The Snail Days of Summer

Summer break is here, in all its snail-paced, infuriatingly unscheduled, glory. We’re relishing the relief from the mad morning dash, from shuffling people around (and being shuffled around), and have quickly relaxed into the slow.

It has only been two weeks for Addie (Kevin’s break starts today), but we have glimpsed many phases of summer already.

The best times have been the luxurious morning snuggles while watching cartoons and snacking on dry cereal. The kids lounging in their cute pajama shorts and nightgowns until way too late in the morning and in tank tops in front of the fan in the stale afternoon heat. And all the lounging in between.

We have done pool days, sprinklers in the backyard, and popsicles. The kids have attended birthday parties, parks, and library events. Home has been filled with hours of reading, Lego fests, and movies. Art projects have been created from kid imagination, and also completed through Mom/Pinterest instructions.

There have been copious amounts of fussing, whining, fighting, biting, destructive behavior, and spinning in wild circles. We have had a solid taste of summer grumps. But mostly, the tone has been downtempo.

The days are literally long; the sun is out, so we are up, early and late. We move slowly and so do the hours. The minutes often drag past. In the snail days of summer, everything slows down.

This pace, these lack of plans, are hard on my nerves. Having an idea of what is coming next, having some structure, curbs my anxiety. And it doesn’t help when the kids get wild and troublesome from too much free time. But everyone needs a break from the scheduled, at least for the start of the summer.

Addie needs the break from structure and transitions. She needs free time and fewer restrictions, after a tough year of preschool. Her emotional health is my number one priority this summer. The year was damaging, and she needs to feel like the good kid that she is on the inside, so she can act like it on the outside, when she starts a new school in the fall.

Owen is thriving on independence and the need to figure things out for himself – whether it’s how to put on his own clothes, or how to pass the time when left to his own devices. He needs me next to him without holding his hand, reminding him of the rules of life and patiently standing by while he absorbs their weight. And it all takes time that we don’t have during school days.

I need the slow pace too. I’m wiped out, and on my two week vacation from babysitting. I miss the baby shenanigans already, but am regaining some energy from a lighter workload.

This is how the first chunk of the summer will go: snail days, in which we soak up each other’s company (for better or worse), take things day to day (mostly), and slow down to relax and recover. Adventurous days will follow soon, and then the dog days of summer will be upon us before we know it.

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They Go Where I Go

One of the most simultaneously boring and strenuous aspects of adulthood has got to be the errands and appointments and chores. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I remember when handling the mundane business of life felt overwhelming – before having kids. Now there is exponentially more to do, less time, and more people to drag along with me.

It’s all a crazy juggling act now, with two or three kids in tow. Doctor appointments, smog checks, pharmacy, post office, dog food, and budget grocery shopping at four different stores. All shuffled in around meals, naps, activities, school pickup, and moods. I get tired thinking about it.

Heading out every day requires planning. Each stop has different logistics: stroller – single or double? Shopping cart – double cart if we really get lucky? What distractions do I bring?  Are they super grumpy (needing bribes)? Will I need them to STFU while I have conversations with adults?

And the snacks – we must always bring snacks.

Since they have opinions now, I also have to trick them into going to do the errands in the first place. Owen is usually game, until the third or fourth stop. Addie is a different beast. If it were up to her, she would stay home in her underwear, lazing around and doing whatever she wanted, all day every day.

But we do it – through tricks, bribes, and whatever else the little dictators demand. After the planning and coercing we leave the house for crucial to our life bullshit like procuring food and toilet paper.

Things have to get done and the kids have to go with me. They go where I go.

Most of the time their behavior in public is pretty great. Sometimes it’s less so: they’re too loud, they fight, make demands, and grab everything. On occasion, they’re so monstrous I am tempted to leave them on the side of the road (which I OBVIOUSLY would never do). They try, but they don’t know how to pretend to be humans in public yet.

Some days, their behavior elicits THE LOOK from passersby. You know, the look that says what’s wrong with those wild animals, and what is wrong with YOU for being such a terrible mother as to bring them out in this condition and have no control over them? I usually ignore it or flash a blank stare. At times I kiss my kids and call them little angels, as though I don’t even notice.

I wish I could convey all the ways I want to respond, in a look of my own. Maybe I should practice in the mirror.

What I would answer, if  the smug and judgmental were bold enough to use actual words, would be some combination of the following:

  • I know, but it’s frowned upon to leave them home alone.
  • Yes, I have tried to control them and, no it’s clearly not working right now.
  • They’re not supposed to have solid emotional control and coping skills at 2 and 3. But you probably should.
  • Trust me, this is worse for me than it is for you.
  • We’re at the bank, for fuck’s sake, not a 5 star restaurant. Get over it.

Here’s the big thing, though. I like bringing my kids out in the world with me to do mundane shit. They are good company and I am quite fond of them. Most of the time, they are well behaved in public – charming even. I get plenty of compliments on their friendliness, good manners, cuteness, and how helpful they are.

And also, we have to do the things, just like anyone else. So they go where I go.

I want my little ones to get to know their community, to be comfortable in the hustle and bustle, and to see how people function around one another. They will be better adjusted for it in the long run.  I may not be taking them on exotic vacations, but I am exposing them to daily life around us.

The time is coming to broaden their horizons (their pretend trips are often to the grocery store or Target). But when we do get someplace a little more exciting (after we win the lottery), they’ll have some practice existing in the outside world.

And I’ll have some practice ignoring the inevitable glares when they act like wild animals anyway. Maybe I’ll have perfected that response look by then.

Target pic

 

 

Time: the Great Mindfuck of Motherhood

The entire floor of the house is covered. I sit trapped among train tracks, pattern blocks, matchbox cars, and couch pillows. To my right, the fireplace is surrounded by baby toys and books. To my left, the play area is vomiting stuffed animals, legos, books, blocks, capes and masks. Every single toy is out.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath to keep from screaming; when I open them I see again the happiness in the busy mess.

It’s hard not to feel like I have spent my whole life, and will spend the rest of my days, sitting on the floor playing with kids and toys. I’ll admit it: there are moments when I get bored, restless, irritated, and preoccupied with other things to do.

The second the words form in my thoughts I grow dizzy, knowing this will become a memory. It is all slipping past and I will long for this time when they have left the toys, the floor, the house. When they have left me.

Right now is such a fleeting moment in their long lives (and in mine), even though it occasionally feels tedious and endless.

Time never moves at the right speed. I try not to think about it too hard: how much I want some moments to end, even while I mourn for their passing.

I used to be comfortable with the passing of time. I loved to soak into memories (sometimes lingering too long). I anticipated the near and distant futures (with borderline obsession to details and scheduling). I loved the moments of now (mostly). I used to be able to appreciate it all, the natural procession of time.

Motherhood has fucked that all up, though, big time. Now it never passes in a way that makes any sense.

These days, Owen is talking in full sentences and exploding with new vocabulary every day. He runs around the playground like he owns it, exploring and climbing alongside the big kids. I want to write down everything, record all of him, and hold onto each moment of newness. It overwhelms (and relieves) me to know I couldn’t possibly if I tried.

Yet, when he bites me so hard it leaves a mark for days, when he throws an epic tantrum over not going on a train trip RIGHT NOW at 7 pm, or when he whines every time he opens his mouth … I count down the minutes until the end of the day. Until this phase passes.

Addie’s toddler voice is changing, along with her toddler face and body and mannerisms. I long for more of her as an 8 month old, snuggling and laughing, playing with the discovery baskets I made her, learning to eat (with no teeth for months to come). I want more of her stoic, inquisitive, baby eyes. More of her sunshine upon entering a room (in my arms).

Then I see her at the playground with her friends, I watch her focus on a puzzle, or I praise her for asking to be excused from the table before clearing her dishes and washing her hands … and I swell with pride at her big kids ways. I wonder what she will be like a year from now.

Time is the great mindfuck of motherhood. I can’t think about it too hard, how it never has the right tempo, or I go down a rabbit hole of discontent.

So I keep sitting on the floor with them, the minutes going by too slowly and then too fast, getting lost in the work of play. I try not to worry about cherishing every single moment. I try to commit some of them to memory. I let go of the good and bad that slip away and brace myself for more.

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Letting Go Of “You Always” and “You Never”

You never listen. I have to refrain from saying this to my kids eighty-five times a day. Even though it may feel true in the moment, it is not a never, it is a right now. You must have forgotten to turn your good listening ears on. That is what I say instead, in good parenting moments. In worse, I command: Listen to me right now! In between, I try for a silent pause – anything to prevent me from saying you never.

Why are you always such a messy eater? I think. Owen makes accidental messes from eating with speed and gusto. His chunky, 2-year-old fingers can’t quite pull the foil off the top of a yogurt cup without toppling it, but really insist on trying. He also makes mischievous messes: turning over a cereal bowl on top of his head, throwing slobber-covered bread crusts, and rubbing food on his neck (I have no explanation for that one).

You always make such a mess. I try not to throw the words at him. I know they will not help. Be a neater eater, I say instead. Use your napkin, like Addie does. He will get there. Owen will (probably) not be a pigpen his whole life.

You kids always fuss when it’s time to get ready in the morning. I do say this one, but does pointing out their flaw help? Are they suddenly better about getting ready because I toss out a label? Quite the opposite. I say they are fussing for no reason, and they dig in their heels and commit to the fussfest. There is nothing I should say instead. If they fuss about getting ready, so be it. There are lots of ways I can still get us out the door. And if I keep you always out of my mouth, eventually they will get over the fussy mornings. Or maybe not – everyone has issues.

In these long days of motherhood, repetitive, but temporary, little things get under my skin. In order for me to not lose my mind during these phases, I need to let go of you always and you never.

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NOT fussing about getting ready in the morning.

Why can you never go to the bathroom by yourself? I mean really, sometimes I cannot leave what I’m doing to watch you pee.

You never agree on anything. Obviously not.

You always kick me during diaper changes. Maybe it’s time to potty train.

You always fight at Costco. Like every other kid, and most adults.

You always splash water out of the bath. Only sometimes.

You never eat that, so I’m not making it. Except really, I will.

You never keep your hands to yourself. Almost never.

You always run away from me. Only most of the time.

The list is endless.

The danger (to the kids) in you always and you never, is hearing absolutes that they have to live up to. They internalize the labels, they feel bad, and they keep it up to save face. It backfires a hundred percent of the time.

The benefit (to me), in letting go of that vocabulary, is I can skip getting panicked into tunnel vision about little behaviors. I can avoid making catastrophic plans for how to deal with their (genuinely atrocious) issues FOREVER. In letting go of you always and you never, I leave room for the frustrations to become distant memories.

No good can come of making someone relive, and pay again, for minor instances that collectively turn into an always or a never. And so my new mission (among all of the many in progress) is to drop the labels from my kid related vocabulary.

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NOT fighting at Costco. Ridiculously cute.

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Penny!

Penny Dog is seven today! She celebrated with cards from the kids, lots of singing and attention, a nice walk, and a homemade peanut butter and carrot cake.*

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I have loved this dog with my whole heart since the second I saw her tiny puppy face, at only seven weeks old. She has grown from the cutest little ball of fur into a beautiful and loving family pet. We are lucky to be hers.

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Here are some of my other favorite things about Penny, in no particular order.

  • The way she rolls on her back on the floor, wiggling to scratch, and then lays still with her paws in the air.
  • She is the best to take for walks (when no other dogs, mail carriers, or cats are around). The pup is always up for a neighborhood stroll, hike, or any other wandering adventure.
  • Her big dreams: the yips, snores, groans, and running-in-place paws leave me curious about their content. Is she chasing sticks? Socks? Something disgusting?
  • She is SO pretty, with her soft ears, curled tail, black-rimmed eyes, and rich copper color.
  • In the mornings when Kev leaves for work, if our bed isn’t too full of children, Penny comes in to snuggle with me. She nuzzles the top of her head (pretty firmly) along my back. It is a sweet sentiment, and also a little bit of a back massage.
  • The tiny white tip on her tail, that used to be bigger until she grew into it. It still reminds me of her as a puppy.
  • She does 90% of the kitchen floor cleanup after meals.
  • She loves me (and Kevin) more than any human ever could, in her own loyal pup way.
  • Even her flaws (anxiety, barking, jumping, underfootedness, overzealous play) are side effects of her loving us so much that she needs to be included in every single thing.
  • (Addie’s favorite thing about Penny) “She protects us.”
  • (Owen thinks she is best at) “Walks. With me.”

Happy 7th Birthday, Penny Dog!

*Dog cake recipe: dog-birthday-cake

 

The Flip Side of Mother’s Day

I sit in my car, parked on the gravel road at the Sebastopol Memorial Lawn Cemetery, on Mother’s Day. I have two bouquets of pink and white roses clipped from my yard this morning – one for my Mama and one for my Great-Grandma. I have been here a hundred times but I suddenly struggle to get out of the car. I close my eyes and see myself writing “Mama” on a card and handing her the roses. Eventually I get out to, instead, see her name on a headstone and drop the flowers onto concrete.

This is the first year I have been proud to bring her my roses. Every year I seem to neglect them in the couple weeks before Mother’s Day. All at once they bloom heavily and I assume there will be endless blossoms, but I forget to prune and there is no room for new buds to open. Last year I forgot to spray for bugs and also ended up with aphids and pincher bugs in my car.

This year I got my life together and the roses are perfect. I am a wreck.

I notice the groundskeeper making his rounds with a weed eater. My grandma will be pleased. The conditions here are often shabby in recent years, and I cannot stand the pain it causes her. I think of my mom, her mom, and her mom. We are women to whom things like upkeep of the cemetery grounds matter.

I do not always cry here, and I never talk to her. I appreciate the still, silent air though. I take comfort in the piece of grassy land, tucked away for dedicated remembrance. I respect the solemnity and having a place where the grief is tangible.

Earlier this morning, Addie gave me the box she painted and decorated with sparkly gems at school – my first ever, handmade Mother’s Day gift. She bounced on my lap while I opened it, telling me she’s so happy I’m her mommy. Owen got swept into her enthusiasm and showed off his new skill of complete, heart-melting, sentences: “I love you, mommy”. Kevin made breakfast.  It was mellow and sweet, until the kids started fighting over what to watch and what the other one was or was not doing. Even then it was mellow and sweet and normal.

It throws me, to take a break from them and come here to the flip side of my Mother’s Day. Grief bitters the sweetness of this day. Grief complicates the celebrations, entangling gratitude with emptiness.

I take the back roads home from the cemetery in silence. On the way out I stopped to get a smoothie; sometimes it’s a coffee or a chocolate milkshake. I make the trip alone now, leaving some emotional weight at home. In past years, when the kids did not yet ask millions of questions, I brought them. They’re too big to brush aside now, and too little to process an explanation I have yet to formulate.

At home later, Addie and I curl up on the couch to watch Mary Poppins together, just as I used to with my mom. I picture our old VHS copy – recorded from the Sunday night Wonderful World of Disney airing, complete with a Michael Eisner intro.  Addie’s warm little body next to mine, her millions of questions that could be answered by watching and listening, her “I love you mama”, and her “Happy Mother’s Day”, all bring me back to now. I soak it in to feel at peace again.

I will never take it for granted, this day or any other as a mama, after going years without this relationship.

This is how I get through Mother’s Day now. I fret over flowers, over the condition of the cemetery. I sink into the drive out and back, alone. I check in with my grandma. I honor my mother with a small gesture, wishing it could be more. And I hug my babies. I cannot think of the pain, of the holes in my heart and life, of the unfairness, or of the dizzying finality. Today is already too complicated.

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A Note on Love

 

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I am full to the brim with love and tears, thinking of the humans who made me a mama. My firstborn, my sweet girl, of course gets this credit. She shares it with my second born, who completed me in an unparalleled way. I also think of my own mama, whose memory I use as a map to fun and loving parenting. And my husband: without whom I would be lost in all ways (and our kids would be only half as funny and good-looking). I still cannot believe my good fortune to be on this wild ride with him.

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I fell in love with my husband days after we met, on a summer afternoon while I sat on the sunny floor of his living room listening as he played guitar. It soon became our living room floor, where we would sit and roll a plush ball back and forth for our baby puppy Penny (before she ate every plush toy). We sat on this living room floor the day after our wedding opening presents, reading the guest book, and eating red velvet cake. We relaxed there into marriage without missing a beat. Our first baby learned to roll on this living room floor, and filled the small house with bells of baby laughter. I fell in love with my husband in that first house, in those first days, and many times since.

Parenting with this man has only made me love him more. We joke that he has a comparatively small part in the making of humans business. I do the heavy lifting of growing and birthing them; I stay home to spend every minute screwing them up. But we are incomplete until he walks in the door. He is always willing to take the kids on an adventure to throw rocks in the creek or to the hardware store for their help repairing the things they break. He stays patient through meltdowns, hour-long stories told by a 3 year old, and never-ending requests for one more bedtime book. Somehow he still manages to still give me a smile, a compliment, and a whole lot of love. When the kids scream through the 4 pm witching hour, I know once the house is quiet we will work towards our mutual evening goals: coziness, TV, chitchat, and dessert. Together.

My husband is fiercely practical. He plans for our future, never leaves a bill unpaid, and never buys something he cannot make himself. I can be practical too: I meal plan, bargain hunt and happily go without. But the nitty gritty of our family existence, the detailed decisions and tough choices – he shoulders almost all of them. It creates a space in my mental load that lets me focus on nurturing. I have extra brain power to stress over potty training and choosing schools, since he is stressing over how to replace the front fence before it falls apart (hint: he will rebuild it with his own manly hands).

In his eyes, I am a good mother, even when my eyes tell me a different story. Because he believes in me, I believe in myself. 90% of the time, on parenting decisions at least, he (stubbornly) defaults to what I say. It was this way from the beginning, when he supported my birth plan and nursery colors. It is even more now, when I change my mind daily about whether the kids should bathe separately or together and I have a new behavior strategy to try once a week.  He gets right on board with whatever I say the family needs. It makes me trust my decisions and have conviction in my methods.

We are highly imperfect, just like everyone anywhere ever. Not every day is a sunny afternoon relaxing on the living room floor; not every evening is filled with glowing adoration for each other. Sometimes we forget to see things from each other’s perspective, or get too tired to be kind enough to one another. He wishes I liked camping. I wish he liked sushi.  That is the ebb though, and it is far less frequent than the flow.

I look forward to being celebrated by my family on Sunday. But before the day focuses on me, I have to give my husband a nod of thanks for making me a better mother every day. I would not want to do any of this without knowing I will have him by my side until and after the baby birds leave our nest.

K and C

The Trickery

In my previous life as a young person, I had only a few misguided visions of motherhood. I thought my main jobs would be kissing boo boos and snuggling sick kids. Maybe I pictured helping them deal with academic pressure and bullies in elementary school. I am still guessing teenage years are about navigating the drama and helping them find their paths in life.

The reality I never considered is that parenting is all about manipulation. Every day is full of tricking tiny humans into and out of doing All The Things, and it is no easy feat. Not with toddlers. Not with my toddlers. This job is constant, must be carried out with stealth, and requires frequent refining.

My desire to coerce my kids into being reasonable humans, fit for civilized society, is often no match for their desire to remain wild.  Their only interests are doing whatever the fuck they want at all times, and never what they need to do – even if the two are in direct opposition. There is no logic or reasoning that gets them to understand that breaking their toys means they will not have them any more, or going to the park requires sunscreen, or mama will not have the sanity to do afternoon crafts if they refuse to nap.

The only way to get them through basic daily requirements is to dig into my mama toolbox. It is all about the trickery.

When it comes time to get up in the morning, I have tricks. We have getting dressed games and contests. I sing “Old MacDonald” to keep Owen from kicking me during diaper changes.

When it comes time to leave the house, I have tricks: timers, routine charts, mild threats, and a whole lot of humor.

When it comes time to eat or sleep I have tricks and gadgets and routines: 5, 3, and 1 minute warnings, jobs like setting the table, dissolving color tablets for bath time, coveted songs and stories before bed, and (the magical) sound machines. And I sneak the damn vegetables into every food possible.

I have verbal tricks, so frequently used they are automatic. I cannot count the number of times daily I ask for: gentle hands, strong voices, kind words, good listening ears, bottoms on the couch or feet on the floor, inside voices, hands on tummies/heads/elbows, or patience please. No request is phrased without a choice (“would you like to put on your left or right shoe first?”). I am hard-wired to respond with empathic words and name feelings in response to any outcry.

Novelty is the most consistent path to coercion for my kids, and lifts my spirits right along with theirs. They cannot resist a new-to-them catch phrase: “last one to the table’s a rotten egg”. Sing a song they have never heard, and they are putty; “Mr. Ed” recently got Owen from screaming on the ground in the parking lot to smiling in his car seat, and “Manic Monday” tricked Addie into putting on her pre-selected clothes just days ago.

On occasion I utilize rewards (bribes), but there is only one time this consistently works: they get to earn fruit snacks for walking nicely to the car after picking Addie up from school. The alternative is a real shitshow of me chasing, sweating, and publically showcasing my deficit of control, so I count this as a big win.

The same goes for consequences (threats): if they worked more, they would be used more. Owen dislikes timeouts enough to fear the threat – sometimes. Addie is coerced by a natural consequence – sometimes. She has a great fear of not being the first to get into or out of the bath, or not having her hands washed in time to help in the kitchen.

Some days the mama toolbox is too heavy, though. I get bogged down with wanting more fun time, more down time, more cooperation. I run out of tricks and then have to re-read parenting books, consult the mama crews, and Google things like “How do I get my toddler to stop wiping their nose every four seconds?” I start to resent how much of my job is manipulative witchcraft.

But it is. This phase of the job, at least, is all trickery. And on the days when the tricks work, even it drains all of my energy, I feel like a supermom.

I think forward to those elementary school years coming, those (gulp) teenage drama years, and I know I will need a whole new bag of tricks. I kiss my kids through their tears of protest and through their grins of gratitude, and trust that it is worth it. They will be amazing humans, if I can consistently trick them out of destroying property and running into traffic.

Trickery Pic
The chill moments … the smiles and snuggles … the sunnies … the love.

The “I Just Wanna’s”

I fall into this same trap all the time. The kids are deep in play in the front yard – Addie scooping dirt in her pink gardening gloves, Owen intently spraying the fence with water. We’re just back from a neighborhood bike/scooter/stroll to return books to the Little Free Library. Everyone is content; their little tanks are full of attention, freedom, and fresh air. The warm sun finally feels like spring. My poor neglected rose bushes catch my eye, and that’s when it happens. I get the I Just Wanna’s.

Everyone is so chill right now; I Just Wanna do a little work on the roses. The second I move with intent I’m on their radars. When Addie asks to help, I give her a bucket to collect leaves. I explain about the sharpness of thorns and clippers. I say the roses are a mom job, but we can chat while I clip.

There’s a battle. I calm her down.

She is consoled by spraying water on the dirt around the plants. Eventually I cut a big white blossom for her to spray and twirl. Owen wants a flower to tear apart, but Addie does NOT want him to do this.

There’s a battle. I intervene. They calm down.

It’s been 20 minutes and I’ve clipped 3 dead buds, from the first of 4 bushes. I Just Wanna finish at least one. Owen has a 2-year-old mood swing and starts tearing leaves off the rose bush. I drop to my knees to calm him down, and he smacks an existing bruise on my shin.

I instinctively yell. It’s an issue. We all calm down.

All is well again until Addie is magnetically pulled toward the hose, which she aims at me. I use my best hostage negotiation techniques. I say “don’t spray” and correct myself to “open your hands and let the hose drop”. I tell her I will help her use it. She weighs risk and reward and sprays me in the face.

I instinctively yell. It’s an issue. We all calm down.

Eventually Kevin finishes mowing the back lawn and herds the kids that way. I finish the roses, pleased to have something done instead of added to a list and bumped lower and lower in priority. The rose bushes appreciate my efforts and reward me with new spring blooms every day now.

The saga of the I Just Wanna’s happens over and over, with only the details changing. In a moment of calm my mental lists scroll in front of me. Chores. Basic needs. Things for the kids. The trouble is, once I Just Wanna get something done, I feel entitled to finish it despite the chaos erupting around me. That one thing represents my lack of control over the minutes in my days. I get an idea, commit to a plan and stubbornly refuse to change course. EXACTLY like a kid who is determined to spray the hose.

roses & kids

Some of my repeat offender I Just Wanna’s:

… take a quick shower

… pee alone

… grab one thing from the store

… put the dishes away

… schedule this doctor appointment

… write that down before I forget

… eat

… make the smoothie myself

… have a moment of quiet

… have a conversation with an adult

… return a text/email/phone call

… toss our stuff in the car

… toss laundry in the washer/dryer/laundry basket/drawers

… set that down right there

… make one more stop

… open this Amazon package

… eat cookies and watch TV after kids’ bedtime