Saturday, April 30, 2016

Life Changing Events

I am currently witnessing some life changing events in my own life and in that of a friend.

My best friend is getting ready to hike the Pacific Crest Trail over the summer. She had been living in Manhattan and she quit her job almost on a whim, moved all her stuff back here (her hometown,) leaves this week with her sister for the Mexican border where they'll take off on the trail and—assuming they complete it—she'll return in October to find an apartment and job here and start life anew, with a huge, awesome experience behind her and a brand new outlook on life.

But while she's away, I get to borrow her vacuum.

I haven't owned a vacuum in many years. I had a few and they were inexpensive and always ended up clogged with animal hair to the point of cardiac arrest. I finally gave up and decided that we'd only have broom sweepable floors, which was true for the two and a half years we were away from this house. Upon our return to downtown living, we ripped up almost all the remaining carpet in the house, painted the concrete floors in our bedrooms and laid wood and painted the dining room. That leaves one room (the upstairs bedroom which is now a library of sorts) that is carpeted and a lot of rugs. For some reason, when thinking about rugs, I never thought about vacuums. So I've been living for years just vacuuming with my shoes (Birkenstock clogs work really well for this job,) by scooting my toes along the carpets in little tiny sections at a time and collecting small piles of fur to be thrown away by hand. Um, that is a little time consuming and stupid. But vacuums are so expensive and since my experience was of them breaking after short term use, it didn't really seem worth the money.

But now! Now I am a vacuuming maniac with my newly borrowed Dyson DC01 multi-floor sweeping machine! I couldn't believe how easy it was to get up all the dog hair on the rug, then move effortlessly to the wood floor and back to the rug again. Tonight I took it upstairs and attacked the totally nasty carpet up there, and I swear, it looks brand new! The dogs aren't even allowed upstairs but the carpet was still disgustingly hairy and dirty. My kids also tend to bring a lot of “nature” with them everywhere they go, so along with the fur were bits of grass and bark and pinecones and feathers... and all the tiny debris they leave behind. (Walnut shells! Anja has a thing about walnut shells and they collect and release so much dirt!) I love it. I feel like I have a new piece of high-tech artillery in the battle against my filthy house. I am a new person. Having this vacuum has completely changed me.

So, let's recap: Best Friend is hiking a 2,000+ mile trail through west coast wilderness over the course of 5 months, taking nothing but what she can carry on her back. I am borrowing a cleaning apparatus. Equally life-changing events.

What the heck is wrong with me? Who even am I?! How did this happen???? When I was young and single and childless, I wanted to take a long hike. I walked everywhere for transportation and I wanted to really walk SOMEWHERE for a change. For some reason I thought it would be realistic to walk to Kentucky. (From mid-north Indiana.) I totally could have done it, but I was unprepared and it was kind of an unrealistic thing to think of since I was completely broke as well. But I also had no idea that such trails existed. I guess I knew about the Appalachian Trail, but it never occurred to me to actually hike it. That was something other people did—maybe you had to be specially invited. An Eagle Scout or something, I don't know. In any case, the thought never crossed my mind to actually hike the Appalachian Trail, and looking back I really wish someone had suggested that to me at some point in my life. Because now I know that these things exist and that regular people can hike them for any amount of time or distance, and I am kicking myself for not doing that in my younger years!

When we were engaged, Martin and I looked into WWOOFing as something that we really, really wanted to do. We waited till we were married and looked into farms considering it for the first summer after our December wedding, but by February I was pregnant with Anja and was barfing so much I couldn't even handle my part-time desk job. My first pregnancy was definitely not one of glowing athleticism and goddess like capabilities. Working on a farm or any place else during those months would have been absolute torture. (Not to mention it became unrealistic after a job change and other responsibilities taken on as we built our family.) We talked about doing it once Anja was born, but for a million silly reasons, it didn't happen. Now looking back, I wish it had.

This is not to say that we've had no adventures. We have! They have mostly been small adventures, but we've taken some fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants road trips with and without kids, stopping in at state forests and waterways and getting stuck in snowstorms in the mountains of West Virginia (in March) and wondering for real if we were going to make it home. We lived in a tiny cabin and functioned in a pretty old-fashioned way for almost a year. We don't have what I would consider a boring life. But we also aren't packing up our kids and tent and hitting the trail for five months.

Of course, birthing children is a pretty big adventure, and then there's the whole added bonus of actually raising them.

For the most part, my day-to-day is spent at home with my funny children. I am never bored. Ever. I more have the problem of not having enough time in one day (or seven) to do all that I need/want to get done. This is partly because a big chunk of every weekday is devoted to homeschooling, and partly because my time is taken up by very minuscule interruptions. For example, let's say the dishes are backing up. (always.) I start to wash the dishes. Mid-first-plate I hear, “I HAVE TO GO POTTY SUPER BADLY!” from Elka, who doesn't like to be alone in the bathroom. So I go stand in the bathroom with her while she fulfills her need, then go back to my plate, which I have to rewash because I put it back in the dirty dishes when I left to attend to Elka. So, I am back to washing the plate and almost have it totally rinsed when I hear, SPLASH-CLUNK-SCREAM. Spilled drink! Plate goes back to the dirty pile before it's totally rinsed because I have to hurry to clean the spill before animals or people expand the mess. Wipe, wipe, wipe, spray, wipe. Back to the plate! This time I get it done completely and I'm washing the glass that just fell on the floor so that I can refill it and give it back to the allegedly still thirsty child. Wash-wash-wash. “CAN I HAVE SOME ORANGE JUICE?” “OH ME TOO” “CAN I HAVE SOME MILK? NO, ORANGE JUICE! NO.. MILK! NO......... WATER!” So, I hurry and wash all the dirty glasses and give them their ordered drinks. Two more spills. Rinse cups, refill. “I DROPPED MY CRAYON AND BRYNJA IS EATING IT!!!” “SUBTRACTION IS HORRID!” “WHY CANT WE JUST DO SCIENCE ALL DAY?!?” “I HAVE TO GO POTTY REALLY SUPER BADLY AGAIN! OOPS! I DROPPED MY MILK!”

My children always speak in Caps Lock.

That example is just a snippet of the day-to-day normal occurrences. Always spills, always shouting, always asking for more drinks or food. Always (especially since Ingrid is potty training and really excited about it—It is so cute—she says “I have to go potty on the BIG potty!” and then I put her on it and she giggles and says, “I am so proud!”) someone needing to use the bathroom either with assistance in the routine, or assistance in coaxing another family member out of the bathroom for the sake of privacy. But then there are the other things that happen. Falling off bikes. Getting completely covered in mud. Arguments over anything you can possibly think of. Not liking the shoes Mama chose for the day. Getting touched by the dog. Sneaking up to your sisters' loft bed sans diaper and peeing. Sneaking onto the desk upstairs and falling off. Letting one of the parakeets out of the cage.

All these things make for not one moment of dullness in any given day! And I like it that way. And also on any given day, I will think to myself, “They are going to grow up and even though it will be good when they don't drop their glass of water on the floor four times in one meal, they also won't be this little and cute and silly forever.”

Watching Perkins prepare in these last few days before her big hike is definitely prompting a little adventure craving in my heart. I consider from all angles how realistic it would be to do even a week-long trip with the kids someplace. I start thinking of road trips we could take and looking up state parks and campgrounds. And a little part of me is bummed that I didn't know about these kinds of opportunities when I was in a better position to take advantage of them, nor did I know that they wouldn't always be a realistic possibility for us, even if it's just for a span of time. During our engagement I don't think either of us could have imagined a time when the thought of going on a road trip would be so logistically impossible or stressful. Where we used to pack a cooler full of snacks and hit the highway with nothing but a change of clothes, toothbrushes and a good CD collection, now we have to consider four other humans with much needier needs. So, for the most part, instead of jumping on the highway to find adventure, we go walking at familiar historic sites and local state parks. We ride our bikes to coffee shops and go to local shows and events. When we do take road trips, instead of packing more CDs, we bring extra packages of baby wipes. Someday the girls won't be this little. They'll get bigger and we'll be more able to go on bigger, longer adventures with them, without diapers, sippy cups, stuffed animals and so many changes of clothes because of inevitable messes and wetness, and changes of shoes for the same reasons. Someday we'll be more free to jump on the highway and go. But when that time comes, I won't have this special time any more.

I can't say that I regret not doing the things we talked about doing in our younger years, but I do hope that we'll have the chance to at least have a taste of them later in our life, when our kids are bigger. Parenting definitely doesn't compare to hiking under the wild sky on a trip that only a small percentage of the population would dare to take. But for now I'm ok with being on a different kind of adventure.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rekindling the Joy of Downtown Life

I stole that title from my friend, Alison. She used that phrase in a comment on this Instagram picture:


and it really struck me. I am beginning to find it easier to embrace the downtown lifestyle lately. I still miss my animals, but I'm mostly ok with being back in the city again. I still look on Zillow and obsessively, and send Martin texts with promising country property listings, with this silly hope that maybe we can go back to that life soon, but the fact is, we can't. And I'm mostly okay with that.

This week I've been very much okay with it. We've finally had some spring-like weather—sunny, seventy degree days, a whole string of them! And today was warm, but cloudy, and ended with a cool rain this evening. Even that was nice. In the country, it's really dark at night and you can't see the rain the same way you can in the city. Down here, the lights reflect on the wet pavement and the passing cars are all shiny and you can hear people splashing down the sidewalk when they walk by the house if the windows are open. Across the street from our house is the library parking lot and a big old-fashioned sort of street light that reaches into a tree. On rainy nights, the whole tree is all shimmery and glistening. And it's pretty. It's not snow on dried Queen Anne's Lace pretty, or mist on the river pretty, but it is pretty, in it's own way.

We've been playing out in the yard every day. It's so nice because the big girls can go outside and play and I can be in the back bedroom with the windows open, able to see and hear them, but also able to do laundry or put Ingrid down for a nap. Mostly I go out with them though and work on the gardeny stuff. We have three raised beds, a long narrow in-ground plot, a blueberry bush that is in a big planter, and different areas of vertical shelving for potted herbs. We plan to make one more garden bed, possibly plant a dwarf fruit tree (or two or three, depending on what ugly vegetation we decide to cut down,) add flower planter boxes to the windows at the front of the house and do some hanging cucumbers around the edge of our patio roof. I'm really excited to see what works and what doesn't in terms of growing things. So far, my seedlings in the dining room window are doing great! (except for the tray of tomatoes that WERE doing great until Brynja knocked them down and they never recovered after being replanted.) I have little sprouts of lavender, oregano, dill, basil, and something else I can't remember what... while my parsley and sage are not coming up at all. Our sunshine is all in the backyard and west side yard... our front is almost totally shaded with nothing but a couple of scraggly boxwoods and some hostas and ferns.


Anyway, I kind of got sidetracked there with the growing stuff topic. Growing stuff is great, but that wasn't what I was going to talk about. I was going to talk about the simplicity of downtown life. Today a friend stopped by. And it was delightful. We were in the backyard, she was on an errand to return library books, and she and her two youngest boys, without warning, just came around back for a short visit with us. It was wonderful! And if I hadn't been home, her stop would not have inconvenienced her in the slightest. Living far outside of town, seeing people takes planning. And it's always an ordeal. People don't drive 30 minutes from town to pop in and say a quick hello. They come for an afternoon. Which is GREAT, but it is limiting. Afternoon visits between families require coordination of schedules, whereas a drop-in can be literally twenty minutes of rejuvenating chit-chat between obligations.

After our friends left, we ate lunch and Ingrid took her nap. While she was napping, I was raking out the front mulched areas (with the scraggly boxwoods) and sweeping the sidewalk with Elka, when Greta came out and said she was ready to go to the library alone. (I have talked to the librarian about this, and the youngest an unattended child can be in the youth department is 6. My girls are 7 and 8.) I told her she couldn't go alone, but if Anja felt like she was ready, they could go together without me. Well, talk about a thrilling invitation. They bustled about finding their library cards, packing up books to return, assuring Elka they would check her out some of her favorites, and while I sat on the porch swing with Elka (who screamed the entire time they were gone because she wasn't old enough to go with them,) I thought of what a pleasant childhood they must be having down here. Anja, who cannot get her hands on enough books, able to walk to the library without her parents. She loves the library. LOVES IT. And Greta just likes to act grown up, so doing anything without her parents in a win in her book. Directly after their library trip it was time for Anja's ballet class, which is on Wednesdays. This used to be a major stress for me. It was always a struggle to get to ballet, and class is an hour and fifteen minutes, which was an awkward time. It wasn't enough time to go all the way back home, but it was too long to just hang out in the car. We always ended up going someplace and spending money. It was always enjoyable—most often, we'd go to a coffee shop and get treats—but it was expensive and when you do something every week it starts to seem less like a treat. Now we just all put our shoes on and walk down to ballet. We drop Anja off, and either walk back home, or pop into the local food co-op and pick up anything we need. Then we walk back again to pick her up when class is over. Even if it's raining. And we all love it. Often we take one of the dogs along.

Last Sunday was absolutely beautiful. We didn't make it to the Mass time at the nearest church, so we decided to walk over to the West side for Mass at the church over on the University campus. Afterward we realized that their big “Spring Fest” was going on. It was huge! All the different departments and student organizations had booths and activities and it was such a nice day, we had to swing through and it was SO much fun. They had a tent full of baby farm animals—tiny little calves and piglets and lambs. We pet them all. The girls played a jumping game and got candy and little plastic animals (and Ingie got sunglasses.) The plant science students were selling exotic plants, so we bought a venus fly trap for ten dollars, something that the girls have been wanting forEVER. We didn't even see a fraction of the festival, but we had a lovely, full time.


We stopped for gelato on the way home, then walked back downtown and were back home in time for lunch and naptime. It's about a three mile walk, round-trip. We did get sunburned, but it was worth it.

This all comes back to the phrase “rekindling the joy.” There is a span of memory from our previous life in this house that is downright miserable. By the time we moved, the neighborhood had gone to pot, my heart was NOT in this place, I had lost all vision of potential for this house and making the layout work for our family. We had scummy neighbors after having some really great ones, crime was increasing, and I was just done. No joy. None. But BEFORE that time of despair, there HAD BEEN joy. A lot of joy! Our neighborhood had been pleasant and safe and friendly when we first moved here. I have these fabulous memories of when Anja and Greta were very small and the three of us would walk everywhere. We'd walk down to splash in the fountain at the train depot or go across the bridge to get ice cream. We would walk up to my parents' house and spend the afternoon, then Martin would pick us up when he was done with work. After Elka was born, we had a sandbox on the porch and she would nap on her sheepskin in the front room while Anja and Greta would play in the sand and I would sit on the swing and read Country Living magazines. When Martin had an overnight security guard job when Greta was 2 and Anja was 3, we would spend our Saturdays the three of us going to the Farmers Market for fresh veggies and flower bouquets and pastries. We planted lettuce and radishes that year and would make salads, and we grew this crazy purple beans that I never really knew what they were but they were delicious and they produced all summer long. We ate so much of those beans! They turned green when you cooked them!

And all that was after having children—not even counting the fun first year Martin and I had here before Anja was born, or the winter after Anja was born when he would wear her in the moby wrap and zip his coat up over her for our walks to church. During her first summer, when she was about seven months old, Martin took a two-week vacation from work and we had so much fun. Every day we would walk over to campus to our favorite coffee shop and Anja would fall asleep in her stroller and while she napped we would iced drink vanilla chai on the patio. Those were joy-filled days.

So yes, rekindling the joy is exactly what we're doing now. Our little mourning period is over (though I'll always miss my big animals, always) and now we're embracing all that living downtown has to offer. I seriously spend soooooooo little time in the car now. It's incredible. And it's true that I don't see the miracle of God's creation in the sunrise every day. Not even close. And I miss that! I miss going outside in my pajamas and stoking up the fire from the night before. But for all we've lost, we have gained a lot. Downtown is better now than the last time we lived here, and we are in a better position to enjoy it, at least for awhile, so we'll embrace the rekindled joy in being back!  


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Oh Goodie. Sickness.

I shouldn't complain. We got through the entire winter with very mild and small amounts of sickness. We had the typical month-after-christmas-cold-and-flu get us down during January, but who doesn't? Other than that, it's been nothing more than a quick sniffle here and there; for the most part, we've been perfectly healthy.

Still, any time someone comes down with a fever or a sore throat, while the mother side of me coddles and cures, the (less motherly) human part of me is internally groaning, “Heeeeere we go. Great.” Because as any member of a multiple-person-household can tell you, there's nothing simple about a little cough or cold. Oh no. It has sooooooo many different levels of awful.

The first level is the panic when the first one goes down. Literally, I have knots in my stomach when the first person gets sick. Is this something other than a cold? How long is this going to last? How high is the fever going to get? Do I take them to the doctor? Is that gross fluid supposed to be coming out of their eyes? Are they staying hydrated? Maybe it's nothing? All of those questions speed through my mind, and are always punctuated by two thoughts, the first being: This is going to be some rare disease that will end in death; the second being: This is going to go through the entire family and we will have to stay inside for the next three weeks and during that time I will not sleep.

Neither scenario is ideal, of course (although I'd choose the second over the first any day, obviously.) But that's just the first level, the panic that envelopes as soon as you see those rosy cheeks, feel that too-warm forehead, or hear the words, “my tummy hurts.”

The next level is based on the initial panic, and it is the checking off symptoms, keeping diligent track of how the patient is feeling/eating/drinking/breathing obsessively for the first 24 hours. It's keeping the thermometer in your pocket and subjecting all family members, healthy or ill, to random temperature readings. By now my kids are used to the drill of lining up and holding their hair back while I tug on their ears with clammy fingers and jam the little dolphin-shaped nose into their ear canal. (We used to have one that showed smiley faces or frowny faces alongside the temperature. That one broke and the new one just has a little picture of an ear. Not nearly as cute.)

After all that panic at the beginning, the first to fall ill either begins to recover, or is taken to the doctor. This is usually after a couple or three days for us, when whatever it is looks like it could be more than “just a virus.” Maybe it will be a quick prescription cure, or maybe it will be two-to-five days more of fevered waiting. In any case, that doctor visit often only accounts for one family member.

After the first patient has been diagnosed and/or recovered, you've got the circus act of waiting and planning around multiple other family members who are extremely likely to fall ill at any moment. This results in obsessive forehead-feeling, and random interrogations. “How are you feeling? Does your tummy hurt? Are you cold? Does your throat hurt? Here, drink more orange juice.” Depending on the nature of the illness, single parent outings are risky. A fuss from a baby inside as store might mean “leave immediately” or risk a messy and humiliating experience. Someone looking pale in the car? Where's the other grown up to hold the barf bag?! Somebody's got to drive! It is safer to just stay home, where toilets and beds and pajamas and thermometers are readily available.

Of course, this Route of Safety often leads to a different kind of medical diagnosis: cabin fever. Acute Cabin Fever. The kind of cabin fever, which, when under normal circumstances, upon your husband's arrival home from work you would plant on him a quick kiss followed by a low, “you're on your own, pal. See ya!” as you make your escape, now you are trapped at home, no matter how many capable adults are on hand, because only you are Mother, and more often than not, when a child is sick, the only person they really want is you.

Who even knows how long this spiraling toilet bowl of sickness goes on. Days, weeks, months, seasons... No matter the measurement, it feels like eternity. Because that's the last level of this Ride of Awfulness: the fact that it never ends. You think the first victim might be fully recovered, when BAM, down with a new disease. Because the immune systems have been weakened, and now they are susceptible to all kinds of internal viral combat. What started with a case of the sniffles and a mild scratchy throat feeling has spanned the entire contents of the American Medical Association's Family Medical Guide, and Jethro Kloss's Back to Eden, both. Time drags. On. And on. And on.

But then something miraculous happens. You realize one day, after you've given in and have started taking everyone out again, thinking that surely they are no longer contagious, that—it can't be possible!-- No one is sick! After all that time of praying for and sending healing thoughts into the bodies of your children, their healthfulness completely sneaked up on you! And that is the final phase of sickness within families, my friends: gratefulness. You swear you will never, ever take for granted the health of your family, you will never forget the misery of that impassable chasm of sickness, you will be mindfully grateful today and ever after, for a healthy, happy brood. And you will kiss them and snuggle them and soak in their beautiful, radiant, non-sick smiles with such great relief, vowing to always be this mindful of the gift of a day of healthy life.

And a few weeks or months down the line, when normalcy has returned and your life rhythm has been perfected again, out of nowhere, when you were least expecting it, you'll hear... a sneeze.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Two Years of Ingrid

Last Sunday we celebrated two years of having Ingrid MaryDell in our family! 

She is such a delight of a little being. Sometimes I get to thinking, maybe we should have one more... and then I worry about what kind of baby we might get. Anything less than perfect would be a total shock to the system after having Ingrid. She was a great newborn, a great baby, and is a perfect toddler. She's silly and sweet and talks so well! Life with Ingrid is fun, fun, fun. Except when we play Bird Bingo... then it's a little more difficult. But generally speaking, Ingrid is an asset to our family life.

When I think of Ingrid being born, I remember the horrible months that we named The Long Winter. It was terrible. It really was very much like Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, and in fact, Martin and I read that book during those months. We got pummeled with snowstorm after snowstorm and arctic blasts and polar vortexes made regular appearances in the forecasts. It was a wild and sometimes miserable ride that lasted well into the spring. During that winter, we had gotten Brynja, who was still a relatively small puppy (small for a Newfoundland) and about mid-winter, Martin decided it was time for an escape plan. He organized for us a trip to Nags Head, North Carolina. We had never been on vacation as a family and we'd be traveling with three kids and a puppy, staying at a rented cottage and visiting the sites and coast of North Carolina, a place I had never been. I was really nervous. We'd be leaving our homestead in the care of my father-in-law while we made the 20+ hour trip there and back over the course of our week away.

I think of that trip often. I was so nervous going into it, sure that it was not a good thing. Our kids were too little to make the trip, we could stick out the winter, it was too expensive, blah blah blah. All excuses. Martin had planned it so we got in right in the last weeks of the off-season and would take advantage of the cheap prices, while a lot of the seasonal spots would be open for early spring breakers. The cottage we were staying in, while we didn't quite know what to expect going in, was amazing. It was bigger than our house, the girls had their own bedroom! It was located near a shopping center with a grocery store so we were able to shop normally and store and fix our food in the full kitchen that was there, which was also stocked with all the kitchen necessities you could imagine. (And it had a dishwasher! We've never had a dishwasher!) There was a little deck that looked out over a pond and we could walk around that, or go down looking for turtles. We didn't spend a whole lot of time at the cottage during the daytime though because there was so much to see and do in Nags Head and the surrounding areas. We visited the beach a few times, and I'll never forget how much Elka loved the sand, and how awe struck Anja and Greta were by the size and power of the ocean. Watching them see the ocean for the first time was a marvelous experience.

We visited the Elizabethan Gardens while we were there, and I often think that if I could be anywhere at any given time, that's where I would want to be. The day was one of the warmest we had while we were there (it was still March, even if we were playing beach bums,) and we were about the only visitors at the gardens. The girls were able to run around and we saw so much beauty there. I bought a rosemary plant at the little patio shop near the main building, and Brynja jumped right into one of the fountains! The whole time was just so relaxing. We had nowhere to be at any given time. I always packed snacks in the van for the kids, so we wouldn't be caught hungry. Elka, for being only 19 months old, was a real trooper. It was just such a nice time.

One big thing about that trip, though (and probably a contributing factor to my anxiety level about the whole thing going in) was that I was only two weeks away from my scheduled c-section for Ingrid. I knew it was maybe not the least foolish thing to do, traveling across the country to a place where the nearest family was hours away, when I was so close to my due date, but I went anyway.  And I remember thinking so much about the baby about to join our family, whether it was a boy or a girl, who she would look like, what we would call her. Ingrid got to be named by Martin. I had given him full naming rights after putting my foot down for Elka's name somewhat against his will. The boy name, up to the day Ingrid was born, was "Ulf." Previously, we had considered Berrin or Francis for boys names, and Ulf was not at all what I had ever expected him to name a child. In fact, Ingrid was an unexpected name too, and admittedly, one I wasn't especially fond of at the beginning, but I have sure grown to love it! I remember driving into Nags Head and seeing the hospital right there, just a few minutes from our rental cottage and heaving a huge sigh of relief. At least if I went into labor, I'd know where to go! As always when a new member is birthed into a family, I felt a little sad that it wouldn't just be the five of us anymore. I feel that way every time we have a baby... the change of the family dynamic makes me a little bit sad. I mean, for about five minutes, until the older sisters meet their new sibling and then everything is great. But going in, I'm always a little apprehensive.

We talk a lot as a family about returning to North Carolina, but part of me doesn't want to go back. Part of me wants to keep it as a really, really good memory of a very unique time of our lives. When we left our driveway and started East, it was snowing. When we came back to Indiana, it was snowing again. But we had experienced a delightful week away, in which we truly were able to forget about the long winter that was dragging us down. It gave us just the jolt of happy that we needed to make it through the next weeks until the birth of Ingrid, and shortly after, the arrival of spring.

Those are my memories surrounding Ingrid's impending birth. The birth itself was pretty uneventful (a very good quality for a c-section) and the recovery was fine. She was just such a good, easy baby right from the beginning. With her funny blue eyes and tiny little button nose, she really stole our hearts. And now she's two! It's pretty unbelievable. Happy Birthday, Ingie! We love you!

Just Be Nice!

Being a stay-at-home-mom is really, really great. I feel more than a little bit of pity every morning when Martin leaves the house for his office. It would be miserable to have to drive through snow, sleet and rain to spend my day in an office where temperature is controlled by an outside source, sitting in a chair that isn't a comfy couch, typing on a computer for hours and hours until my eyeballs caught on fire. That sounds awful. Instead, while he is off “writing policies” (for what?! I don't even know!) and making phone calls to people about important, yet painfully boring things, I get to read storybooks and slice strawberries and sing loudly and sometimes dance through my kitchen. I get to hop with small people standing on my feet and try not to fall down. I do A LOT of painting and drawing and playing “Bird Bingo.” (I also have to do First and Second Grade math, but I try to only think about that during our 20 minute math lesson every day.) This semester I have learned and re-learned Greek Myths, and the lives of various famous artists like Monet and Leonardo Di Vinci. We recite poetry and write short stories, poems and songs. We play Pirates and Baby Seals. (Baby Seals is really funny, it's when the girls are all the baby seals and I am their mama and we bark at each other and they fall off couch cushions onto the floor and I have to “save them.” Sounds dumb, but it supplies us with up to thirty-five minutes of solid entertainment.) In short, I got the long stick in the Life Draw when Martin and I were discussing care options in the beginnings of our parenthood journey. He clearly lost.

(Okay, if we're telling the truth, there was no discussion... I was still in college and dropped out when I found out we were expecting Anja! He's the only one of us who has ever had a real job!)

Where was I even going with this?

Oh yeah. So, as rad as the Stay-At-Home-Mom life is, it can also get a bit... tiresome. Lonely. Difficult. Boring in a weird way where you actually have so much to do you end the day in a state of exhaustion such as you never knew was possible, but very few items on To Do List rise above “mind numbing” on the Awesome Scale. Stay-At-Home-Moms do a ton of work. But it's work like matching socks and washing endlessly dirty mirrors, and cutting food into teeny-tiny bite-sized pieces. (And then watching all those tiny pieces be thrown onto the floor for the dog and having to start over.)

Outings are good, and play dates are good, but they are often few and far between. Contact with other adults is often limited, leaving the Stay-At-Home-Mom turning to the Land of Social Media for community, support and solidarity.

Socialmedialand! Where you once were a Stay-At-Home-Mom, you now are a cool acronym! YOU'RE A SAHM! The SAHM people are very similar to Stay-At-Home-Moms. They have all the same concerns about carseats and when you introduce solid foods to babies, they worry over rashes and too much screen time and Kindergarten Readiness. They are generally a friendly people, who are there to help when you feel like just a Stay-At-Home-Mom with no one to turn to. Jump online, into your SAHM suit, and you become one of them and have a whole planet full of women in the same stage of life as you, to whom you can turn for advice.

Yes, SAHMs of Socialmedialand are not all that different from their real life (RL) identities, except that they have a mean side. They have a catty side. They have a side that isn't afraid to jump down your throat when you say something they don't agree with, because they are conveniently shielded from you (and real life—I mean, RL) by a glowing glass screen. It's the magic of this screen that makes people behave horribly to each other. It's the screen that allows all the SAHMs of the world to have access to so many different worries, views, opinions, memes, bogus scientific articles, and general information that make them feel justified in their hurtful arguments and right in their cutting backlash. Here's a totally made up (but exactly what you would see on a social media post between SAHMs) example:

OP (this means “original poster,” I swear it took me six months to figure that one out.) : My baby has a fever and rash [insert picture of rash-ridden baby] do you think I should take her to the ped? (she means pediatrician. NO ONE uses whole words on the internet.)

@mom_knows_all: I would monitor her for a few days and if the rash doesn't clear up, you can call your ped's nurse for advice. Try alternating Motrin and Tylenol for the fever. Does the rash itch? Obv, (obviously) take her to the ER if you see any scary signs or if the fever gets too high and won't come down. Good luck! So scary when our LO s (Littles Ones! Can you believe it, this is really one they use!) are sick!

@mama_mama_mama_mama_mama: I always say better safe than sorry, but usually rashes are nothing to worry about. There's one kind that is a medical emergency, I forget what it's called, you can find it through a Google search. Good luck, mama. {{{hugs}}}


@greenmamaluv: Um, @YouAreATerribleMother, I think your handle is a self-referral. You need some meditation, I have a great online link in my bio. @OP, I hope it clears up, hunnie! Let us know how it all turns out!!

And after that exchange with however many other nice or not-nice SAHMs, the OP (remember, that's Original Poster) will likely feel a little more at ease, make sure she's stocked up on Tylenol and Motrin, check on her baby's fever and rash, and then promptly cry herself to sleep fretting over the meanness of @YouAreATerribleMother and any other unkindness she was shown in the thread. This the danger of SAHM life. It used to be, in Stay-At-Home-Mom lives of olde that you just kind of figured the other moms were talking about you behind your back, but you didn't have proof, so you let it slide. (Kind of like junior high school. You know how people accuse men of never growing up? Girls don't really grow up either.) They don't like your attachment parenting? No biggie. You'll still bring them a dinner after they give birth, just as they will for you. You think they let their kids watch too much Daniel Tiger? Who cares, really. obviously they get at least some outside time, since you meet at the park every Thursday. But with the internet, it's a lot crazier. The lines between cruel and constructive criticism are very fuzzy and people take full advantage of that when they don't face any actual consequence for crossing the line. If they have a negative opinion about you, you will hear it, guaranteed. And the people like that never really seem to care.

Of course, this doesn't happen all the time, or nobody would be on the internet anymore. I mean, people (especially hormonally charged mama bears) can only take so much verbal abuse before saying to heck with it and going back to the every-now-and-then play date. But it happens a lot. Why does everybody love internet arguing so much? Even in good fun, people can't just happily agree, nor can they cheerfully agree to disagree. Heck, they don't even begrudgingly agree to disagree very often. They just fight.

The real world is full of people who are not like you. But humans are pack animals and we naturally find our “tribe” and gravitate toward them, and live relatively peacefully within our social circle. And tribes don't usually outwardly reject people, but neither do they often attract people with terribly opposing views. So, it's interesting that the Internet is open to everyone, a free-for-all when it comes to jumping into conversations and crashing well-intentioned forum posts or shared articles. In this age of open social circles, I think we all could benefit from putting a leash on our emotions. Of course we all see articles that get our goat. We see posts on social media that are downright offensive to our beliefs and core values. OF COURSE we see these things, because on the internet, you can see EVERYTHING. That doesn't mean we need to argue every single offensive thing that comes into our view. We can actually choose to not let it get to us. Especially the little annoying things that don't feel like a slap in the face against your religious beliefs or something. I see this so often in parenting articles. There are so many different styles of parenting, so many differing views on discipline, co-sleeping, vaccinations, breastfeeding... and the internet has become a big cyclone of these opinions whipping against each other repeatedly. Nobody can just give it a rest. I think if we stopped to ask ourselves, “How does her decision on how to feed her baby affect me?” We might realize the truth: It doesn't. And maybe then we can let it go peacefully without feeling the need to bring our opinion into the forum light.

I mean, wouldn't we all be happier if we could just chill out?

This is not to say that I haven't jumped into stupid online arguments plenty of times. I don't just keep it to the screen either—just ask Martin. I become an arm-flailing, voice raising hot mess when I get really fired up about subjects I'm passionate about. For what, though? To frighten my little daughters? To let my husband have a good laugh at how riled up I get over small, meaningless things; over other people's opinions that can't be changed? It's really pretty ridiculous.

Let's all just try to be nice to each other. Of course we have fervent feelings about certain things. But even if you DO feel a moral obligation to let your opinion be known (because you are right!) we can all try to do it with the level of niceness kicked up a few notches. Because niceness never hurts.