How I Want to Remember Him

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One of my children’s wails filled the air. I turned my head from the sink full of post-dinner dishes to see Anders dart into the kitchen with a guilty look on his face.

“What happened?” I asked, trying to keep my voice level and resist the urge to say what I was really thinking: What did you do this time?

“Nothing,” Anders’ face flashed an impish grin, but it faltered under my gaze. “Ellis fell.”

“No,” corrected my husband Kyle, entering the room with Anders’ sobbing sister in his arms. “He pulled the blanket out from under her and she hit her head on the floor.”

“Anders! Why did you do that?” As the words left my mouth, I knew they were pointless. My oldest—a child of rash impulses and wild energy—rarely knows why he does things. Yet sometimes I can’t stop myself from asking.

“I dunno,” he said, the return of his grin infuriating me.

I gritted my teeth and took a deep breath. Anders had been relentless in his provocations all day—pushing his younger siblings, defying my instructions, and generally wreaking havoc on our day and my sanity. I could feel 12 hours’ worth of tension pulsing through my forehead like a heartbeat, but instead of shouting “Go to the stairs!” for the 164th time since breakfast, I hissed, “Go outside. Now.”

Anders’ eyes blinked in surprise, but he didn’t stop to ask questions. “Ok!” He raced to the back door.

“Wha—?,” Kyle started. His confusion was understandable—I’m rarely a mom (or person) who deviates from the plan. Going outside after dinner was definitely not our normal routine.

“We didn’t get outside at all today,” I said, massaging my temples with my fingertips. “I had a bunch of meetings, and he has way too much pent-up energy. I’m going to run him before bed.”

Kyle slowly nodded, “Ok. Probably a good idea.”

The warm summer air ruffled my hair as Anders and I stepped onto the deck. He ventured a glance back at me, still not sure if he was in trouble. I put my hands on his narrow shoulders and bent down to meet his eyes. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to run up the hill to the calf barn and I’m going to time you.”

“Ok!” Already coiled like a spring, he leapt into action before the words left my mouth. I pulled out my phone to start the timer.

As Anders sprinted up the grassy hill, his shirt flapped up and I saw the outline of bones on his small back. A wiry six-year-old, he barely tipped the scale over 40 pounds. Yet he was strong enough to carry two gallons of milk up from the basement by himself, veins bulging in his arms and neck. Every inch of him was bone and muscle. My heart tightened as I realized—not for the first time—that my first baby was growing into a boy.

Anders slammed into my waist after another circuit from barn to back door, his skin flushed red. “Was that faster than last time?” he gasped.

I glanced at my phone. “You cut five seconds off your time,” I pushed his sweaty blonde hair off his forehead. “Good job, bud.”

He breathed heavily and I couldn’t help but notice all the malice was gone from his jawline. His face was soft and open—the same face I had adored since he was born. I squeezed his shoulder.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I said, surprising us both for the second time that night. I gestured to the berm between two of our alfalfa fields.

“Really? At bedtime?” He looked up at me with cautious hope, arms still around my waist.

“Sure. Why not?” I said with a grin.

“Yes!” he said. We broke apart and walked side-by-side up the same hill he had been running. The sun was obscured by a bank of clouds, but it was still warm enough to be comfortable in our t-shirts. After the murky humidity of the afternoon, the breeze was cleansing.

I felt like I could breathe for the first time in days.

In the golden evening light, Anders’ steady stream of chatter was a blessing instead of a barrage. When was the last time I did something with just him? I wondered with a twinge of guilt as he dashed under the old dead tree. Before his siblings were born, we used to walk on the farm together every weekend. Now, years later, it was rare for him to have my complete attention.

“Run, Mom!” Anders’ voice startled me out of my reprieve. “You don’t want a branch to fall on you!” I laughed and obeyed. As he dashed ahead, I wondered if four months of quarantine had crushed his spirit as fully as it had my own. The walls of our house seemed to be closing in most days as I unsuccessfully juggled three kids and a full-time job that had gone fully remote.

We drew closer to the edge of the alfalfa field and Anders reached out. “Mom, I’m gonna have to hold your hand when we get to the road,” he said, twining his fingers through mine and pulling me forward. I smiled and rubbed my thumb along his hand, noting the lack of baby fat.

“Are you tired of being at home?” I asked as our feet hit the dirt road and we headed east.

“No,” he said after a pause, clicking his tongue and exhaling quickly—a habit whenever he’s thinking hard. “I like being with my family.”

I winced slightly at the sweet honesty. “I’m so glad, bud.” My fingers tightened around his as I asked the question weighing heavily on my heart.

“Is there anything I can do to make things easier? To be a better mom?”

Anders brow furrowed. “I guess you could try not to yell so much,” he said distractedly, watching a brown toad hop across the road. “Like, you could say, ‘Please don’t do that’ instead of yelling. Because sometimes your voice is kinda mean and I get a little scared.”

“That’s fair,” I murmured as my heart twisted. Clearly my stress was visible to everyone around me. I remembered a few nights before when I told Kyle I thought Anders’ bad behavior—the hitting, pushing, his short fuse—might be my fault. After months of 24/7 family togetherness without a break, I was struggling to cope too. Most days I felt like a pot on the verge of boiling over. My temper flared easily, and I lacked patience and grace. Kyle listened and empathized, but he also pointed out that I was doing a lot of good things too. “You take walks. You do crafts. You’re giving these kids a great life,” he said. “You don’t have to be perfect to be a good mom.”

Kyle’s words danced in my head as Anders and I cut through a field of tall grass on our way back to the house. Surely that’s what I wanted my impetuous, strong-willed firstborn to know too: You don’t have to be perfect to be good.

“We’ll work on it, together, ok?” I said, squeezing Anders’ hand. “I’m sorry for getting angry sometimes. Just remember I love you no matter what.”

“I love you too, Mom,” he said.

He released my hand and raced ahead, whooping and waving his arms. I couldn’t help but think that I always wanted to remember him like this: bright eyes and windswept hair, a spring in his step and a gentle face. Pure energy and joy.

When I started running after him, I felt my own face soften too.

//

Posted today in celebration of Anders’ eighth birthday.

The Folkema Family // January 2022

These are the days

The Folkema Family // January 2022

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These are the days
of sweatpants and scrunchies
of diligent tracking and incessant googling
of eyes that burn with fatigue by dinnertime
of numbers on the scale that aren’t going down as quickly as I’d hoped
of spontaneous flashes of rage, despair, or crushing gratitude
of success being measured in naps, nursing sessions, and baskets of clean laundry
of feeling like I’m never doing enough
of feeling like I’m never enough

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These are the days
of ships in the night
of zone coverage parenting
of marital miscommunications and bags under our eyes
of saying “I miss you” even though we live under the same roof
of his hand squeezing mine before I crawl out of bed to feed the baby
of foot rubs, conspiratorial grins, and lunch dates in the kitchen
of knowing it won’t always be this way
of a steady kind of love

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These are the days
of newborn smiles and overlapping chatter
of stuffie battles and balloon scavenger hunts
of stepping on Legos and small dinosaurs on the rug
of midnight wakings for nightmares, empty water bottles, or a baby’s hungry cry
of asking “Where are your socks?”
of Saturday morning pancakes with syrup (so much syrup)
of rowdy wrestling and whispered apologies
of sticky kisses that linger on my cheek

These are our days,
long and short
heavy and light
ordinary and magic

gutting and full of grace

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.