To our girls in a pandemic

To our girls in a pandemic

Our dear girls,

Thanks for being our sunshine during this time. A pandemic has swept through our world without warning and it’s not an easy time for anyone. Jobs and the future of our health and economy are in question, people are out of work, hospital staff is working hard to help those in need (uncle Dr. Seth in the ER!), there’s a shortage of masks and ventilators, many things are cancelled or closed, and those of us at home are trying to remain positive even though we feel isolated and a little stir-crazy distancing ourselves from people, going out, social gatherings, church, and trips to town (We’re not “stuck” at home, we’re safe at home – what a good perspective.)

Your dad is still working like normal, which for us is more frustrating than if there were a Shelter in Place (like many cities are under at this time), because the store is pretty much dead (and he works on commission…), but yet he is still “at risk” interacting with the general public. It’s an odd time, that’s for sure.

It’s easy to give in to fear when the future, even tomorrow, is unknown. But when we don’t have the answer, we use that as an opportunity to trust God. To practically stretch our ability to say, “We don’t understand, God, how long things will be like this, what’s to come of our jobs, our health, our economy, but we trust you because YOU ARE WORTH TRUSTING.” That’s what times like these are good for.

An exercise in faith. An exercise in circling back to the truths of who God is. And what he is, which is trustworthy. ALWAYS. ALWAYS.

You’ll come across lots of these exercises in your lives, girls. You might as well know that upfront. They may not involve a global pandemic, but they may involve other times of fear, unknown, sadness, confusion, and fog when you were hoping for a clear pathway towards which way you should go next.

It breaks my heart on so many levels to think of you ever having an ounce of worry, fear, or sadness in your lives. I wish I could swoop in then like I can now when you’re scared of a bug. Nowadays, I can quickly remove it (the bug, the fear) and hold you, kissing those chubby cheeks, brushing the strands of golden hair from your forehead, and whispering to you that it’s no longer there, that I am here, and that there is nothing to worry about. You’re safe on my lap.

While I can’t always swoop in with my mom cape to protect you, I can little by little, train you to see those moments as opportunities to practice, grow, and strengthen your ability to tackle and conquer fear, worry, and the unknown. Your dad and I can teach you how to choose faith, so that the next time when it’s not a ladybug, but thunder, or not a storm, but something else, you can remember that God is with you, for you, and fighting on your behalf. And that with him, and by trusting in him (even when you don’t understand the situation), you have the powers you need to fight well.

That, dear girls, is our wish for you with whatever your futures hold.

Until then, let’s enjoy some sunshine, a bucket of soapy water where we can wash some rocks for fun, and pick the purple weed flowers. And if you see a bug, I’M ON IT.


Isolation and the good news

Isolation and the good news

The isolation left a small scar on me. It’s one of those scars you can’t see, like the infertility, like the fear of riots breaking out when I was stuck in traffic, tear gas burning my eyes, like the fear of Shilo struggling to breath in the hospital.

I wasn’t alone when I felt the most isolated. There was Yassine bringing a live chicken to my door, loads of kids climbing our fence to see the white people and their big black dog, a housekeeper in our house folding our clothes and hauling water for us, making Shawn and I argue in English with a smile so she couldn’t understand our words or read our body language, people knowing every move we made, and asking 1,000 culturally appropriate questions about our day, our spouse, if we had electricity, if we had news from our families, and if we were in good health or not. This was the routine every single time we left our house, and every single time someone came to our house. (In other words, all the time.)

We were not alone, we were surrounded by people, inquiries, community, friends, friendly faces. But, at least in the beginning, these were people we didn’t know or understand. It was an isolation of being close physically, but their culture, their fetishes and charms, their language, how they ate the parts of a goat, how they washed their clothes, how their marriages worked, how they raised their kids, how they went to the market for one onion at a time, was so foreign to me that it left me feeling like I was in the middle of a loud room where everyone could see me and talk to me, but I was in a glass cage and couldn’t communicate back to them. It hurt that I couldn’t get pregnant and the women all around me spent their days having, raising, caring, swatting at, clothing, feeding, laughing at, yelling at, and talking about their children. It was another level of disconnect even though I was sitting right there with them on the bright plastic mat, helping pick bugs out of the rice. I was isolated in my own world. But it wasn’t my world it was their world. At least in the beginning.

Now I’m isolated again, but this time physically isolated in a place where I speak the language and I know the people because their culture (for the most part) is my own. I’m laying low in my own home because a virus is threatening our world. We remind each other that God knows and sees and cares. And he DOES. I count my blessings because I have a lovely home far beyond the shacks we’ve shared in the past. I count my blessings because I get to be with my girls and play with construction paper and (supposedly) washable markers. And then, sitting there with my phone in hand, I’m once again trapped in isolation. I scroll scroll scroll for connection since I can’t meet, gather, or congregate right now. But social media is a false sense of connection. I love seeing your kids grow, your beautiful bathroom reno, that funny meme about toilet paper in trees, but do you care about me? Do you know me? Do I know you? How are you really doing? Are we going to check in on each other? We’re staying in because it’s recommended, because it’s the best way for us all to protect ourselves and those who can’t protect themselves. But we’re no stranger to laying low, to staying in. We had a case of Ebola in quarantine across the street from where we lived in Dakar. And Ebola was a much more certain death sentence. (Some) Americans are losing their minds right now and stocking up like the world will end by Thursday. Some are being escorted out by armed guards (#texas) when they throw a fit over how much toilet paper their family NEEEEEEDS. The entitlement leads me to feel critical which leads me to feel lonely. “I don’t understand these people! I’m not like that… (am I?). I can’t relate.”
Suddenly I’m back on that bright plastic mat picking bugs out of rice and I am a stranger in my world. But this time it’s a world with every ease and convenience and comfort (on a good day), a language I understand, but a world where we have to run to keep up, we don’t eat nearly enough meals together, or invite people over (no matter the mess), and the connection, the real connection, is lacking. As a society we spend every day working 9-5 (Dolly version), scrolling when we get a chance, and not sleeping well. And it all begins again tomorrow.
Now we have a virus that has shut us in.
I wonder if God has a message for us in all of this. (He always has a message if we listen.) Maybe the message is that we can’t outrun or out-scroll our loneliness, or our greatest need. Maybe it’s not what country, context, or culture we’re in that breeds isolation, but who we are running from. God is the only one that will love and comfort and accept us. He already saw us at our worst, AND CHOSE US ANYWAY, when his son Jesus came and took our place on the cross, dying the death that we deserve. Only perfection would do which is why Jesus chose to take our place. We could never be good enough, measure up, or work hard enough. But by placing our faith in what Jesus did for us, the sacrifice he paid for us, on our behalf, we can be saved. And that’s the best news no matter where we find ourselves or what’s happening in our world. He’s the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14.)

He’s not afraid of our germs, our weaknesses, our flaws, our fears, our isolation. He pulls us in and accepts us and offers us the connection we’ve been searching for (or running from).

“You’ve been my Savior, Sustainer, when I’m at my end
My Healer, Redeemer, again and again
My Mother and my Father, Brother, Sister, and Friend
Everything I’ve needed Lord, You’ve always been
Everything I’ve needed Lord, You’ve always been” (this song)

Can you love me where I’m at?

Can you love me where I’m at?

Can you just give me some grace, mom? You can’t see it, but in the back of my mouth molars are cutting through my gums and it hurts.
Can you just love me right where I am? I was up at 2:30am and then again at 4am because baby couldn’t find her pacifier. I know I’m the adult, but sometimes I want to be loved and cared for too.
Can you give me grace today, mom? I’m two and my vocabulary only goes so far. I want a straw for the pink cup, to be precise, and I shall now repeat my request 7200 times.
Can you just love me right where I’m at today, Shawn? I’m battling the “Is this my life? Yes! I love it. But it’s hard. Did I choose this? Yes! And I love it. Help, please!” mind game.
Can you give me grace when I’m exhausted too, Jenn?
Mom, can you just love me right where I’m at? I’m not wanting to eat even one bite of the chicken casserole (even though it has noodles and cheese).
Can you love me today, Shawn, even when I can’t seem to complete one single task?
Can you show me your love through a patient tone today, mom? I’m just a baby. Even if I did pull all the important folders off the shelf and scatter them from east to west.
Mom, I don’t know why I’m crying but can you hold me? Again? Please don’t put me down. I know you want to finish the laundry, but can you hold me instead?
We want grace. We want to be understood. Let’s start by being the ones to offer grace and understanding.
You are loved today, even when you’re fussy, having a hard time, not able to communicate, or doubting yourself.
This is when we will show you love. The unconditional love of family.
Now, come sit on my lap with your blanket, and we’ll rock together. Me loving you, because he loved me.

The light and love of Shilo

The light and love of Shilo

Shilo,
You came flying into this world full force, 9lbs of big cheeks and big hair, and it’s been that way ever since. You came with so much light and laughter. You were just a few weeks old and you were laughing out loud. You love to entertain and you love to laugh. So much about you, and your first year has been unexpected and full of joy. From watching you and your sister discover each other, and interact with each other, to watching you grow into the next milestone. We are so happy to celebrate you today. We can’t wait to watch you dig into a cupcake and play with your birthday balloons. We pray that you’ll never lose that unique and precious spark that God has placed in you.
Happy 1st birthday to our sweet girl, Shilo Hope DeAtley.

Pizza party in the rain

Pizza party in the rain

It was kind of a hold-your-breath and hope that everyone naps, where’s the chocolate, Shawn’s out of town, solo parent, “Is this wet from water or pee?”, loses her patience because someone asked for ice (really? Ice?) AGAIN!!!! kind of morning. That’s not the kind of mom I wanted to be. The kind of mom who feels frazzled and exhausted. But the 24/7-ness of caring for and raising these girls and loving them well is freaking exhausting on the best of days. And I wouldn’t trade it for the WORLD. This is everything we wanted, even when it’s hard. Just because we wanted babies for so many years, didn’t mean we came into this naïve that things would be all lullabies and cuddles. But still, some days humanity gets in the way (ours, theirs) and it’s hard.
So when I knew Sweet Mother Theresa with a crown of daisies upon her head was coming to babysit while I went to my Legacy meeting (women of all ages studying the Bible together), I was more than ready!
She even came early so I could sit alone in a coffee shop like a statue with a stack of books, but too enamored with the quiet to actually read.
When the time came for her to come, the rains came down hard and fast. San Angelo has been in a drought, so we welcome the rain with open arms and a silent whisper of thanks to the One who sent it.
But the rains came faster than the streets could keep up with, and the big Texas trucks flew around me, unamused that my tires were weak and tired, and unsympathetic to my nerves growing behind the wheel.
I made it to the coffee shop, but I was too nervous thinking about how I could get all the way to where I needed to go. I tried more than once to get back out on the loop, but water was rushing and I was too nervous to go all that way, unsure of where exactly I was going, and how high the water would get.
I kept trying, but my nerves would take over, feeling a slight hydroplane here and there, and seeing those Big Texas trucks flying up in my rearview mirror.
Finally I pulled over in a nearby neighborhood in tears. THIS is my night away! The sitter is there! But I can’t get to my meeting, I’m just too unsure of myself, the tires, the water, the situation. But I don’t want to go home. Shawn was in Tampa but texted a quick, “Call Wendy.” So I did. I called Wendy, rain making it hard to hear. “Hey. I’m in your neighborhood. I was going to go to my Legacy meeting but I can’t get there, there’s too much water on the road. But I have a babysitter and don’t want to go home.” Not one moment passed in time before she said, “Come on girl.” So I did just that.
It was the evening I needed. It made me feel so special to come in from the pouring rain, to be given a big hug, both of us noting that we do best with the spontaneous. “Maybe we should order pizza!” she said.
A pizza party, yes. 100%. Let’s do it. She made a wedge salad in a matter of minutes, cracking the head of lettuce to remove the core, adding bacon, apple slices, candied walnuts, and bleu cheese dressing to top it all off. There’s something in my soul that loves to be in the kitchen watching someone else cook. Especially when I’m there as the guest. I guess it takes me back to when my grandparents had me, just me, one of five, over for dinner and a sleepover. They were both there to listen and talk to ME! In my current season of serve, serve, care, care, if felt so good to have someone else ask if I want ice. To ask if I wanted a blanket while we sat on the couch watching the majestic animals walk across the desert. Wendy’s husband came home with the pizza, started a fire, gave me an update on the rain so that I’d know if I could get home okay, and then we sat around talking and laughing for the next few hours.
It’s a story of a spontaneous pizza party with friends who opened their doors to a friend who happened to be stuck in their neighborhood in a flood, flooded with nerves, and overwhelmed from a long day of self getting in the way of selfless love. It’s a story of hospitality.
In Africa, everyone was always dropping by (and then staying for hours and hours), and wanting us to stop by. Even if people were eating their meal outside, gathered around a communal bowl of rice, it was rude for them to not invite you over to share with them. It was rude for you to not stop. That’s communal living. It was sometimes a bit much for us Westerners, but now there are many times I miss it. I miss someone stopping by, I miss the known open invitation that we are always welcome to stop by.
So this is my invitation to you to stop by. We all need community. And it doesn’t always have to be planned and worked around nap time and when my floors were last mopped (probably last June). If my house is a wreck and my girls are in whatever state they’re in, all the better. Because that’s life, and you have no choice but to take us as we are. And we will certainly, always take you as you are. We’ll order pizza. And wings. And bread sticks. And if I have the stuff I’ll make you a wedge salad. (But full disclosure, I probably won’t have the stuff.) But I’ll definitely make sure you have a glass of ice for your drink.

Hugging a stranger, beginning again

Hugging a stranger, beginning again

I love the new year. I love a fresh start. “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.” Anne Shirley. That’s the beauty of a new year, isn’t it? A time to focus not on accomplishments, but on who we want to be as people. To reevaluate ourselves. To be kind. To be slow to anger. To love.

Well, here we are, three days into the new year, and I’ve already yelled at a complete stranger, and slammed the door in their face. Is it too late to go back to last year? Is it too early in the year for a redo?

Let me back up a bit.

It was just a stressful morning all around. Noella woke up at 4am complaining that her ear hurt, which means no one went back to sleep, at least not really. Yesterday morning we were up at 3:45am because an inconsiderate neighbor chose that particular time to set off their fireworks (hold me back), scaring and waking up the household, which in turn had naps off any kind of preexisting schedule, and crankiness on full throttle. So that’s two back to back mornings in a row of before 4:30am wakings. I was on hold trying to book a client’s trip this morning, dancing around little ones pulling on my pant leg, and reminding Noella that we don’t pee on the carpet. The kitchen table was covered with yesterday’s oatmeal smeared on it, there were dishes everywhere, I was still on hold, Shilo’s screaming just to hear her own voice these days, and I’m just counting down the minutes until someone (me, them, anyone) naps. I try not to live my life in a perpetual countdown towards sleep, but honestly, some days that’s what I live for. (File under: you shall have no other gods before me. Along with a good show to binge, a night out, quiet, QUIET!, a hot hazelnut latte, a vacation to look forward to, etc.) I want to live while they’re awake, I don’t want to wish the days away with naptime, as necessary as it is on some days. Especially yesterday and today, with the UNGODLY wake up times. (Mini rant: WHY would anyone set off fireworks at 3:45 am on Thursday, 1/2? I shall now pass the time thinking of irritating ways to wake them up as a thank you and plot the ultimate payback as both girls scream in their state of overtired… BE KIND JENN. “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR” Isn’t a suggestion. Darn it. AGH! Sleep. Why are you a god?)

Anyway. Day 2 of everyone being tired and off their nap game, and I’m not choosing to be the March Mother of Little Women. (I want to be her. I want to be Marmee. Soft spoken but fierce in raising her girls. Giving to the poor. Helping soldiers. Being intentional. There to listen. Kind.) I was the opposite of her, and I’ll just say it- having the worst attitude of the year. I mean, we are only on day 3, cut me some slack.

Meanwhile, everyone was finally and hopefully settling for a two-for-one special on naps, the rare treat when I have that QUIET I pretend not to worship. Then (and there will be no exaggeration) someone RINGS MY DOORBELL TWO TIMES IN A ROW, and not only that, THEY KNOCK TWICE like they’re a long lost cousin who just flew in from Afghanistan after three consecutive tours. They RANG TWICE AND KNOCKED TWICE as if there was a news crew out front and someone holding a huge check and balloons, or like my mom flew here to surprise me, and had to make enough noise to match her exuberant enthusiasm. I was half bothered by the noise at the door, ESPECIALLY while naptime was desperately needing to take place, but I pushed my irritation aside, and let my curiosity take over because this level of door racket must surely be for a good reason.

WRONG AGAIN. It was someone selling “multi-purpose cleaners so strong they even clean grass and blood stains”.
Me to Shawn in my most extreme voice: “answer the door and tell her to never come here again.” (I should clarify that this was the third salesman I’d had at my door in the past two weeks. Three too many if they’re going to disturb my slumbering babies.)
Shawn to me: *backs away from the situation*…

Me, opens door and yells at the woman to “NEVER COME BACK HERE AGAIN”. When she starts in on her pitch (remember the stressful morning and the being on hold and the two cranky babies and the fireworks and the SO TIRED RIGHT NOW? It’s no excuse. I yelled at her to “NEVER COME BACK”, and then I slammed the door. I could hear her wishing me a happy new year, and I yelled back through the door “Don’t wish me a happy new year through my door!” I’m sure at that moment Shawn was contemplating sedating me or something of that nature. I turned around and saw Noella standing there, Shilo sitting there, both stunned at my behavior, and clearly wide awake from the energetic door circus.

I marched back in and sat down at the kitchen table trying to convince myself that was an acceptable way to act, a mature response. I felt so much guilt I couldn’t even lift my fork to finish eating. YES I was mad, yes I was irritated. Yes I was exhausted. YES she woke up two sleeping, or at least trying to nap babies and the morning was a turbulent one in many ways. But my girls were watching. And if there’s one thing I want to teach them, it’s that we can always begin again. So I threw on my slippers and marched out the door. I scanned the street and found the lady two houses down. “Ma’am!” I yelled, waving my arms to catch her attention. She just stood there, unsure of how to respond like when a wild animal approaches you. She started to turn and walk away and I yelled to her over Kenneth’s driveway, “I’m sorry I yelled at youuuuuuuuu!” She softened and walked toward me and in the street she said, “Do you need a hug?” “Yeah”, I said, trying not to cry, assured every neighbor was watching out their window. “It’s just been a really long and rocky morning”, I went on. “But that was no way to treat you and I’m sorry.” “It’s just a reminder, she said, that we never really know what someone’s going through.” “That’s so true”, I said. We chatted for a minute, right there in the street. I still didn’t buy any “multi-purpose cleaner so strong they even clean grass and blood stains”, but I did come back in and tell Noella what happened. That I lost my cool, yelled at someone, but went and found her to say sorry and she gave me a hug. Hopefully, as we move forward into this fresh start [with lots of mistakes in it already], we can remember these few things:

– That even as Marmee references in Little Women, it took time for her to learn how to be calm, gentle, and level headed.
– Don’t be too proud to hug a stranger in the street, no makeup on, in your slippers, and bedhead flying wild.
– Be the first to say sorry, it can lead to beautiful things.
– Show your children what it looks like to admit when you’re wrong/crazy/rude/selfish.
– Don’t treat people as inconveniences. Love them instead.
– That it’s never too late to START AGAIN, to BEGIN AGAIN, to TRY AGAIN.
– That God’s grace may just very well be on the other side of that door.

A look at 2019

A look at 2019

2019, how could we NOT love you?! You were the year (along with God’s goodness and grace) that gave us our daughter Shilo Hope DeAtley. She’s been full of life and light from day one.

You were the year that sisters were born. Not just a second daughter for us, but a sister for both girls. They went from being blissfully unaware to one another’s existence, to “don’t touch me” (on Noella’s behalf), to crawling after one another and laughing together.

My mom, sister, and SIL came to visit! This was no small feat as my mom doesn’t travel to the nearest outlet mall by choice, let alone board a plane to middle-of-nowhere San Angelo. It was so fun to show off our house and our daughter and Noella in the stage she was in. Their three days here were short and sweet. We had a Sip n’ See party where friends came to meet Shilo, and meet my family while they were in town too.

May brought a trial we didn’t foresee, but they’re never foreseen are they? They’re times to decide if we will walk with God in the unknown or not. Shilo was hospitalized with RSV. It was scary. It was long. A whole week, every day wondering if she would improve. Every day wondering when we could go home. Every day praying. Just five months prior we were hospitalized with Noella. If you have little ones in your life now and you’re reading this in the middle of flu and RSV season, turn your worry into prayer. It’s easier said than done, but there’s only one way to strengthen our faith.

I try not to live with too many regrets, but my purple hair was purple hair regret. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it the idea of it. But man it fades fast. It just ended up being way too much time and work and money and Shawn telling me to hold still while he retouched it, him in rubber gloves, and me perched on the guest room bathroom toilet (lid down, obvs). It was fun while it lasted, but colored wigs are surely the way to go.

This is one of those ongoing lessons, and one that isn’t always easy to learn. I’m learning to encourage over criticize. It’s easy to criticize. We might feel it’s our job to point out people’s flaws or weaknesses or mistakes. It’s not our job, and in fact the opposite of criticize is to encourage, and that is our job. It falls under “love all” commandment we read about in the Bible. “Encourage over criticize”. I’m taking that with me into this new year.

Be generous with your smile. This is something I read one day, and it has really stuck with me. It makes me wonder why I’m not more generous with my smile, especially to those I love a million times over. Love someone today with your smile, with your kindness, with a listening ear. This is another one I want to carry with me into the new year.

Noella definitely hit a “wear sunglasses all day” phase, and we were HERE FOR IT, loving it. Especially the pjs + rainboots + sunglasses combo.

One of the lessons from this year was one I was kind of thrown into. There was no band practice or warm up. T’was the lesson of who to care for in this VERY moment. Wait. I have two kids now, two under two for the first six months, both at very demanding ages. I was thrown into the life lesson of balancing who to hold when, who needs care when, who can cry it out on the floor while I finish changing one, nurse the other, and who needs immediate attention. It’s pretty cool to see the beauty of a multitasking mom. (Did I manage to finish my hazelnut latte in the midst of it all? Youbetyourbottomdollar.)

We flew with the girls to Ohio for a week in July to see friends and family. It was a memorable time.

I’ve been thankful for the opportunity to be a Mops table leader this year, and for that community that I needed in my life. I loved being able to share about our time in West Africa as missionaries, our years dealing with infertility and grief, and the time I had Malaria. As a group we were able to raise money for 150 mosquito nets to be handed out to communities in need, both in Guinea and in Senegal! Our old stomping ground! It meant so much to me to see these moms pull together as a global sisterhood to help those that often can’t afford a net to sleep under. On a deeper level, it warmed my heart to see my current community of friends helping out my community of friends in Guinea and Senegal.

It was a year of laundry basket rides for two little ones. And stroller rides.

I started a new job as a travel advisor with Cruise Planners! I flew all by myself (only the second time ever!) to Florida for a week of training. It was one of those times where I had no idea what to expect from the whole week, but I met some great people, learned so much (x 1,000), and was just really thankful and overwhelmed (in a good way) for the whole experience. Shawn’s been the best cheerleader in all of it.

Shawn and I celebrated 15 years of marriage in Jamaica! Take me back to our balcony with a view, those clear Caribbean waters, and the excitement of going somewhere we’ve never been before.

2019 was the year both our girls saw and touched snow, met more of our Colorado family, and flew for their second and third time on the airplane. Travel with kids is probably the very definition of chaos, but we try not to let hard things hold us back.

Travel in December was fun and festive, but so was coming home to our own living room where a stocking hung for each of us. His and mine are wax print stockings, handmade in West Africa, fitting for the two of us, and the girls have brightly colored striped stockings, perfectly fitting for them and the joy they bring us. We’re thankful for our community of friends here, the coffee shop at church where we get to volunteer, our Community Life Group (even though there are some major theological differences – namely, they view soup as an appropriate dinner choice, and Shawn simply does not).

God was with us this year, and that’s what made it a good one.

2020, we’re ready when you are.

Our balcony

Our balcony

The balcony was a dream. The doorway was arched, and there were tiny red stain glass windows in each corner. We chose to have a mountain view over an ocean view, because coming from flat and dry west Texas, any view’s a view. We’d be seeing the ocean up close all day, so the mountain view was perfect (and cheaper, too). The view was so strikingly green it almost hurt to look at. Like when we met a group of Hebrew women at our resort. I kept staring at them because they were so beautiful. So different. The balcony was this ongoing reminder that we were on vacation, just the two of us! There were only two chairs. One for him. One for me. No booster seats or high chairs. Room service came with mimosas. And bacon. And anything else you could think to ask for. We stared off into that green mural and talked about the lush blanket of greenery, the smoke coming from the hills, and who must live out there and what they must be cooking. Jerk chicken, perhaps. Or curried goat. (It’s not “goat curry”, its “curried goat”, and it’s amazing.)
We had a balcony attached to our room at the guesthouse we managed in Dakar. The view was a dusty screen, laundry hanging to dry (ours and our neighbor’s), and if the Mosque wasn’t making noise, there were riots and tear gas blowing in, and if not that, there was traffic. And by traffic I mean people hanging off of buses tapping to tell them when to go, people yelling, taxis honking, you name it. Needless to say, it was a balcony we didn’t use for the peaceful view.
Everyone needs a trip for two, a second or third honeymoon of sorts. A break from talks of budgets, insurance, and sweeping the garage. A time for crisp white sheets and swim up bars. A second or third honeymoon of sorts is an entirely different trip from a honeymoon, though, because you’re traveling with a seasoned friend who is still hanging in there with you, and you them. There’s life between you now.
There’s no half-pretending-to-be-someone-I’m-not anymore. No need to put concealer on first thing in the morning. They’ve seen it all, and now you can just kick back and enjoy. Want to go have pizza by the pool at 2pm? Sure man.
Marriage is fun.

Make it more than just a date night, but a whole week for two. If you can. When you can. Imagine a week of waking up and wondering what you should get into that day. Beach or pool, take a taxi shopping, or swim with dolphins. Or! Just sit on the balcony and enjoy the view.

63 and looking back

63 and looking back

Both girls were in bed (Check!), and it was time to call the birthday girl. I put her on speaker and went back to the laundry which seemed to be multiplying before my very eyes. “So how old are you”, I asked, draping Shawn’s been-dried-twice-to-get-the-wrinkles-out dress pants over a hanger. Should kids ask that, I wondered, as I went ahead and asked it anyway.
“63!” she announced as if she had reached a level in a video game or something that required a lot of time and dedication. Reaching 63 certainly does take time and dedication. At least when the years matter and you’re someone who cares about your life, and the way it’s lived.
“63! Wow!” I say, and before there was any old age banter or jokes, she moved right along, talking about how she can’t believe she’s 63. Truly. She remembers when her mom couldn’t believe when she was such-and-such age, with kids in their 30s. And now it’s her.
Then she said without even being asked, how she’d love to go back in time, even if just for one day, to see what her days were like when she had babies at home. I was standing there, folding a little white onesie, and seeing both sides: yes, it goes by so fast. Noella’s only two, and it feels like two decades ago she was swaddled in my arms as a fresh new little thing. And I also can’t even see past 2pm on some days. My mom was saying how she’d love to go back for a day and see what she was like as a mom in those days, or better yet, to bring with her the wisdom she’s gained since then, and mom us kids again, from a new and seasoned perspective. It almost made me cry to think of ‘future me’ wanting to be with ‘present me’, the one rocking the baby and dishing out Cheerio’s. Future, ‘clean house, time for 45 min at the coffee shop, a stop at the grocery store for only three ingredients, peace in the restaurant, no wipes and bows and toothpaste smeared on the bathroom counter’ me, longing for what I have now. I think that’s what people really mean when they say to “enjoy every minute”. No Janet, I’m not going to enjoy every minute of this meltdown leaving the church nursery because she wants ice cream in her car seat on the way home.
It was just inspiring to hear a nostalgic mom of five, now in her 60s, remember so vividly how hard and long the days were. But to also want just one day back. Just one more day to see what her now-grown kids were like as newborns, as toddlers, as 8 yr olds. The memories are there, but what did they look like, how were the days spent, what did they feel like when asleep on your shoulder? She wanted just one day to go back and of course hold her babies again, but to also give herself the pep talk and the grace to take it all in not because it’s easy, but because it’s work that MATTERS. To take it in because it’s your life, and one day it will be over.
Happy birthday, mom. And even though it’s your birthday, I appreciate the gift you gave me tonight, to tell present day me to soak it all in, not because it’s easy, but because one day the memory of what is now won’t be as clear and as vivid. One day, Lord willing, 63 year old me will remember, and smile.
Cheers to you… the mom you were, the mom you are.
I hope you like your balloons.
XO,
J

“Sit down mama?”

“Sit down mama?”

At around 4pm things are usually pretty chaotic, and come 5pm, I’m ready to strap at least one tornado into her high chair. I make Noella’s ‘pb on tortilla’ (recipe copyrighted by yours truly), get her a bowl of applesauce (she’s still a big fan of that stuff), I set it on her tray, ready to run around and tidy up as much as I can while she’s contained in one place, and distracted as anyone is with food before them. I’m running around, tossing books back into the basket, putting the sour cream from lunch back into the fridge, and making Shilo’s bottle. In the blur of movement Noella asks, “Sit down, mama?” She loves it when I sit with her while she eats. The question always makes me a little sad. Even though this is prime time tidy time (I’m sorry but I think I just named your next #1 album), it’s also prime time you’re only this age for today. Yesterday you were younger, and tomorrow you will be older. And somehow, wiser. And your hands will be less baby and your feet will be bigger. Sob. So I pull up a chair, toss the sponge across the room and into the sink, and I stare right at her and smile as big as I can. She loves the attention. I ask, “So, how was your day?” She smiles, taking an insanely large bite of applesauce for such a small person with a little mouth. I ask, “What did you do today?” I pull my chair right in front of her high chair, her tray is the only thing blocking me from being any closer. She rolls her eyes and smiles at the sudden attention. She tells me about her day in choppy sentences. “Daddy. (We went to see him at work.) Puppy. (A customer had one with them in the store, just a head sticking out of her purse. It was a hit.) Cookie. (Our neighbor brought some by.)” I love talking to her like she’s 24. “So, why do you think that lady had a puppy in her purse? What do you think she named it?” And she rambles on about this and that, puppy this, puppy that.

One of the best memories I have of my grandparents (Ben and Joan) and one of the ways they made me feel loved was to have me over by myself (as the oldest of five, a night away was heaven on earth) and just hang out with me. They’d slide me a bowl of ice cream and just listen to whatever 10-year-old Jenn had to say. So I think of that, whenever Noella asks me to sit. I think of my grandparents, I think of how much it still means to me that they took the time to talk to me and listen to me, and I think of Noella being one day older tomorrow. We sit and chat while she shovels in the applesauce. And then, to make the night extra special, and since sister’s already in bed, and because Noella loves to be outside, we strap on her shoes (even though she’s already in her dino pjs), and we run around the driveway before she goes to bed. Maybe she’ll talk about that tomorrow while she eats her dinner and I sit and listen.