The Cinderella Mom

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Hey, Mom. I see you, up late.

The kids are in bed, the husband is snoring, and the place is all yours: it’s go time on mom time.

The time has come for you to be who you were long before the kids were there – the writer, the reader, the artist, the seamstress. We spend our days as servants, ragged, worn. But when night falls and the clock strikes, our transformation takes place. Bippity, boppity, boo! The responsibilities of the day and the plans for tomorrow fall away, and for just the slightest of time we’re alone to be us, to follow our dreams, to play among our passions.

Not every night. Some nights all we can manage is a little Pinterest, maybe some Netflix. Some nights end in tears, some end in guilt over how you wish the day had gone, some end on the couch before you mean them to. Heck, some nights don’t seem to end at all because the kids keep coming out of their rooms and asking questions and wanting more water and complaining and tattling and remembering details about a YouTube video from 7 months ago and being the thirstiest person to EVER LIVE. But some nights are magical. Some nights the stars align, the alarm doesn’t taunt you, and the silence is golden. You don’t have a pumpkin carriage, but you have a couch, a desk, a favorite chair, or even just the whole living room floor awaiting you, ready to take you where you’ve been itching to go. There isn’t much time – there never is – but what you have is the stuff of fairy tales, the stuff that holds you over, energizes you, reminds you that you are more than Mom, that you can do more than laundry and shuttling and meal prepping and breaking up fights. You can produce more than milk and fruit snacks. Maybe you work magic with a pair of needles, maybe you paint, maybe you read… maybe you rest. Whatever it is that you do, it is of the utmost importance that you keep doing it.

Whatever it is that you miss about the time before becoming a mom, do that. Did you meet friends for movies? Do that. Did you write short stories? Do that.  Did you sculpt, garden, give yourself pedicures? Do those things. There may never be time to do them every night, or even every week. But there may also be no other time than the magical midnight hour to do them at all. You cannot afford to invest all of yourself into motherhood. You will never see a return on it if you do. Huge parts of you, yes. More than you knew you could give, sure. But you cannot give every part of yourself to raising your children or you will have nothing left when you’re done. And you will be done, at some point. Not tonight, obviously, but someday.

Beyond what is left of you then, the world needs what’s inside of you NOW. You, your perspective, your gifts, your words… they don’t just disappear once you become a mother. You still matter. You have not become a bookmark in someone else’s story, holding the place and marking pauses. Your name may have been changed to Mom, but who you are was not modified, what you are capable of remains.

There’s a quote that makes the rounds, I see it about once a week and the person accredited to it changes as frequently. It says, “Children are not a distraction from the more important work. They are the most important work.” I don’t know that a quote has ever filled me with so many conflicting feelings at once. Yes, this privilege we have in child rearing is great. The weight of our decisions hangs heavily over us every night, the words we speak, the job we do, can ripple outwards who knows how far. We get one shot at raising these people, and it’s a really big deal. But we also only get one shot at being us, and we have more to offer and are more impactful that motherhood alone. Do not misunderstand me, I’m not discounting motherhood and all its glories. I’m saying we’re mighty moms BECAUSE that’s not all there is to us. We were not given talents and gifts and callings and likes and preferences simply to let them waste away once we started changing diapers. You are made up of so much more than mom genes. You have ideas, passions, abilities, and the world needs them. You need to exercise them. And, just as important, your children need to see them. What better way to raise strong young women than to show them what all a woman is capable of? What better way to raise appreciative young men than to show them all the facets of you? Let your kids be in awe of you. Let them see you create, let them know what’s important to you. They see every day how human you are, so give them a glimpse of how superhuman you can be. My kids’ mom takes photographs that hang in peoples’ homes. They sit on chairs their mom painted and sometimes even wear clothes she made (though just washing the store-bought stuff is equally miraculous most days). Show them the stories you wrote that impacted people they’ve never met. Make sure they know about the baby blankets you made that will become heirlooms, or the recipes you shared that feed countless families. Tell them about the job you work at, the kids you teach, the patients you help, the companies you help run, the services you provide. Let them see the stack of books you’ve devoured, show them your art, your hobbies, your contributions, your gifts. Show them YOU.

In my experience, kids don’t appreciate the meals or the cleaning or the folding or the pick up line. They expect it, it becomes mundane. It can do the same to us. And it’s hard, pulling yourself up out of the mundane, the rut. It can be difficult to feel inspired when you’re surrounded by the same mess and chaos and laundry piles that you were in all day. But just wait. Wait for the clock to strike and allow the magic to work. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to work all day, to feel the press and the rush to get home and get everything done for the day, then everything prepped for the next, in a span of a few hours. The temptation to fall fast asleep and rest your brain must be overwhelming most nights. But sometimes, just sometimes, don’t give in. Stay up and do something for you. Transform. Be YOU. Not the employee, not the mom, but YOU. The unique you who existed long before the babies and the meetings and the appointments. Allow yourself to indulge in what brings you joy and dare to feel no guilt for it.

I admit to losing myself when I first became a mother. I won’t go into too much detail now, mostly because I’ve already gone on for so long, but also because I’m saving it for another blog, wink wink. But whatever the details, I was lost. Me, Jen, the goofy, movie-quoting, fashion-magazine-devouring, creative person had become a shell, a robot, someone only capable of carrying out tasks necessary for my baby. I didn’t recognize it at first. I didn’t know I wasn’t fulfilled, and if I had, I wouldn’t dare have voiced it for fear of being judged. But I remember the moment I realized something other than caring for my son was making me happy. I had taken photos of a family friend and was skipping through the house as they transferred onto the computer. Me. Skipping. I don’t do that NOW, and I’m sure it was just as ridiculous to see then, but something was awakening me, something had stirred a part of me I didn’t realize had gone stagnant. I was doing something creative, and I was loving it. Over the years, as with any relationship, my dance with motherhood has had highs and lows. Some days I crush it and some days it crushes me. Some days the monotony so consumes me that I forget what I’d want to do with free time, should I scrounge any up. On those days, on the really hard ones, when you’re so completely overwhelmed that you can’t see past the moment to come up with a hobby, just sit. You don’t have to create anything. You don’t have to cure cancer. You don’t have to have hoardes of fans or followers, customers, influence. But you DO have to take care of you, and just sitting can do it. Maybe that leads to reading a book you’ve been wanting to get to. Maybe that leads to getting an idea. Maybe that leads to you singing a song. Or maybe you just get to be with yourself for a little bit and catch your breath with no one to touch you, to ask of you. Your relationship with you began long before the one you have with your children, and it’s just as important to maintain it.

It can be really hard, having to wait to do what you want, to do what you’re passionate about. It can make you feel unimportant to have to put yourself on the back burner. It can make you feel guilty, to use precious and finite time doing something only for yourself. Find the time. Make the time. Heck, trade, barter, or steal the time. Cinderella had only one night and it was enough to change her. She had a pretty rough day the next day, too, and still it was worth it. You’ve spent so long being the unappreciated attendant and all you want is the chance to have a night of magic… or maybe to get your hands covered in Mod Podge or sculpting clay. You don’t have a fairy godmother or glass slippers, but an adult coloring book could be just as transformative. Make your passions and hobbies a priority, make YOU a priority. Fight for who you are, not what you do. Wait for your moment, enjoy the quiet, and have a wonderful night with yourself. Don’t be a stranger. Be Cinderella. Isn’t that what we wanted to grow up to be, anyway?

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The Miracle of Normal

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I know what you’re thinking. “Normal? What’s wonderful about normal? There’s nothing miraculous about being NORMAL.” And going by the definition of the word, you’re right. Normal, as we know it, means ordinary, expected. Movies and novels don’t usually revolve around the main characters rising from obscurity to become normal. In fact, most epic journeys begin with the desire to leave normalcy behind. Fairy tales end with happily ever after, not normally ever after. As a culture, we seek out extraordinary, amazing, sensational, exceptional, above and beyond even when it’s above and beyond our means or abilities. Go big or go home, they say. Stand out. A cut above. Be a big fish, capture the dream, shoot for the stars. Motivational posters don’t exist to encourage being normal, and we sure as heck don’t share about what’s normal on social media. Normal, as we know it, is overlooked, even sometimes embarrassing. No one wants to be normal – they all want to be anything but. In our quest for glory we ignore the very marvel that is NORMAL. We think that being normal means being less than, slower than, uglier than, poorer than.

My first pregnancy was not great. I mean, pregnancy itself is a generally hard experience, but my first was pretty bad. High blood pressure, bed rest, fetal monitoring multiple times a week, an IUGR diagnosis and a premature delivery via emergency C-section. We almost lost our baby and then had to leave him in the NICU for weeks. The circumstances surrounding him being born alive and healthy were nothing short of miraculous, and God really got to prove Himself. But as I found myself pregnant for the second time, I prayed differently. Though I knew God to be a God of miracles, of wonder, capable of anything and always holding me in His hand, I prayed for normal. I prayed for a normal pregnancy, a normal delivery, a normal baby. And when my uneventful pregnancy came to an end with an uneventful delivery and a normal baby with nothing extraordinary to share or anything standing out as apart from the norm, I praised God. Because God is as much in the normal as He is in the miraculous. Because sometimes, normal IS miraculous.

When the test results come back normal.

When the child develops normally.

When the baby is delivered normally.

When recovery goes normally.

When a day goes normally.

When a relationship progresses normally.

When you can eat a normal meal.

When you live in a normal house, in a normal city, surrounded by normal people.

Just ask a bride on her wedding day what a blessing it is for everything to go normally.

Because there are so many other ways it could go that aren’t “normal”. Because normal really means OKAY. It means that what’s expected is what’s in front of you. It means your head is above water and you’re making it. The relief that we experience when we share a struggle and are told it’s normal is marked. I remember very clearly a post I read on Facebook long ago. I was scrolling through, no doubt seeking an escape from the frustrations of being a mom, when I saw a post from a friend, a fellow mom: “What do the parents of normally-developing kids have to complain about?” At first it offended me a little, I’ll be honest. Because someone else’s struggle doesn’t negate my own, because it’s still hard to be a mom no matter what. But then I thought about it, and felt so ashamed and humbled by how right she was. What was I complaining about, really, while she awaited a diagnosis, an answer, any help she could find for her son who was not developing as expected, who wasn’t reaching milestones at the same time as his peers? What was really so bad about my kids being normal, high-energy, needy, rowdy, messy, hungry kids? Nothing. They were miraculously normal, they were okay. I wasn’t watching and hoping and praying for normal, because I’d failed to see how incredible normal actually is.

MANY years ago a guest speaker came to the church my husband and I were on staff at. He spoke of bold faith and big moves, and how God had blessed him in return for each of them. Passion like his is always a bit hard for me, the person who stinks at faith most times, the control freak who likes to have a hoard of canned goods and conditioner just in case. My husband came to me during the altar call of the service and told me he felt like God was prompting him to give $500 to this man’s ministry. My breath caught and my shoulders tensed. We had just, for the very first time, received a tax return (having a kid paid off!), and now had about $512 in the bank. This was new for my little hand-to-mouth family, to have such a cushy amount available. I loved knowing it was there, that bills would be paid, that I could go to the store and buy groceries for more than a few days at a time, that I could get the good toilet paper. That money meant security to me, and now my beloved wanted to give it away. We’d be right back to where we’d always been, struggling, waiting for the next paycheck, and terrified of an unexpected expense. But who was I to tell my husband what he had heard from God? Maybe God would see how much it meant for us to give that $500 and would bless us exponentially in return. I could do a lot more with $5000 than $500, right? So he wrote the check and we went on with our lives. The thing is, though, God isn’t a stock fund. He’s not something you invest in with hopes of high returns, he’s GOD. He doesn’t owe me anything and nothing I have is really mine, anyways. So you guessed it – nothing happened. No surprise checks arrived in the mail. No strangers bought our groceries in line while I was doing last-minute math to make sure we had enough to purchase them. No jewels fell from Heaven and no fish jumped out at me with coins in their mouths. We went about our lives, and I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t until years later that I realized we’d been living in the miraculous the whole time. Life went on. My husband and I, early twenties, one job, a baby, a crazy commute, a mortgage, bills, food…. we still made it. We were able to give $500 to the Kingdom and we never missed a meal. It was scary a few times, but we still made it. A young couple struggling to make ends’ meet gave FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS and still survived. Heck, we made it to where I can buy the good toilet paper if I want almost anytime I go grocery shopping (and I do). This wasn’t amazing because God did something huge when we gave $500, it was amazing because life was NORMAL after we did it. We could easily have been hit with an illness, an accident, an allergy, a ticket… anything to throw us off and keep us from being able to pay what we owed. But we weren’t. We lived life normally, and it is nothing short of miraculous.

I encourage you, friend, when you feel like your head is barely above the water, when you feel like you’re only treading water and never getting anywhere, when you feel like you just cannot get ahead… praise Him for that. Because you could go under. You could be knocked down by a wave. You may be exhausted, but you are STILL GOING. God is not a bank account to be drawn upon and there is no promise that we won’t struggle. If you’re not seeing progress, praise Him anyway. If you’re not seeing your bank account swell no matter how hard you work, praise Him anyway. If your bills are always being paid just a little late, praise Him anyway. If your child didn’t make the team they wanted or get into the school you had your heart set on, praise Him anyway. Because He’s as much God in the moments of fatigue and frustration and disappointment as He is in the moments of triumph and excitement and success. Just as the wind doesn’t have to blow for you to know it can make waves, God doesn’t have to be extravagant in His blessings to show His goodness. Can He do it? Yes. Is He any less good when He doesn’t? Of course not.

Jesus walked the earth for 33 years, yet most of what we know of His time here is limited to the last three, the time of His ministry. Does only knowing about 10% of His life make Him any less God? Jesus was just as miraculous, destined, and mighty in the 30 years we know little of as He was during the few years of His public ministry. There is still as much wonder and miraculous in the normal as there was in the wonder and miraculous of what made the Bible. As Jesus walked to the well as a teenager, as He endured taunts for being born to an unwed mother, as He went through puberty, washed dirt from His feet, was tempted, was hungry, through it all he was STILL JESUS. The purpose God had for Him and the work He would do was still going to change the world, still had eternal implications, no matter how normal those years were. God was still doing a mighty thing. Isaiah 53:2 even tells us that the Son of God “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” Jesus looked NORMAL, ya’ll. Being born in a barn, parents being judged, looking just like everyone around him… none of that disqualified Him from being miraculous. His normalcy did not mean God was not still at work.

I’ll even go a step further and say that the cross was nothing special. It was constructed, roughly at that, of wood. Just normal wood, placed between two thieves, held together with normal nails. No jewels adorned it, no gold around it, just wood and nails. Yet just as He did with a normal lunch of bread and fish, Jesus took the common and ordinary, the normal, and did something miraculous. He took wood and nails and forever changed the relationship between God and man. Because in the hands of God, nothing is normal. Nothing is ordinary. We view our circumstances much differently in the eye of the storm than He does in the palm of His hand.

I want to encourage you, friend, that you are in the middle of the miraculous. When each day feels monotonous, when you haven’t seen a miracle, when the phenomenal seems far, you are in the midst of God’s goodness. When you feel discouraged that you haven’t seen a break in the trees yet, you are still on a path and God is as good and wondrous and loving as He will be when you get out of the forest. If your rescue, your healing, your provision hasn’t come yet, if your child isn’t developing how you expected, if your bills are more than expected, if your job seems to be drowning you or your relationship seems to be dying, you are still living smack dab in the middle of a miracle. Praise Him for where you are, be thankful for what IS there, and He will prove Himself time and again to be in control, even if you don’t realize until later that the unwanted path He’s been steering you along is the one you’ve always needed. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Boredom is not the absence of God, nor is struggle. At the risk of sounding cliché, you may never see your name in the Guinness Book of World Records, but you can be assured through your relationship with Jesus Christ that you’ll see your name in the Book of Life, and there is nothing common, ordinary, or normal about that.

I Just Want to Just

It’s been a hard day.

It’s been a hard week.

I’m texting with a friend who’s been having a hard month.

We both have kids who, for different reasons, have special needs, and it is EXHAUSTING. Don’t get me wrong, any parenting of any child is exhausting. But there is a different kind of fatigue I’ve come to know since I was introduced to the “norm” my children don’t fit into. It’s an ongoing fatigue, with no promise of anything ever getting easier. Today was difficult, and tomorrow likely will be, too. Today I worked my butt off to maintain a sense or normalcy or to meet my child’s unique needs, and it will do little to affect tomorrow, so I have to do it again. And again. I can never just…. JUST. I can’t just drive through a fast food restaurant and feed my children anything from the menu. I can’t just send my child to school and expect the day to go well. I can’t just take my child anywhere and expect it to be uneventful. I can’t just watch a kid’s movie with any deaths or sad moments (so scratch every single Disney movie ever). I can’t just watch Shark Week. I can’t just Google an answer and have the question be finished.  I can’t just eat at any place in the city, can’t just accept offers of casseroles when I’m ill, can’t just enroll my child in school or watch him play soccer or introduce him to someone new or go anywhere without needing a bag for an EpiPen and Benadryl. And with the limitless access we have to blogs, and the freedom we have to write them, we’re given the unique opportunity to get a peak into the lives of other families that may not look like ours… or to feel understood by families who look very similar. I’m not alone. WE’RE not alone. There are many, many parents who, despite their beliefs or location or socioeconomic standing, all want one thing.

Parents of kids with allergies. Parents of medically fragile kids. Parents of premature babies. Parents of kids fighting cancer. Parents of kids with autism. Parents of kids struggling with their identity. Parents of kids with emotional disturbances. Genetic disorders. Mitochondrial disorders. Eating disorders. Sensory processing disorders. Mood disorders. Attention deficit disorders. Kids with IEPs. Kids with diabetes. Kids with developmental delays. Kids who can’t travel anywhere without a piece of medical equipment attached. Kids who can’t travel anywhere at all. Kids who fight authority and kids who will likely never live alone. Kids with below-average intelligence and kids with above-average intelligence. Kids who teachers don’t “get” and kids who doctors can’t help. Kids who get stared and parents who are judged.

Parents who are misunderstood. Parents who are exhausted. Parents who feel isolated. Parents who spend their free time on research and their savings on co pays. On weighted blankets. On medical strollers. On home healthcare nurses. On surgeries. On treatments. On medications. On conferences. On books. On organic ingredients. Parents who have cancelled plans more often than they’ve kept them. Parents whose schedules are mostly ruled by their kids’ needs. Parents who have hung their heads in the gaze of disapproving strangers. Parents who advocate and fight tooth and nail to keep their child from falling between the cracks. Parents who never imagined their life as it is now. Parents who just want to JUST.

Just want to eat at a Chinese or seafood restaurant. Just want to be able to leave the kids with a babysitter. Just want to spend a few dollars on something for themselves. Just want to see their friends more than they see doctors or therapists. Just want to be able to leave their child alone with their other children. Just want to walk through a store without bringing attention on themselves. Just want to enjoy their child’s laughter without the interruptions of medical equipment beeping. Just want to hear their child laugh at all. Just want to go through a day without fearing – or getting – a phone call from the school. Just want to fill out paperwork without needing extra room for all of the conditions or medications to be listed. Just want an answer so they HAVE a condition to list. Just want to be able to meet new people without having to explain anything. Just want to know that the school is meeting their child’s needs. Just want to not live in fear. Just want to dream and plan for the future. Just want to be able to attend birthday parties. Just want their kids to make friends. Just want their kids to see how amazing they are. Just want the rest of the world to see how special and loving and wonderful they are. Just want to know that it’s going to be okay.

All parents want some silence from time to time. All parents want to pee alone, go on a date, and have a healthy child. All parents want different versions of the same things. But some parents, just for a little bit, just want to JUST.

Yes, there are plenty of parents who struggle with situations “worse” than food allergies or high IQ. But that doesn’t make the very real difficulties of parenting kids like mine any easier. We’re grateful to know our kids, grateful to have been trusted enough to care for them, grateful for the access we have to modern medicine, alternative medicine, doctors and forums and blogs and therapists and support groups. But we’re tired. And sometimes we want to just JUST.

To the Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home

I normally do an internal eye roll at most of the open letter blogs I see. “An open letter the lady wearing a purple sweater who let me go in front of her at the bank”. Really? Just thank her to her face. If it meant a lot, tell her. No need to tell the entirety of the internets something that only applies to one, single person. There have been some great posts, so I certainly don’t feel this way about all of them, but let’s be real: a good portion of these “an open letter to…” blogs could have easily been titled “This Happened Today and Here’s How it Affected Me”.

Yet here I am, penning an open letter, because I know it’s to more than one, single person. I know there are many out there, most of whom are silenced by guilt, by fear of others’ reactions, by stereotypes and standards that are never actually realistic.

There are mothers who stay home with their children, doing “the most important work there is”, devoting their days to their daughters or themselves to their sons, and they are miserable.

You, mom who left a thrilling, challenging career. You, mom whose degree is as useful as a PeePee TeePee. You, mom who longs for adult interaction. You, mom who misses getting dressed up every day. You, mom who feels trapped in your own home. You, mom who wanted to love it, but staying home just is not what you thought it would be. You, mom with the difficult child. You, mom who feels like she doesn’t contribute to society. You, mom who feels overlooked. You, mom who is struggling to pay the bills because you gave up an income. You, mom, whose circumstances made the choice for you. You, mom who feels left behind by the world. You, mom who feels like she has nothing left to give. This is for you.

The very phrase “stay at home mom” implies that something else is going on without you. In order to stay home, someone else must go out. Coworkers, partners, clients… they all move on and go about their business and lives and learning and making and doing…. while you stay. Every day is painfully the same, like your own personal Groundhog Day, but with just enough change and unpredictability to make you feel like you’re never getting the hang of it. People are being promoted while you’re potty training.

We’re all fortunate to have the chance, the opportunity to know first-hand the kind of care our kids are receiving (which sometimes means we take full responsibility for too much iPad time). We know that not every mother or parent is able to have lunch with their child. We know that there are millions who say “Good morning” and then “Goodbye”, and we are humbled by this. But being grateful doesn’t always make it less hard. This is not meant to be entitled, we’re very aware that our position at home is not afforded to everyone. This does not dismiss our feelings, however.

This is also not an invitation, Mom Who Loves Staying Home, to shame or negate the feelings of the moms who don’t. Some women are incredible at it. We all know at least one, at least one HER, whose home is always clean, whose children are always dressed, who not only recognizes how important what she does is, but ENJOYS it. She’s calm, peaceful, instructive, stern without yelling, and apparently has 9 extra hours a day to cook, homeschool, take her kids on outings that don’t result in embarrassment and frustration, and teach them how to sew or dip candles from their own beeswax.

Very few are this mom.

I recently participated in a discussion with over a hundred women, many of whom gave up careers – or at least put them on hold – when they became mothers, and there was an overwhelming amount of admission that they are not fulfilled in their current role as a stay at home mom. Many felt like they were terrible SAHMs, that they never should have taken on the job. They were all plagued by loneliness, disappointment, shame, guilt, and constant feelings of inadequacy. They thought they’d be better at it, they thought they’d love it, they thought it would be different. But it turned out to be really freaking hard, and a hard job will get anyone down.

I’ve worked in retail, in restaurants, at a bank, at a job where I dug a ditch by hand and gave a miniature horse an enema. I completed two college degrees simultaneously in three years and maintained a 4.0 GPA. I’ve made boondoggle keychains with only inches of plastic lanyard. So I’ve done some tough stuff in my day, I’ve worked hard and I’ve seen the results. But when those projects or work days were over, I could walk away, go home. Now if I have a hard day, I’m still at work. When I go to bed, I’m still at work. When I get out of the house, take the kids to the library or the park, I’m still at work. During meals, showers, holidays and sick days… Stay at home moms are always at work. Always. The walls of home can begin to feel like the bars of a cell, the tiny people we care for our warden. We turn down lunch invitations because it interferes with naptime or the risk of a meltdown is too great. We cancel hair appointments because WE are our only childcare. Our prayer life suffers because the few moments of silence we get, we want to just breathe or read blogs. Sometimes we lose track of the days. Sometimes we stay in our pajamas for days on end. We get lonely. Really lonely. And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result, then we are slowly going mad.

Too often we see the Ideal Stay At Home Mom, usually on TV, and let it affect us. We feel inferior, feel like failures. We see clean, open floor space on Fisher Price commercials and women sweeping fully dressed on Swiffer commercials. Moms who slowly and lovingly apply lotion to their smiling, accommodating baby on a perfectly-made bed. Snapshots on Instagram or Facebook of the only moment someone was able to get all the kids herded and smiling during their trip to the pet store. We see these images, then see what we are not. We try to speak up about how hard it is, and we’re met with “I wish I could stay home.” We’re told to keep a plate in the corporate fire or else society will move on and forget us. We’re left feeling drained, left behind, inadequate and messy. Our doubts often silence us and our shame keeps us lonely.

But guess what, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home – YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Not every mom feels this way, but a lot do. Thousands. The other moms you see at the grocery store in the middle of the day, fighting their toddler from tossing in everything they can reach? They’re probably having a hard time, too. The moms who homeschool? They’re probably exhausted, too. Not every job is perfect for every person, not because anything is wrong with the person. I’m a night owl who recharges from alone time and hates Minecraft. Does this mean I’m a bad mom? No! It means I have a harder time with some of the aspects of staying home with early-rising, Minecraft-loving shadows.  And I’m not the only one. You are not the only mother who is having these doubts and thoughts and longings for alone time and silence. Do not allow that idea to knock you down and shame you. Know that you’re part of a universal network of women who are struggling, who lose their tempers, who don’t derive all their joy from playing with Little People princesses for 9 hours straight.

You also can’t allow staying home to become your identity. I became a stay-at-home-mom at the ripe age of 21, a few months after graduating from college. That first year was the hardest I’ve ever been through. I had no idea who I was anymore. I went to Sears and bought elastic-waist khaki capris, t-shirts embroidered with flowers, and polos. I cut my long hair to my shoulders, I subscribed to Parents magazine, and I thought every day had to have a craft…. for a 6-month-old. I wasn’t me, I was pretending to be who I thought I had to be. But because I’m not a khaki-capri-wearing person, I was failing, floundering. I didn’t have any friends who stayed home, mostly because my friends I already had were still in college and definitely not having kids, but also because it was painfully obvious I didn’t fit in. I never wore my beloved heels, I only watched PBS Kids… I had forgotten to do what I’d loved before my precious firstborn came along.  Hobbies, nights out with the girls, internet friends…. anything we can do to stay connected to the outside world JUST FOR US is crucial. You may stay home, but you’re still valuable, you still have plenty to offer, and you still deserve new lipstick. You are still a wife, a partner, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and an all-around gem.

Despite what online comments hint at, you are not lazy and ungrateful. You’re exhausted. You’re drained. You’re putting everything you have into a job that doesn’t offer much in the form of immediate returns. You’re isolated. You’re broke. You’re in your pajamas at 3 in the afternoon. You’re always on call, never on break. You’re HUMAN. To never get tired while doing this job would require robotics… and even those would most likely get worn down or short-circuited by juice or pee spills.

Admitting you’re having a hard time does NOT make you a bad mom. If anything, you’re better for recognizing your limitations and being in tune with your needs and emotional state. No one loves doing the same thing, all day, every day, day after day. Prisoners are tortured by listening to music from kids’ shows on repeat. Seriously. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) that you break every now and then. It says nothing about your parenting abilities or love for your child(ren) if you’re in tears before 10AM. Fatigue is not the absence of love, it’s the absence of REST.  It’s okay to not love staying home. It’s okay to not find your identity in it. It’s okay to be honest about your feelings. It’s okay to be tired, frustrated, and even sometimes annoyed. Even if you made the person you’re at home with, you’re still individuals with different personalities, and they’re not going to always compliment each other. Not because anything is wrong with you, not because you’re momming wrong, but because you’re PEOPLE. Every single youth camp ever, by the 3rd and 4th day, arguments start happening. People start getting tired, they’ve spent too much time together, personalities clash, expectations aren’t met, and emotions are high. Wearing the Having-the-Time-of-My-Life mask gets tiring and true personalities begin to emerge. That’s just 4 days into camp. I’m almost 11 YEARS into being a stay-at-home mom. Trying to be someone you’re not, being surrounded by different people all day, always being needed… it gets tiring. Not because anything is wrong with me, not because I’m a bad mom, not because I love my kids less than anyone else, but because it’s a hard freaking thing to do.

Your kids don’t make you dislike staying home. It’s not your kids’ fault. Your kids are not worse than Mom Who Loves Staying Home’s kids. I know moms with kids wildly different from mine who are having a hard time staying home, and moms of kids who are a handful who have an absolute blast every day. Just as it’s not a baby’s fault when they cry, it’s not the kids’ fault that this is hard. Kids have needs, we can’t hold that against them. They need to learn things and we’re the only ones there to teach them. Kids argue, want snacks, get picky at mealtimes, need to be wiped, play loudly, and make messes. They worship us and want to be near us. They didn’t know life before us and didn’t give up anything to hang out all day with us, so we are their constant. We are their safe place. It’s not their fault, they’re not doing anything wrong by needing us. You didn’t go wrong somewhere. The JOB is what makes it hard. Remember that when it’s been a hard day, the kids are crying and fighting, you have a headache, everyone is hungry and you have to pee. Remember that when you’re cleaning up any number of bodily fluids. Remember that when they break YET ANOTHER picture frame. It’s not their fault this is hard. Don’t allow that resentment towards them to fester. We are humbly at home FOR them, and they need us. For better or worse.

Speaking of for better or worse, remember your husband, your partner, your other half? Hard days at work can sometimes cause some strain there. You’re exhausted and need to sit in silence for a little bit, and he’s missed you all day and wants to talk. You’re touched out and he wants to make out. You’re unhappy at home and he’s working hard to keep you there. A lot of the time it can feel like you’re in two different places, and sometimes you just are. It’s easy to resent him when he goes to lunches, leaves the house, enjoys a quiet car ride, and the kids behave better for him. But those things aren’t his fault. Keep in mind that as different as your days are from how they used to be, his remain largely the same. When you stayed home, he went back to work, to the same job at the same company in the same car with the same schedule. Coming home to a wife in a different role with a different energy level and different needs is going to be jarring, and will take a lot of time to get used to. It may take a really, really long time for him to begin to understand that you can’t just go to restaurants, you can’t just keep the house clean, and you don’t just sit all day watching soaps. Remember that his day is largely the same as before, and it will take time for you to both adjust to where you are now. Statistically, marital satisfaction is at its lowest when there are young children at home. It’s going to be hard on your relationship, and this is NORMAL. Remember that you’re on the same team, and hard days don’t mean you’re doing a bad job.

Remember that joke about sleeping while the baby sleeps, how everyone was trolling you when they told you that the dishes could wait because babies don’t keep? Ignore it a little. Just a little. Enough to do something for YOU. When I first became a stay at home mom, social media was in its infancy. I was lonely. I floundered for months until I found photography, which I credit with saving my sanity. It gave me something to do that I loved, that had an obvious result, something to stretch my creative muscles. With my third, I discovered online forums, specifically ones dedicated to women due the same month as myself. We swapped advice, birth stories, shared in the excitement and disappointment of the big gender sonograms… it was a circle of friends I never had to leave the house to hang out with. While we all can’t always afford a pedicure or a trip to Sephora, a new shirt, a road trip, or a date night, we can access Facebook groups. You can escape for a little while and laugh with other people without the hassle of putting on a bra. I have made legitimate, meaningful friendships with incredible women I never would have met without the internet. I play with makeup, because I like to. I watch Friends over and over, because I like to. I pull out my glue gun, I drink a Pepsi, I get something at the thrift store that I can make over, I just find SOMETHING that is for me only. It recharges me, breaks up the monotony, and unlike my lunch or my bed or the remote or my uterus, I don’t have to share it. Find something for you. If you have to let the kids watch Caillou to buy you some time with a magazine, do it. Just as you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask first on a plane, take care of you, momma, or there won’t be any momma left to take care of everyone else.

The best advice I ever received was from That Mom, who told me that the days are long but the years are short. I cried HARD when she said this to me. Not every day is a winner. Some days all we’ve done is survive. Some days I go to bed in tears, some days I’m up late giggling with the kids. The days are as varied as their personalities, and thankfully we do NOT have to do all of our parenting in one day. We’ll mess up, and we’ll get another shot. You won’t always be wiping someone. Some day you’ll go from talking about Santa to talking about sex. You’ll trade in your audience in the bathroom for a closed door. I cried when my firstborn started holding his own bottle, because there was something he didn’t need me for, and today there is so much more that he can do without me. I can be sad about this, but I can also be proud to know that he can do these things because of what I taught him. The Karate Kid didn’t know that the seemingly menial tasks he’d been repeating were preparing him for something bigger, and we don’t always realize that what we’re doing, saying, teaching at home is laying the foundation for an adult who can change the world. So we’re basically like ninjas, and that’s always cool. You won’t always be where you are now, no matter how many times you’ve repeated yourself or cleaned the same mess. Our kids will grow, their needs will change, and our influence will take shape.

There is no shame in changing jobs. Sometimes, for the sake of everyone, you just need to call it what it is and look for work outside the home. This is not quitting. This is not failing. This is not running away from your kids. This is shifting what you provide for them to an area you are more equipped or comfortable with. No matter what, being a mom is hard. No matter what, you will sacrifice and work hard. Find your gifts and offer them to your family without any ounce of shame at what it is you have to give or what you think you should have. Be proud of what you do for your family, no matter where you do it from.

You, Mom Who Doesn’t Love Staying Home, you are strong. You are ABLE. You are a good mother who loves her kids and sacrifices just about everything for them. You are making it. You, who feels so unappreciated. You, who feels trapped. You, who is overwhelmed. You, who is tired. You, who is lonely. You, who is grieving the mom you thought you’d be. You are not failing. You are normal, human, tired, giving, teaching, and caring. You’re a ninja, a safe place, and a vital part of your children’s lives. You are important. You are valuable. You are seen and you are remembered. You are working really freaking hard, and you will not always be where you are right now.

 

 

 

*** Please know that I am writing this from my own unique perspective and experience. I know that there are many stay at home dads out there, and I am not dismissing their sacrifice or hard work, but I can’t pretend to know what their position may be like. I am not intending to leave anyone out, only offer encouragement to those who may be in a place I can empathize with. I love my kids and this is not a popular feeling to share, so be kind.

Don’t Live Life in the Shallow End

Last weekend my loud little family and I were swimming at my parents’ house. It was a great day, full of splashing, grilling, laughing, and the inevitable anxiety that comes with having 3 kids in the pool at once. My 7-year-old had come a long way over the summer and was swimming like a splashy, awkward fish, so we’d been playing a game where I’d toss a stone into the pool and he’d swim down to retrieve it. I played this all summer long as a kid myself – though, being an only child, the high-fives when I swam up triumphantly were pretty bizarre. He was so excited, you could see his smile through the water before he ever broke the surface. But then I got a little too excited and did the unthinkable: I tossed the stone into the deep end. We all encouraged him and stayed close as he tried, and tried, and tried, then tried some more, but it just wasn’t happening this time. He would stand at the edge of the pool, close his eyes, and pray each time before he threw himself into water almost twice as deep as he is tall. He’d done it before, and having inherited his mother’s stubbornness, he was not willing to give up without trying. And trying. Then trying a few dozen more times.

After more than half an hour, it was just him and I in the deep end. Everyone else had gone on to play and splash, cheering him on from afar. I decided to sneak over and see if I could use my feet to scoot the stone to a friendlier depth, since the water was just a few inches over my own head. But I did not go unnoticed.

“Mommy, can you get it?”

I took swimming lessons as a child, and practically grew gills from all of the time I spent in the water. The Little Mermaid was my favorite movie (WAS?), and I would cross my ankles and pretended my feet were the fins at the end of my glorious mermaid tail. I am a certified SCUBA diver, for goodness sakes! Yet this small task had me frozen. You see, ever since I became a mother almost 9 years ago, I haven’t been swimming. I’d been in the pool, sure, lakes, even the ocean. But I hadn’t been swimming. Head-under-water, hold-your-breath, nothing-beneath-your-feet swimming. Without knowing it, I’d parked myself in the shallow end, holding babies and toddlers, observing eager boys, barking out orders about splashing. I’d hold onto them, show them how to kick behind their bodies, correct their arms, cheer them on, toss them, tickle them, and teach them, but I hadn’t been SWIMMING with them. Of course, there were times when this was absolutely necessary, and I don’t regret the watchful eye I kept over my little tadpoles as they turned into frogs… or some other aquatic animal that’s maybe not so gross. But here I was, a 30-year-old woman with years of swimming experience, and I was pausing before diving.

Part of it – okay most of it – was that I was embarrassed. I didn’t want everyone else to see me go under, for fear that I’d thrash and flail like my kids when they were beginning to swim. I didn’t want to head towards the bottom of the pool, only to come up empty-handed. I didn’t know what I’d look like, didn’t know if I’d fail, didn’t know if my ears would pop or my eyes would burn or my nose would sting. It had been nearly a decade since I’d felt the weightlessness of water, and I was feeling it.

There’s really no way to describe it eloquently, it was over so quickly. I took a breath, dove down, got the rock and popped back up. No biggie. But I did it. People saw me do it, too. And it was no big deal. Well, apart from the mascara streaming down my face and the water that just WOULD NOT stop being in my nose. A minute later, I did it again. I’m sure I didn’t look like Ariel, but I made it to the bottom and back up, and the day went on.

This all seems like a strange story to share, I’m sure. And until I felt God speak to me, the moment would have passed as if it were no different than trying a new food or hearing an old song I liked on the radio. But as I was back in the shallow end, watching the little one jump up and down in three inches of water, I felt the Lord speak to me about how significant it had been. How many other areas of my life had I spent hanging out in the shallow end since becoming a mother?

How many hobbies had I let fall aside? How many opportunities had I passed up? How much of myself had I lost in assuming the identity of a mother? How long had I allowed my relationship with God to consist of me just treading water – or even just calling out and keeping watch from the shallow end as I guided those going deeper than myself? I get it, we’re busy. We’re tired. We’re stretched and pulled and needed and wanted, and we give so much of ourselves to our children that it feels like there isn’t time or energy or money to do anything for ourselves, and a lot of times there isn’t. Friendships can fizzle and pastimes become the past as we devote our lives to raising our kids. When I was preparing to graduate college over nine years ago, I had grand plans, great ideas about my future and bubbling excitement about what I’d do with my hard-earned degree. I was going to devote my life to helping others, I’d dress up for work and have an office where I’d hang my counseling degree, I’d make a DIFFERENCE. Then I saw two lines on a test I took on a whim, and all of those plans dissipated like smoke. My future no longer belonged to just my husband and I. On that morning in March, the same day I was to have my exit interview for graduation, everything changed. I waded to the shallow end.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t take my calling as mother lightly. This work we moms do is invaluable, influential,  immeasurable, and infinite. I wouldn’t give a thing to change the years I’ve had with my children, and I know that it will impact generations beyond just my own. But in that hard work, in the gravity of the work I’ve been doing, I stayed in the shallow end. I let fatigue keep me from hobbies, let stress keep me from relationships.

If you haven’t heard the song Oceans by Hillsong United, do yourself a favor and go download it. Right now. It’s an incredible worship song, and I absolutely love it, but there are parts of the song that make me uncomfortable to sing. “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger.” Um, can we just hang out over here where it’s safe? Where I can feel solid ground beneath my feet and know that a wave won’t take me down? Where I can breathe as I wish and not take the risk of running out of air? It’s an incredibly perplexing predicament that motherhood puts us in, simultaneously proving God’s goodness in His ability to create life and planting almost crippling anxiety in us at once. I have never been more scared than I am as a mother. Diseases, accidents, bridges, water, fire, side effects, allergies, predators, bills, tornadoes, floods, snakes, spiders, famine, war, inappropriate commercials, Caillou – there’s just so much to be afraid of for our babies. So we devote ourselves to remaining watchful, ever vigilant, observing from the shallow end. We are EXHAUSTED. To our bones. Sickness, nightmares, potty training, school, sports, practices, activities, play dates, doctor appointments, homework, projects, cooking, cleaning, folding, hanging, refereeing, soothing, reprimanding, teaching, guiding, Minecraft – everything takes so much from us and leaves us with nothing left, resting in the shallow end. Personally, I’ve been focused on being a mom for so long that I feel embarrassed and timid about trying to be anything else. Would I still be relevant if I tried to get an interview somewhere? Can I still relate to other people? What WILL I do with myself once the kids are old enough to not need me here? Heck, what will I do with myself once they’re all in school and the house is empty and quiet, devoid of fights to be broken up, books to be read, and dolls to be played with? I’ve reached the age where I watch shows that have been off the air for 10 years and listen to music that I first purchased on a cassette tape. Is there a place for me in this world, or is my time up? What will I look like if I try? What will people think if I fail? What can I possibly have to offer apart from being a mom? So I stay in the shallow end, where I know my place, where I can do my job. The problem with the shallow end is that eventually, everyone outgrows it. Two out of three of my little ones are now in the deep end, and the day will come when the littlest one takes her first brave journey into water she can’t touch bottom in. I can’t stay in the shallow end, more than anything, because that’s not where my Savior is. He’s walking on the deep end, calming the waves, inviting me to trust Him, to join Him.

I urge you, fellow mommies, daddies, friends – don’t stay in the shallow end. There’s a time and a place for it, yes, but don’t forget what it feels like to be completely submerged. Don’t be so nervous and tired that you miss the opportunity to experience the weightlessness of having nothing beneath you, especially when the weight of the world is upon you. The deep end is scary sometimes, it’s more work, it’s a little unknown, you have to hold your breath and you can’t see what’s going on above you – but you can’t have much fun in the shallow end, at least not for very long. Let’s vow to dive in, to find what we loved and forgot, to kick our feet and ruin our hair and find ourselves again.  Let’s give faith a chance. Let’s allow God to carry us. Let’s find something we like to do – and do it. Let’s stop being so scared of being someone else that we forget who we actually are. Because the whole time I was underwater, I was still Mom, just much, much better.

Raising the Difficult Child – Consider the Dandelions

I wrote a concise little blog on this topic a few months back, but now I really feel like I can go a little deeper into the issue. I am no parenting expert, nor do I believe there is only one, specific, unwavering way to raise children. But I DO have a difficult child, and am learning quite a bit in the process of raising – and loving – him. I’m not naming names, but let’s just say it’s not the oldest one, and it’s not the youngest one. I’ll leave it up to your imagination. He has always been difficult. I remember our pediatrician trying to tell me in between my desperate sobs that some babies just don’t need as much sleep. He rarely napped and didn’t sleep very long. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who slept 14 hours straight at night and took 2-hour naps. I remember the night he discovered he could escape from his crib, because he did it more than 30 times. That one, single night. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who climbed out once and was so sad to have been in trouble for it that he never did it again. I remember the first time I punished him and he laughed at me. This was particularly frustrating when I compared him to my firstborn, who is so sad to have disappointed me that I rarely have to punish him. This difficult child of mine (who shall remain unnamed, remember, you’re still guessing at who it could possibly be) is stubborn, willful, volatile at times. He is easily angered, easily frustrated, and easily entertained by acting on any impulse he has. Covered in scars and dripping with swagger, he is unmoved by the concept of cause and effect. I’ve said it before that he knows about gravity, he just doesn’t care. He climbs walls, he leaps from furniture, he talks back, he gets into trouble at school, and he is extremely difficult to parent. This is particularly frustrating when I compare him to my firstborn, who is compliant, people-pleasing, a teacher’s pet, and pretty easy to parent. You can probably guess what the first thing is that I’ve learned in my journey of parenting a difficult child: you can’t compare. Comparison is the thief of joy. In parenting ANY child, comparison will only leave you frustrated and doubting yourself. One of the best days I’ve had as a mother was when the lightbulb went off, when it clicked that my two boys are different people. The more I compared the unnamed mystery wild child to the older, tiny-adult-like child, the more I was setting us both up to fail. He will never be his older brother, and that is a GOOD thing. He is unique. I don’t need two of the same kid. God spent a lot of time making him, with intention, and it was high time I started appreciating him for who he was, rather than getting frustrated at who he wasn’t. Milestones, demeanors, and reactions are as varied as likes, dislikes, and fingerprints between two same-gender siblings from the same gene pool. Wild.

Another thing I’ve learned while parenting my difficult child is that it sucks. This echoes my sentiments from the previous blog, yes, but allow me to elaborate: it really sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s EMBARRASSING. It’s isolating. I cannot tell you, dear reader, how many books and blogs and journals and wise sages I’ve sought in my attempts to tame the unruly beast, all spanning different belief systems, based on different foundations, and implemented in different ways. But the one common thread is consistency. Be consistent. If it was against the rules yesterday, it has to be against the rules today, no matter how tired you are. But oh, Lord, how tired we are. How truly, bone-achingly exhausted, drained, depleted, worn we are. Every single incident, every single day, in the hopes that it will someday *click* and he’ll get it. It can make a mommy numb. It can make a mommy dejected, make her feel hopeless. Afraid to leave him with a sitter because his behavior is embarrassing, afraid to go to the splash pad because he may act up, it leaves a mommy feeling alone. Tears over what’s happening and fears over what’s to come, parenting a difficult child is, well, difficult.

The final, most important, most incredibly hard thing to grasp that I’ve learned while parenting this difficult middle child of mine (don’t act surprised, you knew it was him all along) is that it is not my fault. No argument that was ever presented to me in college has ever made me think more about nature vs. nurture than raising a strong-willed child. Sure, there are kids who act a fool because of their parents’ foolish ways, but having this handful has given me a new, more sympathetic perspective. Not every kid who talks back or doesn’t listen or has a moment is the result of bad parenting. The mom you’re judging is likely nearing dehydration from all the exasperated tears she’s cried. We know our kids are rough, it’s not something that escapes a parents’ attention.  Not every difficult child “needs to be set straight”. How do I know this? Because I’m a good mom, dangit. I know I am. I do everything I’m “supposed” to and then some. He is loved, disciplined, fed well and put to bed on time. We engage and take an interest in him, he is physically active, intelligent, and socialized. And yet he acts like a real butthead sometimes. He will always have a consequence for his disobedience, yet he still chooses to disobey. This is particularly ENCOURAGING when I compare him to my firstborn, who is from the same gene pool, is of the same gender, and is raised in the same home with the same rules, love, and attention. Two wildly different fruits of the same tree prove to me that the roots aren’t to blame, it’s just how the fruits ARE. He just IS how he is. It is no fault of my own, it’s only up to me to adapt and learn what he needs and marry that with what is expected of him. And THAT is nearly as hard as not blaming myself for my child’s behavior. I’m a good mom. This is not a cop-out, it’s a revelation. The sooner we can let go of the guilt, the sooner we can address what REALLY is causing behaviors and deal with them with an appropriate amount of attention. It is not my fault. As I sit here, my face red and tear-stained, debating just giving him an iPad for a few minutes of peace, I notice a dandelion and feel God speak to me. Dandelions are weeds. Unsightly and dreaded by gardeners. They’re stubborn, unruly, and difficult to get rid of. The more you tug at them, the harder the fight, and the more likely you are to find more dandelions next week. Just like my difficult baby. He doesn’t fit into what would be considered ideal, pristine. No one WANTS dandelions, they just pop up. But consider them for a moment. Difficult, yes, but vibrant with color. They stand out instantly not because of our feelings towards dandelions, but because they are different, bright. Dandelions can provide healing and nourishment. They undergo marked transformations, and are the stuff of childhood wishes. They spread their seeds with the wind, quickly, and all too soon are gone. Just like our difficult babies. Stubborn, tough, and not “ideal”, but beautiful in their own way, quickly-growing, and valuable. My dandelion literally grows like a weed, but he is also incredibly intelligent, creative, talented, funny, thoughtful, and can be painfully sweet. I can compare him to roses, tulips, or lilies, and he will always fall short, because he is a dandelion. Or I can appreciate his vibrancy and his limited time with me and be happy I have a flower at all. What if we all saw our own dandelions not for the pain and hassle they cause, but for the wishes we can make upon them? Hang in there, you, me. We’re not alone, it’s okay to admit we’re struggling. Having a hard time doesn’t mean we love them any less, or that we’re not doing a good job. It just means our precious little ones act like buttheads sometimes

Planting Time

“It’s just a season.”
I hate this phrase. I hate it because it’s usually accompanying a really tough time, and the phrase, while meant to encourage the sufferer that their woes are temporary, often feels flippant, cliche, and dismissive of how horrible the trenches can be. Because in the middle of a season, it doesn’t feel like a season, it feels like forever.
But it’s true. Heck, it’s Biblical. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, in case you’re wondering.) It’s scientific, too. Strawberries aren’t meant to grow in winter, snow isn’t meant to fall in summer. There are seasons for sowing, seasons for reaping. There are seasons for enjoying the spoils of a season spent working, and seasons for huddling and weathering the storms. Seasons where everything is in bloom and seasons where everything appears frozen and dead.
Seasons do not appeal to me, for the most part. I don’t like change. I like control, and I can’t persuade a season to stay, or to stay away. The beginning of every season is exciting, a new start, a change in perspective. Fall boots and Starbucks! Pedicures and ice cream trucks! CHRISTMAS!!! There’s always something to look forward to when a season changes. But then the allergies kick in, or isolation sets in. We’ve been cold and shut up inside with short, dark days or sweating for weeks during the never-ending summer days. Seasons always last just a little longer than we’d like them to. And with “seasonal” fruits and vegetables being grown and manipulated to be available year-round, indoor pools, and Peeps being sold during holidays other than Easter, the lines get blurred and we get bored. Quickly.
My season right now is one of planting. It’s a hard season. It requires lots and lots of work, time, attention, sacrifice, and sweat, with no indication of how the harvest will turn out, no taste of reward just yet. I have young children.
For a while I fought the season. We drug our children along with us and asked them to adapt to our schedules. We tried to plant during the wrong window. Since before we even began dating, I worked alongside my husband in ministry. If there was an event, I was there. If there was a girl in tears, I was ready. We stayed up late getting our calendars to look the same, dreaming up more ways to reach our students and spend time with them. I started wearing down, but there was no way I was going to admit I couldn’t do it all. I tried. Hard. I fought tired, hungry kids and schedules that were happy to eat me alive without a blink. I tried to be available to everyone, all the time. I scoured the internet for advice on being a ministry partner and a mother, I asked every pastor’s wife I knew, I cried, I begged, and I darn near collapsed every time I heard “It’s just a season.” I remember the disappointment, the near grief I felt when I thought I’d found a book that would give me the answers, only to discover upon reading it that nannies and babysitters were what made motherhood and ministry possible. I want to raise my children the way that God seems to think I can, the way He called me to. It was time to recognize that I couldn’t serve everyone else’s families while I served my own in such an important capacity. It was time to accept my season.
My calendar began to gradually look different from my husband’s. It’s still strange to me that there are new students who I don’t know, events that I don’t attend, sermon series that I don’t hear. Every now and then, someone will make a comment about my not being there, and it hurts, but I know I’ve made the right decision. I simply can’t do it all. And if I miss this season of planting with my children, I will not see the harvest in the next. God has called me to ministry, I just had no idea that ministry would be at home, and that three children could take up more energy than 100.
The best part about seasons, despite the fact that I can’t control them, rush them, or pick and choose what can be accomplished in them, is that they’re not permanent. We don’t live in the south pole. With babysitters not being an option, I can’t go to the movies right now. I can’t attend 99% of the things I’d like to. I can’t be by my husband’s side in ministry (although I’m learning that behind him in ministry is just as important). I have to turn down invitations and opportunities, friends and family. If a kid is sick, I stay up and stay home. It can often feel like a winter season, where nothing much changes, where I live in near isolation. But I am planting, planting, planting. Working the soil (complete with fertilizer, since one is still in diapers!). Learning how much water each one needs, giving each one the right amount of sun, nurturing growth, taking setbacks personally. I am a child gardener, throwing myself into the task of growing healthy, prosperous people. No matter how long this season lasts, it absolutely will not be forever, and will likely be over before I feel like I’ve had the chance to do my best.
Ministry or not, mother or not, we’re all in seasons. And we’re all in different seasons at different times. It can get really depressing really quickly to compare my sowing season to another’s reaping time. It can get really discouraging to try and live in a season other than my present one. Some days feel like they’ll never end, some days I even resent this season. But it won’t last. None of this life is permanent. Seasons come and go, seeds are planted and seeds grow. Harvest, winter, planting, growing… it’s all one big, ever-changing cycle that will continue whether we want it to or not. The sooner we (I) embrace our (my) season, the more effective we (I) can be in it. In the winter, we can rest and know that the sun is coming. In the harvest we can see the benefits of our hard work and understand how everything we did was so important. Dear friend, whether you are a parent, a single person, struggling or thriving, take heart and know this time will not last. There are plenty of other seasons ahead for you, and the change in season is not BECAUSE of you. The seasons change without regard for our feelings, but how often we allow the seasons to rule them. Embrace your season. Accept that it is only a season. Get the most out of your season. Know that each one prepares you for the next. Anticipate change even in the most monotonous of times. And if you don’t see me, it’s not because I didn’t want to be there. I just have a crop I’m tending to at home.

“Watch Me!”

 

lego

Words every parent has heard a thousand times. “Watch me!” Be it on the playground, at the swimming pool, or soaring from the top bunk, it’s in a child’s nature to want an audience of their biggest fans. My middle child – who is consequently already riddled with scars – is famous for crying out “Watch me fly!” while already midair. He did it once from a hospital bed in the ER, before we’d even seen the doctor about the stitches he needed from his most recent flight. “Watch me!”
I’ll be honest: I don’t always want to watch. “Do you want to watch me draw?” Not particularly. I’ve got two other kids and dinner and laundry and dishes and Facebook all calling my name, and I forgot to put deodorant on today. “Will you watch me build with my Legos?” Do I have to? There’s not much for me to do, just sit there and NOT look at my iPhone. “Watch me go across the monkey bars for the 8 billionth time!” Dude, I brought you to the park so you could play over there and I could sit, untouched, over here. I don’t say these things, of course. I watch. I’m not always excited to watch, but I try to just sit and watch. And when I watch, I love what I see.
Seeing and watching are two different things. Watching is just acknowledging what is happening in the moment right before you. Seeing is looking past the present and dreaming about how it will lead to the future. A spectator watches a gymnastics competition, a mother sees the next Olympic gold medalist. A spectator watches a child play with Legos, a mother sees an award-winning architect. A teacher watches a student give their first speech to the class, a mother sees the future president of the United States. Conversely, a spectator sees a child walking on their toes or not speaking very much, and a mother will see autism. We mothers, we parents, look at our children and apply these moments in a sweeping blanket to their entire future. It’s a blessing and a curse, when we let worry creep into our dreams, but no one can see the potential in a child like a parent.
What, then, does God see when He watches us? When we stumbled, when we failed, when we cowered in guilt and shame, did He not look at us and SEE the future, what He created us to be? Does He not smile knowingly when we exclaim in middle school that we could never be missionaries? What did His face look like when others looked at the small, unassuming baby born in a barn and turned their nose up at his circumstances? Didn’t Mary know when Jesus was a child, carrying on conversations in the temple, that one day His words would be preached from the same pulpit? The most powerful scene in all of The Passion, for me, is when Mary, mother of Jesus, is watching her son, battered, bleeding, and broken, stumble through the crowd and she flashes back to him falling as a young boy. God gives us the ability to see in our children, not to create a competitive edge, but to equip us to support, catch, encourage, and guide our children.
It is HARD to take three kids to swimming lessons. HARD. Especially when the lessons aren’t at the same time, or in the same pool, and you’ve got two kids to entertain (or keep from “flying” into the pool) while another one is learning. You want to celebrate each stroke while simultaneously zone out for the 30 minutes that someone else is entertaining your child. Every summer, my boys take swimming lessons, and every summer, I consider just buying them adult-sized life jackets because it’s so dang hard to juggle timing, snacks, boredom, a stroller, towels, goggles, wet carseats and WATCHING. But then I see something: my oldest son, built like a pool noodle, gliding through the water with speed and precision, reaching the edge before anyone else, kicking with power and intent. That’s right, my son is the next Michael Phelps. You laugh, but Michael Phelps’ own mother dragged three kids to swim lessons, Michael Phelps’ own mother saw her son take to water like a fish, and Michael Phelps’ own mother saw a future champion in the long-legged boy she was raising. At some point, Michael Phelps’ mother looked up from her word search (I’m guessing) and started SEEING her son’s talent.
David, in the Bible, was a big deal. He was king. He was wealthy. He was a mighty warrior and successful leader of armies. He got the ladies. From his lineage came Jesus Christ. David was a chosen man of God whose actions made history and influenced the world around him. Did anyone see that when he spent each day in the field, tending to sheep as a teenager? Did his mother know that when David sang idly in the fields, he was preparing his praises to become Psalms? Did his mother know that his slingshot, barely a toy in the hands of her young boy, would bring down giants and raise up a nation? When David came home and told tales of killing a lion and a bear with his hands, did his mother see that God was strengthening a soldier, a man who would kill his tens of thousands? When it came time to seek out a new king, no one even thought to present David as an option. This boy who spent his days singing, protecting flocks, playing with slingshots. This boy who was, while seemingly going about mundane tasks, being prepared to be a KING.
Our children have purposes. They were perfected in the womb. They have a future. Our children are fearfully and wonderfully made. They were made with intention, with a destiny that we could never dream up on our own. We do not get to decide their destiny (believe me, I wish I could!), but we are charged with the sobering responsibility to shape them in preparation for it. I can beg God all I want to not to call my oldest into ministry (it’s a tough life, yo), but that won’t change His plans for my boy, or His plans to change the world through my boy. I can want to shield and protect him from the world all I want, but that will only hinder what God wants to do through him. When he was about to start kindergarten in – gasp! – public school, I was sobbing, as any mommy would. I was terrified, I was sad. I cried out to God “Lord, he’s about to go out into the WORLD!” And God, clear as day, said to me, right there in my car amongst my snotty and undignified tears, “That’s what I created him for.” Boom. So let’s stop just watching them. Let’s open ourselves to see God’s purpose for them, let’s listen to the Holy Spirit and make ourselves available to their future. To see the musicians banging on pots and pans, to see the pastors praying fervently for their friend’s missing dog, to see the artists covered in eyeliner, to see the policemen protecting their siblings on the playground. Thank God that He has given us an inside track on how to pray for our children, for their future, for their purpose. And thank God that He sees so much more in us when He watches.

Side note, I’m still praying for baby girl, unless God can find a way to use an obsession with Barney for His glory.

 

Reasonable Expectation of Dignity

I don’t want to share this.

My hands are shaking. My heartbeat is visible through the skin over my collarbone. I’m so nervous and humiliated that I feel lightheaded. I do not want to share this.

But I have to. For a week I’ve been fighting this, and for a week I’ve tossed and turned and been awakened by my brain that seems to want to write this on its own. So while I don’t want to share this, I need to.

I love fashion. I hang out in sweatpants and Backstreet Boys t-shirts and revel in the no-makeup days, but I love fashion. I also love to laugh. It seemed a given that I would enjoy a marriage of the two, Fashion Police on E!. I DVR’ed the heck out of it, I wanted Joan Rivers’ job (and wardrobe!), I laughed, I looked forward to it. Until a few months ago when I read an interview with a random celebrity that I can’t even remember, but their words stuck with me. She said that she did not watch Fashion Police, because it was hurtful. The women they tore apart on that show left their house feeling beautiful, and those “judges” thought it was their place to say otherwise. Boom. I haven’t watched since.

Many of you know that I struggle with my weight. Yes, I say “struggle”. I’m still battling the irrational anxiety that has popped up in the last year. I went from fat and happy to fat and terrified. Terrified of what people thought, terrified of what people saw. Leaving the house means winning an internal battle some days. As much as I love to encourage others, I cannot seem to rally myself to hold my head up as often. Yes, my husband loves me and tells me how beautiful he thinks I am. Yes, I am HEALTHY. No, I never share this struggle with my children. Because this weight is beyond my control, I feel like I am grasping at nothing, drowning, falling down a well. I want to wear a sign that says “Yes, I know I’m overweight, but NO, I did not do this to myself.” I feel like I need to explain myself to the perceived disgusted public. It’s a truly overwhelming feeling to not have control over your body. Enter the hot tears. I can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). But the outside? The part that people see? All I can do is shave my legs, do my hair, and put on some makeup. Well, it’s winter, so the legs can wait. I have literally had panic attacks in the middle of stores because I was so ashamed of how I looked and what I thought people were thinking. Again, I know it’s irrational. But again, grasping at nothing.

Last week, my worst fear happened: I caught someone taking a cell phone picture of me. This is where my hands shake and my heart races again. This person was trying to go unnoticed, pretending to check emails or Facebook, until the flash accidentally went off. I was sitting alone, just a bare wall next to me. When I climbed far enough out of my shame cloud to tell my best friends and husband what had happened, they all tried their obligatory encouraging alternatives: “Maybe it was your beautiful hair! Maybe they liked something you were wearing! Maybe this, maybe that…” Nope. Momma was having a ROUGH day that day. Ponytail, my black flats with the holes in them, glasses. Also, we had been chatting, so a compliment could have been offered up at any time. I also know that this person is a member of a very trendy gym, one that prides itself so much on fitness that the various branches host competitions for members to prove themselves. I’m not calling this gym out, I’m just saying that given this person’s trained way of thinking with regard to fitness, and my appearance that day, it is not hard to conclude why that person took a sneaky picture of me.

I’m fat.

As a fat person, I’m allowed to say that. It’s not the worst thing someone can be, so I’m okay with saying it. It’s just a descriptor, it’s not my identity. But when that’s all someone bothers to notice about you, especially as a woman, it hurts. You can’t tell by the picture that person took that I love my family and friends, that I’m a beast with a glue gun, that I can quote every episode of Friends, that I’m freaking funny and flippin’ awesome. That picture doesn’t show my dedication, my creativity, my desire to help other people. It doesn’t show the rivers of tears I’ve cried over pants that stop fitting, the number of doctors I’ve met with to find a cure, or at least a STOP. It doesn’t show the fear I have when I approach a folding chair, an amusement park ride, or when I pass someone leaving a restaurant. It doesn’t show the internal battle being waged by my hormones, how my body is turning against me, how I have no control and no end in sight to this horrible, horrible disease. But you know what it does show, that image of my outsides? It shows the insides of the person who took it.   

As a photographer, I can assure you that this person was within their legal rights to take my picture. Once you attend a public event, you lose what is called a reasonable expectation of privacy. As a human, I want to shout that they had NO right. I am a mother, a wife, a friend… not a punchline. I may not meet that person’s standards of beauty, but then again, I’m not trying to. I can call that person rude, judgemental, callous, a butthead… I can say whatever I want, but it doesn’t take away the shame. Again, I wanted to scream, “I didn’t do this to myself!” I don’t owe that person an explanation, but I was so humiliated that I felt the need to justify my measurements. Instead, I just hung my head. My worst fear, that a stranger was internally laughing at my appearance, had just played out in front of me. Me, the strong-willed, opinionated, loud, energetic force of nature, had been reduced to a lump of indignity. My friends and husband also gave me the obligatory accolades, but the facts that I’m caring, sweet, thoughtful, funny, or made of concentrated awesomesauce don’t show up in sneaky, malicious cell phone pictures. It hurt. Bad. It still hurts. Writing this has helped some, given me a sense of control over how I will react to it. Like I said, it says as much about the person who took that photo as it does about the way I look. But beyond a personal victory, I needed to share this so to offer my perspective, the person on the other side, the person who is likely in someone’s newsfeed with a crude caption.

Please consider this side the next time you do the same. People of Walmart can be hilarious and mind-boggling, and you KNOW there are people who dress that way intentionally in the hopes of a POW appearance (or the $50 gift card), but what about the innocent ones? The people who don’t have any fashion sense, the people who say “Screw it, it’s Walmart and I need toilet paper!”, the people who don’t have the money for nice clothes, or even a home to hang them in? What about the people who don’t have the mental capacity to arrange a Milan-worthy look, the people you see wearing holey clothes, too-tight clothes, too-short clothes, too-dirty clothes, too-ugly clothes, too-old clothes… what if those are all the clothes they have? Can you imagine how they would feel to see their photo on a website devoted to judging peoples’ appearance, to read the comments of strangers about how they look, when no one knows their circumstances? I myself am guilty of taking a sneaky photo of a cashier who was dressed exactly like Blanche from Golden Girls. But now I ask myself, “Why?” Why did I need the picture? Why was it my place to secretly tease this woman? And what pain and embarrassment might she have felt, what insecurities might I have unearthed if she’d noticed? When did our desire to judge and tease become greater than someone else’s right to dignity? If I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), if I was knit together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13), if I am God’s MASTERPIECE (Ephesians 2:10), then so are you, so is Blanche, so are we all. Taking pictures and laughing isn’t going to change that person’s life for the better. And it certainly won’t make you a better person. So please, stop.

It’s Not You, It’s Me – Life As An Allergy Mom

We’ve all cringed when someone’s snotty, hacking child comes hurdling towards our babies, hands outstretched, ready to infect them. Doctor’s offices, restaurants, grocery stores, church… people LOVE touching babies. They’re soft and squishy and instinctively grasp your finger. But babies have very sensitive and weak immune systems. Their bodies can’t fight like ours, and they’re affected much more strongly by simple bugs. So we protect them, turn away from strangers, put covers over their carseats, or just avoid public places altogether.  When you realize how contact with other people can harm your child, you go to great lengths to protect them, shield them from that harm until their bodies are ready to fight it off.

But what if their little bodies never can?

I am the mother of an allergic child. Two actually, but one isn’t severe. He is allergic to peanuts and amoxicillin, both only causing hives and both easy enough to be avoided. My really, severely allergic child is the baby. She’s 19 months old and already has a laundry list of no-no foods and environmental allergies, each with its own reaction ranging from hives to bloody diarrhea to anaphylaxis. We carry an EpiPen and Benadryl everywhere we go. We avoid restaurants and potlucks and pre-packaged snacks. Birthday cake is as accessible as Atlantis. Grocery shopping takes twice as long and costs twice as much, between the constant label-reading and the price of buying organic. Oftentimes there are at least three different meals being served to our family of 5. I’m constantly checking and re-checking ingredients, watching for signs of a reaction, holding my breath if she finally gets to try a new food, keeping an eye out for the green poo that parents of allergic babies know all too well, Googling plant families and related vegetables… It’s a lot of work. Of course, it’s all worth it. I’m an info-aholic, so I crave knowledge, am always looking for new sources and new information on her numerous allergies. Sadly, her allergies seem to be increasing, so I find myself back at Google fairly often. Anytime she cries out in her sleep, I immediately grab my phone and quadruple-check the plant families of everything that was in her dinner. All this to say, I am ON TOP of this allergy thing. I research and ask and avoid like a boss.

But this weekend, I was shaken. Within 20 minutes of arriving at my mom and stepdad’s house to swim, baby girl began rubbing her eye. She had only napped for about 10 minutes, so I thought she was tired. But then she really started digging into it, whining even, and I thought maybe she’d accidentally gotten some sunscreen in her eye. Nope. Her eye was getting bright red and she was getting really upset. I took her from my mom and noticed some pink splotches on her forehead. Being a super pale little thing, she has been known to get splotchy from crying, but this wasn’t that. Could there be an ingredient in the sunscreen she was reacting to? Reading the label twice told me no. And this reaction was localized. It started getting worse. The splotches were spreading, getting darker, and swelling. Her eye was nearly shut and her lip was almost twice its size. She was having an allergic reaction. We quickly dosed her with Benadryl and watched her. My mind was racing. EpiPen or ER first? EpiPen or ambulance first? But the worst thing in my mind was that I COULD NOT FIGURE OUT what was causing this. She hadn’t pet the cat. She hadn’t eaten anything. There was an actual line down her face where you could see the reaction – her left side was fine, her right side was swollen and red and splotchy. Something had touched her face.

But what?

Thankfully, the Benadryl did the trick. The swelling started going down and the spots began to fade. We took pictures of her for documentation, but they break my heart, so I won’t share them. She perked back up after an hour or so and had a great time swimming. But what had caused the reaction? The question never left my mind. I’m STILL racking my brain, trying to pinpoint what caused it.

The next night we had a church back-to-school swim party. I hadn’t slept well the night before, constantly checking on her in the night to make sure the reaction didn’t reappear once the Benadryl wore off. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I noticed a rash on her. This time on her legs. She hadn’t eaten anything. There were no cats. No one had decorated with burlap. She’d just been in chlorinated water the day before, so it couldn’t be that.

What was HAPPENING to my baby?!

I just about had a meltdown. For all of my research, all of my learning, all of my avoidance and diligence in checking labels and ingredients and packing safe snacks, everything I had done to protect her… there were still things that could hurt her. I could not control everything about the environment we were in, and I didn’t like it. Any time someone reached out to touch her, my heart leapt. What was on their hands? What had they recently eaten or touched? Did they have pets? What was in their lotion? Bodywash? Perfume? Could this person, innocently greeting my child, cause her to go into anaphylactic shock? There was a young girl, about two years older than my own, who followed us around like a shadow, constantly trying to touch or hold her. My chest started burning and I couldn’t catch my breath, hot tears were rolling down my cheeks. I was FREAKING OUT. My dear friend recognized the anxiety and took baby girl from me, my husband took the boys, and I leaned against the side of the pool, alternating between breathing and running worst-case scenarios in my head.

I know, I know. Anxiety is not of God. He has not given us a spirit of fear. Be anxious for nothing. All easier said than done when you’ve just seen your child have allergic reactions to something you can’t name, and therefore can’t avoid. The control freak in me was not handling it well. The mother in me was taking it even worse. To be honest, I haven’t calmed down much since then. My Google foundation has been shaken. I can’t tell you everything she’s allergic to, because I DON’T KNOW. I can’t keep her from the dangerous stuff, because I DON’T KNOW what it all is. I DON’T KNOW where to find it. I’m in the proccess of finding another allergist (one who actually became a doctor to help people), but know that even after extensive testing, she can develop new allergies. I’m praying and begging and pleading with God to heal her. I want her to be able to go to birthday parties and have cake, eat at potluck dinners and big family picnics, do late night fast food runs, eat the snacks in preschool. We’ve learned a lot about health and the disgusting ingredients a lot of the things on the shelves of grocery stores contain, learned to be smarter about what we put into our bodies. I am so grateful for what she has taught our family about health. But I am also desperate for her to be healed. And I’m desperate to protect her.

So if I cringe at you reaching for my baby, it’s not you, it’s me fearful of that amazing-smelling lotion you just put on.

If I turn my body away from you, it’s not you, it’s me worrying because I don’t know if you’ve just eaten peanut butter on your toast that morning.

If I decline your offer for babysitting, it’s not you, it’s me not being able to control the environment she’s in, or me worrying about your pets, or me being exhausted at the thought of going over the list of allergies, EpiPen instructions, Benadryl doses, and emergency contacts.

If I ask you not to feed my child, it’s definitely not you, it’s me protecting her.

If I don’t visit you, or don’t go to a restaurant with you, or don’t eat the food you cooked, it really isn’t you, it’s my natural reaction to avoid everything but my own home and my own cooking.

If I seem distracted, it’s not you, it’s me watching her like a hawk and running a thousand different scenarios through my head at once.

If I complain, I’m sorry. I love my baby and am grateful for the wealth of information available now about allergies. But I’m also a mess. I’m worried and hungry and so very tired.

 

So please don’t feed my baby. Please don’t be offended if I pick her up before you can. Please understand that the unknown for an allergic child can be life-threatening. She IS that child who can’t even walk past peanut butter. She IS that child who could have dire consequences from eating the candy you want to share. And she’s the child who has unknown allergies and severe reactions. Please wash your hands. Please don’t feed my baby. And please don’t be offended.