not so incompetent: it does get better

When my twins were babies, a woman told me "It doesn't get any better." I'm here to say it does.

“Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

That’s what she said to me as I wheeled my two baby girls into daycare this morning. “I’m sure they keep you busy. Mine are three. It doesn’t get any better.”

Well, I guess there’s no “It gets better” project for twin moms.

Which sucks, because for the last few days I just feel like life is hard. I feel incompetent. Like, not only can’t I do it all, but I can’t even do the little bit that I want to do. The little bit that I thought was achievable.

I wrote those words three years ago today, when I had tiny twins in daycare, a husband finishing up his Pediatric ER fellowship, was adjusting to life with a heart defect after “catastrophic” heart failure, and I was trying to finish grad school and feeling like a straight-up failure.

Now I’m the one whose twins are three, and I want to punch that other mom in the face. Because you know what? It does get better. It gets better and better all the time.

When my twins were babies, a woman told me it wouldn't get any better. I'm here three years later to say it does.

For one thing, everyone in my house now sleeps through the night. It took a long time to get there, but sleep is no longer a thing I agonize about, struggle for, or don’t get. Being tired all the time is just really really hard, and it makes you into a frazzled, emotional wreck. Not being tired all the time? It’s kind of the best.

For another, I can actually leave the room and get some stuff done while my kids PLAY TOGETHER HAPPILY. They can have tea parties in princess dresses, jam out on their instruments, cook up a masterpiece in their play kitchen, color in their coloring books, work on puzzles, build with Legos, and look at books, all without much involvement from me. Not for like, hours at a time, but often enough time to take a shower or get dinner together. That makes a big difference in my ability to feel “competent” at more than just the zoo keeping of keeping two tiny lumps alive.

Also? I realized I didn’t actually want to keep doing the grad school thing, and now that I have let that go, and also let go of defining myself by academic achievements or lack thereof, I’m much happier. I don’t have to “be” anything other than who I am right now, because it turns out I’m in a pretty good place. And maybe when my kids start school next year, I’ll get more serious about pitching and working to actually make this writing thing I love so much work for me. But I think the work I’m doing raising these kids is valuable and important, too, even without an M.A. after my name.

I remember being so scared three years ago to admit that I was feeling so low. I remember how desperate and overwhelmed I felt. I also still remember the sweet comment my friend Patrick, who is a little further down the parenting road left for me:

She’s wrong. It does get easier. We didn’t have twins, but 3 in five years. I can’t do the advanced math it takes to work that out, but I’m pretty sure I changed diapers for 14 consecutive years – and the oldest is only 13 now. Anyhow… It does get better. I promise.

There are a lot of great days ahead. The day you change your last diaper is a great day. The day the Bufflo Girls can buckle themselves in their car seats by themselves is a great day. The day they learn to ride a two-wheeler is a great day. The Saturday morning you wake up and discover they have gotten up, made their own breakfast and entertained themselves while you slept in is a great day. Your life is loaded with great days ahead.

I have found that my antidote to feeling like life has ganged up on me is to use gratitude as a tool. Not the kind of false gratitude your man Daniel is talking about up there, where gratitude is measured against others having it worse, or a guilty gratitude where we berate ourselves for having it so good, but the kind of gratitude that realizes that this feeling will pass and that today, I have everything I need, even if today does kind of suck, and tomorrow is another day filled with wonder and struggle and love and work and surprise and sorrow and joy.

The truth is, some days just plain suck and that’s ok. It will pass. Every single day of our lives aren’t meant to be filled with rainbows and unicorns and hobbits. When I can manage to use gratitude to find something genuine to feel grateful about without comparing myself to others, I can usually turn my day around. And some days, the only way I can find my gratitude tool is to tell others that I’m having a shitty day, and give them an opportunity to help me find it. And that’s a pretty joyful thing.

We’ve already had a few of those great days. And part of the reason I can celebrate them now is that I’ve been through the sucky days, too. I have struggled and grown and received so much grace in this process, a reason to be grateful for even the really hard days, too. Because I know that what I have and who I am? They’re enough. They’re not perfect, but they are GOOD. Even on the hard days. And especially on the good days.

So, now, when I see a mama struggling with little ones, I remember NOT to be the Debbie Downer with the three year old twins. I want to be the one who says: “I see you. I know it’s hard. I know it’s overwhelming. I know it’s beautiful and huge and heart-exploding, too. You’re doing enough. You are enough. And it will just keep getting better and better.”


I’m a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad shows exactly why.

I'm a big old feminist, but I love Barbie. Their new ad campaign shows why. |

Last week, my girls got their first non-baby dolls. They’re some Disney Princess toddler dolls they fell in love with Sam’s Club, and I’ve already roped their grandmother into sewing some clothes for the dolls by oh-so-helpfully sending her some links to some patterns. I foresee many hours of doll-playing in our future, and I know that soon enough, when they are a little bit older, it will be Barbie time.

This may surprise people who know me, a person who has been known to actually walk around in a tee-shirt that says FEMINIST across the chest, but I’m absolutely going to let my girls play with Barbies. Yes, I agree that Barbie presents a certain impossible beauty standard that is problematic and should be discussed and maybe even changed (hey Mattel, is fixing Barbie’s waist-to-hip ratio too much to ask?!), but I also think Barbie offers girls something no other toy does: the ability to imagine and enact narratives about adult life. Baby dolls facilitate one kind of play: parenting, which is wonderful and valuable, and all kids should get the opportunity to pretend-nurture and act like their parents, but it’s still limited. But Barbie? Barbie is a blank canvas. Barbie can be anything, and by extension, so can the child bringing her to life.

I really believe that I’m a writer today in part because I played with Barbie. She allowed me to create stories and dramas, to write dialog before I ever knew that was what I was doing, and to participate in what sci-fi types might call world building. I even did literal building, constructing furniture and houses for my dolls out of things around the house. I can still remember exactly how we made a Barbie couch out of rolled kitchen towels. Through Barbie, I imagined and enacted conflicts and their resolutions. Through Barbie, I imagined all sorts of jobs beyond just a dolly’s mommy. I look forward to my girls one day doing the same, and I think maybe when they’re 4 or 5, they’ll get some Barbies, including many of my own that my family saved for me.

All of these memories were stirred up when I saw Barbie’s new ad campaign, and it seems they’ve realized and decided to highlight what I always thought about Barbie: she is a vehicle through which children can explore the possibilities of the adult world. The ad is pretty breathtaking:

What about you? Did you play with Barbie? Will you let your kids play with her?


*Note, this is not sponsored by Barbie. I just have fond memories of the toy, and had been thinking about my girls and dolls when I saw the video shared on Twitter.

I’m already obsessing about Advent

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.comI’m the first to gripe about “Christmas Creep” and how people keep trying to make Christmas happen before its time, which, in my opinion, should absolutely never be before the day after Thanksgiving. (Mostly because Thanksgiving is one of my favorites.) However, I spent the last week obsessively working on finishing the Advent calendar I started making for the girls in 2013. It was a bit more than I could achieve when the girls were one, but now that they’re three, not only do I have more time to craft, I really think they’ll enjoy incorporating this tradition and get something out of it. And I’m writing about it now because if you start soon, you’ve got time to make one before Advent starts, too. But not if you have two one-year-olds — take it from me and take it easy on yourself.

Celebrating Advent has always been part of my family and faith tradition, a way to focus on the “reason for the season” as my dad loves to say. Growing up we had an Advent wreath and candles, and I remember doing family devotionals sent home by our church. Through friends, I heard about the Jesse Tree tradition, which uses the whole “out of the stump of Jesse” prophecy from Isaiah to tell the story of Jesus’s family tree through ornaments and a tree. Each ornament corresponds to a Bible Story about one of the members of Jesus’ family tree, so each day leading up to Christmas, you take out an ornament and read the corresponding scripture. One friend even hosted a Jesse Tree ornament party a few years back, where everybody was assigned one ornament and made enough for everyone, so each guest left with a complete set but only had to make one type of ornament — fun and efficient!

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar |

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar |

Lots of people put the ornaments on their actual Christmas tree or on a smaller table-top tree that they use just for the Jesse Tree. I had seen many beautiful felt and fabric Advent calendars, so that’s what I had in mind. I love the idea of making a normal Advent calendar slightly more scriptural, so I started looking for Jesse Tree Advent calendars. I wanted to make something that my family could use for years to come and remember fondly, so I bought a kit from an Etsy seller that included patterns, instructions, and all the supplies. My kit was $60, but it looks like my seller is no longer selling the kits, just fully handmade calendars for $390. While I love my kit, I can’t imagine having paid nearly 400 bucks for a completed calendar, though I know that it’s worth that with all the painstaking work that goes into it. So painstaking, in fact, that I modified my calendar– I used puffy paint on the felt to make the ornaments instead of hand-sewing tiny layers and appliques, and I machine-sewed the body of the calendar. I have come to accept that I am just not a fan of embroidering. It’s beautiful, but tedious and frustrating.

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar |


Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar |

Still, I didn’t want to write about finishing this beautiful thing for my family and then be like, sorry, folks, good luck to ya. I found a few felt Advent calendar patterns that I think you could fairly easily adapt into Jesse Trees by swapping out the ornaments, either by making these felt ornaments, by trying one of these other kits, or by buying a set of alreadymade Jesse Tree ornaments. There are also lots of free tutorials for making felt Jesse Tree ornaments online.

Is a Jesse tree part of your holiday tradition? Do you celebrate Advent in other ways?

Why we #embracethebif

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month |

It’s October, which means it’s time for perhaps the most poorly-timed awareness month of all, at least from my point of view. Sandwiched between all the pinkwashing of Breast Cancer Awareness, the purple of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the yellow and blue of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, you might see a little yellow, because it’s Spina Bifida Awareness Month, too. Last year, some friends and I got a little annoyed with the way some of our bigger advocacy orgs handle Spina Bifida Awareness Month, often focusing on prevention (something you may or may not really be able to totally achieve, because despite what folks tell you about folic acid, Spina Bifida is not 100% preventable) than on the beautiful, vibrant, varied people with Spina Bifida who are ALREADY HERE. So we started a little hashtag, #embracethebif. We just wanted to show people that life with Spina Bifida isn’t all sadness, pain, and difficulty. In fact, like any other life, life with SB is often beautiful, funny, interesting, and full. In short, it’s just LIFE.

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month |

Almost daily, someone just starting out on their SB journey finds their way to my blog or twitter or Instagram, and lets me know that even though they are in the dark place of a new diagnosis, kind of freaked out by medical jargon and grim prognoses, just seeing pictures of and reading stories about our ordinary life has given them hope. I remember doing the same when our diagnosis was new. I looked for blogs and images of kids with SB just being kids. And their faces turned out to be a lot more comforting to me than uncertain futures and things like surgeries, shunts, catheters, bowel programs, therapies, delays, braces, wheelchairs, walkers, and all the other things that seemed so huge and freaky when we were staring down a lifetime of them like some sort of loaded gun.

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month |

Yes, our life does sometimes involve all of those “scary” things, and some seasons are more full of pain, worry, and medical interventions than others. But mostly? Mostly those things are a sidebar to the life we live and love. So, this year, I want to again fill up my corner of the internet with positive, regular-life images of life with SB, because that’s what I think people who don’t know anything about SB need to see. Life with SB is just another way of being a person in the world. In my house, it looks like blonde curls, a deep belly laugh, a stubborn spirit, a love of dancing, a friend to babies, a snuggler extraordinaire– our Claire Bear.

Why we #embracethebif for Spina Bifida Awareness Month |

Please consider sharing images of what SB looks like to you– use the #embracethebif hashtag, and let’s show the world that life with SB isn’t something to fear, but worthy of embracing with open arms. If you’d like, you can also submit images to me via my Facebook Page, and I’ll share them throughout the month!


um, YEAH!

I remember reading some articles when the girls were smaller about how not only should we not tell our daughters that they are pretty, but we shouldn’t tell them they are smart either. I think I made some crack about how in the dystopian future, in which we are all required to have perfectly neutral conversations with our kids, we’ll be saying things like “It’s morning, small human. You are neither acceptable nor unacceptable, just another human like everyone else. Have a day.” Here’s the thing: I tell my children they are beautiful because they ARE. They are just BURSTING with beauty. It radiates out of their every pore. I look at them and it’s like the first time I straight up blurted to my husband that I loved him, a full three months before he ever felt ready to say it back, because I literally couldn’t hold it in anymore.


I also think they’re smart. When they solve a problem, when they complete a puzzle, when they make a connection or comparison that surprises me, I notice how smart they are. I know that I’m supposed to focus on the efforts they’ve made, rather than the outcome, and I do try to do that, but I also tell them that they’re smart, sometimes. Because they are. The sky is blue, and these girls are smart.


Another thing they are is HILARIOUS. Claire in particular is a natural comedian, actually testing out material on us and asking “is that funny, mom?” before sharing those jokes or bits with others. I have every confidence that my small white-blond child is the next Amy Poeheler. They crack us up all the time, and when they ask, the answer to “is that funny?” is almost always yes, unless they’re just being wildly inappropriate, though I also appreciate the person who is wildly inappropriate on occasion, especially for the sake of a good laugh.


To me, the key is to make sure they know that I’m not defining or valuing them by any one thing, but because of their amazing, miraculous wholes. They are beautiful, smart, hilarious, determined, and most of all, kind, and I want them to know all of those things.

But I’ve noticed something crazy: they actually came into the world basically knowing all of that already. Their default assumption is that they are valuable and loveable, and it seems like that must be the way we start out, and then that gets chipped at by the world as we grow, and before we know it, we’re needing to hear it from others before we believe it. And so more than telling my girls what they are, I am realizing that it’s my job to protect the knowledge they already have about who they are, how fabulous, worthy, and wonderful they are.


We must be doing something right, because as Claire walked her sassy little walk through a waiting room today– her innate confidence combined with her slightly altered gait thanks to spina bifida means she sort of stomp-struts through life, curls bouncing–an older, mustachioed man looked at her and said, “You sure are pretty!” And she didn’t miss a beat, that girl, she just looked up at him and said, “um, YEAH!” “Good answer!” I said. And she kept on walking. She doesn’t need that man or anyone to tell her who she is. And she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that she’s more than just her looks– she knows it. It’s my job to help make sure it stays that way.

i took a walk

My girls have fallen in love with “the puppets,” by which they mean The Muppets lately. No, this isn’t some sort of tie-in with their new show that apparently premiered this week, because I haven’t seen it, and I’m not on the Muppet payroll. (Although, Kermit, call me!) We have a few Muppet movies on DVD, and they’ve been watching those, particularly the newer one with Jason Segel that came out when I was pregnant with them, which Jon and I saw in the theater, which I totally SOBBED through because I was hopped up on double twin hormones and feeling very nostalgic. Anyway, one funny thing that the girls have picked up on from the movie is a song Amy Adams’ character sings while eating alone about “having a me party.” When we were out to lunch the other day, they saw a woman dining alone, and asked me if she was having a “me party.” And I’ve heard them say to each other when they feel like they need a little space or alone time, “could you please leave me alone? I need to have a me party.” I kind of love it. Both the phrase and the fact that these tiny people are self-aware enough to know that they need some alone time once in a while. And I love that it’s phrased positively, like a party, instead of negatively, like loneliness.

As a mom of three-year-old-twins, I don’t get a lot of me time. You know how society is always making us think we need to “do it all” and asks us how we “do it all” and creates a lot of insecurity around “all” and even though we know it’s a giant, soul-killing lie, we just keep buying into it, anyway? We all know this, and yet we keep on tap dancing, juggling flaming swords, just praying that we don’t get maimed too bad when it all falls down.

I’m tempted to say something like “Can I be real?” and make a candid admission, but here’s what I’m really going to say: you don’t need to ask permission to be real. You don’t need to sneakily confess that you’re not doing it all. Because deep down you know no one is, and you know that’s just life, and there shouldn’t be guilt there. I can’t even figure out how to do MOST OF IT, let alone all of it, in one day. I can be a few but not all of the following in a given day: a good mom, a good wife, a good friend, a good cook, a person who exercises, a person who writes, a person who took a shower today, a person with a clean house, a person who makes time for her spiritual wellbeing, a person who gets enough sleep. Which is why I just love love loved this post, “Limiting All” by a woman whose voice I have really come to love lately, Amanda Magee. In it, she writes, “Unclench your hand, let everything fall down, if for no other reason than to give your arm a rest and to regather the things so they fit better in your hand. We are all sitting precariously on towers of our own making. They don’t have to reach the sky or carry the world, they just need to hold us and that starts with us accepting that ‘all’ is not something we even want.”


So, a great gift my husband has given me the last three days is he’s given me some “me party” time. I know that we both want each other to take time to nurture ourselves, but work schedules and actually taking advantage of the time we do have doesn’t always work out. But this week, it has. Namely, for the last 3 days, I’ve gotten out for 45 minutes to an hour to just take a walk in the lovely finally starting to cool off weather, basking in the sunshine, earbuds and a podcast in my ears. Because while I love doing Zumba in my den, it’s just SO FREAKING NICE after basically being cooped up in air conditioned spaces for the last three months, to get some fresh air in my lungs and just be by myself and listen to stuff that feeds my mind.

The view halfway through my walk.

The view halfway through my walk.

Taking care of my mind/body is something that often ends up on the back burner, because I am taking care of small people, trying to nurture relationships, and also trying to squeeze out time to do the thing I love the most: write. But the thing is, a lot of the time, I feel like all my creative energy gets used up in the course of just trying to create my best self with which to interact and parent my children every single day. I mean, I’m literally writing the character I inhabit all day every day, trying to put affirming, patient, peaceful words and thoughts in my mind and my mouth, trying desperately to construct the reality I want them to live in. And since I’m a person who writes about my life, sometimes being actively in it makes it hard to also observe it and package great insights wrapped in words. I know it’s hip to talk about living your life as if you’re writing a story these days, but man, that’s how I see my world. I’m writing a story with my life all day, and sometimes that leaves very little headspace or energy for actual writing. Which then creates guilt because my writing is this big key piece of my personality and sanity and wellbeing.

So, anyway, these last three days, I’ve walked a total of 8 miles or so, and I’ve been listening to interesting things along the way, and today as I was trucking along, I was straight up moved to tears listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talking to Rob Bell on his Rob Cast (episode 36). You should really listen to the whole thing, because it’s super special, but the part that made me cry as I walked was when a mom of a young child asked Elizabeth about finding the time to write in the midst of motherhood and all the fatigue and busyness that comes with it. And she basically told the woman that she needed to give herself permission to not be writing right now, and to take care of her “animal body” as much as she could, by getting enough rest and being kind to herself. And at that moment, the piece of me that feels guilty that I don’t get to do more writing, guilty that I so often open this page up with empty hands and nothing to offer, guilty that I can’t even do MOST OF THE THINGS in one day, that hard little piece of me broke open a little bit, and some light and some air got into my soul, the same stuff I’ve been basking in on my walks.


Intellectually I know I can’t do most of the things in the same day. And I need to let that be OK in the season I am in right now. I will write when the planets align, and when I have something I need to say, I will fight to make the time to do it. And when I need to take care of my animal body with a long walk in the sunshine and something inspiring in my ears, I will accept with pleasure the gift of time to do it. Today, because I have accepted that gift, my legs are a little sore, and my heart toward myself is a little softer, and I found the time to write way too many words about it, and there’s banana bread cooling on the counter. That’s not ALL, by any means, but it’s enough. And I’m so much more interested in enough.

newsflash: instagram is filtered

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Instagram is probably my favorite corner of the internet. Facebook is often lovely, but just as often feels like a room full of people shouting about their opinions, arguing with friends of friends about hot button issues, and a never-ending string of memes and click-bait stories from aggregation sites. Twitter is like carrying all of my funniest, wittiest friends around in my pocket all day long, but it often contains a disconcerting number of people who like to run up to me at random and yell at me that that thing I said three days ago was VERY WRONG, and also, what’s my problem with Rand Paul anyway?

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Instagram, however, is a happy place. I follow a lot of lovely folks there, and for the most part, they share interesting little pieces of beauty that they see as they go about their daily lives. Just scrolling through my feed, I see breathtaking landscapes from National Geographic, smiling babies, delicious and beautiful food, cute pets, yummy cocktails, friends loving their lovely #selfies, cute shoes, fun outfits, lovely interiors, and exciting travels. It’s impossible to thumb through without smiling and giving out a smattering of hearts. What’s not to like?

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo


Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Apparently, people have decided they don’t like that it’s “fake.” That we’re not photographing our shitty moments, the ones where we’ve burned dinner, or it rained on our picnic, or the pile of clutter just outside the frame. We’re rarely shooting selfies of our bad-hair-days, or showing that in fact yoga pants are most frequently our #ootd (outfit of the day). Somehow our beaches are always empty and serene, our dinners expertly plated, and obviously our children are going to eat all of that and wear that outfit, and not get their knees muddy or their hair mussed or haul off and slug their best friend. I even saw a piece today about an account dedicated to showing the “Truth Behind Instagram Photos” that reveals all that’s not shown inside each little square of loveliness.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

This irks me. Isn’t the beauty in the frame just as true as the mess that may be lurking outside it? Isn’t beauty ALWAYS found in the midst of clutter, chaos, and just plain life? To me, being able to notice it, to focus on it, to at least momentarily crop out the other stuff is in a way a mindfulness practice. A way of reminding myself of a bigger truth: that there’s a lot of beauty and love in the midst of my messy, imperfect life, and the more I notice it, the more I find waiting to be noticed. Does it make us feel better or worse to point out the rings on the coffee table just outside the perfectly cropped picture of a mason jar full of pickles? Is the beauty of a post-bedtime cocktail less important than the pile of mail I moved to the side to take a picture of the glasses on the kitchen table?

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Everyone knows that the things they see on Instagram are literally filtered by photo tweaks inside the program, by the way it crops things into neat little squares, and by the way we curate what we choose to share. Isn’t there something refreshing and radical about a space that invites us to notice and share the things that we find beautiful, the things we love, the things that delight us? There are plenty of places for us to share OTHER aspects of our reality, but I think we, or at least I, need the reminder that the beauty is there and very real, too, especially when the mess, chaos, and ugliness seem oh-so-overwhelming.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo