On Being Recognized

Earlier in the morning as we walked with our children through the Pittsburgh Zoo, she caught my attention.  Although we never had met before, there was such a familiarity and friendliness about her face that I immediately smiled.  I noticed that she wore cute dangly earrings.

Over an hour later as we wound our way through the aquarium, our paths crossed again.  Once more, we smiled.  As our kids ran ahead, I complimented her earrings.  She thanked me, paused momentarily, and asked, “Do you write Pink Dryer Lint?”
It was the first time that I’ve been recognized in public by a reader.  Neither of us had been on our home turf; she was from North Carolina and I was in Pittsburgh for the weekend to visit family.  And somehow, in between the polar bear and the shark exhibits, we briefly had connected.

It’s hard to express how tickled -- how humbled -- I felt.
I wish that I could meet each of you in person -- to see the faces that view Pink Dryer Lint from the other side of the screen.  In person, I could admire your earrings, laugh alongside of you when your kid colors his face with chalk, and commiserate when you exit the grocery store and discover that the minivan in the parking lot with its side door wide open – the one that you assume belongs to a frazzled, absent-minded mother – is actually your van.  (Been there, just this past week.)

Most of all, I'd thank you for reading. 
Since it’s unlikely that I’ll bump into the majority of you in person, let me thank you here, now.  It’s an honor that you let me share parts of my life with you -- the glorious, the mundane, the heartbreaking, the humorous. 

I thank God for the opportunity to write, and I never take it for granted that you read.
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Chalk: a dissertation (minus the research)

Recently, I shared how I discovered the mother of all containers of sidewalk chalk while cleaning my garage, which means that we'll have chalk in stock until the end of June.

Chalk in stock.  Say that ten times fast. *

I've been thinking about chalk lately.  When I was in second grade, we were given classroom chores.  Of course, the teacher didn't call them chores.  She called them jobs, which sounds more sophisticated and mature than chores.  (Even as I type, I'm brainstorming how I can practically apply this semantic brilliance to my own parenting.  Cleaning off the table?  That's not a chore, sweetie; that's a job.  And -- terrific news -- you are so well-qualified for it!)

At any rate, the only second grade classroom jobs that I remember deal with chalk: erasing the chalkboard, washing the chalkboard with sponges and a bucket of water from the lavatory (which is a term that's significantly more sophisticated and mature than bathroom), and clapping the erasers, which had been my favorite job by a long shot.

Even as an adult, I find myself oddly drawn to chalk.  For example, I once brainstormed other occupations that I could see myself doing besides writing and teaching college students.  Among them: professional closet organizer, namer of paint or nail polish colors, and person who transcribes the daily specials on the chalkboard in restaurants.

See?  Chalk not only permeates the landscape of my childhood memories, but also appears in my career aspirations.  At the moment, chalk also happens to be all over my sidewalk, front porch, and one window screen where my three-year-old seemed to be attempting to grate her piece of sidewalk chalk to nonexistence before I noticed and intervened.

Of course, when dealing with sidewalk chalk, there always seems to be one piece that gets the shaft.  It's the piece that, if named, would be called "muted mud" or "bleh brown."

Becase it blends in with the sidewalk, this color of chalk is most likely to be left out in the rain.  This results in what I like to call "chalk fosselization," a harmless dappling effect that not only creates hundreds of miniscual craters in the chalk's exterior, but also increases the likelihood that this piece of chalk will never, ever be selected or used by a child -- and that at the end of summer, you'll have a small stockpile of it.

Other fun chalk facts and FAQ's:

Any given day, how many pieces of chalk will roll down your driveway? Well, this depends on how many pieces of chalk you're using. If you're using 11, then 11. If 7, then 7. I'm proposing that there's a 100% chance of rolling, unless your driveway is flat, which is ideal, or you use the square chalk, which is brilliant.

What color will a child most likely pick to color his or her face?  Blue, of course.  (Think Braveheart, minus the bagpipes and carnage.)

What is the number of rainbows (or trucks or farms or butterflies) your children will coax you into drawing by the end of summer?  Precisely 117, which is about 112 more of said object than you intended to draw.

When tracing a chalk outline of a child, is it ever possible keep their head, hands, and feet in proportion with the rest of their child-sized bodies?  No.  No, it is not.  Don't even try.  In fact, expect that the outline will resemble a club-footed alien when your child stands up.

Will your child attempt to eat a piece of chalk when no one is looking?  Yes.  Unless he or she attempts to eat a piece while people are looking.  You know, just to be showey.

What fun things can do with chalk, besides the obvious of actually chalking?  Well, hop scotch happens to be a family favorite. 

Making a bean bag toss where each block counts for a certain number of points is another winner.

If you're a bit obsessive-compulsive (I know nothing of this, of course), then you can organize your chalk according to color.  Fun with sorting, and all that.

I'm at a loss for other ideas, though.  Using pieces of chalk as really clunky pick-up sticks?  Storing it in your purse in case you find yourself at an impromptu gymnastics meet and your palms are sweaty before it's your turn on the uneven parallel bars?  Crime scenes?  (Granted, that last one's a bit of a downer.)

What's your most memorable chalk moment or fun chalk activities?  Or, for the sake of conversation, what was your favorite elementary school classroom job?  Clapping the erasers was empowering, wasn't it?
* Admit it.  You tried to say chalk in stock, didn't you?

Bravehart picture from Testosterhome blog.
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Marriage Month: The Reality

Three weeks ago, I invited you to join me in making May Marriage Month by going on at least one date with your spouse.

In the twenty-one days since that post was published, I spoke at two events, my husband undertook an epic mulching project in our backyard, we rented our house for an extended weekend, celebrated three family birthdays, hosted a going-away party for friends who were moving, held a student event at our house to start the summer semester, carted our daughters to six dance classes, and sat on the sidelines at (or, in the case of my husband, coached) twelve youth soccer practices.

We've gone on zero dates.

Even with this Marriage Month Challenge fresh in my mind because I'm the one who proposed it, it's easy to drift along with life's current and forget to set aside time to "date" my husband.

As I've tried to pinpoint why, I recalled a conversation with a co-worker when I declined an invitation to a weeknight outing with colleagues.  My husband works most evenings and I have the three girls, I had explained.  His response, "Well, you can always just get a sitter."

In my mind, I knew it wasn't quite that simple.  Just getting a sitter meant that I had to find a sitter, pay a sitter, and still prepare dinner for the girls so they could eat with the sitter while I was gone.  Just getting a sitter -- and all of its accompanied elements -- suggested work, and in my mind, the payoff of socializing with colleagues didn't outweigh the work that would be required to get there.

Although I understand it, I've never quite liked the metaphor that marriage is work.  The term work too often connotes something negative and unwelcome.  Hauling rocks is work.  Basic training is work.  Getting my children out of the toy aisle in Target is work.

The reality, of course, is that work is necessary, beneficial, and rewarding -- especially if you're working on something you love -- but the underlying association of work with undesired difficulty makes me pause at the implied premise, even though every marriage will face phases that are difficult.

If I had to propose an alternate metaphor, then, I'd say that marriage is a garden that needs to be tended.  Weeds need to be yanked, behaviors and words need to be pruned, and kindness needs to be cultivated.  For our actual garden, my husband has easily hauled a hundred wheelbarrow loads of mulch this past week.  It's cost him sweat, one nasty sunburn, and time.  In other words, it's been work. 

Yet, when we look over the garden, anyone can see that it's well-tended.  His effort paid off.

Last night after the kids went to bed, I sat outside on my front porch.  It was the perfect spring evening -- the start of a sunset, a light warm breeze, trees rustling, the scent of cut grass.  I reminisced back to earlier years when I would have gone out with Joel on a night like this -- piling into the car, windows down, radio playing.  No responsibility.  No kids tucked in bed upstairs.  No reason we needed to stay at home.

It was already past eight o'clock -- certainly too late to call a sitter.  Instead, we retreated to the backyard together. 

I looked over at him.  Want me to cut your hair? I asked.  It was random, but within minutes we had set up a make-shift barber shop with an outdoor extension cord, his hair clippers, and a small plastic kid's chair where Joel could sit.  He coached me on how to tip the clippers upward with each pass to achieve the desired taper.  I concentrated carefully, working around his ears, trimming his sideburns, aware of the suntan already visible on the nape of his neck.

He trusts me to do this, I thought, aware that I wouldn't trust myself to do this.

And just like that, I was touched by the realization that he'd still love me, even if I accidentally buzzed his whole head.  And I was happy that we've always been able to joke about the smallest things, like the fact that hair, thankfully, grows back.

It wasn't a necessarily a date -- the two of us outside as dusk settled: me standing as I tensely wielded the clippers, him sitting as his hair fell into the grass beneath our feet -- but it was a glimpse into the fact that little moments, even impromptu ones, are part of tending a marriage, too.

There's still time to join up with Marriage Month.  I'm determined to go on a real date by the month's end.  Will you?  Have you gone on a date already?  Let us know in the comments below!

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The Littlest, Biggest Cheerleader

While cleaning the garage I found a container of sidewalk chalk.  Not just any container of sidewalk chalk, but the mother of all containers of sidewalk chalk.  Enough sidewalk chalk to draw a seventeen-mile line (give or take a few feet, I'm guessing) before scraping our fingers to nubs on the sidewalk.

It should last us until the end of June.

While my oldest daughter was playing at a friend's house and the youngest was napping, I showed the box of chalk to Brooke.  Her eyes widened and she nodded before I could even ask if she'd like to head outside. 

We sat on the sidewalk side-by-side, drawing.  She chatted about whatever crossed her mind: whether butterflies and moths were related (cousins?), how it's hard to draw rainbows just right, why cats are her favorite animal, at least for that day.

I began to talk freely, too.  I shared about a recent presentation I had made and commented, "I think it went okay."

Without looking up, Brooke replied, "Oh, it definitely went okay."

I stopped chalking, curious about her assertion of my good performance, even when she wasn't there.  Even when she doesn't fully understand what I'm talking about.  "Why do you think it went well?"

Her response was so simple.  "Because it was you, Mommy."

Because it was you.

No other explanation provided, and -- in her mind -- no other explanation needed. 

Right at that moment, I chose to believe her.  If Brooke, my littlest, biggest cheerleader, believes that the presentation went well, then who am I to think otherwise?

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Headlines in Parenting

Due to a series of extensive house and yard projects that are languishing in various stages of incompletion, time got away from me this past week.  Happily, there's always time to report on your week if you do it in rapid-fire, headline-style fashion.  Last week on the Pink Dryer Lint Facebook page, I posted this prompt: Tell me about your week in headline style.

I asked.  You responded.  Here's a brief recap of my week -- and some of the funniest headlines that you left in FB comments:

Mom gets seven hours of sleep, still wants nap.

Woman leaves dinner dishes on table overnight, regret follows in morning.

Despite 50/50 chance, toddler puts shoes on wrong feet 75% of the time.

Child asks "What can I do?" 23 times in one afternoon, mother develops eye twitch.

New household record: only 7 Cheerios discovered stuck to kitchen floor after breakfast.

Toddler still newly potty-trained, mother nearly demolishes endcap display with cart on way to Target restroom.

Mom too tired to go buy bread, gives daughter cake in lunch instead of sandwich.  (Lisa Polley)

Mom asked to watch Wall-E for third time in week, DVD now missing.  (Lisa Polley)

Three sisters play outside cooperatively for hours, baffled mom rejoices.  (The Golden Spoons)

Mother witnesses miracle: toddler and infant nap simultaneously.  (Heather D. Skinner)

Now it's your turn.  Would you tell me about your week in headline-format?


Looking for a good summertime read?  Check out Then I Became a Mother.  Available in Kindle and paperback editions.

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When the Pride Sinks In

After celebrating yet another birthday -- this time for our youngest, who turned three earlier this week -- I realized something.  On my children's birthdays, in some small and quiet way, I'm not only celebrating them, but also myself. 

Pride wells up within me, the same sense of accomplishment that used to come over me when the girls, as babies, were weighed in at the pediatrician's office and had gained a few ounces or pound since the last appointment.  I'd nod to the nurse calmly, but inside I was vigoriously patting myself on the back and planting a kiss on my own forehead. 

Would you look at that?  That kid you've got there is growing!  You're doing it!

And every birthday, I think the very same thing.

Do you see that kid there?  The one with cupcake icing on her face?  She's growing!

Each time the candle smoke disappears into the air and the Happy Birthday chorous finishes, that pride sinks in subtly.  These kids of mine, they're growing.

This envigorating and exhasting, glorious and mundane, personal and universal, joyful and terrifying thing called motherhood -- would you look at that? -- I'm doing it.

Looking for a good read for summer?  Then I Became a Mother is on sale!  
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To My Mom on Mother's Day

When I think about my childhood, I remember the softness of the robe that my mother wore in the evening.  How she sang a song to me at night, the song that Joel and I now sing to our girls when we tuck them in bed. 

When I think about my adolescence, I remember how my mother stood outside the fitting room when we shopped for my prom dresses.  I'd hand the dresses I had discarded over the door to her, and she'd put each back in its hanger for me.  Just to make things easier for me.

When I think about my college years and early adulthood, I remember how she always had my favorite meals waiting for me when I returned home.  How she stocked the freezer with mint chocolate chip ice cream.  Just for me.  Just because.

I'm grown and raising my own children now.  And yet my mom, after thirty-five years, still looks for ways to mother me.  When my parents visit, she always helps to empty my dishwasher.  She occupies the girls so I can slip away and take a nice long shower.  She brings a coupon for the soap that I use.

Her love is shown through the little details.  The funny thing is that these little details never have been small.  Those little details always have spoken of a very big love.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  I love you!

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To celebrate motherhood, the Kindle edition of Then I Became a Mother is on sale for just $2.99 this week!  Also available in paperback.  Happy Mother's Day!

It's Birthday Season

One of our family's claim to fame is that we knock out four out of five birthdays in less than a one-month time span.  This particular weekend is a real hotbed of festivities, being that Brooke's birthday is today and Kerrington's birthday is on Monday.  Kind of like a Mother's Day sandwich. 

In other words, there's no risk of any of us going into hypoglycemic shock from a lack of sugar intake, that's for certain.  We're all about prevention here.  Safety first.

Earlier this morning Brooke and I attended a Moms are Magnificent breakfast at her preschool, which was a lovely event.  So lovely, in fact, that pretty much every other mother came looking beautiful -- refreshing spring colors, pretty sundresses, fun accessories.  Apparently, I missed the "be cute" memo and arrived in jeans, a casual tee, flats, and no makeup.  But this is okay, because Brooke, the day's star, made up for me.

This girl dazzles, I tell you.  She's never met a color combination that fazes her, and in her eyes, no patterns are too busy to work together.  I love this about her.

Run with it girl.  Do your thing.  I'll always be here to high-five your brilliance, my exceptionally colorful five-year-old.

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A Meeting Over Lunch

Despite her hunched posture, the woman approached our table quickly.  She focused on the girls, stooping lower to look directly in their faces and say hello.  The girls, mostly absorbed in their lunch, glanced up and uttered shy smiles in return.

The woman beamed.  She straightened, clapped her hands together, and looked at me.  "Aren't they just wonderful?   Aren't little children a gift from God?"

I never had met this woman before, but I already wished I knew her. 

As we ate, we spoke from adjacent tables.  She overflowed with kindness and compliments.  She told me that she was eighty-four.  Twice.

When she finished her meal, I carried her tray to the trash can looked into her wrinkled face.  "I hope that I'm as beautiful as you when I'm eighty-four."

And I meant it.  She gripped my hands in hers momentarily and then hugged me.

Days later, something about my meeting with this woman still touches my heart, breaks me down, and fills me up. 

Our brief conversation reminded me how quickly time passes.  How I've already witnessed my daughters transform from newborns to toddlers to little girls.  How this cycle never stops.  How we continually advance through different phases of life, even if we're trying to drag our feet or spur it along.  How one day -- Lord willing -- I'll be watching a young mother eating lunch with her children and letting my own memories flood back.

Our meeting reinforced how I want to radiate that type of unbridled warmth to those around me.  How I want to be a woman who calls out God's goodness when I see it.

Yes, I want to be that beautiful.

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Letting Down the Guard

In the past week, I've accomplished nothing of deep significance even though I've rarely stopped moving.

After uploading grades and finalizing details from the semester, we turned our attention to cleaning the house -- as in, deep cleaning the house -- to prepare for a four-day house rental over graduation weekend.   During the rental we lived out of suitcases at my in-laws, where the girls, true to form,  increased the noise level of their house ten-fold.  On Saturday afternoon I spoke at a Mother's Day banquet.  After church on Sunday the day slipped by as we watched soccer practice, played at a park, and followed the girls as they looped through the neighborhood on scooters and Big Wheels.

To kick back, on Sunday night I finished reading the second book in The Hunger Games series, after which I dreamed I was hunting mutant squirrels in a forest with blow darts concocted from pipe cleaners and flexible straws.  (Industrious, but not at all lethal.)

Today, we moved back into our house.   Even though our unpacked bags are standing at attention near the steps and a mountain of laundry awaits me upstairs, a sense of calm has settled over the house, over me. 

I've realized something: this rental definitively marked the end of the semester.   It was the final period after a sixteen-week paragraph, the turning point when I could let down my guard, skip a day of checking email (unheard of during the semester), read fiction (fiction!), and spend an hour coloring with chalk on the sidewalk with my girls without the lingering suspicion that I really ought to be working.

I like this.

I like this a lot.

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Celebrate Mother's Day with Then I Became a Mother!

 Mother's Day is quickly approaching.  To celebrate the special moms in your life, check out Then I Became a Mother, available in both paperback and Kindle editions!

Here's what readers have been saying about the book:

"Hysterical and spot on!" (Mosaic of Moms)

"I got so caught up in it, I couldn't put it down." (Motherhood on a Dime)

"I absolutely recommend this book to ANY mother. If you are an expectant mother, you should read it and take notes. If you are a new mother, you should read it and take comfort. If you are a "seasoned" mother, you should read it, take a walk down memory lane and, then, take action to help other mothers you encounter." (The Golden Spoons)

"This is the perfect read for those days when you wonder if you're doing anything right as a mother." (Amazon Reader Review)

"I wish that I could give this book to all new parents!"  (Amazon Reader Review)

"This book is a breath of fresh air. You will walk away a better mom because of this book!" (Amazon Reader Review)

Get or gift a copy of Then I Became a Mother today!

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Marriage Month: An Invitation

Every time I attend a wedding, I always look toward the groom as the bride walks down the aisle.  There he waits while she appears -- his love, his bride -- and inevitably, whether through a smile or tears, his face reveals that he's never seen anything quite so beautiful.

Ah, weddings.

This past weekend we attended a terrific one: a stunning bride, a handsome groom, a touching ceremony, and a gorgeous mountainside venue.

Over the years, we've been to a lot of weddings.  Each is filled with such promise.  As I listen, I'm always reminded of the vows that I spoke nearly twelve years ago: how I promised to seek to know, love, and understand my husband more each day.

With three young children, two jobs, one house, and a myriad of obligations and responsibilities in the midst of our marriage, it's easy to let a day slide by when we don't devote time to seek each other.  It's easy to fall into routine, to exchange information instead of communicating, and to keep occupied with the kids.  And that's even if you have a good marriage.

A few weeks ago, I pitched an idea to my husband.  What if we took one month and went on a date every week?  Not necessarily an expensive date, or a long date, or a predictable dinner date -- but what if we took an opportunity to break away from the daily grind and simply enjoy each other's company, sans kids, once each week for a month?

A great idea, for certain, but not without logistical challenges.

When I polled some readers on Pink Dryer Lint's Facebook page about how frequently they went on dates with their spouses, several replied that they did so monthly or semi-regularly.  Others identified specific reasons that prevented them from doing so: the expense (movie theater popcorn ain't cheap), a lack of available childcare (that's a biggie), or having a newborn (enough said). 

Regardless of the response, the underlying subtext suggested that we'd all like to do more.

So, I'm pitching an idea to you, my dear friends and readers.  Would you join me in making May Marriage Month by going on at least one date with your spouse?  Even if it's just out for coffee or ice cream.  Even if you need to barter or swap babysitting services with another couple who has children.  Even if "going on a date" simple means creating a special evening at home, rather than mindlessly flipping between old episodes of House Hunters and Pawn Stars

Unless you love reruns, of course, and you and your spouse watch them together with intentional gusto.  (Seriously, looking forward to a show and making it a weekly point of connection in your marriage can be fun, too.  #survivor.  Just sayin.')

In the sake of transparency, I'll admit that I'm counting the day that Joel and I spent at the wedding as our first date this month, even though we snuck it in at the tail end of April, not May.  (See what I'm doing here?  I'm highlighting the flexibility of this endeavor.  Make Marriage Month work for you and your unique situation, however that may look.) 

During the wedding we just attended, the groom made this vow: "I've won your heart, but I will never stop pursuing you."

Our spouses are worth pursuing.  Whether we've been married a week, a year, a decade, or more, our marriages are worth investing the effort and time to keep them a priority.

Over the month of May, I'll be devoting a few posts to the topic of marriage.  (We have another wedding to attend at the end of the month.  Perfect bookends!)  I'd love to hear how you keep your marriage strong in the midst of life with kids, work, and busy schedules.

Let's make May Marriage Month together.  Will you pledge to plan one date this month?  Are you in?

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