Our Sweet House

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I remember the moment we found our house. I was scouring the classifieds looking for ANY house that remotely fit our criteria. It was the height of the real estate market back in 2003. We’d lost two houses already in bidding wars. We sold our town home in 1 day and were moving in with Craig’s parents until we could find a place. We had our hearts set on the town where we grew up, but the situation was forcing us to look outside our ideal area. I wanted a street canopied by trees, but I could give that up. We wanted brick, it made my father-in-law happy, he was a brick layer earlier in life. But, we’d settle for siding. I didn’t want cookie-cutter, I wanted something with a soul. I had this fantasy of a large picture window where we could put our Christmas tree, but I guess the tree could just go in a corner. Of course we had a list of things like number of bedrooms and baths, etc. But, I was really searching for a feeling. A place I could envision our life with a family. So, no pressure.

As we started getting desperate all our need-to-haves started feeling like nice-to-haves. What would really be the difference anyhow, we only planned to live in this “starter” house for a couple years. Four max. By then we’d have a few kids, need more space, have more money and be on our way to a bigger house. Right? (Hilarious.) But just as we started writing off what we wanted, I saw an ad in the paper.

From the moment we pulled down the street in the town where we grew up, I was in love. The trees were massive. (Check.) The neighborhood was one of the oldest in town, a mix of houses from the 1800s all the way through the 1960s. Charming and chock full of character. (Check.) We walked up to the house as a man was placing a “For Sale by Owner” sign in the yard. It was a tiny red brick ranch. (Brick. Check.) And there was a massive picture window, I could imagine our aluminum tree there in all its kitschy glory. (Check.)

I remember walking in the front door, the windows were open and the sheer drapes were billowing in the breeze, the sun streaming across the newly refinished hardwood floors. We barely made it through the house we were so giddy. We raced to my in-law’s as fast as we could, it was only a mile drive (BONUS!), and we dragged my father-in-law back to see it. We needed a second opinion, what did we know about houses anyway. We couldn’t really pick a house based on just a feeling, could we? What about the foundation? The sump pump? The soffit and fascia? What even was a fascia? Within a few minutes we had his blessing and a deal and the sign was removed from the front lawn.

Then, in our new home, life happened. It happened both exactly as I’d imagined and not at all in the way I’d planned. There was joy, so much joy. There were raucous parties filled with music and cocktails and long quiet evenings filled with deep conversation…and cocktails. There were celebrations, so many celebrations (births, birthdays, holidays, super bowls, world series, bbqs, backyard camp outs). There were those Friday nights in the early years with our “Porch-light’s-on-all-are-welcome-for-beers-in-the-backyard” policy. And more recent Friday family nights with carryout and nowhere-to-be ease. There was also pain and sadness and loss. Crying alone and crying together. Hearts breaking and hearts mending. Breaking down and holding each other up. There were beautiful moments and ugly moments. There was drama and monotony. There was change and stability.

But more than anything, for the past 14 years, our home has been filled with love and laughter. Our family went from two to four in that house. Our kids spoke their first words and took their first steps there. They learned to ride their bikes on the sidewalk out front, and learned to play ball in the backyard. They learned important life lessons like never stop doing something because it’s “too hard” and how to make fart noises with your armpits. It was everything I’d dreamt back in 2003 that a life with a family might look like. And our sweet home was the backdrop to it all.

Every summer we relished in the large yard, and every winter we cursed the tight quarters. And, before we knew it we’d been there 14 years, in this “starter” home. We’d talked about moving, talked about adding on, but there was so much momentum in the day to day and so much inertia in the familiar. We never could quite make it happen. We got close to doing something a couple times, but we always got distracted or cold feet.

And just as we missed out on those other two homes 14 years ago only to get the exact home we were always meant to have. I can’t help feeling like we were never meant to get up the nerve to make a move until now. Our lives and our new home collided in just the right way at just the right moment. And, I have to believe that it was always meant to be this way. If we’d moved two years ago, we wouldn’t be able to do what our family needs from us now. And though we didn’t know that then, it all makes a bit more sense now.

It’s going to be hard to spend that last night in our sweet home, the only one we’ve ever known as a family. But at the end of the day, as long as I have my people with me, I know we could live anywhere and find the joy. And, like it does, life is continuing to happen. And we’ve already started creating memories at the new house, filling it with all the love and laughter we need to make it our home.

It was a good little house. And, I’m glad we stayed so long. I can’t imagine our lives having happened anywhere else. I hope the folks moving in can feel the love we’ve left behind.

 

Are we there yet?

Clawing our way to the finish line, toes poking out of gym shoes and lunch boxes basically disintegrating. Is it summer vacation yet?!? Honestly, I don’t know who’s more excited to start summer break, me or the kids? Okay, it’s definitely me.

I feel like the stress of our regular daily routine gets amped up in the last weeks of May. Every day there’s a school function or something extra to send with the kids for the day. It’s costume day, pajama day, wear your clothes backwards day. Did you remember money for the book fair and to RSVP for Donuts with Dad? Oh, and I need to wear yellow on Friday. Wait, today’s Friday. I need to wear yellow TODAY! Honestly, I can barely keep it together during the school year with lunches and morning routines and evening routines and All. OF. THE. THINGS.

I am so ready for it all to be done. No rushing home to cram a sandwich down the kids throats to get to baseball on time so we can get home on time and they can shower and do their homework and go to bed and do it again tomorrow. Later bedtimes, later wake ups, no lunches to pack, no homework to check. Did I mention NO LUNCHES TO PACK!

Go riddance school year. Thanks for all you taught the kids. I’m grateful, but I’m over you. See ya in the fall when I’m dying for some structure.

My Sweet Boy

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Today is Nathan’s 9th birthday. We surprised him with tickets to tonight’s Cubs game, so he’s at Wrigley with his dad. I was so excited to get him the tickets, I knew they’d have a blast, but now I’m selfishly kind of sad to not get to spend his birthday with him. It got me thinking about the first time we were ever apart. But, there’s the whole story of him being born that comes before that.

After several years of trying and fertility treatments, I finally found myself pregnant in the summer of 2006. I had an uneventful and lovely pregnancy. It was easy by all accounts. No morning sickness, no drama. Other than the insane level of monitoring because of all I’d gone through previously, it was a breeze. A total dream. And I absolutely loved being pregnant. I loved that we did everything together. No one in the world knew my baby yet, but I got to spend every moment with him or her (after so many long months of plotting and planning every fine detail of getting pregnant, we wanted this surprise). I felt like I had this little secret all to myself. I talked to him at length and told him about all the things we’d do together when he was born. About all the things I was doing throughout the day that he couldn’t yet experience. It was him and I always together. It was awesome.

Nathan was due on April 10. A day which came and went with no signs of his arrival. I actually went to the eye doctor to pickup new glasses that day and enrolled him in daycare. People were slightly horrified to hear I was out in the world ON MY DUE DATE…like I was a ticking time bomb. I was having intermittent contractions on the 11th, so on the 12th, Craig stayed home from work. It was gorgeous out for April, mid 70’s. So we took a long walk around the neighborhood and headed back home to take a nap. I woke up a while later and my water broke….kinda. So, we called the doc who originally told us to come to the office. Halfway there they called us back and said to go to the hospital instead.

If my pregnancy was a dream, my labor and delivery were beyond unbelievable. I often think my easy pregnancy and delivery were a gift, after so much heartache leading up to them. A gift I don’t take for granted. We’d narrowed our names down to one for a boy, Nathan, and two for a girl. We just couldn’t decide. So, we made a deal if it was a blonde girl she’d be Gwendolyn (Wendy for short) and if it was a brunette girl, she’d be Charlotte (Lottie for short). During labor the doc said, “I see the head, the baby doesn’t have any hair.” I remember looking at Craig in a panic, this better be a boy, because we didn’t have a no hair name for a girl.

Much of it still feels a blur, but I remember Craig saying “It’s a boy” not holding back the tears, pride filling his voice. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. That moment, when the rest of the world got to meet this sweet boy I’d been hanging out with the past 9 months. The moment he and I got to see each other for the first time. It was everything.

We were able to spend a good bit of time together there in the delivery room. At some point they said it was time to take him to the nursery to get his first bath, and Dad could help. That’s when everyone left the room. Everyone including Nathan. We’d never been apart. I watched them go, sat there helpless in bed and cried. Cried until at some point I fell asleep, exhausted from it all.

As I write this, it’s almost exactly nine years later. I’m once again sad to be away from my boy on his birthday. Wishing I could keep him with me every moment of every day. Grateful I got to do just that for those first 9 months.

Homesick in NYC

  
Sitting at LaGuardia, hours early for my flight (I’m a neurotic traveler, would always rather be early), missing my kids like crazy. I’ve written before about my thoughts on traveling for work here. I love that my work allows me to go places, meet people, see things. And mostly while I’m away I’m so busy there’s little downtime to think about home. And, that’s how I like it, that’s how I need it. 

I’m a total home body and no stranger to home sickness. I still live in the same town where I grew up. I went to college just a couple hours away, and only made it 3 semesters before moving back home. I don’t like to be away. I need my people to breathe. 

In between the busy spaces of my travels there are little bits, thoughts, feelings and longings for home. But, it’s subtle. I liken it to being slowly suffocated, something sitting on my chest getting ever so slightly heavier with each passing minute, hour, day I’m away. Only noticeable when I walk in my front door and pull my kiddos into my arms….at that moment it’s like a rush of air into my lungs. They’re my oxygen. It’s only in that moment that I realize I’ve been holding my breathe the whole time I was away. Somewhere in my brain, counting the moments until I’d be home. Until I could breathe again.

I’m sitting in LaGuardia, nothing to do but miss my babies. Wishing I was home, or at the very least, busy.

Mother’s Day Feelings

When I was younger, I never gave much thought to Mother’s Day. Of course, on that special Sunday in May I celebrated my incredible Mother and Grandmothers. Often created homemade gifts for them, bought cards full of all the sentiments I probably should’ve shared more throughout the year. A day of brunches and gardening and love and gift giving. Mother’s Day was a happy day until it wasn’t.

When I was a kid and young adult, Mother’s Day was about my mom. Not a day for me, but for her. But, once I got married, and started to try to become a mom myself, there was no single day in the year more excruciating. More painful. More difficult. Each Mother’s Day that passed that I couldn’t celebrate was like a punch in the gut. And there was no escaping it. My inbox was jammed with Mother’s Day sale messages. The television played what seemed an endless stream of commercials featuring happy moms with their kiddos, not to mention the storyline of EVERY SINGLE tv show turned to Mother’s Day. Stores were packed with cards and images of women being moms. I thank god that there was no social media back then, I’m not sure how I’d have survived an Instagram feed of homemade gifts for moms on those challenging days.

The worst were the years where there was hope leading up to Mother’s Day. One more round of fertility treatments, and if it worked, I’d actually be pregnant on Mother’s Day. I could finally celebrate, too. Those were the hardest.

After years of terrible Mother’s Days, I’d built that Sunday up as this epic prize in my mind. The incredible day I was missing out on would someday, hopefully, be one of my favorite of the year. I don’t know what exactly I had in mind, but it would be awesome and thoughtful and lovely and perfect. 

And, honestly, my first Mother’s Day wasn’t any of those. I’d somehow catupultated my expectations right past simply being grateful to be able to finally celebrate the day all the way to this insane unattainable expectation of myself and everyone around me. Nathan was just a few weeks old on my first Mother’s Day. So I was still very much in the haze of new motherhood, a mix of exhaustion, elation and confusion. And, I’d missed a key part in my grandiose plans for the day, I didn’t tell anyone else, particularly my husband, what all I’d dreamed this day up to be over my years of waiting for it to happen. I just expected it to magically be magic. And, as the day progressed, I became more disappointed and frustrated, which in turn filled me with guilt at missing out on this day because I was being so selfish. 

It took me a few Mother’s Days to find my rhythm. To forgive myself and my family our imperfections, and realize that the perfect Mother’s Day for me is simply a nice quiet day at home with my husband & kids, and a few hours to myself to dig in my garden. 

Mother’s Day is just a day. It doesn’t make you a mom, define you as a mom or serve as a barometer of your abilities to be a good mom. It’s a day.

My kids and I are grateful for each other every day, even when we don’t do our best at showing it, and that’s the real prize as far as I’m concerned. The lifetime of motherhood I get to experience, the good, the bad, the hard, the wonderful. I’ve done nothing in my life as important or incredible as being a mom. I think I knew that back then. I knew I wanted nothing more than to be a mom and I knew it would be magic. And, the idea it may not happen was impossible to handle. So, in a way, maybe all those terrible Mother’s Days allowed me a chance to funnel all that pain into one focused day, so the other 364 days of the year would be ever so slightly more bearable. 

Food Allergy PSA

Unsolicited PSA: If you don’t know someone with a food allergy, it’s hard to understand the seriousness of it, I know, I was that person once. But, it’s not about a kid getting a stomach ache and hives, it’s about them not being able to breathe. And, as a parent there’s only so much you can do, at some point you have to trust others with your kids, and you need to know they take it seriously, too.

Whether it’s a babysitter, a teacher, a coach, another parent, people are constantly giving your kids food. And, when you have to plunge a needle into your baby girl’s thigh to get her to breathe and then be rushed to the ER in an ambulance, you don’t forget that. You live in constant fear of having to do it again, or worse, someone else having to do it…and not knowing if they will. If you meet someone with a food allergy kid, please be compassionate, and willing to listen and learn. It takes an army to keep our kids safe, please help be a part of that army if you can.

Field Trip Day!

Nathan and Lottie go to different schools, with different schedules. This means not all their days off are the same. Since both Craig and I work full-time, this can be kind of a pain in the rear, especially since it seems like these days often fall in close proximity with each other. Think school closed Monday, so Nathan gets Friday off for teacher institute, and, whaddaya know, Lottie has Tuesday off for teacher institute. So, now that’s 3 days off to figure out.

Late last year I took a day off when Lottie was out of school. I wanted to do something fun for the day, rather than stick around the house, but felt bad that Nathan would miss out if we did something he’d also enjoy. Then I realized he was going to have a day off just a couple weeks later, so “Mommy-Nathan and Mommy-Lottie Field Trip Days” were invented. A full day of fun spent one-on-one taking an adventure, eating the food they like and enjoying each other’s undivided attention. The nice thing is these days often fall on non-regular days off, so most places are pretty much deserted.

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One day Lottie and I went to the Art Institute and drew all the paintings. The museum was empty, so we had the run of the place. Another time Nathan and I spent the day bowling and cooking together. Lottie and I visited Craig at work another day, and took him out to lunch, then visited the DuPage Children’s Museum. Tomorrow Nathan has the day off, he’s been watching a lot of Mythbusters, so we’re headed to the Chicago Children’s Museum Tinkering Lab to see what we can build, but not until after he hits the polling place with me to vote in the Illinois Primary, and visits my office for a bit. And, Lottie is off in a couple weeks, not sure where that day will take us, but I can’t wait.

Next year they’ll be in school in the same district, and have the same school calendars. While that will make life a little easier, sometimes the hard stuff makes for the best moments. I’m gonna miss our special days off finding adventure together. 

Check out #mommylottiefieldtrip & #mommynathanfieldtrip on Instagram for some pics.

Friday Nights are My Favorite

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Hands down, there is no part of my week that’s better than Friday night. It’s the most laid-back, chill time of our week. And, it’s all about the four of us. No plans, no place to be, just us having our awesome, same-every-week Friday night routine. And, it’s perfect.

First things first. I get home from work around 6pm and make myself a nice big cup of strong, black coffee. This is essential because I want to be able to stay awake long enough to enjoy as much of Friday night as possible. And, I’m old and tired, so if I don’t drink coffee, I’ll be asleep on the couch by 9pm.

Craig and the kids are already home. The kids are likely in the basement playing or outside running around with friends. I sip my coffee and talk to Craig about our day, plans for the weekend. And, most importantly what delicious food he wants to cook Saturday and Sunday, so I can make the grocery list.

At some point, we determine our dinner order. We get dinner every week from the same neighborhood joint. Nathan’s obsessed with their blue cheese dressing, and it’s Craig’s own personal Cheers!. Craig heads over to the restaurant and places the order once he gets there, which gives him some time to sip a beer and talk to friends and neighbors he runs into there every week. This usually means I have 30-40 minutes of quiet time to weave, read, write, catch up on social media or watch tv. By this point I’ve moved on from coffee to beer/wine/bourbon, whatever suits the day.

When Craig gets home, we all sit together to eat. We have a weekly contest of who has the “Poten-tater” (ie.longest french fry). After we eat we often play a game together or watch a movie. Sometimes there’s a dance party. Always there’s lots of laughing and poop jokes and nonsense.

Then it’s bedtime for the kiddos. And, Craig and I settle in to watch some tv…which usually results in him falling asleep. This is the only point in the week that I ever have control of the tv. So, I often pour myself another drink and watch my shows from the DVR into the wee hours of the night.

The whole evening is the perfect combination of having fun together, and getting quiet alone time that I so desperately need to recharge. And, it’s maybe the only part of our week that doesn’t ever feel rushed. I hate rushing, but I’m always, always rushing. It’s unavoidable. Rushing to get to work, rushing to get home, rushing out of the house, rushing back to the house. There’s never enough time in the day. Except on Friday nights when it all miraculously slows down and we’ve got nowhere to be, but home. And nothing to do, but just be our little family in our little corner of the world. Friday night, it’s exactly where I want to be.

 

A Letter to My Daughter

In honor of International Women’s Day, a letter to my Lottie.

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Dear Lottie-Lou,

You are so awesome. There will be times in your life when you’ll forget that, so surround yourself with people that will remind you. You are so strong. Find people who support and respect that strength. Some folks will be threatened by your conviction, don’t let that deter you. Be who you know you are and do what you believe is right. You are so loving and compassionate. Love as fiercely as you do today, even if that means getting hurt. The world needs the type of love you have to give. You are hilarious. Don’t forget to find the humor in the everyday and share that humor with the world around you.

You have an insanely fantastic imagination and are an incredible artist. Keep creating the world you want to live in, and dreaming up new ideas. Imagination isn’t just for kids. You are brilliant and curious. Never stop learning.

You are uniquely you. You’ll try to fit into molds in your life, and live up to what you see as expectations. But, you’re the only you there will ever be. No one can tell you the right way to be you, that’s for you to decide.

I love you more than I could ever put into words, more than I can even fathom. There’s nothing that you could ever do to make me love you less. In fact, though it doesn’t seem possible, I love you more with each passing day. No matter what choices you make in life, I will be here for you to remind you what an incredible person you are.

You inspire me to be better a woman every day. Thank you! You’ll never know how much you’ve given me.

Love,
Mom

Just When I Think I’ve Nailed It

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Today Lottie and I donated a trunk-load of dishes, toys and clothes to our local resale shop. After I unloaded the goods Lottie asked, “Mom, why do we donate stuff?” I was so ready for this one…..a teachable moment that I actually had the information ready in my brain to teach. Much easier than the other day when during dinner she randomly said, “Mom, did it hurt when the doctor took me out of your belly? How did he even do that?” “Ummmmmm, can you pass the ranch, please?”

This was an easy one. “Well, we do it to help people. We don’t need these things in our house anymore so it helps us. People can then buy it from this store for a lower price than buying new, so it helps them. And, people who need jobs are able to work here and that helps them. So, we donate stuff because it helps a lot of people.” Cue applause in my head. Nailed it. She’s going to grow up to be such a great member of society. I totally got this. Brilliant. 

But, then, she interrupts my internal celebration and says, “Really? Well, what about French people? Does it help them?” “……wait, what, huh…..can you pass the ranch, please?”

Damn this kid really keeps me on my toes.