Present over perfect


It beckoned me from in between the utility bill and Papa Murphy’s mailer. A shiny, perfect Pottery Barn Kids catalog. I ditched the other envelopes that rudely reminded me of adulthood to indulge in the teeny backpacks and preciously-preppy baby models. My own real-life ragamuffins could wait. It was time to accessorize my kids’ rooms and monogram their lunchboxes. In my head.

Selah starts transitional kindergarten in the fall and I can’t wait to vicariously do the whole back-to-school thing. To walk her into the classroom on her first day; backpack stuffed with fresh crayolas, sharpened pencils and shiny Lisa Frank folders covered in hot pink puppy rainbow bubble sunshine ponies. I’ll fill her little lunchbox with pb&j, sliced apples (skin removed if I’m feeling extra fancy), goldfishies and carrots. A happy face on a post-it if I have time. Look how perfectly-doting and precious I am in my head, packing this sweet child up for her first day of real school! And right when I was about to congratulate my future-self for imaginary “fancy” parenting, I spotted the lunch boxes on page 13 of that PBK catalog:


Wow…cool lunchbox, Hailey. I love that your mom made you a BUTTERFLY BRIOCHE SANDWICH with herbed ricotta, mandolined radishes, parsley and chives that she probably picked from her organic garden this morning while you slept, after she did Cross Fit in her Lululemon pants and before she made your dad eggs benedict. I have Lululemon pants too! But I save them for special occasions…like big holiday meals requiring elastic waistbanded pants. Anyway, I’m sure Selah would be happy to share some of her Shark Bite fruit snacks with you. What’s that? Oh, I don’t know if they’re gluten-free, and yes they probably do have high fructose corn syrup…Probably extra HFCS, actually. And red dye 40…and probably red dyes 1-39, too. Look, you guys both have love notes from your moms though, so you have that in common! Yours is in French? That’s cool…Selah’s note is just a picture I drew of stick figures high-fiving. But stick figures are the same in every language, so she’s essentially multi-lingual as well. I think you’ll both get along swimmingly.

Another lunchbox in the PBK catalog had a sweet little note affixed with washi tape and the sandwich was cut into a circle with julienned red bell peppers affixed to the top, making it look like a baseball.

Is this real life?

How is Selah supposed to face her fine-dining peers on the inevitable day I forget her lunch and drop off Taco Bell? Pottery Barn Kids, can we please style the next round of lunch boxes with PBJ, baby carrots and Pirate’s Booty? I feel like Pinterest is forcing us to prove how much we love our children through an unspoken new calculation of school lunch complexity. OP (organic produce) + GF (gluten free items) + BB (bento box) + FSLTOTWTA (foods shaped like things other than what they are: bread as baseballs, bananas as mummies, sandwiches that look like storm troopers, bread rolled like sushi, anything cut with a cookie cutter – except cookies, of course, please see “GF.”) = parenting love quotient. I hope you don’t buy those Smuckers Uncrustables because, well, OP/GF/FSLOT/PWA fail, and clearly you do not love your child. (If you did buy these on accident, you can bring them to me and I will eat them all. They are DELICIOUS.)

To be clear, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with school lunches fancier than the French Laundry. If you have the capacity to do this for your kids and also not lose your mind, you go, Glen Coco. But in this age of social media where we trap ourselves into measuring self-worth by Instagram likes and comments with clapping emojicons, we should ask ourselves: are we making these lunches for our kids? Or is it for the iPhone photo, promptly blasted to our friends while we shoo away the precious babies at our feet who we are allegedly assembling these masterpieces for?

Maybe this isn’t a problem for you. But let me tell you a story about a horrible pet owner. Two years ago, a blubbering lady whisked her dying 5 lb. dog to the vet. The dog had contracted a stomach virus and became dehydrated so quickly that she started seizing and nearly died. After that little pup’s first night of IV fluids in a cold cage, the pet owner came to visit. She walked into the exam room and was so struck by the pathetic shivering preciousness before her, complete with a tiny hot pink bandage from toes to shoulder, that she immediately… TOOK A PICTURE WITH HER PHONE. Not picked up the dog to snuggle it. Not spoke sweet encouraging words to a scared 5 lb. ball of fur. She exploited the tiny pup to share a pic with her Facebook peeps. (Whoever she may be…Ok, fine it was me. Pet owner fail.)

I know what you’re thinking: weren’t we just talking about school lunches? Yes. But it’s the same thing. There’s a right way to take a picture of your 5 lb. furball and post it on Facebook; and then there’s what I did. Both look exactly the same to the onlooker. There’s a right way to knock it out of the park with school lunches more intricate than the Sistine Chapel. And then there’s missing the point. Maybe trilingual Hailey loves radishes and herbed ricotta. But if it were my kid, she’d be way more stoked on a bagel and cream cheese, no matter how much Facebook liked the brioche butterfly.

I guess my main point is this: if you love making your kid fancy lunches, AWESOME. If you’d rather throw a Smuckers Uncrustable in a paper bag with an apple but you’re great at doing crafts with your kids, ROCK ON. If you can’t craft but love hosting dance parties in the living room with your littles, SWEET. If dance parties are out because at weddings you have been mistaken for both Steve Urkel and Elaine from Seinfeld, but you’re present and engaged when you’re running errands with your babies, YOU ARE A STAR.

In this era of Pinterest-everything and first-graders’ school lunches more elaborate than the dinner served at my wedding, let’s not miss the point. Love your babies however you were built to love them best. And don’t succumb to the pressure to gourmetize school lunch if that ain’t your jam. Heaven knows we mamas have enough on our plates already. Hailey’s mom isn’t real. She is an employee of Pottery Barn Kids whose full-time job is to beautifully style high-end lunchboxes with sandwiches that took an hour to assemble. She nailed it, but you don’t have to. We all have this imaginary ideal modern woman in our heads who is perfectly fit, rested, cooks like Giada, never nags her husband and does not get frazzled. This woman is not a thing. If you meet someone who says she is, she is lying. Your sweet kids adore you because you’re their mom. Not because their lunches look like they had a personal stylist.

“Present over perfect. Relationship over rushing. People over pressure. Meaning over mania.”

-Shauna Niequist

Let’s choose present over perfect every time.

photo credit: s.h.u.t.t.e.r.b.u.g Creative Commons


When Parenting Gets Easier

Jack’s cast came off a few weeks ago.

How deceptively simple that sentence sounds. Allow me to reword it for accuracy purposes. Ahem: A hospital tech wielded a loud, motorized saw to hack off my 3 year old’s stinky orange cast. Jack screamed and writhed while I held him down and simultaneously parented my two other children who were 3 feet away. They took one look at the tech, her fierce saw and Jack’s screaming face, and were terrified into angelic obedience. (Maybe I should always carry around a loud machine to ensure perfectly-behaved children…If you see me with a vacuum cleaner in my purse, you’ll know why.)

I’d been waiting four weeks for this child’s leg to heal, to get that stinking cast off. Four weeks of carrying around a 33 lb. 3 year-old and a 22 lb. non-walking 16 month-old. Convinced my life would be easier as soon as all three of my children were walking, I had long-ago circled this date on my calendar. I talked about it to anybody who asked about Jack’s leg, mentioned the word cast or even looked in my general direction. I told whoever would listen of the light at the end of my tunnel. May 2nd…May second…May my second child walk again!

May 2nd came, and in we went to the pediatric orthopedist. There was screaming, whining and Daniel Tiger. There was a dropped lollipop embedded in hospital waiting room carpet, which I immediately scooped up and threw into the trash. There were subsequent tears and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. There were wipes to remove the sticky from the fingers. There was a motorized saw to remove the cast from the leg (and hopefully not to accidentally remove the leg from the body). And then it was done. Suddenly, the cast was gone and we were free to go home. I picked up the sticky crayons, paper, wipes and remaining evidence of three miniature people waiting in an exam room for an hour.  I was ready for the simplicity and ease I so vividly foresaw for us after this glorious day. I was ready for a manicure.

We walked fifteen minutes to the car in 95 degree heat. (A mild spring day in Fresno.) My ogre-like double stroller was especially cumbersome at 3:15pm, smack-dab in the middle of nap time. The kids were sleepy and deliriously requested unreasonable things like going to John’s Incredible Pizza immediately or that I buy them actual jet packs for flying. (“Can’t we just go to Target and see if they have jet packs?”) And then I noticed the weirdest thing. The cast was off, but there was still whining. There was still screaming. Jack still couldn’t walk.

I loaded the big kids in their car seats, reached down for Carter to find that after our fifteen minute walk, only one of his feet still had a shoe on it. The other was likely hurled from the stroller while I was busy daydreaming of manicures. At this point I was spent and wouldn’t have gone back for the shoe even if had magically transformed into gold and I could sell it to send all three kids to college.

We were all sweaty and exhausted. I sighed, reveling in the fact that as long as these babes were buckled into their seats, the 20-minute drive home wouldn’t involve much parenting. I could sit in my driver’s seat, blasting the A/C and Tay Swift while we enjoyed the ride home. Then Jack declared a potty emergency. And as I unbuckled his seatbelt I realized: There is no light at the end of this tunnel. This is parenting. It will never, ever be easy or simple or perfect. So why do I keep setting little parenting finish lines? “It’ll be easier when they are potty-trained…When everyone is in school…When they can make their own food and I’m not preparing 12 meals a day…”

Funny how I keep setting my hopes on all these arbitrary finish lines and milestones, as if that’s when parenting will suddenly become easy. The finish lines come and go, but the “easy” never comes. Time after time I realize that I’m setting my hopes on the wrong finish lines. There’s only one thing in the world that doesn’t change or disappoint, and it actually isn’t “in the world.” It’s weird to know something so fundamentally in my head and watch my heart repeatedly stake its hope in other things.

After Jack’s cast came off, and to celebrate my 30th birthday, David rented us a beach house. OH, how I anticipated this trip. In the midst of scream-filled grocery trips, unending laundry piles and a newly potty-trained young man who aims about as well as 50 Cent, looking forward to this trip pulled me through some gnarly parenting days. And then the day finally came. We left our kids with their saintly grandparents and joined our friends for a whole weekend of board games, wine tasting, shared meals, dancing and great company. But do you know what I did? I looked so forward to this trip that I put all my hope in it. I fixed my eyes on it. While the trip itself did not disappoint, (seriously, it was the best vacation ever,)  it did end. The week after we came home I was in a funk because I staked my hope in something as fleeting as a vacation.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on JesusConsider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Has there ever been a more relevant Bible verse for the all-consuming, failure-ridden job of parenting? We need not lose heart in parenting if we only have one finish line, unchanging and perfect. If my finish line is the checkout line at Target and I get projectile-puked on while perusing the sunglasses, well, I’ve failed and now I also smell like puke. But if my finish line is at the end of my race, with eyes fixed on Jesus, then NBD to that projectiled popcorn and slurpee. Jesus works anxiety-miracles in my heart and Tide works laundry miracles in my washing machine, and my race will go on. Eyes on Jesus, y’all.

I have no idea what it’s like to parent teens or adults, but I already lose sleep over what my fearless, fun-seeking 3 year old boy will be like at 16. Kris Jenner once said, “Little kids, little problems; Big kids, big problems.” (I hope we can still be friends after I’ve quoted Keeping Up with the Kardashians…but if that’s a deal-breaker, you can just pretend I heard it on NPR while some snappy jazz music faded in and out.) The woman has a point. Parenting starts out hard and just gets harder. There is not an “easy” part of parenting. Ever.

Infant sleep-training failures, toddler-puke at Target failures, your adult kid marrying the guy who interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs; whatever parenting stage we’re in, it will NEVER be easy. It will always be hard, we will always fail; but how much more so if we fix our eyes on the here and now? Fellow parents: let’s do ourselves a favor and stop erecting miniature finish lines. Let’s not grow weary and lose heart. Let’s parent our kids with eternity at the forefront of our minds, lest we allow the puke that covers us at Target to define our races.

And now for the vanishing cast shot:


Ta-da! Here’s to hoping we never, ever have to see an orthopedist again.


Made for each other

I was making dinner last week while Jack (3) played in the backyard. I realize how idyllic and normal that sentence sounds, but let me assure you, it is loaded. Jack is a wildling. An explorer to the core; an adventurous limit-pusher who generally does not adhere to reason. I’m struggling with the words to adequately convey this child’s personality, but I trust this story will help: a few months ago at the zoo, I pulled Jack out of the alligator exhibit by his feet.

The kid gives me frequent heart palpitations, and maybe there’s no causation here, but I’m just saying that my scalp had not sprouted a single gray until he began crawling, and now I have at least 17.

Anyway, I’m chopping onions, looking up every 15 seconds to make sure that Jack is not choking on a grasshopper, scaling the pool fence or, you know, spontaneously combusting. Glancing up from my cutting board again, expecting to find my dirt-covered boy playing with sticks in the grass, what do I see? Sticks, grass…no Jack. He’s just absent from where he was standing 15 seconds ago. Gone. I search the left side of the yard and then the right before ditching the onions and running after my precious, heart attack inducing Houdini.

I’m standing in the backyard, exactly where Jack was in the middle of the lawn, and he is nowhere. Three new gray hairs sprout. The gate to the front yard is latched but now I’m transforming into a super-hardcore Liam Neeson a la Taken, convinced Jack has been abducted by creepy Euro gangsters. (Rational idea, myself.) Before hastily purchasing a plane ticket to Albania, I see flickers of a small figure moving between the fence posts just behind our yard. You guys, Jack had found a loose fence post, moved it to the side and just walked through it. This fence backs up to a small vacant field and then a super busy street, with cars whooshing by at lightning speeds. I moved the loose post to the side and stared at my small blonde boy, who stared back at me. My eyes must have looked like they were going to pop out of my head, because he immediately said, “Sorry, Mom!” before running back through the opening and into our yard.

I mean…How do I stop the gray with a kid like this????????????? Does Clairol have a frequent buyer punch card? Because I need one.

I heard a Focus on the Family podcast a few years ago right around the time Jack was born (I’m convinced the timing here is no coincidence). On the podcast, some parents with grown children were talking about how specifically God designed people. Take, for example, our hands. They are crafted carefully. We can test the temperature of food, or check baby’s head for a fever. We use the same hands to dry tears and spank defiant bottoms (just keeping it real). And they are shaped perfectly for cradling a nursing baby’s head. So specifically did He design our hands for the tasks they would meet. How much more specifically did God design my personality to pair with my child’s? He knows my strengths and weaknesses, He knows where I need sharpening and refining. He knows that my son requires a specific type of patience and steadfastness to parent him daily. And He chose me – in spite of me lacking this very patience and steadfastness – to be his mama. To love him, train him up and walk along side this sticky, bouncy wildling. He chose me for Jack, and Jack for me.

In the last three years, Jack has knocked down a few parenting rules I made for myself pre-kids. (Hypothetical parenting is always adorable after you actually have kids, isn’t it?) Before I had children, I remember watching kids run amok or scream their faces off in public and I’d think, “Wow, you should really control your child.” Then I had kids, and now I get it. You can’t “control your child.” You just do your best. You love your kids, parent consistently and even then you fail. Sometimes you’re exhausted, defeated and just hope your mistakes didn’t cause any permanent damage.

Parenting Jack is like going to a personal trainer. But I have weak, puny muscles. So it’s going to hurt. God uses this feisty, wild little person to expose my atrophied or non-existent character muscles. And just when I think I’ve nailed it on my patience issues, we launch into the parenting equivalent of high-intensity intervals. Jack hits a new milestone, develops new quirks, FRACTURES HIS FIBULA*, and I’m left to stretch a little more, acutely aware that I’m already stretched to capacity.

Sometimes I think it’s hilarious that God planned for our three kids to be born within three years of each other. Because I find myself humbled and at my wit’s end all. the. time. And yet He did it on purpose. Every day I encounter dozens of areas of my life where I just can’t keep up: A dirt-rock launched in the kitchen, scattered into a million tiny dirt clumps on my newly-steamed floors; seven loads of laundry finally done – and then they all decide to go puddle-jumping; three tantrum-ing toddlers at Costco, disapproving looks abounding. How will I survive this?

These are the workouts, my friends. These are the intervals. The stretching, the molding, the pain and pressing on when I want to just sit it out. Can you relate? We are in the thick of this motherhood thing, and you know what? We can do it. Because He put us here on purpose. He matched us with our precious babes, their ages, their strong wills, adventurous little hearts and all. He is refining us through them. Let’s run this race. Let’s go with the pain and maybe by the time they move out we will all look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Or something.)

Do you ever find your littles stretching your capacity for patience, self-control, joy, kindness, forgiveness? This is our race. Let’s just focus on today, putting one foot in front of the other and I truly believe that one day we will look down at our character-abs and be all like, “Dang! When did I get that six-pack o’patience?” Let’s do this.

* It should be noted that I started drafting this blog post just days before Jack FRACTURED HIS FIBULA jumping off of the coffee table. God is hilarious.

What it’s like to have three kids

I was talking to my friend Kim a month or so ago about that viral blog post “So, you would like to have three children,” where the author explains all the reason why having three kids is sheer insanity and chaos. Very entertaining piece. Kim suggested I write a counter-point. And in true myself fashion (read: always tardy), here I go.

Having three kids ages 4, 3 and 1 is, to put it simply, full. The days are packed with tangible, definable activities like doctors appointments, preschool, park trips, road trips, Taco Bell stops, church, friends’ houses, library, gas station, grocery store, etc. The days are full. But the minutes are bursting at the seams: Carter needs a diaper change, Jack just whacked Selah with a light saber and is covered in breakfast. Selah’s pants are on backwards. Your shirt was clean 7 minutes ago when you put it on, but for some unimaginable reason you wore white and now you have Cheetos fingerprints on your shoulders. Remember when you told your childless, pregnant self that you would never feed your toddler Cheetos, and definitely not before 9am? Well, that was adorable. You reheat your coffee (again), don’t have your makeup on yet and you have to leave five minutes ago. Three tornadoes with their own little plans to conquer the world swirl around you, one runs out the back door and into a mud puddle. And this is just your average Tuesday at 8:17am.

And then there’s getting into the car. The morning has been brutal, but at least you have your insulated mug of coffee, the lifeblood of moms everywhere. You rush outside to the car, everyone is dressed and has shoes on, and at this point you basically deserve a trophy. (Although the socks do not match. Whatever.) And then your 4 year-old says, “Ew, what happened to your coffee, mom?” You look down to see that the child on your hip spat up. The tablespoon of upchuck has covered his shirt, somehow dripped down yours, your pants and into your boot, but not before missing your thermos. But not just any part of the thermos. The little indented part meant for your MOUTH. You silently mourn your morning caffeine, hoist your oldest  over the outer carseat, into her middle carseat. You swat the muddy pebbles out of your 3 year-old’s hands and plop him into his seat, commence a seatbelt buckling contest with the oldest, who despairs that she came in second place in a contest that isn’t really a thing, only a tool you thought you cleverly devised to save time. But now you’re making the moment teachable by explaining that guess what, sometimes we lose, and it’s not super fun, but if you’re not good at something you need to practice it more, so maybe you need more practice at losing. And then she screams, you feel like a jerk, the baby laughs and you get behind the wheel to drive away, hoping to only arrive 10 minutes late.  Then you see your purse on the hood of your car. Finally pulling out of your driveway, 12 minutes late for preschool, who’s that racing up the street alongside your car? Oh, that’s just your dog. You contemplate leaving him in your dust, but refrain. 14 minutes late.

The show must go on.

Having three kids is full. And it is hard. But here’s the thing. So is having two kids. And so is having one kid. It’s always full, it’s always hard. Right after Selah (my first) was born, I asked a mother of four, “How do you do it? It’s so hard with one child! All my time is taken up with one kid, how do you have FOUR?” She replied, “It’s always 100% hard. One child is 100% hard. Two children? 100% hard…Your capacity just increases.” AMEN, sister.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I work out and have credibility to draw an analogy from fitness-related things. My friend Kristin runs. A lot. Like 5 miles a day. Ask Kristin to run 8 miles tomorrow, and she’ll be like, “Ok, well, it’s a little more than usual, but I know how to run five miles, so 8 miles will be harder, but doable.” She will exert herself and sweat and it will be hard. But she could do it. And if she kept doing it, 8 miles would become her new baseline – it would feel easier than it did at first, but she’d always have to exert herself to run 8 miles.

If you asked me to run 8 miles tomorrow, I would probably silently stare at you until we both feel very awkward and then ask why you hate me and want me to die. I do not have the muscle, endurance or shoes needed to run 8 miles. (Can I wear my Toms?) But if I built up endurance slowly, over time, first running one mile, then two, then three and so on, I could totally do 8 miles. When I had one baby, it was hard. Two kids under two? That felt impossible. But over time, you just figure out little tricks to make life work, and sometimes you even look at your sweet kids and your eyes well up with gratitude that you get to raise them. Ask me to what it’s like to have a third child and I will tell you this: It is hard. But so is having two kids. And so is having one kid. I exert myself. I sweat and cry and some days I just have to be satisfied with the fact that we’ve all made it to the end of the day alive and only called Poison Control once.

But here’s the thing, the sweet moments are sweeter with three kids. The joy is truly multiplied in the good times. Three dancing, laughing children make my heart want to burst out of my chest and into a ray of sunshine. (That sounds messy and cheesy. Like something from the dollar menu at Taco Bell.)  The hard times are, as you’d imagine, harder with three kids than with two or one. One kid screaming his face off at Chili’s is a little different than three kids screaming their faces off at Chili’s. I’d imagine four or six kids screaming their faces off at Chili’s would be even more stressful. This is probably why I’ve never seen Octomom at Chili’s.

I guess my main point is this little gem I stole four years ago from that wise mother of four: It’s always 100% hard. And also Nike’s 1990s slogan: Just do it. And also Don’t forget to tip your waitress. Especially if you take three screaming babies to Chili’s.

It's like this.

Full. Like my lap.