A Day in the Life While We are Still Six

I’ve documented the minutia of our lives at various stages of children, and it seems tedious, but I’m so glad I did it because reading back on them now there are so many things I’ve forgotten.  I can distinctly remember how each phase of our family has felt, but it’s much harder to recall how the details of our days actually played out.

Here’s a day in the life while we were:

A family of five

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A family with 18 month old twins

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A family with 12 week old twins

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The last two I’ve written right before adding a new baby to the family, and today is no exception.  I’m set to give birth in a week, so I’m knocking this out before the newborn haze sets in.

School is the main difference between all our previous years’ of routines and now.  In all of my earlier days, we might have somewhere to be of our choosing, but it was flexible and just that — of our choosing.  Now we have two six year olds in kindergarten, and randomly opting out of class is generally frowned upon, so we do the morning hustle.  Lucky for us, we are in a school that offers 3-day a week kindergarten (all day), so we only have to do the hustle a handful of times.  This is glorious.

This sample will be from one of their three days of kindergarten, and for fun, let’s also choose a day that Hunter has morning preschool (he also goes 3 days, but naturally only two of them overlap with Henry and Arden’s days at school.  Such is life).

~Henry and Arden, 6.5, Hunter, 4.5, and Jameson, 2.5~

6:20AM  The alarm goes off and I immediately snooze it for 8 minutes.  I’m not a snoozer by nature, but pregnancy will do this to a person.

6:28AM  The alarm goes off again and I face reality.  With the speed and agility of the Titanic attempting to miss the iceberg, I steer my 9-month-pregnant body out of bed, waddle across the room and begin our day.  Henry is usually peeking from our doorframe, as he has the ninja ability to wake when he needs to based on the day.  I give him the nod, and he bounds silently into our room and into bed to snuggle.

If this were a non-school day, we’d get up at 7:15 and all the kids would be in our bed, snuggled up tight and fighting for the insufficient real estate provided by our queen bed.  Today, I dress and head downstairs to start breakfast while the other three sleep.

6:50AM  I’m making eggs and toast and peeling tangerines while Mike showers, Henry and I chat, and Arden comes into the kitchen.  If Mike and I were disciplined the night before, then praise be!  Their lunches are already packed, and all they need to do is pick out two snacks to fill their little reusable zippered bags (my cousin makes these and I’ve bought at least a dozen. They’re brilliant and we no longer buy ziplock baggies at all. End of aside).

If we were worthless oafs the night before, then we are harassed by the empty mouths of the bento-boxes before us.

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(They don’t get notes every day.  That’s likely why I took a photo, so when I’m old and gray I can reassure myself that I was, occasionally, a decent mother.)

7AM We hear Jameson on the monitor and Henry bolts upstairs to get him.  They are best buddies and it fills my heart to the brim.  Jameson comes in with Henry and says, “I waked up!” and gives everyone hugs and hellos.  Babies in pajamas with huge smiles is the greatest morning joy there could be.  Mike wakes Hunter, the family sleeper, and brings him down holding his Roux puppy.  It is adorable.

7:10AM  Mike is helping everyone get what they need and drinking coffee and pouring a drop of milk in my tea.  It’s all a melee of eating and packing school bags.

7:25AM  We send the twins and Hunter upstairs to dress — twins in their uniforms, Hunter in whatever he wants (so…a dinosaur sweater).  All brush teeth and I hurry Arden so I can do her hair, tell them all to put on shoes and grab coats, and work our way outside.  Mike has started the car so it’s at least tepid by our loading time.

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Clues it’s not a real before-school photo: it’s daylight, and they’re not in uniform

7:40AM After 3/4 kids self-buckle and 1/4 gives us a little grief about it, we pull out of the driveway.  Henry is our timekeeper and always notes the time, along with the number of minutes until the doors of his classroom open (they open at 7:45, and tolerate lateness he does not).  Who can believe their school begins at the eye-watering hour of 8AM?

7:46AM  The twins sail out the door of the van and run into school, and I park further down the way to take the two boys down to the soccer field for a little morning runaround.  Hunter’s school doesn’t open until 8:30, so we have substantial time to fill.

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8:20AM We arrive at Hunter’s school and park, waiting for the doors to open.  When they do, we kiss him goodbye and watch him say good morning to his teacher.  Jameson and I sail off in silence, giving each other a look that says, “We have done ALL of this and it is only 8:30AM.”

8:45AM  Jameson and I do a little cleanup, read some books, have a morning snack, play a little music, stick a load of laundry in, and generally enjoy the tranquility of the house to ourselves.

9:45AM  When I was a little less pregnant, we’d load up the jogging stroller and jog/walk to the library a mile away; drop last week’s books, do any printing for MOPS, pick out new books, and enjoy the fresh air and exercise.

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10:40AM  We’d get back, he’d play in the playroom, I’d take a mighty fast shower, and then I’d dress and get ready to pick up Hunter.

11:30AM  Hunter pickup!  I’m always so happy to see that cherubic face.  I want to ask him thirteen questions, but I usually settle for two or three, since he likes to ride quietly back to the house.  School fills his social cup and he likes to recover without being pecked to death by we chickens next to him, and no one understands that better than his introverted mother.  Jameson, ahem, does not, so I always hear:  “Hunter!  Hunter!  Hunter?” until he replies, “Jameson I don’t feel like talking,” and I say, “You can play with him at home, lovey, he’s just tired,” which placates him enough to put his thumb back in his mouth and gaze happily out the window.

11:50AM  I make lunch, which is fabulously easy for just two littles, and they sit in their stools and chat with me.

12:30PM After they eat, they occupy themselves together in the family room while I clean everything up.  Then I ask Jameson if he’s ready for nap and he always says, “I go night night” and “Hunter get me!” since he wants Hunter to chase him up the stairs.  Hunter always does, since they’re buddies, and they just became roommates, so it’s extra cute.  We tuck Jameson into Hunter’s bed (he loves to nap there because Hunter has dinosaur covers) and he holds his silky blankies and sucks his thumb and says, “nigh-night!” and goes to sleep.

12:45PM  Unless I’m starving, this is Hunter and Mommy time.  We head into the playroom and play Sorry, Hisss, Guess Who, Yeddi Spaghetti, whatever he chooses for the day.  We play two or three games (or two or three of the same game if a certain someone hasn’t won yet…), and then I make my lunch and he reads books.

1:45PM  I do some computer work, email, MOPS work, paying bills, whatever needs doing, and Hunter has a little fruit snack and hangs out with me or does a puzzle.

2:10PM  We wake Jameson, who’s usually okay with this, unless he was right in the middle of a REM cycle, in which case, he’s an angry elf.

2:35PM We’re in the car and headed to pick up Henry and Arden.  Many times Hunter will fall asleep in the five minute ride, and I let him snooze as we wait in the pickup line.

2:50PM  Henry and Arden tumble into the car, jazzed from their day at school and spilling information and questions in equal measure.  Jameson sticks his arms in the air, (often just one arm so the other thumb can remain in his mouth) and he expects each twin to give a big hug as they make their way to the back of the van.  They’re giddy to oblige.

3:05PM  We arrive home and the twins do their after-school routines of emptying backpacks and changing into play clothes.  Then they all head outside to see who’s available to play; it’s the daily neighborhood roundup.  We don’t have much daylight these days, so they rush door-to-door to gather the gang and start football or tree climbing or bikes or basketball.  Jameson and I follow them out and cruise around making sure no one is too close to the street and everyone is being kind.  Sometimes other moms are out, sometimes only one of us will shepherd the herd, but it’s a team effort.

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5PM  Everyone is called inside since it’s basically as dark as night, and I start making dinner.  This is my hairiest time of day, since they all want attention or help with something, or in Jameson’s case, to climb the pantry shelves, just as I’m starting to cook.  This is when I’m calling Mike for an exact ETA, and it’s also when my body most needs to sit down, but can’t.  I try to tell one twin to start piano practice, have the other color, let Hunter play Bey Blades with Jameson… but usually the twin on piano needs help, the other only wants to play indoor football, and Jameson only wants me to put his Bey Blades back together, despite Hunter having a PhD in the subject.

5:30PM  Mike walks in the door and everyone charges him, pummeling him with hugs and love and questions.  I give him a look of exhaustion or desperation or joy or relief, depending on the day, and after a quick change of clothes, he either plays with the kids to keep them occupied or takes over putting dinner on the table so I can sit for a minute.

6PM  We dim the lights, light a candle, and dinner commences.  If a child begins the meal with “What is THIS?” I feel like I might throw my fork straight into the drywall.  But other than that, we say our prayers and dig in.  Dinner is fun and chaotic, all chatter and laughing and a little too loud and sometimes too many buns getting up out of seats (mine included) but it’s also when Mike and I look at each other and our full table and feel like it’s all worth it.

6:30PM  Mike or I do dishes (he is technically always on dish duty since I cooked, but often I’d rather do dishes than play with the kids because my cup is full on that front…see 11:30AM introvert description).

7PM  We all head upstairs where 3/4 of the children get into pajamas and brush their teeth without help (hallelujah) and one child is dressed and brushed by us.  We either read or tell stories, then all go to their own beds while we do-si-do the goodnights and closing of doors and getting of waters.

7:30PM We are in our own jammies and downstairs for parental recovery time, which looks like watching a show and eating food we can’t eat in front of the children.

10PM  We’re in our bed, tired but also still wired, still talking about the kids, still grateful for another day, still in disbelief that soon there will be a baby in the bassinet next to us.  It’s wild, it’s a ton of work, but it’s so exquisitely good.

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When What Happens is What Everyone Assumes Is Always Happening

Last night held one of those moments where I stopped in the middle of the melee and thought, “THIS is what those ladies in Safeway probably mean when they widen their eyes and say, “FOUR kids?  THREE are boys?!  Oh, you are in for it.”  They assume my life is chaos every waking hour.

It’s not, not even close, but when it is, it reeeaaally is.

I was supposed to have dinner with my girlfriends, my beloved gals from college days, who gather monthly to make sure we stay connected through all of life’s changes.  We call ourselves ThirThur, because we meet on the third Thursday of the month.  (Actually that’s not even true anymore, but SecWed just never had the same ring.)

Since it’s set on our calendar, Mike knows I’ll be heading out around 6 to make our 6:30 dinner.  Except this day, his CFO asks for a last-minute 5 – 6PM meeting downtown, and to his credit, he texts me to ask if this is okay.

I text back, “Work comes first so of course — but since it’s downtown could you tell him you need to jet at 5:45?”  He says no problem, and I resign myself to making and feeding the children their dinner, a task I’d hoped to relegate to him for my night out.

One of those girlfriends, Kelly, stopped by to greet the kiddos, since she hadn’t seen them in several months.  They go into an elevated state of energy when we have company they love, so making and serving dinner was loud, overwhelming and chaotic; it was like herding feral puppies just to get everyone seated at the table.

I texted Mike a touch of an SOS:

5:36PM “The kids are driving me insane with their energy.  It’s because Kelly is here but will make it so hard for me to get dressed and ready.  Please hurry.”

He replies:

5:54PM “Left 10 minutes ago!”

I uncharacteristically write, “Bless you my love” because I truly was so grateful he was honoring our deal so I could get out of the house on time.

Kelly takes off so she can get ready for our dinner out, and I clean dishes and wipe the table before heading upstairs to get dressed myself.

I stood in the closet trying to pick a maternity top that made me feel dressy enough to be out to dinner, only to find after putting it on that the first one has a mysterious water-like stain right in the middle of it.

I choose another — and discover a different faint mark in the midsection of this one.  I’m horrified that my clothes have stains I didn’t know about.  Then I realize it’s amusing that I’m shocked by stains on my clothes when I am cooking for and running after four children all day.  There shouldn’t be a surprise factor here.  But what’s to be done?  Wear an apron?  Are rubber gloves and a hairnet far behind?

After donning outfit number three, I start fussing with my hair and makeup.  Arden is hanging out with me in the bathroom, as I always dreamed my daughter would, when Henry walks in, eyebrows high and little palms face-up in a surrender pose.

He says, “Don’t be mad.”

Few words cause me to panic faster.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Jameson did something.  He really did.  But don’t be mad.”

“WHAT is it?”

“Don’t be mad, it’s broken.”

“Henry, it is so, so much worse for me when you draw it out like this.  WHAT is?”

“You know that Christmas train that turns around and makes music and…he broke it.”

“Do you mean the snow globe!?  Is it shattered all over the floor??”

“Yes,” he says, eyebrows higher than ever, hands of supplication still raised.

Henry doesn’t have a dishonest setting, so I know he’s telling the truth, and yet I’m baffled that such a thing could occur without me hearing it.  I’d heard a thud a few minutes prior, but nothing like the sound of an enormous snow globe shattering.

A glimmer of hope flickers in me that perhaps a piece of the train around the snow globe has broken off, and that’s the extent of it.  I don’t give a flying French hen about the globe itself, I just really, really don’t want to deal with the aftermath.

I reach the bottom of the stairs and look down the hall at huge shards of glass cascading up the hallway, a lake of water across the hardwoods, and wet, goopy glitter everywhere.  Jameson and Hunter are frozen in front of it,  and Jameson’s socks are soaked, but he isn’t crying, so I hold my breath that he hasn’t cut himself.  They’re each holding a white trash bag, presumably to clean with, and I notice the rolled-up rug in the adjacent bathroom — trash bags and pushed-back rugs are stunning acts of household preservation from my preschoolers, and perhaps this is what keeps me from completely losing my mind.

At this point one may be thinking, the negligence!  What kind of mother leaves a 2.5, 4.5 and 6 year old downstairs when she is upstairs?

This mother does, every single day, because that’s life.  I cannot stand next to them every moment; there are chores to be done, things to grab upstairs, clothes to change, diapers to attend to — we all can’t be in the same room all day.  Nine times out of ten, nothing happens.

This was not one of the nine.

I tell everyone to sit across the bottom stair so I know they aren’t near glass, and I gather paper towels, rags and a broom.  I begin gingerly picking up glass fragments, hunched over and painfully reminded that I’m eight months pregnant.

I look at the row of boys and say, “Who did this?”

Hunter and Henry: “Jameson!”

Jameson:  “I did!!!!”

His shamelessness is disarmingly endearing, and I salute myself for not having yelled or screamed so far.  It is an achievement that I hope will be recorded in my Book of Life.

After a few minutes of cleanup they get restless on the stairs, and start to tussle.  I am having none of that, so like the genius I am, I send them to another floor away from me.  It worked so well the first time.

“Go up to the playroom so I can clean — go! Go play!”

They run up the stairs and I resume cleaning until it occurs to me to call Mike so he’s forewarned about what he’s walking into.  It’s also now 6:20, so I’m a liiiiiiiitle curious how much longer he’s going to be.

After I describe the fiasco, he says, “I’m five minutes away, you’re doing great, I’ll be there soon,” and I sigh and unroll more paper towels.

I text my girlfriends the situation, and tell them I’m going to be very late, so please, order your wine and begin your evening.  One writes back, “We’ll order you two glasses of wine!”  before remembering I’m pregnant and writing, “I realized it after I wrote it.”

By the time he walks in I’ve got 95% of it cleaned, and I’m eerily calm.  He sends me back upstairs to finish getting ready, Arden joins me and gives me a hug, and then runs back to the playroom.

One minute later she comes back in.

“So how mad are you right now?” she asks.

I sigh and say slowly, “I’m fine; I’m not mad. Didn’t you notice I didn’t yell at all?  I’m fine.”

“So how much madder would you be if something else happened?” she asks tentatively.

I look over at her with my hands frozen in the creation of my topknot.

“What happened?  You can’t be serious.  What happened?” I ask.

“Umm,” she looks at me nervously.  “Don’t be mad.”

Those magic words again.

“I don’t want to tell you.  Let’s just not go look,” she decides.

I turn to walk down the hall to the playroom but notice the twins’ door is closed with the light on inside.  I open it.

Henry is up on his bunk bed, Hunter is sitting on the floor.

“What’s going on?” I ask them.

“I’m grounded,” Henry says sadly.  He’s already meted out his own punishment, which is precious, but makes my anxiety triple.

I start walking toward the playroom but Arden runs ahead of me saying, “Don’t go in!  Don’t look!” I push past her and open the door to find our brand-new light fixture dangling from the ceiling, hanging on by one teensy wire.

I gasp and say, “It’s been ONE MINUTE!  How did this — ” but I see the plush football as Arden says, “They were playing football.”

I return to the boys in their cowed positions and calmly say (where is my award for non-yelling excellence!?), “We will not be playing football in this house.  Is that clear?”

Hunter: “Yes, Mom.”

Henry:  “Yes, ma’am.”

There’s nothing like a “yes, ma’am” to rip my heart out, so I walk over to him and tell him I love him, kiss him on his cheek and rub his hair.  Just then Mike gets wind of what’s happened and his face is a storm, but I say, “I did NOT lose it over THAT down THERE so you are not losing it up here,” and he inhales deeply but doesn’t lose it.

I announce: “I am out of here.  I am gone!  Goodbye, family.  I am now 30 minutes late.”

Arden follows me downstairs, all reassurances, with maturity that makes me adore her to the point of cracking open.

“Mom, you’re just going to have the best time tonight.  It’s going to be so great and you’ll just have the best time at your dinner.”  She grabs me halfway around the waist, because I no longer have one, and kisses the baby belly before racing back up the stairs.

The girls text me not to stress, and for the first time maybe ever, I don’t.  I just drive.  I don’t drive like a bat out of hell, which is what I would normally do when I’m even five minutes late.  I just drive.  I recount to myself what didn’t happen: no one cut themselves.  I didn’t yell.  I didn’t cut myself.  I didn’t shame/blame Mike for being late, or not being there when I had to deal with the mess.  Somehow, grace got through.

In short, it wasn’t a disaster.  It was a broken snow globe.  And this might be the first time those two were not synonymous.  Which, really, makes it a victory.

 

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Party of Five

We are having our fifth baby!

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We’re really excited and we’ve been surprised by others’ excitement when we told them.  We thought we’d get a lot more eye rolls or aghast expressions, but mostly we’ve felt nothing but love and joy from our friends and family.  Shoppers at Costco don’t know yet because I’ve yet to take all four while my bump has been visible.  We’ll get those aghast stares yet, folks.

Each of our previous children have arrived before the prior child turned two, so this feels like a huge gap to us.  Jameson will be about 7 weeks away from his third birthday when the baby is born, and that is eons older than the 21-months-old twins we brought Hunter home to, or the 3.5-year-old twins and 22-months-old Hunter we brought Jameson home to. His ability to talk, understand, obey, and generally function will be light-years easier than our prior experiences.

We also feel really unfazed, and that’s the blessing of time and experience.  We’re not holding our breath or totally freaked out.  When Jameson joined the family, it didn’t make waves the way the first three did.  He synced into our lives and brought happiness, not strain.

We anticipate a similar experience with this baby, because really, what other option is there?  That’s the secret behind larger families that we’re discovering: your first child alters your universe, the second rocks your world, the third overturns the apple cart, but the fourth has to roll with what’s already there.  The fifth?  They are allowed very few demands, by necessity.  We already have routines, school schedules, commitments, structure, and the baby will hopefully jump right in.

Maybe I’ll read this six months from now and weep from my own ignorance, but I doubt it.  It’s funny how we’re finding that though life is much busier, wilder, and louder with more kids, it’s not exponentially harder with each additional kid.  The bell curve shoots straight up from kids one and two and then kind of levels out.  From what I’m told, most people opt out of kid 3 and 4 because they assume (and why wouldn’t they?) that the bell curve rockets straight into the sky indefinitely — and who could live like that?  But it doesn’t.

For instance, I’m not making more dinners or driving more places…I’m just doubling a recipe and setting one more place at the table, and dropping more kids at the same school.  Do you see what I mean?  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.

The real sweetness is in their relationships with each other.  Mike and I could not be more obsessed with our kids, but we know the long-term blessing is what we’re giving them in each other.  Watching them run out of the house every day to play football in the yard (with two vs two they can actually make do even if the neighbors aren’t home), or hearing Arden and Hunter play school in one of their rooms, or seeing Henry wrestle both boys, these are the moments when our effort in the daily grind is nothing compared to the joy before us.

I’m constantly amazed by the lightening of my load in other ways too.  It wasn’t long ago that I was pushing a double stroller with a baby on my chest, and now I have four kids racing ahead on their bikes, leaving me hands-free to jog behind them.  It’s so easy!

The car, though.  The car.

Everybody asks what on earth we’re going to do about our car.  We drive a minivan, obviously, but all the kids are still in car seats.  So if we put the middle seat back into the middle row (it’s captains chairs right now), how will two kids access the third row?  We can’t fit three car seats across the back row, or we’d do that.  The twins are still in five-point harnesses, but we’re thinking it’s time to switch to lap belts — still, that doesn’t reduce the size of their car seat, it only changes how they’re strapped to it.

We are seriously considering a sprinter van, which would make us look like we’re delivering Amazon Prime packages, but I may have to make my peace with that.  I don’t think I can do a Suburban, because I’d lose my auto-open van doors, which are the crown jewels of my loading-kids-in-the-car experience.

I don’t spend my days thinking about February when the baby will be here.  I spend much more time savoring being pregnant.  I love it wholeheartedly, and every day I walk around ecstatic that I get to do this again.  It’s glorious feeling the kicks, it’s fun to have to quasi-waddle or hold my hands on my back like a pregnant woman in an 80’s movie, I love when my body demands that I lay down for ten minutes because it feels so good, I love that I am eating what I want and still exercising, I love wearing maternity clothes again…I could write endlessly about my love of being pregnant.

And having had several kids, I know what’s ahead with a newborn, so I am consciously grateful every day that this baby doesn’t yet need to be fed, held, rocked, nursed, quieted, soothed, bathed, changed — nada!  This baby just hangs out silently inside me, eating what I eat (sorry about Halloween, baby), sleeping when I walk, and waking and kicking when I lay down.  It is the greatest.

The kids can’t wait, though like last time, they’re toeing the party line on baby’s gender.  Boys want a boy, Arden wants a girl.  We’re talking often of preparing our hearts either way, so no one bursts into disappointed tears in the delivery room.  I think they’ll see the little bundle in a blanket and newborn hat and fall in love either way.

I’m almost 29 weeks, so we’ve a little over two months to go.  To say each pregnancy goes faster than the last is an understatement, but I also know that the baby stage goes faster each time, so I’m hoping to savor it, even the harder parts.

Mike and I can’t believe we’re going to have five kids.  Five!  It’s bananas, and we’re overwhelmed with gratitude.

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Happy Ten Year Anniversary, WBO!

Ten years ago, my sister, Erin, told me to take up blogging.  She said this because I was lamenting the lack of jobs in journalism/writing/magazines, or lamenting that they paid peanuts.  I had resigned myself to earning a real paycheck in project management in the tech world, but I needed a creative outlet.

“You should start a blog,” she said.  I think I grimaced on the phone because it sounded so cliché, and probably embarrassing.

“Won’t people think I’m a navel-gazer?” I asked.  “What would I even write about?”

She replied that there were dozens of blogs she loved reading that weren’t self-serving, and I’d find topics as I went.

“Just don’t name it after yourself.  Don’t Abby.com.  That’s super annoying.”

Noted.

A few days and many hems and haws later, I posted my first blog about…why I am blogging.  Original!  But I quickly followed up with a story about making over a house in south Seattle, and one about a race to get to the symphony.  I committed to posting every week for a year and I met that commitment.

Was my posting robust after that first year?  Not hardly.

I’ve published 182 posts in ten years, which is very un-Victor Hugo of me, but does mean I met a larger goal of mine: to keep at it.  I cannot count the number of friends and acquaintances who have eagerly started blogs with high ambitions, only to fizzle out after less than a year.  This is not a reflection of their talent, only discipline.

I fault them exactly zero percent, because my last post was…October! October, everybody.  That’s a different year than now.

When I started blogging, I was a working newlywed with no children.  I was 24 precious years old.

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On a plane with a beverage.  Entirely ignorant of how rare that caption would become in parenthood.

Now my marriage is a preteen, I have four kids (two are 5.5, one is 4, and one is 2), and my job doesn’t even pay peanuts.  I enjoy how that came full-circle.

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Note the absence of planes and beverages.

 

 

But!  I know for sure we are far, far more joyful and purposeful than when we began.  And, it goes without saying (but I’m saying it), working a hundred times harder.

Which is the central reason I have failed to blog for so many months.  I just don’t make the time.  I miss it.

A couple of friends and I have challenged ourselves to engage in deep work — writing or creating or researching that takes a minimum of two consecutive hours.  No interruptions allowed, no phone, no internet, no TV in the background.  It’s the answer to so much of what ails us; in fact, it’s worthy of its own blog post, and maybe I should deep work that this evening.  But I have plans tonight.  And tomorrow is Friday.  So maybe Monday.  See how the discipline is the problem to blogging?

To you, kind reader, I want to say thank you, whether this is the first time you’ve clicked or you’ve been here for a decade — thank you for the encouragement and generous thumb-scrolling to make it to the end of the post.

This sounds like a goodbye speech.  This is Abby.com, signing off!

Pshhh.  As if I’d give up after ten years.

Tradition dictates that tin or aluminum are the ten-year gifts, but let’s not be bound by tradition.

Wink!

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Life in Pink, Part Deux

To read about the first days in Paris, click here.

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For our third day in Paris, we went a little further afield to Versailles.  It’s a half hour train ride and quarter mile walk to the palace, and Uncle Rick told us to get there at the opening to avoid the lines.  Luckily, they now offer timed tickets so we picked 9AM and promptly passed the 200 person line to walk right in.

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This isn’t even a quarter of the palace.  It’s staggering in size.  The early, cloudy morning hid the gleam of the gold, but not for long.

There’s a show on Netflix called “Escape to the Country” about British retirees buying modest country homes with thatched roofs.  This was Louis XIV’s escape to the country, away from his Paris palace, the Louvre; it was known as his little “chateau.”

So, same.

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There’s the glittering gold. Louis XIV called himself the Sun King. His bedroom, pictured later, is in those arched windows under the clock so the sun would rise directly on him.  What ego?

The interior is so unthinkably ornate, it’s actually difficult to grasp the grandeur.  If Les Misérables wasn’t convincing enough, one immediately understands why the French Revolution was entirely justified.

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The famous Hall of Mirrors (spot the Wo with audio guide)

This is King Louis’ bedchamber.  Yawn indeed.

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The thing about all the extravagance is it just puts you in the mood to enjoy some of your own.

Enter: high tea at Versailles.  At this point my parents were deeply, deeply craving enormous cups of coffee.  They like espresso, but they were starting to get desperate.  The kind waiter brought a porcelain carafe of French press (natch) that was clearly meant for two people, and my parents gave each other the side-eye like “…and where’s YOUR cup of coffee?”

It wasn’t twenty minutes before they ordered another.

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Her giddiness made me laugh and laugh.

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We walked the gardens, which are so expansive and myriad they offer golf carts to navigate them.  There are an astounding 300 fountains, a fraction of the original 1,500.

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King Louis XIV (and his mistress), decided they needed an escape from their Versailles escape, so they built a mini version at the other end of the property.

We all have our needs.

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There’s the “Grand Trianon” — just super mini, obviously

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Casual.

The interior is like any decent retreat center.

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During Louis XVI reign, Marie Antoinette sighed and said, “you all are too much for me.  I need peace, and quiet, and a staff of 40 to myself.”  She claimed the retreat from the retreat from the retreat: the mini-mini palace (called, inappropriately enough, the Petit Trianon).

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She really turned down the volume on the décor to rustic, austere.

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At this point Marie must have felt like the only thing missing from her life was a decent hobby.  But what?

Ah!  A tiny peasant-filled hamlet to call her own.  Finally we get our Escape to the Country thatched roofs.

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She stocked it with farm animals, gardens, a pigeon coop, a dairy, and of course, peons to work it.  She dressed in a muslin frock and walked around pretending to be one of them, without the helpful contribution of any actual work.

And her hamlet hovel was the largest, of course, with a billiard room, library, dining hall and two living rooms.  Super typical of peasant life.

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But remember!  It’s smaller than her mini-mini palace.  She was downsizing.

It was moments like this, in a place so remote and historic and singularly unique, that I would stop for a second and think of the clothes I wasn’t moving from the washer to the dryer, of the fights I wasn’t refereeing, and the naps I wasn’t managing, and I’d grin like an idiot and ask when our next snack was.

When you think about it, I owe Marie Antoinette for giving me an escape to the country.

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Typical Tuesday.

The train ride back to Paris passed us from one world into another.  It’s a bizarre journey to depart Versailles, glamour capital of the world, travel through all the unremarkable towns around it, and end up in Paris, the City of Light.

We walked to one of the most charming streets in Paris, Rue Cler, a true market street with vendors selling every desirable food, wine, produce, meat and novelty one could want.

We had the sort of dinner I’d hoped to have in Paris, where we ordered freely, talked about my parents’ memories of their younger days, shared glasses of wine and laughed as the sun went down.

With a bottle of red in hand, we walked to the Eiffel Tower and sat on the lawn with all the other dreamers, waiting for the spectacular sparkle of the tower at the top of the hour.

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We cheered and took photos as she lit up like Christmas, and laughed at the glory of it all, to be sitting outside on a cloudless night, together living a dream God had for us.

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The walk to the base was incredible as the tower grew larger and loomed brighter.  We said goodbye and hopped in an Uber home, certain to sleep in the next day after the incredible one we’d just enjoyed.

After brunch the next day, we visited the Rodin Museum…you know, The Thinker.

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Rodin is such a great place to visit because it’s housed in a mansion Rodin lived and worked in, it has fabulous gardens and grounds where some of his works are displayed, and it’s sculpture — we’d already seen many paintings, so this felt fresh.

This, and it can be done in an hour.

Our bigger goal that day was to visit the artsiest and most bohemian neighborhood in Paris, and also it’s highest, perched atop a hill: Monmarte.  We began by touring the Sacre Coeur cathedral at the tippity-top of Monmarte, and then the 900-year-old church next to it (!).

Off we trotted, me reading aloud from Uncle Rick as we navigated his walk through the highlights of the eclectic streets.

We had lunch in the town square, a plaza buzzing with artists called the Place du Tetre.

“HERE they are,” remarked my mom.  She had asked me half a dozen times where Paris was hiding all of her street artists.

We munched on crusty bread, ate hearty lunches, and watched as the fifty easels around us filled with cityscapes, portraits, still lifes, and abstract works of art.  We mourned not having any way of bringing a piece home, given our puritanical carry-on luggage situation.

Monmarte is its own enclave, bursting with personality and rich with the impressions left by Dali, Renoir, Van Gough and Picasso.

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Oldest remaining boulangerie of the 1900s art community

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The bistro from the famous Maurice Utrillo painting, frequented by Picasso, Utrillo and Gertrude Stein.

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High behind that tree is one of two remaining wooden windmills of the 30 that used to dot the hill of Monmarte.  They were originally used to press monks’ grapes (1200s), grind grain (1600s), and crush gypsum rocks into plaster (1700s).  Around 1850, once the windmills were no longer in use, this windmill (moulin, in French) became the centerpiece of an outdoor dance hall (the same used in Renoir’s most famous painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette).

The restaurant above, with the original windmill, is named for the painting and the galettes (crepes) people enjoyed at the dance hall.

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I could live here.  It’s like Sesame Street moved to Paris.

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Van Gough lived here for two years, in that exact unit with the open window, where he left a life of making drab drawings of peasants to the wild Impressionist works that made him famous.  Thank you, Monmarte.

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The white bus tells us all we need to know — the moulin rouge (red windmill) cancan is touristy and lame.

We ended the afternoon with a walk down a classic Parisian market street, Rue de Martyrs, lined with traditional cheese mongers, butchers, bakers…didn’t see a candlestick maker.

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America has settled on a paleo/keto life of carb-denial, but France doesn’t give a flying fig tarte.

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After showers and a glass of wine on the balcony, we walked to dinner at Ile St Louis for our last night.

It was hard to say goodbye to such beauty.

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Going all in on the French cuisine felt like a no-brainer, so we did timeless French onion soup, duck confit and crème brulee.

Though it felt like tossing a penny into a marble fountain my parents had built, I treated my parents to dinner for our last night.  It would be impossible to thank them sufficiently, not only for their generosity toward their middle daughter, but for giving me my childhood dream of being an only child, just for a week.  Of course I adore my sisters, but we middles yearn to bask in the coziness of singular attention.  My parents know it’s a trip I’ll treasure the rest of my days.

The next morning I boarded the plane with a happy heart.  People balked when I told them I was only traveling from Saturday to Thursday, but it was plenty of time.  Two of those were travel days, so we got four full days to explore.  Even with the time adjustment, we slept really well each night.  If anything, this trip sparked dreams for future trips with Mike, that maybe we can pop over to Europe without needing two weeks to do it.

I expected to dread the return, but instead I felt full, like God had refilled a cup I hadn’t drank from in years, and I was satisfied.

Mike did a fantastic job, twice having to get the kids to preschool at the eye-watering hour of 7:50AM, and even vacuuming the house from top to bottom.  Like any dad I’ve ever encountered, he called his sister and mine to pinch-hit dinner a couple of nights, and his mama took them all in for the weekend, but I am really proud of how well he did.  He even took them all to the dentist.  I mean, really.

Perhaps the sweetest gesture he gave me was what he didn’t do: he didn’t pee on the gift.  This is a thing in our marriage that means if one of us takes on the entirety of home life so the other can do something great, we act graciously (even if we’re gritting our teeth behind the scenes).  He never called to say, “I’m dying over here.  I hope you’re enjoying living the life.  WHEN are you coming HOME?”  Instead he said, “We’re great!  Live it up!  Love you, Momma!”

As the plane landed in Seattle from Manchester, I looked over to the woman across the aisle from me, who was journaling furiously.  We’d already spoken, so I knew she was British, but then I glanced down at her journal and saw in all caps, “I AM IN AMERICA!!!!” and then “THE TREES!!!” with little sketches of our evergreens filling the margins.  It warmed my soul that my unexotic return was her thrilling adventure.

After all, I’d already had my own.

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Life in Pink

Everything good that Paris could have been, it was.

Before we left my mom was like, “Oh, man, you have a two hour layover?  Ugh, that’s awful.”

False.

One must only lament a layover if one is laid-over with children. That layover is like a hangover.  Layovers solo are like a precious amulet of alone time, presented with a book and beverage.

Despite LAX having precisely zero signs signaling the way to the international terminal, I said to myself, “This is the no-complaint trip.  I shall have zero complaints.”  How could I?  So I walked around the soon-found international terminal grinning like an idiot and basking in the quiet of walking without talking.  It’s an odd and welcome pleasure.

Speaking of pleasure — a nine hour flight with nothing to do but eat, drink, watch movies, read, and nap is a vacation unto itself.  Every mother of toddlers reading this is thinking, “I’d pay the airfare just for the alone time.  You could circle my city at 30,000 feet and bring me straight back.”

I was only able to sleep a short nap on the way over, but deplaned saying, who cares? I’m in PARIS!  ONWARD.

The surprise to Erin and Joey of my coming on the trip wasn’t able to come off like we’d hoped, because my parents and I couldn’t find each other after customs.  Turns out concourse E has two floors.  Who knew?  And again, who cares?  To Paris!

We Uber’d into the city and paid to drop our bags at a hotel down the road from our apartment, since it was several hours prior to check-in.

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We had a quick espresso at a café to perk up after the flight, said goodbye to the honeymooners and off we walked the short distance across the Seine to:

Notre Dame herself.

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I whipped out my Rick Steves and started our self-guided tour.  For those unfamiliar, Rick is the European travel guru of our time, with dozens of books, a PBS show, and a brick-and-mortar store here in Edmonds, WA.  I don’t travel without him.  He’s like Uncle Rick to our family.  It helps that his son (also now traveling for a living) is friends with my dear friend Maggie.  They’ve all gone boating together.  It makes it less creepy that I go hear him speak and get photos with him.

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Not our first meeting, though his riveted expression tells us it’s definitely the only one he recalls.

I digress.

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Notre Dame sits on an island in the middle of Paris called the Ile de la Cite.  It was settled by a tribe called the Parisii in 250 BC.  Clearly the plat du jour is a heaping pile of history, served rare.

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Since it was Sunday, they were holding mass.  It was incredible to see so many worshippers in spite of the tourists milling around the periphery.

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After Notre Dame we walked through the Deportation Memorial, which honors the French lost in the Holocaust.  We stopped for lunch at a café along the Seine, which was lousy, but we didn’t have time to find something better since we needed to check into our apartment.

When Mike and I stayed in Paris in 2011, we were budget-conscious; we chose a modest hotel that had a view of the Eiffel Tower, but you could basically touch all four walls of the space at once.  I think the shower stall and toilet were hard to distinguish.

My mom and dad are conservative, but they’re over that way of traveling.  I stood only to benefit.

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Living Room

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Don’t these leaded glass windows beg to be flung open to call ‘bonjour’ to happy passerby below?

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My bedroom – excusez-moi, boudoir!

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Massive balcony overlooking courtyard and the street

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Making ourselves riiiiight at home…in our clothes from the plane. (Peep my mom’s slippers)

We walked to Sainte-Chappelle, which I’d never been to, and were utterly struck dumb when we walked inside.  There’s an old joke when you travel through Europe that it’s ABC: Another Bloody Cathedral.  This isn’t to deride them, it’s meant to imply that you get grandeur-fatigue, like your brain goes blank after the seventh soaring ceiling and flying buttress.

Sainte-Chappelle laughs at the idea of visual boredom; the cacophony of color in the stained glass is more spectacular than in any cathedral I’ve ever seen.  It’s criminal that these photos don’t capture the effect of feeling like you could collapse from the kaleidoscope of stunning ancient light.

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When I first considered coming to Paris, one of my concerns was the nine hour time difference, and not being able to talk to the kids very often because of it.  However, once we arrived, I realized how totally freeing it was to know they were asleep when I was awake and vice versa.  I couldn’t be tempted to micro-manage, check-in, or worry because for most of my day they were unconscious.

So, worry I did not.  We hopped on a cruise of the Seine, wine in hand, and this was the moment when our collective dam burst: we are HERE.  NOW.  TOGETHER.  IN PARIS.  LOOK!

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It was so exciting to go from lots of walking and careful navigating to: sitting back, sipping a Bordeaux and sailing down the river with the highlights of the city rising before us.  We were absolutely giddy.

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Is the French flag too much?  Never.

We ended the day with dinner on a magical avenue in the St Germain neighborhood.  We stumbled upon it, only to later learn from Uncle Rick that this street is the heart of the Left Bank.  This really showed me that I don’t need his books anymore; he sends me places subliminally.

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It’s like this couple forgot I wasn’t their family and wouldn’t be giving them this picture.

I ordered beef bourguignon, because it felt right; it was delicious.  Dad ordered duck confit because it’s a French classic; it was delectable.  Mom ordered scallop risotto for reasons no one understands; it was disenchanting.

The next morning we took the metro to the Musee de l’Orangerie, because Monet is my mother’s favorite artist.  The space was designed specifically for the enormous canvases which were his final works before his death.

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My mother was underwhelmed.

“These are a little dull.  His earlier works had more interest.”

Apparently French field trip kid agrees.

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Dad and I thought they were amazing, particularly because what appeared simple from the center of the room was a myriad of colors when approached.

Here’s the same tree trunk seen above, up close.

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After enjoying the artists’ work downstairs (Renoir, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, you know, the lesser-knowns), we all felt like a Parisian patisserie was the ideal mid-morning break.  Naturally, I turned to Uncle Rick, who led us to Laduree Paris on des Champs Elysees.  My parents said one metro ride was enough, so we grabbed an Uber.

It was a patisserie worthy of being on the most glamorous avenue in the world.

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It was extravagant; dark carved wood, elaborately painted ceilings, crown moldings two feet deep, and gleaming serviceware.  The pastries, tea and coffee were exquisite, and we sat in the light-filled sunroom in perfect contentment.

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The upper floor was more opulent than the first, boasting a ladies room that looked like a toilette from a doll house.

And their claim to fame: the pastries.  Heart-stopping.

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We ran into Joey and Erin at the Arc de Triumph, which was actually pretty crazy considering the size of the city.

We were on a special mission in that neighborhood; mere days before we left, my grandfather casually told me that he’d worked in a hotel in Paris after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.  I gasped and wrote down the name, determined to find it.

We found it.

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While we rested in the lobby for a minute, a concierge approached, asking if he could help in any way.  I explained about my grandfather working there during the war, and in classic French style, he said, “No, he did not.”

We all looked at each other, until he said, “Follow me.”

He led us outside and explained that The Majestic Hotel was located directly across the street during WWII, but is now a different hotel altogether.  So while we’d found the one, we couldn’t visit it as it was while he was there.  My mom and I nudged each other, because many employees wouldn’t know or care about the history of their hotel 70 years ago, and the one who did just happened to approach us with this priceless information.  God shows off like this all the time, and I love him for it.

Here’s Paris in a nutshell: we headed to Le Café de Flor, a favorite of Pablo Picasso, right across the street from Hemingway’s favorite café, on a busy street dotted with other hundreds-year-old cafes, including the very first café in the entire Western world (1686).  This is why Paris makes people swoon.

The place was bustling and jovial and totally alive with Parisians leaning over tiny tables to be heard above the din.  A gentleman with a delicately creased face and a casual day suit sat next to us reading his newspaper and slowly enjoying his omelette and espresso.

I lifted my phone to take a picture of my parents and stupidly told my mom to reach for her wine glass, which led to:

2018-09-17 15.47.06 Joke’s on me.  It’s the no-complaint trip, and I mean business.

The waiter brought me a giant gray canister of seltzer which was adorable, and useless.

We walked to the magnificent Luxombourg Gardens, which are exactly what you’d hope to find if you opened a calendar of Parisian scenes and watched them come to life: the elderly gentlemen in dress pants and sweaters playing chess under the bougainvillea, the children pushing rented sailboats across the pond, the leathery ladies and gentlemen brazenly sunning themselves across green park chairs, shirts and tank straps removed.

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It is meticulously manicured gardens under a cloudless sky, set against the matchless backdrop of the Luxombourg palace.

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We walked on to the Pantheon, but midway decided after all that walking we’d earned happy hour, so we stopped for a glass of wine.

We approached the Pantheon the moment it closed.  Oops.

After resting on the apartment balcony awhile, we changed for dinner and walked across the bridge to the Ile St Louis, recommended to me by my friend Maija (who lives in Paris with her husband and three kids, having moved there from Seattle two years ago).

Just the walk is a delight unto itself.

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The menu and everyone around us were entirely French, which is always the sign of a fabulous restaurant, but also the sign that we are about to embarrass ourselves.  Here is my father systematically typing in menu items for translation, in a Vacation Dad move so bold I laughed until I was shaking.

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We had a fabulous meal once the waiter basically ordered for us and treated us like old friends.

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Tomorrow it’s on to Versailles — if you want to feel simultaneously awestruck and full of disgust toward Marie Antoinette, meet me here.

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How Am I In Paris?!

I’m in Paris!  For the first time in seven years!  Without kids!  With my mom and dad!  And really sadly, without my hubby.  How did this happen?!

It’s called the miracle of flight.

I kid.  That’s a different kind of how.

Over a year ago my parents and their best friends booked a house in Italy for a week, and they had an extra bedroom, so they invited my sister Erin.  They later invited me too, assuming I was an easy no, because HELLO, I had four kids under four.  (But they were wrong – joke’s on them.)

I prayed and waited for an answer from the Lord about whether to take such a big trip when my kiddos were so little, and He answered resoundingly when Mike spontaneously told me that he was taking time off and he wanted me to go.  He has traveled fairly extensively for work throughout most of our parenting years and he was ready to stay home with the kids and let me take an adventure.

I verbally committed to the trip, though I was filled with anxiety at the thought of over a week away from my babes, halfway around the world.  Since we’ve had kids we’ve taken a weekend away once or twice a year, but the most we’ve ever been away is three nights last March for Mike’s work trip together.  This was a big leap from that.

The best part about waiting for the trip was dreaming about it; if I was having a long day with the kids, or was feeling overwhelmed with the work of caring for them, I’d fill my mind with images of walking the streets of Cortona with a gelato and an approaching happy hour overlooking a vineyard.

I mean, come on.

Then…enter Joey, my sister’s first and forever love and the answer to the longest continual prayer of my life.  When they got engaged after only four months, I didn’t hesitate to tell him he’d also won a trip to Italy.  No part of me held back when I gave him that trip, because the blessing of his arrival in my sister’s life (and ours!) magnificently eclipsed one silly vacation.

I felt like not going on the trip didn’t actually diminish the joy it had already brought me for almost a year.  The happy anticipation lifted me in harder moments, and not flying to Italy didn’t take that away.  Of course I was bummed not to go, but I couldn’t feel sad when the reason I wasn’t going was because my sister was honeymooning.  What could make me happier than that?

Fast forward to about a month ago, when my parents told me they were adding a leg to the trip.  They were going to Paris first, a new place for them, and while Erin and Joey would be going too, they’d be staying somewhere separately and doing things alone, because honeymooning with your parents generally isn’t done.

Then my mom casually asked, as I could tell it was just occurring to her, why don’t you just come for that part of the trip?  Come to Paris for six days and then fly home, and we’ll go on to Cortona.

I did Mom Brain, naturally.  No, no, I couldn’t do that.  It’s only a month from now!  I have the kids!  Mike has work.  No, no, of course not.  Thanks for offering, but it’s just impossible.

Except it wasn’t.  Mike started saying, “I have the days off, we were already prepared for this…you should go.”  Brief hesitation.  “Man, I can’t believe you’ll be in Paris without me.  I want to go!”

So I handed it over to the Lord and said, are You serious?  I let this go — I’m really fine!  I don’t need this!

But nothing got in the way.  And then I checked airfare and it wasn’t obscene, but it wasn’t cheap either.  And then one day I prayed and checked again, and it was $837.  Roundtrip.  And I looked at my mom and she said, “Why are you surprised when He answers your questions?”

I booked it.

Et voila!

Recently it occurred to me that August was the first month in five years and nine months that I have not been pregnant or breastfeeding or both at once.  Five years and nine months without a single day that didn’t involve nursing or carrying a baby inside me.  The time is staggering when I think of it in those terms.

I’ve been thinking about the timing of that and the timing of this trip, and it feels like a victory journey, a roar of accomplishment, a squeal of glee that Jesus sustained my body through the most intense demands ever placed on it.  My body is solely mine for the first time in almost six years, and Paris feels like the right place to celebrate.

(Anyone who knows me also knows I’d be pregnant tomorrow if it were only up to me.  But it’s not, so…pass the champagne!)

There’s also a tension I’m carrying because I don’t deserve this, this wild extravagance.  I work hard as a mom, but I work no harder than all the moms shouldering the same responsibilities alongside me.  So many moms work harder, have husbands on deployment, are themselves deployed, have children with special needs or more children than I have or very few resources to get by.  When I’m given gifts like this I feel so unworthy and embarrassed.

But I know the Lord is sweet, and He’s generous, and while I don’t understand, I want to accept His gift with joy and gratitude.  I’m hoping He’ll mold my embarrassment into a grateful humility that’s acceptable in His sight.  It’s delightful to be reminded that I’m not in control, even of the fun — for me the trip was over and He was probably laughing like, oh daughter, just you wait.  Because He loves to spoil His children; His love is spectacular.

My parents are like the Lord in that way; they spoil their children with abandon. My dad and mom have worked and saved their entire lives to be able to casually add a week in Paris and invite their kid along for the ride. 

My meager offer in return is a scrupulously detailed itinierary to wow them with all Paris has to offer; times, costs, hours and notes crisply laid out in a spreadsheet for maximum efficiency.  Whether it wows them or makes them beg me to stop, for the love of Rick Steves, stop, is yet to be determined.

One amusing part of this trip before it even began was the reaction-question I got, without exception, every time I shared where I was going (which wasn’t to many people; see above, my embarrassment). 

Them: “Who’s going to watch the kids?”

Me: “Mike.”

Them: (Insert your favorite shock phrase here)

And often:

Them: “Mike’s babysitting?!”

Me: “No, he’s parenting.”

Good gravy, people, he’s their father.  He’s highly capable. Mike is the type of dad where I can walk out the door without a word of instruction and he knows what to do. 

To him, and to my in-loves watching the kiddos for today while he plays in a golf tournament (please tell me you saw that coming), I say thank you, thank you, thank you.

I mean, merci beaucoup!  Man, I need to brush up. 

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