On Joy

“Your baby’s head is definitely down,” the doctor says, pressing her hands firmly on my lower belly. “That’s probably why you’re feeling more pressure. He’s getting into place.”

I wince and nod as she helps me back into a seated position. A small movement ripples through my abdomen and my hand unconsciously goes to the spot.

She turns back to the computer. “Other than pelvic pain, how are you feeling?”

“Oh, you know,” I laugh. “Fine. Nothing you wouldn’t expect near the end of pregnancy.” We share a rueful smile, knowing that life-altering growth almost always comes with pain.

I look out the window at a house down the block spangled with red and green Christmas lights. “Well,” she says, following my gaze, “try to enjoy this season as much as you can.”

It occurs to me on the snowy drive home that I rarely live my life this way.

I’m not a savorer.

I’m a rusher. A doer. A pusher. I try to live three steps ahead and plan for the future. It’s rare for me to sit in stillness, to be present, to rest. Yet there’s something about carrying new life that always forces me to lessen my speed.

My body, like this broken world, aches and groans. Uncertainty reigns. Some days can feel dark. It’s easy to lose sight of the wonder of simply being alive.

But joy is laced through everything.

I see it in flashes. Sharp kicks in my ribs. The smell of cinnamon. The glow of Christmas lights. Sunlight sparkling on fresh snow. The generosity of a friend. Tiny white onesies. Childish voices praying before bed. Holiday jazz. The way my oldest lifts my shirt because the only way he can “talk to the baby” is with his cheek pressed against my bare skin.

I cringed the first time he did this—fighting against a lifetime of body insecurity and motherhood-induced touch aversion. But as I felt the warmth of his innocent breath on my belly, discomfort succumbed to joy.

Because joy itself requires surrender. Vulnerability. The relinquishing of control. It comes, as poet Mary Oliver says, suddenly and unexpectedly, “the instant love begins.”

And in this season—of belly ripples and holy anticipation—I want to give in without hesitation.

A day in the life

As part of the #onedayhh challenge with Laura Tremaine on November 9, 2021, I documented moments throughout my day.

Sometimes this life feels like a mix of frenetic flurry and rote sameness. I rush through on autopilot and can disregard the joy of imperfect, normal days. But on this day, I wanted to pay attention. To be awake. To fill my camera roll with proof of ordinary beauty and, hopefully, remember it all.

5:30 am // good morning
Since going back to the physical office and having to do things like 1) wear hard pants and 2) actually do my hair, I started waking up 15 minutes earlier to allow myself time to get ready for work and also time to sit in a quiet kitchen. Usually I write, sometimes I read or do a 10 minute meditation. There’s always coffee and a candle. The important thing is that I start my day alone, in stillness, before—as Anne Lamott says—the world gets its mitts on me.

6:45 am // switching gears
At 6:30, the computer snaps closed. Time for productivity. I empty the dishwasher, let out the dog, fill water bottles, put clothes in the dryer, prepare daycare snacks, and make breakfast. The Lazy Genius told me to “decide once” whenever possible, so Mon/Wed/Fri breakfast is oatmeal with raisins and Tues/Thurs is eggs, bacon, and toast. Sometimes I do all the things in continued silence and sometimes I pop in my earbuds for 15 minutes of Jim Dale and The Prisoner of Azkaban. Both are delightful.

7:00 // release the hounds
Breakfast time. During the busy seasons on the farm, Kyle often doesn’t make it in for dinner, but we can always count on him for breakfast. Our true family meal. I butter toast, fill milk cups, and pick forks up off the floor. The kids argue about who would win in a fight between a unicorn dragon and a regular dragon. Kyle fields texts from dairy employees and fights for his share of the bacon. It’s loud and chaotic and one of my favorite times of day.

8:15 am // let’s hit the road
Kyle and I currently split the morning drop-offs. Anders has to be to school 45 minutes earlier than the little kids, so Car 1 with Kyle leaves at 7:40 and Car 2 with me leaves at 8:15. There are (seemingly) millions of bags to pack, papers to find, and shouted reminders to “brush your teeth now or we’re going to be late!” This morning Ellis caught the early transport with K and A and I’m feeling the luxury of only having to load *one* squirming kid into the car. (So why do I still feel sweaty, dehydrated, and like I’m forgetting at least ten things?)

9:30 am // where I spent most of my hours
In the office. When I’m not momming or farm wifeing, you’ll find me here: shoes off, cross-legged in a desk chair, and rocking some massive blue light blockers. The life of a director of communications looks different from day to day, but this November Tuesday will involve attending meetings, editing newsletter stories, peeing constantly (because #30weekspregnant), and talking about life-altering things like kerning and serial commas.

12:00 pm // working lunch
“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” —Orson Welles. In this case, lunch is chicken, rice, and Parisian carrots from Freshly eaten at my desk. Don’t let the American workaholic vibes fool you—I’m a firm believer in things like boundaries, mental space, and breaks from fluorescent lighting. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays I blaze through the noontime hour with a fork in one hand and a computer mouse in the other so I can leave early to pick up Anders from school Lego League. I don’t love all the juggling that this #workingmom life requires, but I DO love blasting AC/DC in a nearly empty office building while I do it.

4:05 pm // pick up kids
“Mommy!” Two small bodies slam into my legs. “Hey guys!” I say, smoothing Ellis’s hair out of her face and picking Henning up for a hug. “How was your day?” “Great!” says Ellis as she squirms out of my grasp and runs down the stairs to look at a bug smashed in the grill of my car. Henning wraps his arms around my head and plants a slobbery kiss on my forehead. “I played choo-choo trains!” he declares. “That’s awesome!” I say, squeezing him back. I chat for a minute with the teacher at the door. Parents haven’t been allowed inside our daycare since November 2020 due to COVID precautions. Though it’s convenient to have my kids and bags handed out like a childcare curbside pickup, I miss seeing their classrooms, talking to all their teachers, and meeting their little friends. The disconnect between my day and theirs feels even bigger in a pandemic world.

We load and drive the three blocks to Anders’ school to pick him up. I can go in this building, but the ever-present hand sanitizer on the teacher’s desk and a masked parent reminds me of all we’ve lost. The drive home is bedlam—all three kids talking and singing at once. I try to ask questions, to glean nuggets about who they are and what they do when they’re away from me, but eventually give up. “Hey Mom!” Anders shouts through the noise. “Can we jump on the trampoline when we get home?” I bite my lip, thinking how much easier it would be to prep dinner if they were in the house, but smile and say, “Sure” to a chorus of “YAY!”s.

We park in the driveway and I unbuckle seat belts. “C’mon, Henning!” Ellis says, taking her younger brother’s hand and dragging him after Anders. Squeals of joy fill the air as they bounce into a pile of dry leaves on the trampoline. After a day apart, these three don’t skip a beat. I turn my face towards the waning golden sun and breathe deeply. I’m reminded—not for the first time—that it’s not really about the deficit. The time away from each other. It’s about how moments like this feel—warm and wild and together. Suddenly I’m in no rush to go inside.

5:15 pm // all the flurried things
Drop bags by the back door. Shoes off. Wash hands. Kids in front of PBS Kids. Deconstruct work wardrobe. Sweatpants. Slippers. Scrunchie. Harry Potter on my earbuds. Unload bags. Wash bentos and snack containers. Feed the dog. Swat a fly. Light a candle because the sun is gone. Text “Will you be home for dinner?” to the farmer. Heat up dinner.

6:05 pm // dinnertime
We do have a proper table, but it’s far away in the dining room and usually covered in kraft paper and markers. Thus, 99.9% of our meals happen here at the kitchen counter. Not mad about it. Tonight we dined on salmon (kids) and chicken (adults because the kids claim to be sick of chicken) and did a Thanksgiving prompt card from Little Great Design Co. No one spilled their milk and Kyle came in halfway through. Great success.
(PS: A fun fact. The twinkly lights you see have been hanging in our kitchen since Christmas 2019. We hadn’t gotten around to taking them down when the pandemic hit and then I decided they sparked joy. If anyone wants to study the lifespan of Christmas lights left on basically 24 hours a day for two years, I have the data.)

7:15 // bedtime
Books are read and teeth are brushed. 3/3 kids want to hug my belly before bed and each one giggles when they feel their baby brother’s sharp kicks. Henning and Ellis are asleep within minutes after their door is closed and Anders plays Legos in his room until it’s lights out at 8:30. As for the adults? Kyle gave me a hug and headed back outside to the fields. I’ll spend the next hour making lunches, tidying up, and folding laundry. Oh. And eating a cookie.

8:39 pm // I am who I am
Dolly Parton once said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Well. I’m old, tired, and completely ok with it. When Kyle works late, I abandon all pretense to the contrary and happily crawl into bed before 9 pm. My face is washed, the dishwasher is running, and I’ll be asleep within the hour.


The Colors of a Life

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If our family was a box of Crayola markers, we’d be neon. Possibly scented. All cherry reds and fluorescent oranges and other shades that burn your retinas.

My three kids are precocious, strong-willed, and have a standard volume that’s at least 10 decibels above an ideal “indoor voice.” I’m impatient, hard-nosed, and have a temper that can blaze as quickly as sparks on a pile of dry leaves. Kyle’s not far off that. Within our five, there isn’t a docile one in the bunch. Our home is a place of vivid colors, loud noises, and a general lack of calm. We have been affectionately described as a family that is “active,” “busy,” and “full of life.”

We are not delicate roses—painted in muted shades of dusty maroon and pink. Nay. We are fall leaves—sharp edges and vibrant hues of scarlet and yellow. A riot of colors. We flame from within.

It’s a lot sometimes. On days when I feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, and over-everythinged, I long for a life with blander hues. Pastel blue. Taupe. Maybe a nice earthy beige when I’m solo parenting again at dinnertime. I dream of days with less intensity, noise, and near-constant touching.

But that’s not what I want. Not really.

Deep down, my soul exults in all the color.

I’m stopped in my tracks by the way the warm breeze flickers through my son’s blonde curls. The sound of three kids giggling in a pile on the trampoline. The acrid smell of leaves burning down the road. The feel of small kicks from my growing belly. The flash of warmth when Kyle’s fingers brush across my neck.

Our frenetic days—a rainbow of colors and cacophony—look different in the light of gratitude.

And I want it all.

I want boisterous singing in the car and sticky kisses on my cheek. I want golden afternoons in the grass and small bodies twined around my legs. I want to embrace joy that assaults my senses and sends shivers of recognition down my spine.

Instead of a tumult, I want to see our life like a fall tree—

unapologetic and bright
steadfast through changing seasons
breathtaking in its beauty.

Please Accept My Application for the Position of Farm Wife

To whom it may concern:

Please accept this letter and enclosed materials as my application for the position of Farm Wife. I learned about your existence (and subsequently the possibility of this job offering) from my college roommate three years ago and—as you well know—have thoroughly enjoyed the chance to bask in your agricultural tutelage ever since.

I’d love to bring my curiosity, along with semi-relevant skills and experience, into a lifelong partnership that will surely benefit us both.

Though I have never touched a cow, shoveled manure, or driven a single piece of large equipment (unless you count the summer I manned an airport shuttle van), I have visited several petting zoos and once drove through Iowa. My fatalistic sense of humor and ability to plug my nose on command will be a great asset when driving behind a manure tanker. I am confident in my ability to acclimate to a life outside of civilization. After all, my parents used to take me camping.

In researching your organization, I was most impressed by your commitment to animal care, drive for sustainable business growth, and experience giving truly epic neck rubs. It excites me to observe your open-minded interest in musical theater, international travel, and supporting my dream to somehow make money by writing words. I believe our shared ambition and desire to grow together are a recipe for success.

I have a bachelor’s degree in communications and a high proficiency in distributing empathetic hugs after long days in the tractor. During our time dating, I demonstrated my abilities to problem solve, be alone for long stretches of time, and utilize new terminology in everyday conversation (like the time “teat dip” came up on the Fourth of July bar crawl).

Though I am prone to occasional selfishness, being overcritical, and a certainty that my way is the correct way, I am eager to learn the art of compromise and hearing your point of view. The fact that I held a squealing pig at your dad’s farm attests to my ability to grow. I believe that with a little laughter, a lot of prayer, and the cultivating love of a partner who makes me better in every way, we can build a beautiful life together.

Thank you for your consideration and the sparkle in your blue eyes. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best,
Your Future Wife

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Things I say on a Tuesday

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Good morning. How did you sleep? What did you dream? Get dressed. Go potty. There’s nothing wrong with these pants. They are not tight. They do not itch. They are not the worst in the whole entire universe. We don’t say hate.

Here’s your milk. Here’s your oatmeal. You can’t switch to the pink bowl. Stay on your stool. Jersey doesn’t need any more treats. Here’s a paper towel. Stop kicking your brother. I don’t know if orcas eat sharks. Maybe. Who will you play with today? Who is your best friend? What do you do when you’re away from me?

You’re going to be late. Where are your socks? Where is your library bag? Did you finish your homework? Get your boots on. Can someone let the dog out? Do I smell a poopy diaper? Pick a mask. Here’s your backpack—go with Dad. I love you. The rest of you: three minutes. Finish your picture. Find your socks. Let’s change that diaper. Have fun today. I love you too.

What time is my video meeting? Where is my laptop charger? I need to change into a nice shirt. The joggers stay. Why is the internet not working? Where are my AirPods? Why am I hungry? Bob, you’re on mute. What’s the deliverable? What’s your target drop date? Who needs to be looped in? I’ll have to circle back with you on that.

Out of the car. Just one episode. Time for dinner. It’s chicken. You don’t know if you like it until you try it. Here’s your milk. Dad will be late. No, you can’t do fieldwork. Because it’s a school night. Because sleep helps you grow. Hands to yourself. Use nice words. Cake isn’t on the menu. What did you do today? What was the best part? Did you have fun?

Brush your teeth. Go potty. Where are your pajamas? Why are you naked? We have time for three books. Stay on the couch. Don’t climb on my face. Did you lick me? Thanks for the kisses. Now I lay me down to sleep. One more sip. One more hug. I remember—it was fun. We’ll do it again. Sweet dreams. I love you the most.

***
(Epilogue: You’re home early. Ted Lasso? With ice cream and a cookie? Yes. Obviously. You have the best ideas. You are my favorite.)

3:11 // To my firstborn

3:11 // To my firstborn

Dear Anders,

I asked you this morning, “Does it feel different being seven?” and you said, “Moooom, I was born at 3:11 in the afternoon. I’m not actually seven yet.” I had to laugh at your logic. In honor of your literal interpretation, I promise not to show anyone this letter until you’re actually seven.

Seven. Oof. Something feels different about that. I still remember that day you were born at 3:11—placed in my arms after 17 hours of hard labor. Your pink face turned towards mine when I whispered your name and my heart surged. You recognized my voice.

You’re not a baby anymore. When I pull you to my side for a hug these days, I’m startled by your height. Your frame is taut and wiry, all elbows and ribs and muscle. You’re strong enough to lift your sister and yet still small enough to sit on Dad’s lap during dinner. Your brain buzzes with energy and ideas. You long to have our full attention and rarely feel like you’ve had enough. Dad spends almost an hour in your room before bed every night—playing Legos or reading books—and it’s not sufficient. You always want more.

You live fully in your body, getting your point across with your hands instead of waiting to see the impact of your words. You like to push boundaries and buttons. You like to get a reaction. Frankly, I understand you more than you realize. My own struggles don’t come out physically, but I often feel what you feel. You and I? We want to be heard. We want to be first. We want things to be done “the right way” (our way). We don’t like making mistakes. You’re not alone. But let me say this clearly: God created you to be exactly as you are. You are tenacious and smart and creative. I’m proud of the way you hold your own, ask insightful questions, and think about things in new ways.

I’m proud of who you’re becoming.

You’re so fun to talk to. I’m amazed by the way you retain information and sprinkle it into conversation later (“Mom, didja know kangaroos don’t have thumbs?”). You get suspicious of my barrage of questions at dinnertime about your day, but I only ask because I want to know every part of you—especially the part that learns and grows away from me. This Easter you performed the resurrection story completely in Spanish and your dad and I couldn’t believe how confident and fluent you were. Eres asombroso, mijo.

What else? You love French toast, footie pajamas, drawing pictures of monsters, helping me decorate for parties, “wrestle time” with Dad, and riding your scooter at breakneck speed through the barns. You rarely sit still unless you’re working on a Lego set far above your age bracket (we’re practically out of shelf space for your hundreds of creations). You insist on wearing your farm boots even if it’s 80 degrees and are my favorite person to play rhyming games with.

Anders, you’re just starting to figure out who you are and what you care about. It’s a thrill to watch. I pray that your dad and I will always be your biggest advocates, your sounding board, and your safe place. You are a beautifully designed little boy.

In the eyes of your parents and your Father, you are already—and always—enough.

Yesterday we celebrated outside with family, Nerf rockets, and cake, but today—at exactly 3:11 and not a second sooner—is your birthday. I love you, my sweet boy, my sidekick, my Doodle Bug (and yes, that nickname will stick until college and don’t even try to talk me out of it).

xoxo, Mom 

An Awakening

What does hope look like?
Sunlight dancing on the ground,
the earth stretching out
her cramped fingers after a
dormant winter’s slumber—
she whispers of rebirth

What does hope sound like?
Geese blaring from above,
a flock of nomadic feathers,
nearly vulgar in their inelegance,
carrying the tidings of spring on
gawky brown wings

What does hope feel like?
The way her children’s laughter
vibrates across the surface of her skin
while bike wheels and small boots
slosh through puddles of mud
Joy spattered on their faces

Is this what it means to be a green shoot in a sea of dead things?

Is this how it feels to thaw?

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Make A Mess.”

Your Dreams or Mine?

“Hey babe?” I lean back in my chair to catch my husband Kyle’s eye as he walks towards the back room. “Can we talk for a second?” 

I am tucked away at the desk in the far corner of our dining room. My green leather journal is still in hand and my laptop open from the online therapy session that ended minutes before.

“Okaaay—” he draws out the word as if he hopes in the time it takes to get from O to Y, I won’t notice that he’s darted out the door. I can’t help but smile at his reticence. In his defense, this isn’t the first time this week I’ve pulled us both away from our work to contemplate the finer points of our marriage. 

“How’s it going?” Kyle gestures at the laptop and squeezes my shoulder. “Do you feel like you’re making progress?” 

“I’m not sure,” I say, truthfully. “But it feels good to talk about it.”

“It” in this case is one of our marriage’s most essential questions. Nearly a year into a pandemic that upended my work, my life, and my sense of self, I’ve also been wrestling through how a city girl and farm boy ended up building a life together. Kyle’s reaction to my analysis—as I combed through old messages and photos from college and asked questions like “How did we get here?”—was one of growing unease. Sensing my husband’s discomfort, I put my hands on both of his shoulders one night and pressed my forehead to his. “Babe, I’m not questioning if we should be together. I just want to remember the things that make us, us.”

But the thing I’ve realized as I’ve sifted through memories and laid out a timeline of our story, is that there’s nothing new about my questions.  

***

Ten years earlier, I shifted uncomfortably in my chair as the pastor’s question hung in the air like a fog. 

“What did you picture for your life, Jessica?” the pastor repeated, his eyes kind as he asked the question that cut most deeply into my heart. “How is this different?”

I shot a furtive glance at my then-fiancé Kyle in the chair pushed close to mine. That’s the million-dollar question isn’t it? I felt heat rise into my cheeks. Our first premarital counseling session had been going fine until we started talking about farm life and I blurted out, “Well, it isn’t exactly what I pictured.” Kyle and I were on the same page about finances, core values, number of kids, and our faith. Now, we were at the crux of it all. 

“I’m worried about losing myself,” my voice caught in my throat when the words finally tumbled out. I stared at the large bookcase behind the pastor’s desk and blinked back tears.

“I worry that Kyle’s life and dreams will always come before mine.” 

Read the rest of my essay over on Coffee + Crumbs.

Socks and hidden grace

“Another one!?” I exhale through my mouth and bend to look under the couch. Among the dust bunnies and lost Legos is a small red sock.

I grab it and add it to the pile already clutched in my hand. The setting sun’s light dances across the floor as I toss the sock into a basket of others gathered from all corners of the house.

“This is an exercise in futility,” I murmur into the empty room.

My children leave socks everywhere, you see.

Maybe their feet get hot. Maybe they want to wiggle their toes. Maybe they reject restrictive foot fabric on moral, religious, or philosophical grounds. Whatever the reason, my children shed socks like molting birds shed feathers. I find them in the car, on kitchen stools, in the dog’s crate, crumpled in the corners of the living room, and even under my pillow.

llogically, the wayward socks feel like a referendum on me. I can’t keep my house clean. I can’t keep socks on small feet. I can’t control the world (or the people in it).

I’ve been in a slump lately. When I shared this with a friend, she said, “I think the secret to getting out of a funk is to practice gratitude.” A line I read by John Milton seemed to agree: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

I started small. Every day for a week, I wrote a list of things I was thankful for in my journal. After a few days of intentional noticing, I started to feel the gentle flickers of awe within.

Simple things sparkled: warm eggs cooked with flecks of bacon, the sound of my children giggling in the dark, a boyish grin on my husband’s face when he said, “I like you in that sweater,” the very existence of breath in my lungs. Imagine my surprise when one day my hand—as if of its own accord—wrote “small socks scattered everywhere.”

Because this isn’t really a story about socks.

It’s about love for the people who wear them.

It’s about faithfulness.

It’s about seeing the world as bigger than I allow it to be.

And, above all, it’s about recognizing small flashes as what they really are: breadcrumbs leading me back to grace.

My Girl, At Four

One of the first noises I hear every morning is your voice, singing made-up songs in bed with gradually increasing volume. By the time you’re practically yelling, I can’t help but smile. You start each day with joy.

One of the first things I feel each day is your feet pressed against my leg at breakfast. You inch your stool closer and closer to mine, wanting to be as close as possible without actually sitting on my lap. You show your love through touch.

One of my favorite moments each night is our “special hug” right before bed. Twenty full seconds—and not a moment less—with your legs wrapped around my waist, our hushed voices counting in the dark. You can never get enough.

One of the things I love most about you is your ability to feel deeply. Once we listened to a classical song in a minor key and you said, brow furrowed, “Mommy, this is a sad song.” I was amazed by your awareness. You don’t fear your own heart.

What else? I’m captivated by the constellations of freckles across your nose, the way your eyes mirror the cerulean sky, the red-glint in your hair when it catches the light. You glow from within.

Ellis, you joined our family four years ago and life has never been the same. Last week we had a rainbow-themed birthday party in your honor and it seemed fitting.

You bring color into the world.