from outside my closet door: what progress looks like

Today I did my second closet purge since being home from Uganda. When we got home I went through seemingly every room in the house, getting rid of things we didn’t need or didn’t use regularly. Then I moved on to the garage and did the same. It felt good, but over the last few months, I realized that there was yet another level of simplification that needed to happen. This round of purging meant parting with things I actually “like,” and things that I may have recently worn, just because they are excess and because others can make better use of them than I can. This process of simplification is teaching me two things:

1) More choices (in this case, more clothing options) do not mean more freedom. Some choice is good. Too much choice creates stress and clutter (internally and externally), and, with 4 small children under one roof, I don’t need more of that!

2) Less choice does not inhibit my creativity. I used to think more choices meant more options for creativity, but, I’ve found that too much choice stifles my creativity whereas less choice enables me to better see color, texture, layers, etc., and how they can work together.

I continue to be surprised by how affected I am by our time in Uganda- the simplicity of life I experienced there, and the redefining of what I actually “need” that took place in me as a result. I’m learning that, when I eliminate areas of excess, I don’t actually lose anything, but that new freedom is found. I’m also learning that simplicity is a discipline and a gift. It is progressive- always in process and never complete. It’s a journey I’m so glad to be on.

from outside the bedroom door: what progress sounds like

Tonight, when I left the twins’ room after tucking them in bed, I stood at the door and listened for a while to the little voices calling out, “I love you mama” repeatedly in tones that were too sweet to adequately convey in written words. I remembered standing outside the same door just a few months ago, tired after trying to soothe anxious and upset babies, wondering how long the bedtime strife would last. Tonight’s noises were a wonderful reminder of the progress the twins have made in their adjustment to life as Ludwigs. There is other evidence of progress too- Cora’s 8 teeth that are just starting to come in, Elias’ need for size 3t t-shirts (he was barely filling out the 18month size when we came home in October), the ever increasing vocabulary of both kids, their huge smiles, their willingness to greet strangers and to share food, their normalized bowel movements (this one I am particularly thankful for), their fearlessness on the playground, Cora’s complete change in countenance and disposition, the continual singing and chatter that can be heard pretty much ALL the time, the dancing, the clapping, the wrestling… oh man.  Every day, these two seem to become more “alive” and more themselves.

To be fair, we do have our fair share of tears and timeouts. We have the battles of the will, testing of limits, a disdain for sharing, and a whole host of “normal” two year old struggles (times 2). But these challenges are developmentally healthy and normal and are actually signs of health and progress in their own ways. So, we celebrate them (at least in moments of silence at 2am, maybe not when both kids are throwing a fit in time out, ha!), and we embrace them, and we remind ourselves that, in the grand scheme of things, we are all doing really, really well.

I still can’t believe that we are all under the same roof. I remember not so long ago when I tucked a weepy Macy in bed as she cried for her brother and sister that she so desperately wanted to have home. I cried too. It felt impossible- the idea of all four of my kids being in one place seemed out of reach and a long way off. And now, well, I think I’ll go peek at the four of them as they sleep soundly in their beds…

#itwasagoodday

It may have been quiet on the blog recently, but I’ve been blogging… in my head. There are many things I’ve been thinking about, some that I’ve actually started writing about, and none that have actually made it all the way to publishing (oops). I think that time is coming sooner than later though, as writing continues to be an outlet for me to process all that I am experiencing, and, these days, I have no shortage of experiences to process. I just haven’t had the mental bandwidth for much creativity lately. The holidays (we pack in a few extra birthdays, and an anniversary with the  Christmas/New Year standards), the transition back to full-time work (after being away 4 months), and many other unique situations and special events have kept my plate full and my bandwidth minimal. It has been a season of celebration and transition, but I’m sure at least some stories and musings will show up here soon enough!

As for today, there are a couple of noteworthy things I thought I’d document (partially because I can’t believe they are real, and writing them here at least makes them exist somewhere outside of my head, ha).

  • This morning was the easiest start to a work day that we have had yet. Note: easiest, not easy. Things were far from leisurely over here- but they were peaceable, orderly, and, for the most part, enjoyable. Everyone ended up in the right place with some time to spare and no exasperated “hurry up, we are going to be late”‘s were uttered by mom (see my post about “experiencing mom” for more on that. Oh wait, that’s still in my head too, dang it).
  • For the first time, the kids self-divided for play based on gender. The boys played cars in the house, the girls ran around the yard together. This made me pause for a moment of appreciation 1) because everyone was entertained and 2) because Macy and Owen each wanted a brother and sister to play with so badly, and here they were, finally getting to relate and play together just as they’d hoped. #goodtimesahead
  • We made it through our Monday walk with just one meltdown and time out and returned home with everyone happy and smiling, without a single diaper blowout. Big deal. Last week I thought we were going to have to quit our Monday walking tradition just to save my sanity, and this week it actually felt like… a walk in the park. Mind you, we aren’t talking about a little jaunt- we are talking about a 5 mile trek that includes dinner by stroller, so the twins have justifiably required some time to get acclimated to this adventure. It seems they have finally decided they like it, and I do too.

Status

This morning the twins wandered to another room of the house and started playing with toys while I cleaned up from breakfast. That might seem “normal” for most two-year-old kids, but for the last few weeks my kids have been following me around the house whining if I tried to get anything done. The fact that they are starting to venture out a little bit on their own is a sign that they are feeling more comfortable in our home and that they are feeling more securely attached to me. It’s good news.

It’s also good news because it means I can get a few things done around the house (hopefully).

life with four: how it is

Today I got an email from a social worker and a grant agency both asking the same question. In fact, it is the question I get most (besides, “are they yours?” and “are they twins?”). The question most people seem to want answered is, “how is life with 4 (kids)?”

When people ask how I’m doing and my response is that I am tired, they usually say something that has to do with the fact that we now have four kids. I mean, sure, four kids keeps a mom busy, but that is not the tired I am referring to. The tired I am referring to is an internal tired that is the result of a long two year process of living with a heart and attention divided, of many, many late nights of planning and paperwork, of traveling and living in a third-world country with four kids under 6 years old for two months (there are a lot of logistics stateside, familyside, and ugandaside to coordinate for that!). It is a tired that results from exposure to sadness, brokenness, and injustice on a level that I’ve yet to see and experience this close to home (and in my own home). It’s a tired from having to be ceaselessly vigilant and on top of every detail all the time. Finally, it’s a tired from bottling up the questions, thoughts, emotions and the processing of said journey (because who has time to deal with that messy stuff when there are so many imminent demands in front of you?). But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about life with four, and I guess, for me, life with four kids is easy and normal and totally doable- compared to what we have been through in the last few months (I’ll call that, “life with 4, plus”). This day-to-day reality where we have to (*get to) navigate temper tantrums, hungry mouths, laundry, play dates, homework, baths, etc (x4), feels restful. It’s restful because we are all here under one roof and we get to focus on just living and being a family. And that, is fun! We sleep well, laugh a lot, and have already figured out how to sneak in some fun adventures (again, it’s all about the perspective… after “adventuring” around Uganda with the four kids, pretty much anything we could scheme up here feels easy).  We have also figured out how to get everyone out of the house on time in the morning (a victory to celebrate for sure)! Macy and Owen continue to be fantastic big sister and brother and there is peace in our home. At some hours of the day it’s a loud, chaotic peace, but it’s peace nonetheless and I am thankful for it.

(And if I take a long time to call or text you back, I hope you’ll forgive me, ha. I didn’t say I have an abundance of time of my hands, I just said I’m having fun!)

today’s milestone: first visit to the pediatrician

Today was a day I had dreamt about for a long time: Cora and Elias’ first doctor appointment. It was nuts. I don’t think I’ve mentioned on here that the kids do not like the doctors. At all. They have some traumatic memories associated with medical care, and every time we set foot near someone with a stethoscope around their neck (even minus the infamous white coat), the tears start flowing. This is why I have put it off a few weeks since our arrival home. I really wanted to give the kids some time to adjust without putting them in a situation where they had to be afraid. Time’s up!

We get to the doctors office and I’m greeted with 2 stacks of paperwork to fill out. The kids play happily with the toys and I start filling out the papers. All is well, I think. But the doctor is fantastically timely today and less than 5 minutes into my paperwork, the nurse comes out and calls us back. Then it begins- measurements, examinations, poking, prodding, and the grad finale, some vaccinations. I’m still trying to fill out the papers, but the kids are really upset and this is my chance to comfort them and establish more connection by meeting their needs. Paperwork loses and I’m on the floor, two crying babies on my lap. Doctor, perched on chair, talking through vaccination catch-up, circumcision quandary, and developmental milestones. It was unlike any previous appointment I’d had. We leave (babies comforted and quieted by now), and it’s my turn to cry. Thinking about these two, their crazy medical history, and the care they have needed but have been unable to get, is overwhelming and has been a point of sadness throughout our process. To be able to provide that care, is something quite wonderful (even though they hate it).

Today I’m thankful for that mess of an appointment- for the screaming babies, the vaccinations that made them cry, and for the oh-so-patient doctor and nurses who somehow managed to get high-fives from the kids on their way out…  it’s another thing that has been re-framed for me in this season and something that one of you dear people will need to remind me of years down the road when preventative care (for myself or for my kids) is something that feels inconvenient.

elias on the scale

Elias on the scale. Both kids have gained 5 lbs already! Elias is in the 10th percentile and Cora is in the 2nd. At the rate they are growing it won’t be long before they are right on track.

post shots

I call this the “I survived my first round of vaccinations” photo. Pictured is the good-natured nurse (in her cowboy costume for halloween) who gave them their shots. #snacksmakeeverythingfeelbetter #sodohugsfrommom #butmostlysnacks

things i can’t stand: excess and clutter

I have always been a little “type-A,” but since being home I’ve noticed that two things stress me out in a way that they hadn’t before: excess and clutter.

I thought we lived simply- that there wasn’t that large of a margin of excess in what we use and what we have. I also thought that I kept things clutter free for the most part (except for maybe a few drawers of controlled chaos), but since our return from Uganda I’ve been feeling differently.

A few, case-and-point illustrations: First, I began to notice that loading the dishwasher was stressful for me. I’ve always loved loading the dishwasher because it is a chance for me to order and organize chaos (something I love to do on many levels). It also feels like a game to me (where I get to figure out how to fit in the most items in the most efficient way), so needless to say the feeling of stress caught me off guard. After a little assessment, I realized it was the process I go through to load it that bothered me- particularly, the sound of the running water in the sink that ran pointlessly while I loaded. I’d rinse a dish, let the water run, load, go back for the next dish, repeat. It never occurred to me before how much water I wasted just in that process alone, but since water has become something that is precious to me and that was scarce in Uganda, the sound of it being wasted bothered me on an internal level before I could even notice it and do something about it. I’ve now changed my routine so that the water doesn’t run pointlessly and I only use what I need to rinse off the dirty dish (also important because we find ourselves presently in a drought).

Also on my list of new unexpected stressors was getting dressed. When we were in Uganda I had 6 shirts, 6 bottoms (shorts, skirts and jeans combined), 6 pairs of underwear to choose from on any given day (if they were clean, that is)… and here, well, let’s just say I have more. My closet is very small to be sure, but it’s packed with things I wear only on occasion and even a few things I “might” want to wear some time in the future. Having some choice and having enough is freeing, but having excess is stressful.  My small closet felt cluttered just because there were too many options. I missed the ease of getting dressed in Uganda. So, I have started to purge the things I do not need. I haven’t had time to go through the whole closet, or all the drawers in the house, but I am working my way through. Sometimes when I’m getting dressed and I see things I shouldn’t hold on to, I take them out right then and there- eliminating clutter as I see it and not waiting until I have a chunk of time to do it. That’s my strategy right now.

I’m really trying to pay attention to the new convictions I have as we re-acclimate into our life of comfort and ease. I don’t want to thoughtlessly resume old patterns that don’t work with the way I want to operate in the world. I’m realizing that the things I loved about the way we lived in Uganda can be reality here, too.