From The Summit

Oh hey there 2022!

There is nothing so intoxicating as a new year, a fresh slate full pf promise and crisp planner sheets that have yet to be destroyed by a child with a red crayon and Artistic Aspirations. On Friday we drove home from our annual trek around Indiana and Kentucky visiting family for the holidays and James and I conducted one of our favorite rituals. While we would love to end our year in a getaway and a chance to process what is behind and plan for what is ahead in blissful calm – that is not a reality in our current stage of life. Instead, a couple years ago we started taking the 9+ hour drive to do a summit meeting of sorts. We toss the kids tablets and snacks and they enjoy the hyper rare screen-time binge with headphones while we enjoy a structured year-end session of reviewing, dreaming, and planning. It’s honestly one of the highlights of our year, our favorite date conducted in the front row of a minivan packed to the brim with Christmas-sugar hungover children and partially decomposed squeezy pouches.

I mentioned this ritual on Instagram and immediately got flooded with DMs about what these structured categories are, so I wanted to type up some notes, interspersed with my own reflections of 2021 and of course, photos ad nauseum. So here it us

How To Have A Tired Parent Executive Summit Meeting And Goal Planning Session While Your Kids Enjoy Too Much Screen Time

A year in review: The first thing we do is spend a couple hours (yes! hours! The power of the road trip! You could also break each segment of this into three evenings of post-bedtime drinks and chats) reviewing the past year. This discussion covers the following topics.

  • Highlights from the past year, revealed as we talk through the year month by month. Because sometimes when you are in the trenches of parenting… you forget basically everything that isn’t in the past 48 hours. Forcing a slow walk through the year is so fruitful and also, shockingly difficult.
  • Review of how we did on last year’s resolutions, which I keep in a notes app on my phone
  • Review of what we ADDED to life in the past year and what we want to REJECT in the year to come.

Establish a Guiding Concept: Ok, so technically this might actually happen at the end of your summit after you realize what has popped up multiple times. But at some point in the Summit, try to stop and verbalize what overarching goal/ word/ quote / verse concept you want to hold close to your heart in the upcoming year. I cannot say enough how powerful this is, how life giving it is in structuring how you think about the year. In the weeks leading up to The Summit, I had some thoughts and clarity about what I wanted in 2022 and talking through them with James helped to make us both excited about our big picture vision for the upcoming year. At one point in The Summit, we read aloud two essays about the New Year. One was this one, that had us screech laughing, and another one included a perfect quote about this element of The Summit:

“Last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.”-T.S. Eliot

Take some time to find the words, the voice to a new year.

Dream for the year to come: Behold- the resolution setting part. While this might be the “meat” of the discussion, it doesn’t happen in a void, but rather is the fruit of the first two parts of the discussion. We are ready to dream and plan because we know where we stand and we have a vision of where we want to go in the coming year. We then make three lists of goals: Goals shared by both of us/ family goals, goals for James, goals for me. These include Big Goals, and things like “buy new bath mats for the primary bedroom.” Last year’s list legit included “go to the dentist,” and “find someone to deep clean once a month.” For each of these lists, we tackle the following categories:

  • Financial goals (savings, spendings, budget, etc.)
  • Health goals (fitness goals, healthy habits, etc. I like to have a sub-set of goals for January specifically because I love the power of a strong fitness start)
  • Family goals (like, we want to try to have a hike a month as a family in 2022, etc.)
  • Professional goals (concrete things that need to be done at specific times for our professions)
  • Personal goals (book quotas we want to meet, hobbies we want to nurture, screen time limits we want to establish, etc.)
  • Domestic goals (house projects or housekeeping related)
  • Relationship goals (date night quotas, etc.)

Plan follow-ups. This is new for us this year. We have always chatted throughout the year about how we are doing, but this year we actually planned monthly benchmark meetings and wrote out some notes on a special year-planning page in my planner. For instance I took the list of domestic house-related goals and assigned something to purchase/ research/ get quotes on/ enact each month. “Finish decorating” is overwhelming, but “change lightbulb in stairwell that has been burnt out for 4 months” is more doable.

And now… some of our Summit! A lot is obviously personal, but here are a few snippets because I love using this space to help me remember.

2021 was a really good year for our family. There were mistakes, low moments, way too much money spent on home repairs that we would have rather avoided, and a complete failure to accomplish our goal of getting up at 6 am for calm times of scripture reading and reflection. As in- it never happened. But other key things did happen. When we discussed what we wanted to claim and applaud from 2022, so many of the things were family rituals. 2022 canonized Friday Night Family Movie Night and I perfected the accompanying homemade pizza. We cemented Coffee Time as the greatest part of Saturday mornings, and established Family Cleanup and corresponding Family Reward on Sundays so well that it rarely is met with (much) complaining anymore. James and I embraced regular Sunday night planning sessions to map our Henry’s homeschool work and our complicated matrix of my work and childcare. So basically… we spent 2022 perfecting our weekends as a family. And I feel pretty good about that.

James and I also made 2021 the second year where we really prioritized our health, which when you have little kids, means prioritizing the other person’s health. Daily barre workouts and early morning walks for me, routine long runs for him. We made them happen, choosing to force the other out the door when we both wanted to just skip We chose each other’s health and happiness and that was life-giving in so many ways.

2021 had so many family dance parties after dinner, to the point where Maddie gets up from the table and immediately races to stand under Alexa and yell until one of us has it start playing dance party music. While our ability to do frequent date nights has taken a hit (see above “when you have little kids”) we mastered evenings of craft cocktails and managed to swing a getaway to Jamaica. We invested in our community, our neighborhood, our family, our home. I realized my goal of not just having furniture sitting in rooms by decorating our primary bedroom entirely using Facebook Marketplace and finished (I think) our living room decor. We also painted our half bath in a late night decision of dubious wisdom resulting in one of the larger fights in our marriage and the firm realization that we do not have careers as painters.

2022 feels exciting, mostly because a lot of goof habits and rituals became routine in 2021 and I am eager to build on them. Will this be the year we actually start getting up early? Perhaps. Time, and by that I mean tomorrow morning, shall tell. It will hopefully be a year where we use our phones less, as we both started the year by deleting apps and setting up time limits on those that remain to shave pointless scrolling and subsequent frustration and waste from our lives. We made lists and plans and shared dreams for this brand new year and it feels really good to walk into it. We took the time to find words for this new year and to start learning the voice that it will speak. Can’t wait to listen.

Happy New Year.

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This and that, but mostly them.

I’m writing this from the kitchen sink.

Actually, that’s not true. I just really love this book, and that is the opening line, and I think of it often.

But I am writing it in view of the kitchen sink, perched on the counter with goldfish crunching underfoot and laundry running downstairs and the baby has no pants on. Which is to say- it’s almost dinner time, so things are chaotic, but everyone is happily playing a few feet from me for the moment so I decided to make a noble effort to write something. I started playing the Nutcracker music today, breaking my Thanksgiving start time for Christmas music, and it just seemed appalling to jump from a summer post to Christmas.

With the fall, and more job shifts for me (not a new job, just doing it in person for the first time ever since I took the job during COVID), and Henry starting a university model school for kindergarten which also means homeschool two days a week- this fall has flown by. So in lieu of a cohesive catchup, here are the things we have been loving lately.

This tea. I have loved it a long time, but every fall I rediscover it and it feels freshly wonderful. We had a massive and excessively/ pointlessly fancy tea party for the girls and some mother-daughter friends this fall and I’ve been pulling china cups back out and making a pot of it ever since.

These jeans. They are the perfect mom-jean-but-not-too-hideaous-stretchy-but-structured blend.

This app. I am trying not to be dramatic but this app has changed my life. Feeding our family, planning the meals, making them, keeping track of recipes I try – it has slowly been sapping my soul. Now, I have EVERYTHING in this app. All the recipes stripped of the obnoxious adds and stories and videos and scrolling. Sorted based on logical categories to me like “Veggies Etta will Eat” or “No one complained about this.”

Some of the recipes I now have readily accessible without having to wade through extra junk? These biscuits, these tacos, these hidden veggie enchiladas, this gnocchi sheet bake, this King Ranch chicken.

This upholstery cleaner. Watching completely brown water come out of my supposedly cleanish couch was mesmerizing and disturbing all at once.

Facebook Marketplace. Since last we spoke I redid our whole bedroom spending almost no money thanks to the fine people of the DC area wanting to offload amazing stuff.

This show and this show and this show. Because cozy evenings and a good show while I grade or plan lessons is one of my favorite things. But also… now we really need a new show. Any good recs?

This overnight cream and this redness correction cream that I use in place of makeup.

And then of course, the more important things, the things that I can’t link or offer or sell you on or capture but I love them so much that it alternates between crushing and freeing me.

The way Henry draws people right now, all angular and sticky and always in family units like us.

The way that Etta has discovered princesses and fancies herself one, only wanting dresses and costume-like ones at that.

The way that Maddie smiles and scrunches her nose up when she attack hugs all of us every morning.

The way that Etta discusses bedtime snuggles, sometimes announcing when I try to get up that we have only done the “stem of the snuggle.”

Maddie’s belly. Her pudgy legs and delicious cheeks and still dimpled fists.

The family dance parties. The movie nights. The lazy Saturday mornings.

How it felt watching James coach Henry’s tee-ball team.

The way that the kids run laps around our main floor to the William Tell Overture every night, and how Maddie joins in now and sometimes James and I hop in and they squeal so excitedly.

Photosynthesis and Monet’s waterlilies and ant farms and the things Henry teaches me as he learns, new to him and new again to me in his joy.

That he wants to be an engineer and she wants to be a princess and she wants to just be held, and they are so full of dreams but every single one includes us being together because separation, diverged lives, absence is intolerable to them, unimaginable and repugnant.

The independence they all want right now, the way it shows in so many ways. And the need they still have, the fact that I am still the safest place.

This, this is what is best.

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Summer of the Cicadas

The first time I noticed the sound I thought a car alarm was going off somewhere in the distance. It was a dull screeching in the background as we played outside all day and in the evening James mentioned that he had heard it too. We shrugged it off but the next day it was back, and louder and we realized- it was Brood X, the cicadas that had been waiting 17 years to hatch and fill our lives with noisy bugs.

I had known of course that they were coming, as it had become a touchstone in casual conversations for anyone living in the cicada swath. I saw them crawling everywhere and covering trees when I went for my morning walk, and noticed the kids were fascinated with the way they left their translucent shells on everything. They were also terrified every time the noisy bugs flew at them, buzzing in their hair or sticking to their ankles. I pried one out of Maddie’s mouth and gagged at the thought of eating one of the bugs, though I know many people did.

The noise was the backdrop for the early months of summer, this summer where we all emerged- not unlike the bugs – from a pandemic year, blinking and calling to each other and figuring out how things work now. Henry started t-ball, partially because he (and James) love baseball and partially because I want to get to know more of the families in our neighborhood after a year of social distance and masked smiles. All three of the kids had birthdays, and our pandemic pod – and other friends! Hooray for big parties again!- showed up for almost identical parties a few weeks apart to commemorate the 5, 3, and 1 year old keeping us on our toes. Maddie’s birthday hits especially hard because so much of her first year was hidden. She’s my barnacle baby, my first to have stranger danger and scream when I leave a room. She is the impossibly precious gift that still feels surprising.

We are living in water this summer, hitting the splash pad or pool almost daily. But in perhaps the greatest result of a year of cancelled plans and limited social circles – most of our days are spent in play, meaning, Henry and Etta playing while I take a break from parenting. They imagine and build and fight and make-up all day everyday, inevitably culminating in Etta refusing to climb out of Henry’s bunkbed at night. Sometimes he complains loud enough that I remove her, but most nights he just resigns himself, rolls over and passes out, while she merrily plays and reads and takes up his space for hours. Henry finally dropped his nap last winter and while it has substantially impacted my ability to stay caught up on bad reality TV, it has allowed me a unique look at my oldest. I watch him sit silently as he listens to an audiobook, or watch him at work building structures or making plans. On the weekends we try to slip out together and exercise, sometimes going for a run (me)/ scooter ride (him) along the river or sometimes practicing swimming at the pool. As much as I hate the idea of Maddie leaving babyhood, I love the joy of older kids and the fun they bring.

What were you doing when they last came, Henry asked me one day and I laughed and told him, I was a child. I was about to go into my senior year of high school and I had so many plans and so many questions and knew everything and nothing all at once. And what will I be doing, when they come back, he wanted to know. And my head exploded, heart choked. You could be out of college, could be thinking about getting married or having kids, could have a job- will you still want to be an engineer-baseball player-lifegaurd?- you will be gone.

Because there is a lot I don’t know about what the state of the world, of my family, will be in 17 years when the insect infestation returns but this I know:

James won’t be coaching Henry’s t-ball team, won’t be reminding a troupe of 5 year olds that they need to watch the ball instead of finding cicadas on the field and sticking them to their jerseys. I won’t wake up in the middle of the night to Etta yelling that she needs a snuggle, only as soon as I scoot into that bottom bunk, it becomes a moment where she proceeds to tell me a long story instead, and I am so tired, but also those moments are the greatest moments. Madeleine, my Maddie Lo, my sweet chunky baby girl will be about to go off on her own and I’ll be trying to hold on tight as she pushes me back and I know it will break me a little even as I’m proud. We won’t be together, always together, always straining under the suffocating weight of little people with big needs who beat on the door when I lock it to take a shower and beg me not to go for my morning walk or coffee with friends or anything that has me away from them. I just want to be with you all of the time, Henry told me recently through tears when I explained that I just wanted to do something by myself and that, that will be different next time I open the door to the deafening roar of Brood X.

There is a chance that this consuming, refining, exhilarating , exhausting time of a house full of children could be almost over.

The other day we were loading the car when one of the kids commented on how quiet it was and I realized- they were gone. The cacaphonous din in the trees had gone silent. There were still some shells about but on the whole, it was like they had been erased, nature preparing to keep the secret for another 17 years. It came and was loud and consumed everything and then it was gone so fast.

And so it goes.

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Advent as a Family.

Christmas was both totally abnormal this year, lacking so many things we look forward to, and yet still full of traditions and repetition. The same ornaments, matching pajamas, holiday films, treats, and carols filled our days. We were able to orchestrate all the quarantines, testing, distancing agreements, and travel logistics to be with family over Christmas and I can’t get over how special that was.

In early December, I took to Instagram stories to complain about what I feel to be lack in the Advent resources for kids. Following that rant, I received some excellent suggestions of resources and wanted to share them… and it is just now happening, after Advent is over, but before Christmastide technically ends on the 6th, so I’m calling it, if not a win, than maybe not a total failure? Save these ideas away for next year and check back in early November. or panic the day after Thanksgiving like I do.

I love Advent and I have Strong Feelings About It, as I expressed long ago here. I think that celebrating Christmas without the preparation and expectation of Advent feels lackluster. I have blogged about my search for Advent resources in the past but I am still searching. It seems like many children’s Advent resources fall into two groups: a focus on Jesus’ entire life (which is great, but get Holy Week out of Advent!) or a Greatest Hits of The Whole Bible approach (Jonah what you doing in my Advent??). I recognize the biblical tradition of the latter, but I’m not a huge fan for young kids. I want an intense focus on the amazing aspects of the birth story. I want 4 weeks of anticipation, building excitement, recognition of light coming to extinguish darkness, etc. I also want it to be short and sweet and simple because I have three children ages 4 and under.

Here are some Advent ideas for young children:

  • Last year I hit the library in November and pulled every kids Christmas book that had religious themes. I wrapped them and every morning of Advent, the kids opened one and we read it. It was simple and easy and not bad, but it did create an overwhelming amount of books, and this year it was impossible as the libraries are closed to browsing.
  • I love love love this Nativity set that has you add a different item every day of Advent and learn about the birth. It includes important things like the Census, which adults take for granted but little kids are like WHAT IS THAT. I do not love that it is super pricey. Am I considering making my own with a similar concept? Yup.
  • Alissa has the best liturgical resources for kids and families. I LOVE her idea of Magi on the Fly during the 12 days of Christmas and next year I will absolutely be buying her Advent resources. She includes things like tips for Saint Nicolas and Saint Lucia day and a prayer of blessing for your Christmas tree. She also has the best list of Christmas children’s books.
  • We loved the We Wonder Advent podcast in 2019 and listened to it again this year, though I didn’t love the 2020 one quite as much.
  • We became Anglican a couple years ago and I love the way that the liturgical tradition adds richness and ritual to life. We fully embraced Saint Nicolas Day with the kids, as it allowed us to process Santa Claus and yet keep the focus on Christ. It was also one of my favorite Advent days. We talked about Saint Nicolas the night before (though I would love a good kids book with his story!) and the kids were thrilled to wake up and get their chocolate gold coins from their stockings (because I forgot to put them in shoes). Then that night, we gave the kids a list of organizations and let them decide how to divide up and give our monthly tithe. We wrote checks instead of donating online and let the kids run in their pjs down the block to drop them in the mailbox. They LOVED it and it felt like such a good continuation of talking about Saint Nicolas.
  • Following my Instagram rant, a member of a local DC church messaged me and offered the resources they prepared for their church families. I absolutely LOVED it. They had a theme for each week, short readings and questions to do with your kids, and then some suggestions for weekly activities, some of which were DC specific – like a trip to the National Gallery to see a specific painting that represented the Christmas story, etc. It had the Advent liturgy for each Sunday to do as a family in this era of Zoom church. Every morning, we lit our advent wreathe over breakfast and did the daily readings, which took about 5 minutes. We then sang a Christmas hymn (yes I know you are “supposed” to hold off till Christmas but I want the kids to learn them). It was a really lovely, practical, and rewarding advent.
  • For older kids or adults, we love this book of insanely good daily readings, this book of poetry and reflections for each day, and reading these Christmas sermons.

What about you- any winning family Advent resources to share?

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When I look back on this year.

When everything shut down in March, it felt like we all entered a sort of survival mode, complete with all the “extenuating circumstances” in place to survive the sudden changes of working from home, quarantining, social distancing, homeschooling, recalibrating plans- everything.

But you can’t stay in survival mode forever. At the start of this new year, and on the (hopefully?) ending stretch of this pandemic, I’m looking around and seeing the rhythms that we have settled into and I’m wanting to remember them. Not because I love every aspect of them, but because someday I want to tell my kids how we continued living and growing and finding ways to thrive even in a year where so much was just frankly bad. I started writing this post in September to recap our goals for the school year… then was going to be a fall reflection when I hadn’t finished it by November…and now here we are on the second day of a New Year and it is instead a catch-all of what I want to claim from daily life in 2020.

Henry was supposed to start Pre-K4 this year at a hybrid university model school and we were all so excited. While I don’t think Pre-K is necessary for longterm academic success, I was thrilled about Henry getting to have the social experience of school three half-days a week. When it was canceled (and the parents all refused the option of virtual) Henry enthusiastically started telling everyone that he would be homeschooled. I hadn’t actually planned on doing anything, but I couldn’t bear to squelch his enthusiasm, so school it was.

We have not really learned much by many standards. I was ambitious with workbooks! Plans! Goals! but quickly decided that homeschool had three goals for our family this year. First, I wanted Henry to have positive associations with school. I do not fight battles over school because it just isn’t worth it at this age. Plus, one time I fought one over what I believed to be an easy and helpful phonics lesson… and when it proved not to be easy, I got so frustrated that I had to go outside and cool off. That isn’t fair to Henry, who heartbreakingly explained to James while I was outside that he was trying but “it’s just really hard to learn things.” So while I gently push to have school time, I don’t force it to last or require us to get through some sort of curriculum. Second, I wanted some routine in our very unstructured day. 10 minutes of school workbooks after breakfast is a good reset for all of us and usually lets me read my Bible and have some more coffee. Lastly, I want Henry to learn to hold a pencil correctly. I don’t care as much about actually writing as I do about correctly manipulating the pencil. My goal is to set his actual teachers up for success, not to be a groundbreaking one.

Of course, even our official school times grew more rare as the fall went on. I like to think of it less as abandoning homeschool and more as moving to a liberal arts curriculum heavy on art class, read aloud, PE, and a curriculum I like to call “Please Stop Actively Destroying Our House,” or life and behavior skills that aren’t moral in nature, but are really helpful. Like how to walk by a wall without having to rub your entire body against it or how to not get a fresh cup every. single. time. you need a drink, etc.

Reading aloud with the kids has been such a joy. They are pro podcast and audiobook listeners, and I decided we were ready for simple chapter books. Both kids love the treat of cuddling up in my bed or smothering me while I nurse as I read. We started with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm and have now moved onto The Wind in the Willows. Clearly, a lot of the vocabulary is over their heads. But they are learning to sit with words they don’t know, to soak in description and dialogue and I like to tell myself that will serve them more than spelling their name out of macaroni. (Though like, if you want to come make macaroni art with my kids while I take a nap COME ON OVER.)

As for art, it has been one of the gifts of 2020. I do not craft. Crafts with kids are frustrating and tedious for me and the cleanup never feels worth the few moments of activity. But I miss painting and drawing for myself. One of my 2020 resolutions (HA) was to take time every month to make art. I envisioned a Saturday morning a month where I could slip away to one of the amazing DC art museums and sketch à la Paris Hannah... but that clearly did not become reality and I was really frustrated. In a moment of strange nesting following my 37 week doctor’s appointment, I bought a bunch of watercolor paints and decided that I simply HAD to learn to watercolor paint NOW. The result of that impulse buy and the many hours we have at home is that I am learning to watercolor paint as I am also teaching my children. We pull out our paints many days after nap, make tea, turn on some tunes, and paint. There is usually a child on my lap, someone (Etta) almost always dumps water on us all, and most days someone (Etta) ends up naked and covered in paint. But those afternoons of art with my children are some of my favorite of the past year. (And to be fair- we did all make it to the National Gallery once and sketching did happen. Several Degas paintings came close to peril but everyone survived, saved Etta’s Pink Bunny who was never seen again.) By salvaging my resolution in a completely different way than I planned I have found so much joy.

At least once a day this fall, I was overcome with gratitude for our home. It is far from perfect, and we have discovered many a quirk that has been less than exciting, like the faulty sump pump system that we will have to jackhammer out our basement to replace. But the fact that we ended up with a yard and a basement and a home office in a year where those things are crucial is never lost on me. We have loved our home this year. I tend to be on the go all the time. It is hard for me to give that up. But when I look back on the past year I see a contentment tied with the stillness we experienced. We usually do at least two “home days” a week where we get caught up on laundry and little projects and often keep our pajamas on all day. I love that we are rarely in a rush to leave the breakfast table and the slowness to our days feels precious in contrast to the speed at which my children seem to grow.

On our non-home days, this past fall marked a period of rich community. That seems strange to say in the age of social distancing, as indeed- we distanced. But we formed a pod in late April with two other families and this crew has been my lifeline. Our kids were already close friends and now they are even more so. I don’t think I could have walked through this year without these people. I can’t wait to get back to parties and social gatherings and hugging people that I barely know but really enjoy. And yet, it has been a good reminder for my extroverted self that we have finite time and resources. Investing in a small number of deep friendships brings belonging like numerous casual relationships cannot.

How can I separate this year of pain and difficulty from Madeleine Lois, the constant joy in my days? I made no secret that everything about every second of her pregnancy was miserable. But her presence overwhelms me with joy the way that I have never felt in the newborn stage. Is it that I am finally finding my newborn stride? Is it the steps I took to take better care of my emotional health post-partum this third time around? Is it that the whole world stopped so I felt more free to stop with it and revel in my baby? Or is it just a special dispensation of grace that God knew I needed for this child at this time? I guess it’s all of them. Whatever the case, I can’t explain how in awe I am of her. She is a pretty crappy napper, a finicky nurser, a super spitter, but I don’t even mind too much that she is my velcro baby, attending my classes and student meetings, snuggled up to me wherever I go. I haven’t had time to do the meticulous memory keeping for her that I did for the others, but I hope that someday I can make her understand that her early days were so special, so enjoyable, so redemptive.

A lot did not happen this fall. I started a new job with a total lack of fanfare because of COVID and virtual learning. We canceled the annual donut extravaganza for the first time since being in DC. We missed countless birthdays and date nights and celebrations. Our Thanksgiving plans fell through and the holidays were missing much of their festivities. I was supposed to be working 25-30 hours a week, but only wound up with 4 hours of childcare, so the rest of my work happened during nap-time, at night, on the weekends, desperately crammed into margins that weren’t there. I am so, so tired.

But when I look back, I also see so much good. I see so much grace woven through the days we spent as a tiny bubble, so much growth in James and I as parents and partners and in our kids. I see an intentional focus on our home, our habits, our actions that could only happen when a lot was taken away. I am not at all undermining the difficulty of this past year on a global scale. I know that the good I can find from it is a result of immense privilege and blessing- which is exactly why I am calling it out. I don’t want to take it for granted for a second.

Yesterday, on our drive home from visiting family over the holidays (its own ordeal, as lots of logistics, testing etc. went into it), James and I did our traditional year-end debrief while the kids enjoyed a total absence of screen time limits in the car. He asked what we will tell them about this year someday, and what will they remember.

To be honest, I hope they forget a big part of this year. I hope they don’t say, “all the adults were really angry and on their phones all the time.” Because that is a part of the truth of this past year. The very worst of humanity has been on display in 2020, both writ large and in our own hearts and interactions. The stress, the isolation, the fear, the division, the politics, the courage to be hateful through the medium of a screen, the time to stew- all of it combined to bring out the nastiness in everyone. None of us have gotten through the year without acting in ways that are deplorable.

But I believe, I hope, that they will remember more. That they will remember the slowness and quiet joy we had in growing and learning together in 2020.

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In Six Words.

This morning I heard Madeleine at 7:18. She sleeps through the night now, and I love those long hours of sleep as much as I miss the quiet minutes in the dark nursing her. I went in to get her up, open the windows and seeing her chubby cheeked grins in the crib, so thankful to begin a Thanksgiving day with this baby girl. While I nursed her, I read an article in the New York Times, where they asked readers to share why they were thankful this year in 6 words. Six words. A whole year of grief and loss and surprise and change and unprecedented circumstances that nevertheless gave space for thanks in six little words. I loved reading the ways that people found to be thankful in 2020, in spite of 2020, because of 2020.

And because parenting three tiny people, working remotely with little childcare, and like, being a person who still has to get groceries and do the laundry and shower and stuff has left me incapable of stringing many words together anyways – distilling the joys of this year in few words seems perfect to me. Here they are, my series of short thanks when I look back on this much maligned year.

On Thanksgiving 2020, I am overcome with gratitude for –

James home for dinner most nights.

Kids too young for distance learning.

Newborn with me, rarely a sitter.

Starting every day with a walk.

Saving grace of house and yard.

Quarantine pod that keeps us social.

Fewer commitments, canceled plans, more time.

Fire pit, espresso machine, stretchy pants.

Distanced fireside hangouts after kids asleep.

Grace upon grace upon grace, together.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you feel gratitude for all the little blessings mixed in with trials of the past year. Because ultimately, what I am most thankful for this year is also what made it so hard so often:

Every day we spent all together.

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Summer signoff.

Yes, I know we are a couple weeks into fall already, but to be fair- this is one of the first years that it has actually felt like fall in DC in early October. Last year our final trip to the splashpad was mid October and it was over 90 degrees, and we usually sweat until November. And usually, I am holding onto summer with every ounce of my strength. But this year, fall feels like such a blessing, a reprieve from endless unstructuredness of COVID Spring/Summer. I blame it on the lack of splashpads this year. What’s the point of endless summer if I can’t semi- neglect my kids in Navy Yard while drinking Philz coffee and chatting with my mom posse? We did get one Navy Yard splash outing, albeit accidentally. We were scooting o the boardwalk and saw that the flooding rains the night before had filled the basin and my kids were trying to swim in it before I could stop them.

We ended summer as we have done since having kids – a trip to the beach over Labor Day. We go with good friends who have kids the same age as ours, because anyone with young kids knows that the best way to get a break is to add more kids. Technically we still had to parent in the logistic sense – overseeing safety and meals and basic hygiene – but we didn’t really have to do any actual entertaining. I was able to read an entire novel in just a couple days, a true vacation luxury.

Here is what we have learned about beach vacations with kids. The difference between a fun trip, and one where the fun maybe doesn’t outweigh the hassle, comes down to one thing: direct beach access. I’m talking, open your door and walk out and be on the beach in minutes. Not across the road, not a block away, but THERE IMMEDIATELY. There is already a lot of chair schlepping, sunscreen application, toy negotiations, strong opinions about sand, nap schedules, short heat tolerance, etc. You want the beach to be as easy as possible to access.

Other beach vacation sanity savers include outdoor showers (because sannnnnddddd everywhere!), not going to the ocean (Chesapeake forever! No current! Minimal waves! Shallow for a long stretch!), and renting somewhere with all the beach toys/chairs/kayaks. Also – endless snacks. We lucked out with an amazing Airbnb this year, booked in January long before we had any idea that life would come to a screeching halt… and then more or less stay that way. The friends we vacation with also happen to be in our quarantine pod, so our kids have gotten even closer in the past months.

One morning we woke up and looked outside to see crashing waves. This is pretty abnormal on the Chesapeake, even more so on the Northern Neck, which is where we were – a little strip of Virginia where the Potomac River meets the bay. It was bright and windy and the kids desperately wanted in the water in spite of the cold wind and waves. We all headed down to the beach “just to look” at the waves… but you can see that clearly didn’t happen. Before long, all four kids were running in and out of the surf, a mess of soaked pajamas and little sandy bodies.

Two nights we made s’mores under the broiler and carried them down to eat by the water, watching the bay turn violet. We filled a bag with shells on the last morning and the kids and I decorated some and displayed others when we got home. Sandcastles were built, legs burried, dolphins spotted in the surf, and one morning Etta and I just sat in chairs right at the edge of the water, holding hands and listening to the waves lap at our toes. Moments like this, moments of sun and sweetness and sand and play and connection are why we go to the beach every summer.

And coming back from the beach, I felt ready to say goodbye to summer a full month earlier than I usually do. Ready to carve out a routine and trade sunny adventures out for cozy evenings in. Ready for the fresh start that comes with the school year.

Sometimes I wonder what my children will say when they look back on the Pandemic. What will they remember about this strange time, a time that has been so much longer than any of us planned, long enough to stick in their memory. I know they will remember hard things, scary things, painful things. Henry, like many other kids, asks questions that hurt my heart, asks about why he’s not allowed to hug people, and does he still have friends, and when will he be able to go to church or school. It’s impossible to shield him from the reality of illness and death.

But I also hope that my children will look back on this strange season and see so much that was beautiful and normal. I want them to remember jumping waves in their pajamas and eating s’mores at sunset. I want them to remember a summer that was so different in so many ways but still ended in the way that we have come to love so much.

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Birthday things.

I turned 33 this past week, which is officially old enough to where I received birthday greetings from my mortgage broker. Not that it is surprising, since all my friends are having exciting conversations about things like refinancing (DO IT) and the great minivan vs SUV debate (minivan!) and replacing sump pumps (ugh. so much flooding this summer and so much money having to be spent). I am not one prone to simple birthdays, because the extrovert in me (7w8!) loves parties. But covid, budgets, and time being what they are meant that this was maybe my most low-key birthday ever and it was pretty wonderful. One of my older kids unexpectedly had a rough night the night before, meaning I was up from 4:30 to 6. This never happens, but I decided in my parental wisdom to check on them after I nursed Maddie and then rearrange the covers and stuffed animals, waking them up in the process. I will never learn. I was in a truly grumpy mood afterwards, and James in his infinite wisdom did not wish me a happy birthday in those tense dark hours, but instead let me sleep in till 8:30. And behold – the day was redeemed. Which was good, because we had our first real date night planned for late that night. We tried out a new rooftop restaurant and it was so exciting to be out together. The food was not fantastic, but the place was lovely and I probably would have been content eating cardboard if I could do it on a rooftop patio surrounded by twinkle lights. Though to be fair, we did order takeout from our favorite dive bar as so as we got back in the car and picked it up on the way home.

Some birthday things!

I have always had a pink strawberry birthday cake, but since my mom made my traditional birthday cake for me when we visited in August, I decided to go chocolate. My friend Courtney brought us the most delicious chocolate cake I have ever eaten when I had Madeleine and I have made it twice since. The first time it was great, but this second time I tried to make it a layer cake with pour-over frosting… and it was a disaster. A delicious disaster, but it was so ugly that Henry felt compelled to sing the Daniel Tiger song about when something seems bad, turn it around and find something good. In these pics you can see my attempt to scrape the frosting off the plate and reposition it on top, an effort that did not improve things.

I had my eye on this chair for months before it finally stayed in stock long enough for me to pull the trigger, so I am also declaring it a birthday gift. I am slowly and painfully trying to decorate our house, something made harder by both a budget and my own painful indecision. I fluctuate between wanting to decorate everything now because we are living in it so why not, and thinking I should wait a couple years till the kids are done shuffling bedrooms and we can really settle. Anyone else feel this tension?

I want to do a gallery wall on our stairs, but my extensive gallery wall research showed me I really only love them when they are massive and cover floor to ceiling. That is a big commitment. So instead, I am building one in my study, and I’m including this planter in it. I absolutely love it, but when I tried to hang it in our living room, James told me that he refused to live in an Olive Garden. So harsh. My friend Anna is also lettering one of my absolute favorite French quotes to hang up and when it’s done, you can bet I will subject you to Pictures And Thoughts.

As you can see- big stuff in store for 33. But first, I’m going to go eat more of my hideous cake and hug my people – the best birthday things.

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Summer things.

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Somehow it is already August and the final stretch of summer, though I guess with the strange school year Covid changes, summer won’t really end as usual? We are headed to Kentucky next week for time with family and this past week we managed to hit one of our favorite summer traditions: blackberry picking! Feel free to stroll down memory lane with berry pics from 2017, 2018, and 2019. We got way fewer pictures this year because, um, there are now like a million kids, but we still came home with lots of berries, in spite of the berry terrorism attempts of one 2 year old sassy girl who intentionally dumped them all out.

Might as well start this random summer catch-all with some berry things. This is the best berry pie there is, and I have made it with fresh and frozen berries of all varieties and it is always perfect.

This blackberry dutch baby was also wonderful, though of course one of my children refused it, as is always the case with any fun breakfast I make. Actually, it’s the case with most breakfasts. SEND HELP. Any great and easy breakfast recommendations for a kid who hates eggs, isn’t interested in any sort of fruit, and only sometimes likes cereal? Breakfast is destroying me lately.

The fruit-hater wouldn’t touch this roasted parmesan broccoli either but the rest of us devoured it.

And in the final piece of food news, I’ve been loving this easy cabbage slaw recipe. My mother-in-law came a few weeks back and stocked our freezer with all sorts of main courses we could pair them with easy sides to stretch out our Meal Train. She left us with tons of tasty BBQ pulled pork and it was perfect with a side of the slaw. (Which of course, the fruit-and-broccoli hater also refused.)

Are you watching Indian Matchmaking? It’s my treat when Madeleine needs to nurse and the other kids are napping. This article was really interesting. Any good shows you all are watching these days?

You will notice that Maddie Lo didn’t make it in any pictures at the beginning of this post, as she is at that dreamboat stage where she will sleep forever in the carseat so she snoozes through most outings, which is better for everyone involved. I’m not sure how I would survive a non-summer baby, as the DC heat ad humidity are some of my best tricks for getting newborns to sleep on the go. As for sleeping at home, she is doing shockingly well for a seven week old, and I credit it to a combo of accidental sleep training since I just can’t always get to to her quickly, and knowing more what I am doing each time around, such as employing this amazing swaddle.

This.UGH. It’s funny because it is all too true and sad all at once. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of opinions about schools opening or not, the one thing we can all agree on is that it is a less-than-ideal mess for everyone involved. Henry’s school co-op decided to just cancel and refund tuition for preschool families because we all just said that we had no interest in zoom preschool. But for families with older kids who need to actually be learning- there is no great solution. One thing that was a good reminder was the words from the Lazy Genius in this podcast about not taking our own adult frustrations about closures out on kids. A good reminder for me as I tend to get frustrated about everything canceled and then act annoyed at my kids, when they have absolutely no agency in this decision.

Happy summer weekend all!

 

 

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Madeleine Lois.

As promised, the birth story of Madeleine Lois, in all its very unexciting details. Because truly, I do not have very interesting or exciting births. But not having anything to say has never stopped me from saying a lot, so here we go! 124-MaddieWNewborn0620In true-to-me form, I was done being pregnant somewhere around 30 weeks, and already banking on an early delivery. Suffering in silence is not my strong suit, so I started asking my doctor for an induction to be scheduled around, say 12 weeks, and made sure to remind them at every turn that I absolutely did not want to be pregnant a day longer than necessary. I tried the following tactics:

“I’m wondering if we should just go ahead and schedule an induction at, say, 37 weeks, since Etta came so fast and it is such a long drive to the hospital.” (Answer: “No.”)

“You know, with COVID, I’m thinking maybe we should just schedule an induction a couple weeks early so that you can control hospital capacity.” (Answer: “No.”)

“Can we schedule an induction so that I can organize childcare- with COVID our babysitting options are few and far between.” (Answer: “Still no,”)

“I think I should be done being pregnant and I am absolutely certain there is no more room in my womb. Can we induce?” (Answer: “Again- no.”)

IMG_5870 copyBut, as happened with both Henry and Etta, I did start dilating by 36 weeks, which kept me hopeful. The tricky think with early babies (ok, or with any baby after the first) is coordinating childcare. We were trying to time my mom coming in such a way that she was here before the baby arrived, but not so long before that she couldn’t stay awhile after the baby was born. And unlike with my two other kids, this time around I was actually having contractions the whole third trimester, every one sending me into mad fits of timing and hoping that I could be done. I was also once again Group B Strep positive, and James was back to panicking that we would have a baby in the car on our long drive to the hospital. IMG_5871As I mentioned here, I woke up a couple days shy of 38 weeks with manatee fins where my feet used to be. I had been having fainting spells with increasing frequency the whole third trimester along with some swelling, but this was a new degree of swollen. While terribly uncomfortable, I was not terribly displeased, as every sign of misery was being added to the list of “Reasons to Beg My Doctors to Induce.” Because I am a crazy person and my brain short circuits during pregnancy. IMG_5872I headed to the doctor for my 38 week appointment (being 37 weeks and 5 days and yes I WAS COUNTING EVERY ONE), having informed the children optimistically that I might not be coming home if they decided it was time to let the baby out. The night before James and I had packed hospital bags because I was just feeling so rotten that we wanted to be prepared in case abject misery meant labor. But alas, still no consistent or painful contractions. Summer2020-27Yet when the nurse tasked with taking my vitals had me step on the scales, we both recoiled, as I asked, “Um, that says I have gained 10 lbs in one week and that just doesn’t seem normal.” She mumbled something about it actually being 9.5 lbs and made furious notes on her computer before ushering me into the exam room. The doctor came in and casually asked how I was doing… and I completely lost it. Summer2020-29As in, SOBBING. In between sobs, I managed to hiccup out that my feet were huge and I wasn’t sleeping and I was fainting all the time and could WE PLEASE JUST TAKE THE BABY OUT BECAUSE I THINK SHE IS DONE. And people, that merciful doctor said yes. Well to be clear, she said I had dilated past 5cm so we could go next door have this baby, but I would require Pitocin so I would have to be ok with that to which I responded YES LORD I RECEIVE, and then I headed next door in a weepy mess. I just googled “picture of manatee crying” to try to give you a visual, but alas, you will just have to imagine it. I paused outside the hospital to call James and tell him to come quickly, but to first go home and get the tray of homemade chocolate chip cherry granola bars my friend Anna had dropped off yesterday because, priorities and all.

I’m going to briefly gloss over the next hour other than to say that it was not pretty. My emotional stability was not, shall we say, intact, and the poor nurse who had to do all my in take questions basically had to deal with a crazy person, not to mention the COVID test that was shoved up my nose and out my eyeballs, constituting the most painful part of my entire labor. But good news! I was COVID free, which meant that while I still had to labor in a mask, everyone was chill when it came off occasionally. Summer2020-31Following the test, James showed up, my epidural was inserted, my Pitocin started flowing and I officially entered my happy place.

Because y’all, I freaking love labor. LOVE IT. As in, long before I was ready to have a third kid I was definitely ready to labor. Some other women feel this way, but typically they are the ones who subscribe to the whole perfect miracle of childbirth/ “this is what your body is designed for” rhetoric. Not this mama. I like my births highly medicated, preferably planned, and in as sterile and medical an environment as possible. And yet, I love them. Nothing feels more empowering than giving birth. And if I may climb on a soapbox for a second, I feel that it is really important to drive this fact home because  I feel this way with my pain free and very easy births. There is no prize for labor, no trophy for length of labor or “holding out” against the pain. Motherhood is empowering, so however you get there – tub in your living room, c-section, epidural, stack of adoption paperwork – is worth celebrating and praising. Summer2020-33My labors are, historically, fast and easy. When it was time to push I had only been in the hospital a couple hours and a few minutes into pushing, I actually stopped and announced to the room that I wanted to slow down so I could savor it. Yes, they were very weirded out by this. But this might be our last baby. And that powerful moment of bringing her into the world was something that I wanted to really pay attention to, wanted to inscribe into my memory and heart forever. I also informed the room that I felt like a straight up amazonian combo of Beyoncé and Mother Teresa, and they were pretty much like, ok fine just push and maybe keep your mask on.

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But I didn’t get to savor it long, because after less than 15 minutes of pushing, she was here – our Madeleine Lois. Our smallest baby, at 6lbs 14 oz, and I wept as they placed her tiny self on my chest. Maddie Lo.

Even thinking about that moment now makes me cry. Because my whole pregnancy, I struggled with her actuality, with really believing that she was real and would be loved and enjoyed. She was an abstraction that I couldn’t connect to. But then she was there, on my chest, her cries filling the room, my tears falling all over her (maybe?) red fuzzy head and the rush of love was so intense that I could barely breathe. My Madeleine, the gift we didn’t know to ask for and could barely wrap our heads around was there and she was absolutely perfect. Summer2020-38Now of course, my emotions were not so overpowering that I didn’t place an order for breakfast burrito very soon afterwards, because you know it’s the thing I love only slightly less than labor. I had at least 5 during my stay and every one was as delicious as the last. My low food standards never cease to serve me well in life.

The hospital days are a happy blur. COVID meant no visitors (much to Henry’s sadness), and a third baby meant they pretty much left us alone unless we asked for something. We spent two happy days watching movies and snuggling while we got to bond with our sweet girl. My recovery was insanely easy, a nice respite after the rough pregnancy, or perhaps it felt easy just because I was no longer pregnant and was reveling in my ability to roll over and breathe. Whatever the case, the whole thing just kept on feeling like such a special gift, such a blessing after the hard months that had preceded it. When we brought Madeleine home, the kids swarmed the carseat and Henry, unable to fully process the excitement, just looked up and asked, “Should we sing her a song – should we sing her the Doxology?”

So we did, welcoming Maddie into our house with songs of praise sung- yelled by toddlers over her sleeping head.

Maddie Lo- we are so glad you are ours!

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