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?

 

 

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

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

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.

A lesson in magnifying joy

My 3-year-old son broke his tibia two months ago. This daredevil child (who I pulled out of the zoo’s alligator pit by his feet a few months back), fractured his leg by – get this – jumping from the coffee table to the couch. Seriously? The kid has fallen from a 7-foot high play structure without a scratch, but landing on the soft couch was apparently awkward enough to score us three trips to the hospital and a bright orange cast from toe to mid-thigh.

Allow me to reassure you that my child’s broken leg is more reflective of his personality than my parenting. My non-daredevil daughter has made it to four-and-a-half years old with no injury worse than a “paper cut.” I use quotations because no one has actually seen one of these “horrifying afflictions” on her skin. But we do purchase Band-Aids in bulk because, well, she gets them “all the time.” If you mother a bouncy boy, I’m sure you can empathize with the wildness of little males. And if you do not, please pause for a moment to appreciate all the additional gray your head does not have.

So there we were, three weeks into the chaos that is parenting three preschool-aged children, two of whom did not walk. According to the orthopedist, even a drop of water on the cast required an immediate blow drying, and I felt like I’d busted out my Conair daily. I’d removed tomato sauce, ranch dressing, dirt and jelly from that neon, weaponized toddler leg. I’d even smelled it, certain that nearby dog droppings had made its way into the tiny crevices. (It wound up being the dirt-caked jelly. Never thought I’d be so happy to smell dirt-caked jelly.)

Don’t get me started on getting the children into or out of the car (which we do a dozen times a day). Remember that logic puzzle where the farmer is crossing a river with a fox, goose and a bag of beans? He has to bring them all to the other side of the river and can only carry one at a time, but can’t leave the fox alone with the goose, or the goose with the beans. It takes him seven trips to bring all of the parties across the river. This was my life bringing groceries inside the house. I was the farmer and I strategically struggled juggling bags and children into my house, only in my version, the goose’s leg had a neon orange cast and the farmer, goose, fox and bag of beans all whined excessively.

Three weeks in, I was tired and defeated. I cracked open my bible to James 1:2-3. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Joy? Joy?! Shoot. I had complained more in three weeks of my son’s broken leg than I had in my three decades of life leading up to it. “My arms hurt!” “This cast stinks!” “Why do you people need to eat dinner every niiiiiiight?!!!”

James preaches on, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…So basically if we used myself as an example, you could just take me and then do the exact the opposite of that, and there’s the way we’re supposed to act. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) Worthless? Yikes, James.

So where do I go from here after that kind of admonishing? James actually hand-holds me through this one: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Reading James 1 in the midst of this joyless parenting trial felt like a quick mirror-check at a dinner party, where I find gobs of mascara under my eyes. “Whoa, sister. Good thing you checked that mirror!” I reassure myself but then I leave the mascara under my eyes and head back to chat it up with my friends. How ridiculous, right? And yet, that messy mascara is my spiritual gunk when I read these words and don’t let them impact my attitude.

I’M READY TO JAMES 1:19-IFY MY PARENTING.

A few nights ago, my husband suggested we take a few minutes to pray together, thanking God for the blessings in our lives. Air conditioning, clean running water, healthy food, healthy babies, access to some of the best medical care on the planet, books, forgiveness, hot coffee, a washing machine, a car, a job, Nutella. We could have gone on forever. How quick I was to complain about ONE hardship amidst all this bounty. Reminding ourselves of God’s perfect and generous provision readjusted my perspective immediately. I was suddenly…joyful.

It took my 3-year-old’s broken leg to magnify the joylessness I allowed to hold me captive in my parenting. I’m hoping I shed that joylessness along with the nasty orange fiberglass cast we sawed off and left behind at the doctor’s office. I’m ready to James 1:19-ify my parenting. Let’s do it together!

Have you ever felt joyless? What things do you do that bring joy back into your joyless life? I’d love to hear from you.

When Your Life Becomes a Pinterest Fail

I recently had a day. Like, a DAY. You know the kind? When you wake up too late for coffee? (Fail.) You frantically rush the kids to dress, eat and sit still for a bumpy, mediocre ponytail that you’d have NEVER let your mom get away with. Ants invaded your kitchen while you slept – a pleasant reminder that you did a lousy job wiping down the counters after dinner last night. (Another fail.) You are a grump, and grumpiness is scientifically proven to be eleventy-gazillion times more contagious than Hand-Foot-Mouth-disease. So now your kids are all grumps, too. And you’re annoyed at them for being grumps. (Fail again.) You barely make it through carpool pickup at noon and by the time you’re flipping four burnt but passable grilled cheeses (fail) you remember that you never dropped off the husband’s dry cleaning which needs to be ready by tomorrow. (Fail.) The laundry is out of control, you don’t remember when you last mopped and your kids won’t touch their lunches. So you escape into the pantry and cry. Because how is it humanly possible for a person to spin their wheels this hard yet fail so miserably?

When I quit my paid job to stay home and raise babies, I expected a few things: 1.) My real house would now look like my Pinterest house. 2.) The stress in my life would disappear. 3.) After pouring into them daily, my children would obviously “arise and call me blessed,” à la Proverbs 31. Isn’t that supposed to be the legacy of a stay-at-home mom? That’s her entire job, what excuse does she have for failure?

Yet here I am, five years of full-time motherhood under my belt, basking in my shortcomings as I sob into the unorganized hodge-podge of processed foods I swore I’d never feed my kids.

After a teary afternoon of failure-basking, I finally snapped out of it to realize my problem wasn’t my litany of mom-fails; my problem was my misplaced identity. I’d been measuring my worth on a scale of everything but Jesus. Pinterest, Martha Stewart, the gluten-free Joneses. I measured my success by my ability to avoid feeding my kids refined sugar (hello, popsicles); by how clean my floors were (not); by how organized my pantry was (please see “hodge-podge”). Imagine the most eternally-insignificant way to gauge success, and that was my barometer.

I know better. And yet I was letting “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) I was speeding on the expressway to fruitless living. As I put the words to paper, I now realize how out-of-whack my priorities can get. The desire for cleaner floors, my obsession with 7 extra grams of sugar and the absence of labeled snack baskets in my pantry were sending me to the brink. Who is this girl?

Have you ever done this? What kind of yardsticks do you use to measure your worth? Job promotions? Raises? Losing baby weight? Being a “Good Mom”? Punctuality? Being noticed? Being liked? Having an organized house? The list never ends. It’s great to excel in these areas, and God can be glorified in all of these things – but they cannot be the measure by which we obtain our value. If they are, we are missing the gospel. And this week, I missed the gospel.

Sometimes we know cognitively that we need Jesus’s forgiveness, but our hearts are a little slower on the uptake. Understanding the gospel and being transformed by it must go hand-in-hand.

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-8; 10-11)

I was going through an identity crisis and I didn’t even know it until I was disciplined for it. If my hope and identity is in the eternal, if I am properly fixated on loving God and loving people; of going into the world and preaching the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15), I shouldn’t be rattled by the inability to make my pantry look adorable.

The tears of self-defeat sure as heck sting. But how grateful I am for this discipline; for the reminder that if I seek unimportant, worldly things, my life will inevitably be shattered by those same unimportant, worldly things. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) So let’s turn our eyes from the burnt grilled cheeses and ant conventions in our kitchens to a kind of mind-blowing love that anchors our hollow hearts with forgiveness and hope.

* Photo by Kai Lazarte via Flickr

Are minivans basically flannel pajamas?

I’ve always hated minivans and their radically sloping hoods. Why are they so close to the ground? They look like clown cars. Or like if Wayne Szalinski took a Smart Car and blew it up with the machine in from “Honey I Blew Up the Baby.” (Don’t pretend you’re too good for that movie. We both know you watched it and “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” dozens of times as a child.)

Remember those awful 1990s minivans with wood paneled exteriors? Some great things came out of the 90s: slap bracelets, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, pogs. But wood-paneled minivans? Not so much. They go in the same 90s-fail category as Crystal Pepsi and Olestra. But I digress.

Anyway, here’s my problem: our fourth child is expanding my uterus daily, and we are up against a hard deadline. Before August we will either need to purchase a larger vehicle, or strap one child to the roof. In the interest of not getting arrested or committed, I have decided to go with the first option. David and I test drove some cars a few weekends ago, and the results were unbelievable…I kind of fell in love with a minivan. The Suburban was great, too. But…the minivan maneuvered like a little coupe compared to the ‘burb. It had two dvd screens in the rear and SIX CUPHOLDERS in the front seat. This made me so happy there were almost tears. (Extra cup holders are my love language, along with nachos and Pad Thai noodles.) And the doors just swooshed open with the click of the key fob! Picture it, people: stroller, diaper bag, newborn in my Ergo, plus three kids ages five and under barreling towards the car. But then, “click!” doors open. Three older kids let themselves in. If the cup holders didn’t create tears, the button-slide-doors definitely warranted them.

Sitting in the car was so comfortable, I felt like I was wearing flannel pjs. But therein lies the problem. The car also looks like flannel pjs…So…am I the worst if I don’t want to drive around town in flannel pjs? I wouldn’t ever wear them to the grocery or to school pick up…but isn’t driving a minivan essentially wearing flannel pjs…and a retainer and a green face mask while your hair is in curlers?! flannel pjs

“Hey guys, I’m just going to make a quick Costco run.”

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this dilemma should be the realization that I need to think less of outward appearances. Let’s be real, everyone I know who drives one is awesome and completely rocks the minivan. But do I have what it takes to get over myself? Is driving a minivan really like grocery shopping in flannel pajamas? Or am I just a self-absorbed whiner who can’t identify a first world problem if it ran her over in a wood-paneled minivan?

What do you think?! Can I pull of a minivan? Suburbans are awesome but they don’t have sliding doors! Help me, Obi-Momfriends. You’re my only hope. No, seriously. I’d love your thoughts.


 

WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?!

We’re a week into transitional kindergarten. Now that my sweet family has endured my overcaffeinated-drill-sergeant-8:05AM-self, I feel the need to calmly ask every mother who has gone before me…WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME ABOUT ALL THE THINGS?! Why are we not collectively freaking out about the madness of elementary? I just stepped into a whole new world of daily school drop-off and pick-up and it is NOTHING like I expected. I need to unpack this. Please help me.

Friends whose tiny ones have not yet begun the daily school routine, I want to warn you about a few things that come along with your oldest child beginning real school. It’s not like preschool, where attendance is optional and you can excuse your tardiness with, “Supes long line in Starbucks drive-thru!” …Ok, so after I typed that out I just realized that was actually never an acceptable reason for tardiness. Sorry about that, Ms. Kathy and Ms. Tammy. Thanks for not expelling Selah.

Ahem.

Thing #1: You will cry.

I used to stare blankly at the weepy-mom facebook posts about little Junior starting school. “Let me get this straight,” I thought. “You’ve been wiping Junior’s bottom every few hours for his entire life and now you get a break for three measly hours and you’re going to cry about it? Just…No.” I prematurely decided that upon Selah starting school, I would excitedly cheers my insulated coffee mug with the other moms’ to collectively celebrate a job well done: one kid is slightly more independent than they were last year. Hear, hear!

And then I dropped my precious baby girl off on her first day. I held the unexpected tears back like a hero, but only until I stepped out of the classroom. Then I ugly cried all the way to my car, and when I looked up to wipe away the mascara-laden waterworks, a speed-walking, sidewalk-staring 10-year old boy nearly ran over me with his rolly backpack. Today I had to jump on the grass to dodge a 5th grade Tony Hawk. It’s a jungle out there, you guys.

Thing #2: The parking situation is worse than Target on a Saturday.

Selah’s school is 1.5 miles from our house. It should take four minutes to get there. But I’d never driven past at 8:10am, when ALL OF THE PEOPLE from ALL OF THE HOUSES come out to look for one of 20 parking spaces. The four-way stop has 30 cars waiting to turn left! I finally turned left but I’m here and there are no parking spaces! I can see her classroom but I cannot GET to her classroom! If I didn’t have to face these people twice a day for the next 8 years I would bust out some of my interpretive driving moves. Once you do finally park (a block away, on the street), you scramble and sweat to unbuckle and wrangle the older two, a backpack and a preciously chunktastic one year old who is too slow and too shoe-less to walk on his own. You run like the dickens with your wild chickens to find a perfectly calm classroom, full of punctual children practicing their letters on individual whiteboards. How did everyone else get here so EARLY? Is there an underground parking lot? Do they teleport? How do all the other parents know all of life’s secrets?!

Thing #3: Three hours is not that long.

So you drop off your oldest on her very first day. You blubber to your husband about how you are certain you brought your sweet baby girl home from the hospital exactly three months ago and now she is in school. You momentarily get a hold of yourself to make a quick trip to the grocery store with your other two wild things. You put your groceries away, do some laundry, the standard morning pick-up of the living room toy massacre, reclothe your boys who are now inexplicably stripped down to their chonies. And boom, it’s 11:15 and you need to go pick up your girl. The time just evaporates into the air.

Thing #4: Grab someone in front of you on this wild parenting ride and beg them to tell you the ins and outs.

In that vein, Mamas and Papas of elementary people: TALK TO ME. I am one week in and I just can’t even. Selah’s teacher is so incredible I cried again at back to school night as she explained every tiny detail of what she does for her students. I am overcome. With joy. With mourning. With pride. With excitement and fear and exhaustion. And we’ve only been in school FOUR DAYS! Help me. Tell me all of the things. What do I need to know!?

 

3604332214_905b4aafdd_zIs this a 10k? Or is it parents at morning drop off? WHO KNOWS?

Photo credit: Paul-W, Creative Commons