Our Number Two Turns Two


January 12, 2012  |  Mabel Claire Brunner


You, my dear child, were sent here by someone who really knew what they were doing. You fit into this family like a well-oiled glove. Nothing about you seemed to not belong. Your humor, your grace, your ability to get your point across using only your eyebrows and the tip of your nose…you were one of us from the get-go. And we welcomed you with open arms that cold January day.

Today you turn two. You’ve become an insanely talkative, playful and smart little bugger! Your dad and I could not be more proud of you and the person that you are. I almost don’t dread the 5 a.m. growling wake-up calls (“Moooooooooom”) from your crib anymore because, from the moment I turn on the hall light and you get a glimpse of who is coming to get you, our day starts off on a bright and joyful note. You have never failed to greet me with a smile and immediate conversation about the “guys” in your crib (and you will name them all before you can be removed…”Nemo, Mikey, Raph, Molly, Millie, Dorrie, etc. etc. OMG etc.”). When you wake up, we eat breakfast together. You like Special K with berries, but really you only eat the berries and leave the flakes (I don’t blame you much). If you can’t have pop for breakfast (which you can’t), you love juice. Usually during breakfast you will tell me about your family or whatever little bits you remember from the day before. This morning, I heard all about grandma and grandpa, your Sully cake and then we counted to 9 without the 3, 4 or 5, of course. We chased balloons in the living room and threw all the ninja turtles in poor Chloe’s dog bed before turning on Mater Tales and settling in to our Dora chair. Even TV doesn’t distract you for long (our best shots are Bubble Guppies and UmiZoomi) because you’d rather use your energy playing monster or running from room to room with your hands behind your back like Donatello, which is wonderful! 

Some days you go to Amy’s Daycare. Amy loves you and you love her, but we all know the real reason you adore her house – Noah. Don’t deny it, little girl. You’re smitten, and he’s cute 🙂 You play hard there with your buddies Georgia, Ella, Lula and Baby Mila and we are very comfortable with your days there. But, man, the days I get to spend with you? I tear up just thinking about them. Yes, they have their difficult moments. Nearly once a day, you and Coen get in some sort of brawl due to wanting the same toy, and my obvious pointing out of the six million other toys in this house goes unnoticed, so you both get to duke it out in the privacy of your own room. Your brother is patient with you and loves helping you learn. In your car seats, he will often have you repeat after him. “Mabel, say A. Say B. Say C.” Sometimes you jump ahead and you’ll say “D” before he prompts you, and I smile because I know you’re already smarter than he thinks you are, but it puts a small nick in his big brother armor. When you get frustrated, your default is to scream. And, you, my small one, are not quiet. You will do it in the middle of a restaurant, a grocery store, or an elevator. It is all tied to your independent and determined demeanor, which I love about you but definitely had to learn to embrace after raising that cool-and-collected brother of yours. You are just starting to try things on your own without fear. You’ve always wanted to – I could see it in your eyes. Just yesterday, you did the frog slide at the splash pad by yourself and only took a couple tumbles (shook yourself off…no tears…typical) and got right back at it. And similarly, but without the potential for accident, you will open the cupboard doors and bring out the snack bin over and over and over and over and over until you finally get one parent to open those darn Teddy Grahams. Determined, I tell you. And charm might have something to do with it too. But, that charm doesn’t always work, especially on your peers. When you play with your cousin Ruby, I am often reminded of the saying by Margaret Atwood: “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another, they are not cute. They are life-sized.” Some day, you will be best friends – I promise. For now, you will do everything in your power to protect your space. I guess bullheaded could be added to your descriptive adjectives as well.

Things you enjoy: taking baths, playing monster, swimming, Ninja Turtles, Thomas the Train, the Peanuts collection, making pretend “pea soup,” greeting your brother in the morning (“Hi, buddy Coen!”), neighbor Kayla, sleeping in your brother’s bed, talking, and talking…and talking, being naked, blueberries and strawberries, sitting in the big chairs at restaurants, climbing (literally anything), fruit snacks and applesauce, watching home videos on daddy’s iPhone, plane rides, car rides, inserting tokens into games at Chuck E Cheese (but not actually playing the games), smelling flowers, dumping out puzzle pieces and refusing to put them back, and dogs.

Things you don’t enjoy: Carnival rides, snow, wearing coats, and cake. Yup. That’s about it.

You, our strong and beautiful Mabes Babes, have such a way of bringing joy into people’s lives. The way you use your comedic timing to make us laugh at the most unexpected times, the way you walk with such confident diaper butt that passersby point and giggle, the way you adore, replicate, and physically love your brother to the point that he needs to push you away, the way you talk. Oh my, the way you talk. We don’t call you “Pebbles” for nothin’. Everything about you, child – the good, the bad and the ugly – You are ours and we are yours. If that isn’t God’s work at its finest, I don’t know what is. 

Happy birthday, baby girl. May all your dreams come true.


January 12, 2014  |  Mabel Claire Brunner



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Second Half of December…

Merry Christmas, everyone! Our second half of December’s List of Joy was a little, err… a lot less successful than the first half. The weather got cold and days got busy. But we still found time to do some family outings and great charity work. I love the holidays and I love them even more when I have these wonderful people in my life to share them with. 

Day 13: Tour the lights at Phalen Park
Yup. We did this one. It was 4 degrees outside so we snuggled up with blankets and stopped for gas station snacks on the way there. The lights were pretty cool and the $10 donation went towards the Second Harvest Heartland, so that’s always a plus! When we got to the park, they made us turn off our headlights and you drive, like, 2 MPH on a small path, so I assumed it safe enough to release the kids from their car seats and let them pile in the passenger seat. They loved it! Craning their necks under the windshield, ooooing and ahhhhhing for the entire 20 minute drive was well worth the (loooooong) drive to East St. Paul.




Day 14: Donate to a Red Kettle for “Common Cents for Kids” Day
This Saturday was filled with errand-running for our family. We stopped at Lakeshore and made free Christmas ornaments, returned some stuff at Target, and finished up some final Christmas shopping. By the time all was said and done, the kids were napping in the car and their sandwich bags filled with coins they had chosen by hand that morning never got delivered. We are hanging on to them until Monday night, when we are actually ringing the Salvation Army bell at Southdale, and the kids can donate there. Granted, it won’t be doubled, as it would’ve been on Common Cents for Kids Day, but I’ll just throw in a little extra. Nate and I attended a very fun Christmas party this night too, which was incredibly enjoyable and a much-needed parents-night-out.

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Day 15: Write letters to Santa Clause
Today was just what we all needed. Had a play date with friends in the morning, watched some football, cleaned the house, finished wrapping gifts, and of course — got those letters to Santa in the mailbox so they would have enough time to get to the North Pole before the big day! Coen made it very clear that he wants a T-Phone and a Batman Helicopter (Santa is on top of these items this year…fear not) and Mabel’s list was mostly just “Thomas” (how I loathe that train!), but Coen helped us add a few more things that he thought Santa could shop for. The letters got folded, enveloped, stamped (with stickers) and placed in the mailbox. Hopefully the mailwoman knows Santa’s exact location because we were only so specific as “The North Pole.”




Day 16: Ring the Salvation Army bell
I tried. I was there. I made the effort. And I shouldn’t even say “I.” I should say “We.” The whole Brunner clan made the trek to Southdale for the bell ringing, kids excited and dressed for two hours of cold weather. As we walked up to Macy’s, there was no kettle, so we inquired inside. They told me they don’t have a partnership with the Salvation Army this year. I asked at the mall Guest Services as well, and she knew nothing. Odd. My confirmation email from Salvation Army said that exact location so I assumed it was a mistake. Slightly frustrated, we played at the play place and got pretzels and bought the clothing donations for Sojourner’s House (which needed to be done, so that’s good). On the way home, I called Salvation Army and was told I “obviously missed the bucket” they had laid out for me. Maybe. But I have photographic proof of what was left for me at this door and this was my first time – it would’ve been nice to have some sort of instruction (via email or phone or in person…). The kids were bears and the lines were long and the workers were incompetent. But maybe that has something to do with my tolerance level by the night’s end. Better luck next year, Salvation Army. I will be donating my time elsewhere.

Speaking of donating elsewhere, I recently read about this great little site: Monkee See Monkee Do. Nate mentioned giving our efforts to something like this next year. Some pretty cool holiday stories come out of this site.


Day 17: Watch The Grinch and Charlie Brown’s Christmas with popcorn under the tent
Today’s “task” was an easy one. Nothing I enjoy more during the holidays than soaking in some Christmas classics via the television set. The kids are in love with Charlie Brown this year so that one was really fun to watch together. And The Grinch? Well, you can’t ever go wrong with The Grinch. Always good to instill a little “good conquers evil” this time of year.

You can call me a sap, but this part of Charlie Brown always gets to me. Oh, Linus…so young, yet so wise. What is the true meaning of Christmas? He nails it, folks!

Day 18: Read the story of the birth of Jesus and discuss
I should’ve set aside more time before bed for Q&A. It’s quite the concept, isn’t it? Mary and Joseph get pregnant and walk to Bethlehem on a donkey. No one will lodge them even though Mary is VERY pregnant and it’s winter (people were apparently 100% dead inside back in the day). Then, Jesus is born and He is the Savior. The Son of God. Now, I went to Catholic school for 14 years and still found it incredibly difficult to explain this. I read the simplest version of the story I could find…still included Wise Men, the Star of Bethlehem, and the whole bit on swaddling clothes. I even tried using the cast of Charlie Brown’s Christmas to help tell the story. That was all I needed to be the lucky recipient of ten billion toddler questions. “What is frankenscence?” (I don’t know) “How did they know that star would take them to the baby?” (I don’t know) “How come they didn’t take a car?” (That one I knew!)

The point was, I got the basis of the story through to them. Now, when I say, “Who’s birthday is on Christmas?” they can give me an answer. The reason for the season. Every year we will get into it deeper and deeper, but for this year, I gotta be honest…I’m kind of glad we kept it simple. I need to do some serious reading in the next 365 days.



Day 19: Visit TowerLight Senior Center 
We are on the list of TowerLight volunteers, but are mostly sticking to the “Intergen” program, which is a really cool program where the preschool and daycare kids do an activity, craft, or project with the elderly residents. I have yet to participate in one of these activities with the kids, but am looking forward to doing it. So, this day didn’t quite pan out. Instead, the kids and I delivered our gifts to the Women’s Shelter, made cards for and delivered gifts to Coen’s teachers, and then visited friends. Just to chat. It was so wonderful and much-needed!

I did, however, watch Ellen DeGeneres this day, and watched this hilarious clip with Ellie Kemper (ya know, the cute secretary from The Office?). So, though we didn’t do much spectacular this day, this clip will make up for it.

Day 20: Go to the Holidazzle Parade
Ugh. Nate and I are both pretty “holidazzled out” so we vetoed this idea and had friends over instead. We enjoyed a nice, relaxing dinner and then opened their gift to us. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are now the owners of an infamous “Elf on the Shelf.” He was immediately named “Leonardo Raphvestis” (by – you guessed it – the biggest Ninja Turtle fan in the house) and my mind was already reeling with ideas of what this troublesome elf could get into around the house. That night, Leonardo simply got placed in the kids’ basketball hoop (blaming the amount of vino and laziness in my system), but the next night, I made up for it. Haha…this little devil is gonna get a workout on the nights I actually have leftover energy.

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Days 21 and 22: Snowtube, wrap gifts, and prepare for the chaos ahead
Our family dedicated this weekend to R-E-L-A-X-I-N-G. Took our time getting out of bed, out of pajamas, and out of the house both days. Nate and I each took the kids out on different one-on-one “dates” throughout town. I delivered anonymous gifts to neighbors (so fun!) and Nate took Coen sledding. Envisioning the week ahead, I soaked up every moment of semi-quiet that was shared in our little house this weekend. Sunday night, we laid out brownies, lettuce and root beer for Santa Clause and his nine antlered friends. Christmas is a-comin’ and I couldn’t be more excited! Tomorrow morning, the kids wake up to their “nice list” rewards…now, on to unpack them all from the depths of our laundry room…

Santa and the reindeer will be SO happy

Santa and the reindeer will be SO happy


Matching Christmas toes!


Ice cream date!

Halfway Through…

This year, I thought it would be fun to keep a mini journal of each of our December day’s activities. A little play-by-play for my memory and your enjoyment…

December 1: Pick up tree and decorate house
Always my favorite day of the year! It was cold and there was a Santa walking around the tree lot who weighed less than me and handed out candy canes to good boys and girls. Coen of course told him he wanted a T-phone and then cried when he dropped his candy cane mere seconds after receiving it. Mabel gave him a high five, but I think it was mostly out of fear. For the first year ever, the tree got tied to the top of the vehicle and the kids thought that was pretty awesome. This act also led Nate to believe he needed to research knot-tying, which apparently is a good skill to have for him, ya know, since he works in IT.  For the next six hours, we decorated the house, hung lights, and placed ornaments carefully on the (mostly lower) tree branches. Upon completion, we watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and fell asleep peacefully in our pine-needle-scented house. Favorite day of the year complete.

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December 2: Write out cards for soldiers
“What’s a soldier, mommy?” I’m not from a military family and, my oh my, was that evident in my attempted explanation to my son the day we wrote out Christmas cards for soldiers. “A soldier is a man or woman who protects our country and all of us.” “Protects us from what?” Good questions, kid. “Bad guys” was the only answer I could come up with that his little Ninja-Turtle-loving head would comprehend.  “Oh, like Foot Soldiers, Shredder and the Krang?” I’ll go deeper in to America the Free another day, but for 2013, I’m going to let him think there are wonderful men and women out there protecting us from full-suited, nylon-wearing, sword-swooping ninjas…and cartoon brains. And, darn it, those people deserve Christmas cards!



December 3: Clean out gently-used toys and bag up
I was able to get Coen really excited about donating some old toys by telling him where and who they would be going to. After a long day at school and daycare, and a quick family dinner, we all headed down to the toy room, plastic bags in hand. Three minutes. That was the extent of the attention spans we were forced to deal with this night. Coen threw in some nice toys, like his remote control bus and one of those rollercoaster-y bead thingies they always have at the dentist office. I pulled out all six of their toy bins and we then encountered lots of “MINEs” mixed with some whining. We were able to collect three garbage bags filled with giveaways, all in pretty decent condition. Of course, in doing so, our basement turned into a war zone (thus giving me the opportunity to organize their play room…which I did).



December 4: Make M&M pretzels
Well, this was a disaster. I must admit, I’ve never seen my daughter so proud of herself as when she first ripped open a Hershey Hug…all…by…herself! Coen and I both cheered loudly for her, and that was all the motivation she needed to proceed to open two bags’ worth. And she only ate four, which I found very impressive. I’ve never claimed to be a baker (or a cook, or a chef, or a culinary ANYthing), so I’m not ashamed to admit that I burned the mother living hell out of these things and they wound up in the garbage can. I sent curse-word-laden text messages to Nate, frustrated with my lack of abilities, but it turns out my children have short attention spans and never even asked about the finished product. So, mission accomplished?..!

December 5: Deliver toys to ShopTotallyKids
We live in Minnesota. It is December. And I’ll be darned if we were about to go out on the highways in this heinous snowstorm. We postponed toy delivery until tomorrow. Today, we were grateful for our little home with just enough room in the living room for a Christmas tree and an air mattress. Great day for Christmas movies (and the Toy Story trilogy, of course).


December 6: Grocery shop for food and deliver to St. Louis Park STEP 
Now that the roads have cleared a bit, we were able to accomplish this one! After swimming lessons, we hit up the local Cub Foods and I led the kiddos to the canned and boxed goods aisle. RUN FREE! FILL ‘ER UP! It was fun watching them pick out some of their favorite things (mandarin oranges, pears, noodles, spaghettios) and stand on their tip-toes to dump them in the cart. While they were doing that, I grabbed some items that were actually on STEP’s “wish list” and just like that, we were done. Fastest Christmas Joy List item ever. And, if throwing all the food you can hold into a cart isn’t thrilling enough, the store was slow enough that Coen was able to utilize the self-checkout (with his mother’s monitoring). Now THAT brought joy!

If any of you live in or around St. Louis Park, I strongly recommend you check out STEP. They have volunteer opportunities for all ages (and for full families) and they do so much good…in a community of which we are actually a MEMBER! Check them out here.




Day 7: Attend Murphy Christmas party
I woke up this day with a killer cold and felt like my head weighed about six billion pounds. A majority of the day was spent lounging and resting on the couch while my wonderful husband got things done around the house. By 4:00, I had pried myself from the couch and was in actual clothes, ready to go to the Christmas party. The kids (and parents) had been looking forward to celebrating at the party because there was rumored to be a planned appearance by the Jolly Red himself! By the time we hit the party, the kids were both rested and Nate and I were ready to mingle. It was nice meeting new people and drinking some vino. And, sure as the stars shine, St. Nick showed up right on time. My kids have been afraid of up-close Clauses since birth, but tonight was different. Not sure if it was the excitement of all the other kids surrounding them, or the fact that they were trapped in a small room and had no other choice, but it was magical. Watching Coen’s eyes light up when Santa told him he knew he wanted a T-phone and that he made the “good list” this year was something I’ll never forget. And Mabel wouldn’t go near him, but in her defense, she had been awake since 4:30am. I think that may have been our Santa breakthrough moment for Coen. The fear is gone, and he is most definitely a believer!

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Day 8: Christmas Shopping and Visiting Santa at Brooklyn Center Community Center
Slight change of plans this day since I published my list. My parents kindly volunteered to watch Coen and Mabel so Nate and I could enjoy a FULL day of Christmas shopping sans children. This. Was. A. Big. Deal. We were at the Mall of America by 10am and shopped straight through til 5pm, with one pitstop for flatbread pizza and beer. Back home, my sister and niece came to spend the day with G+G and the kiddos. They baked cookies and little pizzas and wound up going to visit Santa in Brooklyn Center after all. I’m so happy the kids got to go, and actually enjoyed it! I still have no clue how they got Mabel to sit on Santa’s lap (she must’ve been drugged!), but when Julie sent me the picture, I teared up right there in front of Hallmark. Our shopping was complete – so excited about our purchases! Thanks to mom and dad and Julie and Lance for making our kids’ day so memorable. See ya in a couple weeks!

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Day 9: Visit Santa’s Workshop in downtown Macy’s
This is a day I look forward to every year, and the older my kids get, the more fun it gets! We spent an hour delivering all the things we had in the house that hadn’t been delivered yet (toys, food, clothes) and then the kids were “rewarded” with a trip to the Elves Workshop on the 8th floor of the downtown Minneapolis Macy’s. Before we even entered the village, we were greeted (and hugged) by Mrs. Clause. As my friend stated, “Behind every good man is a great woman” and I believe Mrs. Clause is a vital part of Christmas tradition, so I was very happy my kids were introduced to her. The elves were of course awesome, and I almost died of shock when my kids CHOSE to enter the door to see Santa. No line and smiling kids? I wasn’t about to turn it down. Coen told him about his Zurg laser and his T-phone and his Batman helicopter he wants so badly, and Mabel even chimed in with (what I’m sure only I understood as “Umizoomi, Bubble Guppies and Thomas.”  She seemed proud and shot him a killer smile as we walked out holding hands. After another hour running the skyways and eating pizza slices, both kids were beat and napped immediately. Today surely brought this mama some serious JOY.

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Day 10: Create edible Christmas trees with ice cream cones
This was a fun little activity (that only took up about 15 minutes of our day), but the kids enjoyed it. I dyed white whipped frosting green and covered an upside-down ice cream cone. I laid out a variety of nummies to decorate the trees and let the kids go to town. I was surprised how particular they were about the placement of their candies. And, no disasters until Mabel’s blue sprinkles exploded mid-pour. “Uh-oh, messy, mama.” Yup. But worth it.




Day 11: Purchase treats at PetSmart for the Humane Association
Tonight was simply too cold to brave the outside with two kiddos. And I’m not usually one to complain about the temp. But, -7? That’s where I draw the line. We cozied up and ate tacos and finalized our handmade Family Rules. The kids went to bed and Nate and I watched “Gravity.” Every mom deserves a night like this mid-December. Oh, and yes, there was Malbec involved.

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Day 12: Another day, another raincheck…
I’m starting to feel like I’m just making up excuses now, but Sojourner’s House emailed me and said we couldn’t drop-off until Monday so looks like we will save the shopping until that day. In case anyone wants to support this cause, they are in need of teenage boy items from their holiday wish list and deliveries need to be made by December 20. Looks like Monday will be filled with gift buying and donating, AND Salvation Army bell ringing. Gonna be a good day!

Handmade Family Rules

This project has been in the works for some time now, so hanging it on our wall tonight was a really big deal! I read awhile ago on one of those parenting blogs that kids respond better to direction when they are not overwhelmed. I don’t blame them – all day every day they hear, “Don’t touch the candle!” “No yelling in the car.” “No somersaults on the bed!” …the list goes on. Nate and I sat down and came up with nine. Just nine that we thought encapsulated our children’s most regularly-needed instructions. We kept them short and sweet because this mama had a creative plan in mind…

Here are our Family Rules in all of their idiosyncratic glory:

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I love it. It makes me happy, and it’s the obvious centerpiece of our family room, which worked itself out perfectly!

Want to make your own? Here’s how I did it (Please know upfront that I fear most, if not all, things on Pinterest because I know I’m just not that crafty, so if I can do this, you can do this):

1) Find a frame with multiple openings. I got mine at Marshalls about six years ago (and yes, the stock photos of rocks and waterfalls were placeholders until today…so pathetic). I found these guys on Etsy and think their work is whimsical and fun for this project specifically.

2) Create rules in Word and save them in a fun, bold and clear font. I sent my files to Office Max Impress and asked them to print them on transparencies.

3) Get out the paper and let your kids be creative. We used fingerpaints and sponges and made shapes in various colors.

4) Then it’s just a matter of layering the painted paper under the transparency in each photo opening. I taped everything in place, so the back of the mat looks like a gift wrapped by a 2-year old.

5) Hang on the wall and admire!

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2013 List of Christmas Joy

Yet again, the Brunner family (and by “Brunner family” I mean me) has compiled a little list of area activities to keep us busy, grateful, and together (while also remaining financially-afloat) this holiday season. Christmas should be about so much more than Santa Claus when kids are involved. As parents, let’s try to make it about lessons, family, giving, kindness, and JOY! Our kids deserve a memorable December. And yes, Santa DID make the list (I checked it twice) 😉

I encourage you to make your own List of Joy with your kids, post it on the fridge, talk about the activity-of-the-day over breakfast, and really ENJOY doing it…together. (Minneapolis folks – feel free to steal some goodies from this list.)

Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

The Brunner’s


A Case of the Momdays

Today I had a semi-serious case of the Momdays. So, I’m creating this entry as a mini-mama-mantra to reflect on in days ahead when I feel a relapse coming on. Don’t be scared, dear reader. I won’t hurt you.

No mother is perfect. No mother is flawless. I’ve never known a mother who has never yelled, lost her patience, or wanted to hand her children off to the nearest circus that passes through town. And, it’s true – I too am a mother. And today I yelled. I lost my patience. And, at the wrong moment, had there been a Barnum and Bailey recruiter in Minneapolis? Well, yeah, I may have traded my two brown-eyed beauties for a bicycling grizzly bear.

I took my kids to the zoo. It was an impromptu stop after dropping off Nate’s laptop that he had accidentally left at home. In my short time packing up this morning, I slapped together two PB&Js, packed them each their own favorite-flavored juice box, and, upon arrival, was already pushing one in the stroller while the other rode on my shoulders so they could both view the clumsy baby giraffe from different angles. I am not one to half-ass motherhood, and it’s something on which I (humbly or not-so-humbly) pride myself. Every day should be filled with joy, lessons, memories, long talks, kisses, more lessons, and plenty of “I love yous.” The zoo was a success. Naps on the car ride home were a success. Even transferring them from the car to their beds was indeed a success.

During nap time, I tried to do some work, wash some dishes, fold some laundry, and concoct some sort of Italian dinner. I balanced some of my bank accounts, paid my bills, looked in to a new weight loss app, and focused on a few other personal vendettas I’ve been trying to fight day in and day out. I played with the dog, replanted a flower pot, uploaded some photos to Shutterfly and actually watched 5 minutes of Bethany Frankel’s new talk show. Then the kids woke up.

During those 90 minutes of glorious, silent slumber, my “give-’em-everything-I’ve-got” fuse grew short. I’m embarrassed to even admit that, but then again, I know I’m not alone. Er, I hope I’m not alone.

I caught myself snapping at Coen for putting the hose too close to the sidewalk chalk. I reprimanded Mabel for throwing her popsicle into the hostas. I smacked Chloe’s nose when she barked at a skateboarder. I was finished. I felt unappreciated. And I know that’s ridiculous. I’m a MOTHER. That is precisely what we sign up for the second that kid makes its grand entrance into the world. My kids are FOUR and ONE, for Peter’s sake!! And, for four and one, they have damn good manners. We are having lots of talks about gratitude and it’s nice to instill these lessons in their minds before they are too old to have it make a difference. Coen knows when I ask him, “How many people is mommy?” that the answer is, “One. So I can only do one thing at a time.” But, today, I expected too much.

Me, my Mac, a crepe and a latte.

Me, my Mac, a crepe and a latte.

I wanted to finish the dishes. I wanted to finish ANYthing I had started. I wanted to shop online. I wanted to mow the lawn. I wanted more time. And that was the issue… I got a glimpse into a little me-time, and it was taken away abruptly (as it is every day so don’t ask me why today felt so different). We, as parents, take on too much. And that’s fine, as long as it’s accompanied by a breather here or there. Seconds after I snapped a “STOP! Just everyone stop talking!” and started crying in the kitchen (good LORD, woman, pull yourself together), I texted Nate and told him I needed some time alone tonight. He agreed and after we ate the dinner I sort of whipped together, I grabbed my laptop and walked away.

After two hours of catching up on work emails at a local (what I thought was a coffee shop, but wound up being a) kosher deli, I had kicked some project booty, eaten the world’s greatest peanut butter crepe, and gotten my head back on (as straight as it’s ever been). I shot Nate a text apologizing for being a hot mess, and he reminded me that I had a great day with a bad hour. Always wise, that man.

Walking in the door at 8:30, I was greeted with smiles and loud “MOMMY!” chants. Even Mabel the Anti-Cuddler wanted a hug. I scratched my dog’s belly and thanked Nate for, well, everything and settled in to watch The Great Pumpkin before bedtime. Of course, I finished those dumb dishes first.

Momdays will come and go. Some weeks, Momdays will occur more than once. There may be stretches of time when EVERY day is a Momday. Just remember that you’re doing your best, no one is perfect, and even those impossibly hard moments too shall pass.

Then, if time permits, take an evening retreat to the nearest wine bar to enjoy a flight of expensive reds. Alone.

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Sandy Toes and Salty Kisses


“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education;
in the elder, a part of experience.”
~Francis Bacon

Being that my family was taking a trip to a North Carolina beach a few days after I originally read this quote, I found myself intrigued by it. So, I wiki’ed Sir Francis Bacon.

Francis Bacon was an English philosopher who lived in the 15th century. Francis Bacon never knew of airplanes or security lines or rental cars or flight delays. He probably barely had time to digest that whole “Earth being round” thing. Francis Bacon died of pneumonia while studying the effects of cold on meat (bacon, perhaps?). Francis Bacon had no children.

Now, as I sit here at my dining table, having just successfully uploaded 419 vacation photos to Facebook, I am allowing myself time to reflect on that quote even more. In a younger sort, travel is a part of education. In an older sort, a part of experience. Bear with me as I reflect aloud…

My sister delivered a brain-child in April, saying she wanted to go back to the east coast with our family and stay on the beach for a week. (Insert arm-twist here.) We booked, paid for, and anticipated the getaway for months. The night before we flew out, we got Coen all jacked up to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m. in a pleasant and excited mood. And Mabel does so naturally so I wasn’t worried about her willingness at that time of day one bit. I packed a carry-on bag full of Dora DVDs, sticker books, mini play-dohs, suckers, Cheeze-Its, diapers and a small stack of lightweight (but surprisingly compelling) superhero books. I zipped the bag, confident that come hell or high water, those kids would be entertained to the gills! I remembered my own underwear, inflatable floatation devices, sunscreen, camera lenses, contact solution, my drivers license and everything in between. I was ready. Bring it on.

The flight to the beach went surprisingly well, all things considered. My daughter decided to celebrate turning 18 months by PMS-ing her little baby tail off with a few (ok, TONS of) screaming tantrums that my friends with daughters had warned me about but I laughed off because my baby boy was cool as a cucumber. My four-year-old son dropped himself to the ground in the checked baggage line because, oh I don’t know, we asked him to stop singing the theme to Bubble Guppies at the top of his lungs or some other sort of unfair nonsense that makes perfect social sense to anyone who is NOT four years old at 5 a.m. in a crowded airport. I found it amazing that my parents, sitting strong in their late 50s, could watch us ever-so-calmly deal with our own chaotic kin wearing slight smirks of either payback or pride. But once we boarded that plane, excitement took over and I couldn’t help but smile ear-to-ear. Hearing Coen shout, “We are in the CLOUDS, mommy! Look, the CLOUDS!” – that alone was worth the price of admission.


We arrived at the beach house and the whole family booked it up the back steps to get our first good look at the ocean. The kids had immediately replaced the day’s nonstop whining that often accompanies travel with squeals of utter joy, and the adults already had icy visions of Dos Equis dancing in their heads. It was a moment I’ll never forget, running out onto that patio overlooking the Atlantic, with Mabel babbling in her Pebbles voice as she “ran” down the deck flailing her left arm back and forth as if it were her own personal propeller.

Our vacation was made up of tiny memory snippets that simply weave together at the end of the day into one giant “euphoric afghan.”

…Lying on the beach with a book in my hand. Drinking wine outside with my sister while listening to live acoustic guitar. Sitting on the deck with my husband, holding hands at the end of the night after the kids were tucked in, soaking in the sound of the waves. Fighting mom and dad for dinner bills. Eating all the peanut butter cheesecake before my PB-lovin’ bro-in-law had a chance to get a fork on it. Sitting on the couch until midnight watching Duck Dynasty with my mom. Listening to dad rave on and on about the crab cakes from The Beach Shop and Grill.

But there was so much more. There were so many moments when I would look up and see where I was and who I was with and exhaaaaaale with one long, deep, calm breath. There was no email inbox proverbially breathing down my neck, no dishes gathering dust on my countertop, no agenda whatsoever. And it was glorious.


Yes, there was some stress. Take for example, trying to control Mabel “the Tormentor” who found great joy in injuring her nine-month old cousin. I swear, her motto for the trip was “Kick her while she’s down.” And, since Ruby has no choice but to crawl, she is technically down all the time, which really made our jobs as parents exhaustingly frustrating. We dealt with spousal spats, indecisiveness, early morning crabbiness, overtired late nights, impatience and typical family exasperation. Mabel discovered that her voice can literally raise one million decibels in less than three seconds and that arching her back and throwing herself on the floor below her (be it sand, cement, or stairs) will get her – not only more attention – but usually, her way. Coen decided that a scowl is a fine way to react whenever someone says, “Say Cheese!” and spent a majority of the trip talking in a voice that (I think) he thought resembled Shredder from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Intended to be low and gravelly, but mostly it just sounded like he had a bowl of Cheerios stuck in his throat.

coen hunting shells

But, those moments when I would steal away from the group and find myself one-on-one on the beach with a kid of my choice…NOTHING beat that. I sat in the water with Mabel for nearly an hour one day, throwing shells into the waves. I spent half a day with Coen searching for just the right seashells to give to his friends at school. Hearing all about Nate and Coen’s getaway to go mini golf during the hottest part of the day – highlighted by a hole-in-one – was priceless. Those are the moments we will never get again so I certainly intended to enjoy them.

A few people have asked me what the best part of the trip was. I could answer that so many ways…the 90 degree weather, my long-lost (but short-lived) tan, the fact that the parent to kid ratio was 6:3 and the hardest job any of us had was to sit on the deck with a Corona in hand listening to the baby monitor during naptime. But, the truth is, I can actually choose a specific time…30 special minutes that made such a lasting impression.

It was Wednesday evening and the weather was flawless. We had just returned from a fabulous dinner out, desserts included (hey, it’s vacation!), and jumped into our comfy clothes as we did every evening. I took the kids outside to the sand and, one by one, my family members joined us. The beach was virtually empty, the ocean was like bath water, the sun was slowly setting and my heart was full, surrounded by those I love.

family on beach

With words unspoken, we started to leisurely stroll down the beach. For the first time all trip, it seemed that every one of us was in the greatest of spirits simultaneously…kids included! I took in every minute, looking from the sky to the ocean to my parents to my beautiful kids and niece. With sand beneath my toes, I chased and raced around with my son and watched Nate toss Mabel high into the clouds, made footprint trails and wrote “Mommy ♥ Coen + Mabel” on the shore with our fingers. I literally have never known my life to feel so serene.

I spent a long time on that walk observing my parents. I watched them interacting with their grandchildren, my mom carrying on full conversations with a four-year old like it was her job. Or at least like she had done it a few times. When a kid would start to act up, I saw both of them simply stand back and let us do the parenting, and then smile at THEIR miniature creations taking such care of OUR miniature creations. At one point I caught my dad watching my daughter with a twinkle in his eye and it made me so happy. Even though she had been a little crabapple for a majority of the trip, it warms my heart to know that they love her just as much as they did before they knew of her truest Satanic inner-workings (just kidding, Maby…you know mommy loves you). I couldn’t help but tear up as I watched our growing family learn, laugh, and love together on this wonderfully zen-like peninsula.

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Wait! So, maybe that’s what it is…that’s what the childless Francis Bacon was talking about in his confusing quote. He wasn’t drunk or whacked out from his frigid pork studies. He was talking about the change in personal perceptions that occur with habitual travel. The more you see, the more you know, the more you create memories which surely play some impact on your entire outlook of life. The definition of “Experience” is: the knowledge or skill acquired by such means over a period of time. So, watching my parents on the beach that night was them truly experiencing something. Just as watching Coen follow a ghost crab all the way down the shore was him truly learning something. And us, as 30-something newbie parents, are stuck in the middle, trying to balance tantrums with television and eye rolls with ice cream. I have dominated the task of packing a suitcase for four and can entertain kids to kill a five-hour layover like Celine does Vegas. But, I learned on this particular vacation that I can also experience and appreciate life and the lives of those around me more than I ever have before.

grandparents beach

I don’t know if it is related at all to my having children of my own, but I do know that they have helped me to find grace and gratefulness in everyday activities. They have made me anticipate the mornings to see their little faces and take on whatever challenges that day may bring. They have given me the courage to want to be a better, healthier, smarter, more patient person who they can look at someday the way I looked at my parents that night on our walk. THEY have given me what I consider my first true taste of genuine “experience.” And for that, I am thankful.

Yes, Sir Francis, I will continue to travel. I appreciate your words and that they had an impact on me in my life at this moment. And, hey, if you ever want to try travel with children, I’ve got some pointers for YOU, big guy. Maybe next time around…


Coen Turns Four

Coen Turns Four

Today, my little man turned four years old. Surreal. I was only emotional in the morning after I dropped him off at school with all his friends. He only gets better each and every day.

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My Memoirs, Age 4 (Parents magazine)

This is from an article I just read in my Parents magazine. It was written by Jason Good for the July 2013 issue and is freaking HILARIOUS! I couldn’t find it online anywhere, but wanted to grab some bits and pieces that relate flabbergastingly well to the Brunner household. Enjoy some of these lines from this amusing article from the perspective of, say, Coen (and every other four-year-old boy in the world today):


“Apparently, I can eat all the broccoli I want because it has vitamins, but if I want to stuff my face with just (gummy) vitamins everyone acts like I’ve lost my mind. I would eat cheddar bunnies instead, but unfortunately my dad scarfs them all at midnight while watching HGTV like some depressed tween. You’re 40, and that’s way too old to eat anything in the shape of an animal that isn’t an animal. Instead of peppering me with annoying questions, you should just turn on the TV. Seriously. When I’m watching television I’m totally Zen and in the moment. Just leave it on all the time.”

“Whenever I yell for my dad to get me ham or come outside to push me on the swing for three hours, he gets annoyed. It’s either because I refuse to wear sunscreen or that I’m interrupting him from staring at his phone. I don’t know what he’s doing on that thing, but he loves it more than my little brother loves my mom’s boob.”

(referencing his little brother) “That kid is an animal. I’m honestly frightened of him. If he throws one more yogurt squeezer at my face, I’m calling a social worker. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it’s fun to get crazy with him and tear up important tax documents, but a guy like me also needs some solo time building a Lego tower without a cackling maniac in a diaper going all Godzilla on it.”

“We have three cats. There’s an orange one named Oliver who my brother loves to sit on. I yell, ‘Arlo, NO!” but my mom and dad get mad and say, ‘Don’t yell at Arlo!” Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! Next time I’ll just ignore him when he uses the cat as a beanbag chair.”

“It’s chaos, and I think we need some kind of family whisperer. They’re yelling about where the keys are and trying to remember if my brother has pooped or not and where the green sippy cup is and Zzzzzzz – I totally just fell asleep. Meanwhile, I’m standing there…is someone going to put on my shoes? I mean, I can do it myself, but I don’t feel like it right now. Usually I just hang out by the door in one sock yelling, ‘Let’s GO!’ Mom gets crazy and dad becomes quiet and takes deep breaths until she yells at him to help her. Eventually one of them puts on my shoes for me but does it really fast like they’re mad and that usually makes me want to stay home.”

(referencing his little brother eating a lollipop) “Mom gives him one, he licks it twice, then bites it off and chomps on it. I told you he was an animal. Meanwhile, I’m licking mine like I belong in civilized society. he gets jealous and starts crying again, so my dad says, ‘Hey buddy, could you go finish that in the basement so your brother can’t see it?’ WHAT?! Now I’m being banished to the cellar because that spaz can’t control himself around candy? I just stand there, staring at him, slowly licking my delicious lollipop and turning my body away whenever he reaches for it. Then I start running away from him and my mom starts yelling because – STOP THE PRESSES – apparently the WORST thing you can do in the world is run with a lollipop in your mouth. It’s not a grenade, for crying out loud.”

Relatable? Um, yes. Check out more articles at parents.com.

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An Ode to the Folks

I was reading a website the other day, and the writer included one of those quote graphics that read: “Sometimes when I open my mouth my mother comes out.” I giggled. I shrugged. I turned to see my son emptying markers on to the kitchen floor (approximately 7 inches from the pile of magnets he had just removed from the fridge and the treasure bounty he had dragged out to play pirates, which by the way, was as quickly disregarded as it was thought up), and I said, “No! You will clean up one mess before you make another.” I turned back to the article and, as ah-ha moments often lead you to, I gasped!

Let me start out by saying that my parents freaking rock. I’m talkin’, “who’s-the-first-person-I-call-when-I-am-feeling-my-lowest, please-be-in-my-wedding-party, can-I-borrow-those-stylish-shoes-mom” ROCK! I can’t remember a time that I was so embarrassed by them that I hid my face, or was so mad at them that I threatened to run away. I was always excited for sleepovers with my friends because my house was fun and my parents were a giant part of what made it that way. We had rules and guidelines just like every other family. We had to pray before meals, we couldn’t sing (or whistle or do a little ditty of any kind) at the dinner table, there was no whispering in front of others, you couldn’t roll your eyes or glare or even cross your arms in front of my dad, homework was first priority, cable was canceled in the summertime, and laundry was always to be folded before Saved by the Bell was turned on. I remember riding Hot Wheels in our driveway, going on camping trips and long bike adventures where my brother and I would laugh because my sister had to sit in the yellow plastic seat positioned like six inches from my dad’s butt and that makes a 6-year-old chuckle a bit. We would “climb” Mt. Tom, which now looks like a small sledding hill with trees, and play hide-and-seek in the cemetery by our house (OK, that last one sounds weird). I cherished family vacations and Christmas mornings and ice cream stops for $.50 scoops at Nelsons after 9:30 church. Being a Machler kid was great, for the most part.

All that being said, there are times that I fight with Nate and look down at my kids, not-so-fondly recalling my parents’ “serious talks” from the bottom step in our basement. I watch Mabel hit her older brother and scold him instead out of sheer “you’re older and should know better” mentality, but remember being in that position with my younger sister quite often. I see a lot of them in my own parenting, in my own marriage, in my own decision-making, soul-searching and dream-chasing. I hear their voices in my head when I am challenged with a crossroads (even though they are sometimes atop opposite shoulders). My mom’s mantra is recited internally every time I am insulted, offended or disgruntled by someone’s objectionable opinion (it’s “Consider the source” if anyone else wants to write that down). And I take all of these lessons, mantras, statements, quotes, actions, memories and feelings, mix them up in a bowl, and create my own sense of self.

My kids need to be excused before they leave a family dinner. I always kiss my husband goodbye. My house needs to be spotless before leaving for vacation because – as mom used to say – no one wants to come home to a dirty house. “Because I said so” is my canned response for annoyingly complicated “why” questions such as, “Why can’t the bath toys swim in the potty, mommy?” I create made-up games with my children, use voices when telling stories, and am trying ever-so-patiently to get them to enjoy puzzles. I dress Mabel in clothes I would wear, which are clothes my mother would wear. I drink wine with my husband after rough days at the office and plan future family vacations based on a financial budget wherein I think we can afford being escorted through Disneyworld by Mickey Mouse himself and Nate reels me back in to maybe just standing in line and getting his autograph like other normal middle-income American families. I take my kids out to dinner and buy them an occasional gift from the mall because “you can’t take it with you when you go” – a quote from my father referencing money, death, and (probably hinting at) the lack of expectancies in their will. And, truth be told, I would have it no other way.

I’m a firm believer in “nurture” vs. “nature.” I know I am naturally dramatic and oversensitive and impatient, but I was nurtured to learn how to cope and deal with these traits (good and bad) and to use them throughout life – whatever that type of life might be. I had children, so I use those mechanisms to try and raise them right with good morals and confidence. I want to nurture them as I was nurtured, maybe teaching them to use a touch of humor to brush off negativity or discomfort. How I turned out may not work for everybody, but it’s what I know and I am so thankful for the memories, confidence, work-ethic, and standards that I now have as an adult.

I’m not sure if that quote graphic on that website I was reading was meant to be insulting or not, but whenever someone tells me I’m being “just like my mom” I smile and say, “Thank you.” I hope that – once you get past the gasp and the “ah-ha” moment – you too can see the comparative as a compliment…at least a little bit.

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