Nora, parenting

Angus.

When we look back on it, I think we will say that Nora’s first love was a horse named Angus.

He has been sitting in our backyard for several years, ever since some older friends outgrew him and he needed a new home. As the youngest in a chain of families, our children often receive special things that other kids no longer want to keep but also don’t want to give away completely. If things live at our house, the thinking goes, the bigger kids might be able to come visit them sometimes.

They almost never actually do need to come visit their old things, but I think it makes it easier to rehome them if the possibility exists- we can see them again if we need to!

Angus has been occasionally ridden by many people, but he truly began to live a couple of weeks ago when Nora suddenly adopted him. After checking out every book on horse care from our little local library, she relocated him from his square of dead grass near the sand table to a space she cleared out under our play structure, which she now calls “Angus’s stable.” She put down a bed of straw and grass from the field for him, which she cleans out every day and replaces with new grass. She brings him water and “oats” (a mixture of sand and clover and crushed sea shells) in a bucket every day. She takes him out to the field, dragging the heavy metal frame with its springs behind her, and “trains” him, then carefully reinstalls him in his stable and rubs him down with a cloth before covering him with his “horse blanket” – an old towel we use when we occasionally decide to wash our van.

She does all of these things in all kinds of weather, wearing her flowered “horse working” boots.

Her devotion is inspiring and a little puzzling. I’ve never seen her take care of anything with such joy or dedication. She throws on her coat and mittens after breakfast, pulls on her boots, and heads out the back door, calling, “Gotta go do my horse chores now!” before skipping off to rub noses with Angus.

She and I have struggled together lately to do things with a cheerful heart. It’s hard sometimes to help her navigate through the bumps of her day when she just wants to sit down and complain about the parts she doesn’t like…and for my part, it’s hard for me to admit that God didn’t create her strong will for me to control! It’s amazing how this self-assigned plastic horse has given her such purpose. It’s amazing how Angus has easily created a rhythm in her morning that has nothing to do with me. It’s amazing how willingly she does her other chores in the morning so that she’ll have time to take care of Angus before our morning meeting. It’s amazing, because I couldn’t have come up with this as a Nora management strategy, and it’s amazing because she didn’t need me to come up with it at all.

She did it all by herself.

Sometimes, parenting is hard…but sometimes, we make it harder than it is. Sometimes, our kids know exactly what they need. Sometimes, we just need to trust them to figure it out.

parenting, surviving

Parenting distracted (how I burned the oatmeal)

This morning, I burned the oatmeal.
I burned the oatmeal because we were watching the garbage truck.

For years now, there’s been at least one garbage truck enthusiast in my family, and someone always rushes to the window when we hear the familiar whoosh of his brakes and the ka-chunk, ka-clunk of the trash can being picked up by the mechanical arm. This morning, three children clamored to go out to the porch so we could watch him all the way down the street.

This morning, I said yes.

I stood still on the porch in my bare feet and held my breath along with them, only taking my eyes off the garbage truck to watch the wonder and awe on their faces. The driver saw us and blew the horn as he often does. As we waved, I wondered if he has as much fun picking up our trash as we do watching him.

Then, I smelled it- the hot, starting-to-smoke smell of forgotten oats on the stovetop, oats whose simmer had turned to a boil and then boiled dry enough to coat the bottom of the pot with a dark, sticky mess.

It happened so fast.

As I salvaged the top layers and filled the pot with soapy water, I felt the familiar pangs of self-criticism. I should have been paying more attention. That’s what I get for focusing on only one thing. That’s what I get for treasuring the moment.

Parenting is really all about living with distraction. We pretend we can change this by mindfully focusing on the moment we’re in, but there is no parenting without multitasking. Life is a constant balance of paying attention to five things at once without seeming to be paying less than full attention to any of them.

I keep running into friends and strangers who tell me with grave eyes and low voices that I shouldn’t let a moment slip by, that I should be enjoying every second, because it all passes too fast.

I know it seems this way.

In the middle of it, though, in the thick of wiping noses and bottoms and cleaning up spills so no one will fall (and retrieving the first aid kit when someone does anyway), in the center of long days filled with meal-snack-meal-snack-meal and lots of arbitrating sibling wars about who got the best plastic plate at lunch yesterday, in the throes of deciding if we absolutely have to take baths tonight when everyone clearly just needs to go to bed (or if we can hold on for one more day), I can’t imagine how “treasure every moment” is even a thing.

Why do people say that?

It simply isn’t possible.
Things are slipping by me all the time.

Things constantly slip by- like that black marker that someone smuggled into the laundry room and used to write all over the washer and dryer. Or the book that someone tore the pages out of to use for drawing paper. Or the hand soap in the bathroom that somehow stole (apparently unaided) into a bedroom where it hid under the bed to use itself as doll shampoo.

These things absolutely slipped by. Unfortunately, they are burned into my memory…I rather wish I could forget them instead of treasuring them in my heart.

I know there are more precious things I’m missing, too- the face Felix was making as he joyously smeared his oatmeal in his hair (which I missed because I was pouring juice for Nora). The look of triumph in Nora’s eyes when she correctly identified buttercups in the yard and picked all of them for me (which I missed because I was comforting the screaming Lucy, who couldn’t find any buttercups to pick). The joyous victory of Sam, who triumphed over his long struggle to cross the monkey bars sideways on his 17th attempt (which I missed after watching the first 16 attempts because Felix face planted onto the patio just as Sam began making his way across again).

I know I’m missing things. I hear it all the time. “Mama! You weren’t looking!”

Maybe this is the real reason I haven’t had enough energy for online community lately…there is so much going on here that cries out for my attention. It’s not just the children, of course- there is the always regenerating pile of laundry and the constant quest to figure out what we’ll have for dinner when I reach the end of my meal planning rope. There are big life events and big social events and big church events…and the little, pesky things like library deadlines and oil changes and the broken knob on the dryer.

I know everyone has these things to think about.

I feel guilty when I miss something or forget to follow through on one of the many requests that come to me each day, and I convince myself that the rest of you are doing a better job keeping up than I am.

I bet the rest of you don’t always notice everything, either, do you?

My deepest fear is that I am not doing enough- that too many things are slipping by me, that I’m dropping the ball too often, that I am not up to the challenge of what is set before me. I’m not talking about distractions that aren’t worthy of my time and focus. I’m talking about the good stuff- reading aloud, eating good food, gardening, being outside with the kids, nurturing creativity (mine and others’), writing thank you notes, spending special time with each of those who have been placed in my life.

There is not enough time to do everything and certainly not enough to do everything well at once.

I’m not sure why I think I have to be perfect. I certainly wouldn’t hold any of you to that standard- and if you told me you were feeling bad about not measuring up, I’d be the first to tell you all the ways you are incredible- not just for what you do, but for who you are.

You’re enough. And so am I. We just need to believe it.

It’s unfair, this idea that we should somehow try to hold all the things in front of us and not miss any of them. When every moment of parenting is supposed to be sacred, there is no room for the remarkable moments to stand out. Everyday things can be holy, it’s true- I base a lot of my work on this idea, and I firmly believe it. But thinking that every single ordinary moment has to be an extraordinary one or that every second is a memory we’re about to miss if we don’t pay attention and capture it is too much pressure.

Today, I’m reminding myself that no one ever treasured it all.
Today, I’m letting myself off the hook.
Maybe it’s not possible to have perfect oatmeal and to be fully present in the garbage truck watching moment. Maybe instead of doing everything perfectly at the same time, we’re going to have to start making some hard choices about where our energy and focus are going.

Today, I chose the garbage truck…and the oatmeal was still basically edible.

What about you? How do you decide where to look when everything that calls for your attention is worthy of it?

parenting

Parenting Lesson Learned…the best parenting advice you’ve never heard

https://heav.org/?p=24245

Fellow parents of little ones, I’m going to give you the best parenting advice we have never received.

Picture the moment: I am standing in one of only two open Target checkout lines, watching the second hand on my watch drag slowly around, wishing to be anywhere other than here where my kids are yelling at each other and trying to touch all the mints and Chap-stick and refusing to stay seated in the cart.  I feel like every pair of eyes in the store is on us as I try to quietly correct them and they yell, “NO! She’s kicking me! I want to get out and walk! How much longer! My coat fell on the floor!”

Has that ever happened to you?

Or how about that time when my daughter whined down the entire length of the cereal aisle for something I’d never buy? Or when I had to carry someone kicking and screaming from a restaurant while my extended family and that couple from our church watched me go?

All of these things have happened to me…and in my mind, what stands out about all of these moments is the terrible, sinking fear that I’m being judged by every adult within earshot. Why can’t she control her kids? My cheeks burn and I feel like I might cry. And inevitably, some well-meaning person says something like this:

Oh, treasure these moments, sweetie, for they are the best days of your life!

It’s a familiar refrain. Some parents who have gone boldly before seem to forget that these terrible moments can feel like anything but the best moments of our lives…and they seem to be suggesting that we can change these moments just by appreciating them.

Nothing could be more frustrating than hearing those words when everything is already falling apart.

Well, what if they’re wrong?

What if these aren’t the best moments ever?

What if the best moments haven’t happened yet?

Consider what they’re saying to us as we stand in front of them with our arms full of toddler and groceries and our faces full of embarrassment. These are the best moments of your life. You should be treasuring every one of them. If my child, aged 2, is embodying the best moments of our shared time together during this awful scene in the grocery store checkout, that’s pretty sad.

How would things look different if we stopped feeling guilty for not appreciating every minute of this supposedly-best-but-occasionally-awful time of our lives and started looking forward? What if we said to each other instead, “This is a hard moment, but it will pass, and the best is still ahead of you. The best is yet to come.”

Our kids are only going to get older. Their brains are going to continue to grow. They will continue to develop their abilities to practice self-control. They will continue to hone their skills at empathy and manners and public decorum. We are shaping them and helping them to grow into better and better versions of themselves (and becoming better versions of ourselves, too). They are little bundles of walking, talking potential…and our relationships with them can blossom more and more with every passing year.

The best is not now.
The best is what we have in front of us…and how good it can be is at least partly up to us and how we handle these moments while we are in them.

So, the next time there’s a challenging meltdown in aisle 6, instead of feeling guilty about how we aren’t appreciating these wonderful moments, let’s try a different approach. Take a deep breath. Relax our shoulders. Smile at our challenging child, who isn’t having her best moment, and say to ourselves (and to her!), “The best is yet to come.”

http://bit.ly/1Xz3G8m
Felix, five minute Friday, parenting

Five-Minute Friday: TIME.

Warning: self-indulgent blogging ahead.

There is a direct correlation between the number of children I have and my ability to enjoy each one. It’s a funny thing- I would have expected the total overwhelm that comes with having four small people depending on me to block out large chunks of the shining rays of joy that are supposed to accompany them. Four spilled bowls of cereal and milk does not a happy, relaxed mama make, and there’s not much joy in cleaning them up.

The surprise is that it’s just the opposite.

Felix does this thing now during diaper changes where he shoves his feet up into my face, arching his back to get them as close to my nose as possible, and shrieks, “Stinkyu! Stinkyu feet!” He begs me to smell his toes, wrinkle my nose, and declare them stinky. I do it, of course, because I do almost everything he asks me to do. Cackling with laughter, he demands it again: “More! More Stinkyu Feet!”

I cannot overstate how much fun this is.

Every parent has these games with each child, I’m sure. I know I have had them with each of mine, but I can’t recall ever being willing before to sit for an unlimited amount of time and play one, over and over and over and over until I’ve lost count of the minutes and the repetitions. I’d rather be late for library story time than refuse to play Stinkyu Feet one more time. I can’t bottle this moment or freeze it in time. I can take every chance to extend it, to allow it to expand to fill the seconds allotted to it until it passes naturally, lived as fully as possible, and takes its place in a long chain of memories that are indelibly imprinted in my mind (like a series of perfectly square photos I can scroll through when I need to remember how good things are).

This is fullness of time…not at the end of everything, but in tiny passing moments filled to bursting.

This is Felix’s gift to me.

parenting, surviving

It’s not you. It’s the time change.

For the third day in a row, my daughter has come out of her room more than ten times during what is supposed to be “quiet rest time.” I finally gave up and put the baby gate up in front of her door. She’s sprawled out behind it on her floor, singing at the top of her lungs, “UBI CARITAAAAS EST VERAAAAAA…DEUS IBI EST!”

Despite her very noisy serenade, my smallest son is asleep right now. The others seem unable to get back to the place of quiet rest. I hear vocal explosions and projectiles hitting the wall from inside one room, and another voice is alternately telling herself a story about hunting Care Bears and yelling “LA LA LA LA LA LA” in time to the banging of her heels on the wall.

It is anything but quiet. And I’m not sure about “Ubi Caritas” – certainly not from me, not here, not today.

Yesterday, my oldest son spent his nap time boring small holes into his ceiling with parts from his K’nex set. We found them after dinner.

The oldest three crushed up chalk and made it into “paint” with old rainwater that had collected in our fire pit. When that wasn’t enough, they supplemented with (unauthorized) water from the garden hose. They wiped their hands on the walls, the couch cushions and the bathroom rugs.

Sam stabbed Lucy in the eye with a stick because she wouldn’t give him the shovel she was holding.

Nora bit Lucy in the back because they wanted the same dress-up costume.

Lucy pierced Nora’s ear with a pencil because Nora wanted to use that color and Lucy didn’t want her to have it.

This morning, while everyone was getting dressed for the library, Lucy lost her shirt. She had already taken off her pajama top, so she was wandering the house, yelling, “Where is my shirrrrrrt? Who took my shirrrrt? I lost my shirrrrrrt!” When we got her another shirt, she couldn’t find her shoes. She couldn’t find ANY of her shoes. We finally left ten minutes late for story time with Lucy wearing pink rain boots…on the wrong feet.

The levels of irritability, rudeness, hyperactivity and destructive behavior in this household right now are amazing. I’ve never seen the like. I spent yesterday near tears, wondering where I had gone wrong in my parenting, wondering what business I have homeschooling, wondering if I should do everyone a favor and put them in school or preschool or child care and go back to work, like maybe I don’t have any right to be doing this stay at home parent thing if I can’t even get them to do something simple, like wash their hands for lunch. I even googled “family counselors” in our area, thinking we were so dysfunctional that we probably needed professional help immediately to avoid a total breakdown.

Today, I asked my friend, “Do you ever think about just quitting?” And she said, “Well, yes, but not right now. You can’t judge anything by this week. We just turned the clocks back, so everything is nuts.”

I stared at her.

She proceeded to tell me stories from her own life this week, stories of offspring gone haywire just like mine, stories of tantrums and tears and “I hate yous” and sibling fights that made all my chaos and angst this week seem…well, normal.

Thumbs up. All the weirdness you are seeing is happening to everyone else, too.

She’s had a terrible week so far.
I have, too.
Maybe you are in the middle of your own terrible week- are you?

If so, please know you are not the only one who feels like rolling this overly-full trash can to the curb and leaving it there. We’re all in this together. I don’t know why it helps me so much to hear that other people are struggling, but it does.

So in case you, too, are struggling, please know this: It’s not that we have suddenly lost all ability to parent to our own standards. It’s not that our children have suddenly forgotten everything we ever taught them about how to behave. It’s not that we have completely failed at parenting and our children will turn out to be delinquent, angry human beings who burn down buildings and destroy things and hunt Care Bears for fun.

It’s the time change!

Standing at the Prime Meridian. Feeling very balanced.

Time is elemental. It might also be totally made up, but it matters. You can’t go messing about with clocks without expecting children’s finely-tuned, sensitive systems to get a bit out of whack. What we’re seeing this week? It’s just fallout. It’s timey-wimey. It’s a side effect. It’s to be expected.

Next year, we can even plan ahead for it, if we remember.

Take a deep breath. Everything will settle down again. You’ll see. Our children will stop swinging from ceiling fans and crashing into walls when they walk down the hall to the bathroom. They’ll go back to normal, and we’ll stop holding our heads with both hands and leaning exhaustedly against the refrigerator and staring at them with our mouths hanging open in shock and making extra coffee at 4pm just to get through the evening.

It’s going to be okay.

Until it is, please help yourself to the leftover Halloween candy, focus on surviving, and know that you’re not alone.

Y’all hang in there. All will be well.

This has been a public service announcement for concerned parents everywhere.

parenting, surviving

the mess is the thing

It’s good to have friends who can encourage me on a week like this, where one night bleeds into the next morning without enough hours of sleep. I’m burning the candle at both ends. The twins are staying up way too late into the night jumping off their dress-up trunk and opening their curtains to wave at our neighbor’s teenage son when he comes home from his shift at the volunteer fire department.

They bang on the windows in their nightgowns. His mom told me he waves at them. I was mildly mortified.

Felix has been restless at night since he started to crawl, practicing his new skill in his sleep and crashing into the sides of his crib as he dreams of whatever ten month olds dream about. Bananas? Little wooden cars going down a ramp? A breeze blowing the chimes outside and making them clink together?

Sam reads late into the night, playing at Greek-mythology-meets-Star-Wars, making vocal percussion blaster gun sounds as his little plastic demi-god men clash with their weapons held aloft.

In the morning light, the abandoned battle scenes look like choking hazards to me.

My body aches for sleep right now, so much that my eyes close involuntarily when I’m sitting down for any length of time, even at the dinner table or as I’m perched on Lucy’s bed, talking about her day, tucking her in.

She needs less sleep than anyone else, so it takes extra time to wind her down at bed time. It’s so hard not to rush her toward sleep when all I want is for them all to be quiet, behind closed doors in the dark, out of my immediate realm of responsibility.

How is it that the children in my house have become items on my to-do list? More than that, their needs have taken over the rest of the list these past few weeks, as they spread themselves over my waking hours, pushing sleep further and further away, ensuring that any found moments in the day are unusable for writing, or working, or planning…only useful, really, for sleeping or dreaming about sleeping.

Sleep deprivation is hard. It’s cruel. There’s a reason it is used as a method of torture. It makes me not myself, like some other dragon mommy monster has taken over my body and brain and voice for its own purposes. I’m cranky. I yell. I crave chocolate (which I can’t have, because of the dairy restriction) and sugar and just want to go someplace dark and quiet where I can be alone for more than fifteen minutes.

I find myself wishing for some far-off day in the future when things will be easier, when I’ll be rested, when the kids will be sleeping better or be less messy or be more responsible for themselves. I want to wish away the hard moments of tandem twin tantrums over the pink rainbow shorts and refusals to nap and end of day freakouts over the textures of noodles that are too close to the applesauce on someone’s dinner plate.

But this is where we are.

Life doesn’t begin in some future moment when we magically, finally have it all together. Life doesn’t start on a random Wednesday in 2017 when my house is all clean with shining wiped windows and all the laundry folded, neatly put away behind closed closet doors. Life isn’t holding its breath like I am, waiting for a moment when it’s more convenient to breathe.

Life is happening.
This is life, right now, in all its imperfection and messy glory. The screaming fits and the sweet hugs, the gorgeous crayon art on construction paper and on the inside of the pantry door, the Star Wars theme hammered perpetually on the piano and sung loudly in the bathroom- it’s all my life.

And while it’s okay not to love every minute, I’m going to try harder not to wish it all away while longing for things to be other than they are.

Here’s to noticing life as it is right now, the good parts and the hard parts and the messy parts…and, when things are just too hard to manage sometimes, let’s remember that things will be different soon. In twenty minutes, maybe, or in a few weeks, we’ll be facing a different challenge, and it will be hard in a different way. Let’s breathe. Let’s encourage each other. Let’s give thanks. Let’s not pretend that everything is perfect or wonderful or that we have to love every second of our lives…but let’s notice the places where mess and beauty coexist.

There’s no right way to do this parenting stuff…just lots of choices strung together like a messy macaroni necklace covered in glitter. We can only do the next right thing. As we do it, though, as we choose one right thing and then follow it with another choice, stringing one paint-covered noodle after another onto the yarn, let’s remind each other- life is in the stringing. Life doesn’t begin when we’ve finished the necklace. What we’ve got is what’s in front of us now.

And coffee. Lots of coffee…without creamer.

With love and thanks to Mary Beth, Cori, Katie, Rosie, Cari and Laura, whose words got me through some of those tough and messy moments this week.

parenting, surviving

You never ever quit (except when you do)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

You always have to do your best.

You never quit before the job is done. Finish what you started.

Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

Did you grow up with those kinds of statements? These messages are so deeply ingrained in me that they are automatic. I don’t even think about them most of the time. Persistence through tough things is important, and I’m glad I have that skill.

Having children means having to be more flexible about some things, though. With kids, we can’t always push through to the end just because we like to finish what we started. We have to pick our battles and ask ourselves whether getting to the end is really worth it. The answer depends on the situation.

Today, it wasn’t worth it.

Today, I bailed on a field trip.

I spent all morning preparing for it…laying out clothes, brushing hair, putting on sunscreen, finding hats, shoes and socks (and saying over and over again no, not flip flops, guys, this is a hike in a field, we need real shoes, please and thank you). I packed lunches carefully and hunted down all the water bottles, digging under van seats to retrieve them. I even filled an extra bottle for refills. I loaded everything and everyone up in the van and pulled out, running right on time.

Before we even got there, we were late, because I had the time wrong by a half hour. I decided to shake it off. I could still redeem the day. I apologized to the kids for grumping at them when we were trying to leave the house and started unloading them.

As we got out of the car, one child already had to go to the bathroom. I helped her use our little portable car potty (thanks, Gabie, for recommending that- I’ll never be without it again), strapped Felix into the Ergo carrier, put bugspray-spritzed hats on everyone (including myself) and decided to leave the water bottles in the car because they were already complaining about carrying them.

I looked around at my crew and noticed that one daughter was wearing flip flops. Despite all my warnings and instructions, she had chosen to put the little rubbery flower sandals on instead of her sneakers. I hadn’t caught it before we left the house, and now we were stuck. If she was older, there would be a natural consequence for her choice when we started hiking through the tall field grass. Since she’s just little, I felt like the consequence would be falling on me.

I was NOT going to carry her. How could I, with my arms full of baby and other stuff? She had to walk. She needed to be tough. She needed to experience her mistake, right?

(Who was I kidding?)

We started walking, following the group that had a half-hour lead on us. By the time we got down to them about ten minutes later, my daughter was in pre-meltdown mode.

Her legs were tired. The grass was itchy. It was hot. She wanted to go back to the van. She was thirsty. Her hat was too tight. Now her hat was falling off. Her flip flops were making a blister on her heel, and she didn’t have a band-aid.

She kept whining, moaning, grabbing onto my legs and pulling at my arms. I could only manage to speak kindly to her through gritted teeth. Then, the leader suggested a group picture under the tree, and my weary daughter lost it.

She threw herself on the ground and screamed, “NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO!”

I wanted to haul her up by her arms and tell her to get herself together. I wanted to lecture her about how hard I had worked to get us all here on this field trip this morning. I wanted to tell her she was being rude and making it hard for the group to hear the lady who was leading the nature walk. I wanted to tell her to toughen up and stop being so wimpy. I wanted to tell her to get her act together right this very minute, young lady!

Then, I realized she was right.

It was hot. The grass was tall and scratchy on my legs, and her legs are much shorter than mine. Walking across the uneven ground was challenging, and it was almost her nap time. Her hat felt uncomfortable no matter how we adjusted it. She was totally done and wanted to be someplace else.

So was I. So did I. The biggest difference was that I’m better at stuffing my feelings and discomforts than she is, because I’m a 35 year old woman with years of practice ignoring my own needs (or at least putting the greater good ahead of my own).

Sometimes, by the time I get really grumpy and feel like throwing myself on the ground and yelling, I don’t even know how I got there. If I stopped to think about it, my daughter’s irritants were also irritating me. I was tired, hot, and getting grumpier by the second. I had only three hours of sleep last night (on the couch, after George took over with Felix, who was restless). I was wearing a baby in a front pack carrier that sat directly on top of yesterday’s sunburned shoulders. I was uncomfortable, and I would really rather have been someplace else.

She was so upset. She had every right to be upset. Since I was wearing the baby, I couldn’t just pick her up and haul her around. If she didn’t walk, we weren’t going anywhere…and she was just lying there, screaming.

So I stopped. I sat on the ground, put her on my lap, and talked to her. “You’re right,” I said. “This is a long, hot walk. It’s lunch time and you are tired. You want to go back to the car. We can do that.”

She looked into my face, squinting in the bright sunlight.
“I think everything and everyone is stupid!” she shouted. “I am NOT walking ANY MORE!”
I told the leader my crew needed to have our lunch before we did anything else and that we’d catch up with them later.

By the time we got back to the car and both girls used the car potty again, she was having another meltdown. All the kids were exhausted, hot and hungry. There was no way they were going to walk the quarter mile distance to the picnic spot where the rest of the group was gathered. Even Sam started to complain that his feet hurt. He said he thought his ankles might both be broken.

I gave up.

I buckled them into their seats and we came back home. We ate our picnic lunch at the table in the kitchen, in the most non-exciting, non-picnic way possible, and I put them to bed. It wasn’t fun. They were whining, crying and complaining the whole time. The entire adventure was a disaster…but it could have been much, much worse.


Sometimes, toughing it out is the right thing to do. I have to make it work, even when it’s hard. I have to be persistent and strong and keep on keeping on.

But you know what? Sometimes, giving up is okay.

Yes, I’d already paid for the field trip. Yes, it would have been a good learning experience. When it comes down to it, though, if I have to coax, cajole, lecture, persuade, bribe and threaten all my children to keep them moving forward, it might not be worth it. Instead of pushing ahead, it was time to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and do what is best for my family and for myself. And today, we needed to go home.

There will be other field trips. Deciding to give up on this one and cut our losses turned out to be the best decision for us today. I do wish I hadn’t wasted the morning in such a frenzy preparing everything for us to go…but really, “frenzy less” could be a good mantra for me in general.

Have you ever just given up on something? Do you feel guilty when you do it? I sometimes worry that I’m teaching my kids that being whiny works in their favor in situations like this. Today, though, I just didn’t want to keep dragging them around any longer. Their misery was making me miserable.

five minute Friday, parenting

Five-Minute Friday: Door.

Every single one of them has done it at least once. Every single child of mine who can wield a crayon has used it in an unauthorized space, covering a table or a dresser or a wall with exuberantly scribbled lines, letters, and swirls.

This time, it’s the inside of the pantry, and she actually hid herself behind the door to draw there. I don’t know how long she’s been doing it, but I’ve just discovered it. Although she needs correction and redirection, I’m tempted to leave the artwork where it is, because it reminds me.

It reminds me that this could have been a very different life…the one where I put on my carefully ironed blouses and heels and headed to my office every day, the one where I had meetings and working lunches and soaked in the sounds of NPR news on my commute instead of the sounds of laughter and clashing light sabers in my kitchen.

I nurtured other people’s children then…took them out for lunch, brought them to my house for dinner, sat with them in church, put their artwork on my refrigerator because I loved its cheery brightness. Now, when I stumble into the kitchen in the morning and grab the creamer from the refrigerator on my way to the coffee pot, it’s my children’s artwork I see covering the door, all bold and bright and carpe diem before my eyes are even all the way open.

It was easy to think in all the years we waited and struggled and prayed and cried that there might never be any children’s art hanging here. If I think back, I can remember how it felt, wondering every month if the door was going to open, wondering if we’d ever get the baby we wanted so badly to call our own, wondering if the voice on the other end of the phone would ever have good news. Two lines on a stick, or a baby in need of a home, or word that our foster children had become adoptable…I would have gladly walked through any of those doors in my quest to become a mother to someone.

I love their art. I love their impulse to create. I cover the walls and doors of our life with it…put it up on the pantry, the back of my bedroom door, the inside of the door to the laundry room. Maybe it’s not so different from our own desire to create, to bring life into the world so we have someone with whom to share it. We teach them their colors, and they cover our walls with crayon masterpieces. Maybe this is just how God made us.

On days like today, when they’re up before dawn and beating on my door while I’m still dragging my reluctant body from bed, I remember that this life is a choice. A gift.

(Even on days when they won’t let me shut the bathroom door.)

 For more Five-Minute Friday, head here.

Five-Minute Friday is a chance for word lovers everywhere to release the pent-up words we’ve been accumulating in our brains all week and let them flow freely for five minutes, without over-editing or backtracking. When we’re done, we share our thoughts over at Kate Motaung’s blog, where a whole community of writers is waiting to encourage each other. Come join us, won’t you?

parenting

Desperate times…and flying by the seat of my parenting pants.

Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, you know? Although I’d love to be one of those mamas (I’m sure you know some, or at least one) who never seems desperate, sometimes I am. just. that. Desperate.

Yesterday, I startled awake with a set of slimy, chubby baby fingers working their way into my mouth. The next thing I noticed was the ambient sounds of Disastrously Rude Children, already hating on each other first thing in the morning.

“You will NOT play with my things, Lucy!!”
“Oh, yes, I WILL!”
“YOU DO NOT!!”
“I WILL IF I WANT!”
“SHE WILL IF SHE WANTS!”
“You smell like POOP!”
“Well, you are STEW, Sammy!”

“Stew” is what they say now. They say it because they think I don’t know that it’s a stand-in for “stupid,” which we don’t allow them to call each other. I definitely know this. It’s just that I usually let it slide. We can’t actually control what they say, and they always find another way to be unkind when they really need to be.

It is still so weird to me that I’m on the other side of this, that I’m the parent and not the child who is trying to figure out how to score the most mean points and do the most damage to her brother without her parents knowing what she’s doing.

(Aside, to Abram: I have no defense. I’m sorry. I was horrid at least 63% of the time.)

When I went to check on them, they wore three of the grumpiest, most unpleasant expressions I have ever seen. I encouraged kindness. Remember our “be kind” rule? Well, you’re all acting like you might need a reminder about that. Remember how we treat each other with love and kindness? Ok? There is NO HITTING. We do not use our bodies to control or hurt other people. Yes? Yes. Ok. They looked unconvinced, but at least no one was screaming or smacking anyone else in the face with an empty coffee can from the recycling bin.

The uneasy ceasefire lasted approximately until I crossed the hallway and went back into my bedroom.

After I took a shower and had half a cup of coffee, I suggested they all go back to bed for five minutes so I could come wake them up again and let them start the day over.

As if their footie pajamas had cinder blocks in them, they trudged off to their rooms. I followed, Felix on my hip, pulling open the curtains, singing loudly the way my grandma always did when we spent the night at her house. Good morning to you! Good morning to you! Good morning, good morning…” I adopted a low, rumbly voice, moved Felix’s arms and pretended he was singing the end with silly, operatic style. Goooood morrrrnnnning…tooooo…YOOOOOU! They giggled.

Just as I was patting myself on the back for this total morning rescue (good job! You were silly! You didn’t yell! It’s all better!), Sam smacked Lucy in the back of the head with his beanbag chair for trying to play with one of his stuffed planets. She screamed like a hyena who has just witnessed its hyena best friend being flattened by a speeding garbage truck and bit him hard in the shoulder.

We had not yet even made it to breakfast. The baby was crying. I felt like crying. The situation was officially desperate.

Enter the strangest parenting decision I’ve ever made in desperation.
Enter The Manners Wolf.

Sam’s stuffed wolf, Akela, was lying in the hallway. Scooping him up with my foot, I grabbed a piece of scrap paper- where on earth do these ideas come from?- and hastily wrote his name on the front.

Sam read it, intrigued. “Manners Wolf. What does he do?”

I had no idea.

“He watches you,” I told them. “He is an observer. He is looking for signs of good manners and kindness.”

“Well, what do we get if we do a good job?”

I looked straight at him. “I don’t know, Sam- I have no idea. I’ve never met a Manners Wolf before. You’ll have to ask him.”

Sam looked fascinated. Unbelievable. Isn’t he too smart for this kind of stuff? I knew the whole idea was completely ridiculous.

To my complete amazement, this completely ridiculous idea ACTUALLY WORKED.

They stopped being rude.
They started being overly polite and helpful instead.
They were positively deferential to the stuffed wolf.
And, every few minutes, I’d say something like, “Oh, the Manners Wolf notices that people are sharing the rest of the apples!” Or “The Manners Wolf sees that Lucy got a towel to help clean up Nora’s spill.”

He never praised or corrected them. He didn’t really pass judgment at all. He didn’t do anything but sit on the table all day with his sign…the sign bearing his totally uninspiring name…and watch us, but he completely changed the climate in our house. People spoke kindly to each other. People were more patient. People helped and shared and volunteered for things that weren’t their usual jobs.

There’s no way to know if this can ever be replicated. I have no idea if it will work again. But on this day, in this place, doing something completely ridiculous totally saved the day. I didn’t yell, not once. There were no rewards or bribes. Just the Manners Wolf, sitting on the table all day long, watching us.

I hope he comes back tomorrow.

book review, giveaway, parenting, sacraments

Why you MUST read Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting {giveaway}

There are two major difficulties in the vocation of parenting small children. The first is that it can be isolating. We weren’t meant to raise children in a solitary fashion, and so often, our modern lifestyle of separateness makes for long days without adult conversation. The second problem is the very long-range nature of our work. We do many of the same things day in and day out, totally absorbed in the minutiae of parenting and caring for our homes and families, unable to see over the crest of the hill we’re climbing to visualize the eventual product of all this work. In short, on a bad day, parenting can feel lonely and fruitless.

In Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting, Laura Kelly Fanucci offers a spiritual lifeline to the struggling, lonely parent…not by cheerleading from the sidelines or by offering peppy “you can do this” comments, but by imbuing the very basic physical acts of parenting with deep sacramental meaning. I wept more than once as I soaked up her words, feeling solidarity and a sense of community with her as a mother both in her most joyful and darkest moments. Through the lens of her family’s experiences, Laura shares glimpses of God’s presence in the midst of ordinary, everyday moments: birthing, bathing, eating, watching fireflies.

“Through the tangible things of this earth- water, oil, bread, and wine- God comes to us, giving us what we need when we open our hearts to receive…Because sacraments do not exist apart from the complexity and diversity of our daily life- they are part of it.”

– Laura Fanucci, Everyday Sacrament

It’s a rare person who has the insight and wisdom to see beyond a situation in which she herself is immersed. We might expect such perspective and wise counsel from a parent who has already survived this tough period of life in the trenches with little ones, but Laura has the gift of being able to see and describe the beauty of her life right in the middle of the mess. In bravely, honestly sharing that beauty with us, she blazes a trail through the chaos of young motherhood, even while she herself is still navigating it. 

Reading her stories helped me to see anew the fingerprints of God’s grace all over my own messy, sometimes mundane life. There is holiness here in the laundry and the spreading of peanut butter, the kissing of boo-boos and the wiping of noses. Those repeated rhythms remind us that God is constant and faithful and never absent from even the most ordinary moments in our lives.

“The creation story says the Spirit hovered over the chaos of the waters, close to the murky mess. And if I’m honest, even as I indulge in late-afternoon daydreams about escaping to the lake to meditate, this God-in-chaos is the God I meet more often.”

– Laura Fanucci, Everyday Sacrament

This is a book to be read and read again. It helped me extend grace to myself, my husband and my children and reminded me that God extends grace to each of us as we work at the holy task of raising our families and creating domestic churches. I need more time to let Laura’s words sink in deeply. They have already impacted how I parent and how I pray.

“Before I had kids, I never expected any of this- how God could be found so powerfully in the exasperating everyday, how home could feel as holy as church…but that’s how grace gets spilled: right before our eyes.

If we only stop to see it.”

– Laura Fanucci, Everyday Sacrament

You need this book– for yourself first, then for all the other parents you know. You can get it from the publisher here or from Amazon here (that’s an affiliate link, by the way).

I loved the book so much that I want to give one of you my review copy. To enter to win, just leave me a comment here with a memorable parenting moment from the past few weeks  (good or bad, your choice!). I’ll randomly draw a winner on Saturday.

The fine print: Giveaway open to US residents only. Entries accepted until 11:59 pm Eastern Standard time on Friday, Dec. 5.