Tag Archives: family

Adjusting Expectations

When my children were younger and I was younger, I felt disappointed often. You see, I had these crazy, ideal expectations. And, of course, they were rarely met. And by rarely I mean never.

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I would plan a a family day of going to the zoo. Inside my head, I would imagine my six offspring in adorable outfits, looking like Children’s Place child models even though the only Children’s Place clothes we had were hand-me-downs that had been worn already by three children. These children of my imagination would hold hands and smile and stay to the right of the walkways throughout the zoo. They would ooh and aah over the mind-blowing information on those little signs by each animal. When it was time to walk to the next animal, they would all walk together to the next enclosure. In my imagination, no child ever tried to climb onto fences that clearly had large No Climbing signs on them. No child whined, But I don’t wanna waaaalk that waaay. It’s too looonnnnggggg. Birds are stuuuupid anywaaaayyyy. My expectations never included one child calling another monkey poo or one child running half a mile ahead while another lagged half a mile behind. My expectations never included children complaining about the granola bars and water bottles I had packed and throwing themselves on the ground in a sorta-kinda-hunger-strike demand of ice cream from the zoo snack bar. Which is all quite odd since I actually live with my children every day of the year and know how children can be. I guess I just somehow thought that for Family Day, they would all change personalities and develop absolute self-control.

So I would feel grouchy and disappointed. And then I would start acting all grouchy and disappointed and not at all like the idealized version of myself I imagined I would be. Of course, then I would get annoyed with myself because really, what kind of mother whisper-screams through gritted teeth at her kid for acting like a tired and grouchy child when he is actually a tired and grouchy child? 

Every holiday and family day and special anything would result in disappointment and frustration. For me. Later, though, my children would speak of these days and remember only the good parts. Somehow, they’d forget about the brother who sat down and screamed and cried and refused to take another step because there was a pebble in his shoe and the world was sure to end any second. This sort of Children’s Brain Feature is the exact same one that compelled my son to once say, “Momma, I loved the way we used to all have church at home on a Sunday morning. Daddy would play the guitar and we would sing songs and talk about what we were learning about Jesus. I loved that! We used to do that all the time!” And really, we had done that exactly ONE time. ONCE. Ever. This Children’s Brain Feature is surely one of the most beautiful expressions of grace God has given to parents. We get like ten times the credit for doing something once. Grace upon grace.

Anyway, as time has gone by, I have gradually shifted my expectations to be a little more realistic. As I look ahead to special days or family outings, I expect that my children will act exactly like they act every other day of the year. I expect that we will have moments when all eight of us are feeling kind and happy and having fun, but that these moments will happen on a backdrop of the rest of the day, in which one or more of us will be hungry or tired or have a headache or feel irritable. And then I choose to feel incredible gratitude for the sweet moments and file those in my mental scrapbook and try to block out the rest.

This weekend has been an opportunity for me to practice this different-expecatations sort of approach to parenting and life. We don’t want to call it lowered expectations, so we’ll go with different expectations or, perhaps, more realistic expectations.

On Friday, we loaded up the family in the big, red van to drive to Lauren’s away soccer game. From there, we would all go two-and-a-half hours away to North Carolina for Caleb’s first dive meet. We’d check into our budget hotel and get some sleep, then we’d spend the entire day Saturday at the aquatic center for the dive meet. In the past, I would have imagined a fun van ride singing along to songs and reading aloud to the children followed by a cozy night in the hotel and a day of everyone excitedly cheering on Caleb in his first ever diving competition. But I’m older and wiser now. This time, my expectations more closely matched reality.

Caleb woke up Friday morning with strep throat, so he stayed home from school and went to the doctor to get started on an antibiotic. Rachel came home from school with strep symptoms, so I scrounged around in a drawer and found half a bottle of an antibiotic from last fall and started her on that. Yes, I am aware of all that is amazing about my parenting from that last sentence, but I hope you don’t feel too jealous or intimidated. So – for those of you keeping score at home – we started the trip with two sick, feverish children and a boy with a badly-broken arm still in a soft cast, on a Friday evening after a very long week. So it was no surprise that everyone was tired and a little grumpy and eager to plug into headphones and tune out everyone else on the ride down Friday night. It was not a sing-along, read-along, play the license plate game sort of van ride. But there were only a handful of he told me to shut up or she needs to mind her own business or no, I’m not an idiot; you are! kind of moments. So I chose to call the ride down a success, a good memory in my mental scrapbook.

At the hotel, three children slept in the room with Grandpapa and Grandmama and three slept in the room with my husband and me. Shockingly, there was only about one minute of arguing about who would sleep where before we came to a plan everyone could be happy with. Again, we’re going with success and happy memory here.

As we were falling asleep, Silas – the one with the arm in a cast – began this moany cry about how his arm was itching and he couldn’t stand it and it was horrible, just awful, absolutely awful, and really, really itching and he couldn’t scratch it and we didn’t understand how awful it was and aaaaaaaaahhhhhh. And for the first 30 seconds, I felt deep motherly compassion for him. But after my initial, “I know, sweetie. I’m so sorry it’s uncomfortable.” response, he did not stop the moany cry and calm down, like he obviously should have because of my awesomely sweet 30 seconds of mothering. We had already given him Tylenol for pain and melatonin to help him sleep, which was a huge ordeal because, for some inexplicable reason, he didn’t want to swallow those things, so there were kind encouragements, followed by desperate pleas, followed by threats. And so that had already all happened before the moany cry had begun, which meant we could not give him the very last dose of Tylenol with codeine (which we were saving for Saturday anyway). After my 30 seconds of sweet Carol Brady mothering, I quickly transitioned to Rosanne mothering mode. “Yes, we get it. You itch. For the LOVE! Can you please learn to cry in a quiet way? I cry and tears come, but I don’t wail and moan. It’s possible to cry without wailing and moaning. Try it. Stop wailing right now. You are waking your brother, and he needs to sleep because he has to compete tomorrow. Stop it. Moaning and wailing is not making you feel better; it’s just making everyone else feel worse. Stop it. Stopitrightnow.” Finally, I had a blessed epiphany! The bottle of Benadryl was in the suitcase. Benadryl is designed for itching! Also for making children sleep. But, in this case, he was actually itching and so I had a very good, solid reason to give it to him. So we gave him the Benadryl and he slept. And this child-wailing and mother-snapping did not ruin the weekend -or even the night- because I had totally expected something like that to happen. Success!

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Though I was tempted to want all the children to be interested in diving and watch expectantly for each of Caleb’s dives and ooh and aah and cheer, I knew that just having them present in the stands was enough. Good enough is good enough – my parenting mantra you may steal as your own.

I expected Silas to tell me he was bored 50 times, but he only told me about 20 times. Success! I expected Jackson and Griffin to crawl under bleachers and run around and bang on the seats and annoy everyone around us. And they only did that a little of the time instead of all the time. Success! The girls read books, and when we said, “Caleb’s up!” they turned their eyes toward the boards, watched him, clapped a couple times, then returned to their reading. Success! Silas napped for a while on the bleachers. While he was napping, he could not tell me he was bored or itching or hurting or anything. Success! When Lauren told me her throat hurt for the fifteenth time and I had already told her to take a drink of something and that I couldn’t do a thing about it, I just smiled and said, “Yes, got it! Your throat hurts. Now you don’t have to tell me any more. Until further notice, I’ll know your throat hurts. So only tell me if it stops hurting. OK? Ok.” And I didn’t feel irritated or annoyed or disappointed.

And since this was Caleb’s first meet, we had no clue what to expect for him. We were just happy to be there and hoping it would be a learning experience. When he came in seventh out of eight divers in one event, there was no disappointment. Only pride that he hadn’t done any belly flops or back flops or total fails. And when he won first place in another event – mostly because he was the only kid in that division, but whatever, First Place, baby! – we clapped and cheered and congratulated him and told him how proud we were. Success!

In the midst of all of this, there were moments of kindness and happiness and fun. I’m filing those in my mental scrapbook. Remember when we used to always go to North Carolina and stay in that cozy hotel and Caleb won first place in diving and we had that fun picnic in the parking lot and we had so much fun? We loved that! 

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How do you do it?!

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For a whole lot of years now a common reaction I get from people is “How do you do it?” When people find out that I have six children, they exclaim, “How do you do it?” When people find out that my husband travels often for his job, they shake their heads and ask, “How do you do it?” When discussing kids’ activities and trying to keep up with multiple sports and band and choir and all that stuff, other moms will sigh, “I don’t know how you do it all.” And usually I’ll say something about how everyone is wearing his last clean pair of underwear or how the floors haven’t been mopped in too many weeks to count or how I have to sometimes ask for help. Inside, I always cringe because I know that pretty much all the time I feel like I’m Lucy and Ethel in the candy shop and the conveyor belt just won’t slow down and I’m shoving candy in my mouth and shirt as fast as I can.

The thing is — I’ve gotten used to feeling that way. Barely contained chaos is the status quo around here. We eased into the noise and laundry piles and busy schedule one kid at a time. And now it’s our Normal.

This week, I’ve been spending every day with Silas while everyone else is in school. Last weekend he slid down the basement stairs in a cardboard box, the end of the box caught on a step, and he tumbled out and over and broke the heck out of his arm. A little lesson in inertia. After emergency surgery, he spent a couple nights in the hospital. Now that we’ve been home, I won’t let him go to school until he gets his hard cast on. So he and I have spent the past couple days hanging out at home together. And Oh.My.Goodness! That hard cast cannot happen quickly enough! Now it is my turn to say to all the parents of only one child, “How do you do it?!?”

For the love! I have things I need to do, but he wants me to play board games on the iPad with him and he wants me to play cards with him. And after we do those things, he wants to do them over again. He wants to sit right in the room with me, staring at me while I try to write or edit or whatever it is I need to be doing. And I love him more than life itself, but really! This morning I got a phone call, so I walked into the living room to talk. Of course, he followed me. And then he kept whispering, “What? . . . Who are you talking to? . . . What about going to the doctor? . . .” I tried waving him away, like a pesky fly that is trying to land on your lunch. But he would not stop. Finally, I whispered, “Stop it! I’m talking on the phone.” You know what he said? “Well, that’s rude to talk in front of me. You should go to another room!” What?! Kid, I was in another room and you followed me. Stop following me! 

This morning he kept telling me he was bored. I may have said something sweet and motherly like “If you tell me you’re bored one more time, I’m going to break your other arm.” Because that is the sort of gentle nurturer I am. Fifteen seconds later, Silas sat down in a chair and said, “I’m not exactly saying I’m bored, but I am saying I am not entertained.”

Well, now that would be the problem. I don’t entertain. I am not an entertainer.  I mean, I do occasionally stand in front of a crowd and tell stories and feel ridiculously proud of myself when people actually laugh at the things I think are funny. And I once did this absolutely incredible interpretive dance of Bette Midler’s The Rose while wearing a black trash bag. So I suppose I am sort of an entertainer. But I do not entertain my children. They entertain each other. It’s one of the benefits of having half a dozen of them. So I suppose I should add that to my list of answers to “How do you do it?” They entertain each other, which actually makes things easier. 

I sat at the table with him this morning in silence. I couldn’t exactly ask how his day was yesterday. I had been with him practically every second of it. I slept in the same room with him, so I knew how he’d slept. We’d already discussed his weird dream that he couldn’t remember any of. It was a pretty short conversation. Normally, all the children are loudly talking over each other. Many times our dinner table has a higher decibel level than a jackhammer. Sadly, I’m not exaggerating — there’s an app for measuring that. But with just the two of us, all the pressure to maintain conversation has been on Silas and me. Only us. Because everyone else is gone all day. And though I enjoy the peace and quiet of my near-empty house during the day, he obviously has been less than impressed with the idea of sitting in silence. 

Seriously – after the past couple days of so much togetherness – I am wondering how in the world you people with only one child manage! It’s exhausting! I have decided I am far too lazy to have only one child. That must be why God gave me six. How do I do it? I manage the chaos and herd the cats in the right general direction, but they entertain each other. They do the hard part! Right now, Rachel is playing cards with Silas so I can lean back in my recliner and write this. Later, Jackson will play checkers with him on the iPad. Caleb already played cards with him and put on Scooby Doo for them to watch together. 

How do I do it with six? I cannot imagine how I would manage without them all entertaining each other. And after this week, I’m fairly certain Silas would agree! I mean, he wouldn’t exactly say he has been bored with me. Actually, yes, he would say that. He would say that approximately 237 times in a 2-hour period.

Putting Children In Boxes

jackinbox Can we all agree that this is the only kind of box we should put our kids in?

Yesterday, I told you Caleb’s story.  Today, let’s talk about putting children in boxes. I’m talking about this tendency some of us have to expect cookie cutter children, as if schools and homes are an assembly line cranking out children who all learn the same and test the same and perform the same, children who are “well-rounded” and look great on traditional college applications.

The problem with that — well, gosh, there are too many problems with that. That entire notion is a problem! The beauty of it all is that we are each so distinctive! I am constantly amazed at the uniqueness of each of my six children. All raised by the same parents with the same guidelines and influences, yet each so individual and different. If you have more than one child, or if you come from a family with more than one child, you’ve seen it too.

We are fortunate. The teachers my children have had in public school have taught to various learning styles and seem to appreciate each child’s distinctiveness. But I know that kids still feel pressure to get the right scores and make the right grades and fit into the mold. And sometimes parents feel the pressure too, so parents try to push the children to make all A’s or fall on the right side of the bell curve. I know better. At my core, I value individuality and recognize different types of intelligences. I appreciate that our world needs all sorts of people with all sorts of skills and passions and personalities. And still, sometimes I get sucked in to the idea that all my children should be making the Honor Roll and scoring well on the state’s standardized test. I have lapses into Freaked-Out-Land in which I become a crazy momma who frantically obsesses about whether my high school children are in enough clubs and making the right grades and building the right resume to get into college.

For the LOVE! Can we just all stop already? Can we agree that not every kid can score in the top tenth percentile because – HELLOOOO! –  then that wouldn’t be the top tenth percentile any more? Can we agree that the kids who are really smart at taking tests and writing papers might not be so smart at fixing a dishwasher or playing guitar or creating delicious cupcakes? And all of those things are important in this life. And the cupcake part might even be the most important. Amen? Can we agree that not everyone’s child will get into an Ivy League school, and that’s OK? And can we agree that the kids who do get into an Ivy League school don’t have any more value than the kids who go to community college?

And, you know what, adults? That means we’re going to have to stop saying in hallowed, hushed, adoring tones, “Johnny got into Harvard.” And it means we’re going to have to stop with all the extra rationalizing and apologizing when a kid goes to community college, “Well, Bobby is going to Neighborhood Community College for a year or two. He’s really smart; he just didn’t apply himself the first two years of high school. I don’t think he realized that all his grades actually counted. But he made the honor roll his last two years, and he’s going to get into a top college after a year of Neighborhood Community College.” No, stop it. Harvard Johnny is no more worthy of a parent’s pride and adoration than Community College Bobby. 

And then, after all of the grown-ups agree on this, can we all tell our children these truths? And can we keep telling them and keep telling them until they believe it? Until they know in the center of their very being that whatever sort of ways they are smart –and they ARE! – those ways are just as important and valuable and beautiful as the ways other people are smart. 

When report cards come home and students are in the middle of standardized tests and the valedictorian is announced, can we promise each other that we’ll pause and take a deep breath  and remember that these things do not define our children? And they certainly don’t define us as parents. Can we promise not to elevate these sorts of things to a higher place than they deserve? Even if our children make straight A’s and ace the tests and have the highest gpa. We can be proud of their hard work and the character that work has formed in them and grateful for the gifts and talents they’ve been given, but let’s not be deceived into thinking that their grades and scores and accolades make them better than in the ways that are truly important in life. And let’s be realistic, those things don’t really even make them smarter than. Because there are so many ways to be smart.

Please know that I am saying this not only as the mom of children whose intelligences are not best measured by big tests and report card grades, but also as the mom of children for whom schools are made. I am not in one camp or the other, friends. I am not trying to devalue anyone’s children and their gifts. I am just asking us all to keep perspective.

If your child fits in the box that is school, that’s OK. Praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts. And if your child does not fit into the box that is school, that’s OK too. Help those children find their talents and gifts, help them figure out what types of intelligence they have. Then praise their diligence and work and help them be grateful for their gifts too. And let’s celebrate all the children’s distinctiveness and help them be thankful that we’re not all the same. Because how boring would that be?

Always Winter, Never School

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You know how in Narnia it’s always winter and never Christmas? Well, here it is always winter and never school. So yeah, let’s talk about snow days.

I’ve lost track of how many snow days my children have had this year, but I’m pretty sure we’ve had so many that we’re down to about five hot minutes of a summer vacation now. Every day they jump and cheer about another snow day, I mumble, “Happy summer vacation. ‘Cause this is it. Now move while I put on another pair of socks and sip this hot cocoa.” And then I grieve the days we won’t have at the pool, when I can easily justify sitting in a lounge chair, chatting with friends, sipping Diet Dr. Pepper, and soaking in the sunshine by saying I’m doing it “for the children.”

It is exciting when the forecast is for a big snow, and those first flakes start falling. As the snow begins and the ground turns white, it is easy to get caught up in the anticipation and the milk-buying frenzy and the flurry of Facebook posts with rulers stuck in snow.

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But then the children decide to go out and play in it. And they fight over who gets the good snow boots and who put the snowveralls where and why this one has waterproof gloves and that one has cheap knit ones that get wet in less time than it takes an Olympic ice-dancing announcer to use the word “twizzle” after a couple’s routine begins.

Then, they play outside for a fraction of the time it took them to get dressed. (There is an actual mathematical formula — snow play = get dressed • fight over gloves • find more than one pair of socks / 4) And when they come inside, they track in enough snow to build a small snow family and leave a trail of clothing so my house looks like the Goodwill threw up all over the place. Repeat this scenario at least 4 times each day.

When they aren’t playing outside for a half a second or getting dressed or undressed, they are playing Minecraft. And by playing Minecraft I really mean screaming, “He shot me with an arrow for no reason!” or “He stole all my gold!” or “He just killed a sheep! In MY world! He can kill sheep in his own world!” And I hear strange things coming out of my own mouth, like “Stop killing your brother’s sheep!” or “If you don’t stop killing each other, I’m taking all the iPods!” or “Only shoot your brother with an arrow if he WANTS you to!”

I have also noticed a direct correlation between snow falling and my desire to bake or cook comfort foods. So while the children are creating heaps of extra laundry, I bake coffee cake and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and chocolate cupcakes and fry up some pancakes and sausage and make a big pot of cheesy potato soup and garlic cheddar biscuits and a pot of chili and a side of black bean dip and a small crockpot of queso. (There is also a mathematical equation that looks something like — snow day = 5 lbs )

Snow also directly affects my ability to be productive. If we have more than an inch of snow, I seem incapable of doing anything more than baking, eating and watching Netflix or the Olympics. Sometimes I combine Netflix and the Oympics, which results in something really bizarre like watching a documentary about Tonya Harding at 1:00 in the morning. Don’t judge. I’m telling you, I am not made for long, hard winters.

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Last week, we got 2 feet of snow. I considered tying a rope around a kid before sending them to the mailbox, like Pa did before going to the barn during their long, hard winters on the prairie.

I am not normally a fan of wishing time away. But seriously, enough winter already. I need it to be spring. I need sunshine and green grass and buds on trees. The novelty and fun of wearing boots has worn off, and I need to be wearing my cute shoes and sandals again. I need the static electricity that makes my hair always look a little Bride of Frankensteinish to calm the heck down. After living in Florida for 4 years, I never dreamed I’d be wishing for a little humidity! But here I am, applying lotion for the 58th time today and wishing for a higher dew point.

If another winter weather advisory exclamation mark shows up in my daily forecast, you can find me in the fetal position in the corner of my bedroom under a pile of snowveralls and cheap knit gloves. You can leave me there until the daffodils bloom.

 

 

Chores — 5 Systems That Have Worked For Us

My kids don't remember a time they didn't do chores!

My kids don’t remember a time they didn’t do chores.
This is a chore chart from 2003.

I am a fan of chores! My children have done chores since they could walk. Toddlers carried newly-changed diapers to the trash and helped throw away napkins after dinner. Preschoolers folded washcloths and sorted clean silverware into the right slots in the drawer. As they’ve gotten older, the chores have gotten harder.

My kids, however, aren’t always as in love with chores as I am. So how do I get them to do chores?

Here are 5 chore systems we’ve used over the years –

 

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1. Weekly Zones/Responsibilities – Each child is responsible for one zone or job for an entire week. 

 

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2. Buddy System – Pair an older child with a younger child to do two chores for the week. The younger child learns from the older child. This helps build relationships between the children and encourages the older child to mentor and teach the younger sibling.  It also works if older siblings play sports that take up an entire evening. The buddies can split up the week, so a younger buddy can cover for the older sibling on busy evenings.

 

photo 43. Blitz – We do this when the house has gotten out of control or when company is coming. I make a list of every little chore that needs done, breaking big jobs down to the smallest task. Then the children start doing jobs and signing their names beside each job they do. The child who does the most may win a reward. If the chores vary a great deal in difficulty, we assign point values to each job and reward the child with the most points. It is AMAZING how quickly a house can get clean when every child works quickly to compete to get a prize.

 

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4. One Daily/One Twice A Week — Each child is assigned a simple daily chore and a harder chore to do twice a week.  The children were tired of the old zone system, so we started this chart this month. Daily chores must be finished by 7 p.m., and they have some flexibility about which days they do the twice-a-week chores. They like having some choice about when they do the work.

 

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5. Tag Team – When a job seems completely overwhelming, this is a fun option. We have used this for a giant pile of dirty dishes or a really messy shared bedroom. The children all watch a movie or play a video game, except one child has to wash 5 dishes or pick up 5 toys off the bedroom floor and put them away. Then that child runs in to tag the next kid. That child washes 5 dishes or picks up 5 toys before tagging the next child, and so on. A huge job doesn’t seem so bad if it’s divided into small tasks that can be done quickly. And doing something fun during someone else’s turn makes it even better.

 

Have you found a chore system that works for you? How do you handle chores in your house?

The Grace Microwave ~ remix

When we moved to FL and crammed our 8-person family into an apartment surrounded by a bunch of other missionary families who were sometimes all up in our business, I quickly realized the beauty and humiliating pain of grace. In 2011, I wrote about it. 

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You know what’s the fast track for learning to live in grace? The microwave cooking version of learning grace? Living in an apartment building with a bunch of other missionaries. No, wait. Living in an apartment building with your children and a bunch of other missionaries.

Yeah, there’s no pretending. No putting on a show. It is what it is. You are what you are. And everyone sees. Or hears.

Shortly after we moved here, my girls were leaving their bedroom window open just a little. With no screen. It didn’t take long for the boys to discover this. And it took even less time for the boys to find great sport in tossing things from our third floor window to the bushes below. Legos, hair brushes, paperwads, Polly Pockets, the sisters’ panties.

I didn’t realize the boys were doing this until the girls looked out their window one day and spied their stuff, their embarrassing stuff, in the bushes. I don’t even know how many times I traipsed down three flights of stairs and around the building to retrieve army men and K’nex creations and American Girl doll shoes and embarrassing little girl underthings.

The boys also discovered tiny bubbles in the paint in the hallways of the building. Self-control is not the most natural character trait in most little boys — and certainly not in my boys. So they picked at the bubbles and peeled at the paint until we had a spot strangely resembling the state of Texas in our hallway. Yeah, there’s no hiding that.

When the fire alarm screams at midnight, there’s no pretense. We stand around outside with all of our co-workers in whatever we happen to be wearing at midnight.

If the children are asleep, I can hear my downstairs neighbor’s surround sound television. If my apartment is completely quiet, I can hear him sneeze. And you know what that means? He and his family can hear us. (Shudder!) Because I’m sure it’s quiet in their apartment a lot more often than it’s quiet in mine!

So when my boys run and jump and turn cartwheels and thump on the floor, the people downstairs hear them. And that very next second, when I shout, “Hey! No jumping! The people downstairs will think you’re falling through the ceiling!” Yeah, they hear that too.

When I completely lose it and go all DragonMomma and start breathing fire and smoking at the ears, the neighbors can hear that. People who don’t know me well often think I’m so patient and one of those have-it-all-together mothers. After living here for four years, I’m pretty sure nobody in my building believes those illusions of me.

When you live in a building like this, there’s no putting on the mask and playing perfect Christian family. There’s no way to pretend or act every hour of every day. Children behave like children; they make messes and noise and mistakes. And sometimes I am exhausted and out of patience and I react with lots of myself and very little Jesus.

And so I fall into grace. And there is something really freeing about not being able to pretend. I’ve had imperfect children and been an imperfect mother right in front of God and everyone, and the world hasn’t crashed down around us. Instead, grace abounds.

This living arrangement has been an intense tutor in my need for grace and in learning to give grace to others. (Because they aren’t perfect Christians either.)

We’ve also learned to fix windows so boys can’t throw their sisters’ panties into the bushes.

How about you? Have you ever been in the Grace Microwave? 

It Gets Different, Mommas

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This week my husband was out of town and some of my children fell ill with the plague. Ok, not really the plague, just some virus which caused sore throats and high fevers, but it was not fun. And it involved my staying home and missing one of my weekly things and sleeping on the couch near a child with a temperature over 103. In my melodramatic brain, it was sooooo the plague.

This husband-away / children-sick dynamic brought back a flood of memories from when I had a houseful of babies and toddlers and preschoolers. Back then, Patrick also travelled for work; and nearly every time he left town, someone got sick. Oftentimes a copious amount of vomit was involved. But I’ll spare you those details.

In those days, I tried to get out of the house a couple times a month for MOPS. And off and on, I did a weekly Bible study on Wednesday mornings. Sometimes, there were play-dates or homeschool group gatherings. But often, day in and day out, I was at home with my children – just them and me.

Being home, having babies, raising children – that is what I had always wanted. I was living my dream come true. And I loved it!  –except for when I didn’t love it.

I loved nuzzling a baby up against my neck. I loved reading the same books over and over again — really! I loved singing nursery rhymes and stacking blocks and knocking them over and teaching the ABC’s. I loved nursing babies and rocking them to sleep, listening to them play with the Little People community that was scattered all over the house, helping them put on the fifth dress-up outfit of the day. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.  –except for the moments when I absolutely wanted to be alone in a bookstore or alone on a beach or, goodness!, alone in the bathroom would have been enough.

Being an extrovert, I love being around people. And during those years, I just really needed time around people who could blow their own noses, cut their own food, wipe their own bottoms. Some days – especially winter days, when we were inside our small house all the time, or sick days, when Patrick was out of town and I’d been up half the night with croupy kids or throwing-up kids — those days were just so long.

There were days when my husband would come home from work or from a trip, and I would be all like, “Tag! You’re it!” and make a beeline for a secret stash of chocolate behind my locked bedroom door. I’d go grocery shopping alone in the evenings, enjoying some quality me-time up and down the aisles where nobody pulled on my clothes or asked me for food or screamed that they needed my help with something.

Sometimes, Patrick would remind me that he hadn’t exactly been on a vacation; he’d been working. But I was always like, “Whatev! You slept all night long in a quiet hotel room. You ate hot food someone else prepared. You went to the bathroom and NOT ONCE did your co-workers or your boss bang on the door or stick their fingers under the door. That, my dear, is a vacation in my book!” I knew his job was hard work and stressful in its own way, and I appreciated that he was working hard so I could stay at home. After all, I knew I was living my dream. Granted, my dream-come-true involved a lot more bodily functions than it ever had in the visions in my young-girl mind. So even though his job was hard, my jobs woke me up at night, wiped snot on my shoulder and climbed onto the top of the fridge and gulped down the bottle of medicine hidden there.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want a houseful of children; I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be home with them all day, every day, for what felt like eternity; I did. Very much so! I just also needed to figure out how to get filled back up when they turned me upside down and squeezed every ounce of everything out of me every day.

Some weeks and months and years, I did a pretty good job of finding ways to refuel. For a while, every Monday evening (that Patrick was in town) was my night off. I went to dinner with friends; I went to dinner with a book or magazine; I went grocery shopping; I sat in a bookstore with a cup of hot cocoa, smelling the new book smell and feeling smart and cool.

But some weeks and months and years, I did a lousy job of finding ways to refuel. So I was lonely and bedraggled and quite martyr-like. I’m sure I was a blast to live with!

Now, my kids can all blow their own noses and wipe their own bottoms. Heck, they can do their own laundry! They sleep through the night. My job is not quite so physically demanding. My body is not sustaining the life of another human, as it was for so many years non-stop. They are in school during the day, so I have time to volunteer and work part-time and have long lunches with friends. There are times when I feel emotionally drained or even physically exhausted, especially after mediating disagreements and driving to all sorts of evening activities and wading through some teenage drama or even listening to the telling of teenage drama. But it is easier for me to find ways to refuel now than it was six or eight years ago.

You know that It gets better campaign? Well, this is my it gets better, or maybe not BETTER, but it gets DIFFERENT message to mommas of little ones. I know, these days are long. L-O-N-G. I remember it well. I know how it is to sprint from the house to enjoy a grocery shopping trip alone and then stand in the checkout line holding and rocking a giant package of toilet paper and missing your baby. I know how it is to love, love, love your husband for working so hard outside the home so you can work hard inside the home and then resent the crap out of him for spending his days having adult conversations while you’re surrounded by bodily fluids again!

I know. I remember. Your days are long right now, but the years are short. This won’t last the eternity it feels like. Hang in there. Figure out what energizes you, what fills you up, and make time for it when you can. Find five minutes here or ten minutes there to step outside or lock yourself in the bathroom or whatever you have to do to close your eyes and breathe and pray and just be. Or if you have a child with a propensity for cracking eggs on the kitchen floor and you can’t trust him alone for even a minute, play your favorite song and dance with him. Read jokes that are over his head and laugh out loud with him. Make brownies – because brownies make everything better. Whatever it takes – find something each day that will fill you up a little, that will make you feel like you. Not you the milk-making machine or you the diaper-changing robot or you the toy-picker-upper-for-the-hundredth-time, but you the You.

Don’t feel guilty recharging — even if that means renting a local hotel room alone and getting a solid eight or nine hours of sleep. I am giving you permission.

If you are feeling empty, wrung-out, worn down, it is OK to refuel, recharge, refresh. No, it’s not only OK; it is vital.

It does get different, Mommas. In the meantime, look for little moments of refreshment. And seize them!

Scream. Breathe. Pray. Repeat. Until you eventually skip the screaming part.

The other evening I was scrambling to finish up some work for a Bible study thing I do. And my sons were arguing because this one took that one’s LEGO sword and that one took this one’s new Hex bug. And then another one tattled because this one called him Stupid. One of them was copying everything another one said and playing a noisy computer game. The two in the LEGO/Hex impasse were chasing each other around the kitchen, so the dog was barking, barking, barking at them.

It was just too much. It was noise overload for my ears and my brain. The annoyance churned within me until I exploded. “Stop it!” I screamed. “I am doing important Bible study work, and you are driving me completely insane!!” 

Because, obviously, nothing says I’m a Bible study leader like screaming at your kids.

Oh how I wish I could tell you this is an unusual occurrence. But this sort of thing happens more often than I’d prefer to admit. I like to read a little devotion with the children before they get on the bus in the mornings. So I will give them a kind, cheery warning, “Hey, boys. Brush your teeth and put your shoes on. We’re doing devotions in 5 minutes.” But instead of hurrying to get ready, they get lost in their bedrooms doing who-knows-what. Four minutes later, I haven’t heard anyone brushing his teeth and shoes without feet in them are still scattered near the front door. A little less kindly, I shout, “Devotions in one minute! Better hurry up!” Finally, two minutes after I wanted to begin our devotion time, my face is turning red and I’m yelling throughout the house, “Where are you? What are you doing? We’re supposed to be reading the BIBLE now!!!!” 

Or at bedtime, I want to hug and love on and pray with them before they fall asleep. But it’s totally all whack-a-mole in my house. This one realizes he forgot to take his night-time medicine; and while he’s down in the kitchen taking it, another boy is suddenly overcome by dire thirst and must get a drink or he will surely die. Another son cannot find his iPod and he cannot possibly sleep without blasting TobyMac’s Favorite Song, so he retraces his steps to find the iPod. And after he traipses all over the house, looking in every spot his body has touched in the past three hours, he finds it under a giant stuffed frog on his bed. On.His.BED! And just when I am ready to tuck them in, I look down and see that a kid is still wearing blue jeans, completely oblivious that I’ve been asking them to get ready for bed. “Oh, it’s bedtime?” I cannot even. I just cannot.

And by this time, I have completely lost my ever-loving mind. When finally, they are all in their beds, I am so frazzled there is no way I can form prayerful words. Because really, after you’ve just screamed, “I do not care what pajamas you wear. Just put something on and get into your bed! And no, you do not need another drink; you will not die of thirst before morning!” – after all that screaming, it is hard to flip a switch and be all worshipful and sincere in praying. So I tell one of them to pray. And every time – every.single.time – a kid will start with, “Thank you, God, that we had a good day and had fun this evening.” And my mouth will drop open and I will wonder how in the wide world I missed the fun we have all been having because I wouldn’t think that a red-faced, wild-haired, arm-waving, screaming momma would be all that much fun. But what do I know?

I really want to wrap this up with some warm, fuzzy feelings and helpful advice – how to stop screaming at your children during deeply meaningful spiritual moments in five easy steps. But I got nothin’. I can only tell you what I’m doing in all my falling-down, getting-back-up tattered glory.

So here’s what I’m doing — each day, I’m trying to remember to take a time-out in my room when I feel the anger and annoyance building up inside me. I am trying my best to take deep breaths and speak quietly whenever I feel like I’m about to erupt. I’m praying for a kind and gentle spirit. I’m trying to put my children above my agenda or to-do list or my own comfort, trying to put my children above the ideal of a peaceful, easy evening. And when I mess up and lose it, I’m falling into grace. And then I apologize and try again.

And I pray with all my heart that God will bridge the gap between all my imperfections and the kind of mother my children deserve. And that’s the best I can do for now. And if you’re struggling with this same thing too, stop beating yourself up. Breathe. Take a time-out. Have a piece of chocolate. Count to ten or fifty or maybe even a hundred. Pray. Fall into grace. Apologize. And try again.

 

 

 

Morning Whack-a-Mole (or Morning Devotions — tomayto, tomahto)

photo-53Morning devotions is one of my favorite family traditions. Because my older three leave the house at 6:45, we don’t read a devotion together any more. I want to, but this is definitely a case of my spirit is willing, but my not-a-morning-person flesh is very weak. It’s on my list of things I want to do, but I’m giving myself grace on this one. Anyway, my three little guys catch the bus much later, so we read from Jesus Calling for kids together each morning. And I love it.

I love that they have scripture and thoughts of God fresh in their minds before they hop on the school bus. I love that we pray together each morning before they leave — even if we’re running late and the bus is about to come and all I can say is God, please fill these boys up with You today and help them to love You with all their heart, soul, strength and mind and to love other people too. Amen. 

When it seems I mess up a lot as a mom (Hello! Like last night when I completely went grouchy-crazy and lost it over absolutely nothing important. And had to tearfully apologize to Lauren.) — so when it seems I mess up a lot, I know I am doing this one thing well. And, you know, sometimes we hang onto whatever little thread we have. Right?

Reading some Bible verses and thoughts about God together each morning gets our heads on right for the day. It sets our focus a little bit, puts us in the right frame of mind to take on the day. It’s a habit I hope my kids develop on their own because we’re establishing it now. And I trust that these truths we’re planting each morning in their hearts will take root. That just when they need a thought or bit of truth the most, the words of our morning devotions will spring to mind.

Most mornings, our time together is sweet. I read (sometimes Daddy is still here and he reads) and they listen, then one of us prays. It takes three or four minutes, maybe five if we have a lot to pray about. But I was recently thinking about the days when we first started. The children were younger. Some of them had the attention span of a gnat. They weren’t in love with the idea of sitting down and listening to a devotional reading. It took a while to get them to all come to the table. And just when the last one finally meandered in, another would remember he only had one sock and jump up to search for the missing one. A giant game of whack-a-mole does not put a momma in a deep spiritual mood for reading from the Bible.

In those early days, I would start to read, get four words out, then a child would interrupt with some extremely urgent thing to say, like I hope we play dodgeball in PE today. Then just when I’d get us back on-track and re-read those four words and add on another three words, somebody would accidentally kick someone else’s chair while putting on a shoe. Drama would ensue. I would douse that flame and start reading again. After a few more words, someone would burp or make a face or whisper something important about LEGOs to someone else. And our three minute devotional reading would take fifteen minutes.

Many mornings I’d start our devotion time with a prayer. You know, one of those prayers that is really more toward my children than to God. Dear God, please let us all hear Your words to us this morning. And help us not to touch each other or whisper or burp or interrupt while Momma’s reading. Please help us remember that You are God Almighty and we have to treat You with respect and honor, like being perfectly silent during devotion time. Amen. And then my children would go ahead and burp and whisper and touch each other and play with army men and drum on the table. And I would wonder if this was really such a good idea after all.

But gradually the time between interruptions grew. They came to the table more quickly. They began to accept this as part of the routine.  They got older; their attention spans increased. Little by little, they got with the program. Now, many mornings nobody interrupts at all. Not every morning, mind you. My children are still very much children. Last night during Advent readings, my oldest and youngest were whispering about rubber band bracelets instead of, you know, listening to the promise of Messiah’s coming. Because deciding colors for rubber band bracelets is pretty important. So we still have our moments of gnat-like attention spans and distractions. But we press on. And, really, in this tradition, the sweet moments now outnumber the frustrating ones.

So, Mommas (or Daddies) of little ones, if you’re considering reading a morning devotion together, I want to encourage you – Do it! Even when it’s frustrating and distractions abound, even when it seems they don’t want to listen, Do it! Choose something short and age-appropriate. (I do love, love, love Jesus Calling for kids!) Pray that you’ll be gentle and kind and loving when the children interrupt — because they WILL interrupt. Expect it to take longer than it should. Maybe try reading to them while they’re eating. Their mouths will be busy with food and maybe less likely to interrupt with the important announcement of I hope we have Asian chicken for lunch today! 

I can’t even stress enough how glad I am we pushed through the thoughts of giving it up, the thoughts of how it seemed a futile exercise in getting everyone’s attention at once. This will be one of my favorite memories of my children’s growing-up years — sitting around the breakfast table and reading reminders of God’s love and faithfulness and praying for the new day together.

The Memory Tree

ChristmasTree2013

*First posted in December of 2011, edited slightly for today.

 

I love decorating our Christmas tree.

Nearly every ornament holds a memory and tells a story.

There are the ornaments from my childhood – the ceramic angel with my name painted on it, the faded green felt drummer boy. There are the ornaments my students gave me when I was teaching – a tiny chalkboard, a handpainted angel. There are the ornaments commemorating special places – my husband’s high school, his hometown church, the waterfall where we got engaged.

Each year, I choose ornaments for the children. Sometimes the ornaments symbolize a special memory — a tiny Cookie Monster for the year Jackson’s first word was “cookie,” a Cat in the Hat for the year Lauren dressed as him for Halloween. One year we made ornaments from sea shells we collected on our vacation to Chincoteague Island. Another year I bought beachy snowmen ornaments – snowmen sledding on seashells – to remember a warm Florida Christmas.

There are the ornaments the children have made — gaudy stars on tiny paper plates, giant angels with a child’s tiny picture glued on the head, foam manger scenes, popsicle stick reindeer, misshapen beaded candy canes.

And then there are the most special ornaments, the ones that bring tears to my eyes each Christmas. These are the ones I’m going to cry about even as I type this for you.

When I was a little girl, my grandma gave me toys for Christmas. My favorite was the Wonder Woman Barbie-style doll with her long black hair and giant red rubbery boots. My apologies to my cousin, Wendy, who actually asked for Wonder Woman that year, but who got another doll instead. There were a lot of us; Grandma must have gotten confused. But I digress. After I became an adult, Grandma gave me special Christmas keepsakes each year — beautiful musical snow globes, a gold-trimmed cake plate with holly and berries painted on it and a matching cake server. And then after I began having children, Grandma gave them each an ornament every year. With my aunt’s help, she chose special ornaments — musical Nutcracker soldiers or snowmen, jingle bells with their names handpainted on, delicate Hummel angels.

The last Christmas before Grandma passed away, my aunt had the foresight to print a tiny photo of my grandma and attach it to each ornament. So Silas’ tiny snowman-shaped music box ornament opens to show a photo of Grandma. Rachel’s porcelain angel has Grandma’s picture on the base.

These last six ornaments are the most precious on the tree, the final gift of love from their great-grandma who wanted to give more than gifts at Christmas – she wanted to give memories and keepsakes to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And so each Christmas her presence is profoundly felt as we decorate. Of course, each year, as I set out the snow globes and help the children hang their ornaments,  I am also reminded how very much I still miss my grandma. But mostly I am overcome with gratitude for the memories of noisy Christmases at her house with lots of cousins and for the thought she put into providing special Christmas keepsakes for me and my children.

I love my Christmas tree full of memories.

What’s your favorite Christmas ornament?