For today, I am going to love the mess.

This mess is ours.

This mess does not stop at our tree either. Typically this mess would give me quite a bit of actual anxiety and cause me to be rather nasty to everyone I love. But, for some reason, it is different this year.

It is December 27th. I walk through my home and I hear our girls playing together in one of their rooms. I see our son at our dining room table turned Lego central, building what must be his sixth Lego kit. My husband has been grinding our coffee beans and drinking several cups of hot coffee while building with our kids. I finally showered, since..ahem… Christmas Eve. We have really soaked in the days after Christmas to just be together and it has been amazing.

Anyone in the generation one step above mine, with kids grown or who have left the house, have made it clear that Christmases like this are for a very short season in life. Soon the sounds of screams on Christmas morning over the perfect toy, the wonder of how these toys got here, which toy to play with first, will be replaced by Christmas brunches with most of your kids, if you are lucky, as they start spending Christmas with their significant other’s family. Your trees will be perfect and orderly as no one will be touching them. The mess will be cleared as soon as it is made, if it is made. The wonder of it all fades away as your children age.

I am a bit… or rather a lot… particular about our house. If you have ever been to our home, I am particular about making sure things like the toilets are always clean (we can’t let anyone know that we actually poop), the counters are cleaned off, and things are in some order for use to live in an efficient manner. Also, quite honestly, I like when our house looks nice. There I said it. I care a lot about appearances and I want our home to be functional but mostly, look nice.

This makes me super fun to live with. Also, it is hard on my mind to keep up with it all. It exhausts me. So much. The guilt and the struggle, the frustration and the anger I have towards myself for not just letting things be, but also the genuine anxiety I get with clutter and mess. It is just a whole thing in my mind, that the people I love the most get to experience from the front row.

But, right now, things are different. We are on a pause from life and it feels so good. As a teacher married to a teacher, we worked right up until Christmas Eve, in what we can all describe as a very different year. Our family, as with many families have experienced a lot of tragedy this year, life just keeps taking some hits, and we have not had a moment to even process them. Everything just keeps coming at us and life keeps going but this week, right now, in the days between Christmas and New Years…we have no plans because you can’t have plans this year and we are just being here, with each other, in our joyful mess.

We aren’t rushing the moment along. We aren’t yelling at our kids to get their stuff together for school, in whichever learning model they are in. We aren’t meal planning or grocery shopping. We aren’t worried about the laundry because pajamas for tomorrow sounds really nice. We are playing. We are building. We are napping. We are being together.

We can’t do this forever. We will have to return to the world soon. But for right now, I am going to soak in the mess. This is the most rested I have felt in a very long time. The most calm I have felt. The most present. The most loving. We are giving our family this time to just be and to enjoy one another.

I am grateful for the women ahead of me who have spoken such truth into me about enjoying the right now, as the season is fleeting. These women remind me about the loneliness of a clean family space. The heartbreak of sharing your children with another family. The sorrow that comes with the great joy of raising your children to be adults with their own lives.

Therefore, right now, we will enjoy our mess.

We also ran out of trash bags, so that has been a real hangup on the whole cleaning up thing. The tree is raining needles, making it painful to walk by it, and the trash is really piling up outside. We will have to pick up tomorrow so that we can continue to play but have the space to do it well. And…the mess is starting to get to my husband. Maybe he has more of my mind then we thought.

But right now, I am going to soak it all in.

this Christmas.

I love Christmas. It is by far my favorite time of the year. My Grandma Fran loved Christmas. When I think of my Christmas memories so many of them involve the way she did Christmas, even though she passed away twenty five years ago. She left a huge legacy on all my Christmas traditions and my deep love of this season. The ribbon candy on my table, the Santa ornament on my tree, the appetizers on Christmas Eve, the reading of The Night Before Christmas. These are all beautiful and cherished memories that I am so grateful were rooted into my childhood and life.

I also know this post-Christmas down. Maybe you have felt it too, when all the gifts are opened and all the traditions are done, and you are left with more stuff, more mess, and a little feeling of disappointment or sadness. It gets me every year. I want the joy of Christmas to last forever.

But this year, this year looks different for me. This year, we have invited Jesus to His own birthday celebration. If you have been around my writing for more than a minute, you know that my life drastically changed a year and a half ago after I felt Jesus pursuing me for years and I finally gave my life to Him after I had made such a mess of my own doing.

So, this year, Jesus is center in our celebration. Santa gets a nice nod because I do love a good tradition and my grandma would for sure assault me from Heaven <that is not gospel truth but stick with me> if we did not bring Santa to Christmas. But, our family is doing things a bit different this year.

This year we are doing Advent for the first time as a family. I mean, actually reading from the Bible each night, not just eating the chocolate. We have been eating the chocolate for years. Advent is beautiful. Advent takes my favorite day of the year and makes it a four week celebration of hope, peace, joy, and love. Every Christmas carol I hear now, like O Holy Night brings forth such emotion because they are about our Savior coming. Advent honors the wait and anticipation we feel during the Christmas season. The wait for Jesus’ arrival and for God to come to live with us on Earth. The wait feels different this year because it is so good when He does come.

Traditional Christmas songs and philosophy gets me differently this year. I think about this concept of naughty and nice, which was something we never really brought into in our home, but still it is front and center in secular Christmas culture. We sing songs with lyrics like

He’s making a list,

He’s checking it twice,

He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice

Santa Claus is coming to town

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Yet, Jesus came for us all. He knew we are all a mess and we all struggle with something and He came for all of us. Everyone can get the gift He brings because He came to save us all, naughty or nice.

Christmas is about God becoming fully human and living with us, Emmanuel means “God with us.” He came in the most humble of ways to save us. In a world, two thousand years ago and today, that focuses on money, stature, appearance, and power, Jesus came as a baby to poor parents, in a Middle Eastern country, to grow to be short and unattractive, still poor, and lacking governmental power. Yet, He was God. Constantly tempted, yet perfect. Feeling all human emotions, the joy and the suffering, yet obedient. He served others. He sat with the untouchables or social outcasts. He healed. He listened. He taught. He wept for the ones He loved. He wept for Himself knowing the horrible suffering He would endure to save us all and then silently gave Himself over for His own crucifixion. Jesus.

If you do not know Jesus as this loving, kind, serving, forgiving, and yet very confusing person, I encourage you to get to know Him, for yourself, not by what man tells you about Him. Read four books in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read just these four and get to know Jesus. Not religion, but Christianity. Not the laws and rules and hand-slapping of religion, but the hope, peace, joy, and love that is Jesus. If you need a Bible, please email me at ashleyelindner@gmail.com and I will get a Bible mailed to you!

This year is hard. Everyone knows it and I have written these exact words “this year is hard” in almost every post I have written this year. This is the year that we need hope, peace, joy, and love more than ever. So while I completely love the tradition of Santa and all the joy the celebration of him brings, this year I need to tie myself to the one who lasts all year. The one who truly came to town and truly brought the best gift ever. Salvation from a messy world. Isn’t that what we all want right now, to be saved from this messy world? It has come. He has come and we get to celebrate that this Christmas. Right now. This season.

On December 26th, or really, December 25th at 7 in the morning, when all the gifts are opened, because our kids don’t sleep past 5am on Christmas morning….this year, I will not feel the Christmas disappointment when it is over because the greatest gift we can get has already been given and it continues with us after the gifts are open. We are given a Savior who is hope, peace, joy, and love. This continues throughout the year and through our life between two gardens. Anchoring to Him, who is with us all the time, not just on one day, is the best gift we can receive.

For amazing resources to get to know Jesus better, consider checking out She Reads Truth.

For more posts like this, check out Surrendered, pieces, “This is why I drink.“, Rivers, Rapids, & Waterfalls, and Mountains and Valleys

Baby Jail. Life from the inside.

Oh my dear girly and little man…

See this sweet face right here. She is your sister. Your beautiful, sleepy, baby sister.

Collette

One day she will be one of your best friends. You will have a relationship with her that is unlike any other relationship you have. You will have adventures together and be each other’s “person” to turn to when life gets hard or to celebrate when life is wonderful.

But today is not that day. Today, she is the reason we are stuck inside. She is the reason we are not building a snowman or sledding. She is why we are home today. Yes, I know that you would love to be outside… But I am just one person and Daddy is not home, so I can’t take a 3 year old and a 1 1/2 year old outside, leaving the baby inside alone. I do not trust you outside alone yet, and our sweet baby is way too little and just getting better from being sick.  It is winter. We live in the tundra. When we go outside in the winter, one of you loses a boot and the other one loses a glove. And I spend more time getting your gear on than we actually spend outside. We are not going outside today.

Daddy calls the stage we are in “baby jail.” Our choices are limited. Things are not quite as easy to do as they once were or how easy they will be again when you all are a bit older. We try to be flexible, but frankly, when you little ones do not get enough sleep or when you are sick, you are bears. We have learned it is best to let you do your sleeping and eating thing rather uninterrupted when you are babies. It makes everything smoother. So , for now, we will stay home, hunkered down, and let your little sister sleep and eat. Sleep and eat.

Daddy struggles with “baby jail” because he does not like leaving things early or not being able to do things during the day because we have you three little ones. I wish we could do more too. But, the reality of all that is that once we get wherever we think would be a great time, one of you goes running around banging things or people, the other has some sort of melt-down, and without a doubt someone will poop their pants. So, we have learned, as monotonous as it may seem, we do better at home. (Remember, we tried an outdoor adventure, that led to us driving home from camping at 1 in the morning?)

It is easy for us to get sad about not being able to be outside playing or going on adventures. But then, I decided that we would change our perspective on this… We can have a lot of fun at home:

We can play with play  with play dough and create things!

 Mr. Man will throw play dough and chase after the big sister with his play dough tools…all while having a piece of play dough in his mouth.

We can paint and explore colors!

  We can also eat the paint… and wander around the house with paint covered hands, while mama feeds the baby.

We can build a fort… and climb under it…but really it is more fun to climb on it.

If it looks like Mr. Man is preparing to jump on the fort, you would be correct.

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We can play with our trucks and drive into mama.

Shortly after I took this picture, the truck became an airborne plane.

During Mr. Man’s nap time, we can have some mama-girly time, making your Valentines for school. We can build them, write your letter A on them, and get them ready for all your friends.

It was fun for the first 10….But you have 16 people in your class to make them for.

We have a lot of things we can do at home to help us grow and learn and enjoy our time together. We are in the “baby jail” stage right now. I know that our moments are not perfect. They are a mess and at times one of us is crying. However, I love my moments with you. Even the chaotic ones. I love watching you grow and explore. I feel guilty that we have you in “baby jail” with us…as if we are hurting your childhood somehow. I have to remind myself that we are trying to make the most of the moments we have together and that one day soon, when all 3 of you are old enough to walk and explore, we will have plenty of adventures outside and in new places. We just are not in that stage yet. Even though I do not love picking up the kitchen for the 15th time today and have put the same toys away more times then I thought possible, our home, our “baby jail”, is filled with enough love and adventure for our family today.

You keep growing and smiling.

And baby sister will keep sleeping…

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(it is better than when she is crying.)

In just a little time, your big, outside adventures will begin. You will be so glad to share the memories with each other and it will be worth the wait.

Mama and Daddy’s adventures began the day your were born.

… A pretty incredible life sentence…

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Hand prints on the windows…

“Enjoy all these moments.

You will miss these moments one day.”

You hear this, you feel this, your heart hurts because you know it is true, and yet you just cannot take hearing it anymore. It makes you feel unbearably guilty that you aren’t soaking in every single second that your children are little. You know, like the time they pooped in the tub and then continued to poop when you removed them from the tub, and then as they ran to their sister’s room and put their poopy hands on the bedspread. Shouldn’t you be soaking that in!?

The truth is, you will miss that. A lot. You see the truth in the older generations’ eyes when they warn you about how much you will miss it. It hurts because you can see they hurt and you get fearsome of that pain. I get so much anxiety about this because I know that with each day that goes by so does a day of my children being this young.

I thought more about this today and then I looked around my house and saw all the evidence that they live here. I saw all the things that make this home their home too. I also saw all the things that are out of place or messes and saw them in a different light. I decided that today I would start trying to capture these crumbs of their childhood so that one day, when I do miss it, I can return to the moments, even if only in a picture.

I plan on making this a series, challenging myself to take a group of pictures each month of all the random things my children leave around the house, or other proof that they are growing up in our home, so that I know I am doing my best to soak it all in, even the poop on the bedspread.

Crumb #1- Crayons on the floor.

crayon

I seem to have this great idea often of letting my 3 and 1 year old color….Which 100% of the time ends with my 1 year old throwing the crayons everywhere. We then pick them up and without fail, always miss one. The 1 year old later found this crayon and used it to write on the window. Fantastic.

Crumb # 2-  Partially eaten fruit, randomly placed. Everywhere.

apple

This apple found its way to our unfinished stairs. It took a break here, half eaten, until my son later found it and continued his snack. Later, I found another apple under the couch. Having a 3 year old who can access the fruit drawer in the fridge has its benefits and its short -comings. But hey, they are eating fruit! We will call that a win.

Crumb #3- Roar.roar

Meet Roar, our 1 year old’s nighttime favorite cuddle animal. Roar sleeps with him and comes with him when he joins us in the morning. Our son loves coming into our bed in the morning, rubs our faces, and curls up to watch a morning show while my husband showers. Our 3 year old daughter joins him, or is already there, and she asks him how his night was and if he slept well. He grunts his “yup” or says his sweetest “okay.” It is pretty much the sweetest good morning conversation ever.

This is Roar, still laying in our bed, after a morning cuddle session. I will most definitely miss when he joins us in in our bed for morning cuddles.

Crumb #4- Safety corners. Ugh. Safety. Corners.

corner

We made it until we had a 3 1/2 year old and an almost 2 year old without these ugly things on our coffee table. But, we had a few super close calls to losing some eyes, so these suckers got gorilla glued to the coffee table. That’s right, we gorilla glued them to the table. They wouldn’t stay on without the glue. I would much rather look at an ugly table for a few years than have to see our child bleeding from their head because I didn’t like the idea of ugly safety corners. Now they can chase each other around the table without me having a heart attack.

Crumb # 5- Cups. All varieties of cups. 

cup     juice

I am constantly finding cups around our house. Our 3 year old has gotten good about putting her cup in the fridge when she is done with it, or at least on the table until she gets up to put it in the fridge. Our 1 year old (almost 2) is working on the skill of not throwing his cups everywhere. His cup was found on the counter, which was rather an impressive feat! I can guarantee there is at least 1 of these cups under our couch or our bed right now.

Crumb # 6- Nuks. Pacifiers. Binks.

nuk

Our home is littered with these. They are everywhere. The irony is that when we really need one, one cannot be found! We may or may not have had a late night run to Target to buy one before during a time of nuk crisis. This nuk, still spit covered, landed this way on our floor. Later, our son found it when he was ready for bedtime. He often has 2 or 3 in his hands to rotate when he is settling down. We find them in his trucks, in his farm, under couches, in our van, etc. These are truly crumbs from our son.

Crumb # 7- Snacks.

cheese sticks

Snacks are also everywhere. Try as we might, we still find a rouge wrapper or snack. Just be happy I don’t have a picture of the pear that we found in a toy bucket. By the time we found it, it looked more like a half-eaten chicken wing. Tonight our daughter helped herself and her brother to a cheese stick. We had given her permission and are really trying to help her grow in her independence. Somehow there was some sort of miscommunication between her, our 1 year old, my husband, and myself and she grabbed 3 cheese sticks. All of which were opened by either myself or my husband, as we were in different rooms. Our son is notorious for half eating snacks and then leaving them. Hence, 3 half-eaten cheese sticks that made their way to the end table. We are just grateful for having found them all. We hope.

Crumb # 8- Toy cars.

car

Our son is obsessed with these. He plays with them all the time. They make him ridiculously happy. We have many of these types of cars and I find them in all places of our home. One made its way to the toilet even. As I write this, I see one under our end table and under our entertainment center. We pick them up each night and yet one always seems to get away.

Crumb # 9- Toothpaste and tooth brushes. But, mostly the toothpaste.

tooth brush

We are really working on supporting our 3 year old in doing things by herself and she is doing rather well with it when it comes to certain tasks. She recently became very driven to brush her teeth, “all by myself.” This of course leads to toothpaste messes. There is toothpaste on the counter, in the sink, on the wall, and on the step stool. I hope some found its way to her teeth. I know that one day she will figure out how to pick up after herself, but for now, I am so proud of her for trying to do things on her own.

Crumb # 10- Hand prints on our windows.

handprint

We have these giant 8 feet wide sliding glass doors in our dining room, which is the center of our home. The doors stay clean for approximately 10 seconds before our children touch them with their snack, snot, toothpaste,  dirt covered hands. Little traces of them. I know that one day they will not stand at the window in fascination of the bunnies hopping by, or the incoming storm, or wait for daddy to come home. One day, these windows will be spotless, and I will miss the hand prints on our windows.

 

So there you have my first 10 crumbs of my children’s childhood. In searching for the crumbs today, it made me look at the messes with such a different perspective. It made me appreciate the clutter, the smudges, the pieces of my children, and even if just for the moment, soak it all in. The fruit and snacks need to be thrown away and toys picked up, but before doing that, I allowed myself to soak up our environment and appreciate each of the pieces that make it our home. I challenge you to do the same. Find the pieces that make your home, yours with your family. Collect them. Share them. Or hold them close.

The parents who have been in the toddler trenches before us, are right.

We will miss these moments.

We can only soak so much in, but we can be intentional about it.

 

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Table for Chaos… Party of 4.

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Going out to eat used to be a special treat for my husband and I… a date. a get-away. a moment to connect without having to do the dishes.

and then we had children.

Going out to eat with a 2 and a half year old and a soon to be 1 year old is anything but relaxing or easy. It is a rarity for us to go out to eat and often times I wonder why don’t we go out? The logical answer is that we are trying to save up some money and we live in a small town with limited choices… but the reality is, we do not go out because when we do, it goes like this:

Upon arrival, we have to be seated in booth where we can trap our daughter and we need a high chair for our son. Our daughter then externally deals with her internal struggle about sitting with mom or in a high chair like her brother. We also have to shuffle around our bag of distractions and our mammoth amount of layers to help us survive the sub-zero temperatures that we live in.

After we have our seating arrangements taken care of, we begin to look at the menu. Little Man has already licked the menu twice and thrown it on the floor. Now, he is after the knife and fork that is rolled up innocently into a napkin. Little Miss is  standing on the booth and attempting to open each sugar packet. We redirect her to a conversation on what she should get to eat. This begins a lengthy discussion on the difference between grilled cheese and the other options. It normally ends with us deciding on grilled cheese, as this is likely to make the least amount of mess.

As soon as the waitress comes over Little Miss asks for milk, to which the waitstaff always brings chocolate milk and Little Miss gives a look of disgust to this other milk. We then have to ask for “white milk please.” The milk always comes with a straw, which Little Miss  has not fully mastered when she is sitting lower than the table, so by the time we have had a chance to decide what we are going to order, she is covered in milk and Little Man has eaten half of the paper placement. <we go to high-end restaurants>

Drinks have been received and spilled. Orders have been placed. Now the hard work begins: keeping the littles occupied until food comes. We frantically pull out each toy from our gigantic bag of distractions, eager to make each one the most exciting thing our children have ever seen. This is always a fail. It is about this time that Little Miss kicks off her boots and begins to shake salt onto the table. We cannot remember the last time we went out when Little Miss kept her boots on for the entire meal. We have fought the fight and lost the battle. Realistically, these winter boots hardly stay on at all.

Little Man begins screaming like a fierce dinosaur chasing innocent prey. We frantically search for anything we can safely put in his mouth to calm the screaming. He is not screaming out of anger. He just enjoys making sounds. Loud, screeching, gastly sounds.

Enter the adorable couple who horrifyingly sees that the hostess is leading them directly into our doom and they politely (urgently) ask to be seated elsewhere. Well played, adorable couple. Well played.

“Poop! Poop!” Little Miss screams while holding her bottom. Thus begins the fun game of “so bored, I should explore the potty.” My husband and I take turns taking her to the bathroom. Often times she runs ahead of us, boots still under the table, grabbing her bottom, screaming “poop!” Very appetizing to all who are around. We have the struggle of deciding whether to keep taking her to the bathroom or risk the chance she might actually poop her pants. Often times the thought of her pooping her pants in public is enough to keep taking her back to the bathroom. (We do live in a small town.)

Finally, our food arrives. We scramble to cut up the grilled cheese so that we can stop the dinosaur screeches and calm the “poop” talk. Little Man eats like a champ and I can hardly keep up cutting. Little Miss takes one bite and then decides if she is going to eat it or not. This is hit or miss for us. Sometimes, she eats beautifully, other times she takes one bite, screams “yucky!” and then points to everyone who is “eat too?”

My husband and I try to eat our meal, while it is still hot, because we are paying for it. Sometimes, when both children are eating amazingly, this is a success. Other times, when children aren’t eating amazingly (looking at you Little Miss), one of us ends up with a toddler on our lap, trying to distract, while the other eats and then we switch. Again, we pay for this. 

Once we finish eating, we have to wait for the waitress to bring our bill or to take our payment. During this wait period the dinosaur screams start up again and Little Miss now stands up in the booth and is trying to touch the people who unfortunately were seated behind us. One of us tries to keep the children reigned in, while the other picks up the pieces of grilled cheese and other food objects from the floor.

We hastily pack up our items, our children, and leave an extra tip for our mess. We make our way out of the restaurant, one caring the baby, the other caring the thrashing toddler and having a conversation on the importance of listening and being kind.

Everyone is buckled and we pull out of the restaurant. We take a deep breath, look at each other and say, we pay for this?

So maybe there is a reason we do not go out much.

We can just make grilled cheese at home.

Fear…. Irrationally, rational fear

Well hello there again, fear. I feel you sneaking up to remind me that you are still here, still with me, still trying to control me.

But I am fighting back. Instead of letting my mind spin out of control over the what ifs, I am pausing to think about the root of the fear and to put it in it’s place.

See, my mind keeps coming back to something I read, which I am just now remembering what it was, about someone who knew someone who lost their 2 year old in their sleep and something tragic happened to their 7 year old. This might not even had been the premise of the article, and as I am thinking of it now, I am almost certain I am getting it wrong. But what did stick and what I am reminded of randomly as my babies are sleeping in their rooms, is that someone’s 2 year old died in their sleep. I do not know how or why, but it happened. Which therefore means it could happen to my two year old or my ten month old or my husband or myself.

I’ve checked their rooms four times now. This is two more than my normal night checks. They are still breathing, peacefully, and beautifully.

Whoa, fear. Settle down.

See what I initially thought was that it could happen to me. Meaning, my child could die in their sleep and that this tragedy would hit me. The fear goes to the fear of experiencing something so tragic that I truly do not even want to give it words. The fear is of something so gigantic and represents more than just a tragic…but also life after it and so many unknowns that I pray every day, literally, that it is something my children or I never have to face. Every night when I lay them in their crib or bed, I thank God for them and for the day we have had together. I pray they grow strong and happy. And I pray that they will grow to know their grand-babies.

See, this is all we can do about fear, is give it up to our faith, because bad things do happen. Tragedy does happen. It might not happen immediately to your family, but it surrounds us. We also do not and will not understand why it happens. We cannot imagine the person we would become if it were to happen to us.

When I hit these moments of fear I have to remember that my children and my spouse are with me for a short time in existence on Earth and that they have been a gift, not a right. It is not my will to control our path together and it is my choice to enjoy the moments that are given.

I also have to remember that this irrationally strong fear of rational events, only has power when I allow myself to obsess over it. Instead I need to be aware of rational dangers, keep them in check, and give the rest up to faith so that my current moments are not stolen from me.

See that, fear, I just talked myself out of obsessing over you for tonight.

Plus, I just heard my daughter move around in her bed from across the hall, so I am feeling reassured.