Thursday, April 4, 2019

because one day you won't, part 4 and an announcement

Believe it or not, the winter months have been good to us. Life has slowed down and we are loving our rhythm as a family of five. Even as we've been stuck inside for months (and months and months), I have been looking for moments covered in childhood and baby rolls. There has been no shortage of either.

If you are new to my Because One Day You Won't posts, you can check them out here:

Because One Day You Won't Part 1
Because One Day You Won't Part 2
Because One Day You Won't Part 3


Because one day you won't all fit together on one sled.



Because one day you won't protect your breakfast from the rain.




Because one day you won't have a Minnie Mouse raincoat, Minnie Mouse umbrella, and Minnie Mouse backpack. And because one day you won't tuck you pants into your socks "so everyone can see the polka dots."



 Because one day you won't let me kiss those cheeks five hundred times a day.




Because one day you won't put on your football player costume and sneak into your sister's room to read her Berenstain Bear books.




Because one day you won't have so many arms rolls.




Because one day you won't fit in the toy baby stroller.



Because one day you won't beg us to sleep together in the same bed.



Because one day you won't decorate the "Christmas tree" outside with random things found around the house.


And because one day you won't bring me this snack when I'm having a rough day.


Yes, that is a mixture of fruit snacks, chocolate chips. Hershey's, and some Now & Laters. With milk.



So today I will notice these moments.




*****

And for the announcement...
No, I'm not pregnant. 

44 & Oxford is getting a makeover, and with that makeover comes a new name. That's right folks, it's the end of the road for my beloved 44 & Oxford. This place has been a beautiful writing space for me for the past three and a half years, but I've been working hard to create a new beautiful corner of the internet to call home. My new website will be live later this month!

If you already subscribe to 44 & Oxford, your email address will be transferred over, and you will continue to receive essays to your inbox. If you stumbled upon here via my social media channels, you can either subscribed over in the sidebar or keep checking Facebook and Instagram for the launch of my new site.

It is a honor and great joy for me to share my writing. Thanks for reading.



Monday, February 18, 2019

the man in aldi saw my boob

Photo courtesy of Coffee + Crumbs

I spent Sunday afternoon wandering the aisles of the grocery store with my six-week-old snuggled closely to my chest. It was pure bliss. While the older two darlings stayed around home with dad, I grabbed the opportunity to grocery shop with only one child in tow - the easy child. Strapped onto my chest and sound asleep, my son made roaming the four aisles of Aldi seem like a luxurious getaway. I scanned some new products, read a few labels, and even retraced my steps back to aisle one when I forgot hamburger buns. He slept peacefully the entire time, those chubby cheeks pressed into my chest as strangers oohed and ahhed.

"I should do this every Sunday," I thought to myself.

Cue foreboding music.

The following week I decided to take him grocery shopping again after Sunday lunch. I grabbed my bags and the baby wrap as I hurried off, eager for another therapeutic getaway disguised as an errand.

That darling boy fell asleep during the five-minute car ride to Aldi. I slowly lifted him from his car seat and positioned him gently into the baby wrap. He let out a few baby grunts as he arched his back, but settled in quickly as the warm breeze hugged his chunky frame; he was asleep again by the time we reached the entrance.

The air conditioning hit us hard as we entered the store. Maybe it was the transition inside or maybe the Lord just needed to keep my humble, but the moment we entered the store, he awoke with a cry. Before we even passed the nuts and dried fruit, he had worked himself into a wail.

I knew this feeling. This was my third child, after all, and each one before him has stopped me with the What am I supposed to do? terror. The first time my daughter began wailing in the grocery store, I felt like all eyes were on me, watching and waiting to see my next move. I remember the panic. Do I abandon my full car? Just keep going? How do you hold an infant and push a shopping cart?

But today was different. Instead of paralyzing terror, I felt a calm confidence. I left my cart in the aisle and walked back outside. I strolled down the sidewalk, past Jo-Ann Fabrics and the Asian Market. The movement and warm air lulled him back to sleep, and I reentered Aldi, my abandoned cart waiting where I'd left it. Unfortunately, this same scene repeated itself two more time.

Wail.
Abandon cart.
Stroll outside.
Fall asleep.
Resume shopping.
Repeat.

I couldn't continue this absurd sequence all afternoon. I weighted my options: go home or plow through with a screaming baby. I didn't like either of those options. I began wishing my children had taken a pacifier, but none of them did. They all preferred the boob.

The boob.
That's it.
Yes.
The boob.




Head on over to Coffee + Crumbs to read the full essay.


P.S. Coffee + Crumbs is my most favorite place for all things motherhood and creativity.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

strong as a mother



About a year ago, I decided I wanted a mom shirt. You know the kind - gray, casual fit with a catchy mom motto, ready to be paired with cut-off jeans and white Converse. I don't know what prompted my desire for a mom shirt. Maybe it's part of my continuing quest to fully embrace my mom role. Maybe it's my way of telling the world to ignore the frazzled look on my face and just read my shirt because I really do love this mom gig.

My dear friend, Lindsay, who was expecting her first baby, flew into town to meet my newest little guy over Mother's Day weekend. I decided this was the perfect excuse to buy that mom shirt - one for her, one for me. Lindsay is definitely the kind of friend who would wear matching mom shirts with me. After hours on Etsy clicking through Mama Bear and #momlife shirts, I opted for one that proudly declared "Strong As A Mother."

I like the sentiment that mothers are strong, and therefore, I am strong - strong enough to handle motherhood.

I am strong.
I am capable.
I am a mother.
I can do hard things.

Except for all the times I can't.

*****

I had a phone call scheduled for 4:00, so I gathered the two older darlings and explained I would need privacy. I told them to play in the basement while I talked on the phone upstairs. Hindsight is 20/20, so now I know turning on Netflix would have been the wiser option. But I didn't. 

At 4:10 I ended my call early, tears burning the back of my eyes, anger consuming my body. My children did not stay in the basement during the call. Instead, they ran around the house screaming. They jumped on my back, chased me upstairs, and completely disregarded my request for privacy. They burst through a closed door and flung toys against a locked door. My death look, hand gestures, and body language were useless. I was livid. 

I don't remember everything I said to them as I stepped into the hallway, but I remember swallowing the screams that were shaking my body. Instead, I spoke slowly and quietly, with harsh statements and glaring eyes. 

"The way you just acted was disappointing and disgusting. I do not want to see you or hear from you until dad comes home. If you dare to come out of your room before he gets home, you will have no dinner, no playtime, no books. You will go to bed, and I will not see you until tomorrow."

These were not empty threats. I was prepared to follow through. I closed the door to their rooms and sat at the top of the stairs. 

Strong as a mother? I didn't feel so strong in that moment. 

And then it happened. 

My five-year-old daughter said - no - screamed, "I hate you!" There were a bunch of other words, too. Something about not being fair and wanting to get out of this house. She accused her brother of lying and apparently she wants a new family. Her frustration and anger flooded down the hallway as I sat at the top of the stairs, unsure of my next move. 

My mind knew the truth, but my heart squeezed a steady stream of tears down my face. I knew she didn't hate me. I knew she would want to come with me in an hour to run errands. I knew she would cuddle with me that night to read Fancy Nancy, and she would crawl into my bed the next morning at 7:00. I knew she didn't like being sent to her room until dinner and her five-year-old emotions have a limited ability to express frustration. My mind knew, but her words still felt awful. 

Part of being a mom is taking the heat of emotions our children cannot express. They try out words and phrases to release those intense feelings, and we are left to absorb the heavy blow. She was frustrated with the situation, with the consequence, and she didn't know what to say or do. So she started yelling, probably unsure what would come out next. She was going for dramatic, extreme, anything to get my attention. 

Part of being a kid is taking the heat of emotions a mom cannot express. We try out words and phrases to release those intense feelings, and our children are left to absorb the heavy blow. I was frustrated with the situation, with dishing out an extreme consequence, and I didn't know what to say or do. So I started talking, unsure what would would come out next. I was going for dramatic, extreme, anything to get her attention. 

This day, these 15 minutes, are engraved in my memory. I can close my eyes and feel the anger and pain, immediately followed by guilt and shame. My words, her words, they cannot be undone. 

Strong as a mother? I didn't feel so strong in that moment. 

*****

I want to be strong; I want to be capable. I want to gracefully handle busy days and crabby children. Mostly, I want to be strong enough to control my emotions, quiet my anger, and give a gentle answer when a harsh one is bubbling. 

But I keep messing up. 

It is so easy to get sucked into a downward spiral when I get angry. A wave of condemnation knocks my over, and before I can even regain my footing, my patience runs out again, and I am hit with more guilt. Recently, I have found myself believing the lie that I cannot change, the lie that anger is just a part of motherhood. 

Never before has the gospel of God's grace been more real to me than in my life as a mom. Sin is constantly surfacing, and I am reminded on a daily basis of my inability to do this job well. I might be able to fake it to the world, but I cannot fake it in front of my children. They see, probably more than anyone, the ugliness of my sin. 

When I think about my weaknesses, I think about 2 Corinthians 12:9 which tells me there is power in my weakness. 

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

That is such an ideal response to my feebleness, but also one that prompts me to roll my eyes. It seems a bit too trite when my weakness is spilling out into our entire home, even bringing out the weaknesses of my children. Where is the power in that?

In the next verse, Paul really goes for it and tells me to delight in my weakness. Good grief. 

"That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Oh, Paul. You're killing me.

*****

Apologizing to your children is such a beautiful idea. The image of a mother, coming humbly before her children to admit wrong and seek forgiveness sounds so saintly. But when I'm that mom, the one knocking on a door covered with My Little Pony drawings and entering a room painted Fizzleberry Pink, it doesn't feel beautiful; it feels humiliating. 

"Hey, girl. I really blew it tonight, and I am sorry for my part in that mess. I got angry too quickly. My words and tone were not loving, and I'm sorry."

She forgives me quickly. No drawn-out discussion. No rehashing the ugly.

"It's ok, mom. Sorry I was loud during your phone call."

*****

The world tells me that my children's behavior depends on my behavior, their successes rest on my success, and their failures reflect my failure. Oh, please Jesus, don't let that be true. I am clinging to the hope that this world knows nothing of God's ability to use my weakness and failures to bless my children. I am believing in the absurdity that my God is in the business of turning weakness into blessing. 

In a world that idolizes perfection, maybe one of the best things I can do for my children is to acknowledge my weakness in front of them. When they hear me say that my anger and impatience are wrong - when they hear me apologize and ask for forgiveness - when they hear me pray for the Holy Spirit to change my heart and my words - this is when the Gospel starts to make its way into our home in practical ways. They are pounded with lessons in obedience, constantly taught to do what is right in order to please me, or teachers, babysitters, coaches, and even friends. Yes, I want to raise obedient, self-sufficient children, but not children who are so confident in their own strength and abilities that they can hardly see their need for grace. Allowing my children to see me fail might be a gift, freeing them from the grip of perfection and awakening them to our desperate need for Jesus. 

I often thought 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 was a bit patronizing - a Christian cliche quoted in the midst of troubled times to comfort you with a vague sense of hope. But today, God is showing me how these words can bring real freedom on the messy days of motherhood. 

When you are weak, you stop depending on your own ability. My strength is magnified. 
When you are weak, you readily accept the grace I'm always offering. My strength is magnified. 
When you are weak, you see me be strong. My strength is magnified. 

Strong as a mother?
Nah.
Weak as a mother.
Absolutely. 

That probably wouldn't sell as many shirts. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

fall was here

Fall's the best. Right? The perfect way to ease out of summer without being too depressed that the pool is closed and that we need to start enforcing bedtime. As much as I love making dinner barefoot in my swimsuit, I am such a sucker for fall. And the Beckers had a good one.


We stayed in the pool until the final minutes of the season, closing it down the evening of Labor Day. That pool was my saving grace this summer as the older two darlings swam happily for hours and Milo napped in the stroller.

I could look at Andrew's smile forever.


It was a big year for school in our family. Charlotte started kindergarten and Andrew was off to preschool for the first time. All my mama feelings were bubbling over as they both strapped on backpacks that came down to their knees. I was confident Charlotte would adore kindergarten, but Andrew stepped up and surprised us all, completely forgetting to give me a hug and kiss as he dashed into his classroom on the first day.


She laid out all her outfits for the first week.







Stephen likes to take my picture on the darlings' first days, too. Look. No tears.


Last year Stephen approached me with a beautiful idea: he wanted to take his dad to Europe. His dad would be turning 75 this year and had never experienced Europe. Stephen had a conference and wanted to bring his dad along, turning that four day conference into a two week vacation. This was a lovely idea that sounded much better when I only had two children. I had a slight panic attack in the days leading up to his departure, but it turned out to be a success on all accounts. Andrew only threw up in one elevator, and I only had to pull off one birthday party by myself.

I'm pretty sure they ate their weight in gelato. I'm so jealous.


Charlotte turned 6 and with Stephen's absence, we decided to break the five year tradition of having her birthday party at the apple orchard. Instead, we took the lead from one of her favorite book characters and dressed up in our Fancy Nancy clothes. Eight of her friends joined us for an afternoon of crafting, cupcake decorating, and "tea." Thank goodness for Grammy's help.



Even Milo got fancy.

But we couldn't forgo the apple orchard altogether. After Stephen returned home, we spent a blue sky Saturday morning at our favorite little orchard. We have six years of pictures at this orchard, and I adore everything about it.









Stephen's cousin got married in October and Charlotte was the flower girl. We joined his family in New York and spent time at Niagara Falls the day before the wedding. Milo and I mostly hung out in the car.




Cousins!

Charlotte has been a flower girl two other times: one was a success and one was a total flop. She was much younger, and to my great relief, being a flower girl when you are six is much easier on mom. I didn't need to entertain her in the back of the church or bribe her with candy to walk down the aisle. In fact, she very much enjoyed getting all fancied up and took her responsibilities very seriously.



The boys were also rocking their wedding attire.






Milo hit the six month mark, and I reluctantly started making him baby food. I've held off as long as possible because life is so much easier when all I need to bring with me is my boob. However, it's been about a month, and he shows no interest in food.




Milo also joined me on his first flight to meet Baby Liam. My dear friend Lindsay had her first baby in August. I originally planned to visit them in September, but a 12 hour stomach bug changed my plans. We finally made it to Atlanta, and I got to smooch all over this handsome little fellow. Lindsay has been spoiling my children from they moment they were each born; I've got a whole lot of catching up to do!




And because Stephen is the epitome of fun dad, he took the older two darlings to the horse races when I was out of town. They gambled away their quarters, choosing the horses with fun names, but it was a highlight of the fall they are still talking about.

 


 



We couldn't resist the "baby in a pumpkin" movement that swept social media this fall. Milo was surprisingly content for our ten minute photo shoot, and we had some ding-dong-ditch fun with our dear neighbors as we left Milo on their front porch.



I wouldn't be lying if I said my daughter was named after a spider. I have always loved the book Charlotte's Web, and as I sat with my pregnant belly reading the final chapters to my classroom of first graders in 2012, I settled on the name Charlotte. The night before Charlotte started kindergarten I gave her a copy of the book. Andrew, Charlotte, and I have been cuddling up in the big La-Z-Boy chair and reading our way through. After we finished the book, we celebrated with a themed party and watched the movie.




Andrew turned 4 the day before Halloween, and man oh man, is that kid the best. Much to Stephen's delight, he has developed a love for opera, particularly Maria Callas. Stephen surprised him first thing in the morning with a new Maria Callas record. He was delighted.





One of Andrew's favorite gifts was a Nature Explorer Kit that came with a flashlight and whistle. He slept with that kit, and I was awakened at 4 in the morning to the sound of that whistle. (Insert cuss words.) Before the sun was even up, he shuffled down the stairs with that kit. We told him he had to use it outside; a moment later I saw him, heading out the front door to wake our neighbors with that blessed whistle.




A few days later, the birthday celebration continued at Paw Patrol Live. Stephen tried to roll his eyes and play the "I can't believe I have to go see this show" card, but I'm pretty sure he loved it. I caught him looking up adult Paw Patrol t-shirts on Amazon days before the show. Afterward, we celebrated with pizza and strawberry cake - Andrew's choice, of course.




Our love for Charlotte's Web continued into Halloween with Charlotte dressing up like Charlotte and Milo playing the role of Wilbur the pig. We tried to get Andrew to dress up like Templeton, the rat, but he wasn't interested. I can't blame him; I wouldn't want to be a rat either. Despite a stormy forecast, we were able to get in a solid hour of trick-or-treating, and good news, only three people thought Milo was a girl. We ended the night with a favorite tradition - spreading all the candy out on our bed and taste testing some of the loot. 






I was raised in a Disney loving home, and we took our Disney World vacations very seriously. My mom was the ultimate Disney planner, and long before the Internet bombarded vacation planners with tips and tricks, my mom was reading The Official Guidebook cover to cover. She knew the ins and outs of those parks and led our family on the greatest vacations ever. We are all pretty nostalgic about Disney World, and I have been getting the itch to begin my own family memories, especially because Charlotte and Andrew are at such fun ages to go all kinds of crazy over the magic of Disney. I've been in Disney planning mode for the past six months - books, highlighters, post it notes, a mad stream of texts to my brother, who has already led his family in Disney extravaganzas. Stephen keeps calling me Monica Geller; I'm pretty sure he's making fun of me, but I take it as a great compliment. Our children have very little knowledge of Disney World, but we still wanted to have some fun with the great reveal. We sent them on a scavenger hunt around the house, gathering clues about our December vacation destination. The hunt ended with them popping balloons in the basement to reveal a picture of Disney World. We celebrated by eating Mickey Mouse pancakes in the matching pajamas my mother sent us.





The past few months have also been filled with smaller moments I don't want to forget.

Andrew joined his sister and tried wall climbing for the first time.



We said good-bye to Andrew's long, floppy hair (inset heavy sigh), and just like that, he's all grown up.



Milo can sit up which really just accentuates his rolls. Oh yes.


Charlotte continues to impress us with her never ending love for drawing.




And finally, fall has been beautiful here at Camp Blue Ash, the affectionate name we've given our home that quite often feels more camp like than suburban like. We're surrounded by gorgeous trees which means the past month has been filled with leaves. So many leaves.








Happy fall.