Composing a Childhood Soundtrack of Love

As I sit here drinking my late night decaf coffee, munching warm delivered cookies that I definitely sent to myself as a treat while my husband is out of town on a work trip- I’m listening to James Taylor playing softly through the house as my girls sleep.  I told Alexa to, “play James Taylor” and she obligingly replied, “shuffling James Taylor on Amazon Music” and has proceeded to play song after song of the calming music that has been somewhat of a soundtrack to my life.   

I sing along, with nostalgia and a conditioned feeling of safety and joy welling deep inside, to “Copperline”, chuckling to myself when I hear James say, “one time I saw my Daddy dancing, was a moving like a man in a trance,” because I’ve been told countless times that my daddy would twirl me around the room as a baby/toddler, no doubt in his infamously hilarious bodily movement that I guess we can call dancing, to Copperline. Holding me close and making me giggle with glee, earning my childhood nickname of “Chuckles cheeks.”   I hear the intro to “Down in a Hole,” and am transported back to the childhood days of top bunk slumbering when I got to pick the music my sister and I listened to at night to fall asleep, knowing it was song number 2 on my favorite CD, of which I was usually asleep by the end of song number 3 or 4.  I unconsciously freeze every time James’ soothing voice mentions the frozen man that, now that I think about it as an adult, is a bit creepy and terrifying- reminiscent of my sisters and I making exaggerated freezing movements in the back of our trusty minivan as we drove from San Diego to Denver biannually.  My heart swells and eyes tingle as I hear the promise my Dad and I danced to at my wedding that has since become the lullaby I’ve sang countless times to both my baby girls,

“Well the sun is surely sinking down, 
But the moon is slowly rising
So this old world must still be spinning 'round
And I still love you.”

These songs are ones that I put on CDs I’ve made throughout the years for roadtrips with college friends, the CD I made and listened to every single day for 6months of my first pregnancy just in case I really could influence my unborn baby’s taste in music (it didn’t work…there were no Moana songs or Veggie Tales on that CD and yet, what does she want to listen to over and over??), my wedding playlist, Pandora Station at work, and I’ve rotated between the songs when singing softly to my babes as I’ve rocked them countless hours.  If you are familiar with James Taylor’s music, you might be thinking of some of his lyrics wondering what exactly I am whispering to my children at night (I don’t sing the Traffic Jam song, don’t worry) but it’s not really about the lyrics (although I am definitely learning to appreciate his actual lyrics and meanings/stories behind them now).  

Every song, it seems, is paired with a memory or feeling of warmth that goes beyond James Taylor’s obvious talent as one of the best. I think I would be sitting here in the kitchen listening to Led Zeppelin songs while gobbling cookies if my Dad had played those songs on his guitar instead of “Fire and Rain” and “You’ve got a Friend” when I was a kid.  Or possibly Cyndi Lauper would have been my road trip companion had my mom popped her CD in while we drove to swimming lessons in the summer and library trips year-round.  Music has always worked like a real life Pensieve for me (and actually there is real science that links music to memory because the brain is so cool).   I hear a song and get sucked back to the feeling or place in time I heard it.  

James Taylor’s music reaches out its melodious chords and tenderly wraps them around my heart, floating me back along the melody to my childhood.  My childhood that was filled with security and fun and acceptance.  My childhood that was not just filled, but overflowing, with love. I know I am fortunate. I have always known how fortunate I am to have the parents I have, who gave me the childhood I had, and continue to be an ever-present source of support and love in adulthood. These types of parents are rare, and I know this.  And I think the reason I sit in my rocker and sing about a cowboy who, “thinks about women and glasses of beer” to, “rockaby my sweet baby May,” is because I want so bad to make sure my girls grow up and know by just hearing that first strum of a guitar, that they are oh.so.loved.

I hope and pray and work and strive to create a childhood filled with living room dance parties with my husband twirling one girl, and I the other; a childhood filled with 1000 “I love you”s a day; a childhood filled with tickle fights and lazy Saturdays exploring nature with each other; a childhood filled with car ride talks and adventures; a childhood filled with Bible Stories and Story Stories before bed; a childhood filled with learning to care for others; a childhood filled with messy, real playing; a childhood filled with the musical notes and cadences of a love so deep it cannot be forgotten no matter the years or miles.  A childhood that allows for my sweet little girls to mature into strong, confident young ladies in adulthood who sit at their kitchen table, listening to James Taylor, indulging in a treat and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that the lyrics they hear that calm voice singing,  

“You just call out my name
And, you know, wherever I am
I'll come running,”

might as well be coming out of their Dada and Mama’s mouths because they know they are so very much loved- now and for always.

A childhood that has been composed to the soundtrack of love.

You Can Close Your Eyes

Well
the sun is surely sinking down
But the moon is slowly rising
And this old world must still be spinning 'round
And I still love you
So
close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it's all right
I don't know no love songs
And I can't sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song
When I'm gone
Well
it won't be long before another day
We're gonna have a good time
And no one's gonna take that time away
You can stay as long as you like
So
close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it's all right
I don't know no love songs
And I can't sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song
When I'm gone
So
close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it's all right
I don't know no love songs
And I can't sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song
When I'm gone
  • – James Taylor
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Chalky Free Time

“What are you going to do with all your free time now??”

I’ve heard this question several times since graduating from grad school a couple weeks ago.  And it gives me pause. Coming out of a 3-year season where all our days and most of our nights were full of work, school and various other responsibilities- this has been my normal.  It was normal to leave the house at 7am and return at 9:55pm.  Normal to start homework or studying at 8:30pm after the girls went to bed.  Normal to realize David and I hadn’t been out by ourselves in at least a month. Normal to know that Saturday was the only day of family time we had, but it was also the only day we could run errands or try to be social.  Normal to blink and see that our newborn was 4 months old and our 3 year old could tie things. This was normal.  So now that I’ve graduated and no longer have night classes, or homework, or just the mental knowledge that there was something else I should/could be doing for school- there has been an adjustment to a “new normal.”

A new normal of going to the same job every day and coming straight home afterwards with time to play before dinner.  A new normal where Friday night movie nights do not end with me studying.  A new normal of being home for all bedtimes. A new normal of being able to write for fun on a Saturday morning while the baby naps and Dada and Brynn are out riding bikes with friends. A new normal of being able to hang out with our sweet sweet foster nieces and nephew and their incredible parents.  A new normal of prioritizing date night at least every other week.  So when people would ask during those first couple days/weeks what I’m going to do with “all my free time” there was a little voice inside saying, “should I be doing something else besides working full time and actually spending my evenings coloring the sidewalk with chalk and attempting to actually cook some dinners?”  Should I pick up a hobby? Should I enroll Brynn in a community dance class? Should I join a gym (ok, I probably should exercise)? Maybe I should volunteer more?  Should I start driving for Uber to make some extra money? People kept saying I had all this new free time so clearly I should be doing something more…right?

One day David said something to me out of blue along these lines, “Don’t feel like you need to rush into picking up something new now that you’ve graduated..” I forget the exact words, but I realized it was true. I needed to give myself permission to laugh when people asked me that good intentioned question and respond with, “oh you know…keep working full time and being a wife/mom.”  Give myself permission to enjoy this “new normal.”  To enjoy my kids being little. To enjoy laughing with David at the craziness that comes with parenthood.  To go to Costa Rica for a week with no kids purely because we can and we want to. To go see friends on a weeknight. For David to be able to go see friends on a weeknight. To build forts in the living room. To catch caterpillars and watch my girls’ faces light up with wonder when they pop out of their chrysalises as butterflies. To make silly houses of straws. To have dance parties DJ’d by a toddler-controlled Alexa after bath time. To cuddle with a Mama-infatuated baby, not to spoil her, but to cherish this time where she still wants to cuddle with Mama.

My parents were visiting a couple weeks ago and my Dad said, clad in his famous proud-dad face, “You should be proud of all you’ve accomplished these past few years, Kiley. It was hard and you did it.” And my mom said in her experienced Mom voice, “And now, you can experience being ‘just’ a working mom, instead of a working, going to school Mom. You really haven’t experienced that before.” And they both were so right. I have been taking inventory and reflecting on the past few years and dang it- I AM proud of what I did. What our little family did. I am very proud.  But I’m also so very glad that season is over.

And I am so very excited for this next season of Motherhood. 

So very excited for this season of creating memories dusted in sidewalk chalk and love.  

Like Mother, Like Daughter

“Because I am a woman and I will show you.”

I wrote these words when I was 19 weeks pregnant with Brynn and had just found out she was a girl (you can read the full post here). I was scared and excited and determined to raise a strong, independent little woman- with zero knowledge about what the heeccckkk was about to happen. I had no idea just how strong and independent that little girl would be at the tender age of 3 ½ or that there would be another little woman arriving on the scene in 2.5years.  I wrote about being the primary female role model for my little girl but had no idea just what implications came with that. I mean, I knew…but I didn’t know.  I wrote about allowing her to wear tutus and bows but didn’t know my living room floor would be perpetually littered with a variety of tutus in different colors and material with batman action figures nestled between them.  I wrote about not letting her win at games but didn’t know just how many games of Disney matching I would be playing or how often I would legitimately be losing to a 3year old. I wrote about letting her fall down, but didn’t know just how hard that would be for me (#enneagram6).  I wrote about putting Band-Aids on scraped knees but didn’t know how many Band-Aids I’d be putting on toenails because a “tiny piece was falling off and getting caught on the purple blanket” in her bed. I wrote about maintaining confidence and modeling that to her.  But I didn’t know that there are some days in Motherhood that shake even the firmest of confidences.

I. Had. No. Idea.

But mostly- I didn’t know what strength and independence that little girl and her future baby sister would teach me.

I didn’t know I would find a physical strength inside myself I didn’t know possible when I pushed out a 9lb11oz baby and then an 8lb14oz baby (without the epidural that time!).  I didn’t know I would experience probably the lowest my confidence has ever been when nursing was so painful and so frustrating, only to become one of the things I’m most proud of myself for sticking with. I didn’t know the physical, mental and emotional strength required for months (years because my kids hate sleeping) of nightly night feedings/soothings.   I didn’t know the amount of independence that would be required to ask for help and support from friends and family.  I didn’t know the kind of strength it takes to maintain a semblance of professionalism at work and grad school when your baby girl was up screaming all night so you slept on the floor next to the crib.  I didn’t know about the independence forced on you and strength forced from you when you take a newborn home from the hospital to a toddler who still needs your attention and a routine to be maintained.  I didn’t know how much strength it takes to remain patient and calm while a toddler is throwing a tantrum and a baby is screaming from gas pains. I didn’t know the kind of strength it takes to apologize to a 3 year old and ask for forgiveness for not remaining patient and calm.  I didn’t know the independence it takes to defend your choice to work and go to school instead of stay home with the kids.  I didn’t know the kind of strength required to feel like you have no idea what is going on, but realize you are somehow now the adult in charge.

I didn’t know the strength and independence that comes from being broken and wrung raw.

I didn’t know about Motherhood.

So today I say to you, my sweet baby girls:

Because I am a woman, I hope to show you what I’ve learned from being your Mama.

I hope to show you it takes strength to ask for help.

I hope to show you that you will fail, but you can try again because you are strong.

I hope to show you that plans will go awry, but you can use your independence to be adaptable and grow.

I hope to show you that your body will not be perfect by society’s standards, but it is strong and it is yours.

I hope to show you that confidence is important, but humility demonstrates strength of character.

I hope to show you that compassion and strength are not mutually exclusive but rather dependent on one another.

I hope to show you that there truly is strength in numbers – find your people and stick with them.

I hope to show you that it takes strong determination and hard work to reach your goals.

I hope to show you that your dreams and goals are worth fighting for with every bit of strength for the sole reason that they are yours.

I hope to show you that you have options in this world but it will take independence and strength to assert your yourselves in some of those options.

I hope to show you that without God’s strength, you will flounder, but with it you will soar.

I hope to show you self-compassion is a strength that will help you through hard times.

I hope to show you both so many things. So so many things.

Sweet girls, I know you are watching.  I know because I hear, “when I’m older I’m going to put cream in my coffee” after I pour creamer in my coffee in the morning.  I feel your little hands pet my hair while you announce, “when I’m older, I can have hair long long like yours and braid it like yours.”  I see your little eyes watching my hands as I demonstrate clapping and see concentrated focus while your chubby baby hands lurch towards each other in an attempt to mimic my behavior.  The gravity of these simplistic statements and movements is not lost on me my tiny loves. I feel the weight of my responsibility as your Mama and so I am trying my best.  Trying my best to demonstrate strength and independence in all forms because I am a woman and what I show you will inform your concept of what it means to be a woman.

What a weight that is.

Oh, but what an honor.

Mama loves you both, my little women.