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F

Stretch Marks

07.21.2017 / FAMILY

The way I see it, a baby grows in your belly, or perhaps your heart, and stretches each to the max. A nudge here, a push there. Stretching, expanding, breathlessly requesting more room from you – inside, outside – until you think you cannot possibly give another inch, another minute, another day.

(You do, of course.)

We never really stop making room for our kids, do we? Not in our bellies or calendars, not in our laps or living room layouts. They enter the world having stretched us whole, and yet, we find – incredulously – there’s always more space to give.

Here’s what that space looks like for us, in our family, in this season. The many ways little Bee and Scout have wholly stretched us, leaving their unmistakable marks:

In Our Home
I wouldn’t have called our home precious pre-kids, not by any true standard. And yet, it did hold a sort of pristine air – with its not-yet-stained rugs and fingerprint-free windows, to say nothing of the white walls (subtle side-eye to you, Crayola). Clutter was effectively corralled; the Williams Morris rule in full rotation (sans Ken’s wood shop). And then, Bee.

At the ripe age of 2, Squinkies were introduced by a well-meaning friend, which gateway drugged right into Shopkins from another well-meaning friend, and well, the rest is a history course in Search & Rescue: Small Plastic Pieces Unit.

(A word about Squinkies and/or Shopkins: I’m actually firmly in the pro camp. They seem to encourage copious amounts of tower-building as Bee designs and constructs their latest habitats. Plus, unlike Legos, they don’t cause you to scream in wrath when you step on a rogue gimcrack in the middle of the kitchen floor.)

And so: we’ve been making space for the (many) curios. High on Bee’s list are rock collections, small boxes, packing peanuts and – dare I say it? – anything that might have lived a happier life in the recycling bin. She’s a pack rat through and through, and yet – there’s space to be made.

My general theory is to designate room for kids (and kids’ stuff) in each room, leaving no space off-limits. In the office, that looks like a toddler desk that houses art supplies in one tidy spot. In the living room, that looks like storage ottomans from the clearance section. In the sunroom and bedrooms, that looks like a deep trunk for which to hide a multitude of sins.

In every room, of course, baskets and baskets and baskets of books.

In Our Day
It’s no secret that I’m awake before the birds (2am, to be exact) to fit in a good chunk of writing and quiet before the littles begin their morning tradition of hollering, bouncing, asking for pancakes. Making space for kids in our home is one thing; making space for kids in our schedules is entirely another.

Ken and I are continually exploring routine shifts in these parts. We both work for ourselves, and from home, thus allowing ample opportunities to bend and flex into the most optimal schedule for us all. It’s not without sacrifice, or challenge, but for the most part, we’ve rejiggered our days to guarantee three hours of uninterrupted work for me and six for Ken. That’s all we need, truly, and we’ve called it enough.

The blessing and the curse of freelance work is that you love it, and you often want more of it. I could read and write and think for hours, and I consider it one of my greatest gifts to spend my mornings entrenched in words, phrases. Yet my other greatest gift is that I’ve got two little ones underfoot, and so: when their eyes are open, my laptop is closed. Best to enjoy the gifts in their entirety. After all, I’ve never been one to multi-task.

In Our Relationships
When do Ken and I see each other? Less often than we’d like. We rely mainly on a lot of small moments we collect throughout the day, working hard to pay attention to each other, to notice. We’re in the thick of life right now, just right smack dab in the middle of a lot. Marriage, at the moment, looks more like trash duty and sofa pillows than wine flights and polished flatware. It’s extraordinarily simple, it’s outlandishly hard. But there’s a beauty in it, of course. Sometimes, he leaves love notes in the fridge.

Friendships are much the same. Gone are the days of mid-day matinees or sustained coffee shop chats. My conversations with girlfriends are often parallel – talking around each other while our eyes are locked on the kid atop the monkey bars, the baby untwisting the nursing cover, the toddler weaving a stroller base through a sea of ankles, dogs.

And yet: when we make room for our kids, our friends melt into family. Free for brunch this weekend? we ask, and in two days’ time, there’s a handful of kids begging to watch Rudolph in the dead of summer, and the whole house smells of bacon. We sip Mimosas. We swap babies and stories. We let someone else’s kid put Sharpie tattoos on our forearms.

The interruptions are frequent, and the grapes are always the first bowl to empty. But making space for the kids leaves us all a bit fuller, fatter. Tired, but the happy kind.

In Our Priorities
Few events shine a laser focus onto our priorities than the sharp realization that you’re shaping someone else’s. While I once prioritized a limited definition of success – work, productivity, self-actualization – I’ve seen a stark shift in how I perceive success post-kids. The choices I make directly affect the ones I’m charged to train, and so, I choose them carefully and with great thought/vision toward the end goal.

Care – for self, for others – is a big one. Curiosity is another. The fine art of asking questions. Imagination and creativity, laughter and adventure. Nutrition. Hard work. Travel is huge, if only to witness a new way of being. Music, too. Character, of course. Exploration with roots.

And so: our time and funds go toward these, spending both in our deepest values rather than the lipstick aisle in Target.

On that note…

In Our Habits
Stretching leads to quite a bit of contortion, if you’re lucky. Time to myself, or lack thereof, has washed away the majority of old habits and as a result, my days now are nearly unrecognizable from years past:

Less cords. I make it a point to offer my kids a relatively phone-free childhood, and so, this means a great many things. I don’t broadcast our moments for the wold to watch on Instagram stories. I don’t answer emails during the day. My ringer is perennially on silent. In rare glimpses of attempted moment-capturing, my preference is a real deal camera each and every time.

Less shopping. I won’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve stepped into Target. Years, easily. Turns out that you don’t want the stuff you don’t see. If I’m granted an hour of time to kill and an itch to explore, I’m finding I’d rather teach my kids to tiptoe the quiet carpets of our local library rather than wander through fluorescent lights and $22 blouses. (But man, I do miss that glorious Target hot dog.)

Less Netflix. Tell me your celebrity crush and I will stare are you with blank eyes, a blink or two. The show about handmaidens? That one documentary about the whale? Who is Dr. Who? Missed ’em, missed ’em all. (Exception: Binged Stranger Things last fall, not at all a mistake.) There was a time in which long weekends were spent in bed with Taco Bell and a remote, and now, they’re filled to the brim with fresh air and dirty feet. I don’t miss the remote much, although I’ll always have a hard time turning down a terrible quesadilla.

More yoga. Admittedly, this habit looks different than the golden days of incensed studios and candle-lit sanctuaries. Currently, my downward dogs are attempted in the kitchen, with a few extra legs dangling nearby, generally as the eggs burn. I’m far less fit, but I suppose every few minutes here and there count for something.

More veggies. I once consisted of Skittles and Starbucks, quite solely. Salt and vinegar chips on a good day. And so: making room for kids has meant teaching myself a thing or two in the kitchen, and while this has been a loooooong time coming (I didn’t learn that green beans grew in the ground and not the can until college), I’m ever-learning.

I’m realizing here, that this is what it’s all boiling down to: There is simply less “Me” time, and that this is not-so-simply – a really good thing. It means there is no time to waste. There exists a constant, ever-present set of eyes on myself and my habits, and while I’m far from the school of thought that perfect habits are attainable, it’s fairly nice to strive for good ones every now and then.

There is more prayer. More books. More dishes (far more dishes). More attempts at forgiveness, more failings and flailings (a stubbed toe will still send me into a manic spiral of wrath, no changes there). More questions, more questions, more questions. (Still, less answers.) More hard, more good. More sweeping, the corners of my kitchen, the corners of my heart.

I have stretched to fill it all, and in doing so, I’ve emptied a great portion of myself.

And it’s not a bad thing at all.

Plenty of room in there to grow.

 

 

 

p.s. Some of my e-friends are chatting about this very thing today — adult time vs family time, and making room for it all. Take a peek at a few other perspectives, if you’d like!: Jen, Rebecca, Catherine, Em and Eden.

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  • Ah, yes. It’s amazing the things we will do and commit to and follow through on for our beloved children that we would not make time/intention/energy for ourselves before kids.I love it all.

  • Vicki

    I needed this today. Lately, I’ve been struggling with the lack of “me” time. We just moved, have a toddler, and another on the way that is kicking my butt in the nausea and tiredness department. There is no time to make dinner or walk the dog. No energy for playing or spending quality time with the hubby. I realized last night that, to an extent, feeling like this is a choice I’m making. I need to make a better choice. One that allows me to see this time of stretching as a blessing (which it so is) rather than a hardship. So this am, I woke up early, did 10 mins of yoga, and packed my lunch. It was glorious.

    • oh vicki – i’m cheering you on! this is a major stretch season for you, i’m sure. i have no doubt you’ll learn much – including the many, many strengths you already possess. :)

  • Cara

    I loved reading this Erin, thank you so much for sharing. My husband and I both currently work for ourselves, the majority of time from home, and are still exploring the best way to do this with a little one. I’m so inspired by you working from 2am, I often find my best work – founded in a solid stretch of time – happens during the night too x

    • love hearing this! it’s such a constant experiment finding time to sneak in that work. ;) we’re always changing it up around here, but so far, the 2am routine has stuck well! :)

  • Erin, This is so encouraging to me. Recently, my husband and I packed up our tv and have made a serious effort to spend our time with each other and our 1 year old son better. You’ve encouraged me today because our friends think we’re crazy and sometimes outside-the-box living is a really good idea. You’ve also challenged me to go a step further – ditching the phone, I’ve done a media free day each week, but ditching the phone during the day sounds like a really good idea. Thanks! <3

    • hi kendra!

      love hearing this, and i agree – sometimes outside-the-box living elicits some crazy reactions. ;) i make sure to allow plenty of room for grace – both for me (when i fall short of ideals) and others (when they don’t share the same views). there’s not one right-and-simple way to parent, that’s for sure! :) biggest hugs to you!

  • Heidi

    You have such a talent for writing. This post warmed my heart as I try to navigate being a mother for the first time. Thank you fo sharing your experiences!

  • I completely agree, being a mother has forced me to reflect on my health and priorities in order to be the model for good living. Another unanticipated perk ;)

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