Clothes Pins, Family, and Forty Years

About a year (ish) ago I bought a bag of clothes pins. The plan was to use them for closing bags of things in the pantry and for some never-realized craft for the kids. The clothes pins were plentiful for a while and I happily closed our bags of stuff with ease.

And then they began to disappear.

It happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice at first; they just started to become more and more difficult to find until, finally, they were all gone. Occasionally when I’d go to close bags of things I’d mention the disappearance to Keith or the dog or myself. But I never really fully investigated their vanishing – there are plenty of other mysteries that took precedence in my mind – like why Keith can only read every other item on a shopping list, or why my entire family always wants to talk to me when I reach the last twenty pages of a book.

Today, however, I happened to mention the clothes pin disappearance to Molly:

“Molly, I wish I knew where all those clothes pins went.”

“They’re in the princess piñata.”

(We happen to have a princess piñata that’s been hanging out on the floor of our pantry for the past couple of years. Don’t ask – I’m sure there’s a story there but I can’t remember it.)

Lo and behold, the piñata is filled with clothes pins.

Matter-of-fact Molly just shrugged and told me, “That’s where I keep them.”

Of course it is.

So, I was actually kind of excited a bit later when I had the need to close a bag ‘o something. I went straight for the piñata. But, once again, the clothes pins were all gone. I knew who to go to this time.

“Molly! Where are all the clothes pins?”

“I made a person with them.”

“Oh! Can I have one for this bag of rice?”

“No, Mom. I need all of my clothes pins.”

“YOUR clothes pins? I thought they were mine.”

“No, Mom – they were in my piñata.”Image

This is my life.

I live in a world where a four-year old is in charge of pantry management and piñatas are mainstays in the kitchen. It’s a magical place of stale cereal, spilled rice, and the need to be prepared for impromptu fiestas.

And, to give credit where credit is due, it’s all my parent’s fault.

Because forty years ago today they got married and started something chaotic, enduring, messy, loud, ever-changing, solid, and beautiful. Forty years ago they created my family. And they taught my siblings and me what a family looks like, a lesson that I think we’ve all taken to heart and used when creating our own families. So, my pantry problems (and dare I say my missing socks?) are their fault because they showed us that family is …

A place where pantry organization takes backseat to childhood

A place where humor wins and laughter heals

A place where tempers run hot and forgiveness flows freely

A place where ukulele, or guitar, or banjo, or harmonica music is the background to all family gatherings

A place where children are seen and heard and cherished

A place where dogs are loved (and the occasional cat is tolerated)

A place where the stories of our past are the folklore my children are raised with

A place where our differences are part of our strength

A place where creativity is embraced and love is quilted and strummed and sang and composed and danced

A place that has never been less than home – no matter where it’s located or how far apart we are from each other.

I think it’s such serendipitous timing that my parent’s fortieth anniversary is the same day as our Molly’s last day as a four-year-old. It’s such a cool connection to me. Forty years ago when they stood at that altar there’s no way they could have known what they were creating.

And today I spent the day soaking up my littlest girl’s littleness. I inhaled her twirling and singing and knock-knock jokes and clothes pin people because tomorrow she turns five and that feels like a big deal to me.

And, really, it’s all their fault.Image

Rules Are Rules, Keith

Keith – please don’t read this post.  Or at least skip past the beginning part.  Thank you.

I don’t wear socks to bounce houses.  (Can you feel it coming?  That’s right I’m about to hit you with some advanced parenting wisdom.)

I don’t wear socks because you have to wear socks to go on the various bouncy things.  And if a child gets stuck on one of the aforementioned bouncy things then the parent with the socks ends up going to save the child.  On more than one occasion my sock-less self has sadly said:

“Sorry, Keith, I don’t have socks on.  It’s against the rules for me to climb up the 20-foot tall inflatable rock wall, low crawl through the inflatable tunnel filled with children, and plunge down the inflatable slide with our crying child.  Sorry.  Rules are rules.  **sigh** If only I’d worn socks.” 

Yep, it’s not my first rodeo. 

Despite my use of the sock-less technique, I was relieved when my normally fearless three-year-old decided not to climb up the giant tower.  (Sometimes Keith counters my “I have no socks!” technique with his “I’m 6’3!” technique.) Emily, however, plunged her 7-year-old self right into the daunting structure. 

This, my friends, is why you don't wear socks to a bounce house.

She soon realized that it wasn’t just the height of the tower that made it challenging.  There weren’t solid floors at each level – just interwoven belts that you push aside to climb through.  When other kids pushed the belt aside the whole “floor” would wiggle and you could fall through to the level below.  This realization paralyzed her around level two or three. 

As I prepared to show Keith my sock-less feet and he started to stand up as straight as possible to highlight his awkward-for-bounce-house height, a kind child helped Emily down.  (For shame, Keith.  For shame.)

Emily was a bit thrown off her game.  She’s not used to being the child who needs rescuing.  She went off to one of the other bouncy things and bounced reflectively for a couple of minutes.  Then her smile came back, she walked up to me and said:

“Mom, I know what I did wrong.  I looked down and I worried about the wigglers (wigglers = interwoven belts).  This time I’m looking up and I’m going to think about me going down the big slide at the end!”

She marched up to that tower and did exactly that, wiggly floors and all.

That’s my girl.

May the metaphorical wiggly floors of your week end in amazing, metaphorical slides.  May your feet be sock-less and your partner short.  May you find wisdom in unexpected places!

Birthday thoughts on sleep, peas, potty training, and combat boots

Almost a year ago, for my birthday, I wrote a self-indulgent, little list of my lessons learned in the past decade.  I’m not normally one to repost a blog post but I’m fairly certain I had ten followers at the time (all immediate family) so it’s almost like a new post, right?  (Hey, it’s my birthday.  Go with it.) 

Things I’ve learned in the past decade:

  • Sleep is precious.
  • I will never like fish or peas, not even when I get older.
  • Sometimes the only thing to say is “I’m sorry.”
  • I miss camouflage and combat boots.
  • Marriage isn’t supposed to be romantic. (It’s bigger than roses and candlelight anyway!)
  • Parenting magazines stress me out.
  • There’s power in small acts of kindness.
  • No matter how much I get rid of before a move there will always be a box (or ten) filled with stuff that wasn’t worth moving across the country.
  • Real friends are the people I can call after years of not talking and feel like we picked up mid-conversation.
  • There but for the grace of God, go I.
  • I am not good at potty training.
  • I am, however, good at house training dogs. Go figure.
  • I will never understand how the Internet works.
  • My kids hear everything.
  • Some short-cuts are worth taking.
  • Everybody is NOT looking at me.
  • There is never enough time.
  • There is no mandatory pt in the civilian world so I’m solely responsible for finding time to exercise.
  • “Life is too short” is not an excuse to live recklessly; it’s the reason to live thoughtfully.
  • Parenting is not easy.
  • Never let kids see their schoolwork or art in the trash.
  • I should never leave a room without putting away at least one thing. If there’s nothing to put away, I need to look around carefully because I’ve possibly walked into the wrong house.
  • This too shall pass is true, no matter what “this” is

A year has gone by since I wrote this list and it’s been quite a year.  I’ve relearned some of these things and had to put some of them into action like never before.  I hope to learn less in the next year.  Life lessons are exhausting!

What life lessons have I missed?

Keith, I’m deleting your Facebook account. I love you. Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, Keith!  Today is my husband’s birthday. 

Well, for those of you wrapped around technicalities like birth certificates, yesterday was Keith’s birthday.  I had to do a reschedule.  Wives can do that. 

As Keith said on Facebook yesterday …wait a minute … let’s stop right there. 

“As Keith said yesterday on Facebook” are words I never thought I’d put together.  Keith doesn’t do Facebook.  In fact, his NOT doing Facebook is, quite frankly, the secret to our marital bliss.  Because I do Facebook.  And sometimes I name names and tell tales.  Sometimes (okay, lots of times) the name is Keith and the tale is designed for my awesome friends who think a good, you-won’t-believe-what-my-spouse-did/said/thought story is funny.  Sometimes (okay, lots of times) the tales are not designed for the eyes of my aforementioned spouse.

I went on Facebook yesterday to post that I’d rescheduled Keith’s birthday:

“How bad is it that I just told Keith that, due to my insane schedule today, his birthday will be tomorrow, August 12, this year instead of today, August 11? Dates on birth certificates surely leave some wiggle room right?”

I also, lovingly, posted this on the Keith’s profile that I’d set up for him over a year ago:

“Keith, all that’s on your Facebook page is hunting pictures. Maybe it’s time to spruce things up a bit now that you’re no longer in your EARLY thirties! Also, due to scheduling challenges your birthday will be on August 12 this year. Surprise!!!”

One of my sweeter friends responded with a nice:

“Lol!!!! I’ll go ahead and say, “Happy Birthday Keith!” today :)”

Then (and you can surely imagine my surprise, shock, horror) the following comment, from KEITH STEVENS (!), appeared:

“Thanks Lori. My mom thinks it my birthday today too.”

I yelled out to the back of the house, “Uh, Keith?  You okay in there?”  Surely someone had stolen his Blackberry and used it for social media purposes.  Keith replied, “I am.  I’m on Facebook.”  Yes, Keith, I know.

Comments started flying back and forth between me, friends, AND KEITH on Facebook.  At some point I called him demented.  Not sure where that fit in. 

Anyway, as he was leaving to go to work Keith said to me (in real life  … so old-fashioned), “”I think it’s interesting that in the five minutes that I’m on Facebook this year you manage to tell the world how old I am, reschedule my birthday publically because of your schedule, and call me demented. Nice.”

Has my run of Facebook freedom ended?  Have I ever been able to keep my comments (i.e. status updates) to myself before? Does a wife have a right to declare, “Today is not your birthday this year?”

Anyway, at some point in the day, Keith posted this comment in reply to a friend:

“Thanks! Amy is pretty awesome even though she just bumped my B-day to a new time spot. I didn’t fully realize the power of marriage until today!”

So, to wrap it all up (like a present on his birthday), Keith’s pretty amazing and I’m not just saying that because he called me awesome on Facebook.

He’s a man’s man. (I’ve never really known what that means but I think it has something to do with his ability to change oil, shoot with accuracy, and kill bugs.)

He’s a wonderful father. 

(For example, Molly is going through a phase where she insists on buckling herself into her car seat.  We’re not allowed to even back up the car until she’s done.  It can take a long time.  Car seats are tricky for little hands.  Just yesterday, while waiting for an extended period of time, Molly launched a protest because Keith backed the car out.  She sat for a moment, refusing to continue the buckling process, while berating Keith with a verbal tirade that only a three-year-old can manage, “Daddy, I not ready! It not safe! You moved!”  Keith, loving father, turned to me and said, “I think I’m going to have a freaking stroke.”   If this whole engineer thing doesn’t work out, Keith has a career waiting for him at Hallmark.)

In addition to being paternally poetic, Keith is also the tooth-brusher, pancake-maker and night-time cuddler.  He’s also the man who saved my girls’ lives on May 22 in Joplin.  He’s their hero.  (He’s my hero.) 

He’s an understanding, accepting husband. 

He’s a generous friend. 

So, Keith, I wanted to tell you happy birthday.  We’ve been through a lot this summer.  And if anyone deserves a great day – it’s you.  Regardless of the actual date of that day!

Hey Pa, where’s Ma!?!

Every day of my life, Occasionally, my expectations do not match my reality. This is never clearer to me than on Saturday mornings. All week, while at work, I look forward to an unhurried Saturday morning that includes coffee and cuddling on the couch while the kids contentedly watch cartoons and I catch up on some reading.

Yet, here I sit, typing these words in my closet. It’s 7:38 on Saturday morning and I’m hiding from my family. I have not spent the morning sitting peacefully, enjoying my family’s presence, sipping coffee, and reading. No. We have skateboarded, gone “camping” with the doll house family, made waffles (don’t get too excited, a toaster was involved), answered 5,000 questions, and walked the dogs fifteen times (numbers may be slightly exaggerated). It’s been absolutely exhausting lovely.

So, as any good parent would do, I grabbed my lukewarm cup of coffee, phone, and laptop and snuck into my closet. I’ve found peace underneath the hanging clothes. This moment of rock star parenting makes me realize that I’m fortunate to be a parent in the modern world. What did frontier women do when they hid from their families? And you know they did. It may not have warranted a chapter in Little House on the Prairie but there were times when Pa and the girls couldn’t find Ma because she was out hiding behind the outhouse. So without wifi, did poor Ma grind grain? Darn socks? Sew bonnets?

Not me.

I fire off texts to my husband:

Me: Can you bring me a waffle?

Keith: Where are you?

Me: In the closet.

Keith: Come out of the closet.

Me: No. Hiding from kids.

Keith: Stellar parenting.

Me: Thanks. Any chance of getting more coffee?

Keith: No.

My time in the closet was short-lived. The kids soon appeared and said, “What do you want, Mom? Dad said you were looking for us in here.”

Although my moment of sneaky solitude among the hanging clothes was brief, I learned a few things while in hiding. First, Keith has a dark side. Second, I could never hack it without modern technology. Third, I really need to have a coffee-maker in the closet. And, last, we all need little moments of escape from our lives, no matter how wonderful those lives may be.

Have your expectations failed to match your reality lately? How do you manage to make the occasional escape? Is darning socks a lost art? Do you feel Keith was ever so slightly unreasonable regarding the waffle request? (Oh, and if you’re a parent who never feels the need to take a breather from parenting, that’s fantastic. Your comments are very welcome … somewhere. Perhaps Parenting magazine has a blog?)

Not for my husband to read

I love my husband. He’s handsome, hard-working, smart … he should also stop reading here.

For the rest of you, I have a minor marital issue to discuss.

Ever see the Everybody Loves Raymond episode showing Ray and Debra in a battle of wills over who would put Ray’s suitcase away? They let it sit on the stairs for days instead of being the one to give up and put the suitcase away – to the point where Ray hid a block of stinky cheese in the suitcase. I feel like I’m reliving that episode in my home.

My cheese-in-the-suitcase issue surrounds the all-too-often ignored, yet potentially devastating topic of laundry. More specifically, the pile of laundry that’s been sitting on a chair in our family room for the past three days.

My cheesy suitcase

A little background – my husband does his share of housework which includes the occasional load of laundry. Yet, for some reason, I seem to have exclusive rights on folding and putting away laundry.

 Research shows that 82% of marital fights stem from unfolded laundry.*

So, I decided to conduct a little marital experiment. I decided not to fold the laundry to see how long it would be before he folded it. (I know – maturity defined. My book on how to communicate with your spouse will surely be out soon.)

Let me give you some insight about this laundry pile. It consists of Keith’s white t-shirts and a set of sheets. That’s it. It pretty much ranks as the easiest pile of laundry to fold, other than kitchen towels. I’m not even picky about the fitted sheets. I normally just pick up the sheet and move my hands in a Kumbaya or “the wheels on the bus go round and round” movement until the sheet resembles a cylindrical blob. (Yes, I’m sure my book on the art of domesticity will be immediately following the one on marital communication). The point being that, I have low laundry folding standards – I’m not hard to please!

So, here sits the laundry pile. I’ve watched Keith take shirts from it for the past couple of days. This doesn’t seem to bother him. What truly bothers me is that he seems to be unaware that we’re in the midst of a battle of the wills, which will make my victory a bit hollow should he ever fold the laundry.

On a positive note, during the extensive research that I always conduct when writing, I found this YouTube video on how to fold a fitted sheet:

 Who knew! My favorite part is her intro when she says, “One of the biggest challenges you’re going to face in your life is how to fold a fitted sheet.” Ha! Words of wisdom.

*As with 97% of the statistics given in my blog, this stat is completely made up.

Stinks Like Love

Recently, one of my children (the tactful one) walked into the kitchen and said the words every person wants to hear when cooking:

Ew, what’s that smell?”

“That’s the dressing I’m making for dinner.”

“Why are you making that?”

“Because it’s healthy for you and I love you.”

“It still kind of stinks.”

“That’s right, baby, it stinks like love.”

Real love is not found on the shelves of Hallmark or in a florist shop. It’s not as pretty as a Valentine’s card. Real love is something different:

  • It’s the days and weeks and months after happily ever after.
  • It’s poopy diapers and nursing at 3 AM.
  • It’s tearing up at school programs.
  • It’s heart-pumping, adrenaline-inducing protectiveness.
  • It’s putting the needs of others ahead of your own.
  • It’s knowing when to put your needs first.
  • It’s taking care of your health because you need strong arms to carry children, strong legs to run to them fast enough, and a strong body so you can walk with them through life as long as possible. (All things much more motivating than the size of your jeans.)
  • It’s waiting in doctor’s offices and shots and lollipops.
  • It’s “you’ll thank me for this later,” and “I’m doing this because I love you.”
  • It’s lying in bed at night thinking I could have done better.
  • It’s getting up the next morning and actually doing better.
  • It’s nasty tasting medicine.
  • It’s going to work every day.
  • It’s cooking dinner when the call of the drive thru is so enticing. (It’s also occasionally answering that call!)
  • It’s reading.
  • It’s imagination gone wild at mysterious medical symptoms.
  • It’s finding the news frightening to watch now that it’s their world too.
  • It’s accepting bad habits, weaknesses, and quirkiness.
  • It’s apologizing more and judging less.
  • It’s back scratches.
  • It’s that roller coaster feeling in your stomach.
  • It’s second-guessing and guilt and frustration.
  • It’s communicating with just a look.
  • It’s listening.
  • It’s chaos.
  • It’s peace.

May your Valentine’s Day be filled with more chocolate than stinky salad dressing. And may your lives continue to stink like love.