Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Today I woke up to the sound of the wind and rain. Throughout the night when my son beckoned, the rhythm of sheets of water against our siding made me feel as if I was riding the waves I could hear crashing not far beyond my window, on the beach I can glimpse through the trees. The howling continued through the morning, the window screens rippling with each gust, the glass glimmering in the steady stream of water pushed against it. With a toddler and an infant I was not sure what to do in the mess I heard outside. I'm not above bundling them both up and venturing out onto a sheltered trail, but today that felt like a lot of work, and as long as they were putting up with the washing of toilets and sweeping of floor, I was going to press forward cleaning the house. 

Then, a friend mentioned she was heading to the pool. 

I grew up in the water, filling the days of summer and the afternoons in spring and fall with hours upon hours in the pool in our backyard. The games my sisters and I invented constantly morphed into new varieties to entertain our growing imaginations,  and throughout our backyard were stations and homes and towns and businesses we had invented weeks and months and years before. There was an entire world to behold in our backyard, and it centered around the water. As an adult I still find myself drawn to it, with overwhelmingly positive connotations and countless memories attached to it. With two pregnancies and two babies in the last four years, I have spent less time than ever in the water.

A couple weeks ago when my toddler was brought to a kiddie pool I realized she was nearly afraid of the water. How could I be surprised? She's spent very little time in anything more than a bathtub, save the occasional hotel pool or a dip in a frigid Alaskan lake. I was surprised at how much this realization bothered me--how could she have a proper childhood if she was afraid of the water? At two she's not eligible for swim classes, but our city pool has an amazing wading area, and I had no one to blame but myself if she continued to bemoan swimming opportunities.

I gave myself ninety minutes to get ready and arrive at the pool; keep in mind, it is no more than three miles away from my house. Lugging two little ones to a pool was a bit intimidating to me, and I knew if I could just get out to do it once it would be infinitely easier the next time. This is true of just about every task I try to undertake on my own: intimidating until I complete it once. So I crawled (carrying my son) into our under-the-stairs closet, dug around until I found the baby-floating-intertube-thing, and lugged it upstairs. We sat in the hallway--all three of us, because I live with leaches--and I struggled to blow the tubing to life. Apparently the devices invented to prevent the de-flating of the inner-tube also make it nearly impossible to blow up. We set about outfitting ourselves in swim suits and layers for traveling in the monsoon outside. We filled a bag with towels and baby shampoo and lotion and fresh underwear. And finally after several minutes of assembling shoes and coats, I loaded both kids into the carseats--with time to spare. 

In the end, we lasted around forty minutes in the pool, with far more than that spent unloading the car, stripping down in the locker room, showers, reassembling our many layers to depart, loading up the car while fighting hurricane force winds, and unloading again at home (thankfully with the protection of a garage). Normally I would think twice about any activity that was that was this high maintenance with only forty minutes of entertainment to show for it. For the pool, I can make an exception. My daughter was still skittish, but less so than last time. She paddled cautiously around in water that was high enough that she couldn't touch her feet but shallow enough that she could clearly see the bottom. My son was laughing in glee for the better part of it, intermittently drinking the water and trying to climb out of his floating oasis. With a couple friends and our combined six kids age four and under, the shallow pool was a bit of a circus, but it was great. In between rescuing the bold kids from drowning and the skittish kids from crying, we chatted about last weekend's mountain race and the triathlons coming this spring. We shared traveling schedules for the holidays and the class schedules for one gal's degree in progress. We talked about our personal positive associations with the pool, and our desires for our kids to (safely) love it too. 

Now that it's nap time and both kids are asleep, the thought of ever repeating the outing sounds exhausting--but I know that I will. It won't always be this hard to get out the door. Even though it seems easier to stay home at times, the days that I never leave the house feel empty and energy-draining in their own way. These are good days; these are hard days. A smile from my son and a string of hilarious antics from my daughter remind me to look past the struggles to sleep and feel like a balanced adult, and appreciate the space I am in. Some days a trip to the pool helps me feel a little more like myself.I hope that some day it may do the same for them too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Story in My Locks

I am reminded daily of the birth of my children when I look in the mirror, not because of stretch marks--though those surely still remain--but because of my hair. Thanks to my son, each time I comb it large handfuls fall out, wrapping around my fingers as I seek to detangle it. With my daughter I eventually lost half my volume--months of shedding culminating in a slowly growing crown of short hairs that mirrored the fuzzy growth of my daughter though a bit less socially acceptable. But a funny thing happened as it grew--it came in straight. As someone that has wrestled and made my peace with a head of thick, curly hair, this threw me for a loop--what was this? Is this my new normal? And thus my hair came to catch the persona of my life: new, different, unfamiliar. The stress of a newborn, the trials of postpartum anxiety and depression, the shift in hormones with a birth and breastfeeding: all of these likely played their part in my awkward hair growth. Yet as time progressed and I became acquainted with motherhood, my hair settled in as well, curling lightly once again, growing out from baby hairs to locks that fell around my face.

All of this came to light a couple months ago when I cut my hair shortly before giving birth to my son. It had been over a year since my last cut, and I had several inches cut off, creating a fresh layered look to elongate my ever round face. And when I looked in the mirror after washing it, I was struck by the curl that emerged, freed by the extra weight that dissipated when the inches were cut. But instead of the strongest curl being near the base of my hair where it was the lightest, it was near my head with the fresh growth. The bottom few inches were barely waves and awkwardly hanging beneath the peppy curl higher up. This last evidence of one of the hardest years of my life causes me to pause on a regular basis. The stretch marks from that first pregnancy have long since faded. My body has lost weight, carried another pregnancy and gathered more stretch marks to tell of my son's gestation. This transition has been easier for any number of reasons, not the least of which being I knew what to expect. He sleeps better, cries less, eats well and is generally such a happy child. Part of this is undoubtedly due to his disposition; part is likely due to the fact that he can sense I am at ease--a reality that was a long time in coming with my daughter. And while those dark nights and darks days I weathered as my daughter aged were something I would happily never live through again, I am reminded these days that they are etched in who I am. They changed me, challenged me, made me stronger and revealed my true weaknesses and fears; they grew my faith even as it was challenged daily and sometimes hourly. I am thankful for those months of trial even as I detested every hour of them.

I need a haircut once again, and in this next trim I will likely lose the last physical evidence of that time after my daughter was born, a step that will leave me with locks of even curls, a head a little lighter, and a heart a little nostalgic.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Knowing an item's proper name is almost as important to her as knowing it belongs to her...a small chair, fitting for no one to use except her small frame, fits this bill perfectly. I am not looking forward to the day her brother learns to claim things for himself; she will not be thrilled with the competition.

I'm not sure when she learned how to respond to the question, but at some point this summer she determined the answer people were looking for when they asked her "What's your name?" Around the same time she discovered that everything has a name. Everything.

"Stop sign"
"Seat belt"
"Door handle"
"Rearview mirror"
"Exhaust pipe"

"What's this called?" she repeats over and over and over. The construction equipment around town needs a proper name; the different types of dinosaurs in the orange plastic container from Uncle Josh need a name; the metal pieces that hold up the railing along our stairs need a name. 

"Sewing Machine"
"Rotary Cutter"
"Sewing Machine"

It can be a bit embarrassing at times when a new person walks in the room and she loudly proclaims, pointing at the human that now stands before her, "What's that called?" She doesn't want to know their gender--she will happily tell you that if you ask--she wants a name. And she will repeat it to herself ad nauseum once she knows it.

"Toilet bowl cleaner"
"Toilet brush"
"Toilet seat"

At the end of the day, when I'm hoping for peace and quiet and she is still moving full speed I find it challenging to answer these requests patiently, especially as they circle around to the same items repeatedly because she has forgotten what I told her the first time. Other times she shocks me by naming an item we haven't seen (or discussed) for weeks. She remembers more than she forgets, a trait I envy at times and condemn at others. 

"Tea cup"
"Tea pot"
"Sugar bowl"

She is in tune with so much these days: the rhythm she has come to count on with our schedule, the items she expects to eat at regular meals based on frequency, the meanings of the different noises her brother makes, the probable location we are headed based on the route we are driving in the car. 

"I need food", she declared this morning, almost an hour before we typically eat lunch. "I need breakfast, a banana," she added to amend her initial request. Now that she can communicate, she regularly tries her hand at negotiation, requesting "one more time" with an item she is not ready to put away, "one second" for an action she is not ready to quit. We realize the phrases we speak without thinking because she repeats them back to us--over and over and over again.

When you become a parent, people warn you of the challenges you will face. What you don't understand initially is how these little people will wear you down. It's not just that they don't sleep--it's that they don't sleep for months. It's not that they throw fits when they don't get their way, it's that they do it over and over and over again. Even when you don't give in to their whims, even when you make it clear that you are the boss, they continue to try---for days, and weeks, and sometimes months. And if they don't wear you down with misbehavior, they may slowly drive you insane with the little questions asked all day, every day.

Yet, even as my husband and I high five over getting two kids to bed to close out another day, we spend the evening chuckling about the funny things our daughter said, the adorable grin flashed by our baby son, the hilarious chain of events that took place earlier in the day. And in that way, it is probably a gift that our memories are not quite as sharp these days: how quickly we forget the exasperating moments as they are overshadowed by the adorable. I am thankful for the short memory I have these days; I would rather start relatively fresh each morning. Perhaps the sleep deprivation is a gift, after all.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tile Floors and Birdcages

There's an understanding among parents with small children that sleeping away from home offers it's own set of challenges. Add in a single room with lots of unfamiliar noises and uncontrollable barriers and you may be met with looks of terror. Sleep time is often the break you need at the end of the day; a few precious moments to reset away from the crying of babies or incessant questions from toddlers. Hotel rooms offer none of these respites; hotel rooms trap you all together to cry it out in one large symphony.

I found myself laying on the floor of our hotel room last night, whispering in our son's ear as I stared up at the hems of our dresses and coats, feeling the cool of the tile against my bare shoulder. He often sleeps in the closet when we travel, the doors offering a small barrier against noise--both for him and me. My daughter was snuggled into the provided crib, which we had draped with a blanket on the sides facing the bed, an attempted barrier against visual distractions. One evening as she fell asleep she talked about her "little fort". Though she protested the birdcage-esque covering during her first nap time, that evening when she returned she requested the brown blanket as she bedded down, needing it to complete the ensemble.

Children have a way of bringing you down from whatever semblance of pride you would normally exist within. Lying on floors to awkwardly shush a baby to sleep is only the beginning. I have walked around for hours without realizing I have a waterfall of spit up decorating my front. I have paraded through grocery stores with one child crawling and the other proclaiming each and every detail of our lives to each shopper that passes us by. I have made plans and cancelled them at the last minute, made plans and shown up and then left prematurely, made plans and totally forgotten about them. I have flown on airplanes while covered in vomit, been urinated on more times than I can count, and held chewed up food in my hands for far too long while searching for a place to dispose of it. When you're caring for children, it's what you do. 

Two years down, so many (I hope) to go.

Even as these little people take me down a notch every time I get my act together. I can't help but love them. And even as vacation is more exhausting than normal life, it's nice to change things up once in a while: see new places, exist in milder weather, and spend time a bit less distracted by everyday details. This is why falling asleep on a tile floor doesn't bother me as much as it might have two years ago--it's just for a couple days, and then we will be back to normal life.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Unanticipated Delight

The sun hangs late in the sky these days, the lingering effects of solstice three weeks past. Our young Alaskan children know nothing of daylight (or darkness) as indicators of times to wake or sleep--they are arbitrary details for now, thankfully.

We ventured to the park this evening after dinner since the sun was still bright, a common activity when the rain has subsided and the hour is not too late. Our daughter circled the equipment confidently, familiar with all the routes and options. After watching her go up and down a slide several times, I told her I would take her brother down the slide too, and she shrieked with delight. She rushed up the stairs to the spiraling red slide, muttering "Both! Both!" to herself as she climbed. When I reached the top she was poised at the top of the slide, scooting as far to the left of the arch of the slide, letting me know there was room for both of them. 

"I'm going down with him," I tried to explain to her. She was so disappointed. She wasn't interested in going down the slide with her brother AND her mom--she just wanted to go with him. In her mind, I would set his 3.5 month old body next to her and they would spiral around to the bottom in perfect harmony. 

Thankfully, this is how she sees the relationship she has with her brother most of the time. This baby that monopolizes meal time and play time with his need for me to sit and feed him. This baby that cries for reasons she doesn't understand and is perfectly stationary wherever we lay him. She adores him. She lays on the floor to talk with him while he lays on his belly. She cheers when he rolls over; she shrieks with delight when he laughs. She rocks his car seat when he cries and runs to his room to keep him company until I can retrieve him when he wakes up from naps. 

As we approached the park this evening, our son began to cry. I knew it was because he was ready to be fed, but my daughter was sure it was because he had grown weary of how long it was taking us to get there. "It's okay," she spoke to him in soothing tones from her side of the double stroller, "we're ALMOST there." And she repeated this mantra for several seconds as she sought to console him in his misery.

These are the moments I didn't anticipate when the chaos of having two children unfolded. I knew there would be twice as many needs. I knew there would be much less free time. I knew the love for my son would match the affection I have for my daughter. I never stopped to think about how she would fall in love with him too. It is truly precious. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Testing Our Limits

There are days when I pack up snacks and both babes, and head to the beach. The sun is shining, warm on my neck as I soak up as much as I can while shielding the delicate new skin of my son from exposure. The sun hat falls in his face constantly, and I simultaneously adjust it to improve its effectiveness while wondering if it's worth the effort. 

Meanwhile, my daughter plays. She sheds her rubber boots and galavants in the creek that feeds into the ocean, stepping on the rocks and letting the water  run over her toes, crouching to examine the details and letting her skirt soak up cold water like a sponge--a reality she wont realize until she stands minutes later. She climbs the boulders and slides down their slanted fronts, proclaiming "Wheee!" for her own entertainment, looking up to confirm that I'm still nearby before getting lost in her own world once again.

In these moments I wonder why we ever go to the playground, why we ever choose anything but the ocean shore for entertainment.

Then, there are days when we pack everything up and head to the beach only to find that the wind is colder than it seemed at home, the temperature much more brisk. My daughter still sheds her boots, and this time her shorts as well--since they will surely get wet anyway. She digs in the sand with her shovel while I huddle under the towel for warmth, my son curled against me wrapped tightly in the blanket I brought for him. I tilt the brim of my hat against the chill and watch as she kicks a ball around, intermittently coming over for a snack or to ask for assistance in going to the bathroom. Then, for no reason I can see, she declares, "All done." She's cold--an unsurprising declaration given that she's been frolicking around in the sand in a t-shirt and underwear for nearly an hour. We pull on her boots and shorts and trek back. I'm disappointed our efforts to get out were so short-lived, but also impressed we lasted so long given the conditions. 

In these moments I wonder why I put forth the effort; it took as long to prepare and gather and get out the door as it did to sit and (not) enjoy the sun and sand and waves. 

Occasionally a friend or acquaintance will comment to me that they are impressed I am out: to dinner, to the beach, to the park in the rain, to track practice, to run with a double jogger. I feel the same way when I see photos of friends on facebook and Instagram: out camping with their toddler and baby, road trips with three kids and without a spouse for hours on end, climbing a mountain with a baby on their back. I guess we all have our limits, and we all have our needs. I need to get out--to the beach, or the park, or the track. Fresh air--with or without rain--keeps me sane...even as the effort of getting there may occasionally make me crazy.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Long, But Very Good

Sometimes at night while rocking my son I match my nose and forehead to his and sway. My neck is unquestionably cramped and my arms eventually tire of his fourteen pound frame but the smell of his breath and the rhythm of his lungs is intoxicating. I fear I will never be as close to him as I am now. He still depends on me for his nourishment, his confort; his eyes light up when they make contact with my own. His distress in being alone or being held by a stranger calms when I scoop him up and whisper in his ear. I am his person.

I am well-rested enough these days that I occasionally miss my children once they are in bed. The relief of two sleeping tiny ones is still rich, but the memory of their smiles, the pitter patter of my daughter's feet as she runs back and forth across the house, the grins and chuckles of my son from the slightest bit of interaction--I am hooked. They are such precious gifts; I can hardly believe at times my life is so full.

"These are the best days," a grandmother from my church tells me over lunch. Her daughter is due with her second grandchild any day, and I can tell she can hardly contain herself in waiting to travel to meet the new child. When I went into labor with my son, I texted my mom that morning to let her know the delivery was only a matter of time. Fifteen hours later she had packed a bag, tidied up her affairs at work and hopped a flight over to our island, where she arrived in time for dinner and met her first grandson before bed. She knows the truth of this time; it is fleeting.

At times it is good to be reminded of the gift of these moments, when the day has gone well and the connection I feel with my children is intoxicating. Some days the feelings of bliss seem light-years away, and it's all I can do to hold my tongue as my patience is stretched far beyond the limits I have previously known.  Yet at the end of the day, the roller coaster I am riding is one I will choose to ride again tomorrow--highs, lows, and everything in between. These are good days, long but good.