Not Another Love Story

We tell our love story
like words on the back of a wine bottle
How it all started
How the rest was history.
We smile and laugh at the same parts,
we remember the serendipity and irony of it all. 
At some point the “story” ended and we actually began:
Marriage, a baby, a second baby, a move, a death, another baby
How do you capture such complexity into such a short attention span?
The way we will feel distant for a few days and then always come back together
Or the way grief has polished us like rocks from the tide, into something neither of us recognize 
For better, for worse. 
How do I possibly share the cavernous depth of gratitude and love I feel
or how a part of me stayed behind when we got married and another part when I became a mother.
My wild, my bigness, my longings, my power – subconsciously afraid she didn’t belong.
(When all along, she was the part you fell in love with)
Together is complicated 
Where you end and I begin 
A new love story is slowly blooming
The one where we are living the life we want
not the life we think we should want
The one where I am fully me and you are fully you.


521

My daughters run up the same path I did as a kid; the same one my dad did thousands of times when he was a kid. Free oranges hang over the fence from the neighbors yard, tart and sour, full of seeds, their scent creating a perfume across the yard. Other trees with over 60 years of wisdom dot the large plot of grass that leads to the front door; avocado, persimmon and orange trees. Still offering gifts to the little grabbing hands at their trunks. The corner window is intact, once shattered by a golf ball that was meant to be the magical sound of reindeer landing on the roof. 

Our family and extended family all gather to celebrate my Papa’s 91st birthday. A classic front yard party at 521. The kids make themselves right at home with their favorite toys, while all the “grown ups” enjoy casual conversation and a delicious spread of food prepared by our Aunts. 

Papa has so lovingly maintained this home, keeping intact and honoring her original beauty. I can trust this house, the way she smells and the way the stairs leading up from the entry almost propel you into a slight skip. I never tire of gazing at the old photos in the hallway, in awe and wonder of my dad’s “brady bunch” style family – three boys and three girls – with their silk shirts and long hair. 

The old cuckoo clock immortalizes my Grandma Joan’s playful nature. In quiet moments throughout the day, I can still see her in the kitchen window, hear her whistle that dinner is ready and taste her guacamole with fresh avocados from the tree. The room where we said goodbye to her.

After lunch we all go out to the front yard for games, organized by Uncle Chris, the biggest kid of them all. Wagon rides around the yard, field goal kicking contests, three legged races, and the pinnacle being a game of flag football. As we all huddle together, my uncle flips over his left hand to trace the football play on his palm, the exact same way my dad used to. 

Many things are the same, others are different. My memories are just a tiny snippet of the ones held here. But they are vivid and important, a corner of my heart where all is always well, everything makes sense and laughter and fun are mandatory. 

As we start to pack up for the day, I get a sense that the home feels pleased. Content to again be the space holder for memories, entertainment and joyful chaos.  Sturdy, in great condition, well-loved, strong character, an immeasurable legacy – her dedicated bones are a mirror of my Popster’s. Thank you 521, thank you Popster. See you next time!

Gentle Reminder

As I lay in the crook of his arm with my head on his chest – the place I have always fit so perfectly –
I hear the beating of his heart for the first time in days. 
The steady rhythm jolts me into how alive we are and how fleeting we are. 
Underneath all of the rushing and worrying and organizing and planning is a constant truth,
a reminder of what is real:
We are right here, right now. 
To feel his kind and comforting heartbeat might be the greatest luxury I take for granted.  
Our recent texts read:
Mara ok
Crying
Did you pack snacks
K
Leaving
Maiz wants you
All very business. 
All very “I have three kids and barely any time to even include punctuation in my texts to you”. 
I get caught up in expressing the critical demands of my ego: Do this and be more like this.
But the fact that he exists and his heart beats right here, outside on the couch under the warm November sun, the day after Thanksgiving, is a miracle.
He can always be better. 
He can always do more. Yet he is always enough just as he is.
And I am always enough just as I am.

Girl Dad

He confesses that he likes the pink door down the street. 
He wears crowns when asked and a suit and tie for the “big party”. 
He teaches all about Sally Ride.
He’s a feminist in the purest version of the word, always has been. 
He takes time for a puzzle and explanations of the golden rule.
He gives his girls a rocket boost on their scooters 
People call him: “Super Dad”.
We call him: “Cookie Monster”. 
He gets mad at himself when he’s not the picture of patience.
So what if patience isn’t the defining factor for a “good dad”?
What if it’s the way you teach, the way you love, how you practice braiding hair?
What if it’s showing them how quickly you apologize after making a mistake?
What if it’s defined by the lady at a “Yittle Moore” who knows your names and Friday morning order?
What if a good dad, a super dad is defined by the joy on their faces when you come home from hours or days away?
Or magic bravery water?
You have our whole hearts. Every part of you

Kauai Ry

Two buttons undone on his Hawaiian polo,
he saunters with red dirt beneath his feet.
He takes control of the Jeep,
brings “summer to winter”.
His favorite place to be:
lost at sea with nothing but his snorkel and fins.
He smells like salt and Sun Bum.
Hands in the air;
when not holding a Mai Tai.
Goes commando,
friendly with chickens,
unbothered.
Kauai Ry; he’s my guy.

Golden Hour

8:25 pm. “Golden hour” for those of us in the parenthood. After 45 minutes of Maisley’s In-N-Out style bedtime routine, and a tiny turd of evidence that confirmed Coura’s constipation, both kids finally gave in to their weighted eyelids.

Ryan is kicked back in his corner of the couch wearing a new robe from Christmas while laughing at a meme from TheDad on Instagram and eating a bowl of ice cream.

I’m ironically sporting my “Ryan’s gone” pulled back hair-do, wearing a striped sweatshirt I bought in 2010, and crunching on a cup of granola. After scrolling for 20 minutes through the same shows and movies we see every night – “you pick, no you pick” – we decide to watch a Vice about Doomsday.

I paused from my crunching for a minute and just started giggling.

“Who have we become!?” I asked rhetorically. “What would our 25-year-old free-bird selves say about us right now?”


Ryan and I have been married for four years as of January 10th.  Everything has changed since our wedding day, yet nothing at the same time.

Four years and two weeks ago I was crying in the bridal shop about hating my wedding dress and ended up pulling a very last minute switcheroo.

[Still indecisive, just about less important things.]

Four years and one day ago I was in the emergency room with food poisoning praying that whatever was left of my body would make it down the aisle.

[Currently still dealing with gross bodily things on a daily basis.]

Four years ago we danced to “Forever and Ever, Amen” in front of our favorite people. 

[We’re still on track singing that same tune, just a little more broken in.]

Over the last four years we gained new members of our family and lost really important ones. We’ve been broken down and built up. We’ve learned to not have arguments when our heads hit the pillow at night. We’ve discovered what makes each other crazy (why? why do the contents of your pockets find themselves at home on various counter tops around the house) and what makes each other full (road trips with chex mix and a good playlist).

Elbows deep in parenthood, sometimes we feel more like roommates and wanna-be sleep scientists than husband and wife. Other times I look at him like he’s the cute football player I’m flirting with in chemistry class and still can’t believe he’s mine.

When I look at a photo, hold Ryan’s hand or smooch my daughters cheeks, I sometimes miss them. I find myself nostalgic for the present moment, this “time of our life” – even though I am in it.

I wonder what a year from now or four more years will hold. Thank God for golden hour. Thank God it’s him.

 

Life with Two Kids

Now seven weeks into life with two kids, I often get asked how things are going.  “It’s hard,” I reply honestly. “Two kids is no joke!”

We are in it.

Having two kids is the hardest honor I’ve been blessed with. Somehow two feels like triple the work and I feel like I should need less help than I do. But I need help, and it’s chaotic and sometimes in the middle of the night while rocking an inconsolable, crying baby I’ll swear I can’t do it. But then the sun comes out and Maisley crawls into bed with the three of us and all is somehow alright.

I shower at strange times like two in the afternoon and “morning” is an abstract concept. One handed diaper changes and bouncing while eating have become the norm. Chasing Maisley (also the name of my next novel) with a Coura bear wrapped on my chest while our dog escapes to harass the neighbors is my new workout routine. There are significantly more highs and lows and we often experience an entire day of emotions before 10 am.

Maisley and Ryan have been spending more time together.  Our relationship is changing and my attention is now split, but I keep reminding myself that the gift of a sister outweighs my absence at a few pool days and night-time routines.

It’s hard, but it’s the good kind of hard. The kind of hard that makes the good moments feel great.

Ryan and I are working as a team, more in sync than ever before. Rather than a zone defense against Maisley, we are now man to man. We zip around like two carefully trained soccer players, anticipating the other person’s next move (got the World Cup on my mind if you couldn’t tell). “I got the big one”, he’ll say.  “I got the little one,” I’ll say.  We each always have a job, ain’t nobody sitting on the sidelines.

We went to the park the other day and Ryan walked ahead of me with Maisley’s hand in his and a purple bubble wand peaking out of the back pocket of his Chinos. I told him he’s arrived as a dad. The other dad at the park chimed in, “I was thinking the same thing.”

Coura and I are as close as we could possibly be right now (aside from having her inside of me). She’s attached to me most hours of the day, but I sense that she’s enjoying it and needs me in a unique way. We both know it’s not forever, and I love getting to know her more and more everyday.

When Coura cries, Maisley comforts her saying, “It’s ok Coura Joan!” and sings her a special song: “Coura, Coura, Coura, Coura, I love you. I love you. You’re my little sister, you’re my little sister, I love you. I love you.” (Maisley also sometimes whacks Coura for no reason, but we’re focusing on the great moments in this half of the blog, right?).

We are in it. So if you need us, this is where we’ll be for a while (and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else).

Just as we are now

:: MaisleyNienhuis@gmail.com ::

She won’t need it for a while, considering she’s only five months old, but I wanted her to have an email address just in case {and a clean one without any numbers or silly characters}.

Although, around the year 2030, will email even be a thing? Or will she just simply write her note into thin air and it will transfer by virtual reality to the intended recipient’s air space {ya heard it here first}.

Or maybe we will go retro and snail mail will be cool again.

Anyways, my sister wrote Maisley a really sweet email. It was about how she wishes Maiz could hang out with us as we are now. By “us” she means the four of us sisters, parents, our husbands and friends.

I so wish she could see us now too.

The way we still act like kids. The way we laugh so hard around the kitchen table that snorting is always inevitable. The way we go all-out for parties and showers for our friends. The way we constantly reminisce about funny stories from our childhood and the thrill of a new person in our circle to share them with. The way we are carefree and enjoy nothing more than a flight of beers at a brewery and a wood fired pizza. The way we are mostly weird with a sprinkle of cool.The way us and all of our friends are hilariously trying to navigate this parenting thing with no manual.

The way we dance like crazy in front her, jumping up and down, making the most ridiculous faces, all for a little giggle. The way we take her everywhere we go as our adventure buddy. The way we smile at her, sing to her and tell her we love her. The way we snuggle her close and kiss her cheeks until she can’t stand it anymore.

The way we are now, in our 20’s and early 30’s. The hidden years that children assume never existed for their parents. After all, your parents to you are only mom and dad. They never dated other people, never had drunken nights out and definitely never made bad decisions.

When she becomes old enough to realize how cool we are and want us as friends, things will be different than they are now. Not bad, just different. Maybe even better.

I still wish she could see us now.

I guess I will casually drop this note into her inbox.

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