my road trip

This crazy road trip I fabricated in my head a year ago and have subsequently executed over the past 4 weeks is coming to an end. With the exception of the past few days, the kids and I have traveled through the midwest, the desert, and the mountains alone. We’ve stopped at various places along, collecting rocks and storing good memories in the pockets of our minds; I now have rocks and memories from Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Montana. I used to toss the rocks to the ground minutes after the kids’ tiny fingers placed them in the palm of my hand, thinking they were just unnecessary clutter, but somewhere along the route, I decided those rocks are significant to all of us. They are proof that we’ve accomplished this rather great thing, and we’ve done it with smiles on our faces 75% of the time. So now I keep those rocks in a zipper part of my purse, hoping to fill a small jar that will be placed on a noticeable shelf in our front room. 

This trip has been a dream for the kids. They’ve ridden dirt bikes, swam in pools and lakes, fished at Flathead Lake in Montana, hiked in Glacier National Park, visited a couple college campuses (BYU and University of Montana), eaten delicious food in multiple states, played with old friends, made a few new friends, were reunited with family (their grandparents, great-grandparents, a favorite aunt, and a fun cousin), seen tons of wildlife (including bison, deer, moose, cows, longhorns, horses, a variety of birds, etc.), had 2 different water balloon fights, went to a museum, witnessed the grandier of the Grand Canyon, sang to a million songs on the radio, read several books, colored (AKA destroyed) several coloring books, completed school workbooks, napped through the hills of Wyoming, and eaten more than a handful of trashy roadtrip food along the 5000+ miles. They really don’t have much to complain about—unless you ask them about the actual driving portion, which has felt a bit long at times. It is what I hoped for them. 

For me, it’s been a bit more difficult. I definitely felt our size (meaning how many of us there really are) as I’ve stayed with friends and family along the way. Every single person who opened their door to us was incredibly kind and generous with us. They gave us free beds to sleep in and food to eat throughout the day, and they helped facilitate fun activities for us to do throughout the day. I am grateful to each friend and wish to repay the favor if anyone ever chooses to vacation at our house. ;) But even though everyone was kind, I had a terrible way of getting in my head and felt like we were too much for everyone. And so I struggled my way through each house, trying to do as much as I could to help out by doing the dishes, folding laundry, and cooking when possible. But it still got the better of me, and I counted the days until I would be reunited with Tim because I knew he would calm my unnecessary anxiety. 

But even with the anxiety, I have really enjoyed my time on the road—free from my own chores (but never free from laundry—I think I’ve done 20+ loads along the way) and free from any summer planning at home. There have been dicey moments (you know…the one where Mya exclaimed that she needed a vacation away from her mother or the 2 times Timmy decided to massacre his diapers), but for the most part, there have been so many snuggles, head rubs, hand holding, deep discussions, silly giggling, and story-telling. I’m grateful for the experience, even if I don’t wish to do it again for a while, and I am grateful to have flexible children who have stretched themselves to sleep in random places, skip naps and push themselves on some crazy time deadlines. We really don’t give kids enough credit. They’re pretty amazing at adapting, even if we totally suck at it. 

We’re on our final leg and will be home again soon. We are going to view Mt. Rushmore, the black hills and the Badlands. It is refreshing to be with Tim again; he’s everyone’s favorite—for obvious reasons. He has made the last few days wonderful as we’ve rediscovered nature in Montana, and I know we’ll laugh a lot as we make jokes at the various parks.

lasting love.

Falling in love with Tim happened so suddenly and so quickly that I hardly had time to catch my breath. It happened over late-night phone calls, flirty texts, and then finally, after more than a month of just talking, a string of great dates. The kissing didn't hurt either. ;)

We've been together now for over 11 years, and we both joke that we had no idea what we were doing when we decided to commit to each other all those years ago. There we were making googly eyes at each other at a restaurant when the subject of marriage casually came up as if we were talking about dessert. It was as simple as this: "So I think we work well together. I'm having a lot of fun. I really like you (perhaps we said love, but I can't remember), and I think we should get married." Thinking about it now makes me laugh because I can't believe it's worked out so well after such a mediocre talk. I mean...what were we doing?!

Neither of us knew what we were doing, but then again, does anyone really? Even with the grandest proposals and years of dating, does any couple really know what they're in for? Doubtful. You can dream, hope, and wish for a certain future, but there are just too many variables to really know how things will turn out.

And Tim and I realize we're still in the thick of things. In fact, I think we always will be, but one thing that I think sets us apart from a lot of couples I know is our absolute commitment to put each other first always. In the 11+ years of being with Tim, he has always loved me first before any child, any animal, or any object. He kisses me immediately when he walks through the door, holds me for a minute after dinner, offers to play with the kids or remove them from my sight while I clean up dinner, runs his fingers through my hair as I work, and snuggles with me as we talk before bed.

He's watched me stretch and shrink in more ways than just physically. He's helped me through tears and anger. He laughs with me and makes me laugh multiple times a day. He's been very flexible with the person I've become over the years. There is still a ghost of the previous version of me lurking around, but for the most part, I'm a different person in a lot of ways, and he's learned to love and nourish that person. He's willing to try new things. He's not opposed to disagreeing. He gives me the space I not only desire but need from time to time, even though I know it's incredibly difficult for him because if he had a choice, he'd be by my side always.

He is my lasting love. He is the choice I make everyday. He is the love I continue to admire and dream about.

And although falling in love was as easy as can be, it hasn't always been easy to stay in love. Sure, we have always loved each other, but being deeply in love is something we work for a lot. You'd have to review our text messages and random notes to each other to believe it. I tell Tim all the time that I've never been more attracted to him physically, emotionally and spiritually. And I'm doing everything in my power to keep this going as long as possible.

I realize life will happen, and there will be dull moments, and perhaps even bad moments, but I think the difference between a first love and a lasting love is that you continue to choose the love you want each day instead of dwelling on what was when the relationship started.

First love.

I fell in love for the first time on a church baseball field. I had short, blonde hair cut in a pixie style--I'm fairly certain I brought a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow from Sliding Doors with me to the hair cut, so you get the idea.

I hadn't planned on going to the church activity; I didn't frequent them often. I worked at a salon after school, and my schedule was just off enough that I didn't really attend any after school functions because I needed the money and well, work was all that was constant at the time.

But for some reason, I went to that activity. I can't even remember what we did, but I remember standing in a large oval and looking to my right and seeing him. He was just standing there--tall and goofy, but handsome as hell. And I fell in love--like my mouth went dry and my brain went elsewhere. I had never seen him before, but somehow I had to meet him.

This is where the story gets a little foggy. I don't actually remember how I met him, but I did, and by the end of the night, he walked me to my car (I think a friend was with me?), and he gave me his phone number. Or maybe I gave him mine? Or maybe we just exchanged numbers? I don't remember. It's all a blur. It was 17 years ago.

But I fell in love that night. Of course, I didn't utter those words out loud for who knows how long. I'm sure one of my hand-written journals downstairs could tell me, but right now, I'm too tired and lazy to schlep downstairs and look for that information. Plus, it doesn't really matter.

I loved that man for a solid 4 years until one day I saw him standing outside a dorm room, and love felt different. It changed. He had changed. And so had I. And so we parted ways, and my heart ached for awhile because I couldn't figure out why I spent so much time loving him just to have it end. I never found a reason. I just think that's how life was meant to be.

But for the next several years I'd reflect on this man and our relationship, and I'd try talking myself out of believing it was real love because I had gotten married and had a baby or two, and it was just too much to even really consider that I could've actually loved someone other than the man I married.

I tried for years to erase that love, and in doing so, it made me crazy. I remember the day I realized it was okay for me to have loved another man for a time. I just sat there thinking about everything that this past relationship had done to boost my confidence, teach me life lessons (albeit several really hard ones), and feel beautiful (when I really didn't at the time). And more than all that--my first love gave me love during a time in my life when I didn't really know if love mattered. He taught me that it did matter. And it changed everything for me.

I've wanted to write about this for years, but I haven't out of respect for my relationship with Tim, but like I said earlier, time has taught me that it doesn't really matter if I loved someone before Tim. My first love was just as real as is the love I have for Tim right now, even though it is night and day different. In fact, I think the love I learned then taught me who I wanted to be and didn't want to be in a relationship, and Tim has been just the man to help me sort it all out.

So love--it's a complicated thing, but it really is so beautiful if you just let it be what it is.

motherhood

As I've said before, I never really saw myself becoming a mother. But I thought that if I ever did become a mother, I'd probably be a really good one because a) I was a fantastic babysitter and kids loved me and b) I had excelled at most things with enough time and practice, so why not, right?

Right...?

Wrong. No amount of babysitting can prepare you for motherhood. And there certainly aren't enough awards, trophies or "A" term papers that can prove you will be an excellent mother. No family life class really prepares you for the sleepless nights, nasty, green blowout diapers, endless whining, Target meltdowns, or difficult discussions you will face in a few short years. No one warns you about the heartache you'll feel as you birth your last child--your last divine creation. No one can really describe the worry and weight your heart carries as you send your kids to school alone or pick them up from a nasty scooter fall or wipe their tears when friendships end. And no one really knows the secret to getting kids to eat the dinner meals prepared. No one.

Motherhood is a lifelong learning curve. I used to think my creating period ended with Timmy. And I suppose the divine, life-creating aspect of it did, but I have learned I am never done creating. There are always lessons to prepare, crafts to concoct, and dinners/treats to be made. I am constantly building and making things around the house for my kids' enjoyment.

I have grown into motherhood. I realized early on that I wasn't really a fantastic mother. I never did--and still don't--have the same amount of patience or empathy as other women I see, and I used to beat myself up about that, but not anymore. I realize I have unique qualities tailored for my children and my children love me regardless of my faults or inadequacies.

I love being a mother. I could never be a babysitter again--my kids have wiped out any desire to watch other children, but I love being with my kids, even on their worst days, but especially on their best days. I'm grateful for a day to be celebrated and cherished. I have felt so loved today.

No life plan.

I have friends who've had dreams and goals for their lives since they were teenagers. Admittedly, most of their plans have morphed or changed or been discarded due to life, but they had them written down somewhere.

I did not. 

I can't remember ever planning life after college. I mean it took me 7 years to graduate college. Perhaps I just thought I'd be an eternal student; I really don't know. But I just didn't make plans. I didn't have any big dreams. I guess I assumed I'd get married (said nonchalantly). It seemed like the thing to do. I don't think I ever thought about children. Once I married Tim and the idea of children became a reality, I guess I started thinking about them a little more. And then when we read the 2-pack pregnancy test sticks laying on the bathroom counter, I guess we really started thinking about kids. 

But I never really thought about them before that. Is that horrible to admit?

I guess I thought I'd graduate college, teach, maybe meet a guy, marry said guy, and just wander through life with him. I really think that is all I ever thought when I thought of my future. I never figured I'd have the life I have now. 

The one that is so messy it's beautiful. The one that is so routine it's interesting. The one that is so full of love it's heaven. 

Over the next while, I hope to write about small, random memories, lessons, or moments of my life. They may not all connect. Some might be uncomfortable to read. Some may be uncomfortable to write. But I sort of enjoy being uncomfortable--it makes me more vulnerable and open to ideas. So here we go. 


Because

I'm going to regret this decision in the morning. The kids are going to come bouncing into my bedroom asking for chocolate milk, and I'm going to feel like a train hit me, but I'll get up and make their milk and help them find their morning cartoon just before dutifully making lunches and tying the laces to my running shoes.

Because that's motherhood. And that is my current, beautiful reality.

Tim and I were canoodling in bed, talking about nothing really, and I just kept feeling like I needed to write something down--actually many somethings down. Not all will be written tonight, but I did start a list of topics that I feel compelled to write about.

Because the truth is that I haven't have much to say for some time now, and I've wondered what to do with this empty space that has been collecting so much dust lately.

So I hope you'll indulge me as I endeavor to write in perhaps small snippets, attempting to collect real and raw moments of my life. My life is constantly moving. It has been nearly impossible to write anything of real value (and if you know me...I hate writing crap) because Timmy is a tornado, and Birdie is just behind him, tattling her way through life. And well, I have to actually be very present with them not just because they're my last two babies and I want to, I actually have to be present out of necessity because if I don't, someone is jumping off tables and slamming into someone else or someone is finding my hidden sharpies and writing on the walls. Of course, my fourth and fifth kids would be the ones to test all the limits not previously approached.

Because that's what babies do. They remind you that they need just as much parenting as the first three babies, and you must step up your A-game.

And so I try each day. I try to rein them in bit by bit, only bridling their crazy when absolutely necessary while allowing them room to explore. I am a different mom than I was when Mya and Genevieve were 3 and 2, respectively. I feel different. The world feels different. So I parent different, but I try to maintain some consistency so the older ones don't feel so slighted.

Because older children generally feel slighted--at least that's my experience from children who will remain unnamed at the moment.

So here I am, writing close to midnight because I just can't seem to carve out time during the day like I used to. And my nights are dedicated to work so that my kids can ride horses, play soccer and dance ballet. My work may seem small and relatively insignificant, but it is of great importance in these walls, even though no one but Tim and me really knows that.

Because parenting is supposed to be about sacrifice. Giving without receiving. Loving without seeking anything--not even gratitude--in return.

My kids may not shower me with thanks, but their smiles after a horseback riding training, soccer practice or ballet rehearsal do enough for me. I know they are finding themselves in their own ways, and it gives me all the satisfaction I need.

Because satisfaction comes each day in little ways, but especially within the walls of this home I'm creating with Tim.

The pain.

I often wonder if this dull ache that lies quiet in my heart will ever really go away. Watching my kids grow up is absolutely beautiful and fun and wonderful, but it is also deeply painful in a way I struggle to describe. I used to live for the phrase, "I can do it myself," but I find myself dreading it these days. My oldest three girls are basically self-sufficient. They could, in theory, take care of a household. The fact that I pay a babysitter when we go out is maddening because my girls are the ones who put the babies to bed and help them with their needs. They are just little moms. They even know how to cook (basic things), do the laundry, and clean necessary rooms. I am hardly important anymore (wink, wink).

But tonight as I went in to Timmy's darkened bedroom to stop him from kicking his legs repeatedly into his crib, I felt my heart sink a little as I held him tight to my body and we rested on his rocking chair, cheek to cheek. Soon he will be more independent and won't need me as much as he currently does, and the thought of that surprisingly makes me sad. I could not have anticipated this happening to me so many years ago. I longed for my independence too, but now I long to be needed. I want to serve and listen and be present with my kids as long as they will have me.

Will this ache ever feel less painful? Will it?