Author Archives: Toni

About Toni

Mom. Wife. Artist. I take care of the kids and pretend to clean sometimes. I can cook spagetti and I have never been arrested.

Help

October is here. It’s finally fall and sweater weather for real. Softball is over and basketball has not yet officially started. Life is so, so goshdang good.

Things I’ve been doing with all the time I’ve got this year since dropping out of all volunteer activities:

  • Holding the baby
  • Feeding the baby
  • Cuddling the baby
  • Singing to the baby
  • Trying to make the baby laugh
  • Trying to be consistent with Arbor who is obviously dealing with the most intense 10th level of world-class little-sister envy.
  • Seriously it’s bad.


Lucy is the easiest baby I’ve ever had, but Arbor is acting out like nothing I’ve ever seen. Allegedly, her mother was a complete spaz at three years of age, but the only person who can back that up is my mom, and don’t nobody need to hear that full story anyway. WHATEVER.

Point is, at the end of the day, everyone in our house is OVER Arbor’s antics. This situation is new to me. Lucy is sleeping through the night, but I find myself mentally exhausted from dealing with Arbor’s tantrums from sun-up to sun-down. Screaming, shouting, screeching, whining, thrashing, kicking, fussing, hitting, throwing…gang’s all here, 12/7. (EXCEPT IN PUBLIC, OF COURSE.)


Turns out, I’m only boss at parenting when kids are naturally chill and well-behaved. With Arbor, I’m truly at a loss. This girl has me almost in tears by the end of the day most days–it’s worse when Merrick and Mia are home; which, to me, signals a cry for attention. At this point my focus is damage control.


Mia: “Mom, Arbor is threatening to hit me.”

Me, with my hands full of baby and cooking dinner: “But did she actually hit you?”

Or this conversation I had with Arbor the night Caleb went on a date for the first time since…um….March.

Me: “Daddy and I are going on a date tonight.”

Arbor, (screaming): “I wanna go too!”

Me: “No, only mommies and daddies go on this date. So we can drink coffee and kiss.”

Arbor (screaming): “Mom, that’s disgusting! Only I kiss daddy!”

Me: “Well, I–”

Arbor (calmly): “Fine. But I need a pink watch and some candy.”

Me: *ACTUALLY SITS THERE AND CONSIDERS HER SEEMINGLY REASONABLE REQUEST AND ALMOST AGREES TO IT UNTIL I WAKE UP AND REALIZE THIS THREE-YEAR-OLD IS ABOUT TO BEST ME IN A BATTLE OF WITS* “No, sweetheart. You will stay home tonight with Miss Stephanie.”

Arbor (screaming): “Miss Stephanie? I LOVE HER!!!”

Don’t get me wrong–Arbor’s just as sweet as she is sour, and I do a lot of marveling at her creativity and intelligence just like I do with my other kids. I love her so fiercely, but PLEASE GIVE ME ALL THE ADVICE.

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Can we just.

True story: I don’t understand racism. I don’t see it. I haven’t personally experienced it. I just don’t get how anyone could be racist or justify racism. I don’t know if I inadvertently encourage or support it. Just being honest: My name might as well be Whitey McWhiteperson from Whiteville, USA.

In Whiteville, people go to church and they have an unhealthy obsession with football, and they back the blue and they mow their lawns and they smile and wave and open doors and help strangers. No joke, Whitevilleians are eerily friendly.

I didn’t mean to live in Whiteville, but that’s where I ended up. In Whiteville, my husband works at his awesome job while I get the privilege of staying at our awesome home with our awesome children. We have chickens and we play baseball and we eat homecooked meals together in the comfortable comfort of our (coincidentally also white) house. We flew an American flag on our front porch until the Oklahoma wind came sweeping down the Plain and ripped it all to shreds.

In the mornings I sit on my porch in my pajamas and I enjoy views like this while cuddling my baby:


Y’all, that’s a damn rainbow.

I could not love my life more. I won’t apologize for who I am or where I live. And as far as I know, literally no one is asking me to.

Having said all this, I do realize not that there is a large portion of the population who do not get up out of bed in the morning and experience America in this way. Not everyone wakes up to rainbows; they don’t have lawns to mow, or time to play baseball (sad); they’re grabbing their kids from daycare and struggling to make ends meet while I’m rocking my baby to sleep in a leather glider and browsing organic gardening ideas on Pinterest.

Not everyone has positive interactions with the police.

And now that I think about it, Whiteville isn’t perfect. I can’t remember how many times my tan husband got pulled over for no reason in the first two years of living here. It got a little ridiculous. He brushed it off for the most part until one night, while driving pale Cheyenne and her pale friend home from Wednesday night church, he was pulled over and interrogated for absolutely nothing other than he was a suspicious looking Mexican-looking dude (or Colombian, or Jordanian, or Albanian–the world will never know) traveling at night (8:00 p.m.) with two blond-haired teenage girls.

Was the cop just doing his job that night? Maybe…probably? After the officer angrily questioned my husband and the girls, and they were allowed to continue on their five minute journey from church to home, Caleb was livid. “Do I LOOK like a kidnapper or a child molester? What was that cop thinking?!” He ranted and raved for a while. All I could think about was how unfair it all seemed. I was mad too. That was the last time Caleb was pulled over.

I don’t share that story because I want sympathy for Caleb, and I’m not trying to say that because of my husband’s experience, I believe that all cops are bad. I’m not sharing to bring validation to the feelings of people I don’t even know who say they’ve personally been treated unfairly. I didn’t need to secondhand-see it for myself to believe people of color when they say racism a problem in our country.

And if a man of influence wants to take a knee in order to bring attention to a cause, I support his right to do so. If people want to stand for the National Anthem or stop watching football or buying a team’s merchandise because they disagree with that method of protest, I support that, too. A business owner should have the right to decide for himself whether or not to fire players or lock arms with them.

I love that we have all these choices in America. I love that we have the legal ability to talk about the reasons behind the choices. The only thing not up for discussion in my opinion is whether or not shopping carts should be returned to the cart corral in any given parking lot. (FACT: THEY SHOULD.)

But don’t get your yoga pants in a wad: I will stand for the pledge and sing The Star Spangled Banner; I like the police in general–their job is no easy job. My dad was in the Air  Force and served in the Persian Gulf War; I love our United States military. I pray for the (hashtag cringe) president.

I also know things need fixing. I hurt for those who struggle because of a system that only seems to be working well for certain people. I appreciate the peaceful protest of a man in a position of influence to ask for fairness and unity (versus a group of white supremacists marching with actual Nazi symbols causing anger and division).

I am absolutely in agreeance that we’ve got some bad cops out there. I think the shooting and killing of unarmed people of color (and people of…not-color?) has gotten crazy out of hand. I don’t pretend to know what the solution is, but I know we’ll never find one if we in Whiteville don’t pull our heads out of our Pumpkin Spice lattes and join the conversation.

Truth be told I am not purposefully ignoring issues of social injustice; I’ve just been momming so hard and my biggest concern as of late is trying to keep my three year old from squeezing the life out of her baby sister every five seconds. I apologize for knowing but not saying anything.

Can I be willing to listen? Can I really be willing to learn? Am I truly desperate to understand? Do I desire to be hopeful and loving?

Being proud of my country and acknowledging its problems are not mutually exclusive, and the God I love and serve would want me to be more concerned with being a peacemaker than with flags of an imperfect earthly kingdom, however much I love living here. So instead of asserting my (obviously privileged) position over something that has little eternal value, I ask with a humble heart, “How can I help?”


Saved

Salvation. It’s a concept that has confounded me for most of my adult life. I’d never even heard the term “saved” until I was at least 15–growing up Catholic and spending a chunky hunk of my most religiously formative years overseas among other Catholics, my salvation was never called into question until I was 15 and pregnant and living in the Deep South.

“So are you saved?” well-meaning friends would ask as they passed around a cigarette behind the gym. “Um, I think so…what do you mean, ‘saved’?” There were no stupid questions except for this question. “Like, do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and that there’s no way you can go to heaven without believing in Him?” Was the incredulous response that always followed.

And being the Mary-worshipping Catholic weirdo (I feel the need to point out an obvious sarcastic tone) that I was, I would reply “Well, duh. Are you just now figuring all that out? Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve been ‘saved’ my whole life.”

But conversations like that got me thinking. I had always been so sure of what I knew…until it was brought up. I believed HARD until I had to actually think about my beliefs. I want to assume this happens to a lot of people regardless of their religious affiliation–at some point, we’re all faced with perhaps the scariest thing about faith: doubt.
But you guys know what? Those seasons of doubt weren’t necessarily bad. Reacting in anger, stubbornly digging in my heels and turning off my ears–ignorance and juvenile mistakes gave way to humility, and I got schooled hard about what it means to have compassion for those who don’t see things the same way I do. God has a way of turning my disobedience into  painful life lessons.

Salvation is a gift that’s offered to everyone. Every single person. We don’t have to be able to write a three page essay on the concept or understand the complex theology behind it all, but it’s available and it’s undeserved and it’s given freely out of love alone. 

Come to find out, the world is full of people who are different from me. And Jesus loved them all–even the ones who offend Him. He died so that they could live. Protestants. Catholics. Liberals, conservatives, democrats, republicans. Bombing people was never part of Jesus’s agenda. Hate was not his language. Political power was not part of the game plan.

He wanted to people to be able to experience forgiveness and reconciliation and love. He wanted to save the world. He wanted to build His church and he wanted all of us to be a part of it, in Heaven and on Earth.

I’ve been chasing after Jesus for a long time–some years more than others. And one thing I conclude through my experiences and through prayer and through reading the Bible is this: the more I learn about God, the less I understand. The less proud I am in my knowledge of anything. The more I realize how much I will simply never know about God; the glorious mysteries of His universe I’m not meant to solve here on earth. How much of the bigger picture I actually cannot see. How general conclusions such as this one show exactly how small I am and how big He is. How my rants and raves and wants and desires might seem to Him; He is the father who knows what’s  best and I am the toddler throwing a tantrum for reasons that are not important at all in the grand scheme of things.

Doubts are okay. They can represent opportunities for growth. Questions bring answers. Faith has the chance to strengthen. Your journey becomes even more beautiful; your story more inspiring; and His glory more evident to those around you. Stay on the path. Keep asking. Keep searching. Keep knocking. God is good.


The Trenches, Part II

You know how after you have a baby and that baby is so sleepy and so sweet and cuddly and everyone is just ooooohing and ahhhhing over her and big sister is loving and protective the entire family is stuck in what seems like a perpetual honeymoon phase, but you just sitting there waiting for the other shoe to drop cause you KNOW it’s going to drop?

It dropped. It dropped today. It dropped hard. These pictures won’t reveal the truth: she just spent twenty solid minutes trying to see if my ears will actually bleed.


And you know how you’re the exhausted mother of a newborn but your husband still wants dinner and sex and clean clothes and semi-intelligent conversation not involving the color of someone’s poop, and you can’t remember if it’s been 3 days or 4 days since you’ve had a shower, or the last time you made you kid wear pants?

And when every breath breathed about “sleeping when the baby sleeps” makes you feel unnaturally violent, and NO, you can’t take a nap because you’ve got clothes to leave in the washing machine for three days, and who else is gonna take an hour to style your preschooler’s hair into braids that would make the Mother of Dragons jealous?

I think we’re there. Arbor is experimenting with outright defiance. Mia and Merrick are battling late-summer angst, AND EVERYTHING SMELLS LIKE ROTTING MILK–pls send help.

Those days you text your BFF and ask her, “Is this normal? Are your kids insane too? Tell me it’s just a phase, and that you’re handling this as poorly as I am.”

And she promptly and knowingly responds with a story about the time her kid got a hold of black nail polish during naptime, and assures “I barely survive, and you’re not alone.”

May every mom be blessed with a best mom-friend:

And may every wife know the love of a husband who still finds her at least mildly attractive even after she has given birth to five children.

And may I also suggest I take about 45 deep breaths and give thanks for these sweet little souls, however strong-willed they may be? I am bone-dog tired but I still love being a wife and a mother, especially to this crazy crew:

For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and keep you from going completely off the deep end. But it’s going to be like, so hard–harder than anything you’ve ever done. Have patience and lean on me and your reward will be great–but oh yeah it won’t be like a reward like applause or new cars or even a yearly pedicure so get that out of your mind. Love your family and teach them about Me, and you will be richly rewa–is that your daughter running bare-butted through the front yard wearing a winter coat that’s too small and using your comb to brush the dog?


Keep calm and carry on and please be quiet

The baby blues: woman has baby. Woman comes home from hospital and adorably weeps at cheesy insurance commercials for three days. Husband brings her flowers, rubs her shoulders, wipes her tears. Woman goes on brisk walk with baby in stroller without sweating or having to pee for the 80th time that hour. Woman loses all whopping 5 pounds she gained during pregnancy but retains the glowing skin. Woman’s abdominal muscles don’t separate. Her baby smells of lavender fields and no one is ever sprayed in the face with breastmilk.

Post-partum depression–they say–is a little bit different, lasting up to several weeks after the birth of a newborn baby but described similarly otherwise; enhanced, perhaps; with a twist of mild insomnia. I assure you, whatever it is that I experience randomly with each birth (and then again upon the weaning stage 9 months or so later) is nothing like any Pinterest article I’ve ever saved. My PPD is probably more appropriately labeled “WHY IS EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ON EARTH SO FREAKING LOUD?”

(Why tho.)

Here’s a better illustration of those tender weeks following the miraculous arrival of a precious newborn:


I’ve dealt with these feelings before so I’m calmer this go-around simply in knowing they will pass with time and possibly medication (I am going to marry my obstetrician.) but in an effort to warn brand-spankin’ new mothers (and also to assure new-ish mothers that I am not immune to post-partum difficulties no matter how effortlessly I seem to be gliding through this first month), here are some interesting developments that may or may not be normal:

  • My heart rate spikes with loud noises. Or chaos. Or both. Or for no reason at all like if it’s quiet and I think of something annoying.
  • I just want twenty minutes to myself to go walking because I’ve had a little baby attached to me like a tick all day but oh-my-goodness I can’t bear to spend more than 5 seconds away from her, give her back now before I shrivel up and die.
  • There’s too much to do, like for instance, feed the kids lunch AND  dinner? What am I, a triathlete?
  • People. People, all over the place. All the time. Everywhere I go. I actually do not go anywhere if I can help it–because, there are people.
  • Sweating. So much sweating. All the sweating. I cannot stop sweating. I just had a shower, and I still smell like sour milk and week-old trash. And sweat.
  • Don’t touch me. No, wait. I need a hug. Not too close, I am sweaty. How come no one rubs my shoulders except for only yesterday and the day before that and all the days last week?
  • There is CLUTTER all over the place and I can’t take it anymore, I can’t go on like this y’all:


A flyswatter in the living room? What are we, barbarians? Who the crap put their socks on the table?! Seriously I cannot be having this boolsh junking up my line of sight.

Also I can’t think straight.

  • I’m considering putting a bomb in our piano so that the next person who freaking touches it… well. You know.

I’m tired, guys.

New moms, stand firm. This too shall pass. I’ll see you all in two years.


more kids

Sometimes my husband makes jokes about trying one more time for another boy and I just can’t hide my disdain for the idea.


I love our family the exact size it is now. What, with like a total of 4 people? I pretty much forget how many kids I’m actually in charge of. It boggles the mind that my body has been a vessel for getting no less than 5 little souls into this world. I’m honored and also, terrified. While I’ve successfully screwed up more than a few times with more than a few of them, I hope I can manage to steer my kids to a semi-decent path which they then navigate all by their lonesome, cause I can barely handle taking more than 2 steps on my own most days.

There have been a few challenges adjusting to big family life, specifically with Arbor and the new baby. For the most part, she’s taken really well to big-sisterhood. And then there are those moments where Arbor comes directly into a room and bops Lucy on the head with a closed fist for no apparent reason.

We’re figuring it out.

Breastfeeding a newborn with a two-year-old watching is fun and interesting. I read all the articles and gleaned all the wisdom, hoping to help Arbor understand and appreciate how a mother can feed a baby with her body. I used proper terminology and discussed the process in a nonchalant manner–this is nature’s way, this is no big deal, this is easy, mommies do this all the time–and now?

“Mommy! Are you feeding Wucy with your breasts? Is those your breasts? Why you got ugly breasts? Are you making milk in your breasts? I got milk in my breasts? I feed Wucy? Is that milk on your shirt you make with your breasts? Mommy! Come quick! Put your breasts in the baby’s mouth! Wucy needs to eat your breasts!”

Arbor has breasts on the brain and no conversation is safe from (LOUD) boob-talk. I probably can’t take her out in public for a while.

Not that I want to go out in public–I love being at at home cuddled up with my family, but the thought of taking my weepy, sweat-pouring, breast-milk-leaking self more than five minutes away from the quiet comfort of my couch works me smooth into a downward spiral of post-partum anxiety. The past three weeks have finally caught up and I just now realized that–holy crap–I gave birth recently. Also–holy crap–the last five years happened and is this my life?


Because I am one sleep-deprived but very lucky girl.


The new girl

It’s been a week.


We have baby Lucy in our arms.

Cheyenne is here, cooking up a storm and all hope is lost, as far as me losing any pregnancy weight goes.

Mia and Merrick and Arbor are in love with their new little sister.

Caleb and I are exhausted but probably no more than usual.

We’re gearing up for a visit from Florida fam; it’s exciting to think that in just 3 days, we will all be gathered around Lucy, watching her sleep and breathe.

Lucy got here after the world’s longest pregnancy. I’d never been so painfully uncomfortable so a two-week early induction date was welcome, if not begged for.


(Insert accurate comments about being ready to pop HERE.)

Lucy took her time making her grand entrance, which was totally cool since I was all doped up on those good, good meds in a quiet hospital room with free wifi and HGTV. I did have to make it through a few hours of questionably tolerable contractions before I was given the option of an epidural but I figured “last baby, last time to remember how much of a pansy I really am”.

Anyhoo.

After 3 weeks of solid pre-labor symptoms, 8 hours of pitocin-induced hardcore but pain free actual labor, 1 minute and two pushes, I finally got my Lucy.


And I love her, I love her, I love her.

I’ve only wanted a Lucy since I was 12; Valor–“bravery, courage, spirit; especially in the face of danger“–was a shoe-in for her middle name, because being a “brave light” is everything we want for her.

Let your light so shine so that others will see and glorify God.

Matthew 5:16

God has blessed us with a healthy little girl. I’m overwhelmed by the love and support we’ve received from our friends and family. I’m also still in a bit of a sleep-deprived brain fog and getting ready to eat the world’s most delicious brunch, cooked by my sweet oldest daughter:


Life is insane.

And really, really good.


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