Four Times a Mama, in Photos

Sunday, May 12, 2019

For all the times I'm behind the camera, I am so grateful that sometimes, sometimes I get to be in front of the camera. These are my babies, the ones who made me a mother, and in honor of Mother's Day, I'm indulging my "natsukashii" and looking through old photos and feeling grateful. It's a circus, and I definitely feel the burnout sometimes, but I wouldn't trade this for ANYTHING. 

Becoming a Marvel Geek

Thursday, April 25, 2019

I've been thinking a LOT about Avengers: Endgame and the Marvel Cinematic Universe this week. Probably some of you guys have, too, if you are at all geeky about this stuff like I have become. I'm seriously SO excited for our movie showtime Saturday evening that I get butterflies every time I think about it, and get teary every time I watch videos/trailers/interviews with the cast. 
So because of this, I've also been thinking a LOT about my sweeter half, Joe Southerland. Because it is ONLY thanks to him that I've had the privilege of getting immersed in the world of Marvel. ONLY he could've lured me to that first Iron Man movie back in 2008 (we brought baby Noah with us!!), or gotten Noah hooked enough that we all sat around watching the Avengers cartoon with our toddler, as entertained (or more) as he. 
Because I married a true Marvel fan, I have had the wonderful blessing of getting to fall head over heels with every Avenger, every movie, and every geeky side-thing that comes with being a Marvel fan. And I'm still only at "intermediate fan" status, compared to most of you out there. So if I'm having this much emotion and excitement about Endgame this weekend, I can only imagine how much MORE you guys, and my husband are feeling. And I love it. I love it all. 
Here's to geeking out, whatever it is you happen to geek out about. And thanks, Joe--- it's been the best ride, and I'm so glad you've let me tag along. 

The Story in the Details Today

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

It’s a slow, unhurried Wednesday morning, with nothing on the agenda. The sun is shining and spring is definitely beginning to peek its head around the corner. Larkin and I are tucked together on the couch under the same blanket. She is drinking chocolate milk and eating small powdered donuts while she watches “Pumpkin George”, one of her top cartoon picks (Curious George Boo Fest). I have a kindle book and some cross stitching on hand, and it’s completely okay if we stay right here for awhile.

Sitting here, I notice how Noah is slowly taking over the top of our TV cabinet with his various treasures— Legos and Chicago souvenirs from last week’s trip.

I am lightly amused by the story of our family life this armoire-top is telling today. Here is what I see:
  1. The “real” decor— a beautiful and cheerful print, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, by Rifle Paper Co., a gift from my bestie Genny. An antique black fan, a treasure find from our Masonic Lodge caretaking days. The “Be Attitudes” and “@“ signs on the wall. (I always meant to also hang a “home” sign next to the “@“, so it would make more sense.)
  2. The box for Joe’s bb8 Sphero. Missing the actual bb8, which I need to round up for him.
  3. The Mylar balloon word “love”, leftover from my Valentine’s photo shoot. I couldn’t bring myself to toss it yet, so it just hangs out here.
  4. Tucked in back, mostly out of sight, the odious bucket of faux snowballs my kids LOVE and I loathe. A gift from a sister several years ago, these things end up in every corner of this room when the kids decide to play “snowball fight” (in fact, from my spot on the couch, I see at least one rogue ball under the toy bench. Of course.). And these things gather alll the hair and strings and lint and are just old and dingy and gross and are NEVER all in one place together. The kids LOVE THEM. Joe put the bucket up here, sort of hidden, after picking them up yet again last night.
  5. Two DVD cases— one for Wall-E, another of Larkin’s current favorites, and one for Ponyo, one of the latest in Joe’s attempts to educate his kids in the Studio Ghibli canon of films.
  6. Several LEGO creations- some original designs and some from sets, all of them Noah’s, set out of reach of Larkin. Eventually, he will be asked to take these back upstairs to his LEGO table, but for now, they’re “decor”.
  7. And the most recent additions— Noah’s two Chicago souvenirs, a Willis Tower bell and a skyline snow globe, both carefully chosen and paid for with his souvenir allowance (“plus I’m going to use ten dollars of my own money while we’re in Chicago, okay, Mom?”). He is really proud of these items. He chose well.

At any given time, there are little stories in the details of our homes— things that matter, evidence of challenging times or good memories or current routines that will one day be obsolete. When the house is all tidied up and things are put away, that tells a story. And when things are awry and “stuff” is strewn and set about, those items tell a story too. And all of it is worth telling. When my home is put together and all the Legos and souvenirs and old photo props are put away, the story is that I am feeling cheerful and motivated and productive, and probably at peace and maybe in a planning/goal making groove. When there is a little bit of semi-organized clutter about, our lives are probably a little busier than usual, or we’ve had a few more gray days than usual... but it’s still kind of neat to think about why things end up where they are, not yet put back away: like I can see Quinn’s lovey and two of his stuffed animals over on the toy bench, and I realize he brings at least one item from his bed downstairs every morning before school— just to help him transition from cozy jammie sleep to getting dressed and ready for the day. It’s sweet, actually, and I don’t mind putting his lovey and friends back upstairs for him most days. Or Noah’s souvenirs: I know they are still new enough that they are freshly special to him, so if he wants them here, in the family room, on display for now... I can let them stay for awhile.

Ultimately, I’ll find another pocket of cheerful motivation, and things will get put back away. And that’s great. But today, I’m enjoying the details of the things left out, the things out of place... and I’m relishing the feeling of a full home and a good, simple, sometimes crazy little life here.

Larkin and the Little Red Book

Sunday, March 3, 2019

  • Because she is always grabbing this Chaucer book off of my little book display. 
  • Because she happened to match the book on this February morning. 
  • Because I had done her hair in anticipation of heading out the door on errands. 
  • Because she chose the rain boots herself. 
  • Because every time we put on her Totoro socks, she and I sing the Totoro song. 
  • Because I always have a child's chair handy.
  • Becuase the front door open lets in just the right amount of light. 
  • Because she won't be this little forever.
  • Because I adore having her as my daily sidekick for this beautiful time we have left before the world scoops her up. 

Unplanned, perfectly wonderful photos from my spunky, darling, fun 2.5 year old on an average winter weekday.


Defeat Looks Like Acceptance This Morning

Sunday, February 17, 2019

It’s 8:00am, Sunday morning. Joe is out of town. Noah and Lucy are still sleeping, Quinn and Larkin are watching cartoons. 

Last night, after nearly a full week of managing Lucy’s second round with a tummy bug in under four weeks, Larkin stood in the kitchen and began heaving the contents of her tummy all over the floor. She’d also already had a turn with the stomach flu in the last four weeks, making her my second kid to have a second wave. 

After already having a challenging week coping with the reality of constantly sick kids, feeling sorry for myself and in the throes of winter despair, last night undid me. I slid into total defeat. My “sorry for myself” amplified to soul-splitting levels as I mopped up the floor and scrubbed the puke bowl clean for the millionth time. 

And then? I gave up. I finally gave up. That tense feeling of waiting and wishing it was different— the anger that this was happening...the self-pity—- it faded into background noise as I confronted the very real and immediate issue of how to handle a 2-year-old pukebomb who could go off at any time, wherever she might be. And we all know that 2-year olds don’t hit the bowl without help. I kicked into pure survival mode and prepped the couch for her to watch a cartoon (sheet-covered, old towels under that and around the floor, a bench with her puke bowl and a little bit of water for sipping). I then marched upstairs and prepped her bedroom for potential battle: mattress covered in towels, towels on the floor, extra toys removed (but lovey and fave blanket remained, because sick babies deserve comfort, even when the thought of things getting puked on makes me cringe hard). 

For the first time (I’m sheepish to admit it took this long), I finally LEANED IN. Rolled up my sleeves and accepted that this is my life. This, right this minute, is my life. It is what it is. I cannot change that Joe is out of town and snow is on the ground outside and two of my four kids are actively contagious with vomit germs. I am here and I cannot wish it away. And so I just leaned in. My peripheral vision narrowed until all I could see what what needed to be done right then to make my girls comfortable and to make any potential cleanup as easy as possible. My job wasn’t to wish we were back in those nostalgic days where no one was sick and the trees had leaves on them and all of us liked being outside and healthy. My job was to just HANDLE IT, whatever “it” turned out to be.

And it was okay. Not great: Larkin did in fact vomit again, at midnight, in her crib. But I was watching the monitor and heard a tell-tale cough before it began and was fast enough to make it to her room to hold her over the bowl. And it was a teeny amount. And she was calm and ready to lay right back down to try to sleep again. 

I didn’t get enough sleep: every time Lucy stirred, I worried she was going to have a repeat of yesterday morning where she kept leaning over her bowl with the urge to vomit, not sleeping... just waiting. And in fact, at 5:45 I woke to the adrenaline-inducing sound of her heaving into her bowl, as I’d worried about. After nearly 24 hours not puking— even eating a normal dinner— she had a lot to put into her bowl, and I had another gross clean-up/scrub to do. So tired. 

But it was okay. I handled the night and we’re all okay and any mess was mostly contained. 

And even though today is only day 2 of Joe’s 4-day absence, and even though two of my four are actively still in the 24-post puke window of potential contagion (and probably more than that... we’re probably just totally diseased and contagious on every surface of our own persons and this whole house. I can’t freak out about it anymore. ACCEPTANCE.)... even though this is not how I wanted my life to look right now (I fantasize about playing outside and about decluttering projects and about sewing summer dresses for the girls and about open windows and laying on quilts outside in the shade reading books) I am here. I’ve accepted that this is what life is today. Puke bowls and old towels and staying home from church and needing a shower and watching too many cartoons. 

And in honor of this feeling of defeat/acceptance this morning, I have some candles lit for “hygge”. The cute little diffuser is wafting out comforting essential oils. My Valentine tulips from Joe are bringing a piece of Spring to my house. There’s a bottle of Vitamin D supplements right there next to the flowers— I’ve only been taking them for 2 days, but I think they’re helping— and I’m listening to piano music on Alexa as I do a tiny bit of cross-stitching. Larkin and Quinn are watching (too many) cartoons and Lucy and Noah are still sleeping and we probably have more vomit ahead... but this is my life. I give up. And in giving up, I actually feel looser, lighter, and better. Sometimes maybe being defeated simply means we release our stubborn will and wishing, and only then can we soften enough to accept and let go. 

(Now, to try to keep this state of mind until my partner in crime returns.)
(I wish it didn’t take my stubborn heart so long to learn lessons. And then forget them and have to learn them again. And again.)

Every Morning For Now

Friday, January 25, 2019

Every morning for the last six years, give or take a few, this is one of the places I stand-- behind my girl, a basket of supplies nearby, wrangling tangles and coaxing Lucy's thick hair into a ponytail, or a braid or two. First I take out any previous ponytail holders. Then I usually add a small dollop of leave-in-conditioner, focusing primarily on that middle patch of hair in the back where her hair begins to spill down her back-- the place where tangles form into a briar patch of knots. I then spray her hair with water and begin working out tangles with a Wet Brush-- a miracle brush I've had less than a year that I should have spent the money on years ago. As much as I try to keep the pain to a minimum, she flinches on many of the brush strokes until I've managed to get the tangles out or down to the part of her hair where I can then grip the whole mass of hair and use my fist as the buffer to pain while I yank on tangles more vigorously within the ponytail hanging down from my hand. If you've ever brushed long hair, I'm certain you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

Once her hair is tangle-free, I make a part in the top front, and pull her face-framing hair into a small ponytail or french braid, only along the right side of her head-- preventative measures to keep her hair out of her face all day. There is nearly never a day that her right front side of her hair is not contained in one of these ways. I've never been able to let myself let it go, and consequently, she has never learned how to keep her hair out of her face herself. I still don't know just how much of a disservice I've done her by always keeping her hair tamed.... time will tell, I suppose. 

After this first ponytail/braid, I then usually either brush her hair into a low pony or into two braids. Again, this almost never varies, and the reasons are nuanced: 1. Since hearing scare stories from fellow moms about head lice, I decided early on in her school career that I'd just go ahead and never send her to school with her hair down. Easy enough. 2. But because she nearly never has her hair down, when I do give her that option, say for church or just a random summer day, she nearly never opts for it. She is a creature of routine, and I've created the routine of "hair up", so she doesn't choose "hair down". 3. I've tried to talk her into a bun or two. Nope-- too different from the routine. 4. I snuck her hair into a high ponytail last week-- her first one-- and she didn't say anything about it. Good or bad. Which means maybe I can add that to the menu now. But maybe still not actually ask her if she wants it or not. Because she'll say no. Because it's not what she's used to. But she didn't mind it when it was in all day last week. So.

At least once a month, when she's particularly vocal about the hair-brushing pain, usually after two or three days of being home with nowhere to be, and not having her hair brushed daily-- these days which also seem to yield a higher likelihood that she'll either be in costume and/or rolling around the floor/in a blanket/in and out of a play tent/etc. where friction compounds her tangles--I then threaten to take her to get her hair cut. Not short.... not like a bob or anything.... But maybe shoulder-length? I tell her that it would make hair-brushing a breeze every time. She says she loves her long hair, and used to protest the idea of a cut more... but recently, she hasn't argued to keep it long when I bring it up. So I see a trim in our future. Maybe only 3-4". 

After all this--- the actual work and the overthinking of the actual work.... the agony (for her head and my nerves) of working out particularly bad tangles...the wondering if I've created problems by under-instructing her on how-tos and over-containing the flyaway potential and being too routine overall.... After all this, I still love the feel of her hair under my hands. I love the moment every day that we are physically connected, engaging in a timeless ritual between mother and daughter. I love that she lets me. (That she doesn't even know any different). I love turning chaos into silken order. I'm even getting better at the braiding bit. 

But as she moves from age 7 to age 8 soon, I've begun to realize I can't do it for her forever. She's going to need to learn some things for herself. So we've begun a few little lessons here and there-- how to brush one's own hair. How to make a ponytail (I never realized how complicated this is to someone who's never done it. Harder than tying shoes, even.) Soon I'll begin helping her try shampooing and rinsing her own hair. (It's so THICK. I haven't been able to bring myself to let her do it on her own yet... all I can envision is clumps of conditioner still deep in her hair, unrinsed.) 

I know a large percentage of mothers out there would read this and be SHOCKED we've not done any of this until now. But maybe some of the moms are where I'm at. And maybe a few more won't even begin this much teaching until a few more years after age 8. To each her own. I think maybe the girls will all turn out okay in this area, eventually. (Though watching my girl with a ponytail holder, still not grasping how to pull the hair through it.... ay yi yi.)

All this to say-- Every morning for the last six years, this ritual, this act of love and caregiving, has been a good and humble work. The simple task of brushing hair, braiding hair, smoothing hair. Using my hands to show her I love her and I care about her well-being. And one day it'll be over. She'll take the brush into her own hands and she'll learn her own way. And I will miss this. But I get to do it a while longer. Every morning. Every morning for now. 

Quinn is SIX!!

Friday, January 18, 2019

 Now We Are Six
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five, 
I was just alive.
But now I am Six, 
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now 
for ever and ever. 
A.A. Milne

The day before his birthday, Quinn's whole kindergarten crew at school celebrated their 100th day. There are five kindergarten classes, and all the teachers planned a super fun celebration for the kids-- treats, games, crafts, collections, counting, etc. etc.  

This 100 Days thing is not new. My older two kids have gotten to celebrate with special activities during their kindergarten years... But one thing I've seen lots of other schools do that my school never did was to invite the kiddos to dress like they're 100 years old. I mean, COME ON. So cute!! I've envied all my friends' posts with their little grandmas and grandpas, and wished our school did that part of the 100 Day celebration. 

So imagine my delight when the flier came home this year WITH THE COSTUME PART ADDED! Woo!!!! Little old Grandpa Quinn, here we come!

Except, you cannot have missed his expressions in these photos. He was NOT into it. The suspenders and plaid shirt were already a major compromise. The glasses and the gray-dusted hair put him over the edge, and he was NOT a happy kiddo as we got ready for the bus. (Needless to say, I didn't even approach him with the makeup pencil to draw on some wrinkles. Even though it hurt my heart to have to skip it.)

He gamely posed for me anyway, but would NOT smile (I almost tricked him, in photo #2/4, if you look)... but this last shot, a candid, shows how he really felt. 

Dang it. 

Poor kiddo. 

(Poor me. I REALLY wanted this. How do other mamas get their kids into this idea???)

But never fear-- he ended up having a WONDERFUL day, and changed right into his jammies when he got home, and all was well. 

And this morning, his SIXTH birthday, I made sure to grab just a few more photos, so that he would not just have Sad Old Man portraits for his birthday:

And now he is six, and he's clever as clever. And so darn sweet. And funny. And handsome. And kind. We are lucky lucky lucky he's in our family, and so delighted to celebrate the HECK outta him today. 

Happy birthday, my beloved Quinn Atticus. 

I Want:

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I want:
A pedicure.
To make a quilt.
To nap and read endlessly until I actually get bored of napping and reading.
Delicious beef, beautifully prepared.
An easy time of day to get outside for regular walks.
An easy time of day to get outside in the wild with my kids.
To give my kids the experience of ice skating without the inevitably 
awful learning period where all of them are falling and HATING IT.
Game night with good friends.
Someone to play with my hair and scratch/massage my scalp.
Time and energy to tackle decluttering in my basement.
Time and energy to photograph and post items for sale online.
To find the $30 cash back I lost this weekend.
To go to the movies. Several times.
A road trip with Joe.
Someone to make dinners for us every day.
New prints for my 3x3 photo wall.
To sing harmony with people.
To play with some kittens.
To stretch.
To stand somewhere magical.
Photo: happened to find some good light on our snow play day last weekend. I "selfed" it with the big camera, and  nabbed a few I actually like. Ta da. 

For fun: a few other "I Want" lists from past blog posts:
28 Days (2010)
Oct. 12, 2010
Journaling Exercise: I Want (2009)



Hello, 2019: 10 Minute Freewrite About Blogging

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Ten-minute morning freewrite, and GO:

If there is one thing that I've accidentally let go of that has simplified my life, it is blogging. Putting it on my to-do list, struggling to make time for it, agonizing over how much I WASN'T managing to blog about, stressing about having photos ready for each post.... That has slipped away this past year, and as I sit here reflecting on that, I realize that that self-made pressure is completely GONE. Gone. And that this is a blessing. 

If there is one thing that I've accidentally let go of that is creating a wound in my soul, it is blogging. Creating space for myself in front of this computer, allowing myself to "be a writer" for a bit.... Stream-of-consciousness typing therapy.... Plus having sweetly documented moments in my family's life, as well as really the only journal of my own journey that isn't just images (I'm looking at you, Instagram, phone camera roll, etc.).... This has slipped away this year, and as I sit here reflecting on it, I am profoundly sad. 

It's not the BLOG (say it they way I just did in my head, "BLAAAHHHHHHHHG", with a teenagery voice and an eyeroll)..... It's not. I don't aspire (anymore) to be this clever, popular blogger. I don't NEED the world to read along and nod their heads (though you, whoever you are reading this, still give me little bubbles of joy when you read and nod your head and maybe even comment). It's the writing-paired-with-images that fed my soul. It's the steady, semi-consistent checking in with my own self in the form of writing that was the beautiful part of this. 

Yesterday, I was finally adding words to my "Through My Doorways" post that had had images on it since I created the post in November. And I really wanted to link a part of the post back to a previous post that I swore existed, but I couldn't recall exactly what year I'd posted it. So I spent the better part of an hour just scrolling my blog. Clicking "older posts" again and again, going further and further back. Never even reaching that strange, hazy time before we lived in this house in Ballwin, and yet there were still SO MANY posts and so so so so so SO MANY photos between yesterday and summer 2013, and I just...... wow. I suddenly felt the loss of it keenly, acutely, and deeply. I realized that even if I'd accidentally stopped making myself stress about blogging, I'd also accidentally stopped allowing myself to blog as a therapy art form.

My 10-minute timer just went off. Larkin is awake and chatting to herself in her crib. 

I have no lovely conclusions. This was just a freewrite. But.... I think I'm back on blogging.
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