Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Showing Up



Where does the time go? This is where we started two years ago. I love the fur on his shoulders. All of my babies arrived a month early, born before they lost their fur. 




Now we're here. Escaping down the street on his big sister's pink scooter. He has found several ways to get out of the house and at least once a week now I look up and realize he's gone and race to haul him back inside. I'm making it sound like he's a house prisoner, but I promise I "walk the dog" everyday. I have to. Otherwise he won't sleep long enough.


Most days I rush through the "getting ready for his nap" routine. Change the diaper. Fly through whichever "truck" book is the daily pick. Sing a song at a fast forward speed while I'm throwing him in bed, and then I'm outta there. I have two hours to make something happen. Thank you to those who have emailed and face booked me over the past few months to let me know you miss my blog posts. You'll never know how much your faith in me matters. It's always that way isn't it, you just never know what words can become. I suppose that's why I've chosen this line of work. I may not be blogging regularly, but I'm investing my words in other projects. I work every afternoon, and little by little it's moving forward, both inside me and on the page. I'm trying to keep the long view.

This afternoon I relaxed into my rocking chair and held my little boy. We sang songs together; he can hardly contain himself when he hears anyone singing. He loves to sing. So we rocked and sang, and he snuggled into me in a way that made me realize that soon enough he will be too big for my lap. "Mama sad?" he asked, poking an index finger into my eye ball to touch my tears. 

Every hour of every day we get to choose where and for how long we're going to show up. Sometimes dividing up the hours is excruciating, as though there's never enough to fill all the hungry bellies. Last night Jeremy got home from a business trip late at night and said to me, "I'm trying so hard to make it happen at work, with you and the kids, with my church calling. But there are so many nights when I'm sitting at my computer and my eyelids involuntarily begin to close and I have to go to bed hoping it was enough." What a thing to hear from your spouse. I didn't know what to say, except that I see all that he is doing and whatever it is from day to day, it's enough. It has to be, and that is true for all of us. The best we can do is to show up and trust that in the long run we were exactly where we needed to be.  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Out of Illinois

For the past couple of weeks I've been thinking about the beautiful introduction to Karen Blixen's story Out of Africa

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills," she wrote. Since I love the movie so much it's always Meryl Streep's voice when I replay this sentence in my head, and her emphasis is on the word had. She had a farm in Africa. For a brief, wondrous time in her life she had a farm in Africa, and then it was over.

That's exactly how I feel about the past ten months of my life, only I wasn't in Africa, I was in Chicago and I didn't have a farm, I had a sister who lived down the street from me. For a brief, wondrous time I had a sister who lived down the street from me. Now she lives in Utah.

circa 1983

I've been privileged to live near several of my sisters over the years, and last summer I left two beloved sisters behind in Colorado. But the past ten months have taught me that there's a huge difference between living near a sister and living down the street from a sister. The following list is not exhaustive, but hopefully demonstrates a few of the perks of living down the street from your older sister:
  • She not only takes a turn entertaining your toddler during church, she packs snacks and toys in her purse with that purpose in mind
  • She can be prevailed on to deliver emergency milk, eggs or Dairy Queen on her way home from work because she drives right past your house
  • Or if she isn't available to pick up your forgotten grocery items, you can always grocery shop in her fridge
  • While you're in her fridge grocery shopping, she doesn't mind if you see something delicious and say to yourself, "Don't mind if I do" and grab a fork
  • When you receive a text message at ten o'clock at night communicating that your child unwittingly left the hamster cage door ajar over at your sister's house earlier that day, you can have your husband over there in thirty seconds to be the silent ninja who tracks the hamster in the dark. (They found the hamster, long sigh of relief).
  • When you hear the phrase, "I'm bored" from your children you can follow it up by saying saying, "Why don't you play with your cousins." 
  • With your sister you don't have to comb your hair or pick up your house. She can stop by anytime, no strings attached. She already knows your best and your worst.
  • She will walk into your house unannounced to drop something off, take stock of the flustered mom and the fussy baby. She will then pick up said fussy baby and disappear for a little while. For the past ten months she was his other mama.
  • She always knows exactly what restaurant will fit your mood on girl's night. And you can order whatever you want, salad and water or fried calamari and an ice cream sundae. She doesn't care.
  • You have a reliable "play date." Someone to help you pick out shoes, someone to organize Sunday afternoon kickball at the park, someone who knows your routine and the interior of your life almost as well as you do.
After reading over this list the one thing I want to add in tribute to my sister is that she has a way of making me feel like I matter. It feels good to be me when I am with her. We are so different, sometimes we are nearly polar opposites, but we tried really hard to affirm these differences, to keep our pettiness at bay, and through our actions to say, I know who you are, I know who you're trying to become, and you're doing great.

Looking back I feel like it was a magical year. For ten months I had front row seats to watch my sister evolve from a discouraged, overworked and lonely single mom to a happily remarried college graduate. Dr. Seuss wrote, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." I'm trying really hard to smile even though this is a hard one for me. Living down the street from my sister defined my entire year. I had a farm in Africa...

So, Utah, I hope you appreciate that you got the good end of this deal. You got my sister. You're welcome.




Friday, January 10, 2014

5 Ways to Kick That Holiday Hangover

photo credit


I love this photo. I don't even drink, but this is exactly how I've felt every morning for the past week. We have never had such a lovely Christmas season as we did this year. Our friends from England came for two and a half weeks, and the day they flew out we packed up and drove to Virginia to ring in the New Year with Jeremy's family. We came home a week ago expecting to jump back into Real Life, and then arctic weather fronts shut down the city for several days, followed by a recurrence of the stomach flu at our house. And so we're a third of the way through the month and still recovering. Here are a few tips that have helped:  

  1. Take Down Your Christmas Decorations. Take em' all down. And don't leave them in a heap by your basement stairs either. Get it into boxes and into storage, including the Christmas cds that are still in your car. It's January 10th. If I hear pleas from the backseat to listen to "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" one more time I'm throwing kids out of the car.
  2. Which is a nice segue into my next suggestion, which is to Spend Less Time With Your Kids. Okay, I don't mean to actually spend less time with them, but perhaps January isn't the best month to plan Saturday day-trips to museums or the mountains, or really anywhere that involves herding cats in public or spending a lot of time cooped up in the car together. 
  3. Address the Vidiot Syndrome: My sister uses the term Video Game Idiots, or Vidiots, when her kids have spent too much time camped in front of screens and begin acting like electronically entitled monsters. We've had a little of the vidiot syndrome going on at our house since Christmas too. So, earlier this week I confiscated all electronics and told my girls to go play, or else I would sell their Christmas toys on Craig's List. After a few dramatic, tearful break downs, they retreated upstairs and played together. All day. And everyone was happy by dinner time. 
  4. Get the Junk Out of Your House. Our friends brought a small suitcase of European chocolate to our house for Christmas. This, more than anything, is contributing to my holiday hangover. Now, there are several courses one might take in this situation. You can get rid of it. But I'm not putting European chocolate in the trash folks, so I took some of it to Virginia to set out for Jeremy's family, I stuck some of it in the freezer, and I ate the rest of it. As my sister in law said, It's way better to feel bad for only one day, than to spread it out over an entire month. It was amazing. No regrets. And I'm finally feeling ready to get back to other food groups.
  5. Get it Over With. I think part of what makes it hard to leave the holidays behind is habit, you get used to eating Cadbury caramels for breakfast and going to bed at one in the morning. But the other element is that often we get thrown back into real life feeling as though we left some unfinished business back in December. For example, a stubborn determination seized me back in November that at some point during the holidays I would get caught up on Downton Abbey. I hadn't watched past season 2 and had some serious work to do, but with our hectic holiday schedule it didn't happen. And so I have spent every night this week watching Downton Abbey, and now that I'm done I feel much more prepared to get on with life. 
January always feels like a tug-o-war between what I ought to be doing (keeping a schedule, eating carrot sticks and exercising, tackling my New Year's goals, etc.) and what I feel like doing, which is eating the rest of the fudge and staying in my pajamas until three in the afternoon. I guess I'm doing a little of both, but the main thing is that this list is helping me to avoid the post holiday blues and transition into the New Year in my own way. I hope it inspires you to do it your way!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Gillespie Family



Dear Santa,         

As you may know, Jeremy took a job in downtown Chicago and in July we moved to Naperville, Illinois. Some of the little people at our house are concerned you won’t be able to find us this year, so I promised them I’d forward our Christmas Wish List on to you with our return address on the envelope. These are the things we’re really hoping for:

James (15 months)-  Santa, this year I need you to bring me some sort of weapon to defend myself. I spend half of my day toddling away from Elisabeth who likes to pick me up under my arm pits and drag me around the house with no apparent destination in mind. Since we don’t have much in the way of weapons around here, I’ve taken to brandishing a fairy wand, holding it backwards and pointing it at anything that moves. Oh, and if it’s not too much I’d also like some socks. I already have socks, of course, but I prefer other people’s dirty socks. No matter where we are, at our house or someone else’s, I’m the basset hound of dirty socks and will sniff around until I find some. And once I have them in my grip, I’ve learned to be firm. My thought is that people can have their socks back if they can pry them from my cold, dead fingers.

Elisabeth (4)- Santa, what I’d really like this year is a new dad for James because I’m not kidding when I say he keeps trying to take mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m vigilant. There is never a time when my dad tries to pick up James that I don’t charge them with my horns blazing and insist on being picked up too. It would just make things easier for everyone if we could get a different dad for James. If that’s not possible, keep in mind that I’m also open to the idea of giving James to a new family for Christmas this year.

Kate (8)- I don’t really need to tell you what I want this year, Santa, you can just check my cousins’ lists who live down the street from us. Whatever they ask for, that’s what I want too! And it’s not that I want to be a boy, since there are plenty of girl things I like, it’s just that my boy cousins are so awesome with their skate boards, air guns and Halo Legos. I recently cut my hair in a short bob, and I wear tennis shoes and a hoodie to school every single day, but having some boy toys of my own might help. In the meantime, if you’re looking for me, Santa, I’m that colorful streak that races through the house from morning until bedtime because like Forrest Gump, wherever I’m going I am RUNNING!

Madeleine (10)- Seriously Santa, if you could change my mom’s taste in music, that’d be a good start. She listens to piano music (thumbs down) while she cooks so the other day I tried to send a message by marching into the kitchen and saying, Awesome music mom. My new favorite! What she doesn’t get is that anything worth listening to is on the radio. KSFM. I remind her every time we get in the car, before we even back out of the garage, to turn on KSFM. I know all the lyrics to every song too. My mom isn’t impressed with this accomplishment, but I suspect that’s because she’s getting old and can no longer recognize the artistic genius that is Taylor Swift.

Lauren (old)- This year I’d like to order a sleep induced coma that lasts at least one week. Between teething (James), waking up scared in our new house at night (Elisabeth), and flu season (all the kids), I’ve barely slept through the night since we moved last summer. But if the coma isn’t an option, Santa, I’d also love a swig or two of that liquid from the Hunger Games that allows you to vomit after you eat… so you can keep on eating. I realize around some parts that magic potion is called ipecac, but man does it look delicious. And for those who may be concerned upon reading this, please rest assured I do not support eating disorders. I support eating. I joined a local gym this fall and although the spin and zumba classes are fun, it gets us out of the house during the winter months, and of course exercise is good for you, blah, blah, it doesn’t resolve the fundamental problem that there are so many new restaurants and great food in Chicago and there’s never enough room to try them all.

Jeremy (older)- Santa, like you my job allows me to spend a little time each day hanging around in sub-zero temperatures. Who would have thought the North Pole and Chicago share such a similar climate? And as much as I enjoy waiting outside for busses and trains during my daily commute downtown, this year I wouldn’t mind receiving a Star Trek Beam Me Up Scotty transporter to speed up the process. Then I might have more time to devote to my play book since I was recently asked to coach the teenage boys’ basketball team at church. My wife suggested that perhaps I was asked to coach because my sense of humor is compatible with that of fourteen year old boys, but my guess is that it’s my athleticism, my cat like speed and reflexes. They saw what I could do at the church turkey bowl football game this year and now it’s out. I may be thirty-five, but old man, I’ve still got it. Zooey Mama!

In conclusion, Santa, we’ve all tried to be good although admittedly some more than others. But we’ve come a long way from last year, 999 miles to be exact, and we’re looking forward to a new year, in a new city, with a new job, and hopefully less miles on our car.


With Love, 

The Gillespie Family

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Over and Done


Last night I went with two of my sisters to Target for the specific purpose of buying matching Thanksgiving pajamas. I love this picture. We debated for fifteen minutes in the pajama section over which style and pattern we should buy. Carolyn insisted that RiLee choose since yesterday happened to be her birthday, and after some coaxing I grudgingly conceded. It was fabulous. I could have spent six hours at Target with these ladies. I love that every time I wear the crazy striped pajamas that RiLee picked out I will think of them and the time we spent together over Thanksgiving break.

Today in the midst of the cooking/Wii games/board games madness going on in my house I slipped upstairs by myself to tidy up and work on laundry for a little while. I wanted some quiet. Maybe folding laundry and straightening beds doesn't feel like a very "Thanksgiving" thing to do, but in the moment it felt like it. There is a window in my laundry room that overlooks the park and I watched the sun set behind the trees as I folded. I could hear the happy voices of my sisters talking, talking, talking down in the kitchen, the kids squealing and arguing over their games. And the entire time I felt grateful.

Twenty years ago these two sisters of mine were sworn enemies. At one point they had a hand-to-hand fist fight over who knows what. They were rolling on the ground and our parents weren't home, so we had to call a neighbor to come over and separate them. Now that is one of our favorite stories, but it wasn't always funny. We weren't a happy family for so many years. In those days there were endless divisions and hard feelings over broken and blended families. RiLee, the middle sister in the above picture, is my step-sister, although we never allow for the "step" part. I love her as my own. It is one of my core beliefs that there are sisters you are born to, and sisters that life gives to you. On days like today I'm choked up with gratitude that we matured away from our adolescent rifts long enough to realize how badly we need each other. These days I cling to my sisters!

I think for most of us happiness feels like tenuous ground that might shift at any moment. But this week I'm treading softly, trying to stretch it and make it last.The past couple of days with these sisters of mine have felt idyllic. I love being with family. I love the homemade fudge, the glowing fireplace, and spending two hours doing Just Dance with my kids. I love stealing RiLee's cell phone and responding to her text messages. She is possibly the only person on Earth who I would do this to, but somehow this is our relationship. This morning I responded to a "Happy Thanksgiving" message someone sent her by texting back, "I'm trying to teach a cat how to do back flips. Orange Kool-Aid is yummy." Afterward we laughed until my stomach hurt. I love sifting through recipes and arguing over whether or not we will make lemon pie or lemon bars. This morning one of my sisters looked at the mounds of ingredients strewn around my kitchen and said, We have a lot of cooking to get done.

But getting it over and done with isn't the point. Cooking together, being together, the fact we love each other and the hard times are over and done with is, in fact, the point. Which is exactly what I told her.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our other sisters who are far away. We love and miss you!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Must the Neighbors Think?

photo credit
*Regretfully I do not have a real-life photo for this post!

A couple of years ago I was hanging out with some friends when someone posed the question, When was the last time you did something embarrassing? 

Before I could say anything, one of my friends promptly responded, I don't do embarrassing things. I closed my mouth and sat back to consider this. Yep, I decided. She's telling the truth. I couldn't think of a single time I'd ever seen my friend behave in a socially questionable way. Given her response I was suddenly feeling less enthusiastic about sharing some of my classic Lauren stories. Like the time my friend Karen traveled from her home in England to visit me and I picked her up at the Denver airport wearing a clown suit.
My disclaimer is that Karen is so easily embarrassed, it's hard NOT to do things like wear a clown suit to pick her up at the airport. In fact, Karen has probably logged more "embarrassing moments with Lauren" than any other friend of mine. What can I say, except she brings it out in me? But they're not all Karen's fault. What about the time when I was seventeen and I decided to give "Nair Hair Remover" a try? If you've never used hair removal cream, it's best not to start on your bikini line, and it's also recommended that you get off the phone and don't try to multitask. Let's just say that I wasn't paying close attention, and before I knew what was happening I inadvertently had "Naired" away most of the hair in my nether region. While talking to someone on the phone. 

I'm not sure why, but my life is full of these kind of funny, kind of awkward moments that I seem to continually invite, although not exactly on purpose. So, here's how the whole neighborhood got to know me a little better this week:

Since I currently live in my dad's house and it's on the market, whenever the house is being shown the responsibility falls on my shoulders to make sure it's clean and tidy, inside and out. As I spent Monday preparing the house for a Tuesday showing, it came to my attention that it is fall and every single leaf in our neighborhood had somehow ended up in our front yard. So, I'll rake the leaves, I decided. How bad could it be? 

Now in fairness, let me say that it was not raining when I began raking the leaves. And there are many, many days when the sun doesn't even show its pretty golden face here in Chicago, so I didn't even think to check the weather report. I was in a hurry with a yard full of leaves to rake. Being in such a hurry also prevented me from putting on...how shall I put it? Proper leaf-raking attire. I didn't KNOW it takes so long to rake leaves. We had maybe twenty-six leaves in our yard back in Denver. It wasn't a big deal. So, I stayed in my pajamas (they are gray and almost look like sweats) and since I didn't want to risk scuffing my spiffy new tennis shoes, I inspected my options and decided on a nice pair of house slippers that have a firm rubber sole. Coat, check! Jeremy's work gloves, check! And wait a minute, it's bitterly cold outside. I should grab a hat. But since I can't find my usual, incredibly stylish snow hat, I'll just wear this multi-colored, frumpy looking knit hat that someone must have strategically left at our  house since no one else in the whole world would ever wear such a hat. And off I went to rake the leaves.

It started raining ten minutes into the job. It was really only a light sprinkle though, and I was determined not to act like a finicky princess. I can rake. I'm capable. And my pride refused to leave the job to Jeremy since he doesn't return from the city until after dark each day. Welcome home, honey. I know you've been working all day and it's dark and rainy outside, but could you please go rake the leaves because I didn't really want to. You see, I don't like raking. I tried the conversation in my head several different ways, but it didn't work. I always ended up feeling like a rotten apple. And so I kept raking.

After forty-five minutes my hands were raw and sore inside Jeremy's work gloves. The drizzle was a little more steady, but since I'd already raked half the yard, I couldn't very well abandon the project. I'd love to hear what my dad's realtor might have to say about showing his house with a half raked yard. So, I raked faster and it was going pretty well until my four year old opened the front door and hollered out, Mom, James is awake from his nap. We'll come out and help you rake now. 

I don't remember the sequence of events that culminated in me raking in the rain with my baby strapped to my back, but we got there. I think I tried to get Elisabeth to "entertain him" inside for a while. And when that failed I bundled both little kids like I was sending them off to the Arctic so that they'd be suitably dressed to "play" outside while I worked. Then I resumed raking like someone was chasing me even as James crawled after me crying, pausing his complaints only long enough to taste the leaves every now and then. But after a while he gave up and sat on the sidewalk sobbing, the boots on his little feet sticking into a puddle. I know lovey, but I'm almost finished, I pleaded. Elisabeth had long since abandoned us and escaped back inside to watch cartoons.

So, because I am a loving and awesome mother and would never let my baby sit and cry in a puddle,  I strapped him to my back and he nestled down inside the baby backpack, protesting with a more mild, half-glazed kitten whimper. With every step my slippers made that delicious sucking sound that indicates they are as full of water as a kitchen sponge. My pajama bottoms were so wet they were sticking to me like leggings. And wouldn't you know that in a period of twenty minutes two of my neighbors backed out of their driveway and paused, craning their neck to see what the crazy lady is doing?

By the way, don't worry dad! These shenanigans are actually helping to sell your house. While I can tell the neighbors love me, they might not be broken hearted to see us go. They might, in fact, be advertising your house to all their friends and co-workers this very minute.  

As I finished up the yard the percussion of rain hitting the sidewalk slackened. I raised my head to see if it was stopping, but no. That wouldn't have been nearly as much fun. What was better was that it was starting to snow, and within five minutes there was a fair dusting of snow all over the yard. So why am I raking in the first place if the snow is going to obscure the grass anyway? Doesn't anyone ever check the weather around here? 

If you really want to know why people like me end up in so many awkward or embarrassing situations, raking in the rain or nairing off their pubes and whatnot, I'll tell you. Sometimes life happens and it rains on the day the leaves must be raked. Sometimes we're in a hurry, focused on the getting it done and less on the details of how it gets done. We care enough what others think, enough to notice the neighbors are staring, but not enough to go inside and change. We often value fun or funny over practical and/or socially acceptable. And in the end, raking in the rain wasn't all bad. By the end I was exhilarated. I raked all the leaves without having to make a pathetic appeal to my overworked, overtired husband. Raking in the rain was like a kid staying on the sled hill after the sun's already gone down, or staying in the pool after the adult-swim has already started. I'm a devoted rule-keeper, but maybe the yang side of me is a devoted rule breaker. Who knows? But by the end I'd never felt better.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Looking for Lovely

Are there ever days when you want to step back and say, Look everyone! I made something out of my day today and the results are lovely?

photo credit

All of my writing these past few months, both blog posts and other projects, are imbued with the wistfulness and lack of control that characterize my life at this stage. It doesn't feel like a choice, as in a negative attitude, but more of a circumstantial virus that will pass, given time.

Last Saturday my older sister spontaneously dropped by and picked up all four of my kids, opening the door for Jeremy and I to run away for a few hours. Afterward, when we stopped by her house to pick our kids up, my sister's kitchen was unusually messy with dishes, her face flushed from scrambling around multitasking.

Is everything okay? I asked. My sister is usually so organized and efficient. Truly, one of those part human, well oiled machines whose dish washer is always loaded. So it surprised me to catch her in a flustered, towers-of-dirty-dishes moment.

She smiled sheepishly. Sorry. I'm trying to cook dinner. But it's been a while since I've tried to do this with a baby on my hip.

My eyes nearly filled and I wanted to hug her and say, Thank you for saying that. You just validated my entire life. I'm always flush faced with leaning towers of dishes these days. What happened here? I sometimes ask myself. What happened to my twelve year old self who once asked my mother for empty shoe boxes so I could better organize my sock and underwear drawer. 

Oh, that's right. I had another baby.

Even though I'm a year deep into this fourth child, having a baby in the house explains everything. I saw it in my sister's eyes last Saturday. Whatever part of you is organized, efficient and ready to seize life will slowly be leached away by the little people, with their colds and sore gums, and their tendency to trip and fall every four seconds.

I have the most delicious, gourmet cherries in my pantry right now that I know will make the best pie ever, but I'm not baking a pie today. My crusts are always lop sided and depressed, and today I want to feel my work has succeeded. I don't want lop sided.

My mother in law recently gave me a scarf that is perfectly soft and as gray as the fall sky. I can't wait to wear it. But I'm not in the business of beautiful scarves today, either. In fact, yesterday my nine year old said, Mom, why are you still in your pajamas? It's the afternoon. You're acting like you're sick when James is the one who is actually sick.

Our baby is getting over a nasty chest cold. We're on day four cooped up in the house, trying to keep a cold a cold, rather than inviting the cold to become pneumonia or an ear infection. James manages on his own for about five minutes at a time before crawling into my lap to rest. He can't say much yet, but he looks at me beseechingly as if to say, Just hold me mama. So, I do. We all feel that way sometimes.

Since she lives down the street from me I have a front row seat to watch my older sister's busy and productive life unfold. She works downtown, and as a single mom not only manages a career but is the sole provider and care taker for her three sons. Oh, and she's only four months away from finishing her Bachelor's degree. I crave the sense of accomplishment that she achieves each day. Like I mentioned above, she is one of those part-human machines that can pay bills, sew Halloween costumes and work a full time job, while finishing her homework once her kids are in bed. And yet I know well how she desperately craves pajama time, and in a heart beat would choose to spend four days holed up in the house holding my sick baby, if her life allowed it.

There are no winners. All that is left is to search for what is beautiful and lovely in our own day to day life. For me, it isn't pies or scarves, so much as the triumph of working in five minute increments for three hours, in between comforting my baby, to get my thoughts down on the page today. Tomorrow it will probably be seeing my four children heavy laden with trick or treat candy, their butterfly wings dragging tiredly behind them. Next week it might very well be a not-as-crooked-as-usual pie crust. Because I'm going to keep at it, looking for what is lovely.
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