November 13, 2015
by Tricia

Oven light moments

She chooses a small table by the wall. I drop my bag on a chair and hand her my ipad. Then I open my laptop across from her and sit down. She pops her headphones in and nibbles on her chocolate croissant as she begins working a jigsaw puzzle on the screen. I open my most immediate deadline of the day and get to work.

I’d love to take off and push off deadlines every time she has a school holiday. But wow does she get a lot of them now. So today I am testing the theory that I don’t have to, that with her, I can mix things together.

For an hour and a half we sit just like that. She in her little world, me in mine. We lock eyes every time one of us leans a little too hard on the table, causing it to tilt and sway. We smile. I ask her how she’s doing, occasionally peek over the ipad, but she is content and, just sitting with her, I am too. When she’s hit her impressive, almost two-hour limit of sitting there, we leave.


I used to compare my unborn babies to cupcakes.


Throughout both of my pregnancies you’d hear me wishing for a way to check on the lives growing inside me the way you might turn the oven light on to see just how far you overfilled your cupcake tin and watch the batter solidify and expand. I wanted more than what the occasional ultrasound revealed. I believed that just being able to peek at them in there, safe and sound, to watch them for a minute or two (or more) would calm my nerves. I wanted the visual assurances that everything would be ok, that they would be more than ok.


Later in the afternoon, we’ve done our big tasks for the day. We’ve run errands and she’s bounced alongside of me as we’ve walked, bubbling over with stories that, without her little brother tagging along, she finally has the space and quiet to release. And I have the space and quiet to ask the follow-ups that always linger on my tongue. We’ve begun packing for our upcoming big trip and she’s brought t-shirts and dresses to the suitcases one at a time, taking the task of packing her own things very seriously. I’ve hit a few more deadlines and she’s played with her Legos.

We have time before we need to leave for ballet so we do what we do these days, we drag out our coloring books and spill a box of colored pencils on the table. She shows me her work, asks if I like it, and, of course, I do. We chat about school and family and friends.


The cupcake metaphor still holds as those little lives grow bigger by the minute (though it does become a bit weirder). Now I can see how they’re growing, I watch it happen. I see the progress and the changes. Now I don’t need an oven light to see that they are ok.

But still, I want some assurances. I want to check on them. I want to see the things that, even as they run and twirl around me, I still just can’t see with the naked eye. Are they overflowing in all the right places or have I not filled them up enough? Do they have the right ingredients in the right balances? Have I done enough and am I doing this right?


It’s a full week later now and another day off for her. Our plans to spend it much like last week’s day get thrown when little brother develops croup and Wednesday morning finds me sitting in a steamy bathroom, trying to clear his airways. We’ve been up since 3am and it’s going to be a long day.

She wakes and pops her head into the bathroom. She knows the drill, knows what it means to see us there and can probably read everything by the look on his face. “I’ll be right back!” she spurts. Seconds later she returns with a stuffed bear. Both of them claim ownership of this bear and we can’t remember anymore so the poor bear becomes the rope in a loud game of tug-of-war. But today, he will make it all better. She holds the bear out and the struggling little boy on my lap smiles. Then he laughs. Right there, in the steamy bathroom, as he struggles for air, she made him laugh. And now they are playing.


The deeper I get into parenting them, the more they begin to take shape as people, not just my little people but real people of the world with real thoughts and passions and dreams that have less and less to do with me, the more I worry about what my hands have done and continue to do. I want to peek inside to see if the seeds of kindness and gratitude, love and creativity, independence and friendship, that I’ve tried to place there are taking root. I want to see not just what their personalities reveal to me today, a muddled mix of them and their development stages and ages that mask their true selves. I want to see what they will blossom into. I’d love nothing more than to, just for a minute, just for a second, catch a glimpse of the future when all of the work of today has yielded their lives so that I can see where I’m going wrong (and, maybe even, where I’m going right).

But I’m starting to recognize that these oven light moments come around fairly often if I’m paying attention.

In the way that she quietly sat with me as I worked and patiently waited as I finished, I saw the healthy buds of focus and support. In the way she happily babbled to me as we drove from place to place, I saw her future of easy conversation and effortless friendships. In the way she eagerly dove into our chores and helped organize our tasks, I saw a world that will be hers thanks to her determination and energy. In the way she made her little brother smile, I saw a future of relationships that are deep and fulfilling. And in the way my heart feels full just moving through the day next to her, I see our future together.

Perhaps the truest sign that you’re doing this parenting thing ok, better than ok, that all of your efforts are working out and your blunders not messing things up too badly, is that you love hanging out with the little person you’re raising.

November 6, 2015
by Tricia
1 Comment

Being vs. Doing

“When you offer a moment, you offer a piece of yourself.”

~Rachel Macy Stafford

hands together

A mischievous smile creeps across her face as I cross through the kitchen. I can see the purple balloon in hands tucked behind her back. Her entire body vibrates as she bounces onto her toes, though I can tell she is trying to stand still. She loves surprises, this one, and more and more she loves the silly, the goofy, and the feeling of a light heart. It’s in these moments when she truly glows. I can see the life in her, her creativity blossoming. I can see a long line of relationships strengthened by her desire to keep those around her smiling.

As I walk closer her excitement tumbles over just before she hurls the balloon at me and dissolves into a peal of uncontrollable giggles.

I have a choice.

Before her smile and the balloon and her giggles, I was on my way to another of the many tasks I cram into these 15 afternoon minutes. Between school and ballet I clean up breakfast dishes, prep afternoon snacks and dinner simultaneously, and try to return some order to the house that has settled into a mess since breakfast. If I’m lucky I can get a jump on lunch packing and tomorrow morning will run that much more smoothly. Being able to productively exploit these minutes was part of the trade-off I struck when I made this part of our routine. I bring her home so that she doesn’t have to change in the ballet studio changing room (which she hated doing) and I don’t loose productive daytime minutes (which I hate doing). Presto: efficiency.

But I didn’t account for her needing help pulling on her tights.

Or for her bringing home a new book and being unable to breathe another minute until she cracked its spine.

Or for her asking me to sit next to her while she snacks.

I certainly didn’t account for the balloons.

Life with small kids requires so much Doing. It’s Doing that puts lunches in lunch boxes and turns dirty clothes into clean ones. It’s Doing that fills backpacks with homework, library books and permission slips and it’s Doing that makes it possible for her to go to these ballet classes. It’s Doing that makes this home comfortable and cozy and comforting when we all return to it at night.

And Doing feels really good. I swear sometimes I can feel a satisfying click when I cross off a to-do item and man do I love that click. And when I reach the end of these 15 afternoon minutes and see an empty sink and a clean kitchen counter and a living room ready to welcome my people, it just feels so darned good.

Doing feels so good, in fact, that it beckons us. Just one more thing, it promises. Just five more minutes. Think of how many things you can cross off in five minutes! Just keep going. Doing knows its physics. It knows an object in motion stays in motion and it doesn’t want us to stop.

But then there is Being. Being is far more subtle. Doing likes to call Being unproductive and dress it up as a waste of time. Doing likes to needle us with how empty Being looks on a page. Being doesn’t show up on a line on our agenda.

But Being knows that none of that matters. Because Being shows up in more important places. It treads ground that Doing never could. Being shows up in the way that afternoons spent side by side on the couch with heads bent over the same book and legs entwined beneath blankets, adds another thread to this lifelong relationship. Being shows up when I curl up next to them at the end of the day and ask about their favorite moments and they tick off several that include me.

The choice between Doing and Being is rarely easy in the moment. And that afternoon was no exception. Standing in my kitchen with a balloon at my feet, a sink still full of dirty dishes, a little girl whose mess of hair needed to be organized into a bun, and just five minutes left, the choice was real.

I bend down and pick up the balloon from the floor, still deciding. And then I hurl that thing back at her. Her giggles trail her around the house as I dash into the playroom for more ammo.

“I swear I could read her mind – not her present mind, but her future mind. I could practically hear the words she would say to herself one Sunday afternoon as she drove home from the grocery store or while she walked her child to school or while she stared at the ceiling counting useless sheep.” ~Rachel Macy Stafford

My girl won’t remember the sink or the breakfast dishes or how often boxes of toys littered our playroom floor. But she will remember those balloons and the story of this afternoon is the story she’ll tell herself.



Almost two years ago, I read Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free Mama and it forever changed the way I think about moments with my kids. This Fall, Rachel released her next book, Hands Free Life and her words continue to shape how I think about time with the people I love. Thanks to these books, I think much more about the tug of war between Being and Doing. Thanks to these books, I think I make the right decision far more often. And thanks to these books, my relationships are far stronger than I dreamed they could be.

October 1, 2015
by Tricia

A life with margin

kids in swing

I’ve been quite ragged for three years.

For three years, every day has felt rather unpredictable. As though the hours between breakfast and bedtime might throw anything at me. And by anything, I of course don’t mean physical things like balls or socks or pillows (although…). And I also don’t mean expected things like illness or conflict or struggle (and still…).

I mean the unexpected things. I mean the needs that smash into each other in the very same nanosecond. He needs water, she needs shoes, he needs to know where the socks are and I need a cup of coffee all very, very stat. You can’t prepare for four simultaneous and spontaneous needs, no matter how many hours you spend setting up your morning the night before. And I mean the neediness. He needs to cuddle with me while I read a story while she needs me to cozy up next to her and color and I need to revise an article and I love to multitask but even I know that I will neither color nor read nor revise very well if I am trying to do all at once. And I also mean the loud. The shrieking and the shouting and the desperate attempt to be the loudest, to win by the very nature of the fact that only one voice can rise above the rest.

For three years, I’ve lived a life without margin. Every little thing so tightly squeezed onto the day’s page. Flip to tomorrow and it looks just the same. Running from one appointment to the next, squeezing phone calls during my commute, writing headlines in the grocery store check out line, making to-do lists while she colors and he pushes trucks. I’ve had library fines so large I may as well have just bought the book, forms turned into school so late that they came dripping in apologies, and laundry that has laid wrinkling in my laundry basket for days.

And I’ve become a pro at saying ‘no.’ No I cannot volunteer. No I cannot help out. No we cannot make it to that event. Saying ‘no’ is supposed to be a thing that is hard but, for the past three years, it has come to my lips quite easily. And, I suppose, at least there’s that. At least I knew enough to not try to squeeze more margin out of this inky page.

But now. Now is the moment I held onto at the height of that raggedness. On the nights when I’d fall into bed overwhelmed by the things on today’s page that never got done and would have to be carried over to tomorrow’s already very full slate, I’d dream about now and the freedom of space. I’d dream about filling the center of the page, covering only from this red line to that one, and then admiring those inches of white space on either side where I could smile and laugh and cuddle and maybe even breathe or think. I’d imagine what it would feel like to have time to myself again to fill up between my times with them.

Of course, in my imagination, it was glorious. In my imagination, my life easily separated into paragraphs that would fit neatly on the page in the blocks I set up for them. No run-on sentences would wind from one to the other. I’d fulfill work obligations during work hours, writing my headlines from my desk. And I’d fulfill family obligations during family hours, actually coloring next to her or pushing a truck across the floor myself without a pen or a phone in my hand.

Waking up on the days you only used to dream about can be a bit unnerving. It is one thing to say, “When I have more time, I am going to write more and think more and be more. I’ll do yoga and breathe and find new clients and write this book and do all the things I’ve been dreaming of doing for the last three years.” But it is always a completely different thing to do it. Adjusting to a life with margin not as easy as you think it should be. It’s hard to not rush through work because your muscles are programmed to move while they can. It’s hard to not reach for your phone or your pen or tick off to-do items in your head at all hours of the day and night because your mind was programmed to forever be ticking. It’s hard to sit for five minutes and be still, and breathe, and let the words come to you rather than rushing them out by force because stillness is just something you dream about, not something you experience. It’s hard to not say ‘no’ to the volunteering and the events and all the rest because in your brain, the page still looks quite full.

So this is where I’m at. All this quiet  felt eery on day one, actually throughout all of week one, but now it’s starting to feel quite cozy. This big space to spread out still feels a little scary, in the way that big spaces always feel big and scary until you fill them. And what a gift to be able to fill them as I choose.

September 14, 2015
by Tricia


kids and bike

“Mommy!” he squeals. His eyes light up. His cheeks get puffy in a way that looks slightly stiff. Muscles engaging that have lied dormant all day long.

I lift him to my hip and his arms clasp tightly around my neck. As I talk with his teachers, trying to fill in the blanks since his curls last tickled my shoulder (hours I’ve spent praying that those blanks are filled with more than just tears), he continues to squeal, though more quietly now, right into my ear as if he is sharing a secret between just the two of us. “Mommy!” My name seems to flow from his mouth without effort or thought, fueled by an intoxicating mixture of delight and relief. He squishes his face against my cheek as if to squeeze apart the distance he’s felt for hours.

“How was your day, bud?”

“I cwied and cwied and cwied por you Mommy.”


She breaks into a smile when we finally lock onto one another across the huge and crowded space where I feel awkward and unsure and, honestly, quite lost but where she already walks around with a comfort and a confidence that looks brand new and also perfectly placed. The air smells like school in a way that I haven’t experienced in years, decades, and I push through random childhood memories as kids swarm around. She runs towards me and I pick her up instinctively, long, lanky, almost six-year-old legs stretching down to dangling feet that reach my knees. She is somehow still so easy to lift, very likely because she wants to be lifted and she knows she is too big now. So she makes it easy on me.

I can tell by her bounce and her lightness that she has smiled today. She has laughed. Her eyes have ignited, a half dozen times? A full dozen? More? I’ll never know for sure but I’m becoming better at deciphering her afternoon mood, deconstructing it and then piecing it back together into a picture of her day. She’ll only share pieces when I catch lightening in a bottle, usually right before sleep. But I am so anxious for details I can’t help myself from digging as we clasp hands and walk to the car.

“How was your day, love?”


“Second day better than the first?”



I worried about them both as these days approached. But I worried about her more. Brand new school. New kids. New routines. Leaving something so amazing and comfortable behind to launch into something new and completely unknown. I expected her muscles to remember the way they clung to me back when she was three and small. I expected drop offs to be hard, the way they were then. I prepared myself for weeks of struggle and tears and intensity of emotion. She is my small one. My quiet one. My one who is slow to adjust and jump in and sparkle. I can’t keep up with the pace of growth, so much so that I’ve almost given up, so I prepared for the little girl she used to be.


“I don’t want to go to school!” he wails as I set his breakfast in front of him. “I cwy por you.” He moans as I pour another cup of coffee. I pull him onto my lap and I spoon Cheerios into his mouth because in an hour he’ll have to be big and brave but here he can always be my baby. I manage to distract him for a bit but when it is time to go he demands to be carried. Everywhere. So I do. With him on my hip we help sister into her backpack. We gather our things while I struggle because he, too, is too big to be carried. He is heavy and I’m embarrassed to say that I get winded by the weight of him. But his whining hurts me and I know he will spend the day in sadness and that breaks my heart. So I ignore the mud stains on my pants in the place where his feet bounce against my legs and I hush the pain in my arm and we trudge along.

She is ready and by the door. Complaints about carrying her things have disappeared and that backpack with the butterflies and the flashing lights finds a happy home on her shoulders. She even climbs into the car with it all on her own and I swear it’s a morning-routine miracle. First grade, I admire your work so far.


It took three days for me to realize I had prepared all wrong. Three days before I realized I was investing my time in the wrong place. Three days before I even began to shift. And then, of course, the shift had to be slight. Slightly less attention on her, less worry, less preparation. Slightly more on him. But not too much shifting. Can’t mess up her good thing and can’t smother him either.


He sobs as I unbuckle his belts and lift him out of the car. His head burrows into my shoulder as we walk and I know they can already hear him coming, down on the playground. He sobs words into the air as if he believes that they will have the effect of taking us both home. “I don’t want to go to school.” “I don’t want you to leave.” So I kneel next to him and I tell him to squeeze. And he does. I squeeze back and cover his wet face in kisses. His teachers are so sweet and he walks willingly onto the playground, no peeling him off of me like we used to do with his sister. But he is still sobbing.


As we walk away from the gate, his wails only becoming slightly less loud in my ears as we go, I pull in gulps of air. “I love this school.” I breathe out, thankful for the people and the familiarity and the way I know he will be so very cared for until I come back.

“I don’t” she replies lightly, “because I don’t go here anymore and I like my new school better.”

Her words knock me over but I instinctively smile. I know she still loves this place and always will. But here we are on day three and her sights have risen to the new heights she is traveling towards. She’s walking there bravely and confidently and actually she bounces more than walks. And I worry about them both a little bit less.

August 12, 2015
by Tricia

No silence these days

“Remember when we used to wonder what he was thinking?”

boy in window

I make this joke all the time, these days. I make it so much it’s not funny anymore. Maybe it never really was and my friends and family have just been humoring me. That’s ok. I think I’ve earned it.

These days, our home is louder. Much louder. Sometimes, even, higher pitched. Lively, yes. Chaotic, you bet. I mean it when I say there is no silence. Because one of us is no longer silent. One of us has a voice and thoughts and ideas and needs. He’s always had these things, of course. But now he’s not afraid to use them. Share them. Explode with them.

These days he and I have conversations in the car on the way home from camp drop off. These days he tells us about his day during dinner and shares what he is thankful for at bedtime. These days I answer the most impossible of questions (Why is it raining? Why do cars not fly in the air? Why can’t I eat cookies all day long?) and find myself in the most impossible of arguments. These days people look at me with eyes as big as saucers when he opens his mouth. These days I hear a lot of, “I can’t believe how much he’s talking!”

These days are the days I spent last year wondering if I’d ever see. Or hear, as the case may be.

And I should be clear that these days still aren’t perfect. Obviously. These days I don’t always understand what he’s saying. These days I breathe deep for patience while he struggles to get his words out as we’re late on our way out the door. These days I get flustered by his frantic need to say all the words. The way he fumbles and sometimes screeches. These days conversations with him sometimes leave me feeling like I just got off a merry-go-round gone wild. He is so excited to use his words that sometimes he hurls them on top of everyone else’s and my brain can’t take the overwhelm of inputs (and certain big sisters can’t take the way attention sometimes splinters). These days he does fight with his sister for air time and there isn’t so much a squeezing of stories and needs and wants as there is a big jumble of them.

These days, there are new challenges. There is potty training. Moving to a big boy bed. Getting ready for preschool. Learning, continually, what it means to be a four-person family now that all four people can fill the airspace with thoughts and ideas. And these days there are still old challenges. There is refining and encouraging and work. He, we, still have work to do.

These days my struggle is that I am just fine with the way he talks. Yes can be yesh forever as long as I’m concerned. Pia instead of pizza? I love it. Hepacopter, pire truck, these words make me smile. And when he wants to waffle in my ear, my heart melts. (He means whisper, of course). I see no problem with any of it. I’m delighted that he forms these words because my heart is still bruised from the days when he couldn’t. It is still novel to hear his ideas and answer his questions and volley a conversation back and forth between us. I feel giddy every time it happens, as though I’m living a once-in-a-lifetime moment every single time. These days my struggle is that I forget we should all want more.

But, of course, we should. The reason we took his speech delay so seriously to begin with is because we want more for him. But, for now, I’m just happy to be here. Even if here is a little loud.


linking up with Lisa.