Monday, September 15, 2014

The Year Before / The Year Ahead


My sister, Amanda, babysat for us on Saturday, and later that day we had some time to visit and I loved it because life is busy and visiting doesn't happen as often as it should. 

With the sudden swath of cold this weekend along with the welcome arrival of fall treats, pumpkin beverages advertised and gourds on display, I felt sentimental about the way a year can sneak up on us and flash us memories of the springs, summers, falls, and winters of past.

Every once in a while I will take a moment to think about all my hopes, fears, struggles, plans, and joys that I was walking with in that season a year previous. I'm always truly amazed at how much time had in store for me that I couldn't have imagined no matter how much effort I put forth in planning or anticipation.

So, I asked Amanda, "Where were you a year ago?"

Amanda and I swapped our perspectives for where we were at last September: what we were feeling at the time, what lay ahead on our path we didn't know about, and maybe that "thing" at the time that felt heavy like it would always would be clinging, dragging. And of course, a year later we know better. As the story usually goes, all of us are stronger, smarter, and more adaptable than we give ourselves credit, and God showers us with enough grace to ruin so many heavy things in the most beautiful way.

Amanda took the question and added a bonus: "What advice would you give yourself a year ago?" 

I could think of very specific things for myself about not feeling pressure to meet up with moms for play dates or the importance of carving out time differently for myself and for time with Paul, but mostly I thought about one word: gentle.  I wish I would have been gentle with myself and others especially when things were difficult. When I felt lonely through Paul's absence or when I was really, really having a tough time with adjusting to life with 3 kids and being at home all the time. I see that I pushed myself & that was great and so helpful because through a lot of work, I've taught myself so many things this past year. However, I wish that in the process I would have been more kind to myself and others. Just a thought. Hopefully, that bent of being harsh wears down like a rock embedded in rushing water and I learn as I age to love lightly even when I'm doing hard things.

With the perspective of "one year since ___________", I can remember difficult things (like taking two babies without bucket seats and a four year old in this awful cold and snow on the ground and insane wind to Chic-Fil-A because Paul had been gone what felt like forever and I was desperate to do anything away from the house and how I cursed the crazy long winter and then Thomas got food poisoning and was losing things out both ends at 4 in the morning and wow, that was just a blast), but it's all the little daily joys that really shine and sparkle the most.


I feel like I've lived a whole life at home in just a year and a half of terribly unpredictable joys that I can't begin to describe or relay but I lived them. I lived them & that matters. I showed up & was present & I felt joy pierce my heaviness over and over and over again. Every naked toddler butt walking away from me. Every kooky question Thomas asks. Every little smile and bit of love these kids showered over me. Every single time Thomas and I snuggled under my covers and read. Especially that time he laughed so crazy over The BFG and asked me to reread parts over and over again and I thought he might just wet himself on the couch.  Those are the things that, if I had known them, I would have realized I was working toward and striving for much more than solving my problems, that I'm waking up to bust my butt, so I can make space for enjoying all the people I know and love and so we can dance in the margins.

This morning I woke to write a post about the twins being 15 months old. I was looking through my old posts and found this photo of Alistair & Emerick's baptism a little more than just a year ago:


And just how crazy is this for perspective? Here Andrea and Josh hold our boys but with their own narratives at the time, their own lives very much separate and foreign to being parents and now they hold their own boys in their arms and probably find themselves very much in tune with how much their lives have changed in the most unexpected and beautiful way in just one simple year.

Ah, just too much awesome for me to grasp.

All this is just to say, with September often referred to as the other new year and fall pressing itself on us, I'm ready and my heart is happy for another year of a lot more of all kinds of things-- a full, rich life where the surprises and the triumphs and the joys far outweigh and outshine and outstretch any measure of heavy we feel temporarily.

To another year!



Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gushing about Caring for 5 Little Guys


I just want to pop in really quickly this morning and share my 4 favorite things about this small season of watching 5 little boys under 5.

My list might shed happy light for those of my sweet friends who have asked me if this is a good idea in their voice that says this is a bad idea...

My 4 Favorite Things About Watching My Sister's Twins Right Now:

1. Bonding time:

Thomas is so incredibly caring with Luke & Logan. He comforts them when they're crying with an "it's okay" or "I know, I know" or "don't be sad" and talks with them when they are awake and cooing at him.  I'm a little biased about Andrea's kids, but they "talk" a great deal. They are very responsive and it's so much fun to talk with them because they're generous with the smiles.  Thomas fills in for what he imagines them saying and that's also fun to listen to: "Oh, you had a good nap. That's great"; "Your mommy is at work right now, but she'll come back"; "Oh, I've been to the video store too!" Thomas rocks car seats, sets up blankets, arranges toys, and can even change a diaper (with a great deal of assistance).


This photo is so true of Thomas. He is always doing something to help. Sometimes I have to say "no, thank you" to that help, but it is sweet all the same. 

Now, about those other twins. Alistair & Emerick are like loaded guns. Even though their bright, smiling faces seem full of good intentions, I give them very, very limited visiting rights to Luke & Logan (and only when one of the sets is in my arms). I'm not sure what kind of bonding is going on there and/or if my twins are capable of swiping at the fresh set. In fact, I'm not really sure of what's ever going on with Alistair & Emerick.  Thomas and I tried to get Emerick to pick up a diaper (which was within his arm's reach) for over 5 minutes yesterday and the entire time he vacillated between a look of "I've not a clue" and "so you think I'm cute?"

2. Heavy / Light

I can be a whiny person. Okay, really whiny. [Paul, don't say a word about all those texts you get when you're travelling]. There's something about taking on the care of two more every other day to make me realize that my job of homemaker and kid raiser is a joy and not a burden. Switching between heavy and light feels like a mental exercise to embrace both because the seasons in our life are just that and they don't last forever.

I've just really slipped into the habit of thinking "LIFE IS SO HARD!" lately. This is almost exactly what I'll be thinking in an hour when I go to the library with the boys because I refuse to surrender to the drive through. I'll be in between choosing a book about Mars or Mercury and I'll look over to see one toddler bringing books to his mouth and one toddler walking his self out the building as if he has an appointment with anyone not us and just then a 4 year old I will pretend not to know will yell over his computer headphones  "CAN SOMEONE SHOW ME HOW THIS GAME WORKS??" And right then, I'll remember that motherhood can always be easier by lowering expectations.  Drop 'em low, let it go, take it slow-- It's a recipe for happy peoples I seem only to remember when I have breached disaster. Anyway, having Luke & Logan over here is helping me to enjoy my relatively light load on days off & not to sabotage myself by making things unnecessarily difficult.

3. Being Seen

I have wanted to write about the invisibility of being a SAHM a million times but can't find the words without sounding incredibly negative. Let me try to sum it by saying this:

If there's one thing I miss about working it was this: being seen. There is something so wonderful about your work being seen, acknowledged, and then challenged or complimented. People saw what I wore. They saw what I wrote. They saw that I failed. They saw that I cared / tried / solved / changed / grew / and simply just did. I love verbal affirmation. To hear "I saw that thing you did & I thought it was great" is enough fuel for me to do ALL THE THINGS. Truly. That's how I operate. I thought I would miss the money immensely. I don't. I thought not teaching would kill me. It didn't. (Let me introduce you to my 4 yo. Endless material there. ;). But not being seen? I don't know. It's just the really, really difficult part about not working that, for my personality, is a constant struggle. (A little dose of raw honesty for you.)


Anyway, this is all to say that I feel seen a little bit again. Andrea & Josh don't have to say much, or even anything at all, to make me know they feel what I do matters and this matters to me & makes me happy.

Weird? That's ok. I own it.

4.  The adventure of caring for kids


I love a good adventure. Who doesn't? The more time I spend with kids, the richer life feels. I've learned to laugh things off, roll with their whims, and not take life so seriously. Kids are unpredictable & always changing. I use to find this infuriating and on a bad day, I still do. But mostly, I just really enjoy being with little kids. And how is it that this is happening to me? I didn't own a single maternal instinct until I was pregnant with Thomas. Maybe after so many hours and experiences, you just cave in and join in on the crazy. Being fully immersed in a house of coos & "ba ba" & little dancing feet and this guy:



...it's like I've hit the nail on the head for that thing that makes me come alive.

Now if I could find a really, really good concealer for the tire marks under my eyes. :)

Bonus: Seeing my sister walk out the door in a cute dress & head to work, to be doing what's right for her right now with maybe, possibly a little bit more peace than another temporary care situation would have offered. It's a win-win situation, but mostly just a win because all our boys are very much loved and that's my very, very favorite.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Our 1st Family Vacation [Tennessee Bound with Lots of Little People]

Get to work, Thomas! You've got a family to pack!

Paul and I took a late, late, very late honeymoon-ish trip to California last March. Our 1st trip, of any scale, away together in 5 years.  It was so much fun to get away before the twins arrived and before I started staying at home, but mainly it was just so absolutely wonderful to eat meals uninterrupted, to finish conversations, and to stroll along the beach hand in hand. Bonus: stepping off the romantic beach at Santa Barbara into "tar grass" and using every last bar of soap & bit of cloth in the hotel to scrub black bits of grass and dirt and sticky death tar and nearly the skin off our feet also.

Ah, the twins were so easy to manage back then.

One thing we decided, an aha! epiphany if you will, while on our CA tour trip was that we wouldn't wait until vacation seemed an easy or timely fit for our family. Instead, we would be on the lookout for adventure & seize up opportunities to travel with our littles even if that meant it came with the tagline: "damn, that was a lot of work."

And now, a year and a half later and an iPhone completely maxed out on storage, I get to say that we did just that. We went. We saw. We did all the things with the little people. Enter me in an obstacle course competition of navigating public places with hungry, tired, and disoriented children, and I will not finish last!!!

We thought about renting a nice, luxurious SUV for our travels but then worried we wouldn't hit on that quintessential vacation experience of driving each other to the zone of insanity marked by twitching, snapping, or yelling things at people that don't make sense, so we stuck with our COZY Saturn Vue. This is the car we've patted our backs for keeping even with 3 kids and car seats so thisclosetogether it takes a Boy Scout badge to conquer correct buckling practices. A vacation with this vehicle? This was not part of the plan or dream or whatever we were thinking while gazing at each other in CA.  But there's that Anderson spirit, so after some trial run packing and coaching Thomas on how to carefully, carefully, carefully roll his clothes into tiny shapes, I decided to give myself more gray hairs it a green light!

We carefully navigated the storage issues for the trip. I asked for my mom's packing list, printed it off and then ruthlessly struck things off the list that we just couldn't space-wise afford to cram into the car if we also wanted to not strap Thomas to the roof. Books? Who reads! Not me! Umbrellas? Nope, that's where we're keeping the mini-med kit! Jackets? Forget it. We'll have little people hanging on us all day. We hardly need clothes.

Photographed below you can see naive children who have yet to venture into the wild, wild world of hotel accommodations (broken sliding mirrors! t.v.s at toddler reach! beautiful framed artwork for Thomas to behold!) and gas station food just perfect for little people to eat neatly & safely in a car so tight that we had to put their pack & plays at their feet & pretend it was a faux floor also just perfect for little people! So many things just perfect, I can't even tell you. <wink>


Maybe I'll tell you more about our trip soon. I'll have to think about it. I don't want to make anyone jealous by the abundant spread of benefits we seized in traveling with a set of one year old twins and a four year old, so it may take me awhile to cull my words. <more winking> <maybe some twitching>

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

5 under 5

A lot of you know about what's been going on at my house. Some exciting stuff. Well, here it is:


I'll be watching my sister's twins for the next few months before they join in the day care at her workplace. (First part-time & then full-time) That's five boys under the age of five. 1 four year old I'm kinda sorta homeschooling right now. 2 toddlers that I'm transitioning to mostly free roaming the house and its goods. And 2 adorable babies for me to sleep train and make smile.

Andrea & I are both navigating new routines & challenges and sending sisterly check-up texts to each other.  When she was pumping earlier she wanted to know how things were going, so I went right over to her boys and snapped this



right as one of them let out a long, slow fart. (If I was talking to my kids, I would say toot. But, c'mon, I'm gonna give these Mueller boys some credit. It was a fart if I ever heard one.)

Then I located Alistair & Emerick and snapped this


right as Alistair (on the left) was filling his pants with what can only be described as liquid poop because it made a sound which struck that exact chord & Emerick was 3 hot seconds away from a time-out for touching the forbidden light (a lamp of irresistible toddler magnetism).

Then I found Thomas who had just two minutes earlier found a pb & j and exclaimed, "Is this pb & j for ME?!!!" like it was a gold bar to solidify his fortune... and so I caved and gave him the very expensive, very amazing treat (his 2nd for the day).

Yes, you're right. At this point in the day, 3 out of 3 of my kids aren't clothed.
His look here seems to suggest pondering his former life of fond memories and/or how all the noise in the background is quickly making for negative ones.

No, really. He loves Luke & Logan. Adores. He sings to them & even showed his brothers how to very, very carefully touch them --- which just tripped me out & back to when they were that size and I was praying he didn't jump on their faces. Not really, but yeah...pretty much.

Alistair & Emerick definitely LOVE the transition. I've let them loose in the house & haven't had the time or energy to have a series of mini heart attacks about it. I found them at the fireplace perched and swinging their legs like it was just the. coolest. place. ever. It reminded me of teenagers smoking in some covert place and loving their put-on intrigue. Yeah, you cool boys. You real cool.


Today was my 2nd go round as headmistress of the Anderson House of Boys and it went pretty well. However, it wasn't a walk in the park as evidenced by the following:

a. my trash can is nothing but a mound of diapers. I seriously mean it. It's the perfect setting to play "I Spy a Dozen Diapers Without Even Digging!!"

b. a half hour before pick-up (babies asleep) I stuck in ear buds and displayed my dancing interpretation of "wiggle, wiggle, wiggle" and "drop it, drop it low girl" and many other songs to my twins who looked both delighted and disturbed.

c. right before writing this post I shouted into the void sun room, "I NEED CHOCOLATE!" and the universe answered back dressed as a 4 year old pushing his brothers around in plastic tubs, "Mom, you can't have chocolate until you've cleaned. Chocolate is a treat.... Your room is a mess. We do work first before treating ourselves."

Exactly.
They look like they would escape if they had the muscle control.  Smile, boys!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thomas Talks



I do not write down what Thomas says often enough. For us, it's a real mixed bag. Some things Thomas says are interesting & very smart. Other things...well, I'm left either scratching my head or just laughing because he can be so random. Here are a few nuggets from the last few weeks.


After overhearing me talk about my sister's wedding shower on the phone
Thomas: What’s a wedding shower?
Ashley: “Oh, it’s where we shower someone with gifts.”
T: “Oh, I know the perfect thing you can give Amanda!”
A: “Yeah?”
T: “Yeah, your shower head. Just unscrew it and wrap it up and you can buy a new one sometime soon when we go to Target.”


Thomas: Would you mind lifting me onto the bed? I can’t climb up because my hands are unavailable.
Ashley: Okaaaaaaay


T: Wanna hear a joke?
A: Sure
T: Why did the booger cross the road?
A: Why?
T: Because he got run over by a truck.
A: That makes no sense.
T: It’s a joke. Laugh.
A: [fake laugh]
T: See! It’s funny.
The real deal. True life: I've got 3 kids.


Thomas: [staring at me…]
Ashley: What?
T: I see more of those dead hairs Daddy was talking about.


After seeing me struggle significantly while assembling his bike
Thomas: [puts hand on my shoulder] I hate to say this….but I don’t think you’ll ever learn how to build this.

An hour later when I'm still assembling the bike
Thomas: Okay. How are you doing here? Are you ok? This is difficult for you, isn't it?


His photography skills are just as developed as his joke telling. 

Thomas: “Okay. I’ve got a game. It’s called Penis.”
Ashley:
T: “1st question: Do girls have a penis?”

Thomas is playing with his Legos & talking to himself while I sit on the couch & read
Thomas: "Oh. I said shit. I'm not supposed to say shit. Shit's a bad word. Sorry I said that mom. I won't say shit again."
Ashley:


Thomas: “Is today Boston?”
Ashley: “What?”
T: “Is today Boston?”
A: “Are you asking what day of the week it is? Boston is a city. Today is Wednesday.”
T: “Ah, Wednesday. Correct.”


Thomas: “Mom, would you let me in the sun room please?”
Ashley: “Sure” [opens gate to Alistair & Emerick excited to play with their big brother]
“Be kind.”
T: “Oh, I will. I won’t even try to hurt them.”


In the car & Alistair is making happy baby noises
Thomas: “Alistair is talking back here.”
Ashley: “That’s right. He’ll be saying words soon.”
T: “Hey. He just said boob. He said boob!
A: “Oh?”

T: “Oh, we’re not talking about your boobs. We don’t talk about women’s boobs. That would be very wrong.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An Offline Appetite



I just finished reading Jane Eyre for the first time. I happily contemplated Jane’s two mile walks without ear buds, no impulse to start Runkeeper or snap a photo of the blossoming crepe myrtle. An imagined interruption of that kind, her pausing to comment on a friend’s selfie at Starbucks, amused me. It erodes that carefully cultivated image I have of her deep-rooted virtues made possible by difficult work. I closed the book now and then and wondered if we can still yearn for things and for people when we churn our experiences and thoughts onto social media just minutes after they drip into our laps. I think there is a place for waiting & withholding and I wonder what that should look like for me. How it could look like.


I love how summer pulls us away from the screens. A pool or a lake haven’t yet caved to accommodate the iPhone, at least not if we want to have much fun. All the long hours of sunlight urge us to venture to the park, take a walk with the family, or sit on the porch past dusk even when it means cursing mosquitos. Last week, at my in-laws’, I took several trips to the hammock to lose myself in a canopy of green leaves and soft blue. Its lull away from all those things blazing bright inside my phone’s screen was a very welcome and mysterious one.  

I want to build better boundaries. Thomas may talk a million words on a screen-less trip across Missouri, but it’s a delight worth the work. It is easy to let Netflix finish the day, Paul on one couch and me on the other, but I would rather argue with him over how to spend that chunk of money we have set aside than let the time roll by untapped. I want to weave in intentional work to preserve the time I have with my loved ones.  It is so easy to cave.


Twinsies (Thomas and his Papa.)
My answer for feeling good about all that noise online is to stop thinking about all that noise online, or at least for chunks at a time. An easy step, a first step, is saying no. It’s as if I give myself permission: you don’t have to bring the phone with you. And then I have a little arguing with myself and finally a voice wins with, “Really? No one cares!”  Baby steps in cleaning up my mental diet are walking without the phone, going to bed with the phone in the other room, heck, just leaving it alone for a bit.

I have to wonder when I’m scrolling feeds, is there something that I need: love? attention? affirmation? connection? answers? a sense of achievement? community? If I’m able to answer that question and my time and attention isn’t already needed elsewhere, the world wide can be a wonderful thing. Truly! But if and when I’m distracting myself away, splintering my love, attention, focus and all for something mindless, I have truly missed out on the blessings right in front of me. Gifts that are not promised for any other future moment than the one I'm inside.




If time online leaves me feeling empty or fake or unsatisfied or chained, I must feast on other things. Namely, nature. Easily, family. Predictably, books. But other things too. Things that take more work, things that require a little more simmering and self-control, a little more time to grow before bearing fruit.

My heart is craving a healthier offline appetite. The salad doesn't always sound good, but McDonald’s just isn’t leaving me full.

As they say, moderation in everything. And yet, I don't think you can get too much time like this--- in the woods with family. Delicious! Seconds please.



When we talk about Facebook and blogs and Instagram and all the things online and how they aren't good, let's turn our gaze to the things that are. I know my garden needs a bit of care, that I live in a neighborhood shaded by trees, and I have hundreds of recipes calling my name and a four year old happy to play sous chef. I don't feel disheartened by the things in screens, but I do know their power to fix us quick, sell us cheap & to slice up a mystery that sometimes would be better left savored elsewhere & by someone else. It's the good things that our attention should be fixed on, those things that usually take a lot of quiet, invisible, tiring work but with a greater, fuller, satisfying reward. Sure, screens vs. our time away from them isn't a fate of either/or, but it definitely can't be all, all the time.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The #1 Thing I Believe About Education

It was so difficult to write and publish something with a title containing "the #1 thing I believe". It could have just been about making a bed ["The #1 Thing I Believe About Making a Bed"], and I would have felt myself winded from the effort of asserting my opinions on bed-making which start and stop at-- make them as often as you can. Also, the post turned out just about as dry as that leftover pizza I heated up and then forgot about in the toaster oven for about thirty minutes yesterday while I was distracted by diapers on the verge, a 4 year old terrorizing us with his ninjabatman skills, and the kids in general coming at me like a herd of drunk alley cats. Yes, this post is as dry or dryer than that piece of pizza. I tried to slip in a joke about a rabbit, but it didn't work. With all that said, please read on. I would love that very much.



We are considering home-school for Thomas, but it has little to do with a decision against other forms of schooling and everything to do with the natural progression of things in motion. However, Paul and I have a foundational understanding of our role as parents that helps us embrace homeschooling just as much as it would help us abandon it in the future if/when needed.

We see ourselves as the primary teachers to our children for as long as they are in our care. We are very aware of the great influence we have in their lives and know this to be a noble responsibility as well as a true joy.

Paul and I were both raised by intentional parents who cultivated a love of learning, and a path to that, well before the force of the classroom. Reading was widely encouraged. Kids were expected to handle weighty responsibilities. Independence was earned and respect to authority was given. There were dinner table conversations of weight. No meant no. Hard work offered no shortcuts. T.V. was generously limited.  Not too dissimilar, I imagine, from the home you were either raised in or are now day-by-day cultivating.


I've always felt incredibly grateful for my public school education. To me, it was more than adequate.  And yet, as I get older the picture come to focus a bit differently.  While I wouldn't subtract praise from some truly great teachers I had, I also see now that those things I was gleaning from school largely stuck because of the foundation I received at home. 

I saw how true it is that parents are the primary teachers in the six years that I taught in public schools.  It was the young adults already equipped with values like a sense of purpose, integrity, and a healthy self-esteem (from what I imagine was a good mix of hard work and lots of love at home) who most effectively absorbed the information and opportunities in my classroom. 

As a bonus, some kids arrived in my classroom with experiences. They happily shared that their parents talked to them one-on-one or that they had been to a play or to another state or had visited a battleground. These kids really experienced a rich boost in learning. They had the exposure and were ready to run!  

Parents provide those hooks with which their kids can hang that knowledge coming at them.  Parents are the first to show and show and show what this world is about and how a child should carry herself in it. It is my belief that particular school programs make much less difference in a student's knowledge base than that frame of reference provided to them at home. 


I also experienced such sadness for kids who were starved for attention, words, experiences, or simply just love, and came to school each day actively looking around for a substitute for that void.  These kids are found in any classroom setting distracting themselves from learning because they've got other pressing needs that has them all but gnawing on wood.

So it is like this.  Deciding on where our kids attend school matters. However, I don't think it matters nearly as much as the effort, thoughtfulness, dedication, and love put forth in a home.  If parents are sending their kids off for a teacher's magical touch, for this thing they can't possibly do themselves, well, they might be a little bit wrong.  If parents are sending their kids off for a teacher to teach ALL the things, then, yes, they're mistaken.

Tremendous praise is due to the wise parents who entrusted their kid to me in the classroom, and yet never let their kid's physical distance be a reflection of a total release of that very special and also important role they earned when the stick turned blue (or two plus signs appeared or said pregnant or whatever it was that it did.)



If Paul and I go forward with homeschooling Thomas, it is because we are so convicted that parents are already educators that our hearts were found open to it.  And if we don't home-school, it will be because we know there is no system, school, or teacher who has enough power to completely overthrow all that brainwashing we've been doing this whole time.  [See, I did try one joke.]

We don't see any form of schooling as a hill worth dying on whether that be public, private, or home-school. There can be so much tension clouding the conversation of educational choices. Parents are twitching with anxiety in comparison, guilt, doubt, or financial burden. Maybe it's best we rest a bit with our choices. We do what is right for our families with the resources we have. We try our best. We change course when needed. Children are much more flexible and adaptable than we give them credit.

Moreover, we know this: no matter where our children put pencil to paper, it is the untold hours of discipline, training, teaching, conversation, and love that we have poured into them each day that they bring to that desk. There will be other things at that desk too. To start with, likely a spicy word carved in with only the flare boredom can muster. But it is my observation that these less savory bits of education, inevitable in every single possible setting we sniff out, matter a great deal less to a child sent with a heart and mind already stuffed.