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.

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.)

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.”

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.