The New College

If you are a first-time mom, you may not know this, so I feel the distinct need to warn you that something ABSURD may be coming your way.

It’s preschool–more specifically, it’s fact that if you’re even thinking about signing your child up for preschool, you’re probably going to have to do so nine or more months in advance. In other words, you have to prepare for preschool longer than you actually had to prepare for the birth of your child. See—absurd. Anyway, this preschool sign-up phenomenon appears to be universal. We don’t live in a big city like New York or even D.C. anymore. We live in small-town North Carolina. Still, here, the waitlists are endless, the open houses have strict requirements, and the registrations are binding with hundred dollar deposit fees. Thankfully, our small town does not yet require entrance exams for two-year-olds, but I’ve heard tales of these things happening elsewhere.

I offer these tidbits only because when I realized that if I wanted to get William into preschool somewhere next fall, several of the open houses had already started happening and the registration dates were only weeks, or in some cases—days—away. Thus commenced for us what I’ve termed: “Preschool Week,” a frenzied and all consuming equivalent of “Shark Week” except that instead of being confined to the Discovery Channel, we had to meet the sharks in person.

Our first preschool tour was at 11am. When I showed up at 10:59, I was mentally high-fiving myself for my timely arrival until I saw eight other families already waiting, feet tapping, in the lobby.  The preschool director passed me her last handout.

Now that we’ve all arrived,” she said, “we can begin.”

Say what??? Does no one know that parents are supposed to be late? That things like bathroom stops and spilt milk and tantrums seem to always happen on the way out the door, and these are not things you can just overlook. They are things that must be dealt with. Immediately. And they make you late, but it’s okay because they make everyone late?

Apparently, they don’t make everyone late on preschool tour days. A woman with a three-year-old and a newborn arrived before me. Note to self (and to all potential preschool surveyors): arriving on-time is not good enough; you must arrive at least five minutes early.

I was all set for an early arrival at school number two when I read on its website “no kids allowed”—something that made a whole lot of sense, since, you know, it was a preschool.  So I crossed that one off the list and moved on to school number three. I arrived there promptly (though the gathering room was already packed) and brought William (since kids were technically allowed). While several other parents had brought their well-behaved children, many did not, including a woman with curled, brown hair sitting to my right. She was pristinely dressed in a pressed blue blazer and matching shoes with golden medallions. I made the executive decision a few years ago not to buy anything that needed to be pressed ever again, so I was wearing something wrinkled underneath my bright red hooded jacket (a staple of clothing that I love, but that also makes me look like Little Red Riding Hood, or an oversized Hot Tamale).

Unlike the first tour in which the preschool director talked as we walked through the halls, this tour began with a forty-five minute information session, complete with a slideshow and a four-page printout presentation. William sat patiently in my lap for about the first two minutes, and then I directed him to the small stack of toys in the middle of the aisle. While the freshly-pressed brunette took notes on every word the preschool director said, my son took a pig and started slamming it into the top of the farmhouse.

It sounded something like this: Slam, Slam, Slam. Squeak. Then William’s laughter. Then his look to me for approval and praise.

He wasn’t doing anything malicious, just having fun, so I said, “Oh yes, that’s very good! But here… Let’s try this instead.” I then offered him a quiet picture book.

He ignored the book and resumed smashing the pig against the roof to try to get it to squeak again. I couldn’t tell exactly how loud the pig banging was—that is, if the banging was not actually that loud but only loud to me because I was focused on it, or if it was, in fact, bothering everyone.

It was at least bothering the well-dressed brunette. I smiled at her and offered a shrug that was meant to convey: kids, what can you do? She gave back a tight-lipped smile that didn’t reach her eyes and then returned to her detailed note taking.

At about this point, I looked around and noticed that everyone else was taking notes too. Like EVERYONE—moms, dads, a couple of the rising four-year-olds… I decided I should also take notes so that the director didn’t single us out and block our enrollment.

I usually have approximately seven different pens rolling around the bottom of my oversized diaper bag—along with old receipts, small picture books, a miniature cow toy, a cheese stick or two, some hand sanitizer, and (on more than one occasion) a magic trick. I was certain I had at least one writing utensil in there somewhere—if not a pen, then a marker, or a broken piece of crayon. But as the search commenced, I couldn’t find a single thing to write with. Soon I grew fervent, digging deeper and faster, and becoming progressively less aware of what was going on around me until I glanced up to see the brunette staring, mouth slightly agape, with a look on her face that said: this is why we need an entrance exam, to weed out people like them.

I decided she must be the kind of person who carried extra pens, so I whispered, “Do you by chance have a pen?”

She shook her head once and then glued her eyes to the slideshow. After that, I gave up on the pen situation and decided to take notes on my phone.  I soon realized, however, that instead of looking like I was taking notes, I looked like I was texting. And not texting like a normal person. Texting like a fiend. I was suddenly overcome by the desire to get rid of all evidence of my fiendish behavior, so I swiftly tossed the phone back into the pit formally known as my bag.  This violent reaction obviously screamed “not guilty” and overall really helped my case.

Eventually, this preschool session ended, as did the others on our list, and it was time for executive decisions. I decided against sending William to the school that used thirty minutes of screen-time during the day. I also decided against the one I really liked but would require approximately an hour of back and forth driving every day because with a new baby coming, that just seemed kind of far. Ultimately, I opted for the one I liked closest our house. But instead of just signing up and being done with it, that’s when the worst part began.

I have heard tales of how twenty or so years ago moms would line up starting at four in the morning on preschool registration days to sign their kids up for slots. To some this may sound crazy. To me this sounds like something I could get behind—waking up early one morning with the guarantee that the best slots would go to the most devoted moms—there’s a kind of meritocracy to it. Although, I know if I got there at four, people like the stylish brunette probably would have arrived at three. Still, I could have at least beaten out those slackers who arrived at five or six, or heaven forbid, seven o’clock in the morning.

Anyway, to eliminate the need to deal with crazy people, preschools in our town have eliminated this merit-based system and have instituted a lottery system whereby each child is given a number that is physically or metaphorically pulled out of a hat. A determined mother, therefore, can do nothing except turn in her paperwork and pray that the lottery is kind to her.

The lottery was not kind to me.

The preschool I chose was connected to a church, but not to our church, and its lottery system went something like this. First picks went to returning kids and their siblings. Second picks went to church members and then to members of affiliated churches. Last picks went to community randos. I was a community rando. Out of 36 children who wanted to be in two-year-old preschool, William was picked 34th. Not dead last, but essentially so—we didn’t get our first or second or third choice. We did, however, get a one-day slot on Mondays. When I told John about our luck, he suggested that maybe we should try for a different preschool that had two-day options still available; the school that didn’t allow kids on the tour had its registration tomorrow, so maybe I could just try to register there and see how things went.

When I arrived the next day and asked if I could just take a peek around, I was shunned and ended up crying on my way out of the building because how was I supposed to make a decision without even getting a chance to look inside?  By the time I reached the parking lot, I was slightly hysterical. If I thought my car would provide refuge for me to cry in peace, the hoards of people arriving for registration made that impossible.  (The car also, as an unfortunate side effect, did not offer the convenience of a tissue, thus forcing me to wipe my runny nose on my Red Riding Hood sleeves).

It was there, with snotty sleeves, that I’d had enough—enough crying, enough worrying about making the right choice. Mostly, I’d had enough of the cultural pressure that has turned preschool into the new college. It’s not college. It’s preschool. It’s sort of a big deal, but not really. One day a week is more than fine, and notes don’t need to be taken—not with pens, or cell phones, or anything. They just don’t. Our children are two and three and four-years-old. The most important thing they’re going to learn in these early years is how to get along with others and how to share, which is apparently something that some preschool-probing mothers need to relearn. If it takes a village, then preschool is part of that, but so are we all—and we’re missing the point if we’re so consumed with our visions of our children’s future success that we fail to see how, right now, they are looking to us for approval and praise.

So if you are about to enter the preschool phase, here’s my take: prepare yourself early, show up on time, forget the pens, and ignore the haters. Then tell your toddlers to bang on. And maybe, for the first day of school, put some tissues in the car.



The Cookies

“What’s mommy doing?”

It’s William’s new phrase. Most often the answer is something he already knows but for some reason wants me to verbalize, so all throughout the day I answer with: “I’m driving” or “I’m cooking” or “I’m folding your pajamas.”

It is a simple, straightforward question—what are you doing?—and it’s not one intended to produce heaps of guilt unless, of course, the person being asked, “What are you doing?” is doing something she shouldn’t be.

William’s second most popular phrase is: “Want some of that.” As in, I just fed him a healthy, well-balanced lunch, but he sees my lightly toasted English muffin loaded with butter, and though there is no way he can physically be hungry after his sandwich and apples and carrots and milk and cheese stick, it’s not hunger that consumes him. It’s desire. So he points and says, “Want some of that.”

Perhaps it is human nature to want what is on someone else’s plate more than we want what is on our own. William is not exceptionally greedy, just mildly so. He doesn’t want all of what I have—just a part. Just a taste. Just enough to take a little from the integrity of the whole. Just some. For YEARS I have been doing this to John, so I guess it serves me right. Payback, as they say, is … well… a polite young woman.

So this polite young woman shares.

Except recently I’ve been craving sweets. A lot of them. As a rule, I don’t keep sweets in the house because unlike a normal human being who can have one slice of cake or one scoop of ice cream, the inner child in me comes out and I can’t stop myself from consuming the whole thing. And I’m not talking about the cute, carefree inner child. I mean the inner child that for years wore the “husky” pants.

“Husky,” which is an appropriate title for a dog or a football player, is not an adjective coveted by little girls. So while others ate candy bars, I was given celery. While others had gummies, I received grapes.

Slowly the huskiness faded, not from a growth spurt (when one grows at a rate of a centimeter or two per year, “spurt” is also not the appropriate word for one’s growth progression). No, the huskiness faded from learning how to run, and also (God bless that woman) from my mother’s insistence on the celery.

I have, generally speaking, never fully reverted to the husky days since then. Although, I have flirted with them occasionally—and during this pregnancy, thanks to all the holiday dessert leftovers, my sweet-craving, pregnant self has been steadily packing on more than the appropriate amount of pounds since Thanksgiving. William has benefited (or suffered) from my cookie consumption because amid trying to teach him to share, I feel obligated to share a little, too. Over time, however, I’ve started to worry that I’ve been giving William too many sweets. A more cognizant woman whould have taken this as a sign to cut out sweets entirely. I took it as a sign to cut out sweets in his presence. For weeks, as soon as I put William down for his nap, I would run downstairs to the kitchen like a raccoon to a fresh garbage load. With lights off and cabinet doors wide open, I would shove my face full of cookies or cannolis or slices of pound cake in perfect solitude.

Then it hit me a couple of weeks ago that my glucose-screening test was coming up and my intake of sugar to normal food was not at an appropriate level. To put an end to the naptime eating I “hid” the sweets in freezer section of our side-by-side refrigerator. Hiding, as a general practice, works best when one doesn’t know where the hidden items actually are.   Nevertheless, at least the bottom drawer of the freezer was out of my direct line of vision, and in order to eat the frozen goodies I’d hypothetically have to allow for a certain amount of time for them to thaw.

Unfortunately, instead of stopping me, I realized that by actually hiding myself in the freezer, I could consume the sweets at any time of the day without William knowing what I was doing. He could be sitting right in his booster seat, and I could be “putting something away,” while actually using the freezer door to shield my clandestine cookie consumption from view. It was genius. Pure genius. Sure, the frozen cookies weren’t as good as normal ones, but they were still cookies. Cookies, more importantly, I didn’t have to share.

This covert cookie eating went on successfully for some time. Then as these things go, I got too comfortable. I got sloppy.

I know, rationally, that right after breakfast is not an appropriate time for eating cookies. It is, however, an appropriate time for cleaning up breakfast dishes, and recently William and I have gotten into the routine whereby when I am washing dishes, he wades into the playroom to play with his trains alone. I can still hear him and see him from the sink. But the playroom is out of sight of the refrigerator, and on this fateful cookie-eating morning, I recognized my opportunity and seized it. Opening the freezer, I crouched down to the bottom drawer and pulled out the Ziploc bag of chocolate chip cookies. After the first cookie, I decided that I could lump at least one more in with the category of “breakfast,” therefore making the calories null and void. The second cookie was my downfall.

When our freezer is open too long, the door starts to beep, warning you to shut it. I ignored the beep. Lady and William did not ignore the beep. From the playroom, I heard the pitter patter of little footsteps, followed by the thump of a tail against the wall. They knew I was eating. And they were coming.

Instead of stopping, instead of closing the cookie stash as fast as I could and hiding the evidence, I began shoving the rest of the chocolate chip cookies in my mouth like someone in a hotdog eating contest. There were many things I should have thought in this moment. Instead I thought: CHEW FASTER! THEY’RE COMING!

The pitter-patter quickened. The tail thudded louder. Suddenly they were upon me.

I didn’t even have the wherewithal to stand up. I just squatted there at the bottom freezer drawer until that cherubim of a face looked me in the eyes and said: “What’s mommy doing?”

Is this what I’ve come to?

Hiding in our freezer, shoving my face full of frozen chocolate chip cookies?

I couldn’t even open my mouth to tell him the truth because there was so much in there that if I did, half-frozen cookie crumbs would come spilling out.

William smelled the cookies, which had been noticeably absent from the counter for some time now.   He looked harder at me and then at the freezer. I could see his mind churning, thinking: cookies are not stored in the freezer. But the smell was undeniable. It was probably oozing from my pores.

“Cookies?” he said, realization sweeping his face. “Cookies!”

I was still chewing–as fast as I possibly could, while also trying to keep my jaw from moving so he would know what I’d done.

He pointed to my mouth.

“Want some of that.”

I wanted to explain, but I had to swallow first, repeatedly. As he waited, I pulled out the empty freezer bag and tried to show him that they were all gone. He looked from the bag, to me, then back to the bag, incredulous.

“Want some of that, please?”

Before he started to cry, or I actually had to explain, I reached deep into the bottom freezer drawer and pulled out a bag of red and green M&M’s from Christmas.

“Look, William!” I said. “You can have a red M&M!”

He looked at the disappointing bag of M&M’s. I don’t even like M&M’s, but I’ve kept them around because when the baked goods are all gone, M&M’s suffice as something sugary and not good for me. Perhaps, in his own way, William rationalized this, too. When I handed him a red M&M, he didn’t oppose it, but he also didn’t eat it—not yet.

First he asked, “And a green one?”

I obliged—how could I not—and he popped the two tiny candies in his mouth, satisfied.


Later, I wanted to confess what I’d done. But when I started to tell John how I’d been eating too many sweets and generally had been acting like a pig, or a rabid raccoon, he did the nicest thing in the whole world—and probably what any husband of any pregnant woman should do—and he told me it was okay, and that I look fine. That I’m pregnant. That the extra pounds are good for the baby. I wanted to be shamed, but instead he responded like I was normal—like this is America, who doesn’t occasionally shove their face full of frozen chocolate chip cookies?

So instead of telling him the truth, I just said, “Okay,” and I pulled my shape-wear up a little higher.

And also, tomorrow I decided, maybe I’d try to eat some celery.

One Wing

While I was washing dishes in the kitchen recently, William pulled up a chair to stand beside me and help. He pointed to the angel figurine by the sink and said, “Where angel wing?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

My answer, insufficient, incited his reply: “Her wing!”

“I know—there should be two, but there’s only one. The angel fell, and one of the wings broke off, and now I don’t know where it is.”


This is the second year in a row that I have placed a small, fully intact angel figurine by the kitchen sink at Christmas. It is the second year in a row that by the end of the Christmas season the angel has lost one of her wings. William liked this angel—he liked everything about Christmas: making Christmas candies, playing with the nativity set, reading Christmas books, singing Christmas carols. But he did not like when everything had to get packed up and when the car radio would no longer “sing” to him “Fa La La La La” (Deck the Halls) or “The Angel Song” (Angels We Have Heard on High) or “Joy” (Joy to the World). When I tried to assuage William’s disappointment by singing the carols myself, I was reminded why I almost failed chorus in middle school.

“NO Mama,” came the shout from the back seat. “No, no, no. CAR sing. Car sing PLEASE.”

Since there was really no reason Christmas had to end for us, I scrounged up a few Christmas CD’s and put them in the car. I also delayed taking a few inconspicuous decorations down—like the angel in the kitchen.

It is now solidly the middle of January. It took the magi a long time to find the baby Jesus, so I’m not sure how long this will last for us, but the likelihood of the angel surviving more than a couple more weeks with even one wing intact is slim, especially seeing as our kitchen has become a battleground.

It usually starts at breakfast. William picks up his bowl as if to throw it on the floor. I warn him: do not throw your bowl on the floor. A few minutes pass. He obeys and finishes eating. I stand to start cleaning up and then—BANG. The bowl hits the floor, and the rest of his food splatters everywhere.

Immediately, I tell him no, pick him up, clean him up, and punish him for directly disobeying. As he sits on the time-out stoop, I say, Why are you getting punished? He says, Because I threw the bowl on the floor. I explain that he needs to obey. I have him say he’s sorry. Then I hug him and say, I love you and I forgive you, but do not throw that bowl again, yes ma’am? He says, Yes ma’am.

It’s lunchtime. There is no bowl throwing, not even a bowl raising. Until the end. Then the warning: Did that spoon fall on accident, or did you throw it? He says, On accident. I say, Ok, but if you throw anything—your spoon, your cup, ANYTHING, you’re going to get in trouble. Do you understand me? No response. Look at me with your eyes, William—do you understand—no throwing, yes ma’am? He says, Yes ma’am. A minute passes. He throws his cup. Milk splatters all over the floor.

Over and over, he tests boundaries. Over and over, he directly disobeys. Over and over, I punish and explain, and he says, I’m sorry, and I say, I forgive you and I love you, I will always love you, but you must obey, do you understand? He says, Yes ma’am.

While I prepare dinner, I let William stack the cans in the pantry to make a tower. He makes a tower. He is proud. I tell him I am proud, too. Before he can play something else though, he must clean up. He doesn’t want to clean up. He starts crying and rolling around on the floor.

I say, I do not listen to tantrums. I say, please use your words. I purposefully ignore the bad behavior until he calms enough to whine. I say again, I do not listen to whining. Use your words. He says, I do not want to clean up. I say, In this house we clean. I say, God is a God of order; keeping things clean pleases Him. Yes ma’am? He says, Yes ma’am. I help him put the cans away and go back to the stove.

With my back turned, he takes out the box of macaroni that I’ve told him not to play with. He spills penne pasta all over the floor. I tell him to clean up the pasta. He does not clean up the pasta. Another body-to-floor tantrum is about to begin. Why does he do this—throw his whole little body on the ground? Why does he stomp his feet? It is not something he learned from me. I do not go around stomping my feet and throwing myself on the floor. I see him about erupt and say, William, put your hands in your lap, and let’s gain some self-control. This strategy came from one of the many parenting books I’ve read. The book said that by directing a child’s energy and attention to a physical point—his hands—the child is better able to focus and calm down.

I have lost count of how many small breakdowns we’ve been through today. Nothing is working. My two-year-old is flailing. I am failing. I step back, put my hands in my lap, and try to gain some self-control.

Only a few moments ago I’d been singing the Christmas carol “Joy to the World.” I know the words (to the first verse) of handfuls of carols, and I have sung (those first verses) faithfully to William for going on two months now. Except it turns out that in addition to my middle school choral skills, I also don’t know all the correct words. In fact, I have apparently been singing incorrect words for decades, but I’ve been singing them so quietly that no one’s ever noticed. But not this year. This year, as I’ve embraced the accapella versions, John has embraced pointing out my lyrical improvisations.

Now, as I lean against the sink with my hands folded, the incorrect words to “Joy to the World” come to me—the line that goes “He rules the world, with truth and love.”

Except it’s not love. It’s grace. He rules the world with truth and grace.

I am not doing this perfectly. This thing called parenting. I’m impatient and intolerant; I get angry; instead of trying to understand, I am rude; I give too many chances; I don’t give enough chances; I’m inconsistent, or maybe too tough, or maybe not tough enough. I’m parenting so imperfectly that the only way our child—any of our children—is going to turn out halfway decent is by the grace of God. And yet I don’t understand grace. I don’t even put it correctly in a Christmas carol. So what is grace, really—what is mercy and forgiveness and one man substituting his sinless self for my sinful one? How can I comprehend the great I AM, who is with us and in us, when often, what is in me, is anger and impatience—and the slow realization that I am the one throwing food on the floor; I am the one stomping my feet when I do not get my way; I am the one crying when I don’t understand; I am the one testing boundaries; I am the one directly disobeying.

I read a lot of parenting books in the hope that there is some collective wisdom in the human experience, and I might be able to glean even a little of it. But all the reading and studying in the world cannot tell me what to do when I’ve lost track of how many tantrums we’ve had in one day, and all of our techniques are not working. No book can tell me how to understand William’s individual personality, or how to see into his heart, or how to learn what makes him tick, or how to learn what makes him obey.

There is no manual.

There is only Emmanuel.

God with us.

As a parent, I know there are things to fight for—like disciplining for direct defiance. There are also things it’s okay to give in to—like Christmas in January. But there’s a middle ground, too—where what deserves wrath is met with patience and what deserves condemnation is met with love.

How do I teach these things? How do I live out these things?

I don’t know.

Except to say, mine is a kitchen where angels only have one wing; where He rules the world with truth and love; and where we are searching, with hands folded in laps, trying to understand grace.

The Year of the Eyes

“What is your theme for the year?” a friend asked me recently.

The answer came to me quickly, though it didn’t fit a typical categorical response like “a year of growth,” or “a year of joy,” or something like that. My theme—my word—was much more physical. Much more tactile. With a toddler, learning is hands on right now; it is immediate, and it requires one’s full attention.

When William does something he is not supposed to do, or when he is playing and doesn’t want to stop to listen to me, or when he is about to disobey, I have found myself saying this: “William, look at me with your eyes, please.” Instead of the typical: “look me in the eyes,” my phrase has been: “look at me with your eyes.” It is a slight difference, but a grand one, too. The focus is less about me and my eyes, and more about the action he must take to look with his eyes.

“My theme,” I told my friend. “My word, I guess, is eyes.”

The first year of William’s life I fought against motherhood, or at least the lack of time there was in motherhood. It seemed like everyone was telling me how important it was not to lose myself and how I needed to take time for myself—and I agreed. I had worked so hard to build the woman I was before “mom”; I was determined not to abandon her now. But you cannot just add a baby on top of your old life. There is only a finite amount of time and space in a day.   A baby comes in and consumes most of it, leaving only marginal amounts of time to do other things. What I attempted for nearly two years, I do not recommend. I simultaneously tried to write full time and be a mom at home full time, and since there is simply not enough time in the day for both of those full-time positions, it was as if my life had become a Chinese finger trap. The more I fought against this lack of time, the tighter the trap grew. I loved the baby and wanted to care for the baby, but I wanted to write, felt like I needed to write, felt like if I were not writing, not working, not doing something other than caring for this new, small person, then I would lose the old small person I had worked for 27 years to become.

A Chinese finger trap is a cylinder typically made of paper or straw, designed to easily slide two pointer fingers inside; but then when you try to pull both fingers out, the device draws shut. It seems like the solution to freeing the fingers is to pull harder, but trying harder only makes things worse.  The added force compresses the trap, making it impossible to achieve freedom for either finger. The only solution is to give in, to push the fingers more fully toward the center, and then to gently pull out one finger at a time.

Having a baby is not some blip on the radar. It is not a pebble tossed into a pond that causes ripples for a few moments before sinking and leaving the pond as placid as before. Having a baby is the movement of tectonic plates. It is a new continent, a new cosmos. There is life before giving birth; then there is life after it. I am still myself, but that self changes. It has to change. To fight the change, to fear the change, is to deny the fact that the self is always–and constantly–changing. My “self” changed, for instance, when I read Emerson for the first time; it changed when I read Thoreau; it changed when I arrived at college; when I carried a friend to the hospital; when I said goodbye to a dog; when I said hello to a man that would not just be another man but the man that would change more than just my last name. I changed when I went to grad school, and wrote for love, and wrote for pay, and wrote in pain. I will change again when our children go to kindergarten, and when years from now, those tiny feet I chase around our house become big feet that leave our house to chase their own dreams.

This is the year of the eyes.

Time is an interesting thing. We act as if we have forever, and sometimes that is very helpful, but we are not guaranteed forever. And if we are not guaranteed forever, if we are not even guaranteed tomorrow, what does that look like for the way I treat my husband, for the way I care for our children? I’m not talking about dishes or housework or bills; I’m talking about relationally. I’m talking about the time it takes to say, “William, look at me with your eyes, please.” I’m talking about the time it takes for me to learn that when our son looks at me with his eyes in this way, he is more likely to obey; that when he looks at me like this, he is not just looking, he is listening, too. It takes an extraordinary amount of time to teach a toddler how to put toys away and not to just do it yourself. It takes an extraordinary amount of time to have a toddler help make the bed, or build a puzzle, or feed the dog, or do anything new for the first time, or the second time, or the hundredth time. And the time that all of these things take, means my to-do list for Monday is often pushed to Tuesday, and then from Tuesday to Wednesday, and sometimes entire weeks go by without getting things done, and we only have ONE KID! We are having MORE! The tornado time warp is only going to speed up and suck more and more time and energy away from the things I want or need to do. So I have a choice. I can either see these time-sucking activities as taking away from my own time (to write or do chores or sleep), or as something I can give in to; either as something to fight against, or as something to lay down.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Jesus doesn’t say die.

He says lay down one’s life.

What does it mean to want to write, but to choose to change a diaper? To want to finish the dishes, but instead to stop and read Paddington Bear for the thousandth time because I’ve been cleaning all morning, and William asks the way I have trained him: “Excuse me? Read Pad. Bear? Please?” What does it mean to attempt to sit quietly for a minute of devotional time—just a minute—and immediately hear the play hammer smacking and the dog barking and the doorbell ringing, and instead to stand up and walk to the door and pray on the way, “God, help me. Please, help me.”

This is the year of the eyes.

When my friend asked me about my theme for the year, I didn’t think of the year in terms of the calendar year of 2017. I thought about it in terms of William’s birthdays—that is, from when he turned one to when he just turned two in November. I didn’t even realize until reflecting upon it that my frame of reference for time had shifted. Tectonically. Cosmically.

If from William’s birth to year one I fought against the Chinese finger trap of motherhood, from year one to year two, I started to see, at least, that I was in the Chinese finger trap (the first step, as they say, to recovery). For indeed, in seeing it as a trap, I was also able to see it as a toy—as something not to rage against but something to enjoy.

I don’t know when or how this shift started exactly, except to say this: consider the landmass of one particular plain in Arizona. Imagine for a moment that this plain is content being a plain (it has, after all, been a plain for a very long time). But then one day it finds a river running through it. Why do some plains with rivers running through them remain plains, while others are forced into a gruesome and grueling transformation? An erosion of the self?   I cannot say, except that perhaps the most stubborn plains are faced with the most unrelenting water. The erosion does not happen all at once. In fact, the plain probably clings onto being a plain for much longer than it is actually a plain anymore because it cannot see what it is becoming. It is too close. It feels the pain too sharply. But over time, (in this particular plain’s case, scientists claim millions of years) it becomes what it was made to be. Not plain, but majestic. So majestic in fact, that now visitors flock from across the country and around the world to stand on its precipice and stare in wonder at what time and God have made: the Grand Canyon.

This is the year of the eyes.

People tell you, warn you, not to lose yourself. God tells you, warns you, you must lose yourself. It is only in losing yourself, in letting go, in releasing the fight, that you can be free of everything else that is trapping you; that you can become not who you thought you would be, but who you were created to be.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

We are meant to bear fruit. But we don’t get to choose the fruit. An apple tree doesn’t get to say, I wish I made pears. I am a woman; I am a wife; I am a mother; I am a writer; I am a friend; I am so many things more than identity politics can label, and I am bearing fruit of one kind and another, but not all in the same season. I think there is a deep misconception in the way we raise young women (and young men, for that matter, but biologically speaking, women will be physically bearing children. And that is much more tactile; it is immediate, and it requires one’s full attention). I remember from a very young age being told I could be anything I wanted—I could be an astronaut or a veterinarian or even the president. I always assumed in becoming anything I wanted, I would have a family, too.  But in school or with friends or even with my parents or my parents friends, I don’t remember specific discussions about being a mom and what that really meant–or even how that would be possible alongside a “Be Anything” mentality. The result, for me at least (and maybe for a lot of new moms out there) is a dichotomy, a split self: there is the life you’ve been building and have been encouraged to build your entire life; and then there is life as it really is now, as a mom. And this mom life is a good life. It is a “Be Anything” kind of life. But it requires a lot of laying down, a lot of dying to self, a lot of giving in (at least for a time) in order to become not just “anything” but the one particular thing you’ve been called to be at this very moment.

And that is not plain; it’s majestic.

And that is not loss; it’s creation.

I cannot see the whole picture from here. I am too close; the change is too raw. But what I can see is that something is happening, something that years from now I hope will cause me to look back with wonder at what time and God have made.

This is the year of the eyes.


It is with great joy I announce that this will be the last blog post as A Lady and a Baby; henceforth, I will be writing about a Lady and two babies, with our latest addition set to arrive this April.

We are very thankful for this wonderful new life, and we’re also thankful to all who have already shared their well-wishes.

After a trying first trimester, hopefully I’ll be back to writing more regular posts soon.

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving!


A Lady and a Baby Update:

The essays from Part I of A Lady and a Baby are no longer available online.  Thanks for reading!  I hope you enjoy the new essays from Part II.