Friday, April 24, 2015

The Life of a Non-Mother

Or: Why Your Single Female Friend Always Wants to Come for Dinner

{Side Note: This is a guest post from my dear SIL, Bridget. This space is full of stories about raising kids, and she's here to say you don't have to be a parent to tell them. Read on for a take from a different point of view, then have yourself a lovely weekend.}

When I was little, my absolute favorite toys were baby dolls.

I loved them. I had a little rocking chair and cradle that my grandpa made me, just the right size for rocking my babies and putting them to sleep. I had crocheted blankets for them made by my grandma. My most darling child was Amanda, a beautiful baby Santa brought me with real hair and bright blue eyes.

When I got older, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to be a mommy. I took care of my baby cousins with the enthusiasm of a tiny new mother who’s been praying for a stork to arrive. I’d sleep in the living room where the pack-n-play stood and get up in the middle of the night to feed, change, and soothe them. It was wonderful.

In high school, I babysat every summer and almost every weekend. After high school, I took a job working in the after school program at my elementary school. From that, I moved onto daycare, spending days alone in a room with nine two-year-olds and loving it. I took care of friends' babies, toddlers, kids. I was Miss Bridget for so long, I forgot my other first name. Unfortunately, however, as I got older I had to find a job with which I could support myself, but even then I still loved caring for kids.

My best friend at my first grownup job had a son, Stephen, and I became a godmother for the first time. I loved being there for her pregnancy and learning everything I could about it. I waited anxiously for the day she would call and say “He’s here!” and I'd rush to the hospital to hold him. I can’t explain in words what that was like, but it was beautiful. He’d spend weekends with me and we created our own little world. Years later, I would see the birth of my goddaughter to two of my best friends, and I would spend every possible second with them. The first time they asked if I’d like to take her for the weekend I tried not to seem insane with the speed of my "Yes!" I had diapers, formula, wipes, and blankets in my closet at home. I bought a car seat for my car.

A year later, my first nephew joined us, and my heart exploded when I saw his face. My second godson, my little monkey baby, my Nate Dogg. Nathan. He was so tiny, with his itty hands and bitty feet and squished little nose and I loved him so much. I very seriously said to a friend, “I can’t bear to have my own children, I’ll never be able to love anyone more.” I got another car seat for my car. I was Aunt B.

Seven months later I believed with all my heart that my future as a mother was in Maine, so I packed up and moved. It broke my heart to say goodbye, but I wanted a love and a life of my own. Instead, what I learned was that my destiny lie somewhere else. I made friends with people with kids, and those kids and I adored each other. My best friend had two amazing daughters and I loved them so much I could cry {and often did}. Another friend had a son who became my third godson, and his big sister was also added to my collection. As I grew older and was gifted with more and more children to love, I realized my heart's desire had changed. Maybe being a mother wasn't my calling, but I could love these children so much they'd never know the difference.

In those five years away, there was another nephew born down south, and then a niece! Then after a tragic diagnosis, I was headed home to Arkansas, to family and a baby I could watch grow from the very beginning. Saying goodbye to sweet kids and hello to others.

I reconnected with old friends and their families and I became Miss Bridget again. I color and play cars, tell stories and read books, and talk about silly things. {Mostly toots. Kids love toots. I am learning to see the humor.}

People ask, "Do you have kids?" And I say "Oh, no, not me." But that's not true, not really. They may not be my sons and daughters, but I have them. I carry them in my heart and love them fiercely, and that love means something. I worry about them. I'm so proud when they succeed, even prouder when they try and fail, but are proud of themselves. My heart breaks when they cry, when they're confused and scared. I get frustrated sometimes and use the "day care voice" and they listen, because it's a good one. I wipe noses and hold hands and fill them with candy and laughter and hopefully love of themselves. They mean the world to me. I'm not Mama or Mumma or Mommy, but I'm Aunt B and Miss Bridget, and I hold that title just as close to my heart.

So, yes. I have kids. A whole tribe of them. They're mine and I'm theirs and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chicken Run

It used to feel odd when words like "harvest" and "cultivar" would roll off my tongue.

Now I'm picking up weird phrases like "coop training." I am proud to announce that chickens no longer live in my kitchen! If I complain about chicken smells permeating throughout my home, it's because of an extra-garlicky dinner. Yes, the girls have been living it up in a little red barn.

They've been out there a week, and we've mostly kept them confined. Maybe it's a little rude to keep them locked up, but it's better than a cardboard box, right? We're not quite finished with the coop building, there's still another door and window to cut and nesting boxes to build, but it's perfect for now. Throughout this coop training, however, we have occasionally let them out to peck the grass.

A few days ago, the bunch and I were gathered in the living room as the chickens enjoyed some late afternoon sunshine. Jonathan peeked through the glass doors and happened to notice just a couple chickens walking around. Maybe the others were laying down? Being blocked by their sisters? As he opened the door to check it out, those two scurried out of the open fence door.

Jonathan exclaimed: "I didn't leave it open!" Owen piped up: "I didn't leave it open! It was the wind. I saw it." Do you want to try to crack that case?

I asked Nathan to lace up his sneakers because we had free range chickens on our hands. I didn't figure they found the highway, but we worried they were somewhere annoying, like beneath the shed or in the cow pasture opposite a barbed wire fence. Ugh. Off we ran, clucking away {because they no longer peep}, looking for our lost and wandering hens.

My first instinct was the brush back behind the coop so I started in that direction. As I walked past the open coop door, however, something caught my eye. All missing chickens were in there. Some were snuggled together sunbathing in a small slant of light. A few more were eating and one was just looking at me like I was crazy. I exhaled. Good girls.

Coop Training Status: Success.

Although the fuzzball stage of chicken rearing was fun, I think the outside stage is even better. I'm so impressed by the work Jonathan did on the coop, and it appears the chickens are, too. They're officially home sweet home, and the finishing touches will be added in no time. Hopefully by this fall, the rent eggs will start rolling in.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Still Standing

I've been watching the Japanese maple in my front yard for five years.

Armed with a shovel and a tiny little tree, two-year-old Nathan helped me and Jonathan plunk those roots into the dark soil. It was such a sad-looking tree. It was the same height as the green support we planted next to it, and it drooped for days while we watered it back to health. Over a few months, the limbs began to thicken, and the branches pointed toward the sky. Years have come and gone since then. The leaves fall every autumn, but brilliant red buds pop open each spring. The tree is now self-sufficient. It's doubled in size, and it's absolutely gorgeous. Something deep inside me, however, knows I can never remove the support.

You may know that each time Owen's birthday rolls around, a little feeling creeps into my heart and tugs until it has my attention. I am so proud to celebrate my little boy, but I try to balance it with the anniversary of loss that falls on the same calendar square. Four years ago on March 10, my middle son was born. Five years ago on March 10, I was told my second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Since I wrote a belated birthday letter to Owen yesterday, I felt compelled to keep the tradition alive today. In the most literal sense, I cannot have one without the other.

Through the years I've come to this space to pour my heart out and make a voice for my child who never had one. On both the anniversary of the miscarriage and the anniversary of my October due date, I've shouted from the rooftop that these babies should be remembered for what they are - children, not losses. Sure, the memories are sad, but miscarriage is not a medical condition. It's a death in the family. And in death, we should celebrate life. Lately, I've been struggling with these memories.

Believe me when I say I am not forgetting. I am simply having trouble sharing. Five years later, and instead of shouting from the rooftops, I want to fold up my memories and my pain and my love and place it all gently in my pocket. The loss is mine, and the memories are, too.

We planted that little tree a couple weeks after my doctor told us we had lost our child. We did it because we wanted something we could see grow. Something we could touch. Something we could watch change with the seasons. What I didn't expect is that my grief would change, too. Obviously I have pulled this memory out of my pocket today, but I just wanted to acknowledge the fact that even though grief is constant, it changes. The ebbs and flows are hard to follow, but it never goes away. Grief is the price of love.

I'm thankful for the memories, I'm thankful for learning about the beauty and the swiftness in life, and I'm thankful for the big, strong Japanese maple in my front yard. Nothing will knock it over. Nothing will alter its beauty. It will always change and shift and move, but it's solid as a rock.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

To My Rotten Kid

Parenting isn't always fun.

Sometimes I get the urge to close up shop. Pack my bags, jump in the car, and leave a pile of waffles in the living room. Although we both know this isn't a possiblity, the feelings are real. Between two-hour bedtime battles, backseat wrestle mania, and various forms of the word "mom" hurled at me relentlessly, I get tired. I love my kids, but I'm tired.

Despite it all, though, I hang tight to the truth that even though it's hard, it's good. It is so good. All of this rambling about the quote-unquote trenches of parenting is just a build-up to something I've been meaning to write for more than a month. I owe my middle child a birthday letter.

Dear Owen,

You drive me crazy.

Your constant need for milk-and-snack makes me cringe at the start of every question. I swear we need to buy stock in Wheat Thins and Teddy Grahams. Your pushing-Nora-for-no-reason is no fun for anyone, and your immunity to discipline makes you a tricky chapter in my parenting book. The sweet pitter-patter of your feet coming into my bedroom 45 minutes after you fall asleep is not music to my ears, and your ruthless demands for iPhone videos are not exactly endearing. Your inside voice is broken and your trashcan aim is off.

You know what, though? As much as the world may want to box you into a "stubborn" or "bad" or "oh, he's just all boy!" stereotype, I know better. You are not the problems you cause. You are not the way you react. You are a four-year-old boy and I am your mom. You shower me with kisses and I savor them all. You call me Mommy when you're sleepy and you attach yourself to my hip when you don't feel well.

You've had a terrible cough this week and and can't seem to get close enough. Yesterday I was complaining about it to your Daddy. "He won't get off of me!" I said as I desperately pleaded for a switch in roles. But you know what, Owen? One day you aren't going to need the physical contact you crave so much. One day you'll know my kisses don't really fix anything, and sitting on the couch with "no spaces" is not a cure. That's why I get you Wheat Thins. That's why I go to the bathroom and count to ten. That's why I try so hard to make you listen and I hug you so tight each time you ask. You're only going to be next to me on the couch {no spaces} for a little while.

Now that you're four, you're wildly independent and unafraid to ask for what you want {ahem}. You are so excited for preschool to start in the fall, and you speak like a grownup. You're complimentary of others, you cheer on and encourage your big brother, and when you're not shoving your sister, you are taking amazing care of her. There's never been a graham cracker you haven't shared, kid.

Maybe this letter didn't start off as the kindest words a mother has ever shared with her son, but you and I both know our household is not necessarily filled with roses and rainbow-colored unicorns. We don't always know what we're doing, and basically we're all just along for the ride. Unexpected turns take us by surprise, but no matter what's around the next bend, you have me. I love you more than words can say and I will never ever turn away your kisses.

Owen, you are a good boy. And I am a good mom. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of both truths.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Walking to Win

I may never know how the mile I walked Saturday will help cure ALS, but the joy it brought to my father-in-law's face was an amazing start.

About two years ago, Jonathan's dad was diagnosed with ALS. I talked about it in this post when dumping ice water on each other was all the rage. I talked about how challenging each other on social media was all in good fun, but it was even better to remember the cause and the people who need our support. That cause, and the fact that my FIL is a cool dude, is why my kids and I {plus hundreds of others} participated in the Walk to Defeat ALS.

We left our corner of the state before the sun peeked across the highway. The cows were still resting in the fields, but my kids were not. "What will our T-shirts look like?! Will my cousin be there!? Can I ride on the wheelchair!?" For those playing along at home, the answers were: awesome, yes, and absolutely. Once everyone gathered at my in-laws' home and pulled on their bright blue #GoRickie tees, we loaded up and headed to the walk. I can't describe the joy I felt when I saw so many people involved in this cause. I got to hang out with family members from Jonathan's side that I hadn't seen in years, and I loved watching our Poppy greet and thank everyone for showing up. This meant so much to us as a family, but I'm pretty sure it meant the very most to him.

After a few formalities, we were ready to roll. Owen climbed into the wheelchair, as planned, and rode into the {figurative} sunset with his superhero. Along the way, we saw several other families affected by this disease, many who had lost loved ones, and plenty who are fighting with everything they have. It was inspiring. Everyone was smiling, everyone was cheerful, and I appreciate those in wheelchairs for not putting the pedal to the metal and running us slow folks over.

Once we walked, it was party time. We ate, we danced, and we called those Hogs! It was such a fun time, and I am so thankful for the money donated and the outpouring of love. Obviously it will take research dollars to find an answer for ALS and an answer is our ultimate goal, but it takes even more support to stand beside those knee-deep in the battle.

Thank you to everyone who has given in one way or another {psst... click here for an incredible way to donate and help ALS patients in Arkansas with the costs that come with the territory}. Jonathan's dad, my father-in-law, my kids' Poppy needs as big of a shield as he can get. I loved seeing all of these people stand together, united, to form one for him.

Also, I think his little sidekick helped in the smile department:

Happy Hump Day, y'all!

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Friday, April 10, 2015

From Chick to Chicken

I have had chickens in my kitchen for six weeks now.

Sure, their feed is labeled "chick" and they aren't fully feathered, but these birds are officially chickens. They have grown from fuzzballs to legitimate birds in record speed and it's been incredible to watch. We didn't really know what we were getting into when we ordered these winged pets, but it's been fun so far. They're very personable and don't mind being held, which makes them a perfect fit for the Bauer Bunch.

Not too long ago we were chatting about how boring life must be in a cardboard box. The chickens are past the point of needing extra warmth, so we gave them a taste of the great outdoors. Once we coaxed them out of the box, instincts kicked in. They pecked at the ground, they pulled weeds, they flew onto strategically located branches and roosted like it was nobody's business.

The best part about this adventure has been learning alongside the kids. Nathan is officially my right-hand man in the chicken farming business. He was scooping up chickens, carrying them around, and whispering sweet nothings in their ears. Owen wasn't afraid to get into the pen and watch them play, but his request was simple: "Do NOT touch me, chickens! But you can sit on my shoe."

As long as we're calm, they jump into our laps and nestle in. My kind of chicken, honestly. Hopefully they keep these personalities - and hopefully none of the girls turn out to be boys. From what I've read, we won't know 'til they crow. I'll let you know with a "rooster free to a good home" sign, but I'll admit I'm starting to get attached:

As for little Nora's interactions with the chickens, let's just say farm living is the life for her. This one is scared of most dogs and cats, but you wouldn't know it as she sat encircled by chickens. They zoomed past her head and she laughed. If one came close, her little hand would reach out and grab feathers. The girls didn't mind a bit, and I'm happy that Nora is comfortable with them.

There for a while I could tell two of the chickens apart. Nugget was our runt stuck on the bottom of the pecking order, and that order was dominated by Elsa {naturally} who claimed her spot on top of the feeder. That was about a month ago, though, and they've since evened out. Maybe once they get outside we can pick up on personalities. Hopefully they'll make the move within the next week or so. Here's the coop today:

With help like that, I guarantee it will be done in no time.

Do you have any amazing plans for the weekend? Whether your schedule is jam-packed or you're looking forward to a take-it-easy Saturday, pencil in some Vitamin D. Get outside, soak up the sun, and get dirty. Happy Friday, y'all!

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Nora On the Move

I interrupt this two-week blog hiatus to bring you breaking news: my daughter can walk.

This is not a test.

Those first wobbly steps tend to signal a mix of terror and joy in a mother's heart. Milestones are awesome, but you can't help but feel a chill down your spine. Siblings stash their favorite toys. Pets are no longer safe. Hide the valuables! Lock the doors! Whatever you do, don't leave drinks on the coffee table! All sarcasm aside, though, Nora's first steps came with a sigh of relief.

This big girl is 21 months old, and while her oldest brother was also slow to walk, she wins the record for being carried the longest {she also has the title of heaviest, giving me the title of biggest biceps}. Last fall we took her to a physical therapist to make sure there were no issues. The official diagnosis was a stubborn baby. So we waited. We held her chubby fingers and encouraged her to "step, step, step!" She plopped to the ground. We watched her cruise around furniture effortlessly, but any encouragement from onlookers forced a tighter grip. It was at this point we were pretty sure she was running laps behind closed doors.

However, in true Nora fashion, she knew when the time was right. Just a few days ago, she let go of her daddy's hand and took careful steps. The excitement rose in his voice as he asked her to get her baby from the recliner. Once she realized what she was doing, she made a sharp turn {away from the baby} and marched herself to a bookshelf. She hasn't stopped since.

{I LIVE for that hiccup smile, y'all.}

Nora has now decided that she's proud of herself and loves to show off her moves to anyone who will watch, but don't you dare think about helping her. This independent woman has taken off.

My heart is full and my arms are thankful.

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