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.

The Things We’re Building

The Things We’re Building

It is a Tuesday night and the bedroom doors are finally closed. 

I press my hand to the small of my back and open my eyes to survey the damage. 

“It looks like a bomb went off in here.” I speak the words aloud, to no one. 

The pieces of our day are strewn about like debris from a storm. Books are all over the rug. Toy tractors, magnetic tiles, and colored pencils have been dumped into one massive pile under the dining room table. My desk is covered in papers. A glance into the kitchen reminds me that I have dinner plates to load into the dishwasher and lunch bags to unpack. I lift a green hoodie from the floor to shake off clumps of dog hair and my nose wrinkles in silent judgment of the woman who allows her house to get this messy. 

In defense of that woman, she’s just trying to stay afloat.

Since we started corn harvest in September, I’ve put the kids to bed by myself nearly every night. My mind feels as messy as our floors. Standards have slipped, resilience is low, and things around here have slowly devolved into Lord of the Flies territory. We all wept for the end of innocence last week when the baby pooped in the tub.

Kyle isn’t faring much better. While he’s dealt with late nights, broken equipment, and weary employees, I’ve dealt with isolation, endless food prep, and juggling kids and remote work. To say nothing of seven months of a worldwide pandemic and constant anxiety about the future. We’re both running on fumes. 

“Kitchen first,” I murmur, needing to break the chaos into manageable bits. I kneel down to wipe milk off the floor as the jackhammer sound of brakes fills the air. I lift my head to see yet another silage truck turn and rumble down the dirt road to the north of our house. The truck’s load of chopped corn will be dumped at the base of the massive pile Kyle’s been building since dawn. I think—not for the first time—that I would lose my mind if I had to drive a tractor up and down a pile of corn for 14 hours straight. How repetitive

Then again,” I cringe internally as I retrieve Henning’s fork and cup from the floor, “This is exactly what I did last night.”

Twenty minutes and a few more thoughts about futility later, the dishes are cleared, the countertops are wiped, and lunches are prepped for the next day. Onward. I pull my hair up into a messy knot and begin the nightly reset. I move from room to room methodically, gathering the wreckage of our day in my arms to set things right. Books go on the shelves, crayons back in their bins, pillows are fluffed and returned to the couch. After I wriggle under a chair to retrieve a small green tractor, I step back into the dining room. 

Even though the toys are put away, it’s a mess. At least to me. What used to be a relatively clean space pre-pandemic for dinner parties and weekend date nights is now a hybrid office/playroom. My narrow desk is shoved into a corner and the room is divided from the rest of the house by a barricade made up of a large plastic tub, an IKEA toy kitchen, and a wooden book bin. Anything to contain the kids. I’ve spent hours in this room since March, trying to write press releases while Daniel Tiger blared in the background, holding a baby on my lap during video meetings, and vacuuming kinetic sand off the floor. 

This room, this house has never been so lived in. Each day is a never-ending cycle of taking things out and putting them away. Meals and naps and so much screen time. In the past seven months, this place has been both a prison and a sanctuary. 

How can it all feel so claustrophobic when all I ever wanted was a full house? 

How can I be so battered by a life I prayed desperately to have? 

***

I once asked Kyle how he could do the same thing—drive a tractor back and forth, in this case—for hours, days, and weeks on end. “Don’t you just go crazy?” I said. He shrugged and said, “I’m building something. Every day I’m making progress and it feels good.” 

In his case, he’s building a pile of shredded corn stalks the length of a soccer field. Every hour he spends driving back and forth means our cows will have food for the next year. But it’s bigger than corn, I think. This philosophy guides his life—everything he does is in service to this business and a desire to keep moving forward.

Sometimes I wish my goals were that clear. I’m not always sure what I’m building while juggling work calls and the never-ending cycle of cooking breakfast, wiping noses, saying prayers, and picking up toys. My days are a winding road of repetitive tasks and trying to keep it together until bedtime, all while being floored by adoration for my aggravating little people. There isn’t a big payoff.

***

I drop the toy tractor into the basket and the noise startles me out of my reprieve. The post-bedtime silence feels almost eerie. Calm is what I desperately wanted all day—space to think a complete thought, answer a few emails, or take a step without a child or dog underfoot—but now that I’m here, the air is charged. It’s as if the lack of noise is just that: a lack. 

“I miss them,” I realize. This thought is immediately followed by, “You’re a crazy person,” but in spite of the dull ache in my head, I smile. 

My eyes rove the house again. Their energy still pulses through the air. Little handprints appear like evidence on every mirror, window, and low cupboard. A vase of purple and yellow wildflowers Anders picked for me sits on the counter. These scattered fragments tell the story of our life. A story of kids who build forts and have pillow fights and draw pictures for the fridge. A story of a mom who yells and fails and yet keeps on trying. 

I gather one last handful of broken crayons from the floor and straighten. 

I’m building something, and it feels good. 

He Shows Us How to Be Brave

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The day before his birthday, I asked Dairy Man what he wanted to do to celebrate. He thought about it for a beat and then said, “Let’s just hop in the car and drive.” My planner brain instantly had questions: “Where are we driving exactly? How long will it take? Should we pack a lunch? What about naps? Does the car have gas?” But I (mostly) quieted my thoughts and said, “Ok.”

Our kids are not going to learn spontaneity from me. How to make comprehensive packing lists? Yes. How to organize Legos by color and type? Sure. How to make a detailed itinerary to maximize every moment of their European vacation? Definitely.

But he will teach them how to be adventurers.

I tend to play it safe. Kyle tends to take (calculated) risks. His fearlessness—going all the way back to his days as a high school BMXer—has allowed him to take chances in life, trust his instincts, and adapt to changing circumstances. He welcomes failure because he knows there is no better way to learn. He doesn’t get mired in “what ifs,” but instead asks, “Why not?”

In a lot of ways, I want to be more like him.

Yesterday morning as I flew around the house gathering snacks, sunscreen, and extra underwear for the kids (because you never know) for our ambiguous adventure, my pragmatic calculations told me it wasn’t worth the stress. But as we drove away from the farm—Kyle singing along with the radio and corn fields flying past the windows—I felt my muscles loosen and my fingers unclench. As they always do.

We ended up at a small beach that Kyle remembered from his childhood. The sand was warm under our feet as we kicked off our shoes and tramped eagerly over the dunes, fingertips grazing the tall grass. Anders and Ellis squealed as they followed Kyle through small pools of water and over makeshift bridges of driftwood. Their hesitancy at the water’s edge was forgotten when he took their hands. It was clear that our meandering drive had brought us exactly where we needed to be.

Happy 35th, my love. Thank you for pushing us. Thank you for often knowing what we really need.

Thank you for showing us how to be brave.

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How to Work from Home with Kids During Quarantine

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This week Wednesday marked day 100 (ONE HUNDRED, people) of my working from home with three kids underfoot. Quarantine has been a swirling whirlpool of joy, rage, anxiety, and peace–often all within the same five minutes. If you want to read more about that, check out this post on my Instagram.

I’ve learned that gratitude and sorrow live together. In that spirit, after you read my more introspective thoughts about life lately, I suggest you come back here for this highly useful and not at all hyperbolic list.

How to Work from Home with Three Kids During Quarantine

Maintain regular hours
Even though time has felt like a meaningless quagmire since March, try to keep a consistent schedule. Tell your coworkers you are most available at 5:30 a.m., from 9:15-10:23 a.m., 1:00-3:03 p.m., and after 7:30 p.m. when you have successfully cajoled, coerced, and threatened three children into their beds. Realistically, you are trying to get a week’s worth of work done in 15 minute increments between peeling stickers off the television and arguing about the fluidity of time (no, it is not snacktime again).

Keep a dedicated office space
A clean desk is a sign of a clean mind. If that’s true, try not to think about the state of your mind while working amidst mashed crayons, a child’s left shoe, three crumpled tissues, and a pile of kinetic sand. Ideally, your workspace should have good lighting, labeled file folders, and an organic soy candle that smells like seawater. If you find yourself hiding from the kids–who think your laptop is a video portal to Grandma–under the dining room table to send an email, you are doing something wrong.

Get dressed
It’s important to dress for the job you want. I know it’s been 100+ days of quarantine and you are low-level dead inside, but no one will take you seriously in your high school show choir t-shirt and faded black joggers. Wear something clean and professional for your Zoom call, for goodness sake. Your coworkers don’t want to play “guess the stain” with whatever that is on your shoulder. (Sweet Jehoshaphat, please let it be applesauce.)

Create an optimal environment for meetings
Talk to your spouse and other cohabitants about your work hours and expectations. It’s important they know when you cannot be disturbed. During video calls with work, make sure the little people are subdued with hours of Shaun the Sheep, bowls of dry cereal, and proper instructions: Do not fight, do not yell. Do not use the couch as a trampoline. Do not call for me unless someone is actively bleeding. Provide the baby with ample toys to be entertained at your feet for two hours. Do not despair if, instead, he chooses to eat dog hair or clings to your leg wailing like a deranged pterodactyl. That’s why you have a mute button.

Get enough sleep
Sleep is vital to your survival. Get at least eight hours in a dark room that smells like lavender and is kept at precisely 65 degrees. Pay no attention to the child on the baby monitor singing “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” at dawn or your 3 a.m. insomnia spurred by rising infection rates, systemic racism, the patriarchy, or the work project you’ve been ignoring for three months. Dreams about the futility of the human condition also have no place here.

Practice self care
Working from home is stressful. Being in a worldwide pandemic is stressful. Take time to recharge your batteries and hide in the kitchen eating spoonfuls of ice cream from the freezer while the kids watch just one more episode. Sure, your childless coworker Karen is managing to log nine hours a day on Microsoft Teams while also taking up needlepoint, meditating for two hours before bed, and writing a screenplay, but on Tuesday you went to the bathroom alone without anyone barging in and that should be celebrated too.

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Shards of Light: A Family in Quarantine

Shards of Light: A Family in Quarantine

In the midst of monotony
There are splashes of color
In peals of laughter that echo
Across the wood floor

In the midst of anxiety
There is hope to be found in the trees
In barren branches laboring to bud
Against a perennial winter

In the midst of isolation
There are bonds being forged
In small bodies nestled together
Under warm blankets

Even in darkness
Beauty flickers on every surface
Like shards of light
Through a broken window

I only need to notice

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Go Where the Light Is.”

AprilBlogHop2020
Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy for C+C, 2020

Happy Sixth, Anders

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When Anders woke up on Sunday, he asked, “Can I get up early because it’s my birthday? I just want a little extra time.” I smiled as I clutched my still-hot cup of coffee, ready to give him what he needed.

He always wants more. More time outside. More time playing with his dad. More time to work on his Legos. More time snuggled into my side reading another chapter of the Boxcar Children.

Even under normal circumstances, I often feel like I’m not giving him enough.

The night before he turned six, Anders and I both had trouble falling asleep. He vibrated with excitement thinking about presents and a party. I ached deeply because I worried a birthday in quarantine would fall short. Would he notice all the empty seats around the table? How could I make a day special when they all feel the same?

These worries hung over my head all day. Through the farm party at our table with feathered rooster cups and a towering cake. Through the sun-filled hours he and Ellis spent in the red and yellow bouncy house I bought on Amazon. Through a gift exchange in the driveway with his grandparents standing six feet away. Through it all, I watched him out of the corner of my eye, wondering if he felt a lack.

Instead, I saw joy. I watched him laugh and cry and fight with his siblings and it all felt mercifully… normal. Even our half-hearted attempt at dinner after an afternoon spent outside—an eclectic charcuterie platter of everything from Triscuts to frozen peas—made his pale blue eyes light up with excitement.

When I asked him if he had a good birthday as he gathered up his new Legos before bed, his voice was annoyed. “Moooom. Yes. Why do you keep asking me that?” I laughed and pulled him to my side, noticing how his tousled blonde hair nearly came up to the top of my rib cage.

I hope that when he looks back on his sixth birthday, he simply remembers being together.

That would be enough.

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