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} 

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

Present over perfect

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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:

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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