The one about the change

One morning before school, I walked into my children’s playroom as a mother and walked out as The Incredible Hulk.

Toys were everywhere. Scattered on the floor. Piled in the corners. Bins were overturned. Baskets were empty. Shelves were cleared. It was like the hottest college party in town, minus the one thing that would have made the situation more tolerable...booze.

There my girls were, standing in the middle of the room, looking at each other, looking at the ground, unable to think, unable to even play. They were overwhelmed, disinterested, and had no idea where to begin. One would randomly sift through a pile of McDonald’s toys, “searching” for something without knowing what she was actually looking for.

And then there was me.

I lost it. My mind. My cool. My patience. My shit. My everything.

I couldn’t fathom how they could take a room full of toys nice, thoughtful, somewhat expensive toys, a room that has bins and boxes and shelves and drawers, all perfectly labeled with a photo of what should be inside, and turn it on its head. Beyond recognition as a playroom, now transformed into a war zone.

I knew then, as I was pointing at each heap of pure chaos, instructing them to clean it up and put it away...threatening them with trash bags and telling them the toys were all going to disappear if they didn’t get things back in order…screaming in a way that I no longer recognized as human…

I knew then that this had to stop. Let me off the ride, Sir. I am done.

I went to my bedroom feeling guilty and ashamed. I violated one of my foundational rules as a mother -- do not get upset with my children before school. I always think about the parents who said goodbye to their babies and sent them off to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Did they yell at them that morning about toys that weren’t picked up? Did they roll their eyes because a cereal bowl was left out? Did they shout, “Hurry up! We are late because you won’t get your shoes on!”? And were those the last interactions they had with their kids before they never saw them again?

Morbid, I know. Sad. Terrible. But I try my hardest not to let my girls leave for school on stressful terms because you never know what the day may bring.

As I sat there on my bed, seething with anger and freckled with anxiety, I knew that something needed to change.

It’s funny that something as benign as a messy playroom would serve as a metaphor for my experience in motherhood, but I spent a lot of time connecting the dots that day, and this is what I came up with.

First and foremost, the playroom is the epitome of chaos. There’s too much noise. Too much excess. Too much distraction.

There’s a lot of that in motherhood, too. Chaos. Noise. Excess. Distraction.

The playroom is full of systems that simply aren’t working. There are organizational tools and containers and labels and shelves and bins and boxes but they aren’t working anymore. I tricked myself into thinking that simply adding more totes and baskets will solve the problem, and it didn’t.

In motherhood, we try lots of things like charts and incentives and rules with the greatest of intentions, but sometimes they don’t work, either.

The playroom is packed with what we think our children need and want...what will make them happy...what will fill their hearts with joy and their minds with creativity… but somehow, they still want more, they are bored, and they are grumpy.

As mothers, we continue to give to our children, sign them up for every sport and activity, bless them with the best of the best… but it never seems to be enough, does it?

That day, I was introduced to a blogger named Allie Casazza, and her story and her mission hit me hard. To paraphrase her message… she believes that motherhood shouldn’t be something we just survive...counting down the minutes until bedtime...something that we just try to “get through.” Motherhood should be enjoyable and fun, because it is! But a lot of times, the stress brought on by extra clutter and material possessions can bring on so much anxiety, discontent, and overwhelm that we can’t possibly enjoy raising our children. We are too busy cleaning, organizing, spinning our wheels, and yelling at our kids to help!

And much like a playroom, a room that we just accept as being messy, chaotic, and an eyesore, many times we just accept that motherhood will be exhausting, stressful, and difficult. It’s just the way it is, right?

No. Not for me. Not anymore.

So that day, I made a plan. I was going to rid my house (and my mind) of all the extra things that we simply do not need, and I wasn’t going to feel bad about it. I spent 8 hours on that first day sitting paralyzed by inaction and overthinking what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.

Finally, that night, I poured a glass of wine and got started. Here is what I did first, and how it was a catalyst for decluttering the rest of my house, and eventually that infamous playroom.

THE EMPTY HAMPER METHOD

I had laundry baskets full of clothes, both dirty and clean, and I dumped them out on my floor and used them to complete “The Empty Hamper Method.”

I went through my house and pulled everything off of a horizontal surface and put it inside the laundry basket. I cleared night stands, end tables, dressers, tables, and counters. All of the lip balm, hand sanitizer, ponytail holders, paperwork, lotion bottles, candles, pictures, pens, candy wrappers, water bottles.. all of it. I filled three laundry baskets with all of the items we had been keeping on our surfaces.


I then sat on my rug, sipped my wine, and sorted everything into piles according to where it needed to go (pile for the girls’ room, pile for my office, pile for the trash, etc). And then I put it all away.

I am telling you, I slept so well that night. I woke up in such a calm state because I wasn’t staring at a cluttered dresser.

Did you know that clutter is actually psychologically bad for us? According to psychologytoday.com, clutter…


  • Overstimulates our system (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren't necessary or important.
  • Draws our attention away from what our focus should be on.
  • Makes it more difficult to relax, both physically and mentally.
  • Constantly reminds our brains that we still have a huge to-do list.
  • Causes anxiety because the idea of sorting piles is overwhelming
  • Creates feelings of guilt and embarrassment, particularly when someone drops by unexpectedly.
  • Frustrates us by making it hard to find anything we need- keys, bills, checkbook, etc.


After completing the empty hamper task, I was extremely motivated to keep going. I spent the next day working in one of our bathroom closets. It had become such a catchall for anything and everything, and my behind-the-door shoe organizer was no longer serving its purpose. After a few hours, I ended up with a closet full of only what we actually need and use.





Gaining momentum, the next day I felt ready to attack the playroom. My initial plan was to do it while my kids were at school, but Allie really encourages you to make the kids a part of the process. I was fearful of meltdowns and having to pry toys from their little hands, but that was not the case at all. They were actually really excited to rid themselves of some excess and create a space that they actually enjoyed playing in. If clutter does all of those things to our minds listed above, don’t you think it is the same for children?

We worked with one “category” of toys at a time. First, we began with the dress up clothes. I had them go in and bring them all out into the living room. We laid them all out, looked at everything, and each child was allowed to save 3 dress up costumes (with applicable accessories like shoes or a wig that belongs to the outfit). I was shocked at the items they wanted to keep. They would not have been my preferences (goodbye, expensive Disney princess costume!), but they chose what they really loved and agreed to wear, and I guess I had to accept that. We packed up the remaining costumes into trash bags and agreed to let some other little girls play with their pretty dresses.


Can ya'll see why I went all Hulk Smash in here?

We continued this with their stuffed animals (each kept 10 special stuffed animals), Barbies, baby dolls, doll accessories, etc. It took us the entire day, but we took breaks every now and then, and I rewarded them by going and seeing a movie because they did so well. We ended up with about a dozen trash bags full of toys that we are going to find new homes for. I plan to pass them along to our local Foster Closet, an organization created to provide toys and clothes to foster families in our area.

I did the remainder of the clean up after they went to bed, and they were absolutely ecstatic when they woke up the next morning. They actually preferred to play in their playroom instead of watch TV. My oldest took a running leap and did a twirl and said, “Now I can DANCE in here!”


As you can see, the girls still have pa-lenty of toys to play with, but their collections are streamlined and this room is truly filled with what they really enjoy playing with.

Has it stayed clean this entire week? No, but it is so much easier to clean up now. There is so much less to put away, and this puts their hearts and my mind at ease. I haven’t had to bark orders at them all week, and they have truly enjoyed spending time in this room. They are no longer overwhelmed by all the choices and by the task of picking up after themselves, and I am no longer turning green with my muscles bulging out of my shirt in a fit of rage. It’s a win-win.

I am aware that not everyone feels the same way about ridding their house of excess, especially toys. Afterall, toys are expensive, and many times they are given to children as gifts from family and friends, and it feels wasteful and disrespectful to donate those items. There is also a lot of sentimental attachment to toys, especially stuffed animals and dolls. I get it, believe me! I went through all of those thoughts as well, but it came down to these principles that kept me going.

THE WASTE COMES FROM BUYING THE OBJECT IN THE FIRST PLACE, NOT FROM RIDDING YOURSELF OF THAT OBJECT AFTER IT NO LONGER HAS A PURPOSE.

It is hard thing to accept -- the concept of “wasted money.” Sometimes we buy toys because we think the kids will really, really love them, but as it turns out, the toy wasn’t that big of a hit after all. Other times we buy toys because our children beg us to and we feel like we should give in, but then the toy just gets tossed in a pile. Sometimes we buy toys and our children love the crap out of them, to the point of outgrowing the toy or simply draining the toy of all its resources, and that is great! Regardless, the “waste” came from purchasing the toy to begin with, as Allie Casazza says. The money has already been spent. Getting rid of the toy, either by donating it to someone who can really find use, or trashing it if it truly has no purpose anymore, is not wasteful. Keeping something that will not get played with or taken care of because there is just.so.much.stuff is wasteful (in my opinion).

MANY CHILDREN ARE OVERWHELMED BY TOO MANY TOYS AND OFTEN FAIL TO UNDERSTAND VALUE.

We all want to see our children’s eyes light up on Christmas morning or on their birthdays. It is such a fun thing to witness when they jump for joy over opening that perfect toy that they have been wishing for. I get it, I really do. In fact, that “dream” of mine is what has gotten us into trouble -- overbuying on special occasions just so I can get that perfect reaction. However, it never fails...by Christmas evening, my children are so overwhelmed by all of their new items that they don’t know how to deal. In fact, this past Christmas, I had a meltdown because I went into my girls’ bedroom, where I thought they were peacefully playing with and enjoying all of their new toys, and they were literally destroying them. I walked into every single new toy out of its packaging, items thrown under beds, dolls without clothes, tiny parts strewn about -- and I had a panic attack! I spent Christmas evening lecturing my children, even throwing out the word “ungrateful” a time or two. It was an awful moment. But now that I have had time to reflect, I don’t think they did that because they were ungrateful. In fact, my children are extremely sweet, thoughtful, and generous little girls. I think they didn’t care for their new (expensive, hard to find, etc) toys because the amount of “stuff” they had made the toys seem dispensable. Disposable. Replaceable. Break that toy? Oh well. I have 4 more just like it. Lose that piece? Oh well. I have another set right here. And whose fault was that? Not theirs. They didn’t buy the stuff. We did. No, Santa did. But you get my point…

Three year old Shiloh insisted on getting a Snackin’ Luke Baby Alive doll for Christmas. I was so excited to find it for her. She was excited when she opened it, but honestly? I never really saw her play with it past the first day, and wouldn’t you know that Snackin’ Luke was one of the dolls she chose to donate in our playroom purge session. I asked her multiple times...are you sure? This is what you wanted for Christmas! Are you sure you don’t want to keep him? She was sure. She didn’t want him.

She didn't know the value of the doll or what I paid for it. She didn’t know that I made a special trip out during a sale to snag it for her. She only knew that she preferred other dolls to him, and therefore he was no longer important to her.

I feel the same when I see my girls not properly caring for their $100+ American Girl dolls. It’s not to say that they can’t come to appreciate how much things cost and learn how to take care of these special items, but perhaps they were too young to be entrusted with such possessions -- and again, that’s on me. Damn you, Santa.

This is not meant to paint the picture that no child can possibly function with lots of toys to choose from, or that no child can understand the value of special toys and enjoy them with great care. This is only to point out some issues in our own home. Maybe your family struggles, too.

CHILDREN CAN MAKE ANYTHING A TOY AND THRIVE IN OPEN-ENDED PLAY ENVIRONMENTS.

A child’s imagination is magical. She can play in a cardboard box for hours -- turning it into a house, a boat, a car, anything! Some toys come off as engaging because they light up, play music, or do something super fancy, but often those toys, which are usually pretty expensive, are the ones not played with much because they don’t allow for children to really use their imagination. A light up, noisy, battery-operated fill-in-the-blank can really only be that….a light up, noisy, battery-operated fill-in-the-blank. But a box can be castle. A stick can be a magic wand. A blanket can be a cape. And all of those things can be something completely new the next time or for the next child.

A child’s imagination needs to be cultivated. You can’t just expect kids to know how to play if they have never been given opportunities to make up their own games or develop their own pretend worlds and characters. They need space and freedom to do this, and I feel like a streamlined playroom with the right amount of the right toys will get them there.

I am not saying that we shouldn’t listen when our children are really wanting something special. Maybe that would be a great opportunity to discuss saving money for something big. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t cave and get them that one thing that they have been begging for since their last birthday. But stuff for the sake of stuff? Things for the sake of things? Toys for the sake of toys? Presents for the sake of presents?

It’s time for a change in our house. What about in yours?






The one about sustain me for today


Happy New Year!

- yeah, I know it's February.

If you were to ask me where the month of January went and what I was doing, I honestly couldn't tell you. There's just so much going on. We are weeks away from being able to move into our home (yay!), and so it feels like we have been eaten alive by to-do's and must-do's and be-here's...and it's just something we have had to get through!

But -- I see the light!

I wanted my first post of 2018 to be something of importance, and I thought I would start with this. Below you will find something I wrote and shared with my sister-in-law's MOPS group a couple weeks ago. She had asked me to come and speak on a topic that has become my mantra, my lifeline, my hope.

So, I thought that maybe I should share it with you all in prayer that it resonates with you. I am not perfect at this. I fall everyday, but I am getting better.

Here's to 2018!


-----


I’ve spent the first 33 years of my life anxious, afraid, worried, and hopelessly trying to control each and every aspect of my life.

As I sat down to make notes for this discussion, I opened up my Jesus Calling devotional, and I found this:

“Strive to trust me in more and more areas of your life. Anything that tends to make you anxious is a growth opportunity. Instead of running away from these challenges, embrace them, eager to gain all the blessings I have hidden in the difficulties. If you believe that I am sovereign over every aspect of your life, it is possible to trust me in all situations. Don’t waste energy regretting the way things are or thinking about what might have been. Start at the present moment - accepting things exactly as they are, and search for my way in the midst of those circumstances. Trust is like a staff that you can lean on as you journey uphill with me. If you are trusting in me consistently, the staff will bear as much of your weight as needed. Lean on, trust, and be confident in me with all your heart and mind. ‘But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.’ Psalm 52:8”

This entire passage is beautiful, but it is also overwhelming. “Trust me in more and more areas of your life?” “Trust me in all situations?” “Anything that tends to make you anxious is a growth opportunity?”

These ideas are bold and exciting, but for a control freak like I can be, they also seem extremely far-fetched and nearly impossible.

But what if I didn’t worry about everything, all at once, right now? What if I didn’t try to give up control of all my days and all my situations, all at once, right now? What if, I simply sighed and said, “God, sustain me for today.”

If all I am able to do is ask God for what I need for this day, and this day only...if all I am able to pray for is what I need in these moments that make up these hours that make up this day, and this day only...if all I am able to trust is that God has me in his hands this day, and this day only… if all I could manage was to ask God to sustain me for today, and we’d worry about tomorrow, tomorrow…

...Well, that would be enough.

And my tired, weary, anxious, exhausted mind and spirit rejoiced and said, “I can do that.”


Sustain me for today.

It came to me as I was lying awake in my bed -- Luke peacefully passed out beside me. I wish I could sleep like him, I thought. We have an 8 month old son (and 3 girls, ages 7, 5, and 3), and when he isn’t waking me up 2-3 times a night, I sometimes find that I am not really sleeping anyway. The day’s shortcomings creep in…tomorrow’s uncertainties slip in through the cracks...and before I know it, I am distraught about who my daughters will end up marrying or what if the world is really ending soon or have I messed up my children’s high school sports careers by not signing them up for a team by the age of 4?

But that one night, I told myself to get a grip. I laid awake in the quiet, dead of night, and intentionally tried to turn down the sound of my own inner voice, and listen for the voice of God. And at some point, the phrase, “sustain me for today,” found its way into my mind, melted over my anxious heart, and then I fell asleep.

The next day, I looked up the word, “sustain.” I had heard it 100 times on all those court drama TV shows I like to watch, but it’s not a word I would normally turn to as a source of strength and peace.

But when you look it up, it’s perfect.

Strengthen or support physically or mentally.

The word sustenance means something regarded as a course of strength and nourishment.

Focus on what will get me through this day. What will sustain me? What can I ask God for? What does God already know that I need? I don’t know about tomorrow, or next year, but I do know what I need today, and that is enough for now.

I know the worries I listed above seem relatively small and silly, and you may be wondering if I know what real worries and fears are.

Well, let’s see.

I’ve had four children, two of them were high risk pregnancies involving preterm labor and bedrest. I’ve also had two miscarriages. While my husband was in medical school, I was the sole financial provider in our family, on a teacher’s salary. I have a very small extended family, partially by chance and partially by choice, but I unexpectedly lost my last two living grandparents in the same month this past summer. I’ve been sued (I will write about that another time).

Though I have been blessed immensely by a loving husband, beautiful children, and great friends, I have experienced tremendous pitfalls that left me without much faith in anything except that inevitably, bad things will happen to good people, and life sucks sometimes.

I started dating my husband in high school, and he is part of a big, Catholic family. At the time, when I was 16 years old, I knew I was a Christian because that’s what I was supposed to be, but I had no idea what that actually meant. I was baptized in a Methodist church, and I remember attending when I was younger. Christmas Eve and Easter were favorites of mine because it was an occasion to buy a new dress. I probably wasn’t the most firmly rooted, religious gal, so when my husband, then boyfriend, began dating me, who was not Catholic and saw church as a reason to buy a new outfit, his parents were probably a little concerned.

I began attending mass with Luke when we were in high school and college. It became something we did together, but I never felt like I was ready to go through the conversion. When we got engaged and were going through marriage preparation in the Catholic Church, I was encouraged not to go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) just for the wedding. My priest wanted me to make sure it was for my own personal reasons, not because I felt like I had to.

We went on to have our children who were all baptized Catholic, and we enrolled them in Catholic school. I still wasn't sure when or if I would ever go through RCIA. I always seemed to be pregnant or about to have a baby when the classes would start, and it just never felt like the right time.

But this past summer, my grandfather became unexpectedly ill, and he passed away. He was 91 years old and the sweetest man you could imagine. My grandmother had passed away many years ago, and he remarried a Catholic lady with many children. He decided that he wanted to convert to Catholicism as a man in his 80s. As I sat at his funeral mass, admiring the beauty of everything around me, I knew that I needed to go ahead and do it -- become Catholic. If my 80-something year old grandfather could get himself to RCIA classes each week, I could, too. I wanted to make him proud of me and share something with him, even though he is not here on this earth with me anymore. A few weeks after he left us, his wife did, too.

So, I began my RCIA classes this past September, and I will officially enter the Catholic Church about a month before my oldest daughter takes her first communion. It will be a special Spring for my family.

I say this to share that my faith walk has not been simple. It has not been without questioning, without fear, without disbelief. It has not been a straight and narrow path but rather a winding road with potholes and U-turns.

And to the controlling, disbelieving girl of my past, doing what was described in that Jesus Calling devotional, trusting and leaning and not worrying and finding the blessings in the struggle, would have once sounded like a bunch of junk.

It still sounds easier said than done. It may sound that way to you, too.

But if we can focus on what we need to sustain us for today? I think we can do that.

So what does it look like in action?

Some days, it looks like me thinking ahead of what I have going on, and what challenges I see myself facing. Maybe it is knowing I will be doing bedtime alone without my husband, and I see my children melting down, wanting Papa, and fighting me at every turn. So, either prior to or during those hard moments, I take the time to ask God for what I need -- I need patience. I need kind words. I need calm. I need grace for my children.

Sustain me for this bedtime. Please.

Other days, it looks like me staring down a giant to-do list with too many things on it and not enough hours in the day. So, before I start to tackle it, I pray for productivity. For focus. For happiness while I do the work.

Sustain me during this to-do list.

Sometimes, it’s me worrying about my child’s school. Does it have the best teachers and the best facilities and the best programs and will it get her into the University of Notre Dame? So, when I feel myself caught up in those worries, I take a breath and talk to God. God, I don’t know the future. I don’t know about tomorrow. But for today, can you help me not to worry about these things? Can you give me what I need to focus on all the great things about my daughter’s school? How can I serve the school better? Can you protect me from the people who focus on the negative and help me not to be one of them?

Sustain me for this after-school pick up duty.

Let’s focus on today -- focus on right now -- and make our prayers with God not something we simply do right before we eat or right before we sleep, but a conversation that we have all day, everyday, asking him for what we need, knowing that He already has it figured out anyway.

Sustain me for today. Sustain me for tomorrow, tomorrow.

the one about Mary

Seven years ago, I was pregnant with Noelle. Well, I was pregnant with a child who would be named Noelle — but at the time, we did not know if she was a boy or a girl. We opted to be surprised at birth with the sex of our first baby. 

First baby. To this day, I struggle to say that. She wasn’t our first. She was our second. I lost our first to miscarriage, and it changed every part of who I was — and made me who I am. 

Broken and tired. Anxious and weary. But then, I was made new.

Pregnant with the child who would become Noelle, we truly did not care whether we had a boy or a girl, so long as we were able to actually hold this baby in our arms. But I always had a feeling that we were having a girl. 

Maybe it was a feeling — or maybe it was a preference. If I am being honest, I wanted a girl so badly. I wanted the dresses. I wanted the bows. I wanted the twirling and dancing and dolls and pink. I didn’t understand how to be a boy mom. I didn’t think I would be a good one. 

When she was born, and I saw her face, I knew. I knew she was a girl before they even told me. In my hospital bag, I had tucked away a Target sack, and inside was a pink bow and pink shoes with pink elephants on them. Somehow I knew…or I was willing it to be.

We would go on to have two more baby girls over the next few years. No more surprises — we learned at our ultrasounds who was growing inside. The babies were called by their names, their rooms were prepared in pink, and their pink accessories were not-so-secretly stuffed inside my hospital bag. 

Three girls. I got my dresses. I got my bows. I got my twirling and dancing and dolls and pink. 

Thank you, God.

And then we decided we were ready for another baby. And by way of another miscarriage, we learned our plan was not to be. 

However, not too long after — another pregnancy. Another chance to give life. 

And this time, a boy.

Leo.

Mid-20’s Ashley, first-time mom Ashley, she was afraid of having a boy because the outfits weren't as cute. 

But early 30’s Ashley, fourth-time mom Ashley, with two miscarriages and many miles between them, she was elated…ecstatic…relieved to be having a boy. 

Thank you, God.

Since his birth, I have noticed an undeniable connection between him and I. Luke will say, “I have never seen a boy love his mama as much as Leo loves you.” Of course, I am his provider. I feed him. I give him what he needs to survive. But there’s something else there. 

I love my daughters so much. They bring me such joy, and there's nothing I wouldn’t do for them. I look forward to growing into friendship with them as they get older, and more than anything, I am thrilled that they have each other as sisters. 

But there seems to be this thing between mamas and their boys. This bond. This connection. It’s there without having to do anything else. 

And I think it has something to do with Mary. 

The most beautiful mother and son relationship since the very beginning. I can’t help but feel connected to her in this deep, natural way. In fact, regardless of how joyful or exciting the Christmas season is, I have felt a longing… an impatience… these past couple of weeks. Probably much like Mary long ago.

Can you even imagine? Very pregnant with this incredibly special baby boy, traveling this long journey to Bethlehem by way of foot (or donkey if you’re lucky), only to be told there’s no room for you to stay in a clean, warm room with a bed — but you can sleep with the animals. I mean, I nearly cried when I thought I was going to have to share a recovery room in the hospital with another patient.

And there, among the animals, you give birth to your son. To the Son.

It wasn’t her plan to have this baby. She didn’t understand how she was chosen or why. But she did it.

Broken and tired. Anxious and weary. But then, she was made new.

It has been over six months since Leo was born. 



He has fulfilled me in ways that I never knew were possible. 


He has a contagious smile, now with two little teeth. 


When he looks at you, he looks into your soul — seeing all the good and the bad… and loving you anyway. 


He is such a light, as all children are. 


He commands your attention and lets you know when he wants more.


He keeps us up at night sometimes (a lot of times).  Adding a fourth child has made our van tight on space and doesn't allow for many childless outings or events, but he is not a burden. 



It is not work. It is love. 


Broken and tired. Anxious and weary. But then, I was made new.




the one about enough

Luke and I were watching some old videos of the girls before bed one night. It is one of our favorite things to do. We like to snuggle up, pull out a laptop, iPad, or phone, and we like to reach back as far as our device will go and find the oldest, cutest, sweetest videos of our kids from their younger days.

Even though our children are relatively young at 7, 5, 3, and 6 months, we still yearn for those times when they were even smaller. We ache for those times and cherish these videos.

Luke found one that we hadn't watched in a little while. Some of them, I know by heart. I can remember what the date was or why we were taking the video...I can even remember what I say or what the kids say...like the script of a favorite movie you just want to keep quoting (and annoying your friends as a result). This one, however, I had forgotten about.

The girls were being cute. Little Noelle, toddler Charlotte, and baby Shiloh. Luke was speaking to them in a soft voice, asking them questions and capturing their adorable responses. Where was I? What was I doing?

I was storming around the house, griping about shoes not being put away and how I have to clean up everything. You hear it all on the video. You can't see me at all, but you know, you know, I was there. I wasn't interacting with my girls. I most likely took the opportunity to do anything but be on camera so as not to preserve the extra baby weight I was wearing or the stress acne that had erupted on my face. Never thin enough, never pretty enough, never perfect enough to be preserved forever in a video.

At first, we laughed. It was kind of funny hearing me go on this mini-tyrade in the background. And then, I became sad. This. This is what my children will have of me when I am gone. A video of just my voice, bitching about some shoes that needed put into a basket.

This sparked something inside of me that said, "Enough."

Actually, it screamed, "ENOUGH!"

Enough.

I have always placed a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to make sure that my house is put together, cleaned up, and organized. However, these desires strengthened ten-fold during my most recent pregnancy. Call it "nesting," but I almost think I developed a weird OCD-meets-manic-meets-neurotic mindset where if the house was dirty, if things were out of place, I would feel physical illness. My head would pound. My stomach would knot itself. My neck would ache. It was a feeling like nothing I had ever felt before. I couldn't sleep if dishes were in the sink. I couldn't walk by a spot on the floor without getting a rag to clean it up. I couldn't deal with toys left out, books on the couch, or laundry piles on the floor.

And when I say I couldn't deal, I mean that I would express my frustration in crying, yelling, and really just throwing a big ass fit.

While those feelings have lessened over the past 6 months since having Leo, I do still feel that pressure. I worry that we will have unexpected visitors who will see our mess, and then they will think less of me as a mother, wife, "housekeeper." I worry that my children will tell their friends that our house is a mess. I fear that if everything isn't "just so," people may get the impression that I am not OK, that I am not handling motherhood well, or that I am in over my head.

Luke has never placed this pressure on me. It is all self-imposed. But where did it come from? Honestly, in college, I was a slob. It was a well-known fact. My roommates would laugh at the fact that I would barely have a clear patch of floor in my room. Sometimes, I would stand at my doorway and take a flying leap over piles of clothes, magazines, and shoes, just to make it to the bed. It was the ultimate game of Hot Lava.

I don't remember feeling stressed or anxious about the mess then. I don't know what switched inside of me, except that maybe it is an undying, unending, never-satisfied desire for control.

In many ways, my life is very chaotic. I have four children that are ages 7 and under. My husband works a lot of hours at times, and we are building a house that has taken up 80% of his free time. Between transporting my children to and from school and activities, volunteering both at the school and in my community, working on my own businesses that I run, and keeping up with the general tasks of life, there is nearly zero time for self-care or self-control.

Cleaning my house and forcing my children to comply is one way that I can exert control. But it is not healthy. It is not right. And it will stop, today.

Everyone agrees that a clean home is desirable because it is about taking care of what we have. It is about treating our possessions with care. It is about having pride in ourselves and our home. I would never want to "let it go" to the point of embarrassment or filth, but is there enough wiggle room to allow a toy to stay on a rug overnight or a sock to get put in the laundry basket the next day or a shoe to take its time finding its way to the bin?

Hell yes there is.

I will not let something that takes 30 minutes to clean up ruin the chance for me to be an interactive, present parent.

When my husband graduated from residency, he made a speech in front of his peers, supervisors, and future colleagues. This is customary for all residents to do. He stood up there in front of everyone and said that his "wife was the Pinterest queen. I walk around the house and wonder, 'How does she do it all?'" While that earned several smiles and sweet giggles from the audience, I immediately felt like a fraud. I thought, "He sees me as the Pinterest queen...the one who 'does it all,' yet I feel less like a queen and more like a horrible, evil wench who pretends to have her shit together, when really she does not. Even my husband can't see it."

I do get asked a lot, "How do you DO it? How do you take care of your kids and get involved with so much and keep up your house and brush your teeth?" I hear, "You are Super Mom" or "Wonder Woman!" I do not say this to brag about myself -- in fact I get very embarrassed just like I did in the story above. It highlights to me that I am doing a terrible job of keeping it very real. We are all guilty of posting and sharing the shiny, glittery moments on social media and leaving out the ones we wish to hide or forget. We all know how to crop a photo the right way or find the best lighting or pick the most flattering filter. I am no different. I am no Super Mom or Wonder Woman. I am a human who struggles, just like everyone else.

As part of this cathartic post, I wanted to share photos of our everyday, real life, right now. These are less for you and more for me. I need to be OK with sharing my imperfections, my flaws, my real self. This is the only way that I will eventually learn to accept myself for who I am, and hopefully find myself IN the videos with my kids and not just complaining in the background.

Join me as I thank God for every messy, out of place flaw in these photos.


I am thankful for this unicorn backpack, this pink sippy cup, and this outer space coat, because it means I have a healthy, happy, adorable little three year old who enjoyed her morning at preschool. 

There will always be no less than 4 bags in my van at all times, and that is OK because those bags hold books for my Bible study, notes for the committees I volunteer for, and diapers for my precious babies. And yes, there's another coat -- how blessed we are that our children have coats to wear and keep them warm.

I am thankful for baby dolls in the back seat and that sweet, purple drawing of "mama" with 28 arms. And that car seat is way overdue for a cleaning, but it keeps my girl safe, and that is all that matters right now.

I thankful for my iPad and my Kitchenaid mixer -- modern luxuries that add a lot to my life. I can't go anywhere without my Yeti cup, and that list of paper is where I was jotting down all the Christmas gifts we have purchased for family and friends thus far. Signs of a teething baby and a newfound sunglasses obsession. Blessings on (cluttered) blessings. 

I have been working on this pile of laundry for 3 days now. This is all clean...but needs folded and put away. I will no sooner get it put away and have four more loads to start over on. What a problem to have.... more clothes than we know what to do with. Tiny socks and underwear belonging to tiny humans. Thank you for my tiny humans.

Cereal bowls from this morning's breakfast. Kids learning to take their bowls to the sink. Evidence of plenty of food in our house and full bellies before a good day at school and work.


The messy floor of a bedroom shared by three sisters. Wrapping paper scraps because their favorite thing to play is "Christmas." Toys that will be wrapped up, unwrapped, and wrapped up again. Blankets that cuddled them through the night. 

Maybe these photos make you think less of me. Maybe they gross you out. That's alright if they do. Just don't come over unannounced, OK?

But if these photos help you to see that you are not alone. That other houses are messy...that other lives are even messier...I welcome you to come on over, anytime. Throw the laundry on the floor and make yourself at home. 



the one about the tree housE: About Time

It has been almost three months since I last updated about the house.... or about anything really. I have mentioned it before, but I struggle with writer's block from time to time. I find that I struggle most with it when I have something really big and heavy weighing on my mind, and I really want to just confront it-- address it-- word vomit all over it-- and then I can move on. I am trying to discern how best to move past my block this time, and if history has taught me anything, it is that I should just keep writing and see what happens.

So, the house. We are asked weekly, sometimes daily, by friends and family -- "How is the house coming along?" I usually say something, "Well, it's coming!" Or, "It's still there!" Or, "It's a process!" All of those things are true. The house IS coming along. The house IS still there. The house IS a process.

Back in February, when we tore down the old house and started on the new, I said, "I just want to be in by Christmas." At the time, that was 10 months and an entire baby away from actually happening. But here we are, a couple weeks away from Thanksgiving, and that baby is almost 6 months old...and I honestly don't know if we will be finished by Christmas. In fact, if I am being realistic, I would say there is no way we will be finished with the house by Christmas -- let alone moved in.

And that is just going to have to be OK.

I've pictured waking up there on Christmas morning so many times in my mind that I can see it so clearly. I can smell it. I can hear it. I see the tree standing tall in the great room.  I see the kids bumbling out of their new bedrooms, eager to see that Santa came. It is hard to let go of expectations, and I was leery of getting my hopes up to begin with. It felt like Christmas was so far away -- but as with most things, time zooms by and here we are.

We are not failures because we missed this deadline. We will, eventually, celebrate our first Christmas in this house -- this house built on dreams and love and hard work. I have a feeling next Christmas will roll around just as quickly as this one did.

It's not to say that there hasn't been a ton of progress since my last update. The last time I wrote about the house, we had just picked light fixtures. The whole house didn't even have siding on it. The porch wasn't on yet. We have come a very long way since then, and that was only a couple of months ago.

Siding is all up. Porch is built. Spray foam insulation is in. Dry wall is up. Hardwood floors have been laid. Tile is going down. HVAC is getting hooked up and electricians are coming back to install our lights. Ceilings and a few walls have been painted. The rest of the house will be painted soon. Carpet and flooring for the lower level have been ordered. Then it will be installing cabinets, hooking up appliances, hanging doors and trim -- there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I am starting to see it. It's a tiny, faint, gentle flicker of a light, but it is there.

I struggle dearly with patience. With adjusting my expectations. With staying positive when things get difficult. I am choosing to believe that this journey we have been on with the Tree HousE has been entirely on purpose. God is teaching me how to wait. He is helping me to grow, adapt, and adjust my sails when the wind changes direction. So much of this experience has been beyond our control. Like being angry with the weather -- there's simply nothing you can do about it and getting upset changes nothing.

I want to be honest with you. This project has been a huge challenge in our marriage. When you go into something like this, you think that you and your spouse may argue about what color to paint the walls. You envision disagreements about the type of countertops you purchase. What I never imagined was how much of Luke's free time would be consumed by monitoring the progress of the house and doing many tasks himself. Many nights each week, Luke is out at the house from just after dinner until he finds me asleep on the couch waiting for him to return. Many weekends are spent with him out there and me at home with the kids. We don't have date nights anymore, and on the off-chance that we get a couple of hours to go out together, a trip to Lowe's or Menard's is always included. With Luke assuming the role of general contractor, he is required to be accessible by so many people, and unfortunately, it feels like his family has the least access to him of all. I don't write this to make anyone feel sorry for me. I don't write this to make him feel or look bad. I am simply stating a reality of this house project that we simply did not foresee. In our 10 years of marriage, we haven't really faced too many daunting challenges. We've had ups and downs. We've bought houses and sold houses and moved a few times. We've done the "live off of a teacher's salary" thing and the "study a million hours a week" thing. We've had four beautiful children and lost two pregnancies. But nothing has tried to drive us to insanity the way that this house has. He misses going for runs after work or playing basketball at church with his friends. I miss having conversations that don't involve the words "square footage" or "budget" or "estimate." We have had to reach for ways to connect amidst a nearly impossible amount of distractions, tasks, and to-dos, but at the center of it all is a united dream of us sitting on our new couch in our new house, him drinking coffee and me drinking wine, looking out our new windows at our old woods, together.

Thanks for going on this journey with us. Here are some updated photos:

Spray foam insulation.



Dry wall going up.



Laboring over which shade of white we should choose for the great room/kitchen/hall (we chose the lower left -- Benjamin Moore White Diamond).

White Diamond is perfect.

Wood floors going down -- thank you to Heintzelman Hardwood Floors.

Working on finishing the interior doors. Fireplace will be refinished soon.

Kitchen floor tile.

Great room ceiling fans going in.

Exterior lights installed (don't mind the touch-ups/caulking needed on the siding).


Painting has begun! This is the lower level family room. Sherwin Williams Dark Night (deep navy/teal) as accent and Rock Candy (airy gray) throughout. 

 

the one about the state of the motherhood address

Each year, the president gives the State of the Union Address. It's a whole televised thing -- so don't plan on watching Dancing with the Stars that night (learned that the hard way).

The purpose of this speech is for the president to update Congress on the happenings of the country and tell them what is important and what needs to happen next and what should have happened then and there's a whole bunch of standing and clapping for long periods of time.

Well tonight, I give you my State of the Motherhood Address. It's not televised (and thank the Lord because you don't want to see what I'm wearing). For now, you are my Congress. Feel free to stand and clap if you feel so inclined.

I have been a mama for going on 8 years now. I have 4 beautiful children. My youngest is almost 4 months old. I should know what I am doing by now.

But I don't.

Not even close.

Each day, I wake up in a fog of wonder. It's like a fun little mystery game. "What will I mess up today? What paper will I forget to sign? Whose life will I ruin with giving them 'the slimy' turkey at lunch? Will my child eat a vegetable today?" The suspense literally kills me.

My baby is close to 4 months old, but I still wear my maternity pants. Even worse, I still wear my maternity leggings. Who needs a stretchy panel of fabric at the waistband of an already stretchy waistband? Me. I do. No need to feel sorry for me. I chose this life.

And when I am not wearing my maternity leggings at 16 weeks post-partum, sometimes I am not wearing pants at all. In fact, last week, the doorbell rang, and Charlotte yelled through the door at the stranger, "MY MOM CAN'T ANSWER THE DOOR RIGHT NOW BECAUSE SHE'S NOT WEARING ANY PANTS." What's better is that I did attempt to throw on the first pair of pants I could find where I was standing, which happened to be the laundry room, but they were my husband's...who is skinny...and his pants didn't go up past my thighs. See also: maternity leggings. So the door went unanswered, and I still wonder if it was the Publisher's Clearinghouse or one of those MasterCard commercials where Justin Timberlake makes house calls. We shall never know.

Meals are hit or miss. Typically, the relationship is the longer I work on preparing a meal, the more the children will hate it. So, if I spend 87 minutes cooking something from a cookbook and it actually has real food in it, their world will crumble. Life will be over. There will be slouching in the seat. There will be wiping any sauce off with a napkin. There will be crying. Oh, and the kids will cry, too.

But if I spend 30 seconds slapping two pieces of bread together with peanut butter and jelly in the middle, or even better...if I let them eat cereal for dinner...I am The Dinner Goddess. Worship at my altar.

My new favorite thing is to do online shopping while I am awake at 3 o'clock in the morning with Leo. When the packages arrive in two days, I have no idea what they are because I have no recollection of what I purchased. Santa is real, Ya'll. I can't wait to see what comes in the mail on Tuesday.

My van has become some sort of apocalyptic survivor mobile. I am convinced that should the world fall apart and we need to seek refuge, we could survive for at least a week by living in our van. I am sure that at a moment's notice, I could assemble several Happy Meals from the leftover remnants between and under the seats, complete with a cheap plastic toy for everyone. There are plenty of half empty water bottles to go around, and that rogue sippy cup under the seat is surely housing some sort of concoction that will kill all the zombies.

I'm clumsy now. Fatigue will do that to you. I wake up with bruises from running into objects on my trek to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I have been hobbling around for three weeks on a bum foot, and I have no idea how I hurt it. The other day, I bent down to pick up something from the floor and busted my own lip on the arm of our rocking chair. I looked around, pissed, wanting to know whose fault it was...and I only had myself to blame.

The days are long. The nights are longer.

Motherhood. It's not for the weak.

Each day, I make 1,000 mistakes. I say the wrong thing. I do the wrong thing. I don't fit the description of a perfect mother, but the older I get, the more convinced I am that she doesn't exist.

Things are messy right now. And loud. Often smelly. Often it's me who is smelly. There aren't enough hours in the day to do all the things, so I try to make time for the important things. Read the books. Do the crafts. Sing the songs. Eat the ice cream. Buy the little plastic toys that they watch grown adults open on YouTube. I used to say, "There's always tomorrow," but you know what? They will be older tomorrow. And just a little bit bigger tomorrow. And a little bit less my babies tomorrow.

If I were to give this State of the Motherhood Address a year from now, it would probably look a little different. There may be a completely new set of challenges to deal with and obstacles to clear and phases to grow out of. But I am sure at least one thing will remain the same...







...giving life to my children gives me life, even if it sucks the life out of me.

That, and I may still be wearing my maternity leggings.


The One About the Tree HousE: Lights! (Camera! Action!)

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Doesn't it sound exciting to make decisions regarding every detail of your home? I will admit, I bought into this idea when we decided to build (vs remodel). The thought of picking out all the light fixtures, all the flooring, all the cabinets, all the wall colors, all the everything, sounded super fun and like a dream come true! And don't get me wrong, there have been (fleeting) moments of fun throughout this "picking process," but it also has been one of the most overwhelming tasks that both Luke and I have ever taken on.

This week, we spent nearly 3 hours with our architect walking through the house and identifying where light switches, outlets and light fixtures should go. This is important because the electricians are coming this week, and they will need to know the plan. It is amazing how you can think and rethink where a switch should be placed, and what lights should be tied to that switch. Do we want it on the right side of the wall or the left? Do we want to control this light or that light? Where will we need outlets? Should we have recessed lighting here or flush-mount lighting there? When you purchase a home that is already built, you kind of just get used to where switches are or you change your furniture layout to correspond with the outlets. With this opportunity, we can say exactly where we want things to go, which is awesome, but who are we going to blame when we hate the layout once we move in? Ourselves. We blame ourselves.

So, the pressure to get it right, and on the first try, is pretty heavy. We don't want to screw it up. We don't want to have to rip something out and start over, even though that happens frequently in projects like this. My motto has become, "Everything is figure-outable. Everything is fixable." I tell myself this when I feel overwhelmed by all the choices to be made. Or, as I texted Luke today, "No one is dying. It's going to be OK." It is imperative that you keep things in perspective. While it might feel like the end of the world if we buy the wrong toilet, it truly is not the end of the world if we buy the wrong toilet.

All that to say that yes, we are still moving right along. The HVAC and plumbing people have been working (and the basement looks like a tornado swept through it with all of the broken up concrete from placing pipes and vents and all kinds of other things). They should be finished soon. The electricians are coming this week. After that, we will be ready for insulation and dry wall.

We made some lighting decisions this week at our new "favorite" store, Menards. I know it's not a glamorous, prestigious design hub, but we have found a few gems in that store and have taken advantage of their 11% rebates when possible. By purchasing the bulk of our building materials (from the framing to the siding to the decking to the, yes, toilets) during rebate weeks, we have been able to earn 11% of our purchase price back in the form of store credit. We have then used that store credit to purchase more materials. We are hopeful that we have saved some money this way.

A couple of my favorite purchases from this week include:

These wall lights.





These master bathroom vanity lights (2 sets).




This is the light I would like for my office. Luke didn't want to buy it yet (because I think he thinks it is ugly), but it will be mine. It will. We aren't calling it the "Mom Room" for nothing.




We are also repurposing a couple of industrial work lights from one of my dad's work warehouses. These are heavy-duty, porcelain coated lights that we will have rewired to be used in this bar/pass-thru area from the kitchen to the great room. We are going to use two of them in this space. We love the idea of taking something old and giving it new life...not to mention, this was another money-saving move for us. These lights were free!



Other exciting updates include our front door being installed (color yet to be determined), the concrete porch and steps for the front entry being poured (LOVE the way it turned out), and the back deck is being built. We are going with a natural-colored composite decking material that will hopefully hold up well over time without the need to replace buckled or warped deck boards. This deck will serve a nice place to enjoy morning coffee, evening wine, or just a great back entry to the great room. There will be a metal railing, and the steps will lead down to the existing concrete patio that we were able to keep from the original house.


Front door and porch steps


Back deck in progress

Luke and his dad have been working hard on the design for the front porch roof. We have gone back and forth on the size, style, and shape of this space, but I think this design is definitely a winner. It's so awesome having Luke's dad lend his architect hands to us for this project. We will definitely keep his designs along with many other artifacts from this project so we can remember all the phases and progress.




We are officially just about 6 months into this whole process. Considering 6 months ago, there was an existing 75 year old house on the property that has since been torn down and this has taken its place, I think we have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. In another 6 months, I pray we are all moved in and enjoying this house that we have poured our hearts and souls into from the very beginning.