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The Middle Place

I realized something last night as I gathered cards that had been removed from Nella’s sight word key ring and scattered on the floor. I found “to” and “am” and “little,” but “go” was nowhere to be found.

“Who took GO? Where’s GO? NELLA! DASH! FIND GO! Your teacher made this for you–you can’t throw these all over the floor!” They disperse in search of “go,” lifting pillows and bending to look under furniture.

Here’s what I realized: I’m having the 7-Week Meltdown. After a baby, it meant that all those perfectly packed diaper bag and well-nested house days started giving way to running out of the house without diapers and fixing blowouts with Taco Bell napkins and tape. After school starts, it means well-stocked lunch treats and organized school supplies shifts into searching for clean underwear in the morning and missing sight word cataclysms.

“I’m drowning,” I told Brett last week, “it’s just too much–the driving, the appointments, the drop-offs, the homework, the house–it’s just not humanly possible to do it all, and yet it all needs to be done.” I’m edgy and overwhelmed.

I realize something else though, and that is that this is less about the 7-Week Meltdown and more about the sobering truth of  Week 1,980, what Kelly Corrigan calls The Middle Place. It’s about being a parent and a child at the same time–needing and being needed.

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My phone dings with a text early last week: “He’s gone–how hard he fought.”  My dad lost his brother–my precious Uncle Dale. A beloved peg has been removed in our family, and the invincible generation of our parents falls a notch. We are now the grown kids, not the grand kids. I join my cousins in grief and hold virtual hands all week through phone calls, through texts, through tears.

I make dinner, clean rooms, bake muffins, stumble over blocks and dinosaurs and Barbies scattered on the floor. I pick up sleepover friends, throw in a load of laundry, buckle a life jacket before she jumps into the pool with her sister. “Be careful,” I remind them.

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Later in the week, my phone dings again: “He’s here–how long we waited.” The photo of my friend’s first baby comes through–open eyes, tiny hands, that stretchy little hat I know so well. I remember it like it was yesterday. My friends are just beginning–so many joyful firsts before them.

I go through folders in the backpacks this weekend, tape their art to the refrigerator, briefly read through flyers before throwing them away. We read books, organize clothes, fold up things they’ve grown out of and tuck them into bags to be passed on to little friends. The introduction of my parenting book is over, and the relentless work of the middle place is here where rewards aren’t as shimmery as feeling newborn baby breath on my neck. And yet, they’re here, hidden in flower fields…

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…and beds laden with sunlight…

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…and Sunday morning muffins.

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When I taught fifth grade writing, there was a lot of hype over introductions–that’s your chance to grab the audience. Wow them! Pull them in! And conclusions? Your last opportunity to inspire your reader. My students got so good at writing riveting introductions and meaningful conclusions though, that the bulk of their papers–the meat! the words! the backup stories to hold everything in place!–was getting no love. We had to refocus our writing attention to remember that our middles–the most laborious part to write and yet the core of everything we want to say–needed substance, creativity and good stories.

I set my alarm clock for this morning–something I rarely do, but I want a few moments to myself to start the week. I wake up achy–no doubt, the result of pretzeling around Nella who climbed in bed with us last night–and subconsciously shovel coffee into the filter, pour water, push the button, careful not to make too much noise to disturb my sacred hour of alone time. I light a candle, wipe the counter and look down at the floor that hasn’t been vacuumed in days, and there it is–a small sight word card, freed from its key ring: “GO”. I found it.

I don’t have an answer for feeling overwhelmed right now. So I take my coffee into my office and start my day doing what I know how to do–show up.

I order a baby gift. I order flowers. For a welcome. For a goodbye.

Soon, the first of the three wakes up, and I hear Nella shuffling in her nightgown down the hallway to find me. She climbs in my lap and asks to look at pictures on my computer and comfortably settles in as I click through folder after folder–pictures of babies, toddlers, vacations, holidays, play dates, ordinary days–and the darkness fades outside. I feel her breath on my neck.

I will find time to make space for myself. I will wake up early, light candles and pour coffee. Call friends, get away, rest, read books, explore hobbies, remember I have a name outside of “Mom.” But right now, as another Monday begins with the weight of my girl on my lap and a slideshow of memories before me, I’m feeling grateful for this exhausting, demanding, infinitely beautiful middle place. Let it last, let it last, let it last.

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  1. This post!!
    It’s exactly what I needed Kelle, thank you.
    I hate the feeling of losing myself and often have mom guilt but your words always have a way of making me feel better.

    • EXACTLY. Kelle’s writing always seems to take the sharp edges off of myself that seem to come to light when I start to feel stressed or worried or that I am not enough.

  2. Wow! I love this post! I never usually comment but this was just awesome. It’s hard to find magic in the mundane, the middle…. But I think you are doing an amazing job at it! Have a great week Kelle!!

  3. Oh how I needed this today. I am drowning and couldn’t find my way out. Knowing I’m not alone, and naming this Middle Place is just what I needed to hear. I can do this. We can do this.

    Thank you, Kelle.

  4. I’ve just started my middle place and am floundering a bit saying good bye to my motherhood introduction. This growing up process never stops, does it? Glad to know I am not alone.

  5. Oh, how I needed this today. Full-time school (for myself…at 37 no less) and housework and homework and life has just been so overwhelming lately.
    Thank you.

  6. Thank you for reminding me how beautiful it all is when I too am feeling overwhelmed.

  7. Alla Umanskiy says:

    “There are no happy endings, endings are the saddest part
    So give me a happy middle and a very happy start..”

    Shel Silverstein

  8. Thank you for this! I have been feeling the same way lately. We are in the middle place and after a big move this summer it seems even more daunting! Thank you for your words and perspective. Now I am going to take a deep breath, make some tea and get back to the middle of things.

  9. Mandi Wilhelm says:

    Love this!! And FYI…I have been feeling this same way. Hired a house cleaner for every other week and it has changed my life. Haha

  10. Katie smith says:

    I also needed to read this today! Thanks for being so honest, and also reminding us to look for the the silver lining and beauty in the challenging times. It’s so easy to get wrapped up, overwhelmed and stressed out. Thank you for reminding me how lucky I am, Kelle! You are such a talented writer.

  11. Thank you. I needed this. I’ve been losing sight of the things in the middle. I feel like my little grew up while we weren’t watching. We were preparing instead: IEPs, therapies, playdates to get preK ready. Last week I had enough. The preK looked at me with soft eyes, momma, play?? She rarely gets these calm quiet 1pm moments with me because let’s face it, I’m shuffling her to an extra therapy or appointment. And in the moment, I cried, picked up the phone and canceled. Speech can wait, mommy needs this more than you need speech today. And it may have been my favorite day of the week playing and pretending and laughing our faces off before a nice long afternoon nap from everyone. Finding peace in the middle place is the best.

  12. I’m never disappointed when I take a moment to read your post. I often find myself thinking – me too! Thank you for sharing your heart. I too am a grown kid caught in the middle place with my own littles, hoping it lasts long. Much love to you and yours.

  13. “We are now the grown kids, not the grand kids.” Wow — such a powerful description!

  14. Beautiful. My Mom got up at 4:00 a.m., when all of us kids (11) were at home ~ ~ she said it was the only time she had to herself. HA!! I don’t know how she did it.

    xo

  15. Loved this, but made me very teary so early in the morning. I’ve been feeling very “in the middle” of my parenting journey lately and waver back and forth between wanting to rejoice at how far we’ve come to wanting to cry for how quickly it’s gone. :( My “little” boy is sitting right on the edge between childhood and teenagedom at the moment and moves back and forth between these stages multiple times a day. It’s both beautiful and sad to watch at the same time.
    Such a hard, but rewarding job…raising people. I’m just not ready for it to end and I feel like that time is coming too fast. *Sigh*…should’ve read this AFTER my coffee today, lol!

  16. Angela Obrien says:

    Thank you for your words today. They really spoke to me. I feel like I am still in the middle place but barreling toward the ‘end’ (does it ever really end?) with a freshman and a 6th grader. It seems as if the years start speeding up the older they get. This time is so hard and amazing but so scary to think that in 4 years one of my babies will be on his own. Your post was a great reminder to stop for a second and take a breath.

  17. I always love your honesty and realism. Very well said. Thank you!

  18. You are such a blessing for so, so many!

  19. Erin DiCarolis says:

    GREAT read. Needed it today.

  20. Justina Erre says:

    Ahhh… yes. And add working to this. I feel like nothing is ever done well. Three kids, youngest with DS (who is always on the verge of getting into some sort of mischief), teaching middle school math (part-time), keeping a house clean (no house keeper), cooking (my least favorite), etc. it does get easier. But the grind doesn’t seem to end.

  21. Thank you, thank you, for putting this into words. I, like so many of us, needed to read this today. I have been searching, stretching, trying to find a little space for me in this middle. Thanks for putting words to it, and letting me appreciate just where we are right now.

  22. Wow! I’m at a time of transition as well but for me it’s the empty nest. It’s good to take stock at such times. I find I’m much better for having a pause and a moment of gratitude on each step. It is exhausting this role of mothering, sistering, daughtering, friending but it is so, so good when done with a heart full of peace and hope. Good luck to you as you rest in this middle place (LOVE Kelly Corrigan’s writing!). Go slow, breathe it in, and follow your heart. You are living that one wild and precious life and living it LARGE. Rock on, sister.

  23. Michelle Kolster says:

    This is exactly what I needed today! Thank you.

  24. Marie Powers says:

    Kellie, I have been following your blog since Nella was born. Your words are always so inspirational. This time really hit me as this past weekend we attended my nephew’s wedding. As we were sitting at the reception, I looked around at the assigned table seating and realized that NOW we are at the old peoples table! My children have become the grown kids and we have taken over the roles that our beloved parents passed on to us. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  25. Kelle,
    I am blown away by the way you have with words! You make me think differently daily and for that THANK YOU!

  26. Yes! Your words are so true. I’m edgy and overwhelmed too. Thank you!

  27. I needed this so, so much, Kelle. The line that got me: “remember I have a name outside of mom.” Last night, I cried to my husband “I have no identity outside of this house.” I feel you on this. Big time. Your post made me feel less alone. Thank you for that!

  28. This is exactly what I feel 80% of the time these days. And this piece of writing reminds me of what I found at Spark – peace and acceptance and the moment. HONOR THY MOMENT! So thank you for this reminder. This is beautifully written. Starting now I will talk softer and move slower and squeeze harder and hug longer. Big hugs friend xo.

  29. Thanks-I needed that! I am at the same spot in life that you are. We need to take it all in and breathe.

  30. Lisa showalter says:

    Oh my. This post moved me – both smiles and tears as your posts usually provoke. I needed this today. You have such a beautiful way with words. A gift. A beautiful family – immediate and extended. Those babes of yours are precious and make me yearn for more. Those fleeting beautiful baby-childhood moments.

    I can relate to so much here. Except I only have one child…a daughter…adopted after years of infertility. She is now 22 – and I am painfully missing those mommy moments (minus a few very overwhelming times😉I can definitely relate). I always wanted 3 children – I love children – love babies – but I was blessed with one. One that never really wanted nurturing. But I love her so much it hurts. I crave and miss the feeling of being needed, mothering, nurturing…I guess I’m sort of in the middle somewhere. Hopefully I will have grandbabies one day to love on.
    Keep on loving on yours – the time is indeed fleeting – and you obviously soak up every moment. Your kiddos are blessed~
    ❤️

  31. Thank you Kelle. This was what I needed to hear today. I’m feeling all those things today.

  32. MelOny League says:

    Wow. This might be one of the best things I have read on your blog to date. Let me say… I have read your blog for a little over a year. Your pictures are beautiful. And your words… I don’t even know what to say. I want to write like that. Honest and open and so clearly – that anyone who reads it feels like they are on the inside looking out through my eyes… The experience you give your readers. You and I are exactly the same age. With kids exactly the same age. And at the exact same place in our life. It’s strange this bloggy-internetty world that we find ourselves living in. It makes you feel like you are friends with these strangers. That you share words and dreams like a cup of coffee with a soulmate instead of a stranger. But as crazy as it seems – it’s community. Just of a different sort than the ones our moms had – or didn’t have – when they were raising us. It’s the words that wrap around you like a hug on a hard day, and say “me too. I don’t know what to do about it either. But let’s go through it together”. So thanks. Thanks for being my pretend artsy BFF from a couple states over that gets together with me a couple times a week to make me laugh, make me cry, and make my seasonal-loving heart say “Amen and me too”. Good job friend. ❤️

  33. bonnie spaulding says:

    I hear you, Kelle, and remember so well. It gets even crazier as the kids grow and get beyond your immediate control, but you can do it. It seems like it will go on forever but it doesn’t, time goes faster and then they are grown. Enjoy it, even the hardest times!

  34. Kellie,
    First off, my condolences.

    Secondly nearly every mother has been where you are right now. I raised our three children as a USN wife, which meant my husband was deployed or on work ups most of the time. I had no family around, one child in kindergarten, one who was two and baby who was a preemie and a husband who was in the Middle East. My cheese was constantly sliding off my cracker.
    But enjoy the precious time with your babies. One sight word card won’t make the difference in the grand scheme of things. So what if your home is untidy, cherish the time you have with your babies…because one day you will blink and those moments will be forever gone–this I know. My oldest is graduating from college in December, my son just graduated from high school in June and in January he leaves for boot camp (my heart has been broken into a thousand tiny pieces). And my preemie? She’s a junior in n high school who just had her first heartbreak.
    I envy the quiet cuddle time you shared with Nella, the sound of her padding down the hall in the morning…now mine don’t wake until after noon.

    My late father told me before he passed, “You can’t rewind life”….I now understand everything he was saying.
    Blessings & love.

  35. Yes yes yes, this is it – this is the feeling, put into beautiful words – the Middle Place – I love it. If you were here I would read this aloud to you with feeling :)

  36. This is IT!!! It’s how I feel! I’m so glad I’m not alone with my feelings about the middle stretch of life.thank you for sharing! Heather

  37. I have been living in the middle for a bit now since losing my dad 3 years ago. Having a little girl who is autistic allows me to cherish this phase of my life Oh so much longer than others. I have come to realize it is yet another hidden gift this little gem has given us. So thankful for her love, her beauty in “THE LITTLE THINGS” and the most precious gift of unconditionally love. ❤️. Great post, thanks for giving us a little bit of your heart.

  38. I just love what you do with words. That is all.

    XOXO,
    Angie

  39. How did you know I, too, needed to hear this so badly on a Monday morning? Thank you.

  40. Karen (Scotland) says:

    That was quite beautiful to read, thanks. My kids range from 6-11 – I’m in that middle place just now. The ‘work’ of it all is relentless but I just get up a bit earlier, cut some domestic corners, and, savour the lovely moments when they happen.
    Keep on keeping on…
    :-)
    Karen (Scotland)

  41. Jill Walker says:

    This. I so needed this. Especially today. It literally brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for this.

  42. Love this SO much! Being in the middle is where I am learning to be very happy and satisfied. Your writing portrays such a cozy beauty in the little things…

  43. Kelle,

    So sorry for the loss of your Uncle Dale, it is hard to be in that place, where the people you looked up to for so long, aren’t there anymore. Your words are always such an inspiration, thank you again, for sharing your heart.

  44. I needed this today. This post allowed the tears to finally flow that have been held back for what feels like weeks. I needed to hear that the restlessness of the middle is felt by others and it doesn’t always have to be “start.” and “complete.” The process is fine. Thank you for hitting a spot I was feeling like no one around me could relate to lately.

    Please know you touches a soul tonight.

  45. Isabel Guerra says:

    You are such a wonderful writer, I just love reading your posts. Thank you!

  46. Just yesterday I texted a friend and told her how I dont have the words to express what I feel: happiness and pride at seeing my girls growing up (9 and 10 y.o) but also immense sadness and melancholy that the beginning of the motherhood process is definitely over.
    Thank you for expressing this for us all to relate.
    Isabelle (Switzerland)

  47. Thank you for this. Beautiful. I read it at 5:45am with one child already awake beside me, as I tried to find time to balance the checkbook and do a little freelance writing before waking up my older kids and making lunches. I feel better knowing I’m not alone in this stage in all of it’s wonderful craziness.

  48. I am so sorry about Uncle Dale. I have been reading everything your Dad writes about him. I cried as I read this today. I am so glad you get to be the Mom to Lainey, Nella and Dash. You are splendid at it even when you are stepping on blocks.

    P.S. Have you thought about hiring a cleaning lady. It changed my life. Sometimes I feel badly because I know it is an extra expense that adds stress to Gary, but honestly, it makes everything in our lives so much better. So. Much. Better.

  49. Wow. How I have been feeling the last few days! Very overwhelming!!!! I cant do it all, but I have to!

  50. WOWZA! You hit the nail on the head. But remember, in just a fleeting moment, you will be facing the “end time” of raising you children and another beautiful chapter will open. I’ve learned to embrace each phase of our lives because you never really know when the “final” time will come. So live each day with a grateful heart and you will find treasures even in the mundane things.

  51. We are the same age, but I became a mama fairly young. I have one as a sophomore in college and one in middle school. Oh how I long for a little more middle place. It’s those moments…
    Hang in there

  52. Wow!! I have read many, many of your posts, and your words are always beautiful and inspiring. But this post took my breath away. I feel like I’m on the brink of the relentless middle place with a 1-year-old and 3-year-old, and this post really lifted my spirit.

  53. I just have to say that I loved your post. It made me cry because I really miss that time in my life. My older kids are in college and I thankfully have one more at home. I remember how tired that time feels, just to the bone. And I know you’ve heard this before, so I apologize. It passes by so amazingly fast! You don’t believe it now, but trust me. The days are so long but the years are seriously a blink. And you’re right. Love the time you’re in, whatever that is. That is the secret. Not that it’s easy.

  54. This was so perfect to read right now. I’ve had so many of those I want to be somewhere else feelings lately, but I know really there is no place I’d rather be. Mine are teens and really well behaved ones. Just the every day that sometimes get you down or when they are struggling and you are helpless to help them. We can’t do it all, but we should try and enjoy it for what it is and where it is. Thank you. xo

  55. Enjoy it. You will blink your eyes and they will be teenagers with a new set of problems. You will blink again and they are all married, one more blink you are Grandma. One more blink and now you are Great Grandma. It all happened in about 10 seconds.

  56. Amen to that!

  57. Wow, beautifully written.

  58. Yes! THIS. Your post made me tear up at the end. So much beauty. Thank you.

  59. Beautiful post. I don’t know if I’ve ever commented before, but this brought me to tears. I too am in “the middle place”. Kids in elementary school and days spent running errands, volunteering, cleaning, cooking. I’m overwhelmed but have a hard time feeling it’s justified. After all, I’m a stay at home mom…I can do what I want during my days. But it’s crazy and lonely nonetheless. And it’s my own high expectations for myself that put me in the “I’m not good enough; I haven’t done enough; it’s not enough” place. Thank you for your words.

  60. This one made me cry as the circle has turned as my kids are now the parents with the kids and I am the caretaker of my mom. thank you for sharing your heart with us

  61. I think this my be my favorite post, ever. Thank you. I will reread it again and again. It’s good to be reminded The Middle Place is right where I need to be. And how lucky I am.

  62. Yes. This is where I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  63. I’ve been to overwhelmed lately to read your blog as often as I would like. I’m so glad I made the time today. Your words are a balm to my weary soul. This middle place is difficult, dreary, and beautiful. That’s you for spinning together words to remind me of its loveliness.

  64. Relish and appreciate the middle. Your life can turn on a dime and not always the way you hope.

  65. Rosalinda says:

    Thank you for always posting just what is in my heart and what I need to hear. You’re an incredible mama!

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