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The woman who marries my son Noah will have a life filled with the type of love that can (literally) knock you off your feet.

But for now, I am the lucky woman who has his heart; and I love that when we go out, he still reaches for my hand.

Noah is sweet, gregarious, smart, renowned for his giggle-fits and bad jokes (the two often go together); he is musically talented in a scary sort of way, he loves the theater and singing opera in the shower; and he is my only child who not only enjoys running with Mom but whose goal it is to run a marathon with Mom someday.

Noah and I went out together alone on Saturday. We arrived at the Christmas Market before the booths were open, so naturally, we found a coffee shop to pass the time. Noah was thrilled to have a Coke at 9:30 a.m. and vastly amused by our table, which had coffee beans under its glass top.

I wanted to capture the moment by snapping a self-portrait, and with typical Noah-flair, he wrapped his arms around my neck and planted a big, wet smooch on my cheek as the shutter clicked.

Noah does nothing halfway.

His life is either glorious or devastating. His room is either an IKEA showroom or a garbage dump. His siblings are either his best friends or his worst enemies.

There is a distinct lack of middle ground with this kid, which calls for a bit of ingenuity as a parent and diplomatic skills that could qualify me for work in an embassy somewhere.

In a sense, I am an ambassador to my children, bridging the cultural gaps between the State of Adulthood and that Independent Territory of Children.

This is not to say I have to give in to their demands, after all, I wouldn’t want to feed them Swedish Fish for lunch and Mac-n-Cheese for dinner every night. But I can value their young lives and show respect for their opinions (even when I think they’re wrong). And although I am still a work in progress, I can show them what I think adulthood should look like and admit it when I fail.

The love of my children is one of the most precious things in my life. And when you have an all-or-nothing child, the stakes become critically high.  

My Noah.

I can’t imagine this house without his infectious laughter or facing the day without his bear hugs. I am the love of his tender nine year-old life.

In my thirty-eight years, it is the best gift I could possibly have received.

His love is worth giving my all.

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Whimsical. Sparkly. Magical. Funny. Bubbly. Beautiful. Pink.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think of my youngest daughter. And on her birthday, the adjectives are amplified beyond description.

She was awake this morning (who knows how long), and when she heard the house stir, she put on a party dress and entered the birthday room. There were polka-dot packages, which matched her boldly polka-dotted dress, shiny (pink) ribbons, shiny (pink) baloons, and a cake with that magical sweetness that only ripens on a child’s birthday.

Libby brings so much joy to my life, it seems my heart can’t bear the fullness of it. Which is why it is all the more odd to recall that when she was born, I wasn’t sure if I could love her as much as I loved the other children.

Everything had been going smoothly. My mother-in-law arrived in Alaska, and twelve hours later we were on our way to the hospital. After three hours of labor, my delicate, 10 pound, meconium baby was rushed away, her lungs suctioned, and her head placed in an oxygen bubble.

When they brought her back to me 3 1/2 hours later, she didn’t seem familiar, as my other babies had. And it scared me to think that this baby in my arms would always be a stranger.

Of course I loved her. But would I love her so much that my heart would break with it?

It haunts me to think of it, but at the time, I wasn’t sure.

I know there are stories of mothers and infants clinging to life, and who are separated by medical necessity for days or weeks or months. But for me, 3 1/2 hours was long enough to make me wonder if my baby and I had missed something we could never get back.

I spent three days in my cozy hospital room, with limited visitors, nurses bringing great meals to my private room, and with plenty of time to get to know this new baby, who depended so completely on me.

By the time we walked through the door of our home, excited little kids bouncing off walls, Bushia’s home-cooked meal in the oven, with that tiny human, swallowed up by all things plush and pink, our hearts had been knit together for good.

The bonding had occurred, not as quickly as with the other three kids, but with that same familiar, unbreakable permanence.

God had a lot of women to choose from when deciding which one would have the honor of raising Libby.

I am thankful and grateful and completely humbled that out of all the mothers in the world, I am the one she calls Mama.

Happy Birthday My Darling Libby!

My plate is full of great things: Super-sized portions of field trips, a side of piano lessons, and heaps of delicious art classes, during which, Mama goes for coffee (and sometimes ice cream) with her friends.

Still, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. And to top it off, my skinny jeans are getting uncomfortable to wear (must be all that ice cream during art lessons) making it apparent I need to increase my weekly mileage. Oh yes, and I’m teaching writing seminars for the homeschool kids. And I’m going to write a novel this month. Plus there’s that little thing called homeschooling, where I’m SUPPOSED to be the teacher.

I love my life and the opportunities the kids and I have, but I wonder how I’ll get everything done.

The real problem is that for the past couple of months, most of our activities are an hour away. There’s no real solution or way around it, so I find myself spending 8 to 10 hours driving a week, and if you look closely at my kitchen floor and bathroom toilets, you’ll see the cost of the commute.

But here’s the thing: I can stay home and have a perfectly clean house, or I can provide valuable learning opportunities (and fun socialization) for my kids. There’s really no choice to be made–our lives are richer because of the activities and because of the people we get to be with while we’re doing cool things.

All of this means that in the next month, I have to be extremely dedicated to using my time wisely.

So, if you don’t see many funny quips on my Facebook page, don’t be alarmed. If I don’t answer emails right away, don’t call the Red Cross–I’m still here!

And though I will be driving way too much, I’ll also be running (before sunrise), writing (any chance I can get), living, laughing, drinking too much coffee, and loving my family.

All it takes is dedication.

But my house probably won’t pass a white glove test any time soon.

I didn’t know I was stressed until my husband tactfully encouraged me to go for a run.

The day was sunny, and the countryside was relatively quiet, but running wasn’t on the LIST for the day.

The dreaded LIST.

Dirty windows, dirty laundry, dirty floors…most things on the LIST needed soap and water, in one form or another. I HAD to get it done.

Why?

Because I thought it should all be done.

In reality, nobody else cared about the LIST. Sure windows are supposed to be clear, and not tinted with farm dust and kid-smudges.

But the children had clean clothes to wear, and as for the floor, well, nobody is crawling around on it anymore except for the dog, and he LIKES it dirty.

The stress of the LIST must’ve crept out over coffee somehow. Maybe it was the way I helpfully advised my husband as he made omelets for the six of us.

“Don’t use that pan.”

“You have the heat too high.”

“Can you use real eggs?”

“The heat is too high!”

“They’re not as fluffy as I make them.”

“You need more patience.”

“I told you the heat was too high.”

I don’t think I said “Thank you,” even once.

No wonder he suggested I go for a run.

Okay, so maybe he was just trying to get rid of me, but then he said something really nice.

He told the kids that when their mother goes for a run, all her stress bubbles just float away.

And I could just picture it: me running through the lovely Franconian countryside, a trail of muddy stress bubbles rising up from my head, or my heart, or wherever they hide, and dissipating far above in the atmosphere, where they couldn’t hurt anybody.

As for the LIST, it still has three items on it, but those things will be crossed off, one at a time, just after I go for a run.

Once a week, a little piece of my heart walks out the door and bikes over to the animal rescue farm, where she encounters giant beasts, rabid dogs, feral felines, and hungry crocodiles.

Okay, so maybe that last bit is purely in my imagination, but just the same, it’s been harder than I’d expected to give my girl such independence.

It’s not so much that she works around animals that could send her to the hospital with one strategically placed kick; but it’s the fact that my daughter has risen to the challenge with a horrifying amount of grace and maturity. 

Scary stuff, when your first princess grows up.

Parenting is all about a slow letting go: the giving of child-sized chunks of independence, which over time equip the child to become a responsible young adult.

It is what parents work towards; it is our goal; and sometimes it is almost too overwhelmingly beautiful to watch.

Some of you may have caught glimpses of these future adults the day they stepped onto the big yellow bus for the first time, without even looking back over their primary-colored rucksacks.

Others, while applying makeup to your daughter’s cute little face for a dance recital, have experienced the sort of flash-forward worthy of a “Lost” episode, when you catch a fleeting glimpse of the woman your girl will become.

Some of you may wonder how on earth it is possible that your son has suddenly, almost overnight, aged out of Gap Junior.  

Others have experienced that alien feeling when a child first asks for deodorant or cologne—or when you get the first pungent reminder of the necessity for such things.

When did this happen?

To see a child suddenly and joyfully find her own niche in life is satisfying but weird at times.

At 12 years old my daughter knows more about animals than I do. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake—I like to look at animals and occasionally pet them, but I don’t get bubbly over using a machete to chop up beets for the pigs; I do not know the clinical terminology for a cat who has lost urinary control; and I certainly do not want to examine an old cow udder before tossing it to the Akita.

My daughter has always wanted to become a veterinarian—that’s her thing. Every vet we’ve met has cautioned her, “It’s a lot of work, and a lot of schooling.”

But seeing my daughter revel in the manual labor required on a farm; to see the romance of horses replaced with respect and dedication; to watch my daughter behave wisely in a place where so much danger is apparent to me; I know she is fully capable of the hard work required to make her dreams come true.

I am so incredibly proud.

But with every step she takes away from me, another little piece of my heart goes with her.

I am in awe of this beautiful journey she is undertaking.

But it can be hard to watch.

When I was 18, I thought:

  • I wouldn’t get married until I was old–like in my 30s
  • I might have 1 child someday
  • my bachelors would take forever
  • I would love being a high school drama teacher
  • I had said goodbye to my beloved Europe forever
  • homeschooling was for cultists, who don’t allow females to wear makeup or blue jeans
  • “athletic” was a word that could in no way be associated with me
  • having kids drained the fun out of life
  • there’s no way a husband could also be a best friend

Nearly 20 years later, I find myself living way beyond my original life’s vision:

  • I married at 20
  • had 4 fabulous children
  • felt college breeze by, including the 2 years in the masters program
  • have great respect for public school teachers, but could not be bribed, drugged, or arm-wrestled into becoming one
  • hang my hat in Germany
  • teach all 4 of my kids at home and on the road, while wearing pants and makeup simultaneously
  • finished a marathon without an ambulance
  • laugh more with my kids than with any other group of people on the planet
  • have a friendship with my husband that grows deeper every day

I have a lot of goals, and I wonder if they will be met in the way I anticipate, or if life has something bigger in store for me.

In the future, I want to:

  • be published
  • make an actual income from writing
  • avoid cold, dark and snowy places at all costs
  • run an ultra marathon
  • do ten real push ups in a row (don’t laugh–it’s a dream of mine)
  • write more letters with paper & ink
  • learn a second foreign language
  • be less self-centered (I admit, blogging doesn’t help this)
  • improve the world in a meaningful way
  • travel to Africa
  • watch my kids soar
  • love my husband even more than I do at this moment

Twenty years from now, I wonder what I will think of my current goals–they seem pretty high to me.

No matter what our ages, we should all be dreamers. While gaining the prize is a wonderful thing, it is bravely pressing forward on the quest that matters most in the long run.

What goals (or misconceptions) did you have when you were 18?  I would really love to hear what they were!

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The things we love most are most often taken for granted: I hate when that happens.

When urgent matters, such as deadlines, jobs, or housework press in on us, something gets pushed aside. Our children learn to wait until mommy isn’t busy, which seems to be never. Our husbands walk the dog by themselves. Our dreams sit on the shelf collecting dust. The treadmill sprouts laundry in the basement.

We think, “Once I have time, I’ll deal with that, but not now. Not now.”

I have been neglecting just about everything I love lately, this blog, for example. I should know better than to write a post, such as the last one, where I am gung-ho about changing my life, because usually after such a high, I do a face-plant in the dirt.

It’s a pattern in my life I’d like to change.

I’ve come to realize, now that the marathon is over, this blog is becoming something more: it is a glimpse into the real life of a real person who strives to do better. And I screw up a lot.

My physical therapy has fallen by the wayside, which makes my knees hurt more, which makes me less inclined to do my exercises…

I have run exactly twice since my last blog—and each time was awesome. It was a thrill to wear my stained, smelly marathon shoes. I love those things, but I don’t get them dirty often enough these days.

I’d like to be the kind of person who ticks away steadily throughout life, but my life seems to go in jumps and spurts.

I need another marathon.

Marathon training gave me the daily self-discipline I needed—and I had no idea at the time how that translated into all areas of my life. The training made me more patient, kind, and loving. It increased my creativity, my energy, my closeness to God. I was a better mother, friend, writer and wife.

And now, I’ve fallen down again.

The good news is that I’m getting back up–I’m washing the dirt from my face and soaking my faults in stain-remover. I’m not the woman I want to be; and the only thing stopping me are the choices I make and the opportunities I overlook.

You don’t begin marathon training by running 26.2 miles. You start off almost ridiculously small, 2 or 3 miles, and increase until soon, you are running distances most people drive. But without faithfulness on the short runs, you’ll never make it through an entire race without an ambulance.

The smallest, most seemingly insignificant things matter most in the long run.