on clothespins, cherries, and ink stamps.

I am in the middle of making a pot of macaroni and cheese for lunch when my phone lights up and catches my eye. The notification is a New York Times headline: “Claes Oldenburg, a Pop artist who made monumental sculptures of ordinary objects like cherries and clothespins, is dead at 93.” 

Before that moment, I had never heard the name Claes Oldenburg, but I lingered an extra beat in front of the headline for two reasons. First, I recognized the cherry sculpture in the thumbnail picture that accompanied the words. Once in college, my Minnesotan roommates took me to the Minneapolis art museum and made sure we stopped by “Spoonbridge and Cherry”—a 29.5-foot tall spoon with a cherry on top—in the sculpture garden nearby. Second, when I scanned through the headline, my eye was immediately drawn to the word “ordinary” in conjunction with the word “artist.” 

A clothespin. A cherry. An ink stamp. These are a few of the common objects Oldenburg magnified and turned into art.

///

A few hours before I read this headline, the kids and I stopped by the library on our way to Aldi for our weekly grocery pick up. Lily was out of chapter books which isn’t good for anyone and we also needed to get out of the house and we also just love the library and never need to look hard for a reason to go.

The children’s librarian greeted my kids and then immediately offered them a to-go story time bag filled with preschool appropriate sorting, matching, and counting games. Included were five small, multi-colored clothespins. After we filled a bag with books and the kids split up to read and play, I watched Norah take everything out of the bag and complete all the tasks—clipping clothespins to numbers and corresponding colors on laminated strips of paper. Before we left, she packed it all up for me and I didn’t see any of it again until much later when I saw all five clothespins pinned to Sawyer’s shirt and then again some time after that when Sawyer limped into the kitchen with an Ace bandage wrapped around his leg. 

“It might take me a while to get the cups for you,” he said. “I think my leg is broken.” He limped past me, and I noticed he had secured the bandage with a small, black clothespin.

///

The kids dispersed throughout the house when we got home with the groceries but quickly reconvened at the counter peninsula when they heard food being pulled from the paper bags. I grabbed a bag of cherries from the top of one of the bags, rinsed the cherries in the sink, and then placed them in front of the kids. They wasted no time grabbing a handful each. 

Jude smiled at me on my way back from a trip to the refrigerator. Cherry juice dripped from his mouth and hands, and there were red spots all over his American flag t-shirt.

“It looks like blood!” Norah squealed. 

Never one to leave a laugh behind, Sawyer grabbed another handful and performed his own bleeding mouth bit. The laughter remained steady until almost all the cherries were gone.

///

After the library books and groceries were put away and the lunch dishes had been washed, I rallied the girls to the major to-do of the day: cleaning their room. I scanned the perimeter edges and tried to figure out the best place to start. The floor was almost entirely covered in books, toys, clothes, and trash, and I wondered again how we let it get to this. How we let them accumulate so much junk.

I sat down next to a bookshelf with a garbage bag in hand and started to sort through the contents of the shelf. I made piles of books to keep and books to give away and threw away anything I could while the girls weren’t looking. 

I picked up an ink stamp with the phrase “I love you” in curly script. It didn’t look like it had ever been used. I went to throw it in the trash—I was in “no mercy” mode—but Lily snatched it out of my hand. 

“I need this!” she said. Then, she found a gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of ink stamps and added it to the collection. A memory came back to me: Three-year-old Lily in our Cleveland basement, covering a piece of paper and her hands with stamps. I let the bag stay on her shelf though I can’t remember her using any of them in the years since.

///

I have been looking at pictures of Claes Oldenburg’s pop art and reading a bit about his life since the headline announcing his death popped up on my phone screen. About his own work, he said this: “My struggle has been to return painting to the tangible object, which is like returning the personality to touching and feeling the world around it, to offset the tendency to vagueness and abstraction. To remind people of practical activity, to suggest the sense and not to escape from the senses.”

The tendency to vagueness and abstraction. This phrase shifts something inside of me as I am prone to it—inclined to escape from my senses when life with four kids gets loud or chaotic or overwhelming.

Clothespins. Cherries. A collection of ink stamps. These are a few of the common objects I am suddenly convicted to touch and feel, and this notion grounds me in the tangible. It settles me in a way I didn’t realize I needed to be settled.

If I let them, these ordinary things can tether me to what is real—to what is happening around me. They can remind me that we are here, living this life together, if only I will choose to stay engaged in it. 

A day later, the kids and I gather around the kitchen table after the breakfast bowls are rinsed. The tap of my computer keys is accompanied by four mechanical pencils scratching on paper. Two kids write books, one draws a horse, and another makes tiny lines in abstraction.

There are a million things to do today, but those four small pencils in four small hands remind me to stay here in this moment. It’s not a 45-foot tall sculpture but it’s big enough—magnified by its importance rather than its size. 


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Ordinary Inspiration”.

at least.

april 22, 2006

The thought struck me today that sometime I’m going to read back on these journals and laugh at how much I think I know or how ridiculously childish I sound. I never want that to be the case.

This is what has been on my heart — silly as it sounds. I pray that I would at least see progress in my faith. That despite what I was going through, I was at least growing through it all.

april 25, 2022

I was afraid to go to sleep when I was a kid. Well, that’s not the exact right way to explain it. It’s more accurate to say that I was afraid to be alone with my thoughts at night when I was a kid because there, in the cocoon of my bottom bunk, I couldn’t escape all the intrusive thoughts.

You name it, I considered it, but my three predominant fears were as follows: house fires, leukemia, and pirates. I can’t tell you where that last one originated. Did I see a movie about pirates? Read about them in a book? Why did I peek through the slats of my blinds convinced there could be a pirate ship at the end of my cul-de-sac? Only the Lord knows.

///

I lied to my mom once in fifth grade. Or, maybe it is more accurate to say that I lied to my mom once because I cannot think of another time it happened.

Here’s how it happened: my friend Jackie was at my house and my crush Zach was at the top of the hill, about seven houses away. Jackie kept relaying messages between the two of us, and my mom—who obviously could see a boy up there—asked me what was going on. Too embarrassed to admit the truth, I just straight up lied: “Oh, she dropped a glove up there and has to go back to get it.” I even doubled down after Jackie made another trip: “Oh, she must have dropped the glove again.”

A few hours later, my mom was getting into her van to leave for a weekend away with my dad, and she told me she knew I was lying. “We’ll talk about it when I get home,” she said before driving away, and that’s how the worst weekend of my life began.

///

I never bought a hot lunch in elementary school. I had no personal vendetta against rectangle pizza or boxed chocolate milk; it’s just that I didn’t know how it worked. I wasn’t exactly sure where the trays were or what to do with one once it was in my hand. What did you say to the lunch ladies? How did you pay in the end? What would happen if, for some reason, there wasn’t enough money in my account?

So, I brought a cold lunch every single day. I never even considered otherwise. There were just too many unknowns.

///

In seventh grade, I asked my mom to buy me a yo-yo because everyone else had a yo-yo.

///

So much of it seems so silly—so ridiculously childish—now. Pirates? Fifth grade boys? Yo-yos? These are the trials of youth. They don’t hold up to the stage of adulthood but the associated feelings certainly do. In fact, these small snapshots from my past are worth more than I have ever given them credit for because, not only do they help me understand myself better, but they also help me understand our kids who, in many ways, are amplified versions of my personality.

That girl who worked hard to fall asleep and was easily racked with guilt and avoided unknown situations and just wanted to belong? She’s still alive in me. Also? She’s alive in my kids too.

What good does it do to laugh at my former self? I am still her, after all—though changed through all my life experiences. I’ll never shake my head at the former me or roll my eyes at all I should have known then. Instead, I’ll say, “Despite what you went through, you grew through it all, and now, you get to help your own kids do the same.”

Local Boy Shows Promise as Food Critic

DES MOINES, Iowa — It didn’t take long for Molly Flinkman to notice there was something exceptional about her five-year-old son’s tastebuds.

“He has always had a knack for flavors,” Flinkman told reporters recently. “If there is even a hint of spice in a dish, he’ll taste it and point it out immediately. It’s really something.”

The Flinkman family first observed their son’s food prowess when he was a baby. “He would devour an entire meal in less than 30 seconds, and I’m not exaggerating,” Flinkman said. “We used to hand him corn cobs after dinner just to keep him busy while the rest of us ate.”

These days, his tastes are more refined. He has perfected the art of many unique flavor pairings like ketchup on white rice, ketchup on dry scrambled eggs, and, on the rare occasion, ketchup on applesauce. What’s more, he already understands the importance of a well-executed meal. His favorite lunch order, for instance, is a cheese quesadilla grilled “just enough brown, but not black.”

“He’s not shy about his opinions,” Flinkman said. “He won’t hesitate to send a plate back to the kitchen if it’s not up to his standards and spends much of the day mentally preparing for his next meal.”

So what’s next for him?

“He says he wants to be a paleontologist,” Flinkman said, “but I haven’t closed the door on a career in food. He thinks about it and talks about it almost constantly. He’s just so passionate about it.”

When asked about his plans for the future, Flinkman’s five-year-old son asked simply, “Is it snack time yet?”


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Breaking News”.

we only knew what we knew.

march 22, 2004

I’m kind of at a loss for words right now. I want to make decisions based on what I want, rather than on what other people want for me or think about me. I want to decide things that make me happy rather than worrying so much about pleasing others. 

march 26, 2020

Today was Jake’s last day with us for the foreseeable future. He started the day by going grocery shopping for me—he stocked us up for the next few weeks, thankfully. When he got home, he built a fire in the backyard & we all ate corn dogs together outside. He finished shopping for me during nap time & then we took the kids on a 2-hour bike ride. We ate salad for dinner & watched a few episodes of The Office together before I watched him pack & we went to sleep. It’s strange knowing I’ll see him but be unable to touch him. Today was another sad day. I cried a lot.

march 26, 2022

I don’t particularly like to think about March 26th of 2020. Everything about that day—set against a strange stage of ordinariness—unsettled me. The image of Lily’s face nestled into Jake’s neck after he told her the coronavirus was going to keep him away for the foreseeable future is forever seared in my memory. I walked through that day in a daze, but that moment sticks. I can still swallow the sadness of it all.

There’s another reason I don’t like to think about this day though: I wonder if it seems silly. I wonder if we would have made different choices if we knew then what we know now. I wonder if anyone reading this rolls their eyes at the mention of Jake saying goodbye to our family and then not stepping foot back inside our house for 43 more days.

We only knew what we knew, a small voice whispers inside me.

In the present tense, Jake and I are trying to figure out how best to handle a situation with one of our kids. (I mean, we’re always trying to figure out how best to handle situations with all of our kids, but lately there is one particular issue that has risen to the surface.) We talk about this kid and these particular details daily. What is the cause of this problem? we ask. What kinds of support should we put in place to move toward a solution?

In some measure of years, hindsight will bring clarity. We’ll look backwards at the situation with eyes of more experience and could rewrite the story based on new information. But now?

We only know what we know.

Back in 2004, I was running something over and over and over in my mind. The particular details of that “something” are unimportant now, but I can tell you it involved a boy. I can also tell you that what felt all-consuming at the time I now see as—how do I put this delicately?—no big deal. I wrote a prayer in the middle of that entry: I know you can conquer all these fears. I know you can overpower my insecurities. I know you can crush my worries.

Mary Oliver has a poem titled “I Worried,” and the first line really speaks to me: “I worried a lot.” She goes on to write, “Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, / can I do better?”

In every version of myself—all the days of all my ages—I am trying to figure something out. I am working through something I cannot see to the other side of. For many of these situations, I have the benefit of hindsight. I can tell my former self everything she doesn’t know—everything she could do better.

But who does this backwards thinking serve? When it comes to the circumstances of my life, I can only know what I know on each given day.

Mary Oliver gave up worrying. “I saw that [it] had come to nothing,” she wrote. “[I] took my old body / and went out into the morning, / and sang.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully give up worrying, but I will continue to refuse to shake my head at my former self. I, too, will go out into the morning and sing: “I knew what I knew and did the best I could with it.”

march 16

march 16, 2020

Our first official day of spring break which, by the early afternoon, we found out has been extended until April 13th. Last Monday was completely normal–school was on and “social distancing” was only a whisper. Things were starting to cancel, but everything felt very normal. Things really started to escalate on Friday. Lily came home with all her books in case they had to extend Spring Break, and, nationally, things started shutting down. It was an ominous and unsettling sort of weekend.

Today, we got outside as much as we could–the kids and I went for a walk and played inside together. I had to go grocery shopping after dinner, and the store was picked pretty clean although the only thing I could not get was bread and applesauce. In the morning the federal recommendations were to gather with no more than 50 people. By the end of the day, it was down to 10. We cancelled Taco Tuesday. It’s such a strange time.

march 16, 2022

A few days before everything shut down in 2020, I dropped the girls off at their weekly dance class (their last weekly dance class) and then drove down the road to the grocery store to pick up a few things. It was unusually busy for 7:00 at night and the shelves were unusually bare. It was the first time I felt palpably unsettled by what was happening around me.

As I rounded one of the last aisles, I tossed a small, black notebook into my cart. I sensed the speed at which things were changing around me and felt a need to track it. I couldn’t have known then all that the future would hold but I knew future me would want a record of it.

I wrote in that notebook every morning for 79 days.

The entries are devoid of emotion. I didn’t pour my heart out on the pages as teenage Molly did in journals of old. I just kept a record. Maybe, on some level, I knew I would forget the events exactly as they transpired but that the emotion of it all would come back if only I could remember, and, two years later, remembering feels important.

Today we are a few days into spring break, and the kids and I have been getting outside as much as we can. The promise of spring is on the doorstep and, as has been the case each time I’ve looked into the past, so much is the same even though many things are different.

I find so much comfort and joy and hope in that very small truth.

march 7th, 8th, and 10th

3/7/04

I feel as though each one of my journal entries is beginning to sound the same. Boys this, lonely that, friends here, broken there. Not that all that shouldn’t be thought about, but I feel like I’ve been throwing myself one big pity party this week. I’ve been so self-centered and it’s been hard to focus on anything but myself.

3/8/07

I’m growing so discontented with this place I’m at in my life right now. All I can seem to do is look forward to graduation and the next phase in my life. I suppose it’s good that I’m not afraid of that change, but at the same time, I don’t want to miss out on anything in the here and now. I am at peace with where I’m at. I guess I’m just ready to move on to the next challenge—the next stage of life. 

3/10/22

Next year, for nine hours a week, all four of our kids will be in school. This will be the first time in seven years that I will be alone for a consistent measure of time during the day. Is unprecedented the right word to use here? Maybe “precedented” is more accurate because I remember the occurrence of something similar. I remember what it was like to have time that was my own—walking through the library aisles with only a silence to accompany me; sitting down at Starbucks alone with whatever book I picked from the shelf.

I would be lying if I said I am not looking forward to those upcoming nine hours a week. But, I am not there yet. For now, I am still responsible for at least one child every single hour of every single day. And in this space, I’m left to wonder: Have I done enough? 

At the end of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg and her father get separated by time and space from her little brother, Charles Wallace. When she realizes this, Meg is furious. She can’t understand how her dad would let this happen. Once they had found her father, she assumed he would take charge and get them all home. Instead, they lost her beloved brother, and she takes her grief out on her father. She directs the entirety of her rage directly at him until finally she is able to look at him with compassion.

“I wanted you to do it all for me,” she tells him as she leaves to go rescue Charles Wallace by herself. “I wanted everything to be all easy and simple, so I tried to pretend that it was all your fault. I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself.”

Meg learned to see her father as a human being in that moment—full of faults and shortcomings and failures. He wasn’t enough for her but that was okay. He loved her. That was the best he could give. 

Time has taught me that I will likely always struggle to be fully present wherever I am—that there will always be something to anticipate in the future. And because there is no shortage of personal flaws, I often struggle to focus on anything but myself.

Maybe the question isn’t Have I done enough? Maybe it’s, Have I helped my children see the whole of myself?

Maybe it’s better for them to see my self-centered tendencies and my struggle not to worry about the future. Maybe by exposing my faults more often, they won’t feel the need to hide their own. Maybe they’ll be more equipped to grow in their own necessary ways. Maybe they’ll feel my love in a different but necessary way.

march 5th

3/5/07

I think I have been avoiding God for the past few days, and that is never how I want to function. I feel as though my faith is so elementary, yet, I don’t know where to start to deepen my understanding. I am so ignorant of so much and I don’t want to settle for that anymore. I feel like God is trying to tell me something, but I’m unable to hear it.

The thought just struck me that maybe I don’t hear because I don’t ask, therefore, I don’t listen.  I want to be still now and recognize his voice.

This is where I am. This is where I’ll stay

3/5/22

I rolled out of bed at 7:45 this morning. The girls came upstairs at 7:20 to see if it was, as they say, “wake-up time” yet, and I milked their relative morning independence until I heard the boys twenty minutes later—shockingly late for them.

The rest of the morning fell into a rhythm of laziness (the good, Saturday morning kind). The kids ate breakfast, drew at the kitchen table, then split up: The three big kids played with beads and string while Jude built Magnatile towers in the living room.

I moved in and out of it all. I solved today’s Wordle in four guesses before I climbed out of bed. I read at the table for a bit while they drew. I sent intermittent text messages. I checked my NYT news app from a place of muscle memory. I read a beautiful essay and an article about how Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote “Dos Orugitas” and then live-texted and emailed my friends my thoughts.

I sat in the living room with Jude while he built and then read him a book and in not one single moment of the entire morning was I fully present for any of it. I stayed in a state of distraction—never really focusing on one thing for any long measure of time.

I’ve been aware of this tendency for some time. Last fall, I wrote an essay about how annoying it is when Jude interrupts the moments of time I have to play with the other three kids, and, as I was writing, I started to wonder something: Was I so frustrated because of the interruptions or was I frustrated because the interruptions came during the singular moment in the day where I was making a conscious choice to be present?

I want to be better than this. I want to be still. To listen. To hear. I want my kids to learn to be still. To listen. To hear.

This is where I am. I hope this isn’t where I’ll stay.

february 17

february 17, 2000

Dear Journal,

Tonight’s er was very…depressing. I won’t get into all the inky details, but it was. I talked to Noel online today…What a sweety. I wonder if he likes me! Well, we’re supposed to get lots of snow tonight. We’re hopin’ for a snow day! Well, gtg.

february 17, 2022

I used to watch ER every single Thursday with my mom when I was in middle school. I loved Dr. Green and Nurse Hathaway and recorded episodes on VHS tapes when I couldn’t be home to watch them. The episode on February 17th, 2000 was depressing, but it’s the previous weeks that I still remember in vivid detail. It involved a stabbing of one of my favorite characters—a medical student named Lucy who I now realize had her whole life still ahead of her—and some quality dramatic irony. While the rest of the hospital celebrated Valentine’s Day, Lucy and her resident, Dr. Carter, laid on the ground inside a patient room and stared at each other from either side of a gurney.

The episode completely gutted me. I can picture it, still, so clearly. I had to leave to go somewhere as soon as it ended, and I remember being so stunned I couldn’t move—like it was all real.

I would never watch ER today. 2022 Molly avoids death and grief and suffering in entertainment at all costs. Jake has a queue of movies and shows he knows he has to wait to watch without me. Together, we watch people fall in love or laugh and if we touch something that starts to feel stressful, I Google the ending right there on the couch to make sure it’s going to turn out okay. If it isn’t, I leave the room.

Has this changed in me or have I just learned to set better boundaries for what I know has always been true about myself? It’s something I like to consider about more than just my cinematic intake.

How have I changed? What caused it? What motivated it? What’s there beneath the surface? If I chip away and look closely, what will I discover?

More questions to ask. Which, again, never feels like such a bad place to start (or end).

february 12

february 12, 2003

I didn’t realize that our country was in such a scary time. I’m scared. I’m scared of losing someone, or something, or of things happening beyond anyone’s control. I’m afraid that my dreams and ambitions won’t come true because we are living in the end times. I suppose I am being superficial.

february 12, 2022

There are two pictures on my camera roll from February 12, 2020. They are both poor quality shots of the three biggest kids in our house—their bellies on the carpet of our old rental house—while they draw in tiny notebooks with crayons and pens. In the first picture, Jude stands above them. Norah laughs.

In the following days, there are pictures of Sawyer in a Batman mask and all the kids in the Valentine’s Day shirts my mom sent from South Carolina. Lily’s front teeth are missing just like Norah’s are now. The closer the pictures get to March, the more palpably I feel them. A river walk with the cousins. Jude, asleep on my lap. Sawyer, looking down on me from a ledge. The girls, in pink leotards and tap shoes at their last dance class.

While I scroll through the pictures, a sadness rises up in me. I can feel it in my throat. By the time I get to mid-March, it’s too much, so I close my phone and put it down. Maybe sadness isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s more that I can’t bear to see all those simple smiles, knowing all that is to come. Is there a word for that?

On this same day in 2000, I had just had glamour shots taken at Valley West Mall and my show choir had performed at a competition only to receive less than average scores. To make matters worse? “I messed up too!” Each day brings both big and small matters, but, in the moment, those matters rarely seem small. There is always something to surmount—something to move past.

Today it was a three-year-old’s bedtime and his general, volatile demeanor. Who’s to say what tomorrow will bring?

Trouble is promised. Two questions remain: Where will I turn when it comes? Will I let it teach me—shape me for all that has not yet come to pass?

003 // february 4

february 4, 2005

My emotions are starting to get the best of me yet again, and I think most of it is due to my friends having boyfriends. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy for them, but in times like these it’s easy to see what I don’t have. I want to be content. I want to be completely satisfied. I’ve been comparing myself to others so much lately, and I always seem to come up short. Why do I do this to myself?

february 4, 2022

Oh. Okay, I see. So, not much has changed.

Why do I do this to myself?