The sun was shining
as the drops came down.
We searched for rainbows,
but none were found.
Lots of flowers, smiles, laughs, and shrieks though. All before 7AM.
The sun was shining
as the drops came down.
We searched for rainbows,
but none were found.
Lots of flowers, smiles, laughs, and shrieks though. All before 7AM.
I’m sorry I didn’t follow your posted rules.
I’m sorry it is hot today.
I’m sorry you have to spend this whole weekend standing in your parking lot telling people, No! You can’t park here!
I know I said “I’m sorry” to you out loud, but the words I wish you heard are these: for just a second, you had the chance to pause and show a little mercy, to extend a little grace, and to make someone’s day a little easier.
My son Dominic works hard (sometimes!) and earns money for working hard (sometimes!), so when he arrived at Art in the Park today, he had his money to spend. He saw that truck-shaped beeswax candle from a mile away, and obsessed over it until we went back and his money was spent. Then he carried it, sacred-like with two hands, or flew it, or drove it, or smelled it for the rest of our morning.
As dedicated and cute as he is, however, he is also only 5. So when we waited to cross the busiest street in town, he set the truck down, and it was because I said “wait, we need sunscreen, arms out, now hold on to our stroller, don’t let go, this is a busy street, yes, you may push the crosswalk button, now come right back here and hold on, watch for cars, look for all the ways you can get bumped“. Then it was time to cross, and his truck was left behind.
But that was just the beginning.
As we crossed a different street, further down the road, we came within feet of actually being hit. I say watch for cars so we don’t get bumped! to the kids all the time. But what I mean is- please, dear God, watch over my babies because “bumped by a car” is a euphemism for “lost to me forever”.
A driver, not paying attention, or driving too fast or whatever (I couldn’t see because she was turning left from behind us), failed to notice that every other car that had stopped so our family (with SO MANY CHILDREN and a giant orange stroller) could cross the street, and she screeched to within feet of my children.
And then she drove away.
No mouthed, Sorry! through the windshield. No wave or shock or stop or…anything. Just an annoyed look and a zoom away.
We finished crossing and there were many deep breaths and a few hugs, but then we discovered the truck candle was gone.
I imagined it melting by that crosswalk as my Dominic melted down in front of me.
We’ll go get it! I promise. I can stop right by the crosswalk, and if it’s there, I’ll hop right out and get it! Let’s just keep going and we’ll pray it’s still there! and we rallied. We decided milkshakes in the hundred degree heat would calm nerves and fortify our walk.
And, you know what, Man-Who-Yelled-at-Me?
Not a single person held that restaurant door as I negotiated our double stroller in and out. In fact, three grown men wiggled their way around me as I was backing out- propping one side open with my back, Dominic holding the other side for me.
Good thing my kids are helpful.
Can you see, Man-Who-Yelled-at-Me, how by the time I got to you, my faith in people was a little shaken. A little fragile, maybe?
So, after my (five) kids were finally loaded up, hot, sweaty, sticky, but mostly calm and happy-thoughts of dangerous cars and rude people mostly gone- we drove around the block, to the intersection, and: there it was! His truck! Still sitting just where Dominic had left it 30 mins before. No one took it. It hadn’t melted.
Faith in humanity restored!
All I had to do was find a place to pause, jump out, snag it and be on our merry way. But I had to do it alone.
Did you notice I was the only adult in the car? There was no way you could know, but my husband was at that very moment on a plane heading to see his grandma who’s on hospice. Another layer of hardness and sadness in my day.
So, I saw your parking lot, and (miraculously!) an open space close to the road so I could keep an eye on the kids, and I pulled in. I left the car running (I know, I know. I shouldn’t leave my kids in the car unattended-that’s a different discussion), and took off at a jog. I was going to be gone for 30 seconds, tops.
Except, then you stopped me.
I hoped after I explained what I was doing you would stop threatening to tow my van. I hoped if you could see the tears welling in my eyes, you would listen to my words, and you would understand- I wasn’t there to park for hours and block business, I was there to reclaim a precious, lost thing. I hoped that my offer to purchase something from your store, so I could be a customer, would work. I even mentioned my kids were in the car, hoping to add credence to my claim that I would “just be a second!” I hoped my calm, even tone would deflate your insistent yelling.
But mostly, I hoped you would see the five little faces peering at you through the tinted windows. And then, after I got back into the van, obviously upset, I wished you could hear their voices, Why are you sad Mommy? Why was he yelling at you? Why is he angry?
Where is my truck candle?
I realized, in that moment, that I wasn’t just upset about being yelled at. I was upset that you couldn’t see my pain. You couldn’t read my mind and know why my tears were already so close to the surface. I took my sunglasses off, and you still couldn’t see the burdens I was carrying… all the reasons that my soul was crying for some leniency, some grace, some love.
And you know what?
In that moment, I couldn’t see yours either.
So tell me, Man-Who-Yelled-at-Me, why were you so angry? What kept you to the hard line you drew? What kept you from really hearing me?
Who destroyed your faith in people today? Or yesterday or ten years ago?
Because, I’m afraid one of them was me – a gal who just wouldn’t listen to the posted signs, who wouldn’t listen to the rules, who couldn’t just move her car.
And I’m sorry.
Please know, when we finally left and I rolled down my window to say, “I hope you have a good day,” that wasn’t sarcasm.
It was a prayer.
Thank you to the other random guy who happened to be walking by. When I tearfully asked you for help from the drivers seat, you calmly walked around the corner, picked up Dominic’s treasure and delivered a little bit of hope back through my window. You made his day.
I’m also grateful for my children, who continued to show me love the whole way home. And especially to Lucia, who piped up from the way-back, “Maybe he’s just having a really hard day”.
Yeah, Baby Girl, maybe he was.
There may not have been may posts since my last Mother’s Day photo shoot, but a whole year really has gone by… crazy how that happens.
Continuing with tradition, Andy snagged my “good camera” and snapped shots of me with each of my kids
and all my kids together.
This year he surprised me up on the trail with this t-shirt from the comic Nathan Pyle, which was more fitting than I’m sure he imagined.
I woke up bright and early Saturday morning (let’s be real- the KIDS woke us up bright and early) and I said, “Let’s go hiking for my kiddo pictures!”
I can just imagine Andy giving himself a mental high-five as he snuck his well timed purchase into the bottom of our stroller.
I do love a good hike. And if it’s a little bit perilous, even better.
But just a little bit.
The “big girls” (I have BIG GIRLS now!) hiked the rest of the way up Badger Mountain with me. Andy greeted us back at the bottom an hour later with the three “Littles” and a box of Popsicles. The kids bombarded every hiker after that with offers of extra popsicles, and it was magic to watch their faces light up when someone accepted.
What a great morning.
My mind is often consumed by the future. I love talking to parents who are 5, 10, 20 years ahead of me. I soak up what they think they did right and what they wish they could do over again. My kids are not their kids. I am not them. I know that. But I like to find patterns; I think there’s truth hidden in the commonalities.
Many people, women especially, worry that they didn’t enjoy this time enough. The time when the kids were so little. I don’t even have to poll my friends to figure that out; I just walk through the grocery store with a kid (or 5) and the advice just falls out of passing mouths: “Enjoy every minute!” “The days are long but the years are short” “They’re so cute and so easy right now! Enjoy it!” “You think it’s hard now, just wait till you have teenagers!”
In those moments I start to wonder- what is the separation that is coming that makes my situation today, clingy and sticky and whiny as it is, seem so nostalgic?
I don’t actually need to know the details of the hardness. I think I can imagine some of the angst, the disagreements, the physical distance that is coming. And I know it will hurt. My heart has been pierced by goodbyes before.
When I picture myself as that older grocery store woman staring at the supermarket family, I imagine having a layer of wisdom from all the years I will have spent parenting, and there’s kind of a melancholy lens. Maybe even some guilt? Knowing myself, I will wonder if I enjoyed my Babies enough. I will have passed through many more seasons of Hard, and I will wonder if I loved them enough. I will wonder, and I will worry.
So, here’s a letter to my future self -written today in the “trenches of motherhood” as it is sometimes called (although I’m not convinced this is my hardest season, or that a war analogy is even a good one…).
Dear Future Caitlin,
I write this to you in the midst of the season of tantrums, boogers, diapers, sleepless nights, and isolation- a season without accolades and consumed by the total giving of oneself to those who need physically and need emotionally and need spiritually and need and need and need… This is written with the backdrop of yelling and screaming and fighting and tears and anger, some of that even coming from the kids.
But I’m not writing it to confirm your worst fears: that the above was the sum of your days parenting Littles. Yes, that hardness exists. Yes it is sometimes consuming. Yes, there are nights when reviewing the day you struggle to find one decent thing you said to or did for your kids- besides keep them alive.
But that is not all that exists in this season, and I know it. I believe it.
In the hardness now, I know (as best I can) that my kids are blessings, that they are little, and that time is fleeting.
Please don’t worry. You did enjoy your children. You do. There are moments right now that take your breath away with their poignancy and beauty. There are sun-dappled afternoon snuggles. Audible gasps during read aloud plot twists. So much twirly dress spinning. Big, hard questions asked with curiosity and a sense of discovery. You can see the synapses connect in their tiny, awesome brains, and it is miraculous.
Some moments you are privileged to witness and some moments you actually experience: like belly raspberries resulting in delicious giggles. You love these kids so much, you could almost eat them. Especially those baby cheeks. This is an absolute gift of Eucharisteo- love transformed into pure thanksgiving.
Some days you can’t hug hard enough or long enough because you can literally feel them getting bigger and pulling away quicker. Every inch they grow is a physical reminder that time is passing.
I try to send you time-traveling telepathic snapshots of the good moments. I try to etch them into my own neurons, revisiting the memories often in the hopes that they are as clear and beautiful when I am you as they are now. But I also take a lot of pictures, because I also know that sleep deprivation is a thief who steals all my good memories and leaves all the bad.
Maybe all you remember is the hardness. I hope that’s not the case because there is also love. So much love.
So, let go of the guilt. Let go of the worries. I’m here, today, to tell you (be you future Caitlin of 4 years, 14 years or 40 years) that Caitlin with All The Littles, Caitlin of 2019, does enjoy the moments. I try to send up a silent prayer of thanks for the goodness and holiness I get to witness. I fail. I fail a lot. But not as much as you might remember.
When you see that mom in the supermarket- with her dozen children hanging off the cart like monkeys- and your heart both leaps and drops because those crazy, snot-nosed kids remind you of four year old Dom, or two year old Sissy, or six year old LuluBell, or eight year old Mo or Baby Teo, (who by your time are no longer diminutives and most definitely Monica, Lucia, Dominic, Genevieve and Mateo), look at that Mama. See her bleary eyes, frazzled hair, desperate attempt to distract the screaming baby with her phone (or whatever weird tech thing exists in the future) and see her and smile at her. Give her a high five if it seems right. Tell her, “The nights are long” but don’t end it with “but it’s so worth it”, instead- stage whisper “and you’re doing a great job.”
You can say that with confidence. Without a shred of that desperate guilt that comes out by way of advice- Don’t make the same mistakes I did. ENJOY IT! ENJOY those babies!
Because you did enjoy it.
I am enjoying it.
Love, love, love you. I’m still working on loving me, but I’m sure you’ve got that figured out by now, right?
Also, will Dom ever stop licking the church pews? Does Lucia become a nurse? Does Monica still feel and care so desperately? Is Sissy a prima ballerina or a roller derby pro (I could see her going either way)? Does Teo’s big smile still split his whole face in half? These are things I can’t wait to find out, so I’m a little jealous that you already know. If you figure out how to time travel, let me know, k?
Her nails were cracked, peeled back from the edges. She had been picking again, unable to keep her fingers still as she listened for instructions at school. She’s a good listener, but if something is sticking out where it shouldn’t, poking something else, rough to the touch, it has to go.
I know the feeling; I’m a picker too.
“Honey, you have to STOP doing this!” I grab her fingers, a little too firmly, trimming the edges clean. “You are going to hurt your fingers!”
“I’m trying Mommy, but I just can’t” she whines.
I see the future, I know where picking leads. Scars, infections, doctors appointments and medications. So, I persist.
“Just STOP! Just STOP doing it!” I grab the broom, sweeping up little broken crescents. She stays seated, looking defeated. I sit back down. She stands up, trying to walk away.
“Baby, I used to do the same thing. Except, I bit my nails. And I would bite them till they bled. So you know what I did? I sat on my hands. I sat on them while I listened to the teacher. My Mommy suggested that to me, and it worked.”
She looks down at me, big blue eyes wide with a question, “Did she get mad at you, too?”
“Your Mommy. Was she mad at you?”
My heart leaps and my stomach drops. Tears spring to my eyes, and my cheeks blush hot embarrassment.
“No. My love.” I whisper “She was not mad at me.”
I gather her in my arms, and for the millionth time, ask her forgiveness. Over and over and over I fail at this parenting thing. Over and over I lose my temper over teeny, tiny things because, in my mind, they become big, giant things.
Ripped finger nails lead to infection leads to medication leads to another doctor appointment leads to finding someone to watch my other kids leads to….on and on and on. Until I’ve lost sight of the truth.
A tiny, ripped fingernail. Now clipped. Now swept. Now gone.
I am a big person. I see the big picture (realistic or not). She is a little person. Her picture is so, so little. And I want it to be that way for a while yet.
So now, in our house, we’ve established a new rule. There are “big deals” and there are “not big deals”. Spilled milk- small deal. Sissy running with scissors- big deal. One requires yelling and immediate reaction. The other requires calm and a response.
The kids are pretty good at recognizing one from another.
Surprise, surprise: I am not.
There are lots of excuses for reacting badly to little things: no sleep, hunger, answered 10,000,000 questions already today, worried about other people, worried about medical stuff, about the world, about the future… My brain is a flurry of worry. Excuses they are, but not good excuses. Those are big people problems that take up space in my brain and wear my patience thin. To expand my big-people-problem-world into their little-people-problem-world is to ask them to grow up already.
I must let the little things be little so that my little people can stay little… For as long as they can.
So, we recently added another kiddo to the mix:
And he’s been on the outside for 2ish weeks now. This was Andy’s first week back at work, read: Cait’s first week WITH ALL THE CHILDREN.
Now, going from 4 to 5 is, admittedly not as difficult as some transitions we’ve done. I submit that (for me!) going from 1 to 2 kids was the hardest. However, considering how good I feel, and how well I thought I was doing, I should have known to have my guard up.
Mothering a pack this size gives me a certain spidey-sense. There’s an undercurrent, hum even, of activity in the house. I, for the most part, know exactly where everyone is and what everyone is doing, that way my spidey-sense, maybe we’ll call it Mom-dar (tink, tink, tink), knows from where to expect silence and where to expect chaos.
My Mom-dar was on point the last few days, allowing me to quickly dispel arguments, suggest activities, and know when Sissy was digging through the trash can or sitting in the dishwasher without even needing to be in the kitchen.
Then…there was tonight.
Let the record show, if I ever become prideful in my not-so-super Momming, this blog post will act as a reminder of how quickly everything can descend into chaos and provide a necessary dose of humility.
In a span of 2 minutes (even with Andy home!):
-The kids were caught jumping off a window sill onto a pile of pillows in the playroom (including Sissy). And while Andy worked on an acceptable punishment (trying to also suppress his astonishment and the gutsy-ness of that move)…
-Mateo destroyed his diaper (and onesie), literally filling it until we reached max capacity, overflowed and spread up his back, all while I was holding him. And I just watched as that classic baby-poop-yellow started to seep out of his clothes. Because…
-Lucia stood up from reading in a chair and declared she was covered in ants. Because she was- inside our house, in our living room- covered in the tiniest black ants I’ve ever seen. She’s a pretty cool cat, so there wasn’t any screaming, but there was extremely quick clothing removal and a good heebie-jeebie dance. Just in time for…
-Sissy to come running around the corner carrying my extremely full, open water bottle, which she had probably already back-washed into.
I pride myself in being able to assess a situation and prioritize. I think it’s one of my biggest selling points on the resume I’ll write some day explaining how I qualify for nearly any job based on my training as a parent. But this particular cluster left me a little befuddled and giggling at the absurdity.
Ultimately Andy took diaper dooty (that’s a joke for you Jessie), and I brushed the ants out of Lucia’s hair. Sissy, with a little coaxing, actually put the water bottle down all by herself, but then quickly found Mateo’s “baba” (binki) and sucked on it until we were all a little less distracted and snatched it away. After the kids were down, we moved some furniture in the playroom so that hopefully there’s no more high-dives off the window sill.
And…phew. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Hopefully my Mom-dar and prioritizing abilities won’t be quite so tested…
But, who am I kidding. Five kids is a lot of kids. Welcome to your new normal Caitlin.
And welcome, everyone else, to Elder- Party of Seven. I’m sure there will be many more tales to come…
Continuing a Mother’s Day tradition, I try to step in front of the camera on Mother’s Day and get some photos with each of my kiddos.
Genevieve (18 months)
Dominic (4 years)
Lucia (5 years)
Monica (7 years)
I know, even now, that I want to remember being a part of their childhood. I want to have photos not just of my kids, but with my kids. And, even if we’re not all smiling, we were all there.
With patchy shade and grumpy teethers, it gets harder every year to get a “good” shot with everyone together, but that’s motherhood right? It’s messy and distracted and beautiful and dappled with more love than I thought possible.
And for those same exact reasons, it’s worth remembering.
Genevieve is just a hoot right now. She’s in that super-sponge 18 month(ish) phase where she’s absorbing so much, I can almost hear the neurons growing in her brain. Every day there are new words, new faces and new stories she likes to tell.
Her vocabulary takes a little interpretation, much like her oldest sister. But she’s happy to tell her favorite memories to anyone who will listen:
Kitty, kitty (while pointing to her arm): the kitty scratched me (this girl will NOT leave Athena alone, and our kitty is old and grumpy, now…she’ll learn some day to have soft hands)!
Dog dog! (while sticking her finger up her nose): Uncle Jacques’ dog licked me in the face!
Maaahhh, wa-wa (while pointing to her shirt): Dom spilled water on me!
Yes, you read that right. Her word for Dominic is a growling Maaaaaahhh sound. It’s hilarious, and probably has something to do with the fact that he currently speaks in mostly dinosaur.
When I ask her for a kiss, she pokes my face with her little finger (exactly as I’m showing her, “Come on Sissy, give Mama a kiss. Right here on my cheek!”)
Her favorite thing to do is faceplant onto pillows. She climbs on ALL THE THINGS just like her big brother did. And she is the first kid to be found, unsupervised, with markers, drawing all over the floor and wall and toys (I blame it on the house move and not finding a good place to hide the markers yet…).
Her “bah bah” (binki) and other “bah bah” (blankie) are her two favorite things. Lucia is quick to find them whenever G is crying.
She wears everyone’s shoes, steals remote controls, and tests just how far she can get to touching the electrical outlets before she gets in trouble. Good thing she’s so dang cute.
Every night after bath, before PJs, Andy carries Genevieve wrapped up in a towel, tip-toeing through the house to look for me. She puts her finger on her nose and whispers “shhhhhh!” until they find me and they yell SURPRISE! Well, Andy yells and Sissy laughs hysterically.
All the big kids take their turn loving on her. She looks up at each of them (Mo-Mo!, Ooh-ooh! Maaahh!) with straight up love in her eyes, and they each make her laugh like no one else. Of course, she has her struggles and also yells, and cries, and gets mad at each of them, but I am more often floored to find them all sitting together or playing nicely.
She has the funniest old man laugh. Always has. And it’s the quickest way to make even Andy’s hardest day turn around 180 degrees.
Every day we see a little more of who she is and who she’s becoming and it is a delight!
One of my favorite bloggers, Beth Woolsey, often “waves in the dark” to her readers. It’s her way of communicating that nobody is alone in their struggles and fears. And I feel like I need a little of the same tonight…
So, for all the mamas
Who feel mediocre.
Who know, if they could just figure out that perfect __________ (sticker chart, discipline method, sleep routine, screen time regimen etc) the kids’ behavior would improve.
Who know, if they were just a little more intentional, they could find an organizational scheme so that permission slips wouldn’t get lost and socks could be matched and kids could find their shoes.
Who know if they just had the discipline to wake up a little earlier, they wouldn’t come screeching into school, late, sweatpants-clad yelling “hurry up!” as everyone falls out of their old van like a shabby, grumpy clown parade.
Who count every negative kid-interaction, placing them on the scale against “I love you”s, and fall short of being balanced. Every. Damn. Day. And who know that their fly-away temper is going to ruin their kids for life.
For all the wives
Who know that spark would be a flame if they could just figure out a way to make date night a weekly thing.
Who know if they could just find the right ___________ (gym, work out video, diet plan etc) they would stop eating all the kids’ Easter candy, and maybe fit back into their wedding dress for an important anniversary some day.
Who know they should be able to handle all the cleaning and cooking and home-ing like all those other wives are capable of doing.
For all the friends
Who worry about calling, because they know everyone is too busy to talk.
Who know that that one stupid, weird thing they said ruined a budding friendship for sure.
Who know that their text, no matter how funny, doesn’t really deserve a reply from that beautiful, popular friend.
Who know if their house was just a little cleaner, better organized, a little less sticky, and a little less loud, then they’d also be posting photos of great play dates and smiling BFF selfies.
For all of you who know you know that that none of these things are actually true, but who feel it sometimes anyway.
You are not alone.
And neither am I.
Photo credit for most of these: Mom! (thanks for coming with me! And next year WE need a photo together!!)