Tuesday, August 31, 2010


There are moments when you see in one glance the complex, awkward and profound thoughts that swirl in your child's head and you recognize them as your own complex awkward and profound thoughts, filtered through yet another layer of genes, DNA and experience.

There are moments when you are fully humbled by the wide world that is in front of your child, and by their ability to confront it with courage, with a quiet inner strength that is scared beyond measure and determined to go face the scary anyway.

There are moments when you see with piercing clarity the individual your child has become: the growth in their limbs is matched by the growth of their heart and the stretching of their mind.

There are moments when the fog lifts, and you see the fragile exquisite human that your child is, and how their heart matches your heart in so many ways. You see, and you know, how their heart crumbles when they feel they've gotten it wrong, when they feel they've been misunderstood, when they want nothing more than to make it right.

There are moments, a few rare brief and beautiful moments when the crushing knowledge of all that you must do as a parent is bathed in the light of a late summer morning - and the knowledge becomes a gift instead of a burden.

There are moments when you would like nothing more than to capture a few snapshots of a happy Back to School Morning, and instead you glimpse the depths and the heights of what it is to parent. Of what it is to have an almost-eight-year-old own your heart in a million ways. Of what Grace is.

I found all this in the face of my girl yesterday morning, and I am so profoundly grateful.

There are moments when you want to see the ordinary, and instead you find grace.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Affair

I'm starting an affair.

You don't need to hide your shocked faces. It's ok. In the spirit of over-sharing that is the hallmark of this blog, I thought I'd just come clean and let you all know at once.

Mr NilsenLife knows about it, and is incredibly supportive, if a bit worried about how it'll play out. My kids know about it, and as with most things I decide, they figure if Mommy thinks it's smart, they'll go along with the plan. My parents know too. They think it's the right thing for my family.

So: I'm starting an affair - an affair with homeschool.

I flirted heavily with homeschool last year. In fact, I think it's safe to say that homeschool and I got to third base: I bought a full curriculum, notified the school, made lesson plans. But at the last minute, I chickened out.

I couldn't go through with it. It's risky behavior - dare I say transgressive? Maybe not so much anymore. Maybe lots of people are doing it and as usual I'm late to the swingin' party.

When I tell friends about it, the 'holy moly, I thought this girl was sane!' thought bubble pops up momentarily. Then they smile and say "I'm sure you can do it. I'm just not the kind of person who could ever do that." They're not judging; rather, they're worried about me. They're concerned that I don't know what I'm getting into. They worry about what it'll do to my family.

But the allure of homeschool... so seductive. Slow mornings in pajamas, school outside at the picnic table on nice days, allowing time in the schedule for snow storms or beautiful spring afternoons, field trips every week if we want. We will indulge a small scientist's fascination with The Way Things Work, we will examine the Walters Art Gallery at our leisure, away from the weekend crowds, and we will take a tour of the fire station.

Everyone knows affairs have their dark side. Knowing you're flouting conventions, always wondering if you're doing the right thing: all of this will arise I'm sure. Perhaps by missing kindergarten in a classroom, my boy-child may be deprived of the experience of a lifetime. Who knows.

What I do know is that I don't enter into this without thought, without some serious prayer. I am following a mother's heart, and much of what's in my head backs my heart up. I have a little guy who isn't quite ready to sit in circle time and listen. A bright boy who is incredibly curious, incredibly thoughtful, and convinced it is not his right to demand any attention. A small boy, born with a full head of hair and a serious expression - both make him seem more grown up than he is. A boy who's learned to disappear in the noise and stress of a houseful of people - a boy who deserves his moments in the sun with Mom.

He will make his way in the world. He will do beautifully in school when he gets there. But for one short beautiful season in his life, he will be allowed to be just Lars.

I'm getting involved in this thing for my boy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I had a chat with a friend of mine today, about God-given gifts. I do believe we are given these gifts by the Divine. And then I sort of think that the Divine sits back, grabs a cold beverage, and waits to see what we'll do with them. (Rooting for us all the way, of course.) Let's just say I don't believe that the Gifts come with receipts for exchange or return.

So. God-given gifts. Turns out my gift is the capacity for great love. (Not great lovin'. Although maybe that too. I just haven't had enough wine to blog about it.)


Great Love.

This is the space in your heart to love someone - be it spouse or friend or sibling - with the depth and breadth of all emotion. Maybe it could be described as Super Loyalty: an unfailing belief in my people, regardless of missteps, ill-chosen words or outfits, even the most awkward of moments. (What? Kiss me and then vomit on my new shoes? No, I'm sure you didn't. I don't remember that at all!)

But this capacity for love can be crippling. Because to love that much? It hurts. And it is never more painful than when you are watching those you love grow, change, and do all the painful things that humans must do to become more - to get bigger according to the Existential Size Chart of The Universe. It hurts to be along for the ride, even if you're not the one doing the growing that particular day. Did I ever tell y'all about the year I grew 8 inches and woke many nights with searing pain in my limbs, as I literally felt my legs stretch into a 34" inseam? These are the same searing pains, just in your heart.

But equally, when you experience love this deeply, you will also live with transcendent joy. You will feel the moments of gut-busting pride, the seconds of evanescent enchantment when happiness trumps all, when dark and sad and bleak become mere grease stains on the hem of delight's napkin.

Come Monday, I will put my eight year old on the bus. I will send her to a new teacher, and trust my girl's sensitive loving heart to go out in the world and come back intact. Then, I will take my five year old and my two year old by the hand and we will walk a trail and look for the first signs of autumn, and I will show them "how this life became a miracle to me."

I came across this Dar Williams song this week - a friend posted it and commented that ''this is for all those parents sending their child out into the world this week."

Again and again the chorus muses "so when they ask how far love goes/ When my job's done, you'll be the one who knows."

This is what I do with my gift: I show them how far love goes.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting clean

Had to take last week off, but we're back on track with The Red Writing Hood this week.  Today the assignment is "writing a first-person piece about [...] taking a shower - without using a personal pronoun." Egads, thought I.  The personal pronoun is the blogger's BFF! What is one to do?  Sit down of an evening, and bash out her best effort, that's what one is to do.  Here ya go peeps - Description.

Getting Clean

Cranking the hot water faucet with an impatient twist of the wrist.  Stupid plumbing.  Stupid old house.  Stripping the sweaty running shirt off, then the sports bra, the shorts, the rank socks, the grimy shoes.  Gotta get new running shoes.  Sigh.

Tweaking the cold water, just an eigth-inch: hard lessons have taught that otherwise it turns more refreshing than God or a health teacher ever intended.  Hopping in, over the 42 cups stacked just so, the firefighter rubber duck, the sandpail making a mysterious appearance in the tub.  Eyeing the old fiberglass shower stall, irritated.  Stupid bathroom.  Stupid old ugly bathroom.

Eyes to the ceiling, water streaming through eyelashes, eyelids shut tight.  Too tight.  Shutting out the noise from Elmo downstairs, the banging washing machine - that can NOT be right - the weeping of a toddler on the steps.  Shutting out thoughts of calls to be made, appointments to be kept, bills to be paid.

With eyes shut tight the tan fiberglass tub and its raised sunray pattern disappears.  With eyes shut tight the Costco-sized shampoo becomes the fancy volume building 'product' that once made a difference, the Cetaphil becomes the facial scrub that used to be ritually applied with a 2" square of muslin, the body wash doesn't have a disturbing scent of Berry Blast or a cap designed as a dolphin mutant.

With eyes shut tight there is no self.  No aging skin to be examined, no belly pudge to be avoided, no piercing scars to sigh over.  There is a human, a sweaty naked real human in the middle of streams of water, forgetting self.  Forgetting for six minutes that she is anything but body, water,  more body, more water.

That, that, is getting clean.

Oil & Vinegar

It's a good thing this ol' blog is a typed out thing.  Because at the moment I'm biting my tongue.  Biting my tongue and not saying the mean and vicious things that I want to SCREAM at my beautiful, bright and constantly bickering children. 

It's the oldest two in particular:  Miss C is almost 8 and as frilly feminine as they come.  She loves dolls, dresses, and writing long stories about the Revolutionary War and the wives those soldiers left at home. (I kid you not.)  Mr Lars is 5, and All Boy.  If he knew what snips and snails were, or had access to puppy dog tails, he'd be all over those.  As it stands, he's been obsessed with machines, tools, building and mechanics since before he could walk. To him, happiness is the chance to mow the lawn with his dad.

They are oil and vinegar.  Gas in a diesel engine.   Sunscreen and eyeballs.  Anything you can think of that doesn't mix well - those are my kids. 
Now they can play beautifully with other children - on playdates, or with cousins, the play is happy, considerate, imaginative.  They are able to involve opposite genders in their play, and are so gifted at finding ways to include, to incorporate, to facilitate. 

When asked to play together for 30 minutes, there is excellent money to be made on a bet that it'll end in tears, shouting, screeching, or - more typically - all of the above.

Deceptively cute.  So deceptive.

I am ill with jealousy when I hear stories of other siblings who get along well.  Siblings who will make up elaborate games of make believe, will troop through the yard on adventures together, will snuggle in bed and let the elder read them all a story. 

Not at our house.  The sibling rivalry has reached fever pitch, to the point where if one claims to love say, watermelon, the other will swear a jihad on all melons until he/she takes their dying breath.  If one child finds a certain bedtime story scary, the other will deliberately choose it every night.   If one sibling does something uniquely noteworthy, the other will find the snidest thing possible to say, even if they know it'll earn them a session on the timeout step.

Just now, I sent them both to their rooms.  I couldn't bear to hear one more whine, one more exasperated 'LAH-RUS!', one more slap fight.   I'm done.  I'm out of ideas. 

So I'm asking you to help me out here.  I've gone ahead & lowered the veil, shown you the dark side of NilsenLife, and I genuinely need a good solution.  I have an abiding and profound affection for my two brothers, and would love to be laying the foundation for that with my children.  But right now?  I think I'll be doing well to get them both to 18 without permanent bodily harm inflicted.

Got any tips?  Any bright ideas that your parents used for you and your siblings - that you do with your kids?  NOW WOULD BE THE TIME TO SHARE, PLEASE.  Thankyouverymuch.

I Might Lock Them Up Otherwise

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Big Reveal

Patent leather. 

Say that to almost any female of a certain age, and immediately she'll conjure images of party shoes, of shiny church shoes with a neat little strap over their arch, and ruffly socks.   Pretty.  Shiny.  Special.  Patent leather, people.  

They're high - a solid 3" at least, and let me tell you, at nigh on six feet I really don't need the extra inches (ba dum dum), but it sure is fun.  A platform toe, a nice line to the heel... we're talking a really beautiful shoe.  For bonus points, there is (I kid you not) Nike Air technology in the heel which may or may not make me want to bust out in a jog on the way into church.

Some of my most faithful readers may remember the long-ago posts about my quest for the perfect black shoe (Part I here, and Part II here).  What most of you won't know is that the search has continued for two long years.  Two years, people!

I finally broke down & made the commitment this week.  I hear you fashionistas out there sucking your teeth and thinking 'Really?  TWO YEARS to come up with these?'  Let's just say I don't enter into a shoe purchase lightly or unadvisedly.

Finally, order is restored to the Universe, and NilsenLife can continue its little orbit.   Kirsten's got herself a new pair of shoes.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sneaky Words

Lately I've been thinking about words.

Duh, you say.  Isn't that what you writer people think about all the time?  Isn't that what you, like, DO?

Well, yeah.  But I mean I've really been thinking about words.  Sneaky little bastards.

See, words can let you down. The words, they hang back when you want 'em most.  They play coy when you really need them to put on a big show, to SAY exactly what you want them say.  You stumble over them,  they twist up in your ankles and make you feel clumsy, inept, inarticulate.

Like small naughty children, they run away from you.  Or, they can get all stopped up in your head like a toddler refusing to potty train, and then, hoo boy - all hell can break loose when they finally do get out. Everyone around for a 40 foot radius is sorry when that happens.

The words, they hang around in your head doing gymnastics:  first carefully choreographed into this sentence, then into that one, then flipped around with all the words in different order. Then, pile 'em all up and watch them collapse into a heap of garbled nonsense when it's time for the big show.

Sometimes, sometimes, the words play double agent.  They attack with slicing dicing precision,  they say exactly what you had in your head, they escape with a will of their own, and wreak surgically accurate havoc.  Before you know it, you've scorched the territory around you with the words you used, so helpless were you in their power-driven onslaught.  Betrayed, you are - betrayed by the megalomaniacal words.

But oh, the mystical moments of transcendence:  the fleeting seconds when the words become your lovers, do your bidding, understand your every intention, want to please.  They band together, they create something so much bigger than they are individually.  They create chemistry, magic, intoxication.   They bare your heart in all the right places, they lift you up beyond yourself, make you know what it is to be Better.

This is why we write, us writing people.  Looking for those words that make us - and you, when you read them - Better.  Bigger.  Best.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

You want my whole world, in one photo? Here you go.
(Don't those Nilsens scrub up good?)

Monday, August 9, 2010

You make me laugh

Maniacal giggling as they scheme to overturn their grandpa's float in the pool.

Happy shrieks as they chase the Westie around and around and around in circles.

Silly guffaws as Daddy slays them with ridiculous knock knock jokes. 

Sly chuckles as someone wonders if they'll get busted breaking the rules of Candy Land.

Snickers from the adults as a series of entirely inappropriate double entendres get tossed above the kids' heads.  

Uproarious, gut-aching laughing at the dinner table as we remember stories of other childhoods, of other grandparents now gone, of other family vacations together.

I posted a few months back about wondering where my sillies had gone.  I found 'em this week.  They were right here - right with the same 3 kids that I scold all week to pick up laundry, hang up towels, and take dishes to the sink.  My sillies were right here in the minivan on a 12-hour drive that could only be survived through fits of giggles and a suspension of all seriousness.  They were right here with my husband, snorting with laughter late in the night as we tripped over small bodies in sleeping bags to get to our bed.  They were right here with my second grade girl as she and I swam like seals and slipped on our bellies on top of pool floats, off into the water.   There were here with my aunt and I as we traded dirty jokes about yoga poses and ended up laughing hysterically. They were here with my uncle's dry wit, my dad's tragic puns, and my own quirky take on the world. 

Yep, that's right.  I found my sillies. 

My grandmother,  profoundly wise woman that she was, would often wipe her eyes after a good chuckle, and say "it's no laughing matter, but its no matter if you laugh."  I can't offer anyone the recipe for success, the no-fail technique for a happy life.  But I have the most distinct hunch that a crowd that can laugh - laugh so hard your sides ache and tears squeeze out of your eyes - is a crowd that can make it through most things.  

"You make me laugh." - it's ultimate compliment around here.

This post is linked to Bridget Chumbley's One Word at a Time blog carnival on Laughter.  How could posts on that be hard to read? Go check 'em out!!

Friday, August 6, 2010


it's Saturday morning, and NilsenLife is late again. It's the time of the week when we stretch our creative writing muscles over there at Red Writing Hood, and this week's assignment was a narrative poem about family dynamics. Better late than never, right?



you had orange juice. i had coffee.
we sat at the breakfast table, you and i.
like every morning for forty six years
we sat and the sun poured in onto our chilly hearts.

you had orange juice. i had coffee.
we sat at the breakfast table, you and i.
you stared into the woods
i stared into the street, watching neighbors kiss morning goodbyes.

you had orange juice. i had coffee.
we sat at the breakfast table, you and i.
you pushed papers across the table, and said
i think it's time.

you had orange juice. i had coffee.
we sat at the breakfast table, you and i.
i stared into the woods with you, and said
yes. i think it's time.

you had orange juice. i had coffee.
we sat at the breakfast table, you and i
like every morning for forty six years
and agreed we were done.


**UPDATE: please remember with all this creative writing that it's fiction. Mr NilsenLife & I are doing just fine, thanks. (And, we've not been married for even half of 46 years!)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Swimming Laps

If twelve hours in the car with 3 small children and their grandma, way too many snack food products and driving through the night fueled by coffee doesn't leave you in need of a dip in the pool, I don't know what will.

I slipped into the cool water intending just to swim a few laps. For the first few strokes my triceps and biceps moaned loudly about how old I'm getting, I decided this was a terrible idea, I thought I might as well stop there in the middle and start doing old-lady water aerobics. It took the next few strokes to silence the chatter of voices in my head - all of the 'should dos' and 'why didn't I's' slunk quietly away.

stroke stroke stroke breathe..... stroke stroke stroke breathe...... stroke stroke stroke breathe.

the habit, the rhythm, the cadence of the stroke took over, and my muscles repeated the movement over and over, up and down. I wasn't counting laps, or speed, or time. Just swam up and down the pool, over and over.

stroke stroke stroke breathe..... stroke stroke stroke breathe...... stroke stroke stroke breathe.

I watched the sun refract at the bottom of the pool into a million watery squares, like so many scales of a rainbow fish.

stroke stroke stroke breathe..... stroke stroke stroke breathe...... stroke stroke stroke breathe.

I registered with a shock this was the first time I'd swum more than ten uninterrupted laps in close to ten years. I thought about how much time I've spent in the water in my life, how many hours, and then thought about how few hours I've spent by myself in the water recently.

stroke stroke stroke breathe..... stroke stroke stroke breathe...... stroke stroke stroke breathe.

Treading water - that's what I've been doing. I've spent my recent years treading water - working my arms and legs as hard as they'd go, keeping my head above water, keeping my focus on what needs to happen next. Treading water isn't the same as floating - treading water is work. It's a holding pattern, with a distinct subtext of survival in there.

stroke stroke stroke breathe..... stroke stroke stroke breathe...... stroke stroke stroke breathe.

But in recent months I've been.... surfacing. Not working so hard to stay in one place. I've been getting ready to swim: to strike out in new directions with long strong strokes. Turns out the strokes are second nature to me - I haven't forgotten how to do it.

stroke stroke stroke breathe..... stroke stroke stroke breathe...... stroke stroke stroke breathe.

The long brown arm that crooks high above my head and then slices back into the water stops being part of my body and instead beckons as it hovers above me for a second, then propels as it pulls underneath me.  'C'mon - this way!' it says. 'Keep moving' it says 'you'll get there.'

stroke stroke stroke breathe..... stroke stroke stroke breathe...... stroke stroke stroke breathe.

Fifty minutes later I flipped over on my back and floated in the baking August sun. Closed my eyes, pointed my face to the sky, and smiled as I floated. I'm not treading water: these days, I'm swimming.
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