December 7, 2015

Part Three: Pray, Hope and Don't Worry

While we were working on getting the house ready to be listed, Michael was offered the Civil Engineer position in Elgin. I was not sold on this idea. He had worked in the Civil field before, when we were engaged, and disliked it so much that that he left the field for another job in Texas. I was not going to move across the country again. That was not an option I was even willing to consider.

Michael felt strongly that he should accept this position in Elgin. It was a job. It offered some security to our precarious financial situation. He was willing to take just about anything, I think. I really appreciate this about my husband. That he is so concerned with our well-being, that he would take just about any work that he could get, even if it was something he knew he wouldn't really enjoy.

At the end of our many discussions, and a lot of sadness for me, he took the position, and started his new job on July 20th, the same day we received the offer on our house.

Throughout this process, I kept praying. I said countless Memorares and Rosaries. It was the only thing I had left, the only thing I could do for our future. The next day, July 21st, God spoke to me. I'm sure of it. We received a donation request from the Padre Pio Foundation. Big and bold on the front of the envelope, it said:

Pray, hope and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.”

What a perfectly timed message. This became my mantra, in a way. Whenever I would start to feel anxious, I would remember the quote. Anytime anything came up with selling our house, or packing things up, or “how are we going to do XYZ”, I would stop myself. One thing at a time, Jess. It’s so hard not to worry though, especially when it feels like everything you once knew is gone like a dream after you wake up.

In early August, I decided to hop in the car and drive up to Northern Illinois to stay with Grandpa and Mimi (Michael's Dad and step-Mom). I use the term “decided” very loosely here. Really, I had a mini/major meltdown because the kids were being kids… and did not seem to understand that their pounding and jumping and banging was giving me a heart attack. (Because we’d just spent all that time and money fixing the house up, got an offer and now had to keep it *perfect*)

I called Michael, hysterical, and he told me to go to his Dad’s. He realized we needed some time away from the house and some serious time with him. Because of the crazy commute, he was only able to come home on the weekends. But, if we were at his Dad’s house, we could see him every night. I knew he was right. I needed to see him, and the kids needed to see him. So, up we went.

Since we were there, we decided to do some house hunting to help us get excited about the future. We began looking in St. Charles, Batavia and Geneva. Very beautiful communities, situated right along the Fox River. But, nothing struck us as home. Of the 15-20 houses we saw, they were all either too small, or over budget, most of them needed repairs, and all of them needed updating. It just was not doable for us.

So, we expanded our search the following weekend to South Elgin and Algonquin. And had basically the same results. There was one house I was so sure was the one. But, it was one of those houses that looks great in pictures, but in reality, needs so much work.

Every time we came back from looking (disappointed, I might add) his Dad would drop hints that we should look around where they lived. The cost of living was so much less there than in the city. Michael’s commute wouldn’t be terrible, an easy 60 miles on a three lane highway. After seeing so many houses within 30 miles of Elgin, we knew what we could get around there and we weren’t impressed. So, we agreed to talk to a realtor who was a member of Michael's Dad's church.

We met him at an open house he was hosting one Sunday. When we walked inside, I just started crying. It was the nicest place we'd seen in weeks. And, I felt my heart change in an instant. After talking with Michael some more, we decided to really look around that area. I saw quite a few houses that I really liked the following week.

I think part of my attraction was that the city kind of reminds me of my hometown, how I grew up. It isn't suburbia, but it isn't the country, either. That's what drew me to it. I finally felt peaceful about this move because I could see us living there. It would be hard, because we’d be even further from my family and our friends. But, there was peace.

And, Lord knows, that's what I was really searching for. That was the heart of all of my prayers. God, give me peace in wherever you lead us.

December 4, 2015

Part Two: Pray, Hope, and Don't Worry

Part Two:

That was probably the scariest moment of my life. One I never really expected, or prepared myself for.

Michael was laid off on June 30th. But, he couldn't bring himself to tell me over the phone, obviously. So, when he got word that he needed to pack his bags and fly home for the last time, he expanded his job search to anything within a couple hours from where we lived.

An old friend from college had a job posting up on LinkedIn. It was for a Civil Engineer position in Elgin, Il. He contacted his friend, and met him for dinner when he flew back to town the night before he came home.

After I stopped crying, he told me about everything he had done during the last few days, and that he had an in-person interview with this company in Elgin the following Tuesday. I cried some more because I knew, if he was offered this job, and accepted it, we would have to move. It was too far for him to commute every day. And, that was the whole point.

When he started this job hunt, our main focus was getting him home every night, so we could be a regular family. Without moving to IL, he would barely be home because of the awful commute - averaging 5 hours round trip every day. We wouldn’t really be any better off than we were with him in the oil fields.

I was heartbroken. When we moved back to Indiana in 2013, I had this dream of settling down into a new, full life. We would be close to friends, and extended family. We could step back into a community that was already there, waiting for us to come back. I was so excited about starting this new chapter. When we bought our house, it felt as though all the pieces finally fell into place.

But, that feeling only lasted for so long because life with three kids, 3 years old and younger is just hard. There’s no way around it. It got harder for me every time Michael came home. I was always preparing for him to leave again. And so were the kids. Our family life was slowly deteriorating right before my eyes, and I didn't know how to fix it.

Over the next few weeks, I tried not to think about the past or the future. I did what I usually do, and I buried myself in the immediate. Regardless of what happened with the job in Elgin, we knew we absolutely had to sell our house. He had applied for enough jobs in our area that we knew we would no longer be able to afford it. So, we patched holes, repainted rooms, shined floors, deep cleaned and decluttered. It took about 3 weeks to get everything ready.

Honestly, I was relatively peaceful about this process. Mostly, I attribute this to all of my prayers. But, it was also a fulfillment of a desire, in some ways. About a year before all this happened, I began reading a few blogs about minimalism. I felt a tugging in my heart. I cleaned, and decluttered, and donated the things we didn't need or use anymore. This helped a little.

But, anyone with small children knows that stuff just accumulates in your house. You don’t know where it came from, or how it got there. It’s like little fairies just bring stuff into your house while you are asleep. It’s a constant process to stay on top of all the people and things coming in and going out your door.

A while later, Pope Francis came out with his encyclical, Laudato Si, and I felt this tugging again. We owned too much; too much house, too much yard, too much stuff. What did we really need? I had no idea. But, I just felt funny about where we were at in our lives. I continued doing my best to get rid of the small things. But, even with all my efforts, I couldn't change the big things because we had just bought our house in 2013. We were stuck.

Really, we were mostly just stubborn (and scared!). Losing his job kind of forced our hand in giving it all up. And, I was at peace with that. A house is only a house. We won't take it with us when we die.

After a lot of work, we got it listed in mid-July. We had a few showings that first weekend, and we received a solid offer that Monday. After some negotiations, we had a signed contract within 7 days. Thank you, Jesus and Mary!

November 22, 2015

Part One: Pray, Hope, and Don't Worry

It was a mundane summer morning late in June. Michael had been gone for work for 10 days. The kids had become more restless, more upset, more discontent. I was frazzled, at my wits end with everyone. It was the usual cycle, all over again.

That morning, Chloe had gotten in trouble for something; I don't remember what. I'd put her in her room for time out. But, as usual, she followed me into my bedroom, screaming and crying.

"I just miss Daddy!"

My ears were deaf. I'd heard this line of reasoning too many times to count.

"I only did _____, because I miss Daddy!"

I'm sure, to some degree, it was true. I knew that they really did miss Michael. But, this had become *the* excuse in our house for every naughty thing they did. I never knew how to react, whether to validate or ignore their obvious anger that Daddy left for long periods of time. There was nothing I could do about it, that was his job. Validating them only made their behavior worse. Ignoring them made them feel like I didn't care about their feelings. A lose-lose situation.

So, instead of doing nothing, I yelled right back at her.

"You know what Chloe, if you miss him so much, you better start praying he finds a new job!"

And she got down on her knees right there in front of my crucifix, and started sobbing out a prayer. I don't remember what she said because I had tuned her out. That was all I could do in that moment.

This was not the peace I asked for seven months earlier.

It was Christmas time, presents spilled out from underneath our tree. Soft white lights lit up the front of our home, reflecting off the piles of snow, giving it a warm, welcoming glow. It should have been a joyous season.

But, inside I was falling apart. I was angry with Michael's job because it required so much travel.  I was exhausted from managing our family while he was gone. I felt desperate and hopeless, like I was failing our three kids because I had absolutely nothing left to give to them. Nothing.

I was out of ideas for fun things to do with them. I was in survival mode on discipline; meaning, it was rarely effective. The kids were running me over day in and day out.

Around this time in December, a few friends said they were going to pray to Mary Undoer of Knots for varying reasons. I thought to myself "Sure! What the heck, I'll do it." I begged Mary to undo this knot, to either give me peace, or give him a new job because I honestly did not know how I was going to survive.

Within a week of praying that novena, I felt a sense of peace and my strength renewed. I accepted our life as it was more deeply than I had before. I wasn't fighting it. I focused on doing it, doing our life, to the best of my ability.

Then, the New Year came, along with a lot of instability in the oil market. By the middle of the first quarter, Michael's company had already laid off many people in his same position, and issued sweeping changes in how they did business to save money. It was nerve-wracking.

Michael started applying for other jobs around where we live. Months went by and he received hundreds of rejections. It broke my heart. He is so smart, and works so hard to provide for us. I could tell that his ego was taking a beating, and he was starting to get really worried. More people had been laid off from his company. More changes were being implemented. And we were helpless, stuck in a mortgage that was more than we could afford without his income from the oil fields.

He had a few phone interviews in April and May. But, I never felt like those jobs were a good fit for him. He didn't understand why I was hesitant. They were jobs, he'd be home more, we would be able to pay our bills (barely). I told him repeatedly, “I'm praying for perfect.” And I was praying, desperately, that God would hear me, hear us; that He would give us a way to make all of these pieces fit.

So, we carried on. Days melting into weeks, and months. Michael came home from his shift on July 2nd, just a few days after Chloe's heartfelt prayer. It had already been a long, trying day. The kids awoke at 4:30 in the morning. Chloe had escaped from our house and walked to the neighbor’s at 6:30 in the morning. I was full of anxiety and trying to figure out how I could keep them all safe when he left again. I made up my mind that we would install security key locks high on all the doors since she could now open deadbolts.

When he finally got home in the early afternoon, I was completely spent. I started telling him about the day, and my fears about how I was going to keep the kids all safe when he went back to work.

He listened to me cry, but I could tell something was off. When I finally got it all out, he sat down next to me. He said he was really sorry it had been such a horrible day. He understood my fears, and said "But I'll be here now, since they've given me no choice."

May 11, 2015

The Concept of Dead

"Mama, look! A lady bug!" Chloe comes running toward me, stroking the orange colored bug.

"Go put it outside." I'm only half paying attention because I'm eating breakfast and reading a health news article. 

"But I can't! It's dead!"

Great, I think. "Well, put it in the garbage then." Logical? I think so. 

"No, I think I'll put him outside so he can get better."

I don't think she understands the concept of dead. 

Maybe this is why all my attempts to explain why certain things are very dangerous - e.g. keeping her car seat buckles buckled while we're in the car, or why she can't lean on her window screens - ultimately fail.

May 9, 2015

Poop in a Bag in the Fridge (True Story)

Last week, I got a chocolate craving. Bad. We only had chocolate chip cookies and dark chocolate frosting in the house. So, at 9:58 p.m., I'm standing in the kitchen making chocolate frosted cookies.

After eating my delicious chocolate goodness, I got tired. So I put the frosting in a bag to make it easier to frost the rest of the cookies the next day.

Well, that didn't happen. So, that bag of frosting sat in the fridge for a couple days.

I don't know how the kids didn't notice it sitting there for so long, considering they stand in front of the fridge with the door open scrounging for food all. the. time. But, anyway... they found it a few days later.

Now, that day was one of those days where I had said "No" more often than I care to remember and the kids had tuned me out hours earlier. So, when they found the frosting just before dinner, the last thing I wanted was to have them  relentlessly bugging me about it.

"What's this, Mom?" Chloe asks with the bag in her hand, standing in front of the fridge.

I don't know what to say, so I blurt out, "It's poop."

Chloe and Logan both give me a look of absolute confusion. I'm a little astonished at my own answer, quite honestly. I have no idea where it came from.

Logan tries to clarify, "What's in the bag?"

And, thinking to myself, well, what did I just do?  I guess I should follow through. So I said, "It's poop! Leave it alone."

Chloe set the bag down on the counter and looked at me like she was trying to figure me out. Then, she got curious. "Who pooped in a bag?! Tell me! Tell me who pooped in a bag!"

I'm now in hysterics.

Chloe continues on with her questioning, as though this is a perfectly normal conversation. "Why did someone poop in a bag?"

I can tell Logan is still processing. He just keeps piggybacking Chloe's questions, "Yeah Mom! Tell us!"

I'm a terrible liar. I just kept laughing, which only seemed to confuse them more.  I can't believe I've gotten myself into this mess! Fortunately,  dinner was basically ready.  So I distracted them with that, and hoped that they would completely forget what just went down.

Michael was not privy to this... mishap of mine. He wasn't home when it all went down and I tried to forget about it as quickly as I could. But, my kids forget NOTHING.

So, after dinner, Michael gives them their cookies and starts getting our dessert ready. I'm doing the dishes. All of a sudden, I hear Chloe start yelling, "No Daddy! That's poop!!" as Michael begins frosting our cookies.

I about die, and probably turned 20 shades of red,  because when I turned around, I see Michael licking an entire spoonful of the frosting, and Chloe and Logan looking at him in utter horror. And, in that moment, I quickly realized that I have to confess because otherwise I will very likely encounter my children eating their poop, or at the very least, find a real bag of poop in the fridge at some point in the future. 

So, while still laughing uncontrollably, I manage to say, "Guys, I was just kidding with you. It's not poop. It's actually frosting."

Chloe gives me another look of utter confusion. She really doesn't know what to make of me at this moment. "It's not poop?" she asks.

"No, Chloe. It's frosting."

"Can I smell it?" Why, yes. Yes, you can dear. So, she timidly sniffs the chocolaty fluff.

"Can I taste it?" Sure! And she dips her finger in it.

Then Logan wants to get in on the action. He sniffs and tastes, and then asks, "Why didn't you tell us it was frosting?" Hmmm.... good question, kid. I have no idea! But, I tell them, "Because I didn't want you guys bugging me about it right before dinner."

We then go over the fact that it is FROSTING and NOT poop about 15 more times, just to make sure they understand. I'm still not really convinced that they get it. And I have a bad feeling that, one day, I will discover a nightmare of my own making.

Moral of the story, don't lie to your kids. Especially about frosting.

May 22, 2014


Sometimes I think God gave me two hands just so I could scratch one child's back while I nurse the baby in the middle of the night. Other times, I think it was for making scrambled eggs and pancakes while balancing the baby on my hip. 

Or maybe He gave me two hands so I could pick dandelions from our lawn and carefully tuck them behind my daughter's ear while she giggles. Or catch my son when he barrels head first down the slide on the playground in our backyard. 

I use my hands to play peek-a-boo with the baby, and tickle monster with the kids. I need them to scrub shampoo in the toddlers' hair, and to pull pajamas over their heads.

With my hands, I can turn crocodile tears into rain drops and lollipops. I can heal boo-boos with my touch, and send off thousands of kisses to be caught and placed sideways on a cheek. 

I want to believe that if I spread my hands wide enough, I'll be able to catch my babies before they fall, hold them tight and never let them grow. We could live in a Neverland where my babies will still need me, and my hands. 

February 3, 2014

I am terrified of my kids...

Actually, I am terrified of failing my kids. Truthfully, I am terrified of failing, period. Not of the small things that have nothing to do with my character. It's only the big things, the life and death, right and wrong kinds of big things. 

And, this fear leaves me paralyzed more times than not.

I feel alone, like I am the only mama in the world who has ever felt like she is completely unable to relate to her children in a real and meaningful way. I see those moments where I've lost my temper (or some other wrong) as stumbling blocks to a real relationship with my kids... Like they will forever hold it against me. Ridiculous? Yes. Very.

What does this mean, real and meaningful? I have internalized this notion that to have that deep relationship, I have to enjoy everything they enjoy; I have to spend every moment playing, or teaching, or talking, or being with my small brood...AND! I have to like ALL of those moments. Otherwise, I'm not being real. Otherwise, my relationship with each of my kids is fraudulent. 

Why? Why is this the ideal that I hold myself to? Because this is the idea that we perpetuate. In our pictures. In magazines. In our social feeds. In the face that we put on for everyone else. We capture the good moments, the best ones, and display them for everyone else to see. (Guilty party right here.)

But, truthfully? I'm tired of the dichotomy. Kids are hard. MY kids are hard. They're explosive, emotional, unpredictable little beings who melt my heart one second; and, before I even catch my breath to wipe my tears away, they make me want to rip my hair out. It's messy and lovely. It's crazy and routine. It's joyful and tearful. 

But, I shouldn't be terrified of this. I shouldn't be so scared of failing them that I don't even try. It's a journey.

I've realized recently that I function better when I have a purpose, when I have something tangible -- an enemy, so to speak -- to focus my attention on. Today, that enemy is a cold (that I fear is pertussis because there was a case at Chloe's school the DAY AFTER SHE STARTED). So, I threw myself totally into attack mode, filling her, Logan, and myself up on all sorts of vitamins, essential oils, and holistic immune system boosters. (Don't worry, I am calling the doctor tomorrow.) 

All day long, I was thinking: what if I took that same energy to my daily life? What if I made boredom my personal enemy, and did everything I could to actively entertain my kids? Instead of just wishing they could entertain themselves for 30 minutes while I get XYZ done? Or what if I made the rocking chair my enemy and finally learned to nurse in a sling/carrier so I'm not tied to the chair all the time? Or my cleaning supplies? Or my iPhone? Or my tablet?

I've realized that I've focused on pursuits that are typically singular, lonely tasks that don't/can't involve the kids -- like paying bills, or cleaning the bathrooms. I always find myself thinking, "if I can just get _________ done, THEN I'll be able to do ________ with the kids. But, that moment, that second part, never comes.

The problem isn't them. It's me. It's my attitude. It's my type-A, perfectionistic personality. It's my drive to accomplish things on my never-ending To Do List. It's ME. This "failure to relate" problem is solely on me. Obviously.

I'm going to do something radical (for me anyway). For the next two weeks, I'm putting my phone down. I'm not going to spend hours reading health food blogs, or checking Facebook. I'm not going to obsess over cleaning the floors, or the counters. (Well, I'll TRY not to obsess.) 

I'm going to read books to my children, and do art projects, and make food with them, and play games with them.

I'm going to teach Evie to roll over. And built blanket forts in the basement. And have movie nights. And snowball fights. 

Throughout the last several years, I have felt this...longing. A yearning for a simpler life. And, even though I don't have all the details worked out yet, I know that it's going to mean doing more, not less. 

So, that's my plan. I'll let you know if I'm successful. And, what this "simple life" actually looks like for me.