Timing {sometimes it’s just right}

“Are they all yours?” she asked, stopping to turn back and squint at us in the midday sun. Her graying hair was in a uniform halo of curls, peeking out from under a wide visor. A colorful tank top, elastic waist shorts, and blindingly white sneakers completed her look, perfect for an invigorating power walk through the neighborhood and past the lake where we had stopped. The sun wasn’t hot, the breeze was warm, and there were quite a few other people walking and enjoying Mother’s Day outside together. She was alone on her walk, holding up no one as she came a little closer to our small tribe on the path.

I was caught off guard, not being asked if they’re mine all that often, and mumbled out a quick yes. Clearly that was all the invitation needed and she fully turned to the kids as I finished putting my things on the front seat of the car.

“Oh, they’re just gorgeous. Look at them! Oh! Two redheads! Two girls and two boys! Oh! I was watching you all as they walked up the hill there and they are just so wonderful, so sweet how they were helping each other and holding hands and this big girl here with the baby! It was just so nice watching them all! And you, Mama, you’re doing alright, you’re raising them just right! It’s hard but you’re doing great!”

We all stood, half stopped from getting in the car, and listened. The girls smiled politely and glanced at me out of the corner of their eyes. I managed to get out a few nods of my head as she spoke, while wrestling Tater from reaching down to dig in the gravel of the parking spot. I wondered if she could see right through me, flinching over her last two affirmations. No. No, I’m not doing alright. I’m not doing great. I’m doing a terrible job and I’m failing them and holy hell yes, this is hard, but no.

No. I’m not.

“Now, you kids be sweet to your mama and make today real special for her! Show her lots of love and keep being so wonderful to each other! And Mama, you have a wonderful Mother’s Day! These are the best times and you have such a sweet little family. Oh! Cherish this time! So wonderful! You’re doing so great! Happy Mother’s Day!”

And with that, she was off. A quick turn and she power walked her way out of sight while we slowly loaded into the car . . .

***** earlier *****

“Hey! Guys! We’re all dressed up and the camera is in the car and it’s Mother’s Day. We’re going to stop and take a nice picture on the way home from church here now. Okay?”

*groaning, from three corners of the car*


*slightly less groaning from three corners of the car*

We had lost nearly an entire week to being sick, one after another. Slowly, each of us was beginning to feel human again, and slowly, the house was beginning to not look like a site in need of a hazmat crew. Miraculously, we had left the house fed and properly dressed and made it in time for Sunday school. That small feat was the threshold back into regular life, and it just so happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, Mother’s Day this year meant the exact same thing as every other day, only now as I cleaned up ridiculous messes (entire box of spilled cereal tracked through the house) and broke up fights (over which radio station to listen to) I could mutter under my breath about how it was Mother’s Day, dammit. Which was only slightly helpful to the situations.

On our way home I held steady in my quest for a picture. Just one thing, JUST ONE THING, that my children could sacrifice and suffer and make their mother happy for. We pulled up to my favorite quick picture spot and started to climb out of the car. As I looked around, I saw that most of the background would now be filled with heavy machinery and dirt piles. Lovely.

Grumbling, we all buckled back in the car and went in search of a second spot. Nearly home, I pulled off the road near a lake in our neighborhood and crossed my fingers. Tater fell and scuffed his hands while walking down the hill and ZZ threw one long, committed tantrum over not being permitted to run headlong into the lake after the geese. Slowly we trouped to the first passable spot and they stood in a bedraggled mob as I set up the camera. Despite my worries about the sun being too bright or the setting not being pretty enough, I loved the test shots I took. This was going to be wonderful, getting a nice picture of all of us!

Over and over again I connected my fancy pants camera to my fancy pants phone and dashed back to where the kids stood to use the corresponding app to take the picture. Over and over again, just as I got everyone to face the camera and get ready, the signal would disconnect. No matter how far away I stood, how slowly or quickly I walked, or how many times I cursed at the whole contraption while facing away from the kids, It. Would. Not. Work.

We tried the timer a handful of times, always with me missing the shot to catch ZZ as he flailed wildly, wanting to run with me instead of be restrained on that horrible patch of path. I scrolled back through the pictures that had been taken as the girls begged to just go home and Tater found a muddy stick. I was in one. Half turned sideways, arms blurry from moving and mouth wide from talking. I snapped at the kids to just come on. To forget it and forget I even wanted anything. They trailed behind me up the hill as I stalked angrily to the car, deep in a mental temper tantrum, clenching the tripod tightly as I screamed inside about nothing ever going right, about something always having to be wrong, every time, every thing, some thing, wrong.

I yanked the car door open and roughly threw the tripod on the seat, turned around to get the kids, and heard a woman’s voice . . .

Let It Out {before duty cries again}

I opened the bathroom door and a cloud of steam whooshed into the hallway. I usually hate to keep it all the way closed because of how warm it gets in there, but tonight I tried to sneak in a shower right after bedtime. The baby was sound asleep in my room, snug in his crib right next to the bathroom wall, so every effort to keep the sound down was being made. As my eyes got used to the dark hallway, I noticed that my bedroom door was wide open, as was the kids’ bedroom door. Wrapped in towel and dripping with anger along with the water from my hair, I hurried to shut the first door as one of the kids came back out of the other room. Guilty was written all across their face and they dashed off a lame excuse about wanting to make sure the cat wasn’t in there and and and . . . As they rambled on in the shadows of the nightlight, I added a long, unhurried, who-cares-what-kids-are-up shower to the list of things I’ll enjoy once M finally comes home again.

It’s been nearly an hour since then and my hair is still wet, I’ve put the baby back to sleep once, shushed other kids in the hallway twice, and threatened hard labor tomorrow three times if they don’t shut it and stay in their beds. Every night we go around and around and they show me just how little respect there is in this house right now. Things were going so well and then attitudes have been in a straight downward spiral over the last two weeks or so. I see the baby far more at night that I would ever like to and I’m sure that has a lot to do with how I’m dealing with the other three that are so intent on pushing my every last button. But, when the dark circles under my eyes are big enough to warrant their own zip code from three, four, or even five hours awake at night, those last shreds of striving to be the patient mother snap under the tiniest bit of pressure.

I keep catching myself thinking “Ugh! The baby/Tater/MJ is just being THE WORST. Tater/MJ/Miss E weren’t this bad at this age at ALL!” And I’ll stew about it and stress about it and loose my temper over it. Then, a few hours later, when the dust has settled, I’ll go ahead and let myself remember that, oh yes, they have all been THE WORST at something. Tater stress tested every thing in this house constantly, with the same force and consistency that ZZ opens doors and drawers and picks every child lock. And MJ used to hit the same late afternoon wall the Tater does, turning into a hurricane of emotions that ended in a teary nap that screwed up bedtime. And I know Miss E flipped out in exactly the same way that MJ does about clothes and friends and homework, settling in to the fine line of first grade being real school compared to kindergarten. I know all this and I see all this and somehow it still doesn’t take the weight off my shoulders and the sting of tears out of my eyes when all I wanted was a shower and maybe a few extra minutes of the evening to myself before being called back to duty.

I tell myself every night to be mindful and to go to sleep early and to simply just let it go. Tomorrow is a new day and new beginnings! But then I find myself texting the husband memes of having zeros fucks left to give by 8am. And dashing off hurried sentences in a display of letting it out or stewing on it for hours while I coax ZZ back to sleep. Tomorrow will be a better day. Next week will be a better week. And next month better be a better month. Or something along those inspirational lines . . .


It’s rather daunting to start writing about anything other than the proverbial giant elephant standing in the room every time I log in to this here space . . . or, rather, the literal elephant standing in the pictures of the epic trip I absolutely must write about . . . but the top tips for taking four kids around the world and highlights of halfway homeschooling through Southeast Asia will have to wait for another day because today? Today is all about the birthday girl!

Magically, while I was busy blinking or something like that, my first baby turned nine. NINE. One more year until double digits and then she’ll be asking to borrow the car, go out on dates and wear my fancy earrings. And I cannot even handle the thought of how quickly college tours are going to loom around the corner. We just won’t talk about all that right now.

She’s sweet as pie, as caring as a mother, smarter than any whip you’ll ever find, loyal to the bitter end . . . and has a streak of sass a mile wide. I fear the bruises she and I are going to find upon our heads once we hit the next couple of years. Along side that fear though, I see the girl she’s growing into and she makes me proud every day with her thirst for knowledge, grasp for understanding all the unknowns, and desire to be her own unique personality. She stays up far too late reading books that are far above her grade, busts out vocabulary words that I have only used a handful of times in my life, and can find the winning loophole in any argument. She’s crafty and sneaky, beautiful and wonderful, infuriating and amazing . . . and I hope and pray that, as the years go by and details get fuzzy,  I can remember her as this sincere, freckle-faced, long-legged nine year old that begs for independence but still climbs in my bed to cuddle in the mornings.

Here’s to the stack of books she gleefully unwrapped and the new, cooler wardrobe she’s planning to buy with her gift cards. Here’s to still playing with the legos and dolls her siblings picked out, while dreaming of the perfect accessories to match with that wardrobe. Here’s to birthday dinners of scallops and sashimi and calamari, and blowing out the candles on a rainbow sprinkled ice cream cake. Here’s to nine, and all the joy that comes with it.

Happy Birthday, my sweet Miss E!