Coming Out of Hibernation

I guess you could say my mama bear instincts kicked up in the late fall, around which time I started realizing that far too many minutes of my time were being poured into big or little screens, scrolling through other people’s lives. So I essentially went into a social media hibernation, deleting all social media from my phone and winnowing down the blogs I read to a handful, which I subscribed to by email (is that old school now?) and deleted my blog reader app, which had essentially become another iteration of Infinite Scroll. That also meant that this space went into a deep hibernation, too, and I pretty much have zero regrets.

It’s been a really good, stretching time for me. The self-knowledge that the internet is way, way too distracting and that the temptation to escape the trials of the day is strong, was hugely valuable. I needed to declutter my mind and soul (well, still do). I really think moms living in our technological age actually have a much more difficult time being present to our families than in past generations, while at the same time being more isolated at home. Texting and commenting on Instagram are not the backbone of real friendships! While it is nice to know you can be connected to friends who don’t live close by, there’s a real temptation (especially for introverts with a passel of tiny people who can’t put on their shoes or buckle themselves in the car) to just keep it all there and not actually, you know, ever see anyone else outside your four walls.

And beyond connecting with other people, the most disheartening realization was that I was wasting away valuable and precious time with these children, while the time of their childhood races by. I intend NOT to miss it, and thus, the major step back from technology (Jenny is being way more hard-core about it and I think she is awesome!! I definitely have a long way to go still).

It turns out that real life gives you plenty to do, particularly when the baby grows into a 9-month-old who starts walking and then climbing stairs and then proceeding to become our most destruction-prone toddler yet, leaving a trail of terror crazy messes in her wake. (The list of behaviors we haven’t had to deal with till Maeve and temporary solutions to them is getting longer each day: extra gates for stairs, magnetic locks for all the cupboards, wishing there were lock solutions for all dresser drawers, moving all accessible books off of our already maxed-out bookshelf [the 3 now-empty shelves are such a sad waste!], looking into a toilet lock, looking into a freezer door lock, and considering ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones :P). Whew!

Messes by Maeve^^ (that last one she was able to enact in about 35 seconds!)

But life here isn’t all damage control, all the time (despite what it feels like to us!). I’ve found it really encouraging to notice how my taste and desire to read more has actually increased dramatically when I started taking social media (and screen time in general) off the table more. This, coupled with a really lovely arrangement we began at the beginning of the new year in which Tom insists* that I take the first half hour or so when all the kids are asleep to sit on the couch and finally pray/read/recharge, is for sure making me a better, more sane, more human person. (And in addition to reading, I’ve been loving listening to anything read by Karen Savage on Librivox (well, specifically her L.M. Montgomery and Austen collections– I got through Anne’s House of Dreams and Kilmeny of the Orchard in record time, and Mansfield Park, and currently Persuasion.).

 *This is something I think he’s been trying to have me do for…a long time. I’m just really stubborn and decided to wait till my sanity was nearly expended before realizing he was obviously right and graciously accepting his amazing offer of cleaning the kitchen whilst I pursued leisure. Pro tip: marry up!

And when I do take to the Internet, I’m trying to be a bit more careful about what I am taking in, things that will be nourishing and inspiring in my state of life, and not so much the kinds of things that just make me anxious or angry. There’s a time and place for debate and healthy disagreement (and depressing news), but the Internet just really makes a person wade through sooo much muck before getting to anything good.  So the last couple months I’ve been diving into all things education. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me; I was a teacher all the years before having kids (indeed, up to less than 24 hours before Lucy was born!). I love teaching, and education, and exploring what it means and why it matters to learn. Both the practical and the philosophical aspects. We are planning to homeschool the girls (and I say “we” purposefully because these girls happened to get two teachers for parents! Either blessed or cursed, time will tell! ;)) It’s been a real joy and hugely interesting for me, though not without plenty of, “GAHHH why was NONE of this extremely valuable information made available to me when I was going through ‘teacher education’ in college?!” moments. I’ll find myself nodding and agreeing to what I read or hear and then think about all the ways these principles or practices could have been used in my classrooms with my students.  I’m just really glad I am finding out these things now before we actually begin “formal” schooling with the girls (and much to my delight, it’s becoming very clear that we really do not need to begin anything formal until Lucy is six, so we’ve got plenty of time to let them be little!). More on all this later, I’m sure.

 

Oh, and if you’re wondering what I look like these days…(minus the peaceful gaze)



Motherhood
 Mary Stevenson Cassatt

(Mary Cassatt, normalizing breastfeeding before that was a hashtag!)

But for real, here we are in our yearly Fancy Garb. 

Hopefully, I’ll be back soon with normal updates of what we’re doing, reading, watching, and all that. No guarantees that it will be anything like regular posting, but for now, it’s nice to be back at long last!

Life, Sleep, and the Lack Thereof! (Catching Up!)

This is about the 7th nap failure in the past 3 days, so I’m sitting here typing on my phone while rocking the baby, who’s “nursing” in her sleep, the only way , evidently, that she will sleep these days.

But today is Sunday, and Tom is grading papers in his workshop while Lucy builds nests on the driveway (piles of leaves, branches, berries, acorns, etc) and Lena naps. On a weekday, I would have to take the crying baby, who’s woken up the second I lay her in her crib, and make sure that the toddlers aren’t getting into any mischief. I’m fairly desperate to have this baby sleep, hoping to catch her up on a really bad sleep deficit, so  I’m taking advantage of the second parent being around and letting her nap in my arms.

(Yeah, sleep regressions are terrible but I’ve come to expect them with each child and try to take the long view that she’ll soon be a normal, sleeping, older baby. And frankly when compared to the rest of the horrifying political/social/etc. events going on in the outside world, I’ll take it).

At any rate, Maeve is growing like a weed, crawling on actual hands-and-knees, and pulling up to stand, often one-handed, any chance she can. SLOW DOWN, baby, slowwww down. She has two bottom teeth and there are two more about to pop on either side [and the baby sleep experts try to tell me that teething doesn’t affect sleep….rolling eyes emoji forever]. She’s pretty fat, wearing 9-month and a lot of 12-month clothes,  waves, and of course says “Da-Da” all the livelong day. But, to be clear, only Mama will do, all the livelong day (and night).

As for the rest of us, the past six weeks have been full to bursting. Tom’s school load and schedule are the worst in September and most of October so he’s been pulling crazy long days. And then doing stuff like this on his “days off”:

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His parents came out to visit for a fun-filled and week at the beginning of the month; it was their first visit since Lucy was 2 months, and the first time the older two had seen them since Christmas 2014. Tom and his Dad did a TON of house/fixer-upper projects, not least of which is that really, really lovely light fixture in our dining room. Love it so much. Also got a new, functioning, front doorknob and a handrail going up the stairs!

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I failed epically at getting good pictures with the grandparents! But they loved walking to the park with Grandma and Grandpa!

And in the midst of the busy-ness and to-dos, we’ve been trying move onward and upwards from survival mode to thriving, to maximize our efficiency, winnow out time-sinks and bad habits and anything that isn’t enriching our lives, really. We’ve reorganized all the closets in the house, made the nursery into an actual nursery for Maeve, gotten rid of a lot of toys and baby clothes, and even my entire dresser (I can fit my wardrobe in the closet either hanging from hangers or in two sets of these shelves bolted into my closet, with a bit of overflow in my nightstand drawers).  I’ve been trying to figure out better rhythms for our days at home, what kinds of activities will both keep Lucy busy and yet not destroy our house if I need to leave her alone to try to get Maeve to sleep for the billionth time.

What I’ve been realizing increasingly over the past few weeks is that this task of mothering and running the household takes immense self-discipline on my part (yes, sheer genius, I know!). I’m the arbiter of the daily schedule, my mood sets the tone for our day, for better or for worse. If I give in to laziness or dawdling or multiple distractions, the kids act out. The baby’s nap gets ruined (ok, she also ruins it all on her own lots of the time too). The house still has massive piles of clutter and dirty floors. Every day is a struggle to determine the right balance between making our house a clean, happy place, and not stressing if the kids’ needs literally leave no time for me to shower, let alone clean the bathroom. Between industry and rest, between working on habit formation and just enjoying the littleness of the children.

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There are little things I can do to make very quotidian tasks easier and even somewhat enjoyable: pre-sort the laundry (and teach the toddlers to separate their darks and lights), insist on all the toys or previous activity to be completely put away before moving on, bake with the older girls just for fun. And then little things that make me happy and also make more sense economically and health-wise; I’ve finally started making our yogurt, since we plow through it each week, and it’s beyond easy and foolproof.  I spent a good deal of time researching ways to improve my sourdough bread baking so that I could make our bread again, without getting frustrated. Yes, they take a little more forethought in my already busy life, but they’re things I’ve decided are worth it, and worth prioritizing over others, (such as dusting more often) because for me, the process is rejuvenating and enjoyable AND the results are delicious and give something tangible for my family to enjoy.

We are all looking forward to enjoying as much of this amazing fall weather as we can, spending tons of time outdoors without getting eaten alive or sweating to death. It’s a glorious season, and it’s really amazing to have these sweet, innocent children who just enjoy things so freely, with no concept of how utterly crazy things are in the world right now. They’re the perfect antidote, really, and they teach me a lot about living in the present moment. Sleeplessness and all, we’re a lucky bunch!

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Reclaiming Our Real Lives from Social Media: Thoughts from the CWBN Conference

If there is one insight I gained from this past summer of intensely long days and solo parenting, it is that I can easily and constantly lose myself in the distraction of two extreme opposites: a flurry of busy work or mindless consumption of social media.

They’re polar opposites at first glance, one producing the desirable (and always necessary) results of crumb-free floors, clean counters, food, folded laundry, etc, and the other of…well, nothing, really, save for seeing what other people are doing or what may be going on outside our four walls.

img_1426Dear Lucy, thanks for the stealth photography of all this in action.

Yet both of these activities offer something in common— a sense of escape, distraction, and the chance to turn, if only momentarily, from the stresses of the day, the clamor of three needy offspring, and the general malaise that comes from a chaotic or disordered environment. And both, usually, shut out the little people from my brain-space. Again, momentarily, but the more I try to distract myself from the craziness at hand, the more annoyed I get when my children (loudly) call me back to reality or interrupt whatever chore I’m working on.

Technology (especially ye olde i-devices) makes this especially tricky. I may want to “just quickly” look up my recipe/track my package/find out the outside weather, and then find myself sucked into a 15-minute hole of Instagram scrolling, blog-reading, or clicking through a rabbit trail of something or other. The lost time then only causes more anxiety as I rush back to whatever task I was trying to get done, only to have someone need something urgently! and immediately! … and then the needs, or even the little people themselves, seem to be in the way of whatever else I wanted or needed to do (rather than the other way around).

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the chance to drive out into the beautiful Shenandoah Valley for the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network Mid-Atlantic Conference. We were given a gorgeous early-Fall day, and Maeve slept perfectly on the long drive there and back. It was great to meet with like-minded women for fellowship, sharing ideas, and hearing some amazing talks about various aspects of writing and blogging. Not surprisingly, I was deeply impressed by Elizabeth Foss’s keynote talk, a woman I’ve been following in print in our local Catholic paper since I was little, and then on her blog in more recent years.

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Her main point was that, in order to write or blog well, we need to step back and start actually living our own real lives. She gently suggested pulling back from so much social media consumption, both to protect ourselves from comparison and envy, as well as to protect our children from a mother who’s living virtually in a scrolling feed— Instagramming all the moments she wants to display and then losing sight of the actual moment, happening right there.

It was so good. And really exactly what I needed to hear. I always know that I feel more at peace and just like a generally better human being when I practice self-discipline with the phone, computer, laptop, or iPad. But hearing why it was so important was a great reminder. Nobody wants to be the mom who’s glued to her phone and the virtual world, ad the expense of her children’s reality (well, I don’t anyway).`

As I’ve thought over all of this, and talked about with Tom, I realize that part of what makes this so hard, aside from ubiquitous technology, is that my day (and the days of countless other stay-at-home moms of only tiny kids and babies) has almost no real breaks in it, during which I could leisurely check- in to social media, write, check email, and otherwise connect with the outside world. To shower, I almost always have to have the baby napping and the girls watching a show. To eat a full meal, all the children have to be fully occupied with some activity or game or whatever. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, etc, also have to take place when everyone’s involved in something, or the baby’s sleeping and both girls are interested in doing those things with me. And the main kicker is that suddenly, I have a toddler /preschooler (depending on the moment!) who no longer naps, 95% of the time. So, my precious little slice of alone time, to do ALL THE THINGS, or even nap, is gone. Gone, gone, gone (sob).

So I can see how it was easy and almost natural for me to fall into compulsively escaping into the world on my phone, or into a flurry of housework—it’s not like there is any other time to do those things, so I may as well do it while all my kids are awake, I guess was my unconscious reasoning. I’m glad Elizabeth’s talk brought all this into my conscious thought, and I’m all ears for how other moms make or find time to do any of the things they need and want to do.

And if you have the chance to attend a CWBN Conference in your area, I highly recommend it! Thanks to Rosie for hosting on her beautiful homestead, Mary, Elizabeth, Jenny, and Ginny for their inspiring words, and the hilarious Kelly for emceeing.

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All the adorable and well-behaved babies of the conference! Lisa and I laughed at the fact that we each showed up with a totally different baby this year. 😉 Thanks to the talented Rachel Cupps for taking our head shots and these group photos.

 

End of Summer Quick Takes

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Wow, I really lost my blogging mojo for, oh, about a month there. Oops! In my defense, that month contained:

  • Tom’s last week of the grad school semester
  • Our 4th anniversary
  • A big road trip up to Vermont with my parents and the girls, for a week-long Smith fam reunion
  • Recovery from said trip
  • A crazy hot heat wave
  • Potty training Lucy
  • Somewhat-sleep training Maeve
  • Selling our Pilot, buying an Odyssey
  • Staycation adventures with Tom during his time before school starts
  • Home projects, trying to keep the house clean, actual cooking now that my sous-chef/child-wrangler is home in the evenings again!

So not much time left for tapping out updates or thoughts or book reviews or anything of that sort. But a good, full, stretching-ourselves-in-a-good-way type of busy!

 

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Fuzzy, cheese-y mornings #allthejammies #allthechins

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I’m starting to plan out what I hope our fall “routines” and daily “schedule” will look like (fully realizing that both terms are used very loosely!). But Lucy definitely needs a little more structure to her day to avoid boredom and serious acting out/torturing sisters/destroying property. I realize now why people send off 3-5 year olds to preschools. So we’re just going to improvise here at home.

She loves all kinds of fine-motor and crafty type activities, so I just got  this book for us, and will eventually stock up on the very basics: glue, safety scissors, good quality watercolors, finger paints, homemade play dough, etc, to make it happen. I am woefully un-crafty, but I think I can handle this level, where the kids don’t really care what it is, so much that it is. Art/fine-motor– check!

This adorable book will be fun to go through with the girls, and Tom takes them to local nature centers several times a month. Nature study/science– check!

Lucy also really likes alphabet-related activities so I may start doing some of these with her. Pre-reading/religion– check!

We dug up some old-school Wee Sing books from my parents’ (i.e. from my childhood) and Lena and Lucy both LOVE going through and singing the songs and doing the finger plays. We’re compiling a classical faves playlist and Lucy likes to listen to it for the approx 3 minutes she lays on the couch for quiet time, if she isn’t listening to audio books.  Music– check!

Any ideas for good quality children’s lives of the saints and Bible stories? I’m looking for something with good prose and beautiful illustrations to read aloud to the girls every day (no dumbed down text and no ugly cartoons!). Help!

We’ll continue, as always, to read a plethora of books, and Lucy will probably be happy to take on some more memory work from Children’s Garden of Verses (we have this one, and it’s beautiful), Mother Goose (we have this one which I loved as a kid), and The Harp and Laurel Wreath.

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Perhaps we’re being overly optimistic, but starting Sunday we’re going through 30 Days Grain Free.  I did a zero-grain protocol for about 3 months 5 years ago, and it did wonders for my health, so I’m hoping for similar results, as well as building better snacking habits. Tom’s also going to be starting this, kind of in tandem, so…yeah…pray for us!

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I just signed up for the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Women’s Blogging Network Conference. I loved it last year, and can’t wait to get out to beautiful Front Royal for this year’s! Definitely check it out if you’re a local blogger.

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Links!

The Weeds and Wheat in Children’s Literature

Yes, yes, yes! I always hated hearing, “But at least they’re reading!” as a teacher when the content was absolute drivel!!

I instantly knew which school the author here was referring to– my dear husband’s alma mater! He always lamented about the phenomenon she’s talking about, and it happened with fair regularity at my alma mater as well.

I’m curious about whether or not the upcoming Netflix original about the current royal family, The Crown, will be any good. I like Clare Foy from Little Dorrit and several other BBC things, so we shall see!

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Photos!

 

 

Lena's baptism day celebration

Lena’s baptism day celebration

A series of selfies and shots that the girls are constantly taking on my pilfered phone…

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And this cutie just turned SIX MONTHS … and is CRAWLING all over!

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Have a fun weekend and stay cool!

Linking up with Kelly!

Babies in the Garden {p,h,f,r}

Leila Lawler is suggesting showing shots of our gardens-in-progress for today’s link-up, and so that’s what I’m gonna do! I also feel that I need to capture the garden in its as-yet still untouched growing glory– I know the deer are watching and waiting to devour and ruin our work. They’ve lobbed off at least 5 beautiful little bush bean tops, but some of them have bravely started re-growing. And then my dad lent us some super-smelly anti-deer spray, and (fingers crossed) it is working (so far).

Let’s start with the front bed, right below our dining room windows:

What you see is a TON of lettuce, that we originally planted WAY long ago (I think like early March!) as a cold-weather crop. It survived the randomly super cold spring, and we have much more lettuce than we can eat at this point. The empty spot at the end is where we planted our butterfly/bird flower garden (a mix that will hopefully attract lovely things like hummingbirds, finches, butterflies, etc.). There’s a dahlia at the end that our neighbor gave us, but those buds never seem to want to actually bloom into flowers. Maybe it gets too much sun??  Then an absurdly tall stalk of cilantro that requires assiduous pruning since it keeps wanting to bolt and seed. But at least we have fresh cilantro this year!! We also got two pink hydrangeas from Aldi’s for $10 each, which was a steal, and one of these days we (meaning Tom) will have a few seconds to dig up the clay-ey soil right in front of the bed, and plant those and mulch around it. So far, they’ve seemed pretty happy  in their pots though, and have bloomed considerably since we bought them.

Next, the raised beds:

 

Oh look, a TON of weeds, 3 squash (of the 8, I think, Tom planted) and then 3 volunteer tomatoes! Hooray for volunteers! We will put actual tomato seedlings in the empty (well, except for all the dang weeds) space in the back, and maybe some heat-tolerant spinach underneath, shaded by the tomatoes. We’ll see.

The next bed has bush beans, 2 rows of them, and you can see in the close-up that they will be multi-colored, some purple, some green, which will be really fun! Then a bunch of carrots, which may or may not survive being consistently pulled up by Lucy before they’re ready.

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The last little bed is just cucumbers, and hopefully, they don’t get demolished by deer like last time. (Also, what the weeds! We reallyyyyy need to weed. And we really do not have time! All that rain has made our lawn/weeds/invasive crazy vines just take over our yard and gardens).

And of course, we’re still growing these:

(I can’t believe how much Maeve has started resembling Tom of late. Is that not his face, right there, in miniature (and on a girl baby?))

I tried setting up the sprinkler for the girls last week when it was blazing hot and thought that this year they’d both finally be into it (Lucy was a little timid last year, while Lena put her face right in it and loved it). Surprisingly, Lena was TERRIFIED of the spray of water and screamed, “IT’S WET!!!” in the most surprised, injured tones every time the water touched her.

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Preparing for the sprinkler to pass over…

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…andddd reaction. Lucy smartly turns head away, while Lena screams right through it.

So, I guess we’ll have to dig out the kiddie pool.

Hopefully, I will be back soon with something other than pictures and captions. This week has been particularly cuh-razy as Tom is both wrapping up his school year/grades/summer camp prep AND starting grad school that is over an hour away, four days a week. The kids haven’t seen him very much this week, nor have I really, but next week he should be home more in the mornings and early afternoons, and (please, dear God!) I’m hoping Maeve will start napping better (or at all, really) during the day too. Feel free to send up any prayers you want to for us during the late afternoon or early evening witching hour/dinner/bedtime…doing it solo with all three is no joke! However, I really can’t complain, as military and medical residents’ wives have it so much harder. Teach me your ways, brave women! (Seriously. Leave me advice if you are one!).

Hope you have a wonderful, non-humid weekend!

 

Cute and Not-So-Cute Toddler Antics {p,h,f,r}

My mom pretty much supplies any of the matching clothing the girls wear and it’s always fun to dress them in those outfits. But it’s pretty difficult to actually get a decent shot of them together with Lucy not screaming, “CHEESE!!!” and causing Lena to look in her direction…so here’s what we got:

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Lucy loves saying, “We need to take a picher of this!” whenever she is doing something she thinks is cute. Holding her baby dolls was one such occasion.

 

Well, I’m stealing this from Instagram, but I mean, it’s too good. This is what happens when you’re nursing the baby and the toddlers are on the other side of the car, where they know you can’t see them, and where the ever-tempting garden beds lie. “We’re pouring dirt on each other’s heads!!!” they called with glee. Let’s just say the showers we had to give them afterward were not well-received.

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Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter! 

At least we’re getting some good stories out of it!

I keep thinking how nice it would be to have a second or three to blog, because I want to talk about the books I’ve read recently, post about Maeve’s baptism and Easter and all that. BUT, I’ve got myself an 8 week old who is really starting to wake up to the world and needs a whole lot of soothing to get down for naps and sleep and gets ANGRY if I miss the window. [I had to go back and reread relevant parts of the baby sleep book and remind myself that at this age babies are just going to start fighting sleep and they can really only sustain themselves awake for two hours at the max. You’d think I would really have all this newborn stuff down by now, but nope.]

So instead, maybe I will just regale you with recent tales of life around here, such as the time where I unknowingly washed AND DRIED a peed-in diaper of Maeve’s, and was perplexed when the whole load came out covered in tiny white balls that clung to every surface. Then I found the culprit in the bottom of the dryer. Or how about the time when I thought it would be a good idea to resume potty training Lucy by putting her in undies and trying to have her sit on the potty randomly throughout the day (read: frantically set alarms and try to get her on there before an accident, while toting the poor newborn)? That was pretty dumb and now I’m once again waiting until … some unknown time in future when she’ll magically “be ready” as everyone keeps saying.

My favorite moment, though, has to be one last week that was the crowning glory on a string of particularly brutal days. The girls had just come in and were covered in a thick layer of sandbox sand. I was wearing a finally-sleeping Maeve in the Ergo. Lucy was in her undies and I had forgotten to have her sit on the potty in a while (probably because each potty-sit was completely fruitless). Lucy went into the bathroom to wash the sand off her hands while Lena bee-lined for the stairs. Lena tripped, and landed with the side of her face into the bottom stair. So of course, she started to scream, right into the baby’s face in my Ergo, who then answered back with screams of her own. About two seconds later, Lucy emerged from the bathroom and laughed nervously while looking very sheepishly at me. It soon became clear that her hand-washing had elicited the potty response, right as she stood on her stool in her undies and pants. So, holding a sobbing, injured toddler on my hip, with an angry baby in the Ergo, I led a wet toddler by the hand upstairs. Administered arnica to Lena (still screaming), cleaned up pee on the floor and got Lucy into dry clothes, and meanwhile tried not to let Maeve’s (still screaming) head dangle out the Ergo as I was bending over. It was all pretty hilarious really, and I somehow managed to realize that and laugh (a nervous, maniacal cackle, probs, but laughter nonetheless).

Three kids three and under is kicking my butt (if only that were considered valid exercise!). And yet, here I am living to tell (and mostly enjoy) the tales.

(But this pretty accurately sums up how I feel by about noon most days!)