Thursday, March 26, 2015

A few stray peas

Last night Finn was finishing up his sweeping.  There were peas for dinner, so this was no small task.

As I scrubbed at the dishes in the sink, I glanced quickly behind me, hoping to monitor, and perhaps speed, his progress.  I found him on his hands and knees, pulling one single pea from underneath the table and brushing it into his dustpan.  And then again.  And again.

I turned back to the dishes, and about five minutes later he tapped me gently on my back.

"Is it good?" he asked.

I carefully studied the floor, and considered.  It wasn't perfect.  There were a few stray peas and some cranberries from Benjamin's wanderings earlier that day.  I could have, and maybe should have, sent him back.  To finish the job right.  To make it perfect.

But instead I knelt down and looked into his eyes.

"It looks great," I said.  "You really worked hard."

And I meant it.  I mean, comparatively, it looked much better than pre-sweeping.  And he had worked with such focus, his little tongue hanging out of his mouth, intent on corralling every, tiny pea.  I patted him on his tiny butt and sent him up the stairs for a bath.  Then I took the broom and meticulously swept every stray crumb before finishing the dishes.

Later, as I was getting ready for bed, I re-played these events in my head.  I was walking into the closet when I stopped, mid-step.  Because it hit me.  Right then.  Why don't I ever talk to myself like that?

I'm a bit of a perfectionist.  I mean, I hate the term.  Perfectionist.  It sounds like such an underhanded brag.  But I don't mean it like that.  I don't mean like the type of "perfectionist" who works so hard at perfecting that they become some successful big-shot with a top-floor office and a vacation house in the Hamptons.

I mean the kind of perfectionist who is scared to try anything, because what if I don't do it perfectly?  What if I'm not the best?

If I can think back on something I've done or something I've said or something I've written and find one, tiny hint of imperfection, I count the whole thing as a loss.  The whole interaction, the whole conversation, all of the words that surrounded that tiny dose of imperfection.  If it wasn't perfect, it wasn't any good.

And I thought, as I stood in our dark closet, Why don't I talk to myself like that?  Why don't I look around at all of the good, and excuse the few stray peas, and tell myself, good job!  You worked really hard!  You tried, and I'm proud of you for trying!

I distinctly recall my dad, in high school, telling me I didn't have to get all A's.  That all I had to do was try.

But I was holding a report card full of A's and I wanted to say, "Of course I do.  Because the A's prove something and a B wouldn't prove that thing."

And so I memorized pages of notes for the sake of A's and not at all for the sake of learning.  In fact, after a test, my mind dumped the pages of notes that it held, word for word, in order to make room for the next ones.  For the next A.

And so I don't, honestly, know where this perfectionism comes from.  Certainly not from my parents, who are two of the most encouraging people I know.  Who supported me in every decision I made.  Who advised me to "do what I love" in college, even when it meant walking away with a degree in English Literature and zero direction for my future.

But it's there.

If I'm being completely honest, which I guess I am, it's part of what I love about staying home with my kids.  Because they have no idea what kind of job I'm doing.  They know I'm not perfect, I guess, but they think I'm pretty darn close.  Or at least I assume so from their constant chanting of my name all day long.  I'm kind of a superstar around here.

But my kids and husband are easy.  They don't expect perfection, and they certainly don't give it.  We're imperfect and yet loved in this house.  It's normal.

So why do I expect it from myself?

Why do I beat myself up over the few stray peas instead of looking at the whole picture.  That I did something.  That there was a lot of good in that something.  And a little bit of bad.  But it doesn't matter because what matters is that I woke up that morning and I tried.

Joel has lost a lot of years from his life trying to convince me that there is no such thing as a perfect decision.  Or even a right decision, for that matter.  That we just make decisions and try to make the best of the circumstances that result from those decisions.  (I married a very wise man.)

When we made the decision to move here I expected the hard.  But I expected it to come and go quickly, and leave me, after the first month or so, basking in the warm rays of our good decision.

So after my self-imposed transition period, everything bad, every tear shed in my kitchen, every moment of marital discord, every pang of loneliness, led back to that one decision.  And I would tell Joel, "See!  I knew this would happen if we moved here.  We were happy before.  And now we've ruined everything!"

Of course Joel would stay annoyingly even-keeled, as though he knew, somehow, that things would change.  And, of course, they did.  And I could say great things now about our decision.

It doesn't mean it's not hard.  It doesn't mean there aren't stray peas spread about, threatening the absolute perfection of our life here.  But there's so much good too.  And I'm learning that a decision is just a decision.  I'm learning that it's better to do something than to do nothing at all.  Even if the something leaves a few stray peas in your wake.  Even if the result isn't perfection.

Sometimes I come to the end of a day and I feel like a failure.  I lost my temper with the kids before dinner.  I let Benjamin watch TV instead of playing with him.  I rushed through a bedtime story just to get them to sleep.  And the peas, somehow, define my day.  They cancel out all the kisses and the laughter and the sincere, albeit exhausted, love.

But I want to be kinder to myself.  I want to look around at my pretty clean floor and pat myself on the back for trying.  For getting under the table and pulling out those pesky, little peas, one by one.  And forgiving myself for missing a few.

And maybe, one day, I'll see that I needed those peas there.  That they stood in such contrast to the clean, white tile, I might not have noticed how good it looked without them there.  I might have completely overlooked all that good, if it weren't for those small hints of imperfection.   

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 
- 2 Corinthians 12:9

Monday, March 23, 2015

Mornings are hard (still)

I know I've explained my stance on mornings once or twice or perhaps a million times.  And I know you're probably tired of hearing about it, but oh my gosh, they're not getting ANY easier.

And since I decided for some reason to have not one or two, but THREE kids, they're actually getting harder.

What do you people with five and six kids do?  Does it magically get easier?  Do the big kids take care of the little, as I've heard in the old fables, but have yet to witness in real life?

Because mornings with three kids make me feel as if I'm wading through thick, goopy sludge.  I mean, I want to wake up early and drink my coffee in peace and GET AHEAD on morning preparations, but I also love to sleep and the sleeping thing usually to always wins.

It's just that Aiden was a 4:30 to 5 waker.  That was my induction to motherhood.  Waking up at 4:30 or 5.  After a few weeks I didn't imagine I'd survive.

But eventually he started sleeping longer.  Little by little, and although the other two didn't follow in his ridiculously early rising footsteps, I can't for the life of me break the mentality that I sleep as long as my children will allow.  Even on school days.

So I drag myself out of bed ONLY when the youngest makes me.  And since we all know I'm not willing to compromise my coffee time, the rest gets crammed into this one hour window that feels long until you take into account the three extra humans who follow me around EVERYWHERE.

And this morning as I climbed the stairs for the 97th time I lamented out loud that it felt like we were moving in slow motion and that, at this rate, we would never, ever get to school.

I say this, of course, in the hopes that my children will panic a bit and move faster, and the panic part totally works, but the move faster never does.

And no matter what, when the biggest and the littlest FINALLY get in the car I come back inside to find the middle crawling around the house in search of socks and I nearly fall over in frustration because socks are only THE FIRST STEP!

You see, the thing is, I need my morning coffee for life and things of that sort, but it also tends to make me a bit jumpy.  And dramatic.  And so I make large declarations about leaving him behind while I take the others to school, which only makes him throw his shoes on the floor and WAIL and does not, in fact, speed him up in the least.

But I don't know what to say that will make him move faster, so I just keep saying these same things and he keeps throwing down the shoes that are STILL NOT ON HIS FEET and I'm fairly certain we'll be making declarations and not getting shoes on for the rest of our lives!

And so adding one extra step, such as returning library books, is darn near impossible.  One extra step feels like it will take a lifetime, and although for some in this family it seems like all we have is time, others of us need to get children to school because the only thing worse than getting children to school in the morning is NOT getting children to school in the morning.

So if you see me in the morning and ask how I am, and in return I smile or say anything positive, I am lying to you.

Nobody told me that being a morning person was a requirement for motherhood.   That your little people would be hanging around, expecting you to be nice before ten.  I can't be nice before ten!

But sometimes I can fake nice before ten.  Not before my coffee, though.  That's just ridiculous.

Thanks for sticking with me while we work out my morning issues here together.  I'm just going to be honest right now.  These morning rants, they are going to happen.  If you're lucky, only once every few months.  But possibly more.  I won't make any guarantees.

It's just that I come here, oftentimes, to work out the hard things in life.  And on days like today, and many other days, mornings are the hard things in life.  

I'm still hopeful that one day I'll enjoy mornings.  Probably not while the kids are at home, though.  I mean, I'm hopeful, not delusional.

But I really like people who say they wake up early and do yoga and go for walks and bike rides.  I feel like those people really have it together.  I don't like to actually talk to those people in the morning, but I like them a lot in the afternoons and evenings.

First, though, I need to be convinced that the morning hours are somehow better than the evening hours.  Because in the evening I get to watch TV and eat ice cream and nobody asks me for anything.  It's a beautiful time of the day and morning needs to do some BIG convincing if it wants to get me on board.

So here's to hoping this is the last one of these for a while.  But somehow, I doubt it.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Like a Brother

My kids love each other!  They really love each other!

I promise, I'm not bragging.  I'm just really excited to discover after 5 years that, despite MUCH evidence to the contrary, they really, truly love each other!

Yesterday they finally earned enough money by WHINING through months of chores to buy a new toy.  And so we planned an awesome day of church and out to eat and toy shopping before remembering it was the first Sunday of store closings here in Hungary.

Um, yeah.  I would highly recommend checking on the openness of toy stores before ever promising severely expectant children a trip to said toy stores.  Yeah.

Luckily we had a few toys stored up from our trip to the States last summer, and each boy agreed on a separate, but equally desirable toy, for which they paid us the appropriate amount.  I mean, we might have made a little on the deal, but I think we deserved it for ALL THE WHINING!

The boys played happily with their toys for much of the day, but after dinner Aiden followed me to the kitchen and wedged his way into my arms.

"What's wrong, buddy?" I asked.

That's all it took for my happy, little guy to melt into a puddle of tears.

"Finn got a really good Bey Blade and he's never going to share it with me."

"But Aiden, you're the one who chose the Legos.  And if I remember correctly you told us just a few hours ago, and I quote, I'm not that into Bey Blades anymore."

"But I didn't know it was a really good Bey.  You didn't tell me you had a really good Bey."

More sobbing.

"Um, we didn't know we had a really good Bey.  And I'm sure Finny will share it with you.  Right Finn?"


At this point my natural instinct is to buy a whole new Bey.  To run right to the store and purchase the thing that will stop his tears, because suddenly it's totally clear how terribly unfair this all is.  I would have to, of course, buy Finn a set of Legos as well, so everything in the world is perfect and equal and the tears and the whining all blissfully disappear.

Joel tells me we're not supposed to do this, though.  And he's ALWAYS watching, so instead I held him a bit longer.  I rubbed his back and told him Finn would eventually share.  When the toy wasn't so new and so exciting.  In a few days, perhaps, he'd be ready.

Aiden answered in more tears and we eventually moved on without a resolution.

But about fifteen minutes later I watched Finn sidle up to Aiden.  Without a word he held out his Bey, and Aiden looked at him with surprise in his eyes.

"No," he said in a small voice, "that's okay."

"Just take the Bey Blade, Aiden!" I snapped from across the room.  A mom can only take so much drama!

But as I turned towards the kitchen I watched from the corner of my eye as they awkwardly hugged each other before scurrying away to play.

Later that night Joel peeked his head in the room, where I was attempting to put Benjamin to sleep.

"Aiden and Finn want to know if they can sleep together."

"Um, okay?"

I thought bunk beds were close enough, but apparently not.

With Benjamin finally sleeping I crept quietly into their room.

"Mom," Finn whispered, "we decided to pretend we both paid half for each toy.  So we can share both."

"That's great," I said, but I started to get all teary and weird, so I kissed them and left quickly.

They laid awake talking in bed for two more hours.  I should have separated them.  I should have forced them to sleep.  But they were talking and not fighting.  They were awake and yet there was peace.  So I let it go, even as the clock ticked towards ten.

Perhaps it wasn't best for them or conducive to a good night's sleep, but I needed that time.  I needed to hear them chatter mindlessly and I needed to picture them tucked under the same blanket and I needed to realize that they truly and actually love each other.

Because some days I wonder.  I know, deep down, but I wonder.

Most days the fighting feels relentless, and once or twice I've asked Joel, in complete desperation, "Do they hate each other?"

Benjamin's recently taken on the role of Finn's protector.  No matter where Aiden is or what's happening or regardless or the fact that he himself just bashed Finn in the head with a heavy, wooden sword, he'll run to crying Finn, wrap his arms around him, and demand to know "Aiden do?"

And, let's be honest, he's usually right.  Some days the teasing and the jealousy and the screaming and punching are just too much.  And I wonder, do they really love each other?  Aside from mom-says-I-have-to love.  Do they want good things for the other?  Do they love each other?

And on days like yesterday, it feels like they're quietly whispering, yes.

And that whisper, it's enough for me.  It wipes away all the very loud NO's, and I find myself overwhelmed by the quiet truth.

It's such a mom thing to say, I know, but that one quiet yes should get me through another five years.

And, likely, it's going to have to.

Because very first thing this morning...

"Mom!  Finn's not sharing his Bey!"

Friday, March 13, 2015

Impossibly beautiful

Last night I was up in my room.  Pouting a bit.

Something about a bad day and cooking and finally getting Benjamin to bed only to find a kitchen full of dirty dishes upon my return.

Anyhow, I was proving a point.  I think.  By sequestering myself in my room, while the baby slept and the rest of my family played a video game together downstairs.

I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a post from a blog I follow.  The blog is called Mundane Faithfulness, and I found it originally through a friend of a friend.  The writer, a wife and mother of four, is dying of cancer.  With beauty and so much grace she chronicles her journey, and allows her readers these small, sacred glimpses into her thoughts and her struggles and her joys.

In just a short time I've grown to love her.  Truly love her.  It sounds strange, I know, but if you read her blog, you'll understand why.

So when I watched the documentary trailer she posted just the other day, it felt like my heart was breaking.  I couldn't watch it any more than once, but I also couldn't stop thinking about it.  Because this one line nearly broke me.

She was lying in bed, with her little boy, and as they snuggled together he whispered in her ear, "I don't want you to go."

I'm not super emotional (quit laughing Joel), but this really did me in.  I forgot what I was pouting about and felt only this huge distance from my family.  This family that I am here with.  That is here with me.

And so I put down my phone and practically ran down the stairs.  I scooped Finn into my arms and I snuggled him so close.  I looked over at Aiden and told him how proud I am of him.

And all three looked at me a bit like I had two heads, and promptly proceeded to ignore me.

But I tried my best to soak it all in.  To be there.  To study each of their tiny features and to burn them and this moment into my mind forever.

Honestly, though, I couldn't figure out how to do it.  It's like I couldn't soak it in enough, couldn't soak them in enough, even as much as I tried.

I do have moments, where I feel like I'm all there.  All in.  Where I feel so connected to my kids and my husband.  Where they make me laugh or cry or light up inside, or all three at once.

But not when I force it.  Not when I try.  Those moments, they just happen.  They're like gifts.  Precious, surprise gifts that I didn't see coming, and that oftentimes leave me breathless in their swift departure.

And I wonder if stories like Kara's aren't teaching me to hold on tighter.  To squeeze until I suffocate the things that I love.

I wonder, in fact, if they're teaching me to let go.  To loosen my grip, instead.

To view these children and this family and this life, and even these moments, as they are.  A gift.  Not mine for the grabbing, for the holding on to.

But a gift.

When I hear about a loved one dying or imagine my children getting older or feel like time is being pulled out from under me, I start to feel all panicky inside.  I start to feel on the verge of losing everything, and wanting to hold on as tight as I can.  I do this, usually, by squeezing one to all of my children until they can barely breath and are forced to squirm stealthily from my arms.

But the truth is, I can't hold on tight enough.  And I don't think Kara is being so brave in telling a story so hard just to make me cling even tighter to what I already have.

I think, instead, she's showing us the beauty in letting go.  Even when it's not your choice.  Even when you want to hold on with every ounce of your being.

There's beauty in letting go.  In realizing these precious lives aren't ours for the keeping.  They're a sweet, sweet gift.  And like any gift, there are moments of intense appreciation and moments of unmistakeable ordinary.  We can't swallow these moments whole, even as much as we might want to.

And somehow, for me, there's relief in that knowledge.  There's rest in the loosening of my grip.  In appreciating the moments when they come and relaxing when they don't.

It's counterintuitive, that somehow I can enjoy these people, this life, even more when I stop forcing it so much.  When I'm open to these gifts, but not demanding of them.

I'll give them extra hugs and kisses today, of course, and I'll try to enjoy every moment.  But I'll enjoy it as a gift, not as something I'm owed.  Not as something that belongs to me.

It's a hard story, the one she's telling.  The one she's living.  Impossible, really.  And yet beautiful.  Impossibly beautiful.  And I'm so thankful she's allowing us to be part of it.

If you're the praying type, please join me in praying for the Tippets family.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Ballad of No More Naps

This morning I was taking a walk with Benjamin.  Our third of the day, to be exact.  His progress was agonizingly slow, but the sun was shining on my back and birds were chirping in the trees and I was composing, in my head, a post about beautiful spring.

About spring and all of its glory.  About sun and flowers and tweeting birdies and happiness.  I was going to write about HAPPINESS!

But that was all before I realized there would be NO NAP TODAY.

And so I threw up my hands and stomped from his room.  And instead of bouncing down the stairs and writing a post about freaking spring, I walked down the hallway with my hands still in the air and shouted, to no one in particular, "When am I ever going to get anything done?!"

And I passed the stupid laundry room, where I've been pulling clean, dry clothes out of the machine and piling them ON TOP of the drying rack, and I thought, I will never have time to fold laundry again!  No, for the rest of their lives I will be pulling the children's clothing items from the unfolded pile ON TOP OF THE DRYING RACK!

There is no nap.  NO NAP!

When am I supposed to breathe?  When am I supposed to shower?  When am I supposed to pick up the scattered bits of my sanity and piece them back together?

I mean, sure, there's TV.  But TV comes with guilt and noise and naps don't come with either of those things!

Naps come with peace and quiet and great joy.

My only consolation on no nap days is a steamy, fully caffeinated cup of afternoon coffee.  But not even a foamy latte can fully rescue a no nap day.

Oh, how I miss naps.  Forget everything I've ever said about your first baby being the hardest.  No.  A toddler who doesn't nap is the hardest.  A toddler who doesn't nap is IMPOSSIBLE.

There is always something on my leg all day long.  If it leaves my leg for a second the irresistible magnetic force between said toddler and said leg pulls him RIGHT BACK.

My other kids napped well beyond three.  This one didn't even make it to two.  What kind of a one-year-old doesn't nap?!

I'll tell you what kind.  The impossible kind.  The kind that is trying to destroy me.

And so I guess we'll get back into the sunshine.  Because my soul needs a big giant dose of Vitamin D right now.  I'll cry no more for nap times lost, never to be seen again.

I'll stop counting down the hours until he goes to sleep.  And I'll start counting the days till he goes to school.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Vomit Diaries

A few nights ago I woke to a child calling my name.  It was 3:30 in the morning.  And I knew.  Right then.  I knew.

So I dragged myself out of bed and I stumbled to the child's room.  I looked at all of my precautions.  The towel, the bucket, both thrown to the side.  Clean and empty.

And I looked at the child.  Sitting to the side of his bed.  And I looked at his big, scared eyes.  And I looked beside him.  At it.

And a warm smile spread across my face.  I went to him and wrapped him in my arms.  I told him everything was okay.  I rubbed his back and laughed and made a good joke out of it.

Okay, not really.

What I really did was this.  I stared at it for about 30 seconds too long, while the child looked on nervously, and then repeated, like, 15 times, "What happened to the towel?!  What happened to the bucket?!"

I was prepared for this.  There were signs, earlier in the night, so I was ready.  I made sure to minimize the clean up.  I long ago resigned myself to the fact that my children will never, ever make it to the bathroom in time.  Or even out of their bed.  So I've adapted.  I had a plan.  I had a freaking plan, and yet there it was.  Right smack in the middle of the bed.

After I composed myself a bit I set off to business.  I cleaned and I washed and I laundered.  I walked from my warm home and into the cold night, disposing of the final remnants.  I changed the sheets and the boy and I only said "This is so gross" like five times.  So I feel like I did a pretty good job.

The boy was scared when he laid back down, so I sat beside him and rubbed his little arm.  My stomach was queasy from exhaustion and emotional trauma, but I sat there with him anyhow.  On the hard floor beside his bed.

I'll tell you what.  I don't ever, ever feel like more of a mom than I do when my children throw up.  It's hard to explain.  But maybe, if you're a mom, you understand.

Because there's also nothing I hate more.  Literally, I would rather do ANYTHING than clean up the contents of another human's stomach.  Even if the other human is my own child.

But I do it.  Of course.  A. Because not doing it would be even more disgusting, but B. Because I love them so incredibly much.

And I hate it, truly, but I also love showing my love for them in this way.  Deep (deep) down I love doing the lowest, grossest thing for these children when every ounce of my being wants to curl up in my warm bed and sleep the night away (or conveniently "not hear anything" like someone else I may know).

I think, somehow, it describes my love for them better than any words could.

I don't know what it is about puking children that makes me think about Jesus.  But it does.  Like, every time.

Maybe it's that Jesus took on the lowest, grossest jobs when he lived on earth.  Like cleaning people's nasty feet and touching lepers (which you know was gross because NO ONE else would do it).  Maybe it's that I feel rather sure that, at some point, Jesus cleaned up someone's puke.  If not multiple people's puke.  And that he most definitely did it without complaining about how disgusting it was.

Some nights Joel and I just stare at our slumbering children and go on about how much we love them.  We relive the sweet and funny moments from the day and we convince ourselves we're the luckiest people on earth.

But that's the easy stuff.  I mean, the kids are freaking sleeping.  Of course we love them.

But when you're called to clean up vomit at 3:30 in the morning and when you've finally cleaned it all and you just want to go back to bed or to get a reward of some sort, but instead you sit beside your child and comfort THEM back to sleep.  That's the stuff of true love.

And I guess I think about Jesus because he said a lot of words, but it wasn't any of those words that convinced me of His love.  It was what He did.  It was His dying, and doing the very lowest thing.  For me.  For love.

I don't suppose this will be the last time I clean up puke, or other disgusting bodily functions.  I don't imagine it's the last time I'll be called to show love in gross or painful ways.

But I'll continue to do it.  Because I love them so much.  Because I'm so very fond of them.  Because even though they make my life so hard sometimes, they also make it worthwhile.

And I'll imagine that Jesus feels much the same about me.