Parenthood Requires a Sense of Humour

I saw a little clip of the British comedian Michael McIntyre where he talks about leaving the house with kids Michael McIntyre. (Might be some swearing.) It was hilarious.

I was thinking about his comedic routine this past weekend while we were at our family reunion. The reunion was great. My brother and his wife and three of his kids were there. We had six of our kids and my parents were there as well. My sister-in-law found an amazing airbnb down near Tellico Plains in Tennessee. It was like having our own little patch of the Smokey Mountain Park to ourselves. There was a good stretch of river where the kids could tube and swim, trails to walk on, a pretty little meadow. It was great. 

Our first morning there I said that I would like to go for a walk after breakfast and see all the trails and the river. Pretty soon almost every one had decided they wanted to go too. Great! We cleaned up from breakfast and then I told the kids to go get their shoes on.  A couple kids walked past me still in their pajamas. 

 

Hey! You need to get dressed first! 

Ok Mom!

 

Kids go running off, all trying to get to the upstairs bathroom first to change, since we have one family per bedroom and very little privacy. There is a tussle upstairs, some loud thumps..someone yells. 

 

TAKE TURNS IN THE BATHROOM!! I yell up the staircase, too lazy to actually run up the steps and see what exactly happened. 

 

Meanwhile, my mom, who has no little children, sits in the living room. 

Just let me know when you’re ready.  

Ok Mom. 

 

Some barefoot children run past me. SHOES!! You need your shoes!! The ten year old then launches into a complaint about how his water shoes are no good and he has no shoes to wear and of course it’s all my fault because I didn’t buy him the new pair of water shoes that he was wanting. (Because he had a perfectly good pair already.) I tell him to just wear the cheapy tennis shoes that he brought, it won’t matter if they get wet and they will definitely keep out rocks. 

 

No way. Those are tennis shoes. You aren’t supposed to wear tennis shoes in the water.

I don’t care which shoes you wear, just PUT on shoes NOW, or you can just sit on the couch all day.

 

He goes to find his water shoes and then starts yelling because his older brother is apparently wearing HIS water shoes. Older brother protests. (Unfortunately, at the time of purchase, there was no variety available, I ended up getting the same shoe in two different sizes. Bad idea.) We finally make older brother take off the water shoes so we can verify the size of the shoe. Yes, these water shoes belong to the ten year old. Sorry older brother. 

 

Older brother then collapses onto the couch in a full-on pout. 

 

What’s wrong?? Go get your shoes on!!

I can’t find my shoes. 

Have you looked in the car? In the living room? Outside? In the bedroom?

I haven’t looked in the bedroom.

THEN GO LOOK IN THE BEDROOM!!!

 

My mom sits peacefully, turns a page of her book as I stomp on by.

 

Then I notice the two year old. He is walking around in his diaper. Good grief. I run up the stairs into the bedroom, grab clothes, diapers, wipes, socks and shoes. (It’s summer, but this poor baby has fat feet that get blisters in every single shoe unless he is wearing socks.) I run downstairs, corner the baby, and start speed-dressing him. Children who are dressed and shoed are now running around outside. I jump up, stick my head out the door..

 

DON’T LEAVE UNTIL I COME OUT THERE! 

Ok Mom.

AND WHILE YOUR’E AT IT, GO INSIDE AND USE THE BATHROOM AND GET A DRINK!

 

Children start pouring back into the house to fight for the bathroom.

 

Older brother is once again sitting on the couch, moping. 

 

WHY DON”T YOU HAVE YOUR SHOES ON???????

My shoes are in the bedroom and the bedroom door is locked and I can’t get in. 

 

What? I was just up there. That’s impossible. Go try the door again. 

 

I stand at the bottom of the steps and watch while he runs up. I hear him struggling with the door. The door is not opening. 

 

ANDY!!! It’s now time to bring in the reinforcements.

 

My husband comes, inspects the door. He needs a paper clip. We are in someone else’s house. It’s very unlikely there are any paper clips around. We search all the drawers. I find toothpicks. Will that work? 

 

Nope. 

 

Finally, with a credit card and who knows what other magic, my husband unlocks the bedroom door. (I would very much like to know how it got locked in the first place.). Older brother retrieves his shoes. I announce loudly, to the house at large, that I am now leaving on a walk. 

 

My mom has finished her book by now. She gets up and joins us. (I’d like to add that my brother and his wife are going through the same saga getting their kids out the door.)

 

We start walking down the path and I suddenly remember that little comedy clip I had seen about parents trying to leave the house. I start laughing. Parenthood definitely requires a sense of humour. 

 

Going Home

There’s a quote that goes something like, “You can never go home again”, which I’m guessing to mean that once you leave home, things will never be the same again if you try to return. I left home when I was nineteen, just before I turned twenty. Yeah, I had gone away two years before that for college, but I always came back for Christmas and summer breaks. Coming home back then meant coming back to our little upstairs apartment in Bethel, Alaska. It was small, but very cozy. My mom had bright colorful pictures all over the walls, and house plants on every available surface. I had my little spinet piano, and my bedroom had all my memorabilia displayed on my bookshelves.

I finished two years of college, but now I was dropping out and going to Haiti for an open-ended visit. I remember getting on the plane to leave, saying goodbye to my mom, fighting off a panic attack. My mom asked me what I was most worried about and I remember my answer was, “I don’t know when I’m coming home.”  As it turned out, I never did. Not really. I went to Haiti for four months and then went to Chile for five months, came back to the States and got married shortly after in the Lower ‘48 without ever making it back up to Alaska.

The next time I walked into my parents’ little upstairs apartment in Alaska, I had a husband and a ten-day-old daughter in tow. In many ways it felt just like coming home from a term at college, and in other ways it was completely foreign. My husband had graduated from the University of Tennessee and we had stuck around Tennessee until I could give birth to our firstborn, then we had planned to go straight to Alaska. The idea was to stay with my parents until my husband could get a job and we could save up enough to get our own place. My mom had reorganized my old bedroom so there was now room for my new little family. It felt like home in that my mom was in full-blown mother-mode. I had just gone through the stress of giving birth and moving from Tennessee to Alaska with a newborn. Some mothering was exactly what I needed. It was foreign because I was now heading off at bedtime to my old bedroom with two extra people, and these people were now my first priority.

We stayed in Bethel for a year and half. During that time my parents’ apartment was a place of rest. We would go over and hang out on Sunday afternoons, eating lunch, taking naps. I enjoyed those brief moments when I could relapse to just being a daughter again and take a short break from the new “mom” role I was in. Then we moved, and later my parents moved out of that apartment into a different house. A later visit to Alaska had us staying at my parent’s new house and it did not feel like my home at all. It was where my parents lived. It was inviting, but I had no childhood memories there, and my role had solidified as mother to my own children. I never really relaxed back into the daughter role. My parents stayed in Alaska and we settled in Tennessee and for the next eighteen years (aside from two visits to Alaska) we only saw each other when my parents flew down for their yearly visit.

About a year and half ago my parents retired and moved down to Tennessee, about an hour away from us. We have really enjoyed having them closer. The kids love going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and we try to get out there as often as possible. It’s a wonderful house, but again, I have no childhood memories there, and my role, when I visit, is mom to my kids, keeping them out of trouble. It simply where my parents live.

This week is my kids’ spring break from school. I was trying to think of fun things we could do on the break so I called my mom to see if we could come out and spend the night and a day with them. She said yes and we made our plans. Since they’re only an hour away, spending the night is not necessary, but the kids love it. It makes it feel like they’ve gone on a holiday somewhere. I’m not so keen on spending the night, only because my youngest doesn’t sleep well in new surroundings which means I don’t get to sleep well. But, a visit to my parents sounded really nice and who knew, maybe the little boy would sleep better this time.

Well, he didn’t. I didn’t get him to sleep till closer to midnight and then he slept fitfully all night and kept me up. In the morning my mom looked at me with concern. Are you feeling ok? No. I was tired and on top of that I had a bad cold. I had actually wondered if I should go see my parents with this cold hanging on me, but when your children have been counting down the days before they can go to Grandma’s, there is no way you want to change your plans. Also, being sick at Grandma’s sounded like a good idea. I had this vague notion that maybe my mom would help me feel better. Sure enough, Mom pulled out the cough syrup, urging me on as I choked down the vile liquid. My dad brought me a cup of some kind of fizzy drink that was supposed to boost my immune system. Then my mom told me to go back to bed whenever I wanted, the kids would be fine. I finally took her up on it and crawled back into bed for several hours. When I woke up around noon the house was silent, they had all gone outside apparently. I browsed through my mom’s cupboards, looking for lunch. My parents are vegans and so their house was fully equipped to handle my new diet which just entails fruits and vegetables. I found a can of lentil soup and then threw in some frozen vegetables. More exploration in the cupboard found some plantain chips. Perfect. I sat in the silence and ate my lunch, feeling rested and relaxed. And at home.

Something shifted. Something inside of me. I think I allowed myself to just be a daughter again. Mom, I’m sick, take care of me. And that felt like coming home. It’s not a place I can stay. I’m a mom myself now, I’ve got my own house full of children who look to me to hold their lives together. It’s a heavy responsibility, a full-time job. But, it was really nice to just go home for a short break. Feel like a kid again. Thanks Mom. Thanks Dad.

Can I have a Time Out?

Today is one of those days where I feel like I have no right to be writing a blog. I contemplated just posting one sentence. “Esther is too grumpy to write today, come back next week.” One of the main reasons I started writing this blog was to set up an accountability that forced me to write regularly. I knew that I enjoyed writing, but I didn’t do it often, and I was looking for an outlet where I not only would have a place to share my writing, but also a bit of pressure to keep writing. Which leads me to today where I would much rather hide under the covers of my bed with a book than attempt to write down my thoughts on anything. But, it’s blog-writing day.  I also wanted this blog to be a place where people could see someone being real. So. I guess I should write.

Have you ever had one of those days where you just needed a good Time Out? Like, listen, honey, you are not playing well, your attitude stinks, and I think you should go to your room for the rest of the day and think about it. How come grownups don’t get Time Outs? Probably cause we would take advantage of it. ME! ME! ME! I need a Time Out! Please, can I have a Time Out???? Maybe that’s one of the worst things about adulthood. There is no Time Out. You have to show up every day or face harsh consequences.

Days like today are the days where I feel like I really don’t deserve the title of Mom. Or wife. Or Christian. Or friend. I am not living up to my own expectations for these roles at all.

Life is also not living up to my expectations. As a teenager, dreaming about my future grown-up-ness, I imagined adventure, romance, excitement, doing things that helped save the world. And here I am. My adventure now entails trying to keep my family warm on a cold day with my little wood stove cause the heater broke down and we can’t get someone to look at it till tomorrow. Romance involves playing Yahtzee together in bed, late at night, and texting silly things to each other during the day. (Ok, I have no problems with the romance in my life, it has evolved from young passion into a solid love and enjoyment of each other, but it doesn’t look anything like the romance books talk about.) Excitement is calling 911 in the middle of the night because someone is shooting off a gun in my neighborhood. Saving the World? Well, I kind of hope that my kids are going to grow up to be solid citizens who will make a difference in the lives around them. And I guess I’m playing a part in that by doing my best to raise them right. But it’s kind of a nebulous achievement. No hard numbers or statistics to point at and say, Look, I have taught 20 illiterate adults to read! Look, I fed 100 orphans today! Look, I just spent a lot of time lobbying and I managed to get this bill passed that is going to help my community! Nope. I can say, hey, I signed my kids homework folder! Everyone in my house ate three meals today! My husband has clean socks in his drawer! All necessary things, but doesn’t feel much like saving the world.

My husband and I both grew up as missionary kids, and as adults we had a hard time settling down. We moved back to Tennessee fifteen years ago and I consider it something of a miracle that we have managed to stay. At least once a year one or both of us get the urge to move. Let’s just sell the house and go overseas. Let’s just move out of the city and find a nice little town to live in. Let’s move out West. Or up North. We call it being “restless”. Really though, it’s probably a good dose of “The grass looks greener over there.” As someone who moved about every two years my whole growing up life, I can tell you that for me, staying in one place is a million times harder than moving around. Staying in one place means you have to go through boring times where everything feels the same every day. Staying in one place means that you have to repair friendships and relationships when they unravel instead of just moving on to a new set of relationships. Staying in one place means you have to constantly adjust your expectations to fit the reality you are living in instead of just not dealing with it and moving on to something better over the horizon. (I am not trying to criticize people who move around a lot. It has its own set of pitfalls and downers and I know people aren’t moving around a lot just so they can avoid permanence. I’m just saying that for me, comparing both, I find permanence a lot harder.)

I am pretty sure that my mood today is a product of discontentment. The grass does look greener in the next yard. I feel like moving. I’m tired of housework. Everything feels blah.

So, I will adopt the cure I always give my children when they are particularly whiny and complaining. Be thankful.

Ok, here goes. I am thankful for my husband. I am thankful for my crazy kids. I am thankful for this old, beat-up house that shelters my children so perfectly. I am thankful for food on the table, a car out in the driveway, my husband’s job. I am thankful for this blog that gives me an outlet for all my personal angst. I’m thankful God still loves me. I’m thankful tomorrow is a new day.

See you all next time. Hopefully I’ll be a in a better mood by then. 🙂  

Meandering Thanksgiving Memories

thanksgivingpic

After my husband and I got married we gallivanted around for a while. We spent our first year of marriage in Knoxville, Tennessee, while Andy finished up his last year at UT. Then when our first born was only 10 days old, we moved to Alaska to be near my parents. We stayed in Alaska for a year and half then, when I was 7 months pregnant with our 2nd child, we moved to Chile to be near my husband’s parents. We stayed there 15 months then moved back to the states when his parents retired as missionaries. We arrived in Florida, bought a used car, packed all our earthly belongings, a 2 ½ yr old, 1 yr old, and our dog into a little Suburu station wagon and headed north. We found out right away that our car needed work. It overheated continually and our 10 hour drive to Knoxville, TN turned into a 24 hr drive as we crawled our way up the highway in the middle of summer, stopping every couple miles to let the car cool down before we crawled forward again. Our goal was to make it to Knoxville where we had some friends who were willing to give Andy some work and give us a temporary place to stay. We eventually made it in and enjoyed our couple weeks in Knoxville, catching up with our friends, fixing our ailing car, getting some traveling money.

After Knoxville, we headed north again, this time heading towards Green Lake, Wisconsin where we met up with Andy’s parents at the American Baptist World Missions Conference. During that time I discovered I was pregnant again. We now needed a place to hunker down while I weathered the months-long intense nausea. Andy’s parents were settling into a new home in Maine and offered for Andy to come and remodel their kitchen. We loaded up our car and headed towards Maine. We ran out of gas money just as we got to New Hampshire and so we made our way to one of Andy’s adopted Moms’ house, Lynn Yule. She was willing to let Andy do some handyman work around her house in exchange for some gas money so we could make it the rest of the way to Maine.

We spent several months in Maine with Andy’s parents while Andy built a new kitchen for his parents and I stayed close to the bathroom. Finally I started feeling better and we prepared for the future. Our plans had been to go to Kentucky to live close to my Grandparents who were having some health problems. It was where I had been born and spent some of my childhood so it seemed like as good a place as any to settle down. We bought a very old camper/trailer. It looked and felt like a miniature trailer home instead of the more modern campers, but it had a built in bathroom, beds, and a small kitchen. No living room furniture, just empty space which we later filled with a loveseat/hideabed. Andy bought an old truck (an ‘86 F250 4wd diesel) (my husband said some people would want to know) that “needed work” to haul the camper and we figured we could live in it until we got ourselves more established. We were ready to go. About a week before we had planned to leave, my grandmother wrote and asked us to not come. Life’s messy. All the reasons behind that letter really aren’t my story to tell, but we did feel a bit like the rug had been pulled out from under us.

So, we regrouped. Looked at our options. Andy’s uncle offered a job in Florida, but we didn’t know anyone there, no friends. No church. We had a place we could stay in Maine, but the job options were very limited. We could go back to Tennessee. We didn’t have any jobs or place to live there, but we had a good church family, good friends. We finally decided that Tennessee was the way to go. With the connections of friends and a church, we figured that jobs and places to lived would fall in place. We loaded up the trailer, truck ready to haul, Suburu stuffed to the gills again. It was November and I was now 5 months pregnant and would be driving from Maine to Tennessee with two little ones in the backseat, following Andy while he hauled our camper. I just have to add some pertinent information. I didn’t get my driver’s license till after my first child was born and the only driving I had done was in small, rural towns. To say I was terrified of the drive would be putting it mildly. This was before cell phones were completely dominant so we bought a set of walkie-talkies to keep in touch while we drove.

It took us 7 days to get to Tennessee. Not because we were taking our time, but rather because everything that could go wrong went wrong. Vehicles breaking down, weather breaking windows on the camper, me going left while Andy went right when we got to a confusing intersection. We spent a couple nights at a Flying J’s truck stop while Andy tried to fix problems on the truck and camper so we could keep going, and I tried to keep two small children happy in the middle of November at a truck stop.

We finally limped into Knoxville on November 12th and headed for the Volunteer Campground up on Raccoon Valley Road. We had looked it up in the yellow pages, called ahead, and they were affordable and had space. We got there on a Sunday afternoon. We pulled into a short-stay sight and Andy got us all hooked up, went to the camp store and got some food to cook for supper, then he told me he figured he would head over to our old church for the Sunday night service. Maybe he could hook up with one of his old friends and ask about jobs. I inwardly groaned at having to settle the kids in for the evening by myself, but I was grateful for his willingness to pursue work right away.  I nodded and agreed it was a good idea.

Andy came back a couple hours later and said he had spoken to his friend Tony and he would be able to head into work the next morning. It was just a temporary job, but it was something. We took it as a good omen. The temporary job ended up introducing Andy to another person who was hiring and for whom Andy ended up working for another six years.

We settled in pretty quickly. We got together with old friends and had a good time comparing our new parenting experiences. At church I got hooked up with our church’s homeschooling co-op and ended up getting some piano teaching jobs, plus a whole new group of friends. Life at the campground was fun. We were moved over to a more permanent spot and had fun meeting lots of interesting people. There was a strong sense of community, and people helped each other out.

Our finances were very tight. There was a man in our church who worked for a bread store. He had got permission from all the powers-that-be and he would bring in the old bagels that could no longer be sold and put them on a table at church where people could help themselves. Every week I would got get a couple bags and that kept us fed for lunches for the rest of the week. I figured out which grocery stores had the best deals and stretched my pennies to the breaking point. I learned how to be very creative with what I had. I couldn’t afford to buy a calendar, but I had some craft supplies so I got my two little ones to help me make a calendar page for our current month, complete with stickers and little stick drawings. During the holidays I bought a large bag of oranges and some sugar and using my saved jam jars, made orange marmalade and homemade cards for Christmas presents. Andy got some wood and made homemade wooden blocks for the kids which entertained them for hours. I would go borrow a bunch of books from the library to read out loud. We only had a tiny space to live in, but it was full of peace and fun. The kids even managed to somehow play hide-and-seek with their dad. In a camper. It helped that they were little and unobservant. 🙂 It was a difficult time, but a very rich time. Andy and I were determined to do whatever we needed to move forward and we didn’t let the hardships get us down, because that was just part of the adventure.

We got to Tennessee in November and Thanksgiving rolled around very quickly. My parents flew down from Alaska and got a room at a nearby hotel. My mom and I went shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner and I kept having to remind my mom that I only had a tiny fridge and a little stove. As it was, when it came time to cook the turkey, we had a big scare that the turkey wouldn’t fit in our mini-oven. But we finally managed to cram it in there. We had a little card table set up as our dining room table and we got some folding chairs and somehow, holding small children in our laps, we managed to squeeze around our little table and enjoy our feast. Sometime during the meal we went around and shared what we were thankful for. Family, good food, a roof over our heads, a job, new beginnings. Friends.

In retrospect I can see how that Thanksgiving kind of held to the spirit of the first Thanksgiving so many years ago. Starting over in a new place. Things aren’t super comfortable. Some mixed emotions about the places you left behind. No idea how the future is going to unfold. And taking some time to be thankful. Because there is always something to be thankful for. This Thanksgiving, fifteen years down the road, I give thanks for Tennessee and how it’s people have opened their arms to us. I give thanks for my family, a roof over my head. Jobs. Old pathways that continue to meander their way into the future. Friends.

God is good.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!