Winter Viruses, we need to talk

Dear Winter Viruses,

 

On behalf of mothers everywhere, I would officially like to say, thank u, next.

 

It’s been real. . . Real obnoxious. Just when we thought we were over you, one trip to the Chick-fil-A play place; one sneeze from the cute kid behind us at Target, and boom. The whole family’s on lockdown. Like sad millennials in an airport after the Fyre festival.

 

RSV, Influenza B, Norovirus. You think you’re so cool with all your fancy titles. You make me sick.

 

We’ve filled so many prescriptions since November, the pharmacist asked if I had a punch card so I could earn a free sandwich.

 

My two-year-old can only say four words, and one of them is “Amoxicillin.”

 

We’ve added a new feature to Family Game Night: Bodily Fluid Bingo. What’s that on the couch? It B-Gross.

 

I’ve had to cancel more engagements than a bachelor winner.

 

It’s like you have no regard for mothers of weak sick-os. Sure, one kid could have his leg amputated and take it like a champ. Then there’s little Jimmy whose paper cut triggers a dramatic Annakin Skywalker lava-melting re-enactment. How did Jimmy hold up with Pink Eye? How do you think? It’s like a war scene over here. The least you could do is send coffee.

 

During one terrible flu, I begged the doctor over the phone to prescribe enough Tamiflu for our small army as I walked around the living room catching vomit in a bag. Like a very gross square dance. I had no training for this. None whatsoever. We vaccinated against this. I want my money back.

 

You and your germy cronies are no longer welcome here. You never were. Like a creepy high school boyfriend who won’t take a hint. Be gone. Quickly. Like the “napkin” slot on the class party sign-up sheet.

 

How else can I say this?

 

The laundry situation is dire. We blame you. Our humidifiers are asking for overtime pay. My house is so humid, even my hair hates you. The family has begun wearing Tommy Bahama shirts and putting tiny umbrellas in their Pedialyte.

 

Our cold remedy arsenal is depleted. Kleenex. Lotion. NoseFrida. Vick’s vapor rub. We used to spread just a dab on the chest. By day 37 of this cough, we started coating the feet. We’ve stopped shy of a Vick’s body wrap suit, but at this point I can’t rule anything out.

 

WINTER COLDS AND FLUS, If you could please, FOR THE LOVE OF MOMS, go away and—What’s that? You’re gone in March?

 

Wonderful!

 

See you at Thanksgiving.

 

photo credit: Eren {Sea + Prairie} 

What to expect when you become a foster parent

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From the movie Instant Family. A great glimpse into foster parent life.

 

There are about as many kids in foster care as there are people in Atlanta, Georgia. That means almost half a million vulnerable kids need loving families. Maybe you want to help, but you’re wondering what to expect if you do.

Foster parenting is truly a front row seat to God’s work in the lives of kids who need it most. It’s a gift and an honor to step into the role of story reader, grape halver, tear wiper, bandaid applier, boundary giver. There is nothing quite like being a bystander while your heart falls in love with a child. Beautiful, hard, and worth it. That’s foster parenting.

We probably wouldn’t hesitate to call it a worthy endeavor, but a few days ago I was thinking, “What would I tell myself when we started the foster parenting process about two years ago?” Not the stuff they tell you in classes. The real-life, note-to-self stuff.

I asked a dozen foster mom friends the same question. Below you will find our unfiltered tips. To protect the stories of foster kids/parents I know and love, I have used fake names in every story. But please know that I’ve curated these stories and tips from lovely and real women who I know personally.

1.) “Getting too attached” will not be the hardest part. At least not in the beginning. I know this is a favorite excuse of well-intending people for why they don’t foster. “I could never be a foster parent, I would get too attached!” That’s like saying, “I’m so amazing that I’m simply not able to help orphans. I’m just too virtuous!” Sometimes the actual hardest parts of foster parenting include being called four-letter words by a toddler in the checkout line at the Babies R Us bankruptcy sale. That’s what happened to Sally. And as her foster child continued to spew expletives, a stranger stopped to weigh in. The stranger told Sally that she could never be a foster parent–because she’d get too attached. Sally smiled and nodded, but also wondered if the stranger might want to get her hearing checked. Needless to say, Sally’s attachment to this child was not the hardest part of foster parenting. Frustration, exhaustion, stress–expect these feelings to prove more difficult than excessive attachment, at least in the beginning.

2.) Pick one or two things to work on at a time. Pam was thrilled to play a part in transforming the life of a wounded child. Pre-placement, she imagined starring in her own Annie movie. Move over, Daddy Warbucks, Pam is here with organic fruit and an annual zoo pass! Her idealism didn’t last long. Pam’s first foster son ran the opposite direction when she called his name. This child kicked, bit and pushed Pam’s biological children. Pam was overwhelmed and had to readjust her expectations, starting with smaller, more manageable goals. So she picked two basic life skills to hone at a time: 1.) No running into oncoming traffic. 2.) No biting the bio kids. Once they mastered those things, she picked two new ones. Pam cries remembering those early days, because it reminds her of the unbelievable growth in her child that can only be attributable to divine intervention. A year after wading through biting and running away, her foster son’s new goals look like finishing vegetables at dinner and remembering to say please and thank you. Pam’s attachment to this child has grown along the way. And that attachment is not a problem, it’s a gift.

3.) Expect an emotional breakdown. One mama snapped around day nine of a new placement. Another snapped on day four. Maybe you have nerves of steel and can function just fine on three hours’ sleep, so it might take a whole month for you to crack. At some point, adrenaline wears off and you turn into Jessi Spano. (“I’m so excited! I’m so. . . scared!”) Compassion fatigue is real, sister. Your chore list will gather dust while you put out fires everywhere. (Mostly figurative fires, but possibly literal ones.) You look like death, you’ve maintained a steady diet of Chewy bars for a week and you just snap. It’s ok. We’ve all been there. But just know that an emotional breakdown is coming. Which leads us to our next tip:

4.) Get your support system in order before your first placement. My foster mama friends’ most popular tip for newbies was to have a plan for self care. You cannot be a foster parent by yourself. Sorry to break it to you, but your own strength and capacity is not enough to care for a child from trauma. It’s better to know now than to find out three days after placement, when your husband comes home from work to find you and all the children crying, still wearing last night’s pajamas. You need a support system and a plan. Does your church host a foster care or adoption support ministry? Notify them when you get a placement. Accept any help that is offered. Maybe you live near family who can come by once or twice a week to give you a break. Hire a babysitter. Nap, go to lunch with your husband, or just sit quietly in a room by yourself staring at the wall in fetal position. It’ll be so great. You, your husband and your kids will all be absorbing the trauma of a tiny precious child who came from a hard place. It is not easy. You will need to take breaks. Make a plan!

5.) Expect failure. One of the most difficult aspects of foster parenting is learning your own limitations. Brooke shared, “It will be too much. It will rule your schedule . . . it will overwhelm your emotions, it will make you question the person you thought you were. . . You are not enough for these kids. If you were, they would not need Jesus and neither would you!”

As it turns out, you are not anyone’s savior. You cannot fix a child’s life. You will grow weary. You will run out of patience. It won’t take long to realize that you need a kind of grace that is not your own. All you can do is obey God’s call to care for these little ones and release the rest to Him. It will be the most refining, humbling experience of your life. Hard? Yes. Worth it? Unquestionably.

6.) God loves this child more than you do. You have been called to play a role in the life of this little one. Maybe for a few days, maybe forever. I believe in a God who loves this precious child more than you or I ever could. And He does not leave the outcome of her life to chance. He will work everything out, even when it looks messy and feels impossible. When you feel out of control of a placement or situation, your feelings are right! You don’t have control over much. But a loving and powerful God does. So rest assured in His long-term plans. For you, and for this little one.

7.) Maybe you are meant to care for the biological family as much as for the child. Diane was afraid of her first foster child’s biological parents, so she made no effort to build a relationship with them. In retrospect, she missed an opportunity to love them and to be a bigger part of their support system. Your foster child may reunify with his or her biological family. Investing in that family might be your greater purpose in this process.

At the end of another difficult day, take solace in knowing that however impossible and clumsy the execution–you’re doing it. You’re doing the hard, obedient, messy and beautiful work of loving His little ones. Lean on the One who loves you and these babies more than we could fathom. And watch how much He grows you in the process.

Photo by Jenn Evelyn-Ann on Unsplash

 

Are you a foster mom? What would you tell yourself before taking your first placement?

 

 

Friday Favorites

Want to hear the homeschool-iest sentence ever?
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I took my five children to the library this week.
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You might be picturing a sweet parade of ducklings bobbing along, each carrying a Berenstain Bear book. A beautiful snapshot of large family life. Just not MY large family life. During our actual visit to the library, one child somehow managed to lose his own book in the library. This was a new one for me. Sure, I’ve lost my fair share of library books. But losing my own book–inside the library? I wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or amused by the ironic switch. No, wait. I’m sure. I’m just annoyed.
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File it under “things no one told you about motherhood.”
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Here are a few of my favorite things this week:
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1. This meme:
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This book has been around almost as long as I have, but I just stumbled upon it. Piper coined the term “Christian Hedonism,” which I always assumed was negative, since hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure. But Piper is blowing my mind, explaining that the longing to be happy is good, not sinful; that we should seek whatever will provide deepest satisfaction; and that the most enduring happiness is found in God.
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Two quotes:
“I do not say that loving people is good because it brings joy. I say that God commands that we find joy in loving people.”
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“…We may be sure that when we seek our happiness in Him, we will not find Him ‘out of sorts’ when we come. We will not find a frustrated, gloomy, irritable Father who wants to be left alone, but a Father whose heart is so full of joy that it spills over onto all those (Christian Hedonists) who are thirsty.”
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Have you heard this girl speak? Goodness gracious, go follow her.
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What are some of your favorite things this week?
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To the mom of two babies under two

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I will never forget the look on his face. The salesman rang our doorbell for the third time in as many days, and I’d had enough. He was nice, but persistent as a toothache. Sure, he was just doing his job. But on the inside of that door was a fragile mom, triggered by another unwanted visit from a stranger.

I had maintained polite composure for our first two encounters: “No, thank you, we are not interested.” By his third visit I didn’t even bother pulling myself together before opening the door. Two children under two. One with a cold, the other with reflux. All of us sleep-deprived and crying. If the diaper-covered floor and all of us wearing last night’s pajamas didn’t convey disaster, my expression sure did.

I opened the door. One eye twitched while the other stared into his face. I didn’t need to say a word this time. The babies wailed in the background, while my breast milk stained-PJs gave off a certain je ne sais quoi. (The “quoi” was probably odor.) We’d stood in these same positions twice before. I could practically hear the old western standoff music. Each time before, he had maintained a professional posture. Not this time. He opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it. His expression softened as he averted his eyes. “I’m sorry. . . I won’t come back, I promise.”

This poor guy knocked on the door of a desperate mom in her worst parenting season. I had just quit my full-time job to stay home with two kids, fifteen months apart. It was not going well. I stepped into a new normal: full-time motherhood, where no relationship exists between effort and success. Exhaustion convinced me I was the wrong girl for the job. No matter how hard I worked—and I worked my tail off around the clock—I never felt like I was doing a good job. Life was HARD. I felt on edge and bad at being a mom, my shame exacerbated by sweet old ladies at Target warning me to “treasure every moment.” (I haven’t slept in three months, none of us have clean underwear, AND YOU WANT ME TO TREASURE THIS?)

I had always thought that stay-at-home motherhood was supposed to be easier than working outside the home. Even the title sounds relaxing, with comfy words like, “stay” and “home.” The irony is that moms are always hustling—to doctor’s visits and Costco and the pharmacy. Buckling octopus-children in and out of car seats. Over, and over again. Even when we are actually “staying home,” we are still hustling—to fix meals and wash dishes and, if we’re feeling fancy, to put everyone’s pants on by noon. (Which is SO much harder than it sounds.)

In my former 9 to 5 life, I worked for accomplished people with high standards. Sometimes I even felt like I was doing a good job. Then I quit my job to “stay home.” My new bosses had a combined lifespan of two years and stood maybe three feet, stacked. And I’d never felt worse at my job. It took two babies to dismantle my pride and sense of worth.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27) Leave it to God to use babies to put my epic list of shortcomings on display.

While I’d called myself a Christian since high school, God put my spiritual growth into high gear in the trenches of motherhood. His word says that He gives grace to the humble. And “humble” is the perfect word to describe the work of stay-at-home moms.

Parenting two kids was too much for me to handle. I was drowning in inadequacy, with nowhere to look but up. I gad been giving lip service to a God who sees, knows and rescues. But I was ignoring God in my day-to-day, exhaustedly stumbling through early motherhood on my own strength. How long had I been a nominal Christian but a functional atheist? I didn’t seek Him, didn’t cry out to Him, didn’t trust Him. God showed me the end of myself via two tiny, beautiful babies. So I cried out for help. That’s when the real fun started. I started trusting God with the hard stuff, knowing that He works all things for the good of those who love Him. I joined Bible-based community, where I was comforted to find other honest and broken mamas, just like me; not the Instagram-filtered, #blessed moms I imagined. I also found more experienced moms, who assured me that one day my children would all put on their shoes by themselves. We cried and shared and encouraged one another to keep seeking Jesus.

It is solely by the Grace of God that I currently parent five kids. And now on most days, we all have pants on by 8am! (Talk about nailing it!) My increased capacity and endurance for motherhood is a testament to God’s grace. He allows me to see my natural sinful state, my lack of energy, joy and capacity—and then He grows me, His strength showing up in my weakness.

I wish I could say I’ve arrived as a mom and now look like some cross between a Disney princess and Proverbs 31. But let’s be real, many days I still need to give myself a timeout because this Mama is prone to snap, especially if someone loses another pair of shoes. I am a work in progress, and God is using toddlers and third graders to show me the areas of my heart and mind that aren’t facing the right direction.

I am praying for your mama-heart today, that your awareness of your own shortcomings lasts but long enough to send you running to Jesus. He is enough for you. He loves you like you love your babies. And if you happen to be reading this while sleep-deprived, in your breast milk encrusted PJs, please hear me when I say this: God knew exactly what He was doing when He put you in charge of your little people. Go to Him with your stress and failure. He wants to give you peace and hope. Raising kids won’t always feel like drowning. And one day, a few years from now, you’ll be encouraging a young mama in the throes of diapers and midnight feedings. You’ll remind her to turn to Jesus in the mess, that it won’t be this hard forever, and that the stink-eye and screaming babies are an all-natural salesperson repellent. We are all in this together.

 

What to Expect – When You Didn’t Expect to be Expecting

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, according to CNN. But I’ll bet you fifty bucks that many respondents in the “planned” half are big fat liars. Actually, I’ll see my fifty and raise myself another fifty. (Hm. That’s not how betting works, is it? Whatever, just go with me here.) ONE HUNDRED BONES says that many poll respondents lied to the stranger who phoned them at 4:48pm on a weekday, asking if the precious darling coloring at the kitchen table was initially an “oops.” How many moms want to fess up to that!? “Yes, stranger whose name I don’t know. The child overhearing this polling call, the one who I am currently making dinner for, the one I would give my life for? Total accident at the time of conception. Have a great day.” Nah, man. Half of poll respondents were honest enough to admit that their pregnancies were not planned.

My kids are ages 7, 6, 4, 2. We spawned four kids in 5.8 years. Every pregnancy after the first inevitably brought the same awkward question from close friends, acquaintances and strangers alike: “Did you plan this?” One time I was in the bathroom at church where half a dozen women buzzed in and out. An acquaintance looked at my protruding middle and the line of little ducklings following me. Her curiosity betrayed her sense of etiquette when she loudly exclaimed, “Wow! Did you plan this?!” Oops. A few other women glanced at me. I smiled, and instead answered a question she did not ask, “I’ve always wanted four kids!” Having them in rapid succession, however, that is proving itself to be a special blessing disguised as a few blurry years of mess and mayhem.

I told my husband that the next time someone asked me if a pregnancy was planned, I would reply, “Yes! One day we looked around at all the chaos and tears and said, “You know what we really need here? Another baby.” Then I’d ask them, “How about you? Did you plan all of your children or were some of them surprises? Were you a surprise? How about your parents? Were they surprises?” I wondered if maybe you needed to be on the receiving end of the question for the awkwardness to fully land. Bless my sweet husband for encouraging me to hold my tongue in my pregnant rage, and instead to smile and respond with something kind.

Pregnancies that happen outside of our own “perfect” planning are tightly kept secrets shared only in the tear-filled whispers of sisters and close girlfriends – if we are fortunate enough to have them. If you’ve ever enjoyed the privilege of a friendship close enough to share these intimate life events and the swirls of complicated emotions around them, you know how sacred the ground. And you also know that human gestation has evidently been designed to be just long enough to move a mother’s emotions from shock, fear, and panic – to  joy, hope, and even elation for the precious baby inside her.

After two pink lines informed me I was pregnant with one of my precious blessings, shock and despair set in. I could not speak for one full hour as my brain grappled with what the next year would hold: gaining 40 pounds, repetitive untimely vomiting, needing a new wardrobe that I couldn’t afford, insecurity about my appearance, countless doctor’s appointments, shots, stretch marks, back pain, sleepless nights, culminating with my plump, puffy body being torn, ripped, cut. All this, followed by: sleepless nights with a crying newborn, painful recovery, insecurity about my appearance, losing 40 pounds, mom guilt for not having enough energy to parent my other children. Who knew that two barely decipherable pink lines wielded the power to open a flood gate of mourning the next two years of the life you planned for yourself? This is not the sweet stuff they show you on the EPT commercials.

And, yet…

Waiting on the other side of those fears – is joy immeasurable. We love each individual baby in exactly equal, all-consuming ways, planned or not. When they rejoice, we rejoice. When they hurt, we hurt. When they laugh, we laugh. When they rebel, we are grieved. We care desperately, intimately, wholly. We think about them all day. We cherish these loveable little messy humans beyond words; a shadow of the way our own Father cherishes us. It takes effort now to even remember which of our kids were planned.

We like to think we deserve the right to decide every baby “when” and “how” and “how many.” But ask any experienced parent how much control parents actually have over the timing and events surrounding how their children came to be. If they’re honest, many will give you an experienced smile and humble head-shake. Not much.

Human planning, in many contexts, can be important, helpful and good. But let’s not forget that if the poll is accurate, then chances are high that either your mom or your dad was an “oops;” either you or your husband was an “oops.” Look around you. Half of your coworkers; half of the moms at play group, half of all Hollywood celebrities were ‘accidental’ by their parents’ standards. Could it be that while our lives may not have been planned in the human realm, that each and every one of us was unequivocally created on purpose? Half of all births may be “unplanned,” but one hundred percent of them are on purpose.

The most epically unplanned pregnancy of all time happened to an unwed teenage virgin about 2000 years ago. It’s no wonder Gabriel told Mary she was “highly favored.” Upon learning of this impossible pregnancy, she initially responded, “How?!” but then, with a heart remarkably submissive to God’s plan above her own, she said, “I’m the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you say.”

Ok, Mary handedly wins Best Response To An Unplanned Pregnancy Award. Girlfriend was “highly favored” for a reason. And it’s not like she was living in a 2017 Western culture, where out-of-wedlock babies were standard. No way, man. An out-of-wedlock pregnancy in her day was sure to end in cultural suicide: a broken engagement, a permanent single mother with no financial or spousal support. Mary knew this. And she trusted God completely anyway. She did not wail and weep and protest at what may have felt like the imminent demise of her future. Instead, she verbally declared herself the Lord’s servant, trusting Him with whatever circumstances may arise.

Seriously? The faith of this teenager puts us all to shame. I’d like to nominate Mary of Nazareth for Prom Queen, PTA President and Mayor.

Where does this leave those surprised, terrified and shaken by the news of an unexpected looming birth? Certainly faith like Mary’s is something we can all hope, pray and strive for.

Maybe you just found out you’re pregnant. Maybe you’re terrified, shocked, anxious. Maybe you’re single, maybe you’re married. Maybe your husband doesn’t want another child. Maybe you can’t afford another mouth to feed. Here’s what I hope you hear, from one mama to another. If I could teleport my present self into my bathroom years ago, blankly staring at two pink lines, here is what I would say:

Self! I get it. I know that this wasn’t your timing. But you know what? I PROMISE you, as sure as the sun rises, in an amount of time that will feel like a BLINK, you are going to find yourself hooked by the tiniest heartbeat; besotted over an itty bitty pink newborn; enamored with the little voice calling you “mama.” Your life will never be the same. Yes it will be hard, of course! But every tear, struggle and pain will pale in comparison to the immeasurable gift in your tummy. The child inside you was planned in advance by a God who makes no mistakes. This tiny person’s appointed time begins now. Take heart! The God who said he is with you always; the God who raises people from the dead; He has the power and tender love to equip you to live out your calling in this. Strap on your boots and make some popcorn and watch how He will lovingly provide for every need along the way.

And my old self, through her mascara-stained tears, might have said, “Whatever, man. You don’t know my life.” But I do.

And so mama, in the throes of surprise pregnancy news, I say this to you:

If you need someone who has been there to give you a little pep-talk of encouragement, please feel free to email me.  Because girl, in the words of the ever-loved Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song, “You’re gonna make it after all.”

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: thejbird, Creative Commons

Survey Says? Your Parenting Stinks

I wrote this piece for a book publisher’s parenting blog. They were like, “Hey, can anyone write 750 words about how parenting can be ridiculous?” And I was like, “750 words? I could occupy all of the internet with that prompt, but here’s 750.” It ran last week. Hope you enjoy!  
bylorenaWe pulled into our parking space at 9:38am. Yes, we were technically eight minutes late. But I’d managed to dress and feed four hungry tiny people, wrestle them into car seats, and drive here. Eight minutes late was a win.

Dr. Bergen’s receptionist did not agree. “It’s 9:42. Your appointment was at 9:30 . . . I’ll ask if they can squeeze you in.” As if the doctor had been waiting for us with bated breath since 9:15.

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” I politely replied. I had to stop myself from pointing out that never in the history of pediatric appointments has the doctor been less than twenty minutes late for a scheduled appointment time. Whatever, lady.

“You can fill out this health questionnaire for three-year olds while you wait.” She handed me a clipboard with a yellow sheet that listed a series of yes or no questions. I herded my cats to a cluster of germ-covered chairs while I balanced a baby and a clipboard, one on each knee. I assumed the questions would be basic family history stuff. Instead I found these:

“Do you offer your child fresh fruits and vegetables with every meal?”
Well, not EVERY meal, but many meals. I guess that’s a no?

“Does your child eat high-fat foods such as ice cream, pizza or fast food?”
Answering no feels un-American (and is a lie), so I guess I’ll be circling yes.

“Do you make sure that your child plays actively for at least one hour each day?”
Does Bo On the Go count?

“Do you have the Poison Control phone number stored in your cell phone?”

Yikes. This thing was starting to feel less like a health assessment and more like an indictment of my lousy parenting. I thought this form was just supposed to be a long, bureaucratic way to ask me if we have a family history of diabetes. I half expected to find these questions on the backside:

“Why did you even have kids if you don’t know how to feed them?”
“Do you limit your child’s screen time, or have you chosen to ignore the causal relationship between baby screen time and serial killer development?”
“Have you considered that maybe you aren’t cut out for parenthood?”
“Did you bring your child’s vaccine card, or do you not even care anymore?”

Twenty minutes after that fun exercise in parent-shaming, the medical assistant beckoned us.
I hustled our crew into the exam room, where we spent thirty noisy minutes waiting for the hopeful sound of the Doctor’s rat-a-tat. The baby nearly lost her mind when I refused to let her lick the floor. The three-year-old’s unrelenting requests for a snack were drowned out by the five-year-old’s neighs and gallops. The six-year-old quietly read her book. (I’m eighty-percent sure this was because the children take shifts to display obnoxious behavior and she was on break.)

I pulled out an iPad and three baggies of Goldfish crackers as the doctor entered. Experienced parents know that an uninterrupted conversation with another adult sometimes requires a snack or a screen. Instant child hypnosis.

“Good morning!” Dr. Bergen was always genuinely cheery. After the effort it took to get us here, fed, bladders emptied and shoes on, part of me felt like he might give me a high-five or Starbucks card for being an incredible mother, but then I remembered the survey.

“Looks like Carter is growing perfectly well. Any concerns?” He asked in his characteristic grandfatherly tone.

Yeah, your “health survey” comes across as a little Third Reich-y.

“Nope! All is well.”

He did the whole stethoscope/ears/throat thing, chit-chatted with the kids, then rattled off the standard recommendations. “Make sure he’s getting plenty of sleep, eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and try to avoid simple carbs . . .”

We both awkwardly eyed the children inhaling their baggies of Goldfish.

“Yeah, those aren’t the healthiest . . . but carrots are kind of a bummer so . . . they’re the whole grain ones?” I mumbled.

He wasn’t really listening.

“Ok, we’ll see you at his four-year check-up! Oh, wait, I guess we’ll see you three times between now and then,” he said, motioning to the three other hooligans.

“Can’t wait!”

 

 

 

Photo credit: byLorena, Creative Commons 

Dear Mom Guilt: It’s not me, it’s you

Marc-Andre LariviereWhen your first baby is born, the whole world stops. That tiny 8 pound human brings more joy, tenderness and love than you thought possible. But like a creepy, uninvited party guest, an invisible beast is also born that follows us mamas around every day: Mom Guilt.

Mom Guilt is almost like a super power because it enables you to irrationally take credit for all of your kid’s illnesses, choices, bad personality traits, tantrums, accidents, rashes, food allergies, splinters, forgotten backpacks, learning quirks, and basically anything else that doesn’t go according to your parenting plan. (This includes athletic inability, head shape and shoe size.)

In the beginning, before Mom Guilt becomes really conniving and sneaky, we mamas blame ourselves for obviously ludicrous things:

“Baby has reflux and won’t sleep through the night…I didn’t take my prenatal vitamins the last week of pregnancy, so I’m sure this is all my fault.” (Vitamins aren’t baby antacids, you’re doing just fine, mama!)

“Do you think the baby’s allergic to watermelon because I ate too much of it while I was pregnant? I’m the worst.” (Nope.)

“This kid has had four colds and she’s only six months old. Obviously it’s because I couldn’t breastfeed. Why do my boobs suck?!” (They don’t honey, just ask your husband.)

But as the kids get a little older, Mom Guilt gets all sneaky and starts to disguise itself as simply taking responsibility for all of your numerous failures as a mother.

One of our kids was diagnosed with a speech delay at two years old. Our doctor told us he qualified for services like speech therapy and tutoring. The day I found out, I cried for basically seven hours straight. Mom Guilt convinced me the delay was 1.) a serious problem. 2.) because I spaced my kids too close together. 3.) because I didn’t teach him baby sign language. 4.) because I didn’t do enough Pinterest crafts with him.

I wasn’t enough. This is the fat lie that underlies every Mom Guilt premise. Does any of this sound familiar? “I’m not crafty enough. I’m not organized enough. I’m not fun enough. I’m not playful enough. I’m not strict enough. I’m not gracious enough. I’m not patient enough. I’m just plain not enough.” As soon as all that junk is ringing in your ears, you can be certain that Mom Guilt is rearing its nasty head.

After the speech delay diagnosis, I remember sitting on the floor in the play room next to my son, bawling, apologizing to this sweet, oblivious two year old. Mom Guilt had flattened me like a pancake. I pointed to and named every object in the room through my mascara-stained tears like an absolute psycho. David walked by and took in the scene of a fragile mother totally unable to think rationally, enchained by Mom Guilt. He softly said, “Sweetie. This is not your fault.” And then I proceeded to cry anime-style tears until the late hours of the evening.

After many hours of speech therapy and a few years of development, this child is THRIVING in the language department, words escaping his mouth at a rate and volume I cannot keep up with. I’m like Lucy at the chocolate factory, his questions and goofball jokes like candy flying out at me faster than I can process. Some days I even catch myself longing for just an hour of the temporary mute-ness we once had. (Just kidding. Kind of.)

Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back now I can decipher the lies Mom Guilt convinced me were true. You know what, Mom Guilt? David was right: this was not my fault. And I was enough. I am enough.

Did you know that “guilt” shows up 144 times in the Old Testament? Makes sense. The law is laid out in the OT, and when we break it, we are guilty. Do you know how many times “guilt” appears in the New Testament, after Jesus paid the penalty for our guilt? 16 times. As I looked a little more closely, I discovered that ten of those are actually “guiltless,” or “no guilt” or “not guilty.”

This was my favorite place I found the word “guilt” in the New Testament: “In every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 (ESV)

The Message translation of the same passage: “Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”

Boom.

Did you know what else I found when looking for “guilt” in the Bible? There is no place for Mom Guilt. No place at all. The guilt discussed in the Bible refers to sins against God. Me feeling “guilty” for not teaching my baby sign language or picking the wrong formula seems kind of insane when I think about all the actual, real ways I’ve sinned against God, and how He loves me regardless. I found zero verses condemning accidental missteps by well-intending parents. (Praise the Lord for that, amiright?!) Guilt is useful to us insofar as it alerts us to the depth of our lowly position before a holy God. But once we’ve grasped that and then accepted our forgiveness in Jesus, the guilt is washed away and we can gratefully move on in our newfound freedom. Why sit in the muck when it’s already been cleaned up?

I also realized that when I fall prey to Mom Guilt, I’m usually not focused on kingdom things, but on the temporal circumstances in front of me not going the way I want them to go, and then blaming myself. What would my parenting look like if I was more occupied with pleasing God than controlling my circumstances? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be as worried about another cold or another broken bone or delayed speech – rather, I’d be looking for ways to navigate those circumstances in ways that are honoring to God. Not every parenting hurdle I encounter is about me. Most times it’s just a sinful little person encountering a broken world, and me, a sinful big person, holding their hand and guiding them through it. The hope is that we’d both be looking to Jesus for direction, secure in the freedom we have that when we mess up, He forgives us, and we can keep moving forward without dwelling on the previous, already-forgiven oopsies.

What verses or reminders do you preach to yourself when you’re feeling enslaved by that sneaky jerk Mom Guilt?  Hope you’re speaking that truth to yourself today. Would love for you to share it with me, too.

 

 

Photo Credit: Marc-Andre Lariviere, Creative Commons

What it’s like to have four kids

photo credit: Creative Commons: anyjazz65

I’ve grown in several areas over these past six and a half years: 1.) Physically: I’ve gained and lost a total of 140lbs. Thirty-five-ish per pregnancy, give or take, as some pregnancies required more chocolate/nachos than others. 2.) Vanity: I ditched any remaining shred of coolness when we bought a minivan, which I had vowed to never do because only nerds drive minivans. 3. Control: I largely stopped dressing my children in coordinated outfits. Ain’t nobody got time for that. 4.) McGuyver-ability quotient: I have grown entirely more adaptable in situations previously deemed too hard or totally despair-worthy, ie: broken legs (we’ve had three so far), newborn baby colds (stopped counting at a dozen), forgetting to bring a pack n play on an overnight trip. NBD, man. Life will go on.

Here is what to expect when you have FOUR KIDS, if you are considering doing such a thing. You crazy lunatic, you.

  1. When you take your whole tribe around town, people act kind of weird, like you have seven heads. I took the kids to the doctor’s for a checkup the other day, and within an hour, FOUR different people stopped me to ask if all four kids belonged to me. One lady even stopped her car and rolled down her window to ask. Yes, you sweet bystander. This freakshow is all mine. Here is a sampling of unsolicited comments I regularly hear (like multiple times a day) while running errands: “Whoa, that’s a lot of kids!””Are they all yours?” “You have your hands full!” “Did you plan this?” “Better you than me!”
  2. Your day-to-day becomes a real life version of the movie Memento. Do you remember that movie? It’s about a guy who can only remember fifteen minute increments before he forgets everything that happened leading up to it. Super suspenseful and stressful, but I don’t really remember much else about it because, like I said, wait – what was I just saying? No, but seriously. I’m the Steph Curry of forgetfulness. The reason is basically that  your brain is like an internet browser (this is a real science fact that I pulled from my vast knowledge of sciencey things). Moms of four children have approximately 462 browser tabs open at any given time. Did I pay the phone bill? Is today Wednesday? Wednesday is early pickup. When did the baby nurse last? On which side? We need solar panels. Why does child #2 have his outfit on entirely backwards? Why do I not care? Has child #3 consumed any vegetables today…yesterday…the last three days? Meanwhile, four of the tabs (the children) are talking to you like those video pop up ads that come out of NOWHERE, yelling about who the heck knows what. So, for reasons you can imagine, some things are just forgotten: jackets, backpacks, sending your mom the Mothers Day card that has been sitting on your desk for a MONTH, texting people back, dropping off the dry cleaning, ordering Nespresso pod refills.
  3. Getting out of the house every morning is basically like living in the movie Jumanji. I’ve been doing this four kids thang every day for the last nine months, so the chaos has become my “normal.” A few weeks ago I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, so David had to get all of the kids ready, fed and out the door by 8:30. David is very hands-on when it comes to the dad-stuff. Diapers, feeding, dressing, you name it, he seriously does it all. But until this day, he hadn’t done a full morning with all four kids on his own. He met up with me to switch cars at 8:45. All the children were fed, dressed and even had shoes on. When I asked him how it went, he calmly responded, “Yeah, that was insane.” I guess it is. It’s the baby crying because the three year old is sitting on her while you try to brush the eldest’s tangled hair into a ponytail; it’s the five year old, unable to decipher the English words you are speaking when you tell him for the eleventieth time to PUT ON THE SHOES, ONTO THE FEET THAT ARE YOURS, THAT BELONG TO YOUR LEGS, AT THE BOTTOM OF THE LEGS, JUST BEYOND THE ANKLES, EACH FOOT GETS ONE SHOE AND PLEASE PUT THEM ON NOW BEFORE MY HEAD EXPLODES. NOW. NOW. NOW. NOW. And then you get a miffed response, “OK!” Like, “Sheesh!” Like, “Omigosh, mom you need to calm down.” Yes, because clearly I am the unreasonable one.
  4. After you take a shower and clip your nails, and then clip your kids’ nails, by the time you are done, you have just clipped one hundred nails. ONE HUNDRED NAILS. (Also I just realized that could be a great name for the band I will start with my children. We will figure out how to play instruments at some point after we have mastered the putting on of the shoes. First things first.)
  5. Speaking of showers, any tiny moment of privacy is now long gone. I took literally 3 minutes to shower off the stickiness from making breakfast the other morning. All the while, one little darling stood outside asking if I was done yet because they needed to show me a trick. “How about now? Are you done now?” “I will be done in two minutes, you precious angel from my womb!” (I said either that or something like that…-ish) “Ok…” (seven seconds later:) “How about now? Has it been two minutes?” So I just canceled the tiny remaining shower I thought I was entitled to. I was rushed through my drying-off process and over to the “trick,” which turned out to be a child who had spread a small blanket on the floor…and then jumped over it.
  6. One fun thing about having four kids is the opportunity to cook for multiple picky eaters at once. When cooking for four tiny food critics, you are pretty much guaranteed to never make a meal that every person will enjoy or even say positive things about. This is why I am working on training up my children in the way they should go. And here that means don’t critique mom’s meal choice and hard work, lest you skip dinner and have to wait for breakfast. I’m trying to implement a rule that when they ask what’s for dinner and I describe a lovely, nutritious meal, they may respond in one of two ways: a.) “Yay! Thanks, mom!” OR b.) “Ok!”  If I did not ask for your opinion on the meal, then you can just keep those words in your head, mmkay?
  7. You will probably bathe your four children less often than you bathed your kids when you had one or two. Not necessarily saying that I do this, but I’ve heard some totally reasonable moms of four kids say that they will go multiple days between kid baths. If I did know a mom who said that, I’d be like, “Hey, you seem like a pretty cool lady with great taste in music and Netflix shows. I trust your discretion when it comes to your kids’ bath frequency.”  A hypothetical mom might space baths a few days apart when it’s necessary for her sanity; like when she needs bedtime to happen NOW, and not like in 45 minutes after lathering, rinsing and repeating on FOUR separate bodies. But that’s just what I’ve heard. For some people. Sometimes. Or maybe a lot of times. (You don’t know my life.)
  8. Even though strangers regularly comment on your reproductive schedule and gawk at you like you’re straight-up cray; and even though the day is bursting at the seams with chaos and unreasonable behavior and dishes and crumbs and dirty cars; and even though walking through a buffet line with a nine month old in an Ergo is like wearing an octopus; and even though the laundry situation is so dire that you have considered starting a nudist colony; and even though, wait…what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Ok, even though all of these things make life hard and complicated and sometimes your head almost explodes, each time you bring home yet another baby, you are blown away that you can love something as individually and tenderly as all the other babies, who you thought took up every last morsel of your love capacity. And at the end of the day, when all the precious angels are asleep, and you are enjoying a glass of Sauv Blanc and a bag of Orville Redenbacher, Netflix binging alongside your husband, you marvel at your lives together and the babies entrusted to you. You wouldn’t have planned it any other way. (Except maybe if the other way meant you could have a free maid and chef, then yes, definitely I would have planned it that way.)

 

Image Credit: Creative Commons, anyjazz65

A biblical woman laughs at the future

My husband and I decided to plant a vegetable garden this year. Actually, I casually suggested that we should plant a vegetable garden, and then my sweet husband built us a planter, researched “compost” and “nitrogen” and “carbon” and lots of other garden words. While he’s been poring over gardening websites and NPR gardening specials, I have also been busy with equally important, garden-related business. Like day dreaming about grocery bags so overflowing with our garden’s future bounty that after finishing a little Caprese salad, I frolick through the neighborhood to dole out fresh produce to all.

Two summers ago I decided to “plant a garden.” I use quotes because…do you know what I did to “plant my garden?” I bought a packet of seeds. I threw some in the clay dirt on the side of our backyard, sprinkled some water around where the seed was. Want to hear something shocking? Nothing grew out of that seed that was placed in cement dirt and never watered. I can’t imagine what went wrong. Faulty seeds, obviously.

Flash forward to me watching my husband learn how to garden. Do you know what he has explained to me about gardening 101? Apparently, good soil is CRUCIAL to the growth of any kind of vegetation. So crucial, in fact, that we (ok, fine, he) spent weeks breaking up the dirt underneath where the planter would be, shopping for topsoil and making compost before we could even look at a seed.

Coincidentally (or perhaps as a divinely-timed illustration), our small group is going through a study right now that asked us to read the parable of the sower and identify which soil we are. Easy enough, I thought. I remembered this parable, probably read it a dozen times. Since I call myself a Christian, I thought I could pre-conclude that I am the good soil. And then I actually reread the parable:

“The farmer sows the word.  Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

I couldn’t help but freak out a little bit when I read this. I wholeheartedly consider myself a Christian woman, wife and mother. I know that we’re commanded, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5) But do I? James 1:27 tells us “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” How much of my life – the day-to-day stuff – is me, looking after orphans and widows? And how much of it is me being polluted by the world? Does my life produce a crop? Or do the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word in my life? Where is my fruit?

Most of these soil scenarios – rocky, thorny, good – refer to people who call themselves “Christians.” Jesus is not admonishing the non-believers here. He’s looking at the very people who think they get it. The church-goers. The bible-study attenders. The bumper-sticker wearers.

You guys, how easy is it to get caught up in worries, wealth and other things, especially as a wife and mom? I worry about my kids every day. After my oldest was born, for about a month we thought she had a rare auto-immune disease. She didn’t. But I can assure you, my worries were more abundant than the fruit I bore in this season. My 3-year-old son broke his leg a month ago. I worried about his pain, my ability to parent three small kids, two of whom do not walk. I worried about the cost of a trip to the emergency room. Worry, worry, worry.

What would our generation of wives and moms look like if we took the admonishing of Mark 4 seriously, rejecting the worries of this life in favor of surrendering those worries to the One who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine? (Ephesians 3:20)

Proverbs 31:25 says that a worthy woman “smiles at the future.”  Um. Yes, please. I’d much prefer to be this smiling, confident woman instead of the frazzled, worried mother of wild animals in toddler suits.

“She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” (v. 26) When you open your mouth, what comes out? Worries of this life, pursuit of wealth, desires for other things? Or is it wisdom, are you teaching kindness? What’s your soil like? Where’s your fruit?

Our early gardening endeavors have taught me a few things: 1.) Nothing grows in lousy soil. 2.) You have to put in some work to get those heirlooms. Yank the thorns, water the soil, pull out the rocks. Now let’s go tend our gardens.

Ain’t love a kick in the head

I don’t know how single moms do it. I solo-parented for one day and found myself Yelping nearby “Nail Salons with childcare.” (Bad news: turns out this isn’t a thing.)

Raising three kids under four is like working at a spa. You spend all your energy helping other people get comfortable. You watch them relax, eat and do their favorite things all day long. They’re living the dream. But you? You’re hungry, exhausted and just when you’re about to take your lunch break, someone has soiled himself and you need to give him a bath…Okay, fine I’ve never been to a spa.

Back to last weekend. I desperately rallied my tiny troops so we could leave the house for a fun outing, “Go potty!” “Stop hitting your sister!” “Don’t eat the dog food!” My patience waned as the clock ticked. The kids were so slow to obey. They disobeyed me in the same ways we’d discussed dozens of times. Didn’t they know I only wanted what was best for them? When I tell them to use the restroom, it’s because I don’t want their teensy little bladders to uncomfortably fill up mid-car ride. Jack doesn’t like it when Selah hits him, so Jack shouldn’t hit Selah. (Golden rule = common sense, y’all.) And for crying out loud, don’t eat the dog food. It tastes like, well, dog food, and we are VEGETARIANS, you guys.

I was exhausted and annoyed for having to repeat myself. I wished they’d just obey me. That they’d turn back to a few of the very basic lessons my husband and I have been drilling in since infancy: Obey us. Love others. Be a vegetarian.

We were already five minutes late when I plopped my 3-year old son on my lap to put on his shoes. He had one hand in each shoe, and against my repeated instruction, he wildly swung his shoe-hands over his shoulder behind him, nailing me in the eye with the rubber toe of his tiny Chuck Taylor. “Ouch!” I cried. “Jack! I told you NOT to wave your shoes in the air. You disobeyed me, and now you’ve hurt me!” He shrunk and began to cry out of shame and remorse. “Sorry, Mom,” he said through tears. My eye throbbed in pain. I vacillated between wanting to discipline my boy and wanting to check the mirror for a shiner. Either way, I really wanted him to wallow in his mistake for a minute before I forgave him for this “grievous” offense of…hmm. accidentally bonking me in the eye.

After stewing for a minute I realized my own giant pride had rationalized my failure to exhibit even an ounce of grace towards my son. “But he disobeyed ME! His MOTHER!” I thought. “He said sorry, but why should I be so quick to forgive him when he brought this upon himself through his own disobedience?”

And then it hit me: God forgives me every day. Instantly. I disobey Him (in much more grievous ways than an accidental kick in the head,) and He forgives me. Immediately. Boom. Done. He calls me to obey His commandments because He loves me and wants what’s best for me. And when I disobey and cry out to him in remorse, he catches my tears with the very hands that were nailed to the cross to pay for the sin I just committed.

Tainted by original sin (thanks for that, Eve), I sometimes cave into my desires to disobey God. And then I reap the consequences. My children disobeyed me (sin), and I reacted gracelessly, in a fit of rage (sin). Jack and I don’t share the same exact struggles. I don’t, for example, desire to wildly flail my shoe-hands. (I prefer to use shoe-hands for handstands. Better traction.) But we are cut from the same original-sin cloth.

God’s Word tells me, “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2:1) All of these things destroy relationships and hurt people. His rules make sense. When I obey them, my life is better. I’m living the way I was designed to live. His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

I recently heard someone describe parenting as “looking at yourself in a full-length mirror.” AMEN. Nothing in my life has so clearly demonstrated my failures and inadequacies like parenting. I used to think I was patient. Then I had kids. And now I understand that my own grace and patience is a joke. So what now?

Enter the One who invented patience, willing to fill me with His spirit if I seek Him. James 4:6-8 tells us that God gives grace to the humble. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” So what does that look like? It starts with making time to read His word. Sound hard? Pray about it. Pray for God to stir a desire so strong in your heart that you can’t wait to spend time with Him. And then take a tip from Nike and Just Do It. If you have time to Facebook or read this essay about fantasy nail salons and Jesus (hopefully your takeaway emphasizes the latter), then for Pete’s sake you have time to open your Bible. (I mean this lovingly and I’m talking to myself here, too.) Because it’s only through Jesus that I can channel the kind of grace to immediately forgive a shoe-handed kick in the face.

Lord, thank You for the beautiful, exhausting, hilarious and humbling job of parenthood. Thank You for showing me where I fall short and how much I need You. Help me to parent my children with the kind of unbridled grace and mercy You show me. I fall short every day. And You forgive me every day, Your steadfast love never ceases; Your mercies are new each morning. Thank You, Jesus.