Tuesday, November 26, 2013

All Those Things to Say

When I grab some time and write some words and then step away and go back to the kids, my head feels just a little bit cleaner. Tidied up, in a British voice kind of way. It's on these trips of sneaking up on my computer that I want to wax eloquent.

Today, I pecked my way, baby squirming on my lap, one tenth of the way through a post about Christmas which opened with this preface about why I don't write about my tucked-up-inside-my-heart Christian faith. I was fumbling before I even started. I mean...baby on lap, so...

Posts I've eeked out recently were about my bleeding heart and babies and babies and how crappy a wife I've been since the babies.

But let's get real.

What the goodness gracious am I doing here trying on this serious face? Hello! I'm Ashley and I've got big important things to say. Never mind that I just stepped in the office after I scraped poop out of my son's underwear right into the toilet (because apparently a child who has been potty trained for nearly the whole of 2013 can revert months after his baby brothers have arrived), figuring oh, I'll tend to this later along with every other crack, crevice, surface, nook, and cranny in this house. And after this post about Christmas. Post-it on brain: clean rest of poop mess before husband comes home and decides I'm unfit to stay at home and Thomas is unfit to grow up.

I would love to feel smart(er) like I used to when I was working. Students raised their hands to pick at my brain.  With colleagues, I'd throw in my quota of weighty opinions or witty lines. I read this in a book last week.  I smiled curious and proud at students and their teeming brilliance (and of course, any stupidity they dared to share as well).  I wore dresses that zipped up the back and I stacked papers and I followed a schedule and lived in a world bound by answers.

And now I'm staring deep into the screen, trying to remember if that's the right way to spell brain.

All my answers are in my actions. Nothing to pencil, edit, scrawl, and type wisdom into when I'm too busy with the physical.

Nurse. Read to myself. Read to kids. Prompt Thomas for manners. Make silly faces at babies. Switch Alistair to floor. Turn kettle on. Press coffee into the cup. Hand Thomas scissors. Stuff diapers. Scroll facebook. Take photos.  Sing songs. Nurse. Text husband. Prep lunch. Put laundry in. Turn music up. Move Emerick to chair. Make weird baby-ish noises at babies and wonder if anyone has done brain scans of SAHM brains to track deterioration. Seal envelope. Nurse. Comfort baby. "Let's put our food down and our hands together." Make a production out of Green Eggs and Ham. Dance with kids. Read a book about a whale. Sing silly songs as a whale. And a rabbit. And a skunk. And a whale again. Wipe counters. Drink coffee. Listen to podcast. Wash dishes. Make plans in head. Write notes. Tidy. Swear to myself I'm quitting facebook for Advent. Read blog posts. Watch youtube video. Wonder how I got on youtube. Nurse. Reply to email. Wipe butts. Smile as he says "aliver us from ebil".  Nurse. Make the bed. Read to the boys. "Space!" "Too much!" "Space!" "Volume!" "Aw, that's very thoughtful of you to do for him." "Too rough. Too rough!" "Space!"

It's good sometimes to have nothing to add to so much noise online.

Because oh the Noise, Noise, Noise, Noise! (Grinch fans, anyone?)

10 reasons I failed in my marriage
How to make Advent sacred and sane
27 ways to involve your toddler in charitable works
5 reasons you should get off facebook
7 reasons facebook will enhance your life
The three words you should stop saying to your toddler
What you should start doing for your marriage every day
18 uses for used toilet paper rolls 
20 photos that will blow your mind
Drop everything and read this post right now about productivity
Getting off-line and 5 reasons it made me a better person than everybody else

All I've got to say today is that my voice at home is quieted just a bit. Little faces interrupt my thoughts over and over again. With cries. And coos. And that lively conversation about Why did that bird die and land on our back porch? Well, maybe an eagle punched it in the air, mommy, acuz it got in his way.

Kids are great.  Their little constant needs are like water rushing over my rock of a heart, wearing down all those craggy edges which want to be heard and validated.  It's a tough job reigning in the ordinary. But it's the first time I've, by way of being pulled away a million times to feed these children of mine, seen what it means to really shut up and listen.

Humility, be mine. Humor, take me the rest of the way. 

And I think I had some other way to really knock this post into shape. You know, end with a bang. But there's a baby crying in the other room. Time to fly!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Life after the postpartum

Oh the things waiting to be discovered in our own home! Last week it was the office I tidied which had been littered with a string of dustish hairballs in the space where I used to write. A couple days ago I gawked at the dirt under the couch pillows. Today it was the master bedroom that sounded the Jaws theme across my eyeballs.

The twins will be six months old in just a couple weeks. Despite all I had braced myself for, I just couldn't have imagined how hard I would fall for them. And really all of this motherly experience, this round the clock and no escaping it version.

Cooking. Reading books. Nursing bug-eyed sweet things. Answering questions about "uhmerica" and God and if he's correct and what kind of a cat is that.  Home is where my heart is. I've landed here full force and have been finding great joy in the work of motherhood.

But there's more to my story than motherhood. I wish I was all the things all the time but I haven't been and I guess I won't be. Bummer. The past six months has been a heavy hand of loving littles.  I knew there was more (and that the dust was collecting) but I figured it could wait.

So, yes, I've got some re-balancing to do. Some straightening up and catching up and finding a place to hang all of my priorities.  Not just singing poorly constructed songs to the tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow at my babies all day long.

None of us do it all. We have trade offs and should sometimes admit so in light of encouraging each other.

 And that has me wondering about what I'm willing to let go and what I should intentionally pull closer to me.

Today, the master bedroom had its two cents to throw in. No, seriously, I found two pennies. And one dime. A quarter. And a few other things. Two airplane pillows, one lazily spilling out a small pool of its white beady filling under the bed. A print-out of some nutritional information. Three hair ties and two dozen thousand bobby pins. And my breast pump, tubes and all, sprawled out all pompous and proud of how effectively nursing two babies has taken over a pretty hefty slice of the pie these past six months

 I wiped off dust which layered the grooves on the backs of our doors.  I rubbed polish into the wood. A secondhand flower decoration, yellowed and stiff went in the trash. An empty potpourri container seemed a haunting echo of good intentions forgotten.

With each thing tidied, so also my heart. 

I climbed atop our bed, ever frowning at the clash of colors our room has happened to stay: happy yellow walls, a vibrant gold comforter, rich brown furniture. I pulled up the wooden blinds and light flooded the room, making the mess of unfinished work, laundry unsorted, vacuum parked, and a clutter of junk on a bed stand seem even worse than I feared.

Sometimes there's an itch in our heart. Sometimes we just know there's that place to be cleaned. That demon to tackle. That call to make. That stiff and yellowed thing to let go.

Today, I smiled at the days when it was just Paul and I and for the days when it will be just us again. I whispered my wedding vows into the white of the baseboards. I took in the lemon of the shining dresser and looked around at all the crap and thanked God that I have a husband that has given and given and waited and encouraged and let me be all the mom things: the zombie mom, the learning mom, the fresh cookies for my family mom, and the singing and dancing and laughing and glowing mom.

And today I smiled because I remembered. I'm me first and I'm wife next and after those two things I'm a mom. And on a good day and somewhere over the rainbow, I get to be a few more things too.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Few Tips for my Fellow Introverts (that you might already know)

If there was some kind of Olympics for being an extrovert, my husband would qualify.  He is like the king of the extroverts. And being that I love extroverted people, I married him, among many reasons, because my subconscious thought we would work together well as extrovert + introvert.  That has become the case, but it wasn't at first. It has taken us a while to figure out how to take our differences and magically mesh them. (And we still have a few kinks in the system to work on, so I'm far from expert.)

Today, since this lovely has been circulating facebook, I thought I would chime in on how to enjoy life as a weird introvert. I kid. Mostly. 

These tips do not come without a history of learning them the hard way. And lest you doubt my melodrama, I once cried myself to sleep in our walk-in closet while guests were staying in our home. Yeah, I'm that introverted. And if you have no idea why good, kind, gracious guests would drive an otherwise relatively normal person to cry in her closet, well, you may not be an introvert. But feel free to keep reading to marvel at my weirdness.

1. Layer silence and solitude into your schedule. I realized I was an introvert my fourth year of teaching (only a few years ago---I was in denial for a very long time because I'm entirely convinced extroverts are the. best.). I was crazy busy. Taught an extra class during my prep time. Did extracurriculars. Tutored kids. Had a kid myself. And my husband was busier and busier with his job too. Oh and he traveled a lot.  Despite exhaustion and being immeasurably behind around the house, the strangest thing happened. I started waking an hour before I needed to. I would read or write or just sip on coffee and listen to the birds lift the darkness on the other side of my sun room windows. I didn't plan for it or set my alarm for it. I needed quiet so desperately, my body was willing it. And I found so much peace because of that time.  

If I know I have several social priorities in a week, I have to consciously schedule snippets of time to be by myself. I draw so much from this. And if I don't fill back up this way, I end up cranky and discourteous with others which makes me so very sad.

This brings me to my next point...

2. Develop some sort of plan.
Every time we host a group at our house, my husband and I know I have to have a lot of quiet before and after. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it's that or I'm just a horrible person.  I'm so grateful the misunderstandings about our different personalities are, for the most part, behind us.  He respects my need for space. I try my best to say yes to his desire to be out and about with people. It works because we remember we're different and that's okay.

You know the demands on you.  Figure out little tricks to refuel. You know that satisfying sense of the gas tank filling up? You should shoot for that feeling. If you are missing that as an introvert or an extrovert try some tweaks here or there. I know it's not all about "I", but if we are to serve and love others, we really need to know how to be our best selves first. If that means the indulgence of closing the door to your bedroom for 15 minutes so you can reclaim sanity--do it!

But you don't have to go big or go home. Some small ways I refuel: write, claim kid-free spaces and times, wake early, take just 5 minutes to sit outside and stare at leaves, clean, put cell phone far away, go for a 15 minute walk, take a drive, go say hello to nature, journal, make something pretty.

It doesn't take much, but you want to refuel before you are empty. It's not like you can silence life on demand. Grab those quiet moments when you can.

3. Know your boundaries. None of us get to pull the "no thanks, I'm an introvert" card and just opt out of all social engagements we don't feel like going to, but it is important to know when something is too much.  You can always engage but take small breaks that no one could care less about.  My husband is the oldest of ten and so family get togethers are pretty crazy. And I love them.  But I also know my boundaries.  When I can feel myself getting irritated I go to a room with less people, take a walk with Paul, or just hide in my room for a few minutes with a book. These small breaks make a world of difference.  I always return once again feeling like every soul around me is wonderful, wonderful!

4. Love on others. A danger I've found in being an introvert is that our relationships with others feel a bit taxing and then we can, in a long and winding journey of events, perceive it as just not worth the effort and oops, fade out of the picture. Oh my gosh. I know that just sounds like the worst. I don't know a nicer way to say that it takes us a lot to stick around and play nice.  And you know what, I'll go out on a limb and just say that it is okay sometimes.  If someone I meet is superficial, catty, petty, gossip-y or just generally angry, the chances of me investing in them are about nill.  I just can't. Big time energy suck. I don't know if that's the worst thing ever.

But the worst is when you are so in love with being alone you start just not wanting to be around anyone.  Then something is off. It's not right.  Relationships are worth the work.  Our connections with others really is what life is all about! (Or so said me.) So get your butt out there and work on 'em even when you just feel like reading on the couch until you shrivel and die...or you run out of cookies and milk, whichever comes first.

I'm so grateful Paul is my built in kick-me-in-the-pants assistant. When he sees me slip into the loner look, he sets me straight.  Thank goodness. Because with all the flour, sugar, chocolate chips, butter and eggs I buy in my once a week outings to Sam's... I could read on the couch for a very, very long time.

So, what do you think? Which side of the fence are you on? Have any tips or tricks of your own? Any questions from the extrovert crowd? 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Those Baby Days

I don't know if more babies, or even another baby, are in the cards for my life.  I put my trust in God that the path I'm on, whatever that turns out to be, is more than okay.  In all things, joy. However, the absolute heartache to hold my babies and imagine this as the last set of firsts--the weight sometimes feels too much.

I felt this way with Thomas too.  I would rock him in the dark of our 1st home, with that eager blue paint of the nursery's walls closing me up. I would touch the fat of his arm, the curve of his cheek, the wisps of hair on his head as he nursed. And it was then with the still of the night, I felt if I just thought willfully and squeezed my heart in just the right way I would freeze that moment forever.  Please, God. Don't ever let me forget.

Now that he's three I know some of those moments stayed and some, sadly, have faded into a fog of happiness that ties that season together.  Despite the challenges of being a new mommy, I delighted in the purity of a baby and the joy he brought to a home to hope and see the world in new, unexpected ways.  I savored the little coos and the babbles and him reaching for a toy. I looked at him over and over again in awe. A perfect gift to treasure, to love and be loved.

But there was a tiny voice in my head nagging me to enjoy.  Fear of missing out seemed to lurk at every turn. For every joy for something new he learned to do, a ping of pain for that just finished baby stage packed up and boxed along with the clothes that no longer fit his growing body.

And now I'm here with Alistair and Emerick.  I've been able to hold them as small ones even longer.  They are at five months the weight Thomas was at two months.  Their premature bodies a token of lingering joy, something to savor amid the double duty fatigue of caring for twins. And I've got the great expanse of time with which stay-at-homes are paid too. I can't afford dining out or new jeans, but yesterday Alistair and I just sat with no agenda whatsoever but to look out the back of our home at the wet fall leaves swaying in the wind. Crimson. Bright orange. Yellow burned over the brunt of fall. And a baby content to sit on momma's thigh, happy to rest his hand in momma's palm.

And yet, all the showers missed, the dishes that have waited, the countless hours I've done nothing but "enjoy every moment" (as all young mommies are too often told), there's still a sense I've not pulled it off quite perfectly. Or it is, what I mean to say, that there is no way to freeze the loving of a baby and thaw it years later.

I think it is all too easy to look back to babyful days and sweep the sleepless nights under the memory of our hearts, the way wanting to jump in the shower or heck, just to be in the bathroom for a moment by yourself, has you practically begging for God's miraculous intervention with the ceaseless needs of little ones who want nothing less than to tug at your hands and chest all the live long day.

I twitch with a nudge of resentment when a wise woman, seasoned with baby days long past, stops in her tracks to remind me to enjoy every moment, as if to say "watch out! you're probably, most likely doing it wrong".

I think most of us are doing it right more than we think.  We take a long pause before placing our baby back in her crib, soaking in the silence and the solitude of the night's offering. We take many untold moments, phone stashed away, to stare into blue eyes, to tickle, to trace the lines of their little features so as to never, ever forget.  Please, God. Don't let me ever forget. 

That pain? That heartache? It's not a sign we didn't do our very best with the tricky balance of loving that sweet little gift...and also making sure our family didn't slide into a steady diet of fast food vs. whatever happens to be in the fridge. It's not a sign you just didn't still your heart, silence the distractions, and welcome the slow, steady special outpouring of love a slobbering chubby mini-me leaves around the house like an obstacle course leading straight to the meaning of life dressed up in the deceitful simplicity of a baby that knows nothing else but to smile back at his momma.

The passing of baby days, the looking back to what was, and even in the heartache, as is mine, of feeling it slip right through your fingers, it's painful because it is so good. It is so very good.

The pain is the flipside. The pain is the mirror. The pain is the small price for experiencing something so strikingly beautiful.

Our hearts remember little toes and lips that suck when asleep and our hearts cry out to what it was all about. I was so unworthy, but you came.  I was so clueless, but you came.  I was such a mess, but you were designed to love me anyway. 

No number of hours loving babies will ever help me recover such a loss as my unworthiness disregarded.  No amount of staring into my sons' eyes will help me overcome my gratitude for gifts not asked for, gifts unknown, gifts delivered right into the heart of my home.