extraordinary magic follows you around.

i guess sometimes i struggle to write things that i KNOW i’ve read before. i worry about being a mommy blogger. (pretty sure i was a mommy blogger before i was a mom.) i worry i’ll sound basic or pretentious or exploitive or any of the other negative words that might cross my mind. i worry i’ll write about my boy, and it will hurt someone waiting for a baby. i worry i’ll offend someone because laaaaaaaands i say the wrong thing like it’s my job. i worry that i’ll say something WAY too heavy because that’s what comes natural for me. (hey-o 4w5!) i just worry. and i don’t write. and i feel itchy because words are the closest thing i have to singing on a stage at the top of my lungs. (and i have a very deep need to sing on a stage at the top of my lungs.) (you really don’t understand.)

(it’s the one thing i sometimes think God got wrong in the world, me not having a good singing voice.)

(i can even see why mosquitoes are necessary sometimes, but why wouldn’t He let me sing like Liza and Ethel or Judy or Adelle Dazeem?)

and then sometimes my child goes to sleep at 8pm and wakes up so happily at 12:30am. and we get out of bed and walk around and eat cheese and do dishes and play dinosaurs and bugs and read books and eventually i raise my voice because SWEETHEART ITS 3AM PLEASE STOP TICKLING MY ARM ON ACCIDENT OKAY I LOVE YOU IM SORRY I YELLED A LITTLE JUST NOW MAMAS JUST SUPER TICKLISH NIGHT NIGHT DONT TOUCH ME ANYMORE.

and then somewhere around 1:30am, the words start dancing around in my brain like unformed poetry.

i hope that he knows when i’m standing over our kitchen sink, it feels like i’m standing before the throne of God above. that the mountain of dirty dishes with scraped on food and liquids turned a liiiiiiittle solid represent the times we gathered together in silliness and holiness and deep hunger. i hope when he sees that abandoned laundry basket, i was probably saying yes to my nature boy. and i hope he knows every time i chose laundry over playing outside, it was the joy of my life to fold tiny pants. i hope i convey that the kingdom of God sometimes begins over our stove, simmering and melting and popping and sizzling and promising something greater. i hope he knows that when i crawl out of bed with him after midnight, barefoot, i’m somehow hoping he’ll be comfortable enough to wake me up if he’s 15 and needing it. i hope we are his very first example of trying and failing and being redeemed, fully, as we are. i really hope he sees all of our flaws and our humanity and our dirty dishes and clutter and comprehends that we are all still perfectly fine. i hope our first home begins his love of both deep solitude and rich community. i hope we are conveying there is magic in the mundane.

you might’ve read all those words once before, and i know you’ll read them again. but they were inside and now they’re out where i needed them to be. that’s all of it. i’m a mama and a wife and a sister and a daughter and a friend and a very occasional writer and a regret-filled singer and a part-time wedding reception dancer and i worry and i hope and i finally did my dishes last night.

old lunch and tiny undies and a library card and always chatting. extraordinary magic indeed.

in my life i love you more.

dear Grammy,

today you have been known on this earth for 98 years. this Christmas will make 5 years since i last held your hands and told you it was okay to go see your family and your Maker. of course i’m already crying a little.

today i took care of my own baby and a sweet friend of ours. my morning started before 5am, and now i’m feeling the kind of tired where i don’t remember much about my day. i wonder, in your 93 years, how many days you felt this way. i think it might be easier to count how many days you didn’t feel this way. i understand now how you gave until you had nothing left.

i rested while they took a nap, and i felt guilty about it. there was (and still is) so much that needed to be done. laundry and dishes and the dried yogurt on our wood floors and toys scattered everywhere. i did the math and realized that i should probably close my eyes while they, too, were still and quiet. but i’m not sure i ever fully fell asleep. i understand now why it was hard for you to rest.

i have a 3-year-old now, and he would make you laugh so hard. we would probably butt heads in the ways you would try and spoil him, if you were here with us. but i like to think that you would see your own boys in him. he has their widow’s peak when his hair is short. (it’s hardly ever short now, and i wonder how mad you would be that it gets in his eyes.) the majority of my days are spent combing his sweet hair over to the side with my fingers. i understand now why all your boys had the same haircut.

i still wear your aprons for hours on end, and i’m still happiest when i can feed the people i love. sometimes i cook when i’m lonely and need something familiar. sometimes i cook when i’m overwhelmed and need the smell of garlic and onions and butter to remind me what i know is true. sometimes i cook because i want to be closer to someone. i understand now that you made poppyseed chicken because you wanted me to come around.

i have a son in Charlie and as close to a daughter as i possibly can in Scout. sometimes i’m gripped with a sense of panic that my boy will leave one day and not look back. where will i go when i’m not a mama every day? who will i be if he stops calling? i know those answers lie somewhere in the future, but i find myself wishing for that guarantee he will always want to be my friend. i understand now the unbreakable bond you had with my mama.

i am seeing more and more how i hold people to an almost impossible standard. being someone that sees a lot and usually brings a unique perspective, my filter is blurred and often taking a personal day. i react in anger and annoyance and say the wrong thing nearly all the time. what i want to say, i say, and then i beat myself up for hurting the ones i love more than life itself. i understand now that even when you were hardheaded and fussy, you had a deep ocean of love in your heart.

the world is hard often and beautiful always. it is full of good and terrible things, and the balance of that threatens to topple us all over at any given moment. the same reasons i want to stay in bed forever make me get out of bed each morning. it’s our job as truthtellers and Good News advocates to never let that fear win. i understand now that your strength came when you had to be strong.

every lesson i learn as i grow points me to the people that helped me get there. you, my tough old codger, my feisty, memorable lady, my unforgettable Grammy, will always remain one of my truest Norths. i understand it all a little more now.

happiest birthday, and i love you more.

layney

there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

dear 2018,

greetings from one of your biggest fans and harshest critics! you were horrible! you brought devastating wildfires and displaced children and crisis and riots and picketing and loneliness and loss and more division than i’ve ever experienced in my precious country before. you personally made me and mine move 16 hours from home, and you didn’t let 2.5 different house offers go through before that. you provided more time outs, more sobbing, more homesickness disguised as toy throwing, more threats, more growing pains to my toddler cub child.

you saw people take their own lives rather than feel safe and free to confront their demons together. you couldn’t stop it. but you had to bear witness to it. we all did, utterly helpless in the aftermath. we saw lives lost both with old age and far too young age. and we couldn’t do anything more to change it. you saw a human race walk daily with freshly broken hearts.

you saw so many mass shootings and a nation divided on just about every partisan issue available. you saw 24-hour news networks anxious to be the very first to terrify us before we had wiped the sleep from our eyes.

you saw comments, millions of hateful comments, from lonely people trying to create newer, lonelier people on the internet. you also saw Twitter, which…just…ugh.

i can only say that you, dear 2018, saw us at some of our most isolated. for a world that claims to be more connected than ever, we all certainly saw the most disconnection. you almost had us all convinced that electronics are a good replacement for eye contact.

but you know what else? you saw a movement where certain unspeakable predators finally received their comeuppance. the promise of some healing and change and hope for our future might endure.

you saw some awful religious fervor represented, yes, but you also saw some of the very best. deep, peaceful kindness. people doing God’s work out of love and gratitude for this great earth and the One who created it.

you saw men and women celebrating days, weeks, months, and years of sobriety. you were there for every chip received. or maybe you just saw them finally admitting there was a problem. that might be one of the bravest things of all.

you saw so many new books written and published and purchased from actual stores. because 2018! isn’t it wonderful that bookstores and libraries still exist? and we, as a society, keep demanding more and more words to be written? isn’t that the most miraculous thing? that we love to read and feel the magical connection of stories.

and museums. 2018, we all saw something new preserved and archived and documented because we recognize the importance of remembering. maybe we framed a child’s artwork. maybe the Guggenheim recognized a bigger child’s artwork. but we all worked to preserve what we know matters.

you saw babies being born and taking their first steps and hitting their siblings and throwing their food. you saw those in the waiting and grieving and hoping and enduring. you saw rainbow babies born. you saw home studies being done and red tape finalized and paper pregnant mamas and daddies going across the world to hug their babies for the very first time.

for every mass shooting, you saw people running into the danger. you saw heroes being born of terror and more courage than they knew they had. just because their fellow man needed them.

you saw dance parties and screaming song lyrics and an absolute refusal to let hate and fear win. you saw joy at its very best defiance, and you showed up every single morning and night with a chance to pause and a chance to begin again. well, i say you did that, but i feel God really gets the full credit for the sun and the moon.

2018, you were just stupid hard. you really were. like your cousins 2017, 2016, 2015, and, well, i guess everything since The Good Ole Days in the 50’s when were we were only afraid of the Russians and smallpox outbreaks.

but you were good, too, like all of your cousins. even on the very worst of days, the good of it all prevailed. The Trenches only expanded and provided even more comfortable seating for all of us on the 24-hour shift. the solidarity was like hot coffee most days.

so thank you for being. and tell this cousin we’re all about to meet tomorrow to get ready. she’s never seen a force of love like us before. we hope she’s agreeable from the start, but we’re braced with our thicker skin, more determined resolve and fuller hearts either way.

for auld lang syne, my dear 2018.

sincerely,

layne and the rest of the world.

you know that gift card you got at Christmas? use it to buy gmorning! goodnight! by my BFF and Charlie’s godfather, Lin-Manuel Miranda.

and be in my heart.

few things do i love more than busting up an anxiety machine. (for the record, i picture them as fallen At-Ats.) you know that fear and love line on Donnie Darko? i live for changing those decisions from fear to love. you want to eat all organic? yes! do it! but do it because it makes your body feel wonderful. don’t do it because you don’t trust corporations. choose to homeschool, public school, nature school, or unschool your babies? do it! but do it because your heart beats fully with the curriculum there. don’t do it because you don’t trust the system you aren’t using. whatever choices you face, choose your path because you see God in them. the outcome won’t change, but, oh! the fear will.

i was in a Christmas store at the magic kingdom last week. a boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old with a thick Jersey accent said, “mom! mom! come here. look at this. look! chip and dale? Jewish. Jewish! i had no idea. but look. they’re on an ornament. Jewish! i had no clue.” he was so happy. so childlike and excited and awe-struck and bumfuzzled. who knew? chip and dale are Jewish, just like he was. later i saw them eyeing the dreidels i always want to buy. i wished him a happy hannukah in my mind and tried to etch the memory of his voice on my heart. okay, God. i see You there.

days later, i was waiting in line for an elevator in a veeeeeery busy area of Disney Springs. after a few minutes of waiting, it was only me and several groups of adults with their elderly parents. some were in wheelchairs, some were being held on the arms of their grown children. i missed my Grammy with everything in me and felt the memory of all those times i helped her get somewhere. as another wheelchair was rolled near the elevator, a man pushing his dad told the newcomers, “good luck. if they’re under 30, you’re not getting on.” i piped up (i always pipe up.) “good news! i’m 31!” and we all laughed together. then we piled on an elevator that beeped we were too heavy, and everyone was happy. i’ll never see a one of them again, but, okay, God. i see You again.

i went into the most crowded Sephora i guess i’ve ever seen. (in their defense, i try to avoid that wonder gallery as much as i can. i have to limit my exposure to all of that self-care glory because i wish i had a million dollars. hot dog!) it was PACKED. i kept my horse blinders on as much as possible. Saturday Skin and to the register. don’t stop at Jo Malone. don’t pass go. don’t collect $200 and spend it directly in Sephora. while i was speed walking to the register, one of the workers reached across me to get something for a customer. it was a near clothes-lining that ended with us face-to-face. alll the personal space invaded. she immediately apologized profusely, and i joked, “it’s fine! did you want to just hug?” a huge smile spread on her face as she said, “YES. LETS.” and, y’all, we hugged like reunited sisters. it was love. big, big love. she said, “ohhhhhh. thank you. this made my day.” and the line in front of me immediately started to move. i think i smiled for 30 minutes straight after that. okay, God. that time i actually felt You.

war on Christmas? check.

generation gap? check.

stranger danger? check.

alright, God. i see You.

the kids are alright.

and another 3 anxiety machines bite the dust.

and i’m never gonna care about my bad reputation.

you know that thing about how kids listen to everything you say? yeah, that’s true. that’s really, really true. that’s not a myth. that happens, like, a lot. tonight i got out of bed and Charlie asked, “you gonna go use the neti pot?” I said that, yes, i was, and he replied, “alright. you feelin’ sick?” i told him that physically i felt fine, but it’s a good idea to keep your sinuses rinsed. then i pointed out all the sinuses on his face. and, y’all, we’ll talk again about sinuses tomorrow. he’ll have questions. he always has questions.

while i was using my neti pot, i heard him ask his dad why it was important to cry (benjamin button disease, i tell you.) and i could only catch small responses from john like, “adrenal glands” and “tear ducts” and “hormone releasing” and nary a word of argument or boredom coming from our 2-year-old. he’s my observer. he’s my learner. he’s also the child of two medical nerd parents. so, for like 6 months now, he’s described body aches as his nipple hurts. why? i don’t know. except one time he wanted to know what those circles on his body were called. alright then. i thought it was a one-time convo, but it took. he couldn’t count to 20, but he could tell you when his nipple hurt.

i didn’t know that by giving birth you also inherit an occasionally rude parrot. my particular parrot doesn’t have a sneaky bone in his body. so, when he overhears 2 family members (cough mom and Jill cough) use the word “shut up” a week apart from each other, huzzah! a new favorite phrase is born! (in their very weak defense, mom was talking to an automated telemarketer and jilly was reading a chapter book out loud and forgot not everyone in the car was over 6 and discerning.)

he doesn’t know what it means, but he knows that it’s not okay to say. so far he’s never said it in anger. he just thinks it’s a knee-slapper, regardless of what his parents continually say. in fact, his toys go to time out almost daily for saying it. (it’s always nice when you get to completely remove the benefit of the doubt.) but there’s just something about that phrase that works for him. which means weekly we go through a battle of, “hey! mama! guess what. my say shuh up.”

“baby, listen to me. that word is not funny anymore. it’s unkind and we don’t say it, okay?”

“uhhhhh okay shuh up.”

“what’d you just say?”

“my say shuh up.”

its ongoing, y’all. and here’s the best part: never forget how obvious my boy is. he, quite unfortunately for him, inherited my ability to face punishment head-on. he will not steal a bag of cookies and eat them. but he will wait patiently until you see him slow motion reaching for the cookie bag, grab it, and run into the other room, slamming the door. he LOVES the chase. he loves the disobedience. and he will wait oh-so-patiently for a responsible adult to see him break the rules. he was little, y’all, LITTLE and saying things like, “mommy, my not obey. me no good guy.” before he broke a rule. pleeeeeenty of heads up. honestly, i think i’ll be grateful for it in the long run. we’re big on honesty around these parts. (read the above paragraphs, if’n you doubt that.) i cannot think of a scenario where i lied to my parents growing up. on the flip side, i can think of many times i’ve told some very rotten, far too blunt and painful truths though. it’s definitely a bittersweet character trait. but i still prefer all the cards on the table, open face sandwich truth-tellers.

which leads me to my last story. his favorite and my most mortifying pastime. some polite, wonderful, helpful stranger will say something like, “hi, cutie! how are you?”

“my fine tank you. how you? mommy, my say shuh up.”

“aw, what’d he say?”

“oh! oh, he said he’s fine thank you.” dagger looks.

“and shuh up.”

“he’s fine.”

“shuh up.”

“thank you. excuse us. have a wonderful day.”

“shuh…..up.”

WHY, YALL. WHY. i wish i could pinpoint this one conversation to one time. but it’s like 10 different memories where he gets the same smile on his face before he says it. and, the thing is, in his mind, he hasn’t even said it yet. it’s a heads up. hey, ma, get a load uh this. i’m about to say that word that gets me in a heap of trouble. here it is. it’s a’coming. i think you’re gonna love it this time. aaaaaaand away. we. go.

shuh up.