Somethings can root in the cold

The baby is coming in December, but December is coming first. The calendar is a scribbled caricature of bustling—evening parties, teas at hotels, a Nutcracker performance for Lux, gingerbread house decorating, some warm dinners, and cold mornings (me watching) Joe and Lux ice skate. I hope to visit the local libraries for their shelves of Christmas books, bake salt dough ornaments, help the girls memorize a few carols, find a Christmas pageant to attend, burn some balsam-scented candles, and eat a lot of kale (just got my low iron results back, whoops).

It’s a funny thought that five years ago, pre-kids, I didn’t do any of those things. And eight years ago, when Joe proposed to me in the Garden, it was my first Christmas in Boston. My holiday participation was downstairs to the city’s upstairs, a la Downton Abbey. I helped everyone else celebrate and made some money for my employer along the way.The night Joe proposed, we went to the Christmas Eve service at Trinity Church in Copley Square. It was glorious cozy service, the pews were full with families parading in wrapped in cashmere and wool. It was briskly cold outside, snow was predicted, and very warm inside.

Trinity has old-fashioned bracketed church pews, the type weathly families rented for a few thousands dollars and some prestige back in the day. Nestled between Joe and an old wooden bolster, lulled by the choir and the incensed air, I fell asleep. I had been at the flower store where I worked all day, dashing about tripping on loose red berries and roughing my hands on sticky fragrant evergreen wreaths. I wrapped up hostess gifts, wrote down delivery orders (as a midwesterner, it took me months to memorize the funny pronunciations of all the New England towns), sold brilliant arrangements for tablescapes, and tied everything up festively before it left our doors.

Anyway, I fell asleep at the service, Joe woke me up when it was over, we walked home through the Garden which was lit with white lights, Joe proposed in the snow along the edge of the duck pond and gave me a beautiful perfect ring that was slightly too big. The next day was Christmas, we went out to breakfast, went for a walk, called our families, and relaxed together. I had to work the day after, and that was that for Christmas.

The flower store was beautiful but like any retail-level worker, I was on my feet for 100% of the day, never getting two days off in a row, with no predictability from week to week. If people were going to teas and tree lightings, I didn’t notice. Working at that store was to be surrounded in beauty all the time, though it was beauty that was in various stages of demise. The flowers were dying as soon as we unpacked them from their boxes overnighted from the Netherlands.

To sell a fully open flower was viewed as déclassé, an embarrassment. Arrangements should have many teasing buds waiting to open, with just a few that were open enough to brighten the whole thing. I never attached to the South African amaryllis, the deeply red flowers that arrived in December with droopy unopened buds on each side of their tall celery-like stalks. And I grew to hate the strange truth that poinsettias liked sunshine and warmth—everything our New England winter didn’t offer. Any poinsettas put near the door of the shop would weaken and whither as each customer burst in with a freezing gust of air. Why was a tropical flower being heralded here anyway, I would grouse when we were forced to throw out another dead plant. Right outside there were snow-dusted holly branches glossy and dotted with red berries, deeply green evergreen boughs, pale blue juniper berries, and hearty wooden pine cones that sucked in the cold and relished it.

photos from last year’s holiday season. 

your trip

Adulthood is when you make your own vacations and decide what they will be from the beginning. So much about vacation is inherited or shared with family, which is a great thing. But it’s nice to see the thing that evolves when you decide to make your own vacation. Book it, schedule it, pay for it, anticipate it all yourself.

We caravanned up after first stopping at the Palace Diner just outside of Portland, where we stop as often as we can and have astounding good meals. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Palace Diner, the thing that leaves you dazed when you finally wander out, is that their menu appears very standard when you read it through, other than canaries like brown butter banana bread and caramelized grapefruit listed casually under SIDES. Their french toast is listed on the menu as challah french toast, no details added, but once it is set in front of you, you realize the two enormous square pieces have been bruleed, and the crust cracks as you cut into it, the eggy custard of the challah softening around the crisp dark caramelized pieces. But it’s also the type of place where you swear to yourself that next time you’ll order lunch, as you watch the waitress place a triple decker burger or a lush freshly-made-tuna melt in front of someone down the bar.

David and I texted about the meals a little bit ahead of time. We stopped at Whole Foods in Portland on the way up and already had a good list in mind before we got there. Joe and I lived with David during one of our summers on Nantucket, he and I often traded off who made dinner, along with our other roommate Pete. Years later I still have a good idea of what type of thing he enjoys cooking–namely impromptu, very satisfying dinners, tossed together with experience savvy instead of a recipe. And he knows I can manage a more complicated dish using my obsessive devotion to recipes. We spent an enormous amount on supplies for the week, splitting the groceries between us. That was perfect because it left us able to make pretty much anything—squash pie, mussel and bean soup, meaty spaghetti, biscuits and gravy, fresh whipped cream, pie crust—once we were up there. We got take-out one time from the local burrito spot, but all the rest of our meals we made together in the big kitchen.

You know, I’ve started buying those tubes of Immaculate Baking Co. cinnamon rolls and they are just stunningly good. I’ve made cinnamon rolls from scratch, and I don’t think it is worth it when you can have these ready in 20 minutes with your eggs. And I’ve certainly had much worse tasting cinnamon rolls bought fresh from bakeries. Treat yourself.

Dave made fresh pasta noodles and Joe carved a pumpkin to look just like Darth Vader, as Lux had hoped. I bought ribeye steaks for Joe’s birthday, salted and peppered and unwrapped them when we got to the house, and let them age for two days in the fridge. I’m not accustomed to ordering $70 worth of meat from the meat counter, but when four people get to settle down to an amazing steak dinner, it all becomes clear. I did that steak house trick of putting a stick of butter on a plate, flinging salt at it, piling shredded parmesan and chopped parsley on it and then mashing it together until it was one pale green flecked soft pile of butter. We put half loaves of baguette on the grill for a few minutes and then spread all the amazing butter magic over it.

After a couple nights of watching us eat mussels, the girls realized they too loved mussels, loved plucking out the small cooked creature out and flinging the empty shells into the bowl with a tiny clang. Lux ate faster than everyone and adapted a strange third person request, “Any more mussels for Luxy?” eyeing the plates of the adults with desire. I stopped giving her the mussel broth because she wasn’t using it, and we all added more unplucked shells to her pile.

I cannot get over how it feels to wake up in the trees. With tree branches fully surrounding you, like you’ve been suspended in a soft down blanket of pine boughs. Our room was freezing when we woke up each morning. Of the four cabins, the girls’ cabin has the best insulation, and for the the three other cabins, the adults wake to a room that is fully 45 degrees. No matter if you made a fire at midnight, no matter if you plugged in the supposed space heater. If your arm snuck out while you were sleeping, it now feels like a different entity from your body, and you tug it back under the blankets with alarm.

We told the girls to knock on their cabin door when they wanted us to come get them in the morning. It was the first time they shared a double bed. Welcome to your vacation setup for the rest of your life! I wanted to say to them, thinking of the hundreds of beds my sister and I shared growing up. Joan probably woke Lux up earlier than she otherwise would have, but it was swooningly sweet to watch them snuggle in together each night. Joe has been reading Lux The Hobbit (in fact, they’re on their second read-through of it) so he would build a fire and then read them nearly to sleep each night. Then we would wake to the sound of their chipper knocks pounding on the glass across the deck from us. Joe would bound out of bed, out from the warm covers and into the freezing room, to go check on them. A funny switch-up, as of the two of us, he usually wakes the slowest back in Boston. I would force myself to change into some of my stiff freezing clothes, pick out some warm clothes for them to put on, and then we all tramped over to the main house together. The main house has the kitchen and the living room, and the coffee maker!, and is fully heated.

It was so wonderful to have the company of two non-parents, two people who could comment on the weather, the day, the water, and make plans for general amusement. Two people who haven’t rote-memorized the strange rhythms of their children’s moods and begun to anticipate them at certain times of day with vague dread. Probably the best part was the presence of two adults who wanted to play board games after bedtime or tell old stories, instead of slump on the couch as Joe and I typically do. It was really good to watch the girls play and scheme with someone else who could delight in them. Not to mention help them craft face masks, help them climb rocks, help them get a snack, answer a question.

As for the four of us, the adults, there were times when it felt like—oh yeah, college! Here we are, just kids, we’re all the same and together again. And other times when I felt so different and far away from them, the three men—I’m not drinking, not smoking an occasional celebratory cigarette, not skinny-dipping into the ocean jumping from the sharp rocks, not staying up late into the night to watch stars fall. I’m sleepy and oversized, preoccupied and awaiting the next small child’s request, remembering the soft tang of whiskey with bemusement, remembering the self indulgent rush of a nicotine drag with, well, I can’t remember it at all anymore. It’s been so long; maybe five years? I’m grumpy for no reason other than persistent thud of a small heel against my rib cage. The girls are mine and they cling to me when they’re sleepy, and want me to hold their hand, and arrange their food, and nod in affirmation every single time when they say they need to go potty. you don’t need me to do this, anybody can do this for you, I think to myself here and there, but it’s not really true, is it? Not true in the satisfying nearly trademarked way that mom does it. And the next girl is mine too, and I think about her when I make almost any decision for my day. It was that time, 31 weeks. She’s gone from a quiet swimmer to a nearly omnipresent tangle of limbs, waking me up with her flips and kicks, settling into odd positions that makes my abdomen feel like a couch too full of elbows.

But there’s also that male-ambition thing? The thing that stirs men to memorize long ballads so they can play them at the foot of stone towers? To chop and haul wood, build warm fires, frame houses over their families heads? That infects them with the idea to teach themselves to fix a car when there is a mechanic just down the road? Meanwhile I’m puttering around, baking bread from the exact same recipe I’ve used 300x times? I don’t play an instrument, and I didn’t attempt to memorize the lyrics to Lava, as they did (pixar, look it up, it’s cute). I didn’t want to. I probably could have jumped into the ocean, had I told Joe I wanted to and asked him to stay with the girls. But I didn’t want to. What I’m saying is–don’t feel too sorry, or fall too much for my oh if only. And, I suppose, I was a little jealous of their drive and adventurous ambition? I picked up Annie Dillard’s The living while there, a novel of many stories framed around the families who settled the pacific northwest. What were they doing there? Women watching their children die from various freak threats, is what it felt like to me. It’s obvious the glass on my maternal goggles is rather dense right now, that I can’t even read a historical novel without being nearly flattened by the idea that these people risked their children’s lives for a new adventure.

I made a pie from this squash. It’s quite a satisfying thing to take a hearty heavy vegetable, so thick you can barely cut it in half with a knife, roast it until it’s weak, then blend with all sorts of good things and turn it into a dessert. Great recipe right here.

The post about last year in Deer Isle, plus some area rental suggestions.

so much


It is an oft-bemoaned thing among city mamas to be overscheduled. There are so many great things to do with your kids both in Boston, and especially this time of year, outside of Boston. As a stay at home mom, I look at a calendar with a line of empty days with trepidation. Too much alone time, is what those little blanks say to me. A friend of mine is transitioning out of her job into staying at home. She told me she wasn’t planning on doing anything with her daughters for six months. “We are definitely just going to hang out,” she said. This sounded nice to me, but the first thing that popped into my head was I’m usually tired of sitting around our apartment by 10am. Thus–activities.

If summer was a light bright picnic plate of glimmering beach afternoons and ice cream cone treats, autumn in New England is a hardy gift basket of tempting treats. The pleasant drop in temperature, paired with the hazy memory of the bitter cold that is only a couple weeks away, is very energizing.

But last week I managed to plan four things–country fair, leaf gathering, midwife appointment, Bible study–we needed to drive to, in addition to three classes for Lux, all three of which I chose to drive to. It was just silly and altogether too much. Each activity itself was delightful, but we were all three weary of car seat buckles, glancing at watches, and as we walked to the car, wondering why we weren’t sitting on the grass somewhere, watching the clouds go by. The girls are at amazing stage of entertaining themselves (maybe it’s not a stage! maybe it’s the future from here on!) and I often have to connive them to walk away from their games, get dressed, and get outside in time for our dates.


This act, the conniving wheedling c’mon let’s goo!, is making me feel slightly less anxious about the inevitable lock-down that I know is coming in January and February. Instagram accounts can work as a wonderful datebook, and I took a moment to look back through the photos after Joan was born (which feels quite firmly like it was ten years ago) and the photos from last winter’s snowy January/February/March. I don’t see those worlds colliding smoothly. The girls will be bored and house-trapped this winter, there’s no denying it.

It’s a little like farming I guess. Frantically harvest the fields, the trees, the garden. Abound in beauty and production. Then stay inside for months and shuffle around your root cellar looking for a squash dinner.

October snaps


I have not had one daytime sitter for several weeks, thus no posts lately. (Tempted to delete that, because who cares, but it’s important to keep it real for those of you who never get breaks and wonder how you feel so brain dead!) Half of me thinks find a new sitter immediately! And half of me just doesn’t mind. I mind in context of “other things I want to get done” but I don’t mind when I look back on my day with them.

September finished up summer for us–a few more beach days, last ice cream adventures and outdoor picnics–and now October: “the golden hour of the clock of the year,” as I heard it beautifully described in this poem the other day.

We have begun a few school-like activities. I still hesitate to use “homeschool” as she’s only 4, but sometimes it is just easier to label things, isn’t it?

We have a math-games class, her same ballet class (with *all* 4-year-olds now–apparently a game changer for the attention span of the group), and a wood shop class, which I look forward to finding out if it works at all. She may reject it. It’s a big deal to me that Lux likes the classes and looks forward to them. I’m pretty wimpy about pushing things she doesn’t like and I would drop out if she wasn’t enthusiastic. Fortunately she loves everything so far.

These classes are funny because they are drop off, so you only get the review you get. It’s like ordering take-out and instead of eating it, reading a yelp review of it. Last year, the only review Lux solemnly gave me after her first ballet class was, “We didn’t do any twirling at all.”

Something we do labeled distinctly with homeschool is the Friday program at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The kids troop around to see few pieces of art and then make a wonderful craft loosely based on what they discussed. The architecture of that building makes my mood soar, and I get to stare at the paintings for as long as they do, which is lovely.

I took a drive to the cheap area grocery store to stock up on pantry supplies and came upon a tub of non-hydrogenated shortening. It was complete news to me that this product exists! Aside from allowing some of us to dive back into recipes of our grandmother’s that have shortening in them, after reading Amazon reviews, I’ve learned it allows people with dairy allergies to bake well again. Pie crusts which I make with butter, for example, can be very successfully made with shortening.

So anyway I bought it and made several batches of chewy fragrant ginger snaps over the last week. I only had blackstrap molasses in the house (bought in a brave nutritional attempt to fix my constant iron anemia. Found in my pantry unopened, of course.) Using the unsulphered blackstrap instead of “baking” molasses definitely makes it taste more molassas-y, but all batches have been eaten with gusto by Joe and the girls nonetheless.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but in the final step before the oven, kids love to be the ones to roll the balls of dough in the granulated sugar.

Grandma Agnes’ Ginger Snaps

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 t baking soda

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients in order given and chill. I mixed with a spoon, and then my hands, with great results. I wrapped mine up in saran wrap and chilled for about 40 minutes. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on a greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.


Many Kids Club


It seems I am the chosen jurist for everyone deliberating another child. Friendly moms I do not know sidle up to me. They’ve noted the two children, and now, the belly. They make small talk, then get to it: “yeah, so, how did you decide to go for that?” “What?” I ask innocently, “three?”

“I mean, we’re debating. We’ve been talking about it, over and over again. But you know—more kids means bigger car, bigger house, right? And the plane tickets! And what about hotel rooms? Do they let you bring three kids into a hotel room?”

I am truly the worst consultant they could resource this pro bono work to. I genuinely haven’t given thought to half the concerns they’re studiously mulling over. It wasn’t until I was 4 months into this pregnancy that my friend pointed out, to my surprise, that we wouldn’t all fit into a taxi anymore. “You think you can, and then you can’t,” she firmly said of families of five.

But instead of bringing their debate to a reasonable well-researched person of able body and mind, they’ve unwittingly stumbled on an aging Irish Catholic grandmother in the body of a petite Midwestern thirty-year-old. “Well, it’s so much better for later in life.” I state with authority. “You know—more in-laws. More phone calls. More grandchildren.” Their eyes mist a bit and they’re tracking along with the pretty picture of a quiet cozy living room inundated with telephone calls.

Then I pull out one of my darker rationals: “Just think of the burden you’ll be on them if there’s only two.” They frown, with an absent look in their eyes. Perhaps my maniacal glint of hormone-fueled-procreation goes too far on that one. Though, I’ve found I am not the only one who leans towards the darker side of these discussions. “The way they’re dying these days, you should just keep going. I mean–those motorcycles!” remarked a retired nurse to me the other day (somewhat surreally, as the girls and I licked our ice cream cones in the sun).

Clearly these are two sides of the same trippy mental coin: to me, they seem overwrought with controlling their current circumstances in a way that won’t pay off: is life with two kids actually going to be magically easier? Didn’t they already exchange so much of “normal life” just by having those two? If their lives are better with two personalities, why wouldn’t they be exponentially better with three? I guess at root I doubt the accuracy of meticulously measuring out elements of their life.

And on the other side of the coin, I have built my daily outlook on a prediction for thirty years from now. I would be wise to remember that I might not even be around then, and zen to recall that it is THIS moment, the chaotic, daily, non-stop child-rearing one, is the one that matters most anyway.

The trouble for these folks is that they walked up to me in a state of uncertainty. I have many friends firmly in the only one camp or only two camp. I’ve listened carefully to their reasoning and admire their vision. I would never attempt to argue them out of their position, nor would I think my position offered them anything. Often I think of the Bible stories involving women begging God for just one child–take sweet, elderly Elizabeth and Zachariah for example. The gift of one life-changing child is not to be lightly brushed over. As kids, my sister and I relished joining in the relative peace of our neighbor’s home–a family of four. Things seemed calm and full of possibility over there, with lots of extra craft supplies and snacks to boot.

Where’s this all going? A medley makes the world go round. Just don’t ask the old Irish lady at the playground for advice.

apartment tour

Emily just did the loveliest post about our apartment on Apartment Therapy. There’s nothing quite like seeing your space through someone else’s eyes—I just love it! Lux joyfully followed Emily and her husband Max around when they were here, and managed to get into about half the photos. : )

1_bedroom 5_kitchen

It’s a pertinent post for these days because it feels like everyone has been asking since I got pregnant: are you moving? We are not, or at least not for a year or two. The baby will be in our room for six months or so, and then might move into the closet like Joan did, and then into the girls’ room. Joan can move under the new bunk bed and baby can take over Joan’s crib. It feels so distant to remember our old place, when Lux was in our room for her first year and a half.

With even just a little bit of nesting that I’ve done, I’m already finding corners we can rework and make more livable and comfortable, and storage that can be done better.

The girls’ clothing storage, as seen below, is probably not going anywhere though and is in fact, accumulating with time!

3_bunk 2_underbunk

I’ve been wanting to post a photo of Lux’s bunk bed that she conveniently asked for for her 4th birthday. Joe found it on craigslist. It’s vintage IKEA and took him about four uninterrupted hours to put together…it’s so vintage that none of the screws were streamlined or matched at all.

Our main goal was to find a bunkbed design that let in as much light as possible–which was surprisingly hard to find. We’re so happy with this one. Joe made the romantic roof from the old detachable side of Lux’s crib! (Her IKEA sniglar crib bed, same model as Joan’s, had really taken a beating and had to be retired completely.)


Minor, but I’m very into the results that come from the magna-tiles and duplos being the only accessible toys outside of their room. They are constantly playing with them and building-chaos is one of the few types of chaos that makes my heart happy. If you decide to order magna-tiles, I recommend splurging for a lot, like the 100 piece set. We’re planning on ordering more soon, just to keep up with the range of structures they both like to build.


The pinboard wall has solved all our art storage needs. I love it so much. You can find some of the construction details on the apartment therapy post. At the time, it seemed crazy to me to splurge for custom-milled wood, but it was totally worth it because it’s so pretty and it’s the biggest thing in the room! (I was initially pinboard-inspired by this home tour on Cup of Jo.)

I find that as long as I clean off their art table every evening (and yes, ruthlessly throw away the ten sheets of paper they filled that day), it’s one of the first places they head to every morning.


I tried not to fuss and perfect too much before Emily came over to photograph–I hope this comes across as a realistic tour, with our “lived-in minimalism” as Joe sagely put it.

Anyway, head over to the post to see the whole thing! Thank you Emily!

all photos by Emily Billings for apartment therapy. 

Books and Lunch

nashoba_bakery nashoba_bakery bridgenashoba_bakery

My favorite day this weekend was when it was a breezy 70 degrees instead of our lately-so-typical-90 and we drove to Concord. Since we decided not to travel for the holiday weekend, I announced that we could all treat ourselves to new books. Last time we were at the Concord Bookshop we were buying books as a gift for a young friend of ours, and I had rushed them out murmuring “maybe next time.” So now was next time.

If you go, you can always get a very nice drink at the lovely Haute Coffee next door. If it had been just a touch more Autumn-feeling we would have wandered the graveyard across the street as well; the faded type and nearly toppled slate markers always make for great conversation with the girls.

Or you can hop back in your car and drive the odd ten minutes over to West Concord to Nashoba Bakery. You may have seen their breads around Boston, they sell to over 200 wholesale accounts. They have a cafe attached to this, their original bakery location, tucked back in an odd, barely-marked parking lot. Delicious sandwiches and cookies, fill your-own-coffee, and on weekends before 1pm: slow rise waffles with toppings. Perhaps the real attraction is the picnic tables that line the back porch and yard, overlooking merry Nashoba Creek. A lovely bridge spans the dwindling water, leading to a parking lot, safe and enclosed so the girls could run back and forth across.

photos from lately

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1. Moon postcard from our hotel in Marfa, TX.

2. 1pm nap is still so important for this two year old.

3. My friend Johanna gave me some lovely washi tapes. It’s such a fun supply.

4. After I took this photo I noticed the clever thumbprint placement of FRANCE.

5. Portrait of a coldbrew popsicle at naptime.

6. Giant silver UX balloons brought home after a Wistia party, to the girls’ daylong delight.

7. Whole Foods dough with plenty of food-processor-shredded mozzarella.

8. Sorted supplies.

9. Dress-up bin, in a new spot, getting lots of attention.

10. Pastels are a special treat reserved for supervised time. Love their bright blending possibility.

It’s a…


I keep forgetting to mention! It’s a girl. We found out two weeks ago (at 20 weeks, the day before this photo was taken). Good thing I’ve saved everything. And you know what? This makes me really happy that I bought nicer things for the girls here and there, like Hunter rain boots and good winter jackets. Cause I loved them once, loved em twice, and now I get to love them a third time. So you should go push BUY on whatever you have sitting in your zappos cart right now.

I DID want them to say it was a boy, I admit. Because: sons. They seem like a good thing. They contain within themselves less feral mother-daughter drama; like say a dog compared to a cat. They seem blindly loyal, like a hometown sports fan. And also: brothers. They don’t seem like a good thing for a bit of your life, and then: they’re the best. And you realize how much you learned from them all along….obviously there’s many things I could say in favor of the gender that makes up half our human race. Anyway.

But now that I know it’s a girl, in the sense that the girl already exists and it’s no longer anyone’s guess, I’m very happy.

We’re pretty into our spider-catching duplo architects. Our bunny lovers who usually prefer to “roar like a t-rex.” Our dance-adoring pink appreciators who could pick a good twirly dress out of a deep six rack of boxy shirts. Our rain-walk loving, silly screaming, someday-dreaming, fresh white paper hogs who have scribbled every last crayon down to its tattered stub and spend afternoons “just painting with black today.” We can’t wait.

food and family photo from happy Maine by our friend Jared.

teaching gratefulness


In between forgetting to slather on sunscreen and forgetting to comb anyone’s hair, I can’t get this thought out of my head—how do you teach gratefulness?

I’m not expecting them to grab the spray bottle every morning and clean the floors but the four year old also doesn’t have any specific daily tasks assigned to her. More often it is a request to “run and grab your water bottle for me” or “help Joan move the chair over here” which she does very willingly.

I also ask Joan, the two-year old, to pick up things or put something back after she drags it out. Usually she frowns at me and says, “nocan’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Still reading,” said while she stares vacantly off at a wall. “Mama do it.” 

Her young knack of disregard, the blithe ease with which she shrugs off my request makes me half-smile for a second and then feel overwhelmed with annoyance.

Sample day of the girls’ last week: wake up, eat breakfast, and a friend comes over. Pull out all the dress-up stuff, play dress-up changing clothes every 15 minutes for a couple hours. Share mini-ice cream cones. Have lunch, share another mini-ice cream cone. Make art in the art room with washi tape and pastels. Have a quiet time where Joan naps and Lux gets to watch her favorite 25 minutes of Octonauts. Wake up, help mom make chocolate covered strawberries for a friend, snacking all the while. Play in the living room alternating their fighting/sharing/loving/complaining song-and-dance while mom makes more food and does all the dishes. Mom packs a picnic and head outside for the last couple hours of the day, armed with food, balls, and a picnic blanket. Come home, read stories, go to bed.

Are things getting too idyllic? Am I a flourishing event planner with a preschool speciality–a flare for the lighthearted and festive? This is not an exceptional day in the life of the Ringenberg girls. I could pull from any other day of that week and list the pleasures—activity, food, activity, game.

As a stay-at-home mom in the city equipped with modern conveniences in my home, I am free to do this stuff with them. If we do laundry on the weekends, I clean for roughly thirty minutes of every day, and I cook for maybe an hour (but that’s by-myself-time in a good way). Are there so few demands on my schedule that I’m turning their daily lives into some kind of bucolic Disneyland? (Bucolic is the very word doesn’t apply though. They are not running in the fields picking wildflowers and chasing cow tails. They are gently fingering flowers grown in window boxes hanging over the sidewalk, reminded to touch, but not pick.)


But no matter how idyllic, I still have a four-year old who complains to me about her day. She asks “But mom, why can’t we go on the merry go round again?” “Why no lemonade/candy/ice cream today?” It must seem to her that we could do anything, if only I would just set my mind to it. And largely my explanations aren’t logical, they must seem almost whimsical to her—we aren’t having ice cream because we’re having dessert tonight. We don’t buy lemonade every day, only some days.

Isn’t her approach a little of what we encourage in Americans, especially American consumers? Ask for more, see what else you can get, fight for what you deserve–a refund in full, receipt be damned. I wonder how many times a day I model those values to the girls instead of Christian ones: love all, the last shall be first, put others before yourself, come humbly before God.

A few days ago, while washing dishes, I examined the contents of the sink and realized I could probably teach Lux to wash the morning load with a few tries. Later, when Joan was napping, I heralded it with trumpets as a new project and Lux took it on cheerfully. The floor was doused with soapy water and it took twenty more minutes than it would have taken me, but it was entirely successful.

But then I haven’t remembered to follow up and ask her to do it agin in the days since.

I dug out the letters my mom wrote to me on my birthday each year (I know! another post for another time), and found the one from when I turned four. She writes that my older brother and I were talking turns emptying the dishwasher and setting the table at that point. I was the second born so she had more time to figure it out, just as Joan has more expected of her than Lux did. (Mostly socially though—she’s expected to apologize, to share, to take turns. Things I didn’t ask of Lux at two.)

But gratefulness is such an undercurrent in a personal ocean. Its presence is so easily overpowered by the waves of needs and wants that lap steadily. It’s hard to feel its tug, even harder to distill it, and show it to another.