Today was a Sad day. Some days are Joyful. Some are Mad. Some are Thankful, or Tired, or Too Much. But today felt Sad. And yet, even in the darkness…the overwhelm…the chaos, panic and endlessness, there is light.
It comes in the form of baby kicks when I lay awake in the middle of the night. The colored pencil creation of a unicorn named “Sparkletoot,” brought to life by my third grader. The squeals of my youngest three as they have a pillow fight on my bed. It comes in the form of small packages delivered by our church, the sun streaming through our sheer lace curtains, a blended chocolate coffee drink surprise that my husband made unexpectedly and brings to me as I sit and wallow in the melancholy.
He is home from work, furloughed for the time being. I am pregnant with our fifth child, filled with a mix of anxiety, gratitude, confusion, and joy. Life is uncertain and so some days are Sad. But I can pull a doughnut out of the freezer to comfort myself. I can take the baby for a walk in the sunshine. I can notice the way the golden light falls beautifully onto the flowers in the neighbor’s yard. I can take a nap. I can take a bath. I can take an hour to bake muffins with my oldest, knowing this is something we so rarely get to do together, knowing how it’s filling her cup, and mine, even on a Sad day.
And it was a Sad day, not the first nor the last, but it wasn’t filled with 86,400 seconds of sadness. There were bright moments, moments of light.
O, glorious mother, strong and everlasting, weary but ever loving warrior that you are, I see you.
You bake the cookies with love, letting little hands add sprinkles and red hots, never mind the mess left in their wake.
You watch the kids decorate the tree with glee, cleaning up broken glass and glitter, quietly rearranging the unbroken ornaments after the little ones are in bed.
You shop for the love of your life, the kids who rule your life, the family who gave you life, the teachers, the coaches, the neighbors, the babysitter, the dog, and you wrap it all in pretty paper and sparkly bows that catch the twinkly lights of the Christmas tree.
You tuck magic into packages, and every corner of the house, and every free hour of the week. You want those little eyes to sparkle with the joy and wonder of this holiday, for they are only this small once.
You attend concerts and craft fairs. You schedule photos with Santa. You take them to see the tree lighting, the parade, the lights at the zoo and around the neighborhood, sometimes against your will, but always with a smile.
And on Christmas Eve, you know there is no calm and bright. There is no silent night. You will hardly sleep as you try to quiet the chatter of excited children, wrap gifts from the jolly one and sneak them out to the tree, rock the baby to sleep as you sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and then do it again three more times in the night, only to fall asleep in the glow of the Christmas lights and be awoken at 4:30am by a 9-year-old who is peeking to see if Santa has come.
I see you.
You, glorious mother, weary warrior, whose work is never done, work harder than ever at this time of year.
You do it knowing they don’t understand the effort, the time, the tears, the love behind any of it. Behind all of it.
And yet, you do it anyways, with the love, and grace, and tenderness that makes you a mother.
And next year, you will do it again, o glorious mother. You will gladly do it again.
I wrestle my 4-year-old into his costume as he wiggles and squirms and gloriously laughs with his head thrown back. He’s the most ticklish of the four and every time I grab his hand to pull it through a sleeve or brush his longish hair out of the way to fasten the velcro at the back of his neck, he’s sent into a fit of giggles.
Once he’s been successfully transformed into Optimus Prime, I move on to his baby sister. She’s not yet one and a half and finds it a delicious game to try to escape down the hall as I chase after her. As this is the third time putting her into her costume, we have a familiar back and forth now. I put her foot into the leg hole; she pulls it out. I shove her arm into the sleeve; she pulls it out. This continues until, through my own sheer willpower and speed, I’m able to force her into the little pink monster costume before she is able to undo all of my hard work.
The two big girls can get into their costumes on their own, but they still require Mom’s tutu-fluffing and sleeve un-twisting skills. They need their hair done. They need their picture taken. They need my thumbs-up when they ask, “Do I look ahhhh-mazing, Mom?”
For them, Halloween is magical and delicious, permission to play dress-up and eat more candy than they’re normally allowed. For me, maybe for moms everywhere, it’s misery. Getting four kids into and out of their costumes over and over and over again must be what Hell is like. I can think of no greater torture.
After our weekend trunk-or-treating festivity, there is an explosion throughout the house of costume pieces that have been discarded by the kids as they transformed back into their adorabley average human children selves. I scramble around, trying to collect them all, keeping each piece with the right costume so as not to have a complete meltdown by one kid on The Big Day (i.e. Halloween) because of a missing headset or gold belt.
It’s too much and I hate it all. Do they have a Halloween Scrooge costume? Because that’s what I should be wearing this season. It’s just too damn much.
A few nights ago, I spent a half hour searching for their trick-or-treat bags, followed by another twenty minutes laying out winter coats and boots for them to wear at the school Halloween carnival last night. I spent the good part of summer listening to three out of four of them brainstorm costume ideas. There is glitter all over my bed from my daughter’s rockstar costume. And in the kitchen, there are three plastic bags filled to the brim with candy. It’s not yet Halloween, and our lives are already overrun by Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. Earlier in the day, I had to endure The Great Negotiation of 2019 with my oldest daughter, as she argued why they should each be allowed to have five pieces of candy from their bags, plus the bowl of candy corn and Mike and Ikes that she was given at the Harvest Festival. I also had to carefully comb through her younger sister’s bag of candy to remove anything with dairy and nuts in it because of her allergies. I’m tired.
November 1st can’t come fast enough.
So then, why do it? Why engage in this annual song and dance of costumes and candy and “No, you may not eat anymore today,” and “Please stop asking” and “If you steal another piece from your sister’s bag, I will…” I mean, why put ourselves through that?
After lunch today, I was helping my son get into the shoes that matched his costume and he said so sweetly, “Thank you for letting me be Prime, Mommy. Okay, Mommy? Thank you.” He’s my wild child right now, full of energy and giggles and silliness and sometimes aggression. He’ll tackle you to the ground when you least expect it. He’ll throw a Magic 8 Ball at your head and bulldoze you as you stand at the stove cooking dinner. But of all his siblings, he is the one who always notices if someone is sad or upset. When I have my period, he rubs my achy tummy. And this crazy, unpredictable boy of mine, he has a heart overflowing with gratitude.
I think back to two weeks ago, when his costume first arrived in the mail and he was nearly shaking from excitement at the possibility of trying it on for the first time. After we did the first of many transformations, his eyes lit up as he stared into the mirror and straight into the eyes of one of his favorite characters. “Oh, thank you, Mommy,” he said. “This is the best!”
And suddenly, the answer is so clear why we do it.
The answer is so simple.
Because we love them.
We do it for love.
When my oldest daughter was almost three, she became a big sister. Naturally, it was a hard transition, especially for her. One day, I was exhausted from having a newborn (duh). I hadn’t showered in almost a week, had dried spit-up on the shoulder of my shirt, and I had dishes to do. But my daughter was whiny and irritable that morning, and the baby was sleeping and so I asked my 3-year-old if she wanted me to play with her. “Oh yes!” she said enthusiastically in her tiny voice and so we played with her princess castle for twenty minutes.
It was the most boring twenty minutes of my life.
Call me a bad mom, but I do not love playing with my kids. But I did it then on that day years and years ago and I did it over and over again, every morning, for weeks. I didn’t really want to be there. I wanted to be doing dishes or sipping a coffee or, best of all, napping. But my daughter needed me. She needed my presence. She needed my undivided attention.
I played with her because I loved her.
And so it goes for Halloween and every other task we do. Some of them we do because we want to, yes. For me, that’s the photo books I make every year and the annual Christmas Tree Interview I conduct with each child and a myriad of other things, of course. But many of the things we moms and dads do, we do because we have to. Or because we’re supposed to. And yet all of them? All of them are done because we love them.
Them, who know the right buttons to push and like to push them all the time.
Them, who turned our hearts inside out and our worlds upside down the moment they came into our lives.
Them, who we’d die for.
Because we love them, we play Barbies and cars and Littlest Pet Shop ad nauseum. Because we love them, we play Candy Land until our brains bleed. We read the same book over and over. We listen to the shrill squeak of a violin that is just learning to be played. We watch them do a somersault again and again and clap every time. We push them on the swings when we’d rather be sitting down reading a book. We sit on the sidelines of a soccer game on the coldest day of the year. We hold them as they puke, comfort their fears in the middle of the night, kiss the booboo that is barely there because it makes them feel better. We make them get vaccines, or we choose not to. We try to breastfeed even though it’s hard. We spend a small fortune to take them to Disneyland. And when we can’t do one of these things, or we choose not to, we feel guilt because we think we should. And all of it? However easy or hard, small or big, all of it is done because we love them.
So know that on Halloween, as all the neighborhood children pour out onto the streets to sweetly ask for a trick or a treat through gaps in their teeth, I will be there too, following behind four little ones of my own, reminding them not to drag their candy bags on the ground and to stay close so as not to get lost in the sea of other monsters, superheroes, and celebrities. I may be counting down the minutes until the night is over, but I will be there. Because I love them.
And after they’re tucked into their beds at night and I know for certain that they are asleep, I will sit down with a hand full of candy, stolen from the bag of the little ones I just put to bed. A little reward to myself for surviving the last week. I’ve earned it.
But also, isn’t it obvious? Cavities and sugar highs and stuff. They don’t need that. Every bite of Skittles and Twix that I take, I’m doing it in the name of love.
I wanted to be a mom, and he loved me, so he came along for the ride. But he never wanted to be a dad.
He didn’t have that internal longing like I did to have children of his own. His arms didn’t ache to hold a baby. He had no drive to pass on his genes. He didn’t dream of teaching his son to ride a bike or of being the knight in shining armor to his daughter. He didn’t envision a house full of kids and a heart overflowing with love.
Look at him as he rolls around on the floor with them. Look at him as he sips his coffee and reads them a book, flanked on either side and with two on his lap. Look at him as his eyes well up when our oldest daughter finally meets the Disney princess she loves the most. Look at him as he gets down on his knees and looks them in the eye and says, “I love you so much.” Look at him.
Look at him as he beams with pride when one of our daughters reads us the story that she has crafted. Look at him as he patiently lets our little boy use the hammer, and the drill, and the wrench, even though everything could be done so much faster if he didn’t have those little hands helping. Look at him as he tosses the baby into the air and they both collapse into a fit of giggles. Look. At. Him.
You would never know he never wanted to be a dad.
He never wanted to be a dad, but he is, and he’s the best kind. He’s the kind who shows up. To the awards assemblies and parent-teacher conferences. To the midnight stomach upsets and bedwettings. To the Christmas programs and ballet practices. To the diaper blowouts and tantrums. He shows up when they want to tell him the plot of their favorite book (even though he already knows it) and when they want to put on a song and dance performance from the coffee table (for the 78th time). He shows up when they have broken toys, broken bones, and broken hearts. He always shows up.
Ten years and four kids ago, he never wanted to be a dad. But a decade later, we have a nest full of baby birds and I’m thanking God for leading me to this man, for allowing me to choose him to be the dad to the children I dreamed of having. Every time I witness the way that he engages with them, loves them fiercely, fights for them, offers patience and understanding that I can’t muster in the moment, I fall more in love with him. For all the doubt and uncertainty that he had as we began this journey, I know that there is only one thing that matters now.
He may have never wanted to be a dad. But. But I think a dad is what he was always meant to be. And I couldn’t love him more for being the one that he is.
They will say you shouldn’t travel with small children. They will say it’s too hard. It’s not worth it. You’ll regret it. That it won’t be a real vacation.
They will say, for the love of God, whatever you do, do. not. travel. with. little. ones.
But I say, do it anyways.
I have four kids under the age of nine. I will be the first to tell you that traveling with them is anything but easy. Whether we travel down the road, across state lines, or over an ocean and through the woods, taking them anywhere is neither simple nor relaxing. Not ever.
And yet, we do it anyways.
We do it because travel teaches them about the world. They see new things. Hear new sounds. Taste new foods. Meet new people from every walk of life. Experience new moments that have the potential to change them, and us. On our recent tropical getaway, my 3-year-old son got to play in the ocean waves for the first time. He followed his big sister into the ocean (just a few feet away from us), was immediately knocked over by a strong wave and did a hard face-plant into the sand. That poor guy, he had sand in his eyelashes, his scalp, his ears, and his mouth. For days after, he avoided dipping a single toe into the water. He was terrified. But with gentle coaxing and a hand to hold, he learned the joy of standing ankle-deep in the water and letting the waves hit him. He learned how fun it can to be play chicken with those waves while running down the beach. He learned to overcome his fears. On our very last day, he said, “The ocean isn’t scary anymore. This is so fun!” That simple discovery for him, that boundless joy he felt as he played in the water, will stay with me forever.
We do it because travel teaches us important life lessons. In our last trip alone, we experienced an unexpected snowstorm that caused a long flight delay, our baby cut two teeth in the first half of the trip, our warm and tropical destination had a cold front blow through, and my husband’s eyeglasses were washed away with a strong ocean wave. For a while, it felt as though our long-awaited for trip was just one disaster after another. But we also learned a lot about letting go of the things we can’t control and making the most of an unfortunate situation. It wasn’t often fun. It certainly wasn’t easy. But however miserable it was at the time, I think we gained a little strength and resilience along the way.
We do it because, though it may not always be worth it to us in the moment, it is always worth it to them. The first feel of warm sand between their toes. Finding a small chameleon in a tree. Watching the vibrant red cardinal flit from one branch to the next. Wishing upon a star in the dark night sky filled with more stars than they have ever seen in their life. Spotting a hot air balloon drifting above the mountains. My oldest daughter still talks about the joy and wonder of meeting her favorite princess at Disneyland (God help us) years ago. She still remembers riding the Tube in London and how exciting it was to watch and wait for the next train. She doesn’t remember much else of either trip. Certainly, she doesn’t remember the jetlag or tantrums she threw or how overwhelmed and overstimulated she was on many days. She remembers the best parts, the parts that matter. And when we look back, we realize that’s all that really counts: not the pain that we experienced, but the joy that stays with us.
Mostly, we travel with our wee ones because there is a bond that travel creates for our family that is unique and irreplaceable. A bond that only shared experiences and special memories and unlimited family time for days on end can create. We spotted those dolphins. We got knocked over by those waves. We rode that roller coaster. We all squealed as that gigantic male bison ran alongside our minivan and ate a piece of bread straight from Daddy’s hands (at a game farm park where it was allowed, ahem, not in Yellowstone). And we did it together.And when times are hard on any given day of the year, when there are tears and disappointments and sadness in our every day lives, we can look back on those times as a family and remember the God-given beauty and the tireless joy of days gone by. The vacation is over, but it’s easy to recall the feelings of excitement, wonder, and comfort those precious moments gave us. That is everything, Moms and Dads. That is everything.
Think of it this way: traveling with kids is a little like Christmas morning. It’s messy. It’s expensive. It’s loud. It’s exhausting, for everyone involved but especially for the parents. It is not always relaxing or quiet or even enjoyable. But it is magical. Seeing the holiday — seeing the world — through their eyes is the closest you will ever get to NeverNeverLand. If you go into it with realistic expectations and a heart that’s wide open, it can be a breath of fresh air, giving you a new perspective. Giving you new life. It won’t be perfect or painless. But it can still be worth it. Often times, the hardest things are.
To be clear, I also believe in traveling without children, either alone, with friends, or with your significant other. Do that too, and do it without regret or guilt. But when everyone else is telling you not to take your littles and travel down the street or around the world, because it’s too tiring, it’s too difficult, it’s too expensive, it’s too much of all the bad things and not enough of any of the good things, I will say this:
Travel with them anyways.
Travel down the road.
Travel to the next city.
Venture across state lines.
Cross the country.
Cross the ocean.
Wherever you can go, however you can get there, however long you can stay, just do it. Take the leap. And when you do, cry when you need to, scream if you must, pull your hair out when there’s nothing else to do. You’ll probably do all of those daily while you’re away. But pay attention. Pay attention to their wide eyes of wonder, listen closely to their curious questions, relish in their clean-slate innocence as they experience the world for the first time. Play with them. Discover with them. Soak it up. It won’t ever be easy, it probably won’t be pretty, and that’s okay.
Travel with them anyways, long days and frequent tears be damned. Travel with them, knowing that travel, as with life, is often messy and beautiful at the same time. And there’s value in that too.
In fact, I’d say those memories are the most golden — the most worth it — of all.
A year ago, I gave birth to my youngest child and with that, I gave birth to the possibility and hope of you. She was born in a birth story that wasn’t what I wanted, but she was warm, and snuggly, and perfect, and I just knew she couldn’t be my last one. I just knew, almost instantly, that we are meant to have one more. You.
But your daddy isn’t so sure and I don’t know that you will ever be anything more than a persistent and painful longing in my heart. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to meet, you and me, solid warm skin to solid warm skin. Will you ever leave the place of possibility and come into the now? Will you ever exist, except in the yearning that grips me from the inside and won’t let go? Will you ever exist, except in the divide that separates Daddy and I? You are there in that great crevice, small and fragile but also loud and big to me, because you wander through my thoughts a thousand times a day. You are there, but I fear you may never be here. With me. In my arms. The arms that long to hold you.
There are days when it’s as if God Himself has told me you will be mine. I am that sure of it. You feel so real to me that I can almost see your cherub face and smell your sweet newborn wetness and hear the tiny sighs and chirps that you would make in your sleep. Maybe it’s just muscle memory, given that I’ve had four before you, but it’s as if I can already feel the soft weight of you against my chest. Sometimes, I can even see the outline of you in a vision of our future. I can see how you would fit into our lives and I know you are exactly what’s intended for us. But then there are other days. Other days when it all feels like a beautiful dream someone wakes up from, tears on her cheeks and a sinking in her heart because she knows it’s not true and never will be. Those days are painful days, thinking of a life without you.
So there are lots of unknowns right now, Maybe Baby, and that is hard for me, who finds peace and security in knowing as much as I can always. But here is what I do know: I think of you often. I pray for you daily. I plan our lives as if you will be a part of it. I want you as much as I have ever wanted anything. And not just because I want to give birth again, which I do, very much. But because it feels as though there is room for one more inside this house, this family, and our hearts. Contrary to what I once believed, I’m not sure that this family is yet complete. I think we are waiting for you.
And if I’m being honest, in my heart, you belong to us already. You are ours, part of our story, a piece of my life and future and the fabric of who I am. Whether or not you ever exist in the here and now, one thing will always be true: you are mine and I am yours. The rest — all the details — is up to God. I will go to war for you, Baby. I will not let this break me, or Daddy, or the beautiful combination of Daddy and I together as best friends and life partners, but I won’t give up on you either. I will fight for you. I will fight for your existence, for your life. I will do all I can do. And then I will just release it into God’s hands. He is the All-Knowing and He knows me and He knows you. You, even the possibility of you, are His. I take comfort in that.
To me, you are kismet. And I don’t know if that’s intuition or foolish hope, but I believe there is a purpose to this desire I have inside of me. I hope that purpose is you. And I hope, with time, we’ll discover that you were always meant to be. Baby, you are wanted and loved. Come to me if you can. I’m waiting.