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.

Surviving Sending Them Off (To Kindergarten, at Least)

Tonight an extremely dear friend of mine texted me, overwhelmed with the emotion she was experiencing at her firstborn’s impending first day of kindergarten. I remember, quite clearly, having experienced my own meltdown(s). Definitely plural. MY firstborn, my beautiful, smart, hilarious and sweet boy, just completed HIS first year of kindergarten. Knowing now that I’m not the only mommy who felt the way I did – and BOY did I let Mommy Guilt think I was alone –  I thought I’d share some of my thoughts, both leading up to and from the other side of the big event.

Once he graduated from preschool (yes, it’s a thing, and yes, it’s cute), I suddenly felt unprepared. My sweet little guy who had up until now lived pretty wholly in clothes from Children’s Place or consignment stores, was now going to be wearing uniforms. Polos. He was going from elastic-waist shorts to flat front khakis. The school wanted him to dress like a dad or a car salesman. For three months before the big First Day, I scoured the internet like a mad woman. I was determined to discover the trends among 5-year-olds and deck my boy out in the coolest duds. Because of the uniforms, the shoes, backpack, and lunchbox REALLY had to pop. I’m embarassed to admit that I even asked a few friends what their kids thought was cool. I came THISCLOSE to buying my 5-year-old son a $45 lunch box. Seriously. I was convinced that if he sat down at the lunch table with this lunch box (it was EPIC), he would have all the confidence in the world that he was the coolest kid alive. Other children would flock to him like the cafeteria style guru he obviously was. They would decide right then and there to vote him prom king, and the salutatorian would mention this lunchbox in his or her graduation speech when referring to the valedictorian, my son. Heck this thing was going to get a quarter page on his college applications. Fortunately, my husband is much more grounded than I. He thinks realistically and reels me in, reminds me of the true size of our bank account. God bless him. So then I was filled with guilt. Guilt that I could not afford $45 for a life-altering lunchbox. That I couldn’t buy him the coolest things ever to give him kindergarten swagger. That his uniform polos wouldn’t be Tommy Hilfiger or Big Dog. Then I got REALLY sad when I realized that not only are Tommy Hilfiger and Big Dog polos NOT super cool anymore, he doesn’t even know what they are. So I moped about, poor and old, completely caught up in comparing my son to the imagined desiger-clad kiddos he would be sitting amongst all too soon.

Then one night, while texting this same dear friend now that I think about it, I was standing in a grocery store at midnight, and it hit me. Or rather, the voice of God spoke to my spirit. All this energy that I was putting into making sure he fit in, and I had yet to even pray about him standing apart. Sure, no one wants weinie kids who get teased and bullied. But I had been so focused on his future popularity that I had completely neglected his future influence. Now I REALLY felt guilty.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed, drowning in the wave of Mommy Guilt that washed over me and refused to let me come up for air. I had wasted the last 5 years and 10 months that I’d had with him. This amazing gift from God, who by scientific accounts shouldn’t even be here, and I had just squandered away my precious few years with him. I cried and moped even MORE. I beat myself up day in and day out. When he inevitably bugged me, I went to bed in hot tears at how I could possibly be annoyed by my priceless angel and how I could have wasted these moments with him doing anything other than snuggling. One night, in a rare moment of driving completely alone, I really let it out. Big, ugly, nasty, snotty, loud cries. “But God!” I yelled. “I’m sending him out into the WORLD!”

And, clear as a bell, God replied, “But that’s what I created him for.”

My tiny little preemie was no more. He was now tall and skinny and funny and smart and he ran like he was being electrocuted at the same time. He had opinions, likes, dislikes, hopes, fears, talents. More than anything, he had, he HAS, a purpose. And his first day of kindergarten was only going to be the beginning.

So now that we’ve made it through that day, throught he first year, allow me to share my survivor’s knowledge.

Kindergarten is not the end. Of anything. Regardless of the laws of logic, the beginning of one journey does not signify the end of another. In the weeks leading up to his first day, I mourned the loss of him. I looked back during my time with him as though it were pearls before swine, wasted, squandered, unappreciated. The saying is that hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t believe that. Because I was looking back in sadness, when I should have been looking back in pride. Pride at how far he’d come, from an incubator to a booster seat. He learned so much – to walk, to run, to speak, to use the potty, to FINALLY wipe himself, to tie his shoes, to eat with utensils, his alphabet, his numbers…. He was not the same boy I was first handed 5 years and 10 months ago. I should have been looking back with joy. Joy at the memories we’d made, the laughs we’d shared, the inside jokes we had, the places we’d been, the pictures we’d taken. I should have been looking back in amazement. I should have been looking back with satisfaction, an emotion no mother ever allows herself to feel when evaluating her job. When he came home from that first day of kindergarten, do you know what changed? Nothing. He was still the same boy. Still silly. Still sweet. Still so almost-alarmingly skinny. He was still MINE. Starting kindergarten did not put an end to our snuggles, or our jokes, or our memories, or HIM.  I dwelt on every time I’d lost my temper or allowed myself to get annoyed by a preschooler, but in all of his About Me projects, he never listed one of those memories.

Kindergarten is HARD. Not necessarily academically, but physically.  My precious angel kept coming home as a GRUMPUS. He was exhausted! A sweet friend commented that it wasn’t him acting that way, it was kindergarten wearing him out that was acting that way. It took a few weeks to adjust, but his little body was soon able to handle the full day of fun and memories and learning and friends and normal-lunchbox lunches. Be prepared for tears and attitudes and extend some grace. You’re emotional, your kiddo is tired… just rest with each other until you’re used to it. Remember, you’ve been through kindergarten, but she hasn’t. Err on the side of patience and you’ll all be happier for it.

You probably won’t love their teacher. At least, not at first. Who was this woman who spent more hours in a day with my child than I did?! How DARE she know things about him? The NERVE to have him sign the Sad Book for talking when he wasn’t supposed to! I cannot believe he hasn’t been given chemistry assignments already to stimulate his obviously-advanced brain! Yeah. Okay, Jen. By the end of the year, I realized that his teacher was actually wonderful, quite nice, and funny. I couldn’t imagine anyone being worthy of my son’s time and intellect, but she proved to me that she was. I salute all kindergarten teachers who experience this year after year, first-year parents so unsure of your abilities, jealous of your time. I imagine it’s how a mother feels when her son wants to marry – how could SHE possibly compare to ME?! Well, she doesn’t. She’s his teacher, and she’s wonderful, and she cared about my boy and taught him so VERY much more than I could have. But he still comes to me when he’s sad, or hurt, or sick, or hungry, or scared, or just wants some Mommy time. I’ll always be Mommy, whether he’s walking down the halls of school or the aisle of a church. That never ends.

Read “The Kissing Hand”. And let it JACK. YOU. UP.

Other kindergarteners attend kindergarten. I don’t know why, but I had convinced myself (and we all know how logically I think at this point) that the children my son would be attending class with would have the personalities of teenagers. They’d be judgemental and snarky and sexually active and rich. I thought my son was going to be in an episode of Gossip Girl, apparently. But you know what? There were – gasp! – 5-year-olds in there! A whole room full! They picked their noses and couldn’t tie their shoes and spoke with speech impediments and drank out of juice boxes. They had food smeared on their faces and couldn’t figure out their belts in the bathroom. A few hadn’t yet mastered wiping themselves. I know a few wet themselves at some point in the year. And from speaking with my sister-in-law, a kindergarten teacher, this is NORMAL. Kindergarten is a melting pot of developmental milestones. Some kids know their ABC’s, but not all. Some kids went to pre-k, but not all. Some have legible handwriting, but not all. Some kids wear velcro shoes, but not all. They’re KIDS. All of my fears at my son being bullied for being tall and skinny or not watching certain TV shows or being interested in engineering and architecture were completely unfounded. He made friends. They talked about Legos and ninjas and farts. There were no scandals, no betrayals, no broken hearts. No comparisons of abilities. They were KIDS, and all of the fears I had over perceived “faults” in my child were absolutely unfounded. They were all at kindergarten for their first day, too.

You didn’t miss your chance. I don’t know why, but the most persistent thought I kept having in the days leading up to my boy’s big day was that I’d missed my chance. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that something was ending. I still get to teach him values and morals and the lyrics to awesome 90’s songs. He still comes home every day. I’m still in the process of helping to mold him and guide him and encourage. My job is NOT over. As guilty as I felt at how annoyed I would get on some days, I still get annoyed. Not because I don’t love him, but because I’m tired. I go to bed nearly every night wishing I’d done the day differently with my kids. But, God willing, I get another day. And another. I get several chances at days and several chances to get it right. I can go to the class parties, go on the field trips, engage in the projects. I can pick him up from school and really listen as he tells me all about his day. I can write little notes and draw little doodles on his lunch napkin. I can surprise him with book fair money. I can bring him his favorite meal and eat with him in the cafeteria. I can get involved in reading programs and art contests and special event nights and PTO. I am still allowed to be a part of my child’s life! Kindergarten did not nullify that privilege. I have a feeling puberty will try to, but I’m pretty stubborn and prepared to put up a good fight.

You don’t get points for Mommy Guilt. Really. Also, there’s no point system. If you can’t make it to the field trips, you’re still a great mom. If someone else picks up your kids after school, you’re still a great mom. If you’re working and can’t attend the Valentine’s Day party, it will be okay… and you’re still a great mom. If you buy Roseart supplies and your kid buys their lunch, if someone else’s mom hand-made personalized gifts for the teacher and you forgot to turn in a project, if you get a phone call from the school, if your kid needs help, you are still a great mom. Your child will graduate school without ever needing you to compare yourself to another parent, so don’t get into the trap of starting it now.

 

I love my firstborn. I marvel at his eyelashes, his smile, his almost cartoonish proportions (Seriously, he’s super tall and skinny), his thoughts, his creativity, the way his brain works. He looks just like me, just like my dad. He has so many of my personality traits, but he’s incredibly also his own person, completely unique, never to be created again. I remember what the NICU smelled like when I rocked him, and what it felt like when they wouldn’t let me. I remember him turning in my belly. I remember how excited I was to see my first stretch mark (about that hindsight not being 20/20 remark….). He blows me away with the Lego creations he constructs. He amazes me at his ability to pick almost anything up in just a few moments’ time. He is a blessing and a miracle and an incredible gift. And even after sending that huge piece of my heart off to school, I survived. I still have those memories. And I get to make new ones. I’ll always remember his green polo shirt, how he sat down at his desk and just started working, then asked me why I was still there. In just a few weeks, I’ll get to make the memory of his first day of first grade. We can only make more memories from here on. I’m in no rush to get there, but I know I’ll make it. I know I didn’t waste the 5 years and 10 months I had with him, because I’ve had so much more than that. I know I didn’t completely blow it, didn’t waste it. I know he’s a big boy, but not too big. I know he’s coming home with me, and he knows I’ll be there to pick him up. He’ll be at school, making friends and memories and projects, learning from a caring and capable teacher. And no one will ever know that he doesn’t have the world’s most epic lunchbox. I did a good job.

No Mom Is An Island

“No man is an island.”   John Donne, 1624

We’ve heard this iconic phrase for centuries. I had to Google who actually said it, but I’ve heard it for years. Islands are, of course, completely separate from the mainland, surrounded by water, connected to nothing. They may be rich with natural resources or devoid of life, but they are alone, unable to share, unable to glean. John Donne’s sentiments were clear in his writings: we are all connected to one another, each an integral part of society. In Googling this guy, I read a few brief biographies on him: His wife passed away giving birth to their 12th child, a stillborn infant. Only 7 of his 12 children survived. He faced numerous financial difficulties and struggled with depression, serious illnesses, imprisonment, a disapproving father-in-law, imposed religion, and life as a minister (that’s tough enough). In short, homeboy had it rough. If anyone had a cause to want to disconnect, hibernate in a tunnel, and just plain be a hermit, it was this guy. And yet he felt strongly enough about the importance of community to include this phrase, this poem, in his many writings. No man is an island.

Why, then, are so many MOMS an island?

We isolate ourselves from the mommy mainland, silently separate ourselves and allow ourselves to be surrounded by the choppy waters. There are days where we literally feel like we are drowning. If you’re living on a tropical paradise, perfectly sustained, then share the wealth with your neighbors, give them wisdom, encouragement, peace, snack ideas. No mom should be an island.

This job we have is a tough one. Between the June Cleavers of our past and the Pinterest posts of our present, we have a lot of unrealistic examples of parenting. Peggy Bundy and Roseanne were a lot closer to life as we know it, but their whole characters were based on telling us they were BAD moms. Every morning we wake up ready for a new day, and almost every evening we go to bed convinced we’ve blown it. Social media provides an excellent platform for sharing the best of our lives, the highlight reel, the best-of moments. When comparing ourselves to the mom who finds the time for the gym, who homeschools her 8 kids with a smile, who bakes her own bread from scratch and gardens and crafts and sews and never gets speeding tickets and always has clean hair and maintains a tan all year long and doesn’t have to lie down to zip her pants up and has bottomless babysitting help from family and hosts a women’s Bible study in her immaculately clean home… we’re going to come up short.

And so we paddle out to our islands. We keep our struggles secret. The bad days, self-doubt, the horrible admissions that our kids drive us nuts sometimes – we tuck them away and put on a brave face.

One of the best things that has ever happened to me as a mother was being added to a Facebook group. I know, it’s cheesy and sounds like I’m in 10th grade. But a small community of women who are there to support, encourage, advise, bless, celebrate, console, share, and laugh at almost any hour through almost any life event has been just what my struggling mommy heart needed. Mommies need friends. Get yourself to a playgroup, a MOPS group, a Bible study group, or even just a kid-free dinner with a friend however you can. I found a great friend in my son’s preschool teacher. The days are long, but the years are short. But MAN, the days get long sometimes. Especially over the summer. Especially today. And while the long days are still long days, having friends makes the end of the day so much better. I’m one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever meet. My husband will attest to that. I have a hard time asking for help. I built myself an island. But thanks to the women in my life, some of whom are spread across the country, some of whom are just a few miles away, I’m now somewhat of a peninsula. Connected. Supported. Sharing. There are still those choppy waves beating against me, but not from all sides anymore.

Fellow mommies, I cannot encourage you enough to make mommy friends. They have bad days, too, I promise. They have questions and struggles and frustrations and poop on their shirts. The sooner we can all be honest with each other, the sooner we can start helping each other. Someone else thinking you’re a perfect mom doesn’t make you a perfect mom, so why keep up the charade? Be REAL. Be the mom that you are! Be supportive, be supported, just put yourself out there and find friends to help you through it.

Besides, once the kids are grown and gone, you’ll need someone to have lunch with.

 

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

– John Domme