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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why Being a Mom Matters (in a post-election world)

I was talking with a friend the other day who was feeling caught between busy mom life and a desire to do more.  To be more than just a mom.  But between the demands of little ones and a husband with long work hours, being "more than Mom" feels nearly impossible sometimes.

"I know being a mom is the most important job, but it doesn't always feel like it."

I honestly didn't know what to say because that same feeling resonated deep within me.  And so we came up with some small ways to incorporate the more into daily mom life, but we both knew it wasn't what we were looking for.  We were looking for an answer to this question: Why does being a mom matter?

Of course we both know the cliche answers, but a few nights later as I lay crying in bed, those answers just didn't help.  I was upset with Joel, but not for anything he did.  I felt jealous of him.  Really jealous.  I was angry that he had so much going on in his life.  A job he loves, a band, a marathon.  People telling him he's doing well at all of the above.  

"But you're a great mom.  You said it yourself just the other day."

Not even kidding.  I did.  After nine years of raising little ones I am well past the point of thinking I have to be a perfect mom to be a great mom.  (And I've realized it's okay to say it out loud.)

"I know I did, but what does that even matter?"

It's not a question he could answer of course (try as he might).  It's one I needed to answer for myself.

Because I have put in nine years of sweat and tears, nine years of moving and working from early morning to late night, nine years of diapers and meals and playing trains on the floor.  I have directed nearly every ounce of my energy into my family, and now that I have more than the minute I'm in the bathroom with the door locked to reflect on my life I'm wondering, why does is matter anyhow?

And let me tell you, I struggled to find an answer.  Really struggled.  To be honest, I couldn't come up with one satisfying answer, not one good reason why.  Until this morning.

I set my alarm for 4 am (10 pm, US time) and Joel and I slowly sat up in bed.  He brought over his laptop and we searched for a live stream of the election coverage.  I'm sure I don't need to describe the shocking events that unfolded from there.

At one point I decided to go back to sleep and thought, as I drifted off, I could very well wake up to a Trump presidency.  And I did.

As much as I tried to stop it, I couldn't turn off the stream of hateful discourse that ran rampant these past few months.  I couldn't stop thinking, what will I tell my kids?  That the same person who said these terrible things is now our president?

Of course I felt a little scared about what might happen, about our country's future, but much more so I felt heartbroken.  This morning I woke up and got my kids ready for school and went about my life as usual.  Nothing had changed.  But I couldn't stop thinking about minority people in America, people with disabilities, people from other countries, looking for a better life for themselves and their children.  How they might feel this morning like they're walking into a more hostile America, or at the very least a more apathetic one.

Later, in the car, Finn asked who the new president was.  I had told them earlier, but apparently it was too early to register.

"What?"  My feisty little guy exclaimed.  "But I don't like that guy AT ALL!"

I was a little taken aback by his reaction.  We had spoken very little about the election.  Not intentionally, just lack of obvious opportunities (since we read our news instead of watching it).  They knew we weren't voting for Trump, but I had no idea he felt so passionately about the matter.

"I know, buddy.  I don't like him much either, but that's how elections work.  Remember how you used to vote for things in Kindergarten?  And even if you liked your vote very much, the most votes always won."

"Well I don't like it."

"You don't have to.  But he's still president.  The best thing we can do is pray that he will be a kind and fair leader.  And what's really important is that we keep being kind and loving ourselves."

As soon as I said it something clicked in me.  It's exactly the answer I had been looking for.  I was so busy thinking big, wanting to do something bigger, something more obviously important, when I really needed to think smaller.

Sure, there are people who need to do big things in big arenas, but I felt more convinced this morning than ever that I am doing the most important thing I could possibly be doing.  I'm raising three little, impressionable people to be kind and loving.  I'm raising them to not just accept people who are different, but to embrace them.  I'm raising them to use their words to build others up, not to tear them down.

I get to be the one to teach them that people with disabilities are people too, with so much to offer the world, not a joke to be made.  I get to be the one to teach them that women are to be treated with respect, not degraded with "locker room talk;" that immigrants and refugees are to be helped, not hindered; that we respond to our enemies with love, not hatefulness and a thirst for revenge.

Aside from voting, there was little I could do to control this election, and even less I can do to control the future.  But what I can do... I can love my little guys.  I can love them with extra long hugs and warm meals and books at bedtime.  I can love them with quiet prayers and bible stories.  I can love them in hundreds of little ways, and I can hope beyond hope that they take that love into the world.  That they use it to love others, in hundreds of little ways.

And right now, on the day after election day, that is the very biggest, most important thing I can think to do.




Monday, October 3, 2016

A few words on coffee

I feel like National Coffee Day sneaks up on me every year.  Before I can prepare adequate words of adoration it's here and it's gone and I'm left silent.  Shouldn't Facebook give us some kind of warning?  "National Coffee Day is in one week"... "Tomorrow is National Coffee Day"...

I imagine coffee is feeling a bit used by me.  I drink it often and I mention it from time to time, but I rarely, if ever, take the time to express my true feelings.  It's not that I don't want to, or that the feelings aren't real, but some emotions run too deep to be put to words.  Some loves are too intense for mere sentences, haphazardly thrown together.

But try I must, and try I will.  I don't want to look back with regret, wishing I had said something while I had the chance.

Because, coffee, my life wouldn't be the same without you.  You make everything better.  Really, you do.  Don't believe me?  Have you ever seen me first thing in the morning?  Ever tried to talk to me?  It's not a pretty picture.  There's a good reason my husband's gone by the time I wake, why my children cower in their room until they hear the clink of my spoon against the porcelain mug.

You change me.  From the inside out.  Confusion and fury give way to sweet love in your warm embrace and I'm left different.  New.  This morning Finn came quietly down the stairs, which, without you, would just be too much for me to handle.  But with the heat of you in my hand I called to him endearingly, asked him to come for a snuggle.  He checked first, to make sure it was safe, but when he saw you snug in my palm he came running and I held him close.  Until I needed another sip and then I gently nudged him on his way.

Those first 30 minutes every morning are devoted to you.  If that's not proof enough of my deep affection, I don't know what is.  I wake up early to spend that time with you.  Earlier than I have to.  Can you even believe that?

And you don't just make me sweeter, you make me stronger.  You give me the kick I need to peel myself off the couch and engage in the various morning activities that, without you, would be too difficult to even consider.  Packing lunches.  Making breakfasts.  Clothes and teeth brushing and the occasional shower.  Of course you also make me a bit jumpy, and I can be just a little forceful as I attempt to shoo my children from the house.  But don't worry coffee.  I won't hold it against you.  No loves are perfect.  Ours is close, though.  Ours is very, very close.

By about 10 I'm starting to miss you and so I'll search and find you, no matter where I am.  Nothing can keep us apart.  Sad, dreary mornings turn warm and comforting in your presence, as if you can somehow change the very world around me.

I've heard some people say they don't like you, coffee.  I try to keep my mouth shut, but it hurts.  They just don't know you.  Not like I do.  If they really took the time to get acquainted, a cup of tea would dull in comparison.  But not everyone's as devoted to you as I am.  Not everyone sees what I see and we have to be alright with that.  I know, it's hard to trust these "tea drinkers," but some of them are okay, some I even like, so I guess we just have to let it go.  To each their own (even when they're wrong).

I guess what I'm trying to say is, thank you coffee.  For all you do for me, and indirectly for my husband and children and anyone else who might cross my path before noon.  You're one of the most beautiful things in the world to me (I have to say one of because people might find it weird if I think you're more beautiful than my children, which I am NOT saying I do).

So here's to many, many more happy mornings together.  And if you don't hear from me again for a while, all you have to do is look at my face when I first see you and you'll know, ours is a love meant to last.  




Monday, September 26, 2016

When healing hurts

The other day I sliced off a size-able chunk of my thumb with a mandoline.  I was shredding some cabbage for cole slaw and I thought, I don't need to use the holder.  My fingers aren't even close to the blade.

I walked rather sheepishly onto the back porch and called to Joel, who was doing some yard work.

"I need you to take over in here.  My thumb's bleeding pretty bad."

Pretty bad was a bit of an understatement.  Slight gushing would probably be more accurate.  I wrapped a paper towel tight around the wound, and watched as the blood seeped onto the outer layer.

"I'll be back," I said and made my way upstairs.

Through gritted teeth I washed out the cut, replaced the dangling flap of skin and wrapped my thumb with plenty of padding.  I didn't see how the bleeding would stop, though, so I watched it carefully, knowing if it soaked through I would likely be making a trip to the doctor.

But it did stop.  Not entirely, just enough that it never bled through.  A few hours later I changed the bandage.  It bled again as I cleaned it out, but not as long this time, or as much.

It continued like that for days.  Eventually it stopped bleeding when I changed the bandaid, but any time I'd do the dishes or bath the kids, I would bump it, just slightly, and the bleeding would start again.  Which left me with no choice but to delegate all dishes and bathing to Joel for the entirety of the weekend.  Devastating.  But it worked.  It allowed my finger the time it needed to heal, and by Sunday afternoon I could tell something new was growing underneath that dead flap of skin.

On Sunday evening it was like my finger just let go of the old skin.  Like it had done its job, and wasn't needed anymore.  And I was shocked that underneath it all my finger had created its own band aid.  As Finn said, it looked like plastic.  Like a thin sheet of plastic tightly covering the wound, protecting it.  Three days earlier I couldn't have imagined it healing on its own.   I was scared to look at it, terrified to see how bad and painful it had become.  But now it's nearly beautiful in its healing.  It's not back to normal, but I'm starting to see that one day, it might be.

When we first moved here over five years ago I was a bit in shock.  And then I was thrilled.  And then miserable.  Angry.  Miserable again.  I remember asking Joel beforehand, What if it ruins everything?  We're happy now.  Life is good.  What if this move destroys our marriage and our family and our general contentment?

And for that first year or so, it did.  I felt a lot of emotions in that first year, hopeful, terrified, confused, furious, excited.  But I don't remember, even once, feeling content.  Marriage felt hard, parenting felt hard, going to the grocery store or walking down the street felt hard.  I didn't see how it would ever get easier and frankly, had it been fairly simple to abort mission and head on home, I probably would have.

But slowly, slowly the bleeding subsided.  It got less painful by small degrees.  There were moments it almost felt normal.  And then I'd end up with the wrong order from McDonald's or someone would fail to return my smile and the old wound would open up again.  But underneath, all that time, there was healing.

And one day, or over many days, more likely, I let go of the old me.  The me who lived in Pennsylvania for nearly her whole life and who loved things simple and convenient and, most importantly, familiar.

It's starting to feel like fall here.  I still remember my first autumn in Budapest.  I remember the cooling air and the crackling leaves, even the hot coffee, and how I couldn't enjoy any of it because it all made me sorely miss home.  It felt like an ache in my heart, a wound that I just couldn't imagine getting any better.

Fast forward five years... the other night Joel met the kids and I at a playground near the city.  I was wearing a light sweater and jeans, breathing in the touch of fall in the air.  Aiden and Finn were climbing trees, Benji was swinging a long stick with little regard for anything, or anyone, around him.  Joel sat down beside me and we talked about our days and the kids and Finn's quickly approaching birthday.

Eventually we walked to our favorite little pizza place.  The workers, who I used to believe hated us, seemed genuinely happy to see our little family, and knew our order before we could even say it.  We ate outside, under a canopy of green, and my heart felt full.  Content.

Life here is not picture perfect, of course, but five years ago I never would have seen this coming.  Five years ago I would have still been trying to glue down that dead flap of skin, to make it fit and stop the bleeding, even just temporarily.

This move did ruin everything.  For a time.  And then the everything started to heal and now it's even stronger, and even wiser.

Because it knows now when things are hard and you don't even want to peek under the bandaid for fear of just how bad it might be, there is still healing.  It might take time and it definitely won't be easy, but we were designed to heal.

Even when healing seems the most unlikely option.








Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to walk away (when your heart wants to stay)

Leaving your baby at school is no joke, people.  I totally thought I'd be one of those cool moms with celebratory first day Facebook photos and a mimosa in my hand by nine.  But as I left school today sobbing like a teenager nursing her first heartbreak, I can fully, 100 percent admit I am not her.

Last night Joel and I were talking and he mentioned the phrase "separation anxiety."  It took me a few moments to realize he was not referring to Benjamin.  He was talking about me!

Yes, I suppose you could call it that.  Or you could say I'm having trouble letting go.  But I think it's also this.  I knew at some point I'd have to let go, of each of my children.  I knew I'd have to do it in increments even, a little at a time.  But I thought they would be walking away from me.  I didn't realize, with each separation, I'd be the one walking away from them.

I remember each of my pregnancies with a fondness that I know not all women can muster.  But my pregnancies were rather uneventful.  Minimal morning sickness, no complications.  Somehow pregnancy hormones made me more emotionally stable instead of less (which means Joel has had about two-and-a-half years of peace in our eleven years of marriage).  My biggest pregnancy problem was that my babies didn't want to come out.

But come out they must, and come out they did.  I very distinctly remember the first time I cried after giving birth to Aiden.  Joel and I were flipping through the channels on the small hospital television and we happened to come across a Discovery Channel program on elephants.  The mama elephant was receiving an ultrasound, to check on baby, and meanwhile, on another continent, I sat sobbing on my hospital bed.  I missed being pregnant like crazy.  Even though I was ready (I thought), I missed it.  I missed the kicks and the hiccups and, more than anything, I missed that, without hardly trying, my little baby was the safest, most protected he would ever be.

When we got home a few days later, I laid him in his bassinet, right next to our bed, and for the first time, I walked away.  The feeling that came after was extremely uncomfortable, and I kept sneaking back to check on him.  But I did it.  I took those first few steps.

I walked away later for a few minutes of alone time, while Joel cared for them.  And later still for grandparents and babysitters to step in while we found a moment for us.  I walked away to care for new babies, when those babies were starting to grow.

And finally I walked away and left my heart within the walls of a school.  A building that was not my home.  In hands that were not mine.  And no matter how beautiful those walls, no matter how loving and capable those hands, it was heart wrenching.  Every fiber of my being said, "don't go," and still I walked away.

I imagine that pull never really goes away.  Like when they start driving or go to college or get married or move to a foreign country.  It's not natural, parenthood.  It's not natural that you should pour so much time and love and energy into a small being, only to send them further and further away from you.  Or, more accurately, only to walk further and further away from them.  From the car, from their dorm room, from the church, from the airport.

It's really one of the only relationships where you love and love and give and give, and don't expect anything in return.  In fact, you spend years filling them up with love, not so they'll care for you or love you back (even though they oftentimes do), but so they can know love and take that love into the world, away from you.

Benji made a friend at school the other day, and even after a hard separation, when I saw him walk up to her, wrap his little arms around her waist and hug her tight I thought, that boy knows how to love.  And I realized, if I never left his side, he'd never have a chance to give that love away.  Or, at least, not in the same way that he's learning to love without me.

And so I'll continue to walk away, every morning.  It will get easier, I'm sure.  And then it will get harder.  And then easier again.  But I'm not in this alone.  I'm praying late into the night when I can't sleep and I'm leaning on my husband and I'm feeling the loving embrace of this community of moms, as well as the people I love back home.  I'm coming here when my feelings are too big to stay inside and I am so grateful for it all.

And very soon I'm going to start to enjoy it.  I promise.  It won't always be tears and hard good-bye's.  Soon it will be happy kids skipping off to class, and happy mom skipping off to wherever I want to go!

So give me a minute to feel all this, and then hang tight, because I think the celebration's coming!



"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us..."

1 John 4:10




Monday, June 6, 2016

Good enough

I make dinners.  Lunches.  Breakfasts.  I search for socks and swim trunks and homework folders.  I wipe little bums and clean soiled sheets.  The fibers of my shirt hold tears and snot and marker stains.  My hair has been pulled and torn from its roots by little hands searching for comfort.  My arms ache from holding children well past holding age and most days my body is too tired to function past bed time.

When I think there's absolutely nothing left to give, someone wants something else.  And I give it.  When I think I can't possibly make one more dinner, someone's hungry.  And I make it.  When I think I can't walk another step, I pick up my toddler and I walk 50 more.  When I think I can't function without just a little more sleep, I get up.  And I do.

I hold little hands and kiss little faces and wipe little tears.  I laugh and I sing and I dance.  I cry and I yell and I fall on the couch and proclaim "I just can't do it anymore."  And then I get up and I do.  I high five and chase and whisper to each of my children, secretly, "You're my best friend."

I tear up at assemblies and class presentations because I'm so proud.  I tear up when I see them playing by themselves, or watch them struggle to read because I'm so scared.  I tear up when someone understands because I'm so relieved.

I wander the hallway at night, between rooms, tucking little feet under covers, stroking messy hair, smiling.  Always smiling.  Even after the hardest days.  Smiling because I feel in this quiet moment, each night, what it means to be mom.

It's work, yes.  Hard work, even.  But it's holy work.

It's a joy, even when it's a burden.   It's a privilege, even when it's a hardship.  It's grace, even when it's brought me to my knees.  Especially when it's brought me to my knees.

I've spent years trying to explain to people what I do all day.  When Aiden was a baby I'd say things like I feed him and I change his diapers and I pick him up when he cries.  And I'm sure they were thinking, and then...  But somehow that was it.  It was exhausting and exhilarating and fulfilling and unbelievably lonely, but I couldn't explain why.  These days I say things like, I go to play groups and take walks, I grocery shop and do laundry.  And I'm sure people think, and then...  But somehow that's it.  It doesn't sound like much.  But it feels like so much.  It feels like everything.

It's mundane and draining and sweet and lovely.  And it can't be explained, not fully.  But not because it's boring or meaningless.  Because it's full of more meaning than even I can understand right now, from my spot directly in the middle of it.  Because sometimes the most sacred things can't be talked about.  Sometimes the most beautiful things just can't be explained.

This morning Finn was feeling down and so I pulled him in for a good hug, and when I glanced up at our reflection in the window, I noticed Finn's small, satisfied smile.  I noticed his closed eyes and his arms wrapped tightly around my waist.  And I thought, I did that.  I don't know if good enough exists, or if I'll ever feel like I've attained it, but I know that I'm good enough for him.  Even with all my flaws, I'm enough for these three gorgeous children.  My love changes them.

And maybe that's the fascinating thing about motherhood.  That it's a small, beautiful reflection of a love much greater than this.  That even though it's laced with imperfections, it's also a piece of heaven.  A sacred glimpse into something more.

It's snot and tears and dirt-crusted fingernails.  It's smiles and laughter and chocolate-covered faces.

It's good and it's hard and it's everything in between, but it's always, irrevocably, unconditionally covered in love.




Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Just another day in the life

Some days I feel like a failure.  I look back at the end of the day on all I didn't accomplish, all the times that sweet and loving gave way to harsh and impatient, all the moments I felt on the brink of insanity doing such simple tasks as getting out of the car, walking down a hallway, trying to hold a 2-minute conversation with an actual, real-life grown up, and I feel like a mess.  Like I'm doing everything wrong.

But today, as I rushed around the house like a mad-woman, and as I piled my family into the car and set off for school, late again, I started to realize the truth.  I'm not a mess.  I'm not a failure.  I'm a superhero.

I mean, there are people (ahem, Joel) who get up, take a shower by themselves, make one breakfast (for themselves), put on their own shoes and their own coats and walk out the the door!  Walk straight out the door.  Can you even imagine such a thing?  (I mean, sure, he wakes up at 5:00 to accomplish this feat and, you know, pour every ounce of energy into his job, but whatever.  I'm the superhero today.)

This morning I woke up to a toddler's face just inches from mine and a puddle of urine in my bed.  Once I got him changed and the sheets in the washing machine, I dressed, fed and played referee to three rambunctious young boys, one of whom is most definitely not a morning person, while simultaneously packing lunches, signing reading logs and showering.  You heard me right.  Somewhere in the middle of all that chaos, I actually showered.

I somehow safely ushered three kids from the parking lot to the classrooms, and with Benjamin under one arm and my bag on the other I made it back to the car in less than 30 minutes.  Every single conversation from the time I reach the school lobby ends in my toddler running straight into oncoming traffic and me sprinting across the parking lot to catch him.

In fact, much of my day contains these unreal moments of heroic strength and speed.  I mean, I don't want to brag, but I can run from the living room to the bathroom, where my super-sonic hearing has detected a toddler pulling up his underwear pre-wiping, in less than a second.  Olympic sprinters couldn't compete with a mom attempting to prevent poop-stained underwear.  

I can casually balance a large three-year-old on one hip while cooking, cleaning, drinking coffee, eating meals and using the toilet.  I can outrun a speeding balance bike.  Out-climb the swiftest monkey.  And outsmart the most clever and stubborn of all humans... the toddler.

Most days I kick myself for the moments I lose my patience.  But what about all of the many moments I don't?  What about the times where I scream silently in my head, paste on a fake old smile and answer, "What do you need, sweetheart?"  What about the hundreds of times a day Benjamin wants to "hold me" and instead of throwing myself on the ground in frustration I stretch out my arms and I hold him?  What about the countless hours I've spent preparing meals that were sneered at and cried over, and not once did I so much as throw a pea?

I field incoming requests from the second I wake up in the morning ("Mommy, I'm hungry... I need my swim stuff... I don't have any socks.") to the moment I lay down my head at night ("Mommy, I need a drink... I want tucked in... Something's bothering me.").   I respond to these requests quickly and efficiently and with only the necessary grumbling (particularly when they come before my coffee).

And at the end of the day I look at the three small humans who have leeched every bit of energy from me that day, and I think about how deeply and sincerely I love them.  After all that.  I don't look at their sleeping bodies and think, "Well crap, guess I have to deal with that tomorrow."  I think instead, "How could I possibly love them more?"

Weird, huh?

So I guess we're doing something right, tired mamas of the world.  Even on the days it feels like we're doing everything wrong.  I've heard people say that being a mom is the hardest job in the world.  I don't know about that, but I'll tell you this.  It is hard.  It is really, really hard, but we're doing it.  We're doing it with a good bit of coffee and a whole lot of grace, but we're doing it.

And that's the most heroic part of all.




Wednesday, March 30, 2016

It's easy

To my Benji, on your third birthday,

Last night, after an hour of prepping dinner and finally getting it on the table, finally sitting down to eat, you slid off your chair, just a few inches from mine, and squirmed your way under my arm, onto my lap.  I was tired and hungry and your brothers would never have been allowed to do this.  But you're the third and the baby and, well, you're you.  So I let you sit there and attempted to eat around you.

At bedtime you wanted one more book and you spilled your milk down your shirt and you "didn't want to go night-night."  After all that, I knew that when you woke up you wouldn't want to go on the potty and you wouldn't want to get dressed and you wouldn't want to take brothers to school.

We met our friends for coffee this morning where you dumped a bottle of apple juice on your pants and sprinted repeatedly through the wide doorway.  And so I ran and dabbed and consoled between hurried sips of my cooling coffee.

If I attempt to vacuum, which at this point is highly necessary, and also highly unlikely, you'll follow close behind me.  You'll press the power button approximately every five seconds and I'll look at you sternly and say, "Benjamin, stop."  And you'll smile back and allow me another five seconds before you push it again.  Eventually I'll give up and hand it over, which will amuse you for about five seconds before you drop it and move on.  Until I start it again, that is.

You'll be "so hungwy" about every half hour or so, all day long, but you won't like any of the options presented you.  You'll be thirsty, but you won't accept a glass of water.  You'll run around in circles and look at me with panic in your eyes, but you won't just sit on the toilet and go.

And somewhere between the running and tantrums and general mischief, you'll meander to my side, lift your chubby little arms and say, "Mommy, I want to hold ya."  And so I'll pick you up and while I have you so close I'll kiss your soft, rosy cheek and I'll notice your plump, little lips and your long eyelashes and I'll cling to these bits of baby while I can, because I know they will fade too soon.  That they already are.

Later I'll hear you from behind the couch, talking to your toys.  I'll listen closely to your deep voice and the stories your create, a small peek into your increasingly complex little mind.

As I cook dinner I'll feel the warmth of your arms wrapped around my leg, and I'll remember that you find true joy in my presence, and for a second I'll stop being annoyed that I can't get anything done and soak up your unconditional adoration.  Your love that is both soft and fierce, both sweet and unrelenting.

But it won't really hit me until you're finally asleep.  Until your belly rises and falls in an easy pattern as you snuggle up to one of your hard-edged vehicles.  But then it will take my breath away.  The intensity of my frustrations will be crushed, smothered by the intensity of my love.  And your dad and I will look at each other as you snore on your pillow and say, "Well, he had a hard day."  And then we'll smile because it's both ridiculous and true, all at the same time.

It's not always easy with you.  In fact, it's mostly not easy.  It's not easy to get you dressed or out the door.  It's not easy to chase you through parking lots and manage your feisty temper.  It's not easy to feed you, or put you to bed.

But it's so incredibly easy to love you.  So easy.  It's as if I was made to do it.  It's as natural and thoughtless as breathing.

We'll get through these toddler years.  I just know we will.  But I imagine it won't be the last of the tough times.  I imagine it won't always be easy.

But even when the days are hard, the love never is.




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Messy

Sometimes I sit down at my computer with words and lines already written in my head.  Sometimes it's almost an entire outline, with transitions and all, and I need only to fill in the blanks.  And some days, days like today, I sit down with an ache, and not much more.  I sit down to write, blank, knowing only that I'm searching for a bit of relief and hoping to find it here.  This place where vague feelings tend to take on a life of their own.  Where confusion takes on order and my world makes a little more sense at the end of the page than it did at the beginning.

On our way home from church today I couldn't stop thinking about the mess ahead of me.  Last night's dishes were piled in the sink and overflowing onto the counter.  This morning's plates and cups and crumbs were scattered across the table and floor.  Half of a banana remained chopped and browning on the cutting board.  Pajamas were crumpled in the same spots they slipped over little feet and throw pillows were thrown everywhere.

I was in a mood today anyhow, and the disaster waiting for me at the end of an already stressful morning wasn't helping.  And so Joel took the kids to his classroom, where they love to color and play and experiment, and I went home to clean.

I never want to start cleaning.  It all looks so daunting and I feel overwhelmed just looking at the mess.  But then I turn on some soft music and I light a candle and I begin by picking up a few legos and placing them under the blue lid of our lego tub.  When I've clicked it shut I look up and notice that the pillows really aren't far from the couch, and so I grab them one-by-one and place each carefully in its designated position, where they will stay only until the boys get home.  But the colors all lined up in the right order make me happy and I feel like I can tackle the bright, plastic mess behind the couch.  And so I do.

I make my way like that from the far end of the living room to the kitchen sink, clearing and sweeping and wiping, one small task at a time.  After I've finished the dishes I grab the sponge and wipe clean the kitchen counter.  It's my favorite step.  The final transformation from filthy to sparkling clean.  Early on in our marriage Joel learned not to steal this joy from me.  Wash the dishes: Yes.  Wipe the counters: Definitely, definitely no.

I've been feeling a bit messy inside lately.  Like I can't quite get comfortable in my own skin.  I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night panicky, like I've forgotten something, but I don't know what.  And so I fix my kids' blankets and use the bathroom, since I'm up anyhow, and then I shove down any residual anxiety and go back to sleep.

During the day I tend to lay blame on the people around me.  Joel for working too much or my kids for not listening or anyone else who can occupy me with the question of what's wrong with them so as to never have to ask what's wrong with me?  Because even though I try not to look, when I do get a glance, I feel overwhelmed by the mess inside. And I can't imagine where to start.

My life feels like one giant distraction sometimes.  Kids are yelling and dinner needs cooked.  There are toys to clean up and I haven't seen the bottom of my laundry basket since last summer.  When I get a second to myself I'm scrolling through Facebook or turning on a mindless show before bed.  I can't even watch a commercial or go to the bathroom without finding some way to occupy my mind.  It's like I'm scared to be with myself.

But perhaps the first step is simply setting the mood.  Lighting a candle and turning on some soft music.  Going for a walk where I feel like I can breathe and there's nothing to distract me.  Where I can look around at God's creation and start from a place of knowing that I'm loved.

Then maybe I can begin to sort out what's inside, instead of ignoring it and shoving it down and pretending not to notice it until one normal afternoon it explodes and my husband's looking at me in shock asking, is something else going on, and I truly don't know how to answer.

At this point in life, any self-reflection must be intentional.  There's just no other way.  If I wait to have a moment, the moment will never come.  Someone will always needs me.  Something will always need done.  Just this week I was complaining to Joel that I can only stay on top of things.  If I want to go above and beyond, like deep cleaning the bathroom or matching our socks, then something else has got to give.  The downstairs will look as if a tornado's blown through or it will turn 5:00 before I realize I haven't even thought about dinner.

My whole life could be swept up in my kids and my house and all of the things needing done.  If I let it.  And so I'll try to not let it.  I'll try to walk away from the distractions every now and then and face what's inside.  To go for a walk or sit down and read or lock the door to the bathroom and steal one minute just to think.  And I'll remember that even the most overwhelming messes really aren't that scary when taken a few legos at a time.



Monday, February 1, 2016

How to talk to boys

Hold on.  Middle school flashback.  A boy turns around in his chair.  He looks at me and says something.  Something, I'm sure, that should elicit a very simple response.  But my palms go sweaty, my face goes bright red, and my mind goes completely and utterly blank.

These days my concerns about talking to boys look a little different.  And if I thought middle school boys were difficult, it's nothing compared to the handsome, complicated, mysterious little men roaming my house today.

When they were babies I literally knew everything about them.  When they ate, how long they slept, the size and consistency of each and every bowel movement.

As toddlers we forged first friendships together.  I sat across the room as they fought over toys and shared snacks on the couch.  They followed me through the house eight hours a day, tiny shadows when all I wanted was a little space.  If they quietly disappeared for a bit they were likely unraveling entire rolls of toilet paper or taking a swig from the jewelry cleaner (which, fyi, is totally fine, per my friends at poison control).  

Then they went to school and suddenly all I knew about their days were the things they chose to tell me.  And it wasn't much.

At first I tried to pry information from Aiden's teacher.  I must have reeked of desperation because each morning she'd invite Finn and I in for snack time.  I'd take off our coats and shoes, just like the kids, and Finn would dangle his feet off a little chair as he happily slurped down a drinking yogurt. Meanwhile I bounced from kid to kid, carefully removing their foil lids, glad to take a small part in Aiden's day.  

I thought this was totally normal.  I didn't realize this first teacher of ours was a beautiful, patient angel (with a son of her own) who let me spend that first year taking steps back from my full-time involvement in Aiden's life.

After snack time we'd slip away and the next six hours were a complete blank to me.  

I spent the following four years grilling the boys about their days without me.  What they ate.  Who they played with.  Where they slept at nap time.

My success was minimal at best.  Normally they ignored me and went off to play.  At most I'd receive a one word answer.  Usually "good."  

As they got older they'd offer me small bits of information that I'd pounce on with the ferocity of predator to prey.  They nearly always fled the scene when they sensed my hunger.  

About six months ago we sat around the dinner table.  I probed, as usual, into their days.  Their answers, as usual, were short and pained.  

Joel suddenly looked up from his meal and asked, "What number was your day?  One through ten?  One is really bad.  Ten is great."

The boys thought for a moment.

"Ten."

"Ten."

The counselor in me was appalled.  How could you assign a number to all the ups and the downs and the pride and joy and disappointment and anger all consolidated into one, average day.  

"What was your high point?" he continued.

High point?  You want them to pick one high point?  What about all the good points and the medium points?  What made those less important.

"PE."

"Music."

"Oh yeah, what did you do in those classes?"

"Obstacle course."

"We sang."

What KIND of obstacle course?  I wanted to shout.  Were you encouraging the other kids?  Were they encouraging you?  Did you get frustrated?  What did you sing in music?  Do you like to sing?  Does it make you feel proud?

But I forced myself to shut up.  Forced myself to sit and listen.

"What was your low point?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing."

But of course there was a low point.  Of course something didn't go your way.  Of course someone, at some point, made you feel just a little, teensy bit bad.  It's okay to have low points, I wanted to yell.  It's okay to feel sad and angry and, at times, downright miserable.

But they kept on eating and everyone seemed happy and the conversation moved on.

This same conversation has continued, to varying degrees, at every dinner since.  One of Benjamin's first questions was, "What's yo number?"  And when we ask him he quickly answers "Ten!"

If a boy answers ten we assume it was a fairly run-of-the-mill, average day.  If he answers nine, we worry.  Like the day that I mixed up Aiden's mustard sandwich with Finn's mayonnaise sandwich.  That one was a real doozie.  

One day Finn didn't answer.  We had already learned, from his teacher, that it had been a bad day.  I didn't realize how upset he was until he refused to give a number.  It was a less-than-nine day.  Unheard of.  

When the other boys went upstairs I held him on my lap.  I tried the prying method of removing information, but he wouldn't budge.  I tried bribes and threats and gentle and stern, but the boy would not, could not, absolutely refused to talk.

And so, even though every ounce of me wanted to keep pushing, I didn't.  I told him I was there to listen, and that nothing he could ever tell me would make me love him any less.  And somehow, miraculously, I left it at that. 

He didn't tell me anything that night, but I know he heard me.  And so I said it again at bed time.  And again the next day.  

And a few nights later he told me everything.  From start to finish.  He told me what happened and how he responded.  He told me what was said and done and how it made him feel.  Everything.

Just kidding.  He never mentioned it again.  

But I'm learning to live with that.  As a mom of boys.  I'm learning that information gleaned will be minimal, but sometimes Aiden calls out from his bed, long after I've assumed he's fallen asleep, "Mom, something's bothering me."  And I go to him and he talks to me and sometimes we pray together and even though it only happens once every four to six months or so, I know that he trusts me.  That he'll deal with the things he can deal with and come to me or his dad with the things that he can't.  

And I've learned to listen when they don't speak.  I listen to the way Aiden relentlessly teases his brother, and I know he was frustrated that day.  I listen to Finn's angry screams at the slightest provocation, and I imagine he felt hurt or helpless that day.  

I always give them the chance to talk to me.  I let them know that I'm listening, even when they haven't said a word.

And then I let it go.  I listen to their nine's and ten's and I realize it's better for them to excitedly assign a numerical value to their day than to begrudgingly offer up information they never wanted to share.  

I'm learning to listen, with interest, to the stories of their Minecraft world when what I really, really want is the stories from their real world.  But I'm trying to respond to the things that are important to them, instead of grabbing for the things that are important to me.  

Let me tell you this... it is not easy.  Watching them build their Minecraft world, block by block, is only slightly preferable to sticking a fork in my eye and twisting it around.  It's torture.  All I can think is, Oh my gosh, how many more blocks until it's over.  

But it's important to them, and even though I'd much rather know how their friendships are progressing, or even their favorite subjects at school, I don't get to pick the things that they want to share.  And as much as I want to, I also don't.

These boys of mine are slowly becoming actual people.  With thoughts and feelings and worlds of their own.  And when I can remind myself to stop forcing long in-depth conversations (that probably feel much like a fork in the eye to them), I can enjoy their numbers and single-word answers and the fact that they're functioning human beings who don't need me to wipe their butts anymore.

I want the in-depth conversations.  And maybe one day (crossing my fingers here) I'll get them.  But I don't need them.  What I need is not for them to talk, but for them to hear...

I'm here.  You can talk.  But you don't have to.









Saturday, January 2, 2016

Next year, pots and pans

Holidays are such freaking events.  Really.  I mean, not to get all back in my day and such, but back in my day on New Year's Eve, should we make it to midnight, which, let's be honest, rarely happened, we were allowed to go onto the front porch and bang some pots and pans.  For like, 15 to 30 seconds.  And then it was off to bed.  Holiday over.

Joel painted our upstairs on New Year's Eve, and through a series of unfortunate events a project that should have lasted a few hours lasted 12.  12 whole hours.  On a holiday!

I started the morning out fresh.  I wanted it to be a special day for the kids since we decided to go low-key this year.  No parties or outings, just us at home.  But since it's been just us at home for basically three weeks now I thought I should do something to set this day apart.  To make it special.

And so I turned to Pinterest.  I found one post that laid out a schedule of activities, hour-by-hour, from 6 pm to midnight.  It all sounded so sweet and lovely and I could barely wait to start.  It was only 8:30 in the morning, though, so I decided we could prep instead.

First activity: Homemade toilet paper roll poppers.  This one sounded perfect because my kids already have an unhealthy obsession with empty toilet paper rolls.  Seriously, they're like gold around here.  I still don't know what they use them for, as I usually find them randomly scattered throughout the house with no visible changes, but for a moment at least (the moment I'm about to throw them away) they love them.

Things went fairly well.  Even Benjamin enjoyed cutting, and of course, scattering the confetti.  I thought it was a good sign for the day.  I thought it would all go so well.  But I forgot that I just finished my coffee and I forgot that it was the morning and we were all so very fresh and I couldn't foresee that I would be responsible for the feeding and the cleaning and the family fun for 12 whole hours that day.

Mid-morning I decided we would make some Oreo truffle pops.  They looked so simple.  They looked so yummy.  It looked like such fun with the chocolate and the sprinkles and I forgot the very crucial fact that I hate, hate, cooking with kids!

I start snapping at the kids before they even set foot in the kitchen.  I can barely stand the screech of chairs and stools and the fact that they stand right in front of wherever I need to be.  As if I'm the least important one in the equation.  As if they could somehow manage to make Oreo truffle pops without me!

The thing about melted chocolate and sprinkles is that they look like so much fun, but they are actually evil.  When melted chocolate and sprinkles combine with three squirmy kids they are the worst things in the world.  They're all over your kitchen floor and under the cutting board and covering the sticky, slobbery fingers of your children who CANNOT STOP licking them.

Cooking with kids is one of my greatest acts of love as a mom because no matter how much they love it, I hate it more.  But I do it.  I actually do it and I don't even get an award or money, I just grit my teeth and try my best to bite my tongue when I feel like shouting, "Why can't you stir like a normal human being?"

I was literally sweating by the time I finished and looked at the clock only to realize these now sugared-up children would soon expect to be fed.  Can I seriously be responsible for feeding my children?  On a holiday?

But meal times just keep on coming no matter how tired and stressed you are trying to make the day so freaking special for your kids who still have the nerve to get hungry.

The afternoon was something of a blur.  I remember the feeling of exhaustion and, at one point, entering the bedroom, staring at an also-exhausted, paint-covered Joel with that certain look of crazy in my eyes and stating, "I need five minutes."  After ten years of marriage, let's just say he knew enough to put down the brush and head downstairs.  Immediately.

By late afternoon I had refreshed enough to go a little crazy once more.  Since our farm-stay in Italy at the end of October I had been promising Finn that we could make homemade raviolis together.  I kind of hoped he would forget, but every few days for the past two months he would mention the raviolis, and I would promise him soon.

It seemed like a good special-occasion dinner and I hadn't planned anything else, so I called Finn to the kitchen and told him to get on his apron, it was time for raviolis.  It started out great.  I was patient and calm and I thought, perhaps, this just might work.

Until the little one, from the corner of his eye, noticed he was being left out of something.  And so he charged over like a rhino, drug a chair right in front of me, of course, and started demanding, "My turn!"

I happened to glance at the clock.  It was six.  The hour in which the Pinterest countdown was set to begin.  And so it began...

6:00

Cook dinner.  The most complicated you can think of, preferably.  Perhaps a homemade pasta with a fresh, cheese filling.  The more difficult, the better.

Get the whole family involved.  When your oldest calls from the couch, "Can I help?" don't shout, "No!" with such force so as to stun the entirety of your children, but invite him gently to join in the fun.  And when everybody insists on taking their turn at kneading, let them.  Don't worry about the fact that they suck, suck, suck at kneading dough, just encourage their grandiose delusions that they are great at everything they do.  Just great.

7:00

Lovingly situate your darling kids in front of a TV program of their choice.  Attempt to rectify the pasta that they ruined with their sweet attempts/insistence on kneading the dough.  Think about what helpful little angels they are as the freakishly large, tough blobs of dough float reluctantly to the surface of the boiling water.

8:00

Dinner time!  Your little sweethearts will jump to set the table after all the hard work you've put in their dinner/day.  Expect full compliance and complete gratefulness when said dinner is placed before them.  Try not to notice that your husband is snatching the uneaten raviolis from each of their precious little plates and choking them down before mommy completely loses it.  Follow up dinner with Oreo truffle pops and try your best not to laugh hysterically when they ask for another.

9:00

Forget the treasure hunt that you almost planned earlier in the day and get those little cherubs some more TV.  It is a holiday, after all.  And if you watch Charlie Brown on a holiday it doesn't even count as TV consumption.  It's just part of the festivities.

Give up all hope of your children making it to midnight and pray that they fall asleep mid-show.

Try to remain your smiling, happy self when you notice the only one who adhered to your wishes is your husband.

9:30

Show's almost over.  Perfect timing, you'll say, because it's just two minutes until midnight!  Have husband commence fake countdown on you-tube, ready the poppers and... 3, 2,1... Happy New Year!

Beg children to go to bed as they repeatedly gather the scattered confetti and replay the big moment over and over and over again.  Shut off all the lights and wait for them to take the hint and come join you upstairs.

9:45

Tuck your children into bed and with every last reserve of patience in your body ask their favorite moment of 2015.  Again, try not to laugh when the middle child says, New Year's Eve.  Kisses and lights out.

10:00

Fall into bed.  Feel unusually grouchy about all of the fireworks.  Why are they so loud? Doesn't anyone realize it's bed time?

10:05

Sweet sleep.

Next year... pots and pans.

Happy New Year!