Sh*t just got real.

Shortly after the birth of my third child, a group of my best friends gave me a muslin blanket emblazoned with the phrase, “Sh*t just got real.”

In that moment, when laughter bubbled over like champagne, I don’t think any of us anticipated just how true one blanket statement could prove to be.

Together and apart, we’ve navigated postpartum anxiety, termite damage, mastitis, hurricane warnings, potty training, divorce, and the death of a parent – to scratch the surface. Life is not a walk in the park. (Although we’ve done a lot of that, too.)

And now this. What in the world? This was supposed to be our year.

Coronavirus, the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, self-isolation and shelter-in-place have, well … put us all in our place. 

And nobody seems to know what to do.

At the heart of this, we are being asked to spend more time with the people we love. More time with ourselves. More time just to be.

Are we so uncomfortable with that?

I understand there are jobs, livelihoods and even lives on the line. My husband is an airline pilot – we know too well the realities ahead. It’s not like they’re going to keep flying those big planes around with nobody in them.

But can’t we just be still? Nobody likes being told what to do. Nobody likes being told to do nothing, either. We don’t want to be bored, but we also don’t want to have to juggle too much. Work from home and take care of the kids? It’s time to find out what we’re made of.

Maybe this is an opportunity. Maybe instead of rushing to make Pinterest-perfect homeschooling schedules we should embrace the lack of plans, take each moment as it comes, listen to our children and learn from one another. Do a little good – not so you can post about it on social media, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Bake one of your grandmother’s handwritten recipes. Paint a self-portrait. Explore your backyard. Write a card to a stranger. There’s science and math and reading and art all around us. We have a great opportunity to teach these things and more. 

Let’s teach our children what it looks like to encounter a challenge and come out on the other side. Show them what it looks like in the middle. Show them patience and kindness and resourcefulness. Show them frustration and anxiety, too. Most of all, show them resilience

This is not something to be afraid of, so long as we all do our part. This is a moment to embrace the unexpected – and become better because of it.

Yeah, sh*t just got real. But real is where the good stuff happens.

With so much to “do” in motherhood, sometimes we need to just “be.”

I’ve been feeling really unsettled lately. Too much caffeine and too little sleep, an overload of scrolling and comparison, out-of-whack hormones and a diet of leftover french fries can really do a number on you. 

I can’t turn off my mind. On top of work and the work of keeping a home, there are schedules to remember, school projects to usher along and a million little tasks that need checking off each day. My pen has run dry. I’m all out of check marks.

After feeling like a tornado was spinning through my chest for a solid week, I declared a day of rest. With the children in school, I took a walk and actually went to a yoga class I signed up for, for once.

I breathed through upward and downward dog. I practiced a shaky chaturanga and lost my balance a few times. When it came time to set our intentions, I whispered, “Find Stillness.”

Halfway through class a song shuffled through the playlist, voices chanting:

Mother, I feel you under my feet
Mother, I hear your heartbeat

It took me right back to my oldest at three years old. His first year in preschool, the children dressed in native T-shirt fringe and learned this ancient song. They drummed. We smiled, adoringly. 

Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost my footing. Those words were a reminder to connect. Whether to Mother Earth or Father God or sky or song or universe – when we lose our way, connection is one way back.

I made time to connect today, with myself and the world around me. No pressures, no commitments … a chance just to be.

On my morning walk, I listened to the call of the birds and felt the cool wind in my face. On my yoga mat, I felt the strength of my muscles and looked inside my heart. As I twisted my body through the poses, I felt stillness come.

At the end of our practice, the teacher read a meditation. Part of it talked about being versus doing. Another part said what we give our attention to becomes our worldview. If we focus on discord, that’s what we’ll feel. What if we paid attention to the good stuff?

I think I’ve been giving too much thought to where I’m failing. Did I lose my patience and yell at the kids? That must be the kind of terrible mother I am. I’ve been spending too much time wondering if I’m good enough to make my dreams come true than actually doing anything to get there. 

Today, instead of worrying about doing anything about any of it, I decided just to be. 

I put my feet in a tub of strangely blue water and paid to have them massaged and made smooth. Inspired by my friend who jokingly realized she might be the worst kind of high-maintenance (the kind who thinks she’s low-maintenance) I even got a manicure. Now, my rough edges seemed smoother, too. Turns out, we all need a little maintenance. 

I went to the grocery store by myself, another luxury among mothers. As the automatic doors slid open to rows of perfectly organized produce, I was greeted by another familiar song, a standard of living room dance parties we need to bring back, Andy Grammer shouting, “It’s good to be alive right about now.” 

When you pay attention, you start to see all the good. 

Self-care is a trendy thing, isn’t it? The mothers who sang to the beat of the ancient drum didn’t have Instagram or Instacart or insta-anything. They had each other. They were rooted to the earth and to their families. We’ve let modern motherhood tell us all the things we need to do instead of remembering what we are called to be.

I was reminded today of the privilege to be “Mother” – the heartbeat of my family, what my children feel under their feet. 

It was a much-needed day of rest and restoration I hope will stay with me when the kids get in the car in a few hours and start screaming at each other. 

I’ll let you know how that works out.

Nine.

Little one I once held in my arms, you are nine today.

We had already been through a lot on the morning you were born. Seventeen hours in the hospital before they decided to take us to the operating room. An emergency C-section set to a soundtrack the doctor determined … I think you were born to “Dream On.” 

You were a dream to me. 

They told me I was sick, they told me I could die. 

I said, “No, I’m going to stay here and be his mom.”

We were just getting started. 

You cried a lot. I had never changed a diaper before. I cried while you cried as we figured it out together in the middle of the night. I was your home, and you were mine. 

At one, you were known for your ‘funny face,’ nose scrunched up to one side.

You learned how to ride a bike without training wheels just a few months shy of three. (But you were still two, your claim to fame.)

When you were nearly four, we handed you a baby sister. Even in our hardest moments, you are always the most patient. There’s so much we could learn from your sweet nature and helpful heart.

At five, you started Kindergarten and made a new best friend. I watched.

You have grown up before our eyes. How did it happen so fast?

Once shy and unsure, you became a boy your friends can look up to. I look up to you, too, even though I’m still taller. I know it won’t be long. 

When you were six, you got the brother you had hoped for. In baby pictures, he looks just like you, but without your cool red hair.

At seven, you placed first for your grade in the school-wide run. At eight, you sang a solo in the second grade play. That was me screaming at the top of my lungs. We are so proud of you. 

You love playing soldiers and spies. Your old G.I. Joes are your most prized possessions. You can’t figure out why kids your age want iPhones and social media. You don’t understand why everyone is in such a hurry to grow up. Neither do I.

I don’t know what you’re going to become, but I know you will be a good man. 

For now, though, can you stay a boy? 

I know I don’t have much time before you start pulling away – before you’d rather hang out with your friends than build forts and watch movies with us.  

You don’t want to hold my hand anymore, and that’s okay. 

But when you find another girl’s hand to hold, please don’t forget me.  

I’ll always be there when you need me, to catch you when you fall.

I’m not very good at math, but I know that nine is halfway to 18, and I can’t believe this much of your childhood is behind us … just like that. 

I thought we were just getting started.

I’ll be there to help you get ready for the dance. I’ll be at your concert, front row, screaming at the top of my lungs. I’ll drive you to all the things, just be honest about where you’re going. You can tell me.

Thank you for making me a mama, then a mommy, now a mom. Thank you for making me laugh when I’m stressed out. For doing your homework without being asked. For knowing what all of us need.

You are everything I ever could have asked for in a son. And I get to be your mom for my whole life. 

You are nine today, but we are just getting started, you and I. 

What if I’m just ‘Mom’?

Last week after dinner, I started crying while I was loading the dishwasher. I wasn’t unhappy to be doing the dishes – I was just feeling like a loser.

When you’re little, you’re always dreaming about what you’re going to be. My kids have wanted to be everything from an astronaut to the garbage man, dolphin trainers, soldiers and spies. 

I wanted to be on TV – Saturday Night Live, to be specific. I was on my way. I studied voice and piano. I took dance classes. I starred in nearly every play our community theater staged from the time I was five until I left to join a class of 25 bright-eyed babies just like me in conservatory.

I was going to be a star. 

Until I got there and realized we all wanted the same thing, and it was going to take a lot of hard work and even more luck to get there. I didn’t give up, but I did change dreams – and schools.

Now, I was working toward a degree in Creative Writing. I traveled to England to study literature and I visited the (replica of the burned-down) theater where Shakespeare staged his plays. I didn’t stand on it, but I did get a photo next to it, young and carefree and ready to take on The Globe … before I knew the weight of it.

I was going to be a writer.

I graduated from college with my fancy degree and not a clue how to become an “author,” which is apparently what you call yourself when someone takes a chance on you and publishes your words. 

After an internship at a local magazine, I worked as an editor for a few years before heading back to my hometown. I took a job in fundraising, where I learned the art of using words to ask for contributions to worthy causes, which continues to be some of the most rewarding work I do. 

When my first child was born, I took a break from work to do the precious work of raising him. At the same time, my mother was battling cancer, so I had the privilege and the freedom to care for her as she had always cared for me.  

There was a wedding. There were more babies. A few different jobs, but none that ever stuck … other than ‘Mom.’ 

I started this blog. I delight at every ‘like’ and comment that pops up on my screen. It is a joy to connect with you in these magical and mundane moments of motherhood and marriage.

Along the way, I’ve written several stories for children. Two of them are swirling around in my mind … meaningful messages I hope to turn into books I can share with you in time. But when? In between the breakfasts and the laundry and the dishes, I’m trying my hand at illustrating them. 

I don’t know if I’m making excuses or I’m just scared. Being ‘Mom’ is a full-time job – but I want the people who call me by that name to see me become what I want to be, so one day they feel brave and ready to become what they want to be. 

I am going to be their mother.

That night in the kitchen, I cried because I felt like I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t doing enough or making enough or giving them enough. I cried big, heavy sobs and my husband held me and told me he would do everything he could to make my dreams come true. 

Haven’t they, already? There is so much that is good, so much that is more than enough. Sure, there is something special I want to make, but look at what I’ve already made. Look what we do and give and create as mothers. 

As my sobs slowed, my face wet with tears, I asked my family, “Are you proud of me?”

And that same little boy who made me a mom – nine years old, too big, too good – came to stand in front of me. 

“You know what your job is?” he said. “Your job is to be the best mom in the whole world, and you have already accomplished so much.”

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not sure any of us really do. I don’t know how to become an “author” or how to help you achieve the secret dream inside your heart. But I know we can be here for each other, encourage each other as mothers and lift each other up. I know we can raise our children to choose joy and we can teach them to be good and kind. 

And if I’m only ever just ‘Mom’ … if it’s enough for them, it’s enough for me. 

There are things in life no one can prepare you for.

Things like forgetting your line in the school play, or jumping into an ice-cold ocean in January.

The day in middle school when the girls suddenly turn on you.

The night the guy doesn’t turn out to be who you thought he was.

Accidentally setting your house on fire.

The sting of clear, straight liquor.

The sting of someone leaving, when they said they never would.

Getting passed over for a job you’d be great at because you’re too young.

Being pregnant and unmarried in the South.

How judgmental people can be about baby names … actually, how judgmental people can be about everything.

Childbirth.

The first poop after childbirth.

The sweet sounds your newborn makes in your arms.

The absolute and utter exhaustion of having a newborn.

The cruel irony of not being able to sleep when your baby finally sleeps through the night.

Feeling sad or angry or alone when you become a mom.

The first time your baby calls you “Mom” instead of “Mama”.

The last time your baby breastfeeds. (Even if you’re ready. Even if it’s later than everyone thought it should be.)

All the laundry.

Losing a baby after two healthy pregnancies … ever.

How you feel after a wild night out in your 30s/40s/anytime after your 20s.

The moment you realize your kid is embarrassed of you.

Almost losing your mom to cancer.

Feeling helpless when your best friend loses her Dad.

The way your heart can break for the people you love.

How one minute you can think your husband is the funniest guy in the world, and the next minute he annoys you just by breathing.

The fact that marriage and parenthood are hard … even when they aren’t.

Feeling, sometimes, like you might not want to be married anymore.

Watching the first of your friends go through an actual divorce.

The moment your child rides a bike, swims without floaties or walks dangerously close to the edge of Taft Point at Yosemite.

The breathtaking wonder of Yosemite.

How much you will love your children – and the lengths you would go to prepare them for the things no one can prepare you for. 

Every marriage has “One Big Thing.”

When I met my husband, he was getting out of the military to pursue a job with the airlines.

Our first date went a little something like this:

Him: “I’m not staying here.”

Me: “I’m not leaving here.”

We stayed.

A few years later, he got his airline job.

I traveled with our three-year-old and newborn to the city where he was training – the same city where he would ultimately be based – to visit him that Thanksgiving, looking around at apartments and neighborhoods to call our own.

Still, we stayed – in my hometown, near my family.

It has been a great stressor in our marriage. Not the support we get from having grandparents around to help, nor our beautiful home in a community made for raising children – no, the dreaded “commute.”

Commuting is a weekly point of contention in our lives. Before he ever starts working, my husband drives to our small-town airport, waits to find out if he gets a seat on an overcrowded, often delayed plane, and sits in an uncomfortable, germ-laden seat for two hours. Upon arriving, he waits up to five or six more before beginning his actual workday. (On the way home he sometimes spends longer wandering the airport before boarding a flight back to us. On the bright side, he’s gotten a lot of steps in that terminal.)

Admittedly, I haven’t had an awful lot of sympathy for him, because I’m home raising the children, who were, at the start of this journey – toddling around and freshly born. (We’ve since added a third to the mix, who is not yet three himself.)

The truth is, I don’t actually know what it would be like if we moved. Change is a scary thing, especially when you’re raising your kids where you were once a kid yourself, and your parents are there when your husband is not, and you’ve made friends you don’t want to leave behind.

But commuting inevitably leads to complaining, which can be heavy on a young family, especially when you’re getting enough of that from the little people you created together.

He complains about not living where his job is; I complain about not living where I am comfortable.

Just as every profession has its ups and downs, every marriage has its “One Big Thing.” Other people may fight about money, sex, or free time. We fight about location. Being a bus-driver-in-the-sky isn’t as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be. If in doubt, just watch every airline pilot’s favorite stop-motion LEGO video, “Living the Dream.”

Sure, we have travel benefits, but as a family of five in a world where algorithms fill seats to capacity, we’d be lucky to get very far. (See: the first and only time we tried flying standby, which went surprisingly well.)

Pilots are pretty spoiled – they talk of too many days worked for too little pay, labor rules, union agreements, new contracts and old captains. But then again, I’m kind of spoiled, too. Getting to live here, in the place I love, surrounded with support while I raise my babies. We truly are “living the dream.”

So … we’ve come to a compromise. If, after 10 years together in this place we call home, the commute is still a conflict in our lives, we will pack up and give change a chance.

(I just have to find a suitcase big enough for my Mom and Dad.)

What’s your “One Big Thing”? Where are some spaces in your life that could use a little compromise?

There is power in now.

I had just licked a glob of peanut butter off a spoon. 

Washing it by hand at my kitchen sink, I realized how good it felt to do something right away instead of putting it off until later.

“If not now, when?” is a saying by a Hebrew elder I remembered from Sunday School as I sat down with these thoughts. There was more to it than that, and I’m as certain he was not referring to a spoonful of peanut butter as I am certain he’s not the only person who ever said it – but there it is anyhow, in this context, a few thousand years later. 

The New Year is funny, because we all start starting over. I like it a lot … but to be fair, you can start over any day, any hour, any moment. 

(Sometimes, when we have a hard day in our family, I like to cook breakfast for dinner, starting over with heaping plates of eggs and bacon, right then and there.)

I’ve walked three miles every day this week. I’ve noticed lots of other walkers and runners and cyclists out there, too, kick-starting their year with a sudden interest in health and wellbeing. 

There is power in now

I bought a bunch of canvas bags for groceries. I ordered three identical baskets to carry clean laundry to every corner of my house, hopeful I might stop letting it pile up on the stairs, making its way up maybe once a week, and sitting another week before perhaps being put away. Perhaps.

I’m cleaning out closets and drawers (and spaces in my heart and in my mind) where clutter has gathered since the last time I made room – quite probably last New Year, when everything felt fresh and full of possibility. 

It’s a lot easier to put things off than it is just to do them. There are so many ways we get in our own way every day, holding us back from doing what we might get done by piddling around doing things that won’t ever make a difference to anyone. 

It makes a difference in my family when my head and my house are organized. It makes a difference in the world when we walk outside as our best selves, carrying talents and treasures within us and setting them free in the morning light.  

There is power in now. Whether you’re quitting the Royal Family or quitting your day job to chase a dream or chase children around, imagine how much you could accomplish if you started right now. 

I, for one, will be putting my phone down and making the most of my moments as I endeavor upon this most precious task of parenting while seeking to reach more mamas (and their babies) with my words on this page – and in the books I’ve kept inside my heart and on my desktop since my first baby was born. 

I also might put some laundry away.

Hey … if not now, when?