for our farming family.

Twice now, we have brought babies into our home. Both times we were filled with excitement and fears, each in different ways. The first time was fear of the unknown, the second, fear of the knowing. We brought our son down the hall to the living room to introduce him to his new home.

When a son is born to a farmer, does a father immediately take a sigh of relief, knowing that his land will be passed onto a future generation? Does a mother draw in a breath, imagining the pressures for this baby who just entered this world?

While my son is still young, he appears to have an interest in farming. A farm boy has the privilege of seeing trucks, riding in tractors, and getting dirty in real life. His toys are replicas of his daddy’s work equipment, and play means driving the combine to the field and hauling cows to the spring pasture. I love seeing my son following his dad, taking two steps at a time to keep up, his little cowboy boots kicking up dust. His eyes lock onto his father, his little face shaded under his baseball cap. But moms of future farmer boys worry over all this fun. During our most recent trip to urgent care, my son pleaded with me several times, “Mom, we have to get back to harvest!” All while the doctor was stitching his finger.

Just like the dust that is constantly surrounding us, so is the work. As I glance out the picture window, I tire at all the work that is to be done. Farming is a family affair: from harvest meals in the field delivered by the farmer’s wife, to the dryer full of grain long after the last stalks of wheat are cut. Work begins when the sun comes up, and the tractors don’t shut down until after the sun is long gone.

I am not sure if we will ever know how much our influence has impacted his passion for farming—are we steering him toward this future? Like the reins on a horse we must be careful to guide, not push. Children, like seeds planted in the fertile soil, bloom and grow up. But I am raising my son to work alongside us. The harvest may be great.

When harvest is in full swing, my days are mostly spent alone with the kids. We feel the long days with my husband not home. After the dishes have been washed from the latest meal brought to the field, I find myself walking down the hallway in the quiet dark. Everyone is asleep. The floor is lined with plastic farm equipment, ready for another day of harvest. Behind this door, sleeps a firstborn son who is living up to the hope that the farm will be passed on to another generation. I pray that we lead him in the way that he wants to go, all while giving him every opportunity to succeed in this humble life if he chooses it.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6

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This essay was originally published on Her View From Home.