The Secret Ingredient

You might have seen my facebook post yesterday, but in case you had more important things to do, here’s a recap:

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Unfortunately days like this are not all that rare, except that I’m not usually going out of my way to make my kids cinnamon toast. That was a special treat because we had run out of frozen waffles. But the fact that I broiled them to a perfect shade of black would not be very surprising to you if you have ever spent a morning in my house.

Unfortunately for me yesterday, those six crispy pieces of cinnamon toast also represented the last bit of bread we had in the house.

Get your clothes on, y’all! We’re going to Dunkin Do– but before I could finish yelling instructions, they appeared before me dressed from head to foot.

Did someone say Dunkin Donuts? said their small cherub faces.

I’m exaggerating only slightly. But they weren’t wasting any time crying about the toast, you know what I mean?

On the way there, MB wanted to review the circumstances leading to this special occurrence.

Well, I said, I burned the cinnamon toast. And there’s no more bread in the house. Because Mommy hasn’t been to the grocery this week. And I’m really sorry about the toast guys– I put an extra serving of love in those.

Mary Bullock thought for a minute. You know you can still put love in the donuts, she said. I could see her smiling to herself in the rear view mirror.

How’s that? I asked.

Just by giving them to us.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! The kids are gonna be just fine.

The Monster at the End of This Book

Mary Bullock and I went to the library last week. In homeschool terms, we call this a field trip. In real life terms, we call this mommy has an $18 late fee.

How is it even possible to have an $18 late fee? I don’t know. But they hold their books hostage there until you pay them, so there went the money.

Anyhow, without even looking for it, this book jumped out at me. And my heart! My heart skipped a beat.

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I haven’t thought about this book in about three decades, but when I picked it up I felt like a five year old again: WHAT? A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK?

NOBODY. MOVE.

It’s the same feeling I get when I see old clips of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Like, what has happened here? How am I an adult now? Can somebody please get me a snack? Does that happen to you?

I remember so specifically reading Superfudge and that moment where their hands meet in the popcorn box? I must have gone back over that paragraph dozens of times. And I remember my mom bringing home a box of birthday gifts for me from a conference the year I turned eight. I don’t know what else was inside except The Secret Garden. I stayed up half the night reading it. In third grade it was Sweet Valley High. I went back and read all the Sweet Valley Twins later, but I felt like pretty hot stuff reading a book about high school girls when I was still wearing my hair in pigtails and listening to Debbie Gibson. I remember having nightmares about Into the Dream (can I get an amen?) and buying Go Ask Alice at the Waldenbooks at the mall with my $5 Friday night spending money.

I can trace most of my life in books. Good books, bad books, terrible books I refused to finish, books I was desperate to re-read immediately upon finishing.

But there was never a monster at the end of those books.

Only this one.

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If I Were a School Supply

When I was in elementary school, I loved pencils that had troll dolls on top. I also loved the pencils where the leads were stacked up inside the pencil, and you replaced them one at a time. But those were kind of ordinary.

There’s nothing ordinary about a writing utensil with a naked, crazy-haired troll on top.

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I loved to smooth the bright colored hair into points. I probably did this while my teacher was explaining algebra, which would explain a lot about me.

But the best part was taking that pencil, with the smooth pointy troll hair, and spinning it between my palms as fast as I could.

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ZAP! Crazy hair.

My life in the last two weeks has been like the troll doll pencil. I had an already kind of crazy life, but a kind of crazy that was smooth, familiar. And I threw it into chaos.

In case you thought I was nuts to homeschool and you’re primed with an I told you so, I will say that in spite of the chaos, I think this is the right decision for us.

But it is new, new and more new. And I like same, same, and more same.

There have been a lot of tears. And let me just be honest: they’re mostly mine. Not because this is really hard (it’s not) or because she’s hard to teach (she’s not). Just because I like to have everything figured out, and so far I have only figured out that it will be a long, long time before I figure it out.

And that while I figure it out, my family might be eating more frozen pizza than I prefer.

And Mary Bullock might be lonelier than she prefers.

I might be lonelier than I prefer.

And hungrier. Because I don’t eat frozen pizza.

How does one actually homeschool, attend to toddlers, and cook dinner? I feel sure there is an answer, but I have not stumbled upon a good one yet. And before you all chime in with crock pot, please understand that grocery shopping has not yet made it into the schedule, either.

And anyway, I’m not really in need of suggestions. I’m more in need of some grace. And the first person who needs to give it to me– is me.

 

 

**Also understand this: I do not believe that I’m not the only one experiencing chaos right now. For my friends returning to work, tending to new babies who don’t sleep, sending babies to long days of kindergarten, longing for a life you don’t have, trying to make so many things work and not quite having it figured out yet, there is so much love in my heart for you. We all have different circumstances, and life suckage is not a competition, this I know.**

 

 

 

I’m Lucky and I Know It, Clap My Hands

 

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This photo was taken almost exactly thirteen years ago, in the days before selfies. It involved setting a timer on my camera and dashing to flop myself back on the couch and look relaxed before the beep and flash. We’d been dating for about two weeks, but it felt significant enough to document. I mean, we had already exchanged I love yous, so I guess a self-portrait was in order.

Marriage is kind of a crap shoot, isn’t it? I mean, it’s intentional, and it’s hard work, yes. Lee might say it’s harder work than 99% of the general population. But what I mean is this: say you start dating someone when she’s twenty-two twenty-three. Three years later, you decide you can deal with this brand of crazy permanently and you marry her, and then ten years after that, you’re looking at a completely different person than the one you originally picked. She’s been through several hairstyles, four pants sizes, two jobs, no job, infertility, three pregnancies, three newborns, three toddlers (and the accompanying wrinkles and stretch marks), and she now resembles almost in no way the twenty-three year old you helped push through an unlocked window on your first date.

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What is that all about, anyway? It’s a wonder that so many people actually survive this.

I wish that I could say our marriage has flourished this last decade because I’m so good at it.

I’m not.

I think I’m just one of the lucky ones who chose someone who keeps deciding to choose her back. Even when I’m crazy, and selfish, and when I get hangry, and when I need a nap, and when I ignore the laundry until he has no clean underwear, and when I spread myself so thin holes start to emerge in the soles of this life.

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Lee: Thank you for choosing me every day. Here’s hoping we keep the fire department at bay for another ten years!

I love you.

 

 

Too School for Cool

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Mary Bullock started Kindergarten today! Doesn’t she look excited about this? I don’t know how excited she is, actually. We’ve been doing school on and off all summer, so I’m sure this doesn’t seem too different to her than the usual. Tomorrow is the BIG DAY in her mind because the boys go back to preschool and we start Classical Conversations. Then we have a Mommy + Daughter date at Cozy Tea on Wednesday. This is shameless pandering on my part, make no mistake.

The thing is, we didn’t decide not to send Mary Bullock to school because we thought she would struggle, or because she wouldn’t like it or adjust to it, or anything like that. Mary Bullock is much like both of her parents in that she loves school. So I’m not deluding myself into thinking that there won’t be some push back when she realizes that most of her friends are going to traditional schools all day while she will be with me. So my plan is to fill up her memory bank with all the perks of homeschooling so that when that push back comes, traditional school won’t seem like a mythical happy place with which our kitchen table cannot compete.

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Here is what I want you to know about this situation: I never imagined that homeschooling would be our life. On the contrary, I’ve spent the last five years dreaming of the day I got my kids in school and could live a life of leisure. Tennis on Thursdays? Yes, please. Solo grocery trips? Why, yes! Mid-morning hair cut? Sure thing. So it was just as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone that homeschooling was such an obvious choice for us this year. Of course, I never imagined that I’d be a stay-at-home mom, either. My imagination is untrustworthy, obviously.

We chose to homeschool for a whole host of reasons that I can never adequately articulate, but the bottom line is that none of our other choices felt right for our family. And by that I mean, our whole family. It wasn’t our last resort– in fact, I made the decision before I finished touring schools. I haven’t for a second dreaded it; I’m actually excited about it. Maybe more excited than my pupil. But I’d also be remiss if I didn’t admit that I’ve wanted to throw up for most of the day week. Hopefully that will go away soon. Someone tell me that it will.

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I don’t know how all this will go– maybe we’ll hate it. But at the very least, I know she won’t get dumber staying at home this year. But maybe, just maybe, if we’re patient and flexible, and if we listen more than we talk, and cuddle more than we fight, then by the grace of God, we’ll figure it out.

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And if not, then at least we tried.

We’re Getting to the Good Part Now

(Breaking news…I had a whole thought! It only took me three years to develop! At this rate I will surely be a rocket scientist in the next century or so.)

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Here we are in the downward slide towards back-to-school, and I find myself with the strangely familiar late-summer feelings toward my children. Feelings like: wow, I really love being with them. I mean, I always love my children, of course. But being with them–all of themall the time–is not always fun.

I find that I start my summers with expectations. Expectations of time, of quiet, of toys put where toys go. I’m spoiled by preschool hours, and early June is a rude awakening. I spend the first month of summer struggling against it. If you’ve ever had toddlers, you know this is a losing battle.

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By late July, I’ve given up my expectations. Quiet? Don’t remember it. Toys? The floor is their new home. Water balloons in the late afternoon? Consider yourself bathed.

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Miraculously, just when I lay down my rights to personal space and an audience-free shower, it gets good.

Case in point: I started the summer determined to break Bo of his infuriating habit of whining. I gave him five whining tickets a day and when they were done he had to go to bed early. (Thank you, John Rosemond, for that two week long experiment in banging my head against a wall. I kind of suspected that I disliked you, but now I know for sure.)

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Somewhere toward the end of June, even more irritated than before, I threw up my hands and started a Warm Fuzzy jar. Suddenly, instead of noticing how much he whines, I notice how much he helps and how incredibly generous he is. He still whines a lot. I mean, a lot-a lot. I just care less. And it’s so much better this way.

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I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I will be glad to regain some of my mental bandwidth when the boys are in school a few mornings a week. It will be much quieter around here, for sure. The toys will stay in the toy bin. I might actually get a few minutes where someone is not demanding a snack ten minutes after a meal.

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But before that happens, I’m going to try to squeeze in all the kisses, all the popsicles, and all the sweetness of three babies in the summertime. They will never be almost 6, almost 4, and almost 2 again, after all. There’s mess here– no doubt about that. But there’s magic, too. Late summer magic.

Thoughts, Half-Chewed Again

So last November I wrote a post called Thoughts, Half-Chewed. What I didn’t realize at the time, as Tucker sidled his way into full-on toddlerhood, was that those were the only kind of thoughts I would have for a long, long time. I’m smack in the middle of the tunnel– not nearly close enough to the end to see any light at all. So here are some more semi-thoughts.

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Tucker is throwing down some words lately. They’ve been slow coming, but in the last few weeks he’s piped up with a bunch. His favorite noise is still the squeal, though. My ears are constantly ringing, and I have daydreamed of wearing earplugs.

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MB and I start homeschooling in the fall. What I have learned about homeschooling this summer is that one key component must be that we stay at home for several minutes in a row on a daily basis. At this, we have failed so far.

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We took the kids to Disney in May. We carefully omitted the fact that Elsa and Anna were there because we weren’t about to wait in a three hour line. This was one of the many times I have been glad that Mary Bullock is not quite reading yet.

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We took our annual mama + kids road trip in June. I think I have PTSD. I just finished unpacking this morning (a month later!) Nevermind I still haven’t unpacked the way back of my car. I love seeing my people (I can call them my people because I’m from Eastern North Carolina and people say that sort of thing), but it stretches the limits of my patience and fortitude. It will take me until next June to restore my traveling strength.

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Jen and I took all these monkeys to Mount Vernon and here is what my children remember: George Washington is DEAD. He died ON HIS BED, AND WE SAW IT. There was also a BIG WAR. The end.

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I just figured out the two secret words that will get Bo to put on his own swim suit without whining, crying, or writhing on the floor. Those words are: WATER BALLOONS. I have never seen that child move so fast to do anything in his life, ever. Just a little tip for you.

Speaking of water balloons, I just spent 30 minutes painstakingly filling 20 water balloons in our kitchen sink. The bursting of said water balloons lasted 45 seconds. And now they are outside unsupervised with the water hose while I type these half-chewed thoughts.

I don’t know what kind of mess I will return to, but I’m pretty sure they’ll make me wish I had swallowed these particular thoughts whole. {Gulp.}