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

Loving the Mentally Ill

*originally published July 2016, updated June 2018*

I’ve written, deleted, and re-written this blog for months. It’s a tough subject, and it’s hard to be honest without offending, or encouraging while still being truthful. But in light of everything that’s being said about the recent suicide of a beloved actor, I need to write this. Again.

You see, not much offends me. Things anger me, confuse me, sadden me, sure. But not a lot hurts my feelings. But I’ll say it: I’m offended at some of the reactions to the death of Robin Williams. Straight-up offended. As if it’s our place to pass judgement on a man’s death. As if our opinions on the circumstances surrounding his life and death hold any weight. As if our own experiences give us any modicum of expertise with regard to the experiences of another. I’ve seen a lot of people who claim they overcame depression, so someone else should be able to, as well. As someone who has battled depression and anxiety for decades, I still have no ounce of justified judgement towards someone fighting a similar battle. I’ve seen even more complete misunderstanding and disregard for mental illness. The fact is, depression is an illness. Sometimes it’s temporary, like post-partum depression or seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes it’s based on circumstances, like bills or illness or difficult relationships, and can thus change with the situation. Sometimes, though, it’s chemical, it’s through no fault of the sufferer, and it’s STRONG. Chemical depression CAN be overcome with prayer, but just because it isn’t sometimes doesn’t mean the person suffering has no faith. It doesn’t mean the person is weak, just as requiring insulin says nothing about a diabetic, other than the fact that they’re diabetic. Depression is a symptom of a chemical imbalance that must be corrected and observed constantly, or else it will quickly overwhelm. Depression is an ILLNESS, not a choice, not a lack of appreciation or contentment, not a weakness or a fault, and it most certainly is not selfish.

Ahh, selfishness. This is what so many of the judgements I’ve seen seem to get caught up on. The selfishness of the sufferer who chose to end their life. Does suicide affect so many more people than just the one who decided to take their life? Absolutely. But how quick we are to forget that mental illness affects the family and friends of the sufferer in life, not just in death. The loved ones of those who are mentally ill have long been experiencing pain, yet we rarely – if ever – check in with them and consider how they’re affected. How quick we are to dismiss the suffering of the depressed or mentally-ill person, alive or otherwise. We overlook the lifetime of far-reaching pain until it makes headlines.

I’m not here to argue the theology of suicide, nor do I believe that death by one’s own hand brings about a poetic release or freedom, but I will say, LOUDLY, that mentally ill persons do not think logically. You and I can think logically, yes, and using our serotonin-producing, non-muddled-up brains we can look at the circumstances surrounding someone’s suicide and decide that it wasn’t worth it, it wasn’t that bad, or they were selfish cowards. But just because something doesn’t seem to make sense to us doesn’t make it untrue. Just because you’ve never been so overwhelmed by darkness that you thought death was the only life for you DOES NOT MEAN it did not appeal to someone else. In discussing mental illness recently with a friend, she said that mental illness “gummed up” her brain, and it was the best description I’ve heard yet. Your brain may work, firing on all pistons, using logic and reason and recognizing cause and effect and multiple escape routes. But a mentally ill person’s brain does not. I need glasses to see clearly and you may not. This does not mean that because I need help to see, your eyes are better than mine. It means I need help to see. All of us, mentally ill or otherwise, have the same need and dependence upon the same chemicals and hormones to maintain a sense of balance and happiness in our brains. Really, we’re all a slight shift away from suffering, so who are we to pride ourselves over those who need what we need but can’t seem to naturally produce what we can?

I’ve lived my whole life with mental illness in the form of a bipolar mother. Is it hard? YOU BET. Do my struggles with her illness change her? In no single way at all, ever. It’s been a long road, and a very difficult one. Sometimes she does things that just make no sense… but they don’t have to. Just because I cannot empathize with her suffering does not mean her suffering is any less real. My confusion does not heal her. My frustrations do not heal her. Even my hurt does not heal her. Because SHE CANNOT HELP IT. No matter how much I want her to not be mentally ill, it won’t change the fact that she is, so I can either love and embrace her as she is, or I can live life constantly disappointed. A few times, in her darkest of days, she has even tried to hurt herself, and as a young girl who did not understand mental illness, I was offended. My feelings were hurt, I was mad, and I thought her selfish. But just as a thirsty person will drink, a mentally ill person will do what their body is telling them to. Someone with Tourette’s or Parkinson’s cannot control every movement their body unwillingly makes any more than a mentally ill person can control every thought or action they take. Cop-out? To someone who does not have understanding or empathy with regard to mental illness, maybe. The fact remains that no matter how hard it is to love someone who is mentally ill (and it’s okay to admit that it’s hard), our suffering does not negate or outrank theirs.

Robin Williams, specifically, also dealt with addictions many times during his life, further proof of his suffering, his inability to control himself, his inability to behave like a “normal person” or think clearly. Robin Williams suffered a great deal more than any of us will ever understand, even those of us who have battled the demon of depression and stepped back from the ledge just in time. The truth is that we don’t know what he was going through. We don’t know what he thought or felt or lived or saw. We do know that he made us laugh and cry and quote a lot of movies, and we should be grateful for the impact he had on our childhoods. But we should not and CANNOT pass judgement on the very last choice he made, no matter how much that choice hurts us. Because it hurt him, too. Because it may have been, in his gummed-up brain that just wouldn’t submit, the only choice he had.

This has  been a bad week. Earlier in the week we awoke to the (far too detailed) news of designer Kate Spade’s suicide. Today it was celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s decision to take his life. Once again the comments abound – “What did SHE have to be sad about?” “He was rich and famous, why would he want to die?” “Her designs were so colorful, I never would have known she was depressed.”

Again I say, nearly two years after first writing this post, that suicide will never make sense to us, those who are left behind. It will never appeal to us, those whose mental state is not gummed up, clouded, those of us who do not hurt just being awake. Their reasoning will never make sense to us, but it doesn’t have to. We aren’t owed an explanation. We are expected to care and be kind human beings. Let Kate Spade’s bright bags and Anthony Bourdain’s zest (pun intended, he would have rolled his eyes) be a reminder that we cannot always see mental illness, we definitely cannot predict mental illness, mental illness is not a stereotype, and mental illness is real.

You know someone who is suffering, I promise you. You may not know they’re in pain, or you may roll  your eyes at their frequent posts you deem to be attention-seeking or overly dramatic. It could very well be the person you least expect to be hurting. That’s the thing about depression – it’s not just sadness, it’s pain. Having every comfort in the world doesn’t preclude someone from experiencing pain, and as you know, pain cannot always be seen.

No one is ever too rich, too bubbly, too healthy, too young, too famous, too privileged, too religious, too smart, or too anything to hurt. No one is ever too anything to struggle with depression. And none of us are ever enough of anything to pass judgement on any other.  If we continue to publicly pass judgement and name-call those who are suffering from mental illness, especially those who are no longer alive to explain their pain, we will make it even harder for someone who needs help to have the courage to speak up, reach out, and get what they need. Stop making it NOT okay for someone to suffer. Have some sympathy and maybe save a life.

 

Related: The Righteous Wrong – The Flawed Handling of Mental Illness in the Church, You’re Probably Wrong About Anxiety, Measuring Others’ Pain

PCOS – To Hell and Back

Heads up – this post will contain some TMI-ish mention of lady parts. Dudes don’t really read blogs, anyway – at least not ones I write – but just to be on the safe side, you’ve been warned.

As many of you probably know, I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, PCOS for short. It is characterized by, among a few other things, polycystic ovaries. Every month, when our awesome bodies are gearing up to ovulate (release an egg for possible fertilization), several eggs, called follicles, are called up to the front lines. In a normal woman’s reproductive system, one follicle volunteers as tribute, and the others go back about their business. There, the “dominant follicle” (potential baby) grows and grows and then, when the time is right, releases an egg, resulting in ovulation. In a woman with PCOS, those homies who came up to the front never go back to where they came from, and end up hanging out all over the ovaries, some growing and growing. The “dominant follicle”, rather than releasing an egg, just hangs out, either growing or not making babies, making it very difficult for women with PCOS to conceive. Occasionally, maybe once a year, maybe a few times in a lifetime, these follicles will rupture, causing extreme amounts of pain. I’m sure you all either know someone who has experienced an ovarian cyst rupture or had one yourself. Almost every gal who has been so fortunate as to experience this has ended up in the emergency room for treatment. It hurts that bad. (Don’t worry if you’ve had it happen, ovarian cysts do NOT equal PCOS!)

Why the biology lesson, you ask? Because I need you to understand the situation I’ve been in. I had my first ovarian cyst rupture at the age of 11. After a night in the hospital and a very scary ultrasound, it was determined that the pain I was experiencing was a cyst the size of an orange bursting. An orange. That was the beginning of my PCOS journey.
I have now dealt with this awful disease for 18 years. That’s a literal lifetime. As I got older, it got worse. Every year. Then I had kids, and it got more worse. But wait, Jen. Didn’t you say that women with PCOS often struggle with infertility? Way to pay attention! You see, I have suffered, through the years, in agony, with extreme, atypical, and uncontrollable PCOS. A normal woman ovulates once a month. A woman with PCOS ovulates a handful of times a year, if that. I, for some unknown reason, was ovulating EVERY 8 DAYS. It used to be two weeks, then got worse. Then it was 10 days, but it got worse. And it finally leveled off that every 8 days, I was having a cyst rupture. Every 8 days, I was in agony for part of my day, in the type of pain that sends women to the emergency room. EVERY. EIGHT. DAYS. Because I was such a determined ovulater, a few follicles had the chance to break through, resulting in my gorgeous babies (whom I was told I would never be able to conceive without medical intervention). So while there’s THAT silver lining, every 8 days I was writhing in pain.
I saw, I think, 7 doctors last year, trying to find answers, help, RELIEF. Each time I’d leave disappointed or insulted. I’d go through testing with one doctor, just to be told I had PCOS and handed a prescription for birth control, the standard treatment. It didn’t help. I saw another doctor, went through the same invasive tests, just to be told I had PCOS and handed a prescription for birth control. Which didn’t help. I’d pick myself up off the floor, rally my spirits, and get the guts to try AGAIN. More invasive tests. More of the same results. More birth control. Every. Single. Time. Depressed doesn’t begin to describe me. Each time I had to explain, through tears, the awful symptoms. Each time I had to beg and plead for them to see my weight as a symptom, not a cause. Few listened. Some symptoms are too embarassing to tell the interwebz about, but you’re welcome to Google PCOS symptoms and imagine my life. Extreme fatigue, mental fog and confusion, acne, and the worst: incredible, soul-crushing weight gain. Once “my hormones came back”, we’ll call it, after I had my daughter, I gained 50 pounds in a single month. I could literally feel myself getting fatter and nothing could stop it. With being overweight comes a whole host of health problems, which God has thankfully spared me from. But it also comes with stares and assumptions and judgements and shame. I don’t look this way because I ate my way into Lane Bryant. I don’t look this way because I drink 2-liters of Pepsi a day, as one doctor suggested. I look this way because my flawed, human body is incapable of making the correct amount of hormones, and I was trying so very desperately to get someone to help me fix it. Doctor after doctor, disappointment after disappointment, suffering in silence and trying to explain why a hysterectomy wouldn’t fix it. The last doctor I saw I thought would surely be The One. She was very nice, more sympathetic than the others, and immediately got me scheduled for a morning of various surgical procedures. Friends, cannot express the depth of my absolute despair when I awoke from surgery to discover that nothing had been discovered, nothing had been removed, nothing would be different. I cried tears of absolute grief in the recovery room. I had incisions and no hope. The surgeon and my doctor hadn’t communicated well, it seemed, and only half of the procedures had been done. Only half of my uterus was explored. But the entirety of my heart was just shattered. Give me a moment to gather myself, I can’t see through the tears well enough to type.
It was hard. I kept trying and trying and trying, and no one was able to help. Rather than find out WHY my body was going rogue, they just handed me the cookie-cutter solution, no matter how many times I screamed that it wasn’t helping. I was in pain. Miserable. Fat. Something was wrong and there appeared to be no way to fix it, ever. Could I really live the rest of my life like this? I couldn’t let myself imagine another lifetime like the one I’d already experienced. So I just resigned myself, for the time being, to be a good little patient. I took my pills, I grew my cysts, I gained weight, and I lived in suffering. I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. Deep depression threatened to overwhelm me, creeping behind me like a shadow, ready to pounce. Like the pain, it was ever-present. Between the fatigue and my self-worth plummeting, I had no motivation. No joy. I knew God healed others, but for whatever reason, it did not appear to be His will for me. PCOS was, quite efficiently, ruining my life. I sought counsel in PCOS-specific forums, only to be shunned because I had been spared the pain of infertility. I was so alone, so sad, so ashamed, so hopeless. My birth control prescription ran out, and I had nothing left inside me to seek another one. Then it got a little worse.
You see, one of the symptoms of PCOS is elevated testosterone. Every woman produces a tiny amount of it, but some women with PCOS produce way too much. I, of course, am one of those lucky ladies. You can imagine the toll it takes on a woman’s womanhood to know that her ovaries are treating her like a man. Testosterone is believed to be the cause of the follicles that hang around and turn into cysts. It also causes acne, in grown stinkin’ women who have been out of high school for 11 years. (Just for future reference, asking someone about the rash on their face probably isn’t the best way to make them feel awesome.) It does other, more embarassing things, but it had one final blow to deal me: Hair loss. Male pattern baldness, to be exact. If you know me, you know of my hair. I’m not cocky, but I can admit that it is my crowning glory. It’s the one part of me that cannot get fatter, can’t get stretch marks. If I were ever to model, it would be for hair. I have lots of it, and I complain about the work, but the truth is that I couldn’t rid myself of the last-remaining quality I had to be proud of.
I started noticing TONS of hair coming out in my brushes, in the shower. I asked my hairdresser if she noticed a difference, but I have so much stinkin’ hair that she didn’t notice. But I did. I saw the handfuls coming out. I noticed when I started being able to wrap the elastic around a ponytail more times than ever before. Then I looked up and saw it: thinning hair, just like a dude. I was starting to look like Stabler on SVU, and feared I’d soon look like Cragen. I know, I know, there are worse things. I have a beautiful friend who has zero hairs. But to a photographer, who spends so much time surrounded by beauty, it cuts deep to not be proud of your appearance. As a woman, male-pattern baldness deals a heavy blow. I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t be fat, pimply, tired, dumb AND bald. So I took to Google, where I earned my Google University medical degree.
Deep in the pages of a hippie healing site, I found a glimmer of hope. Well, not really hope, because I was so devoid of it at that point, but more of an it-couldn’t-hurt glimmer. Saw Palmetto. An herb used by men to lower testosterone, usually when fighting prostate issues. It made sense – if excess testosterone is causing all these problems, take a medication that blocks or lowers testosterone. DER. So I took my hiney to our local hippie store and bought the small bottle, just to try, and asked my Facebook friends to pray for me. A little over a week later, I was sitting on the couch, marveling at my baby’s-bottom-smooth cheeks. Maybe not THAT smooth, but smoother than my face has felt in about 15 years. If it helped nothing else, it helped with breakouts, so I ordered a big bottle and kept taking it. I had been taking it about a month (too soon to notice any difference with my hair) when I commented to a friend that I hadn’t had a cyst rupture in weeks. Weeks! Like clockwork, because that’s just how my body rolls, I felt it. The stabbing, burning, rumbling that starts when a cyst is rupturing. Only this one didn’t stop. It hurt. BAD. As bad as my unmedicated c-section. It hurt from my knees to my lungs, felt like my trunk was melting, and the only way to know that I could still breathe was to scream. I don’t know who was more scared: myself, lying on the bathroom floor, writhing and jerking and vomiting from pain, trying not to black out, or my poor kids, confused and unable to help. My amazing husband rushed home and took care of me, and I survived. Obviously. It was the worst rupture I’d ever experienced, and the pain never fully went away, so two days later I went to the emergency room to make sure I hadn’t experienced ovarian torsion (Google it) or something worse. A sonogram and a CT scan later, I got the greatest news I’ve received in a long, long time. While the ultrasound showed fluid from a ruptured cyst the size of a cantaloupe (OUCH), it showed ONE cyst. ONE. One single, solitary follicle. But Jen, you still have a cyst there! Yes, you’re right. And it’s a fairly large one. But 7 months ago, my most recent sonogram before that, my two ovaries were hosting more than 75 cysts. You’re reading that right. My left ovary had 31 and she stopped counting at 46 on my right. This was WHILE on birth control, the standard treatment for PCOS. I teared up with joy, felt light with hope, and just about hugged the doctor. One cyst. Just one. Years and years of trying to find help, trying to find an answer, years and years of disappointment and depression and pain… and only one cyst. 18 years of having “devastated ovaries” (doctor’s words). Only one cyst. Am I still fat? Yep. Do I still have a lot to fix and figure out and tweak? Yep. But now I finally, FINALLY have something I hadn’t dared to attempt again: hope. I know that there is something that can help me. I know that my body WILL respond to SOMETHING.
Please note that I am not a medical professional and hold no formal training in any type of healing, other than prayer. I am not one to be a conspiracy theorist who accuses pharmaceutical companies of creating customers more than assisting patients. But why hadn’t this herb been mentioned before? Go ahead and Google “saw palmetto for PCOS”, you’ll find tons of information, testimonials, and recommendations. Why had no single doctor mentioned it to me? Why did they sit in their offices and stoicly watch me sob, plead, beg for help, then only offer me synthetic hormones that they knew would not make a difference? Each different prescription I tried came with pages of warnings, side effects, interactions, and more. Each pill I took caused an unfavorable reaction in one way or another, and none of them offered any respite. Pain and pills, that was my life. But this natural herb, to which no one holds a patent, has done more for me in a month than nearly two decades of labratory medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to modern medicine. Without it I wouldn’t know that I had too much testosterone, wouldn’t have Benadryl or sonograms or scientific proof that what I’m doing is working. But I am ever so grateful to God for giving us natural, working medicine. I am grateful to Him for wisdom, for access to healthcare. Did I mention that I only have ONE CYST?!
I’m sitting here, still in pain from the massive cyst that just exploded inside me recently, trying not to be vain about the fact that I’m fat enough for something the size of a cantaloupe to fit inside my stomach, but I have hope. Not just hope, but excitement. I am going to continue my current dosage and begin more natural options to heal the rest of me that needs fixing. With God and His intentionally-created nature, I believe that I can find relief, can find a life that I live happily, without chronic pain. I sit here hopeful, happy, in the process of healing. It’s said that the follicles on polycystic ovaries look like strands of pearls. But today, friends, these are the only pearls I have on.

pearls

 

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.

Are You Makin’ A List, Checkin’ It Twice?

Last night, while doing the final before-bed Facebook scroll, I saw about 4 posts of ladies referring to their list of Perfect Man Attributes. You know the list. The list of qualities that your future husband HAS TO HAVE, that you pray over and ask God for and measure every guy up to (until you meet one who is just so flippin’ cute that you want to bend the “rules”). You totally made one in middle school. And another in high school. And one after every church camp. Maybe when you got to college. Maybe after watching The Vow or something, I don’t know. I TOTALLY had one. And not just a puny list, it was accompanied by a drawing, colored in with map pencils, and ranked by importance. This fictional man that I prayed so earnestly for had blue eyes, dark hair, was 6’4” (I’m tall, the struggle is real), played baseball (not because I was an avid sports fan, but because I was a lustful teenager), and loved Jesus with his whole heart. My husband of more than nine years DOES have blue eyes and dark hair, but he doesn’t wear baseball pants, and, while taller than me, is not 6’4”. Does this mean that God did not honor my requests, that He wasn’t listening? No, it means my list was stupid.

I am a wedding photographer. I’ve lost count of how many couples I’ve had the honor of photographing, but I do know that I have not photographed a SINGLE bride and groom smiling, holding up their checked-off lists, giving a thumbs-up. I also have a degree in counseling, and I tell ya, either I missed the day our professors went over comparing lists in premarital counseling, or the topic just was not covered in the Marriage Preparedness and Strengthening units.  Jacob didn’t consult his checklist when tricked into marrying Rachel, he just knew that she wasn’t Leah. I don’t know how the phenomenon got started, but I can’t find anything to support it.

Don’t get me wrong, us gals deserve good things. And yes, God wants to give us the desires of our hearts. But how about instead of creating a list to mentally compare every guy you meet to, you compare every one to Christ. Does he love? Does he extend grace? Is he chasing after the Father? Consult the checklist in 1 Corinthians 13. Is he patient? Is he kind? Does he rejoice in wrongdoing? You are not shopping for a car. You are making yourself available to someone who you will spend your life with. Don’t set up parameters that can come and go like trends, measure him by the Word of God. Jesus would never slap you around. Jesus doesn’t get drunk and blow the rent money. Jesus doesn’t care about swag. God said He would never leave you nor forsake you. THAT’S what you need until you are parted by death. That’s someone who will stick by, in sickness and in health.

I have had several friends who have met incredible men, but were hesitant to pursue a relationship because of a deal-breaker from their list. “But he has a child from a previous relationship.” “But he has a giant face tatoo.” Listen, I would hate to think of how many times I would be deemed “unworthy” because of how I fell short of a list my husband may have dreamed up. Thank God He doesn’t count me out because of my mistakes. Thank God He doesn’t count me out because of ways that I don’t measure up. Stop worrying so much over the present circumstances of your ideal husband, and start praying over his future. Stop daydreaming about his physical qualities and start praying over his HEART. Don’t worry and fuss over the things he does before you meet him, but begin praying for him as your HUSBAND. Pray that he would exercise wisdom with your finances. Pray that he would lead your future family after God. Pray for your husband, not for God to make the hot guy who brings his guitar to youth camp INTO your husband.

But you know what list you should make? Make a list of the qualities YOU want to have as a WIFE. Pinterest has made weddings so romantic, but after that one single day, you’ll be a wife for the rest of your life. After you’ve found the guy, you’ll need to make it work every day after. Make a list of qualities you’d like to exhibit and pray over THAT. Compare to THAT. Will you be a patient wife? Will you support your husband in any career he chooses? Will you speak kindness over him? Will you publicly cheer him? Concern yourself with BEING the right person more than FINDING the right person.

God knew you before you were born. He knit you together. You are His masterpiece. The same goes for your future husband. God made him long before you put pen to paper. Open yourself up to Him, trust that God knows what He’s doing. In theory, if you are looking for The One, then every single man you meet but ONE will be him. Billions of no’s. Billions of Not The Ones. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t waste your energy and set yourself up for disappointment by comparing every man to a list. Pray for this unknown man’s heart, pray for God to prepare yours, and open yourself up to His will.

“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.

 

Resolution Writer’s Block?

Happy New Year, everyone!

It’s 2014, and my Facebook newsfeed has been full of friends and family making promises and vows about what their new year will look like, what the new them will look like. There’s the classic weight-loss resolution, the empowering getting-out-of-debt resolution, the humblebrag volunteering resolution. For every three resolutions that are shared, however, I’m also seeing opinions on resolutions – people rolling their cyberspace eyes at them, those who automatically assume no one will achieve their goals, those who don’t see the point. This blog post is not for those people. I personally love New Year’s resolutions. I think that any time someone takes an opportunity to examine themselves truthfully and challenge themselves to be better is a cause for celebration! Will they make it? Who knows. But the effort alone is something better than what they’d done before, so bra-flipping-vo to them. Every day is a new chance to try again, so if you’ve gained a pound by  January 2nd, so what? You have more than 360 days (I’m pretty bad at math) left to work at it! So I would like to challenge everyone who reads this to make at least one resolution, one vow to better themselves or the people around them. It can’t hurt to try, and it will only help if you do it! Well, except for my oldest, who announced that his New Year resolution was to get a Nintendo 3DS. I told that joker he better resolve to get a job. Below you will find some suggestions for resolutions. Most are pretty simple. I’m not numbering them, because I’m not Buzzfeed and everyone these days LOVES to number their suggestions. 10 Things to do after 10 PM? 17 Ways to Tell Your Mail Carrier Thank You? I’ll leave the numbers with skinny jeans, Crocs, and Pinterest in my “avoid at all costs” pile.

Anywho, please consider choosing a resolution to try! If it doesn’t work, pick a new one. January 1st isn’t a magical date (good, because today is the 2nd). Any time is a great time to be better! Tweak it to make it your own. Involve your whole family. Share it with others to keep yourself accountable or quietly do better. Either way, let’s all plan to do better in 2014. And please, leave your own suggestions in the comments!

 

Try a new trend.  It only takes guts!

Stand up straight. Throw those shoulders back and stare at the world head on. You’ll be surprised to see how much better posture positively affects your mood. Walk around like you’re supposed to be there, not like you were defeated before you got there. And while you’re at it, smile at people as you see them.

Chill out with the selfies. One every now and then is fine, since we want to see your happy, smiling face. But let’s be honest – if you post a weekly selfie, we get it already. And if you post one a week, or even – gasp! – daily, my New Year’s resolution was to hide you from my newsfeed. Self confidence is something you have within yourself, not something you choke others with. For the love, please stop driving and selfie-ing.

Take more photos with you in them. I know, this sounds like it contradicts what I just said. But there’s a difference between taking a photo with a friend or a nice family photo and sitting on a bathroom counter to show everyone what your hair looks like that day. Some day, many many years from now, your children or friends or family will want photos to remember you by. Your grandchildren will want to know what you looked like, be it overweight or skinny, hair done or not. They’ll want to laugh at how silly your clothes looked and marvel at how they have your nose. They won’t want a duckface bathroom mirror picture hanging in their hallway, and you don’t want a picture of you driving, pretending you’re not taking a picture of yourself, blown up and on an easel at your funeral. Jump into the picture and document this time in your life, regardless of how you feel about your appearance. If not for yourself, then for the people in the future who will inevitably want it.

Encourage someone daily.  Send an email or text to someone, compliment your cashier’s hairstyle or nails, pull aside a new mom and tell her she’s doing a great job. It doesn’t have to cost a dime. Take the time to tell a manager about exceptional service you received, send a note in the mail. It takes very little effort, and the smile on their face will almost always result on one on yours. I’ll be honest, I’ve taken screen shots of sweet Facebook messages I’ve received that have made my day. Everyone is always so busy, working so hard, so consumed, and it’s easy to let isolation or routine swallow you up. You may never know the impact that a simple affirmation can have on someone.

Yell less. Unless you’re at a sporting event or being attacked, how necessary is your outside voice? I’ll be honest, I struggle with this myself, often out of frustration at my kids. Yelling may make my words louder, but it rarely gets me heard.

Cook more. I’m grumbling as I’m typing this. I hate cooking. Well, I hate juggling three kids while cooking. I would much rather decide what sounds good and have someone else cook it for me, often better, and much, much faster. But cooking always saves us money, is almost always healthier, and sometimes even leaves enough leftovers for a pretty sweet lunch the next day.

Get involved in a child’s life. If you have a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or even a close friend with a child, please make the effort to be a part of their life. Kids are fascinating creatures. They’re only this age today, tomorrow they’ll be a little older. Children love and need attention, to be made to feel special. I am an only child, so I get extremely jealous and sad when I see or hear of children who have amazing aunts and uncles who are involved in their lives, who call them, babysit them, get excited about them, cheer them on at events. So make a phone call, make the effort. Go to a soccer game, ask them about themselves. Babysit (for free!), CARE. Investing time into a child will ALWAYS be worth it.  Children don’t know how to maintain a relationship when they are young, so you’ve got to do the legwork.

Stop asking me to do things without my kids. Let me clarify: Stop forgetting that I have kids. Without naming names, there is a couple in my life who I should have a better relationship with, but they keep forgetting that I have children. Three of them. Yet this couple’s closing statement the 2-3 times a year I see them is “We should go to dinner, just the four of us.” As stated above, I don’t have an abundance of people in my life who will step up and love my kids for a few hours while I hang out with you. And the babysitting I DO get, I like to use to get a rare date night with my husband. If you want to get closer to me, embrace my kids. Would I love to have a leisurely lunch without them? Oh yes. But if you make it a condition of our relationship that my kids not be present, you can kiss our relationship goodbye.

Plant something. A flower garden, a Topsy Turvey hanging tomato plant, or your feet on the ground, make something grow this year. Make the earth better. Make the air cleaner. Eat produce that you grew. Pick flowers that you watered. Take ownership and pride in something that can nourish your body or soul.

Vote. Learn about issues, local and national, that you can get passionate about and have a voice in. Not everyone has the right to vote, so make sure you appreciate and exercise yours!

Have a garage sale. This will clear your home of unused and unnecessary clutter, force you to give yourself a deadline if you set the date of the sale, and get you some extra cash. You can join together with friends or neighbors to help share the workload. Craigslist is spotty and Ebay takes time, but a garage sale is relatively quick and easy to pull off. How could your life not be better with less mess and more moolah? Bonus – Use the cash to pay off a bill!

Stop the Facebook game requests. Seriously. I can count on my hands the number of people I have ever deleted as a Facebook friend, but the majority of those few chosen were due to excessive game requests. Yes, now I know I can block requests from individual people, and believe me, I do. I once received over 20 requests in a single day… from a single person! The craziest part? All of the game requests – every single one – are from adults. Grown dang people. People with jobs and families. If you send me multiple game requests, I WILL simultaneously block your ability to do so and question what you do with your life. I’ve also noticed a correlation between the people who send large amounts of game requests and the people who complain about their lives. I’m not SAYING the games are the cause of unhappiness in their lives, I’m just saying maybe if they spent less time being grown dang people who play computer games and more time being grown dang people who engage in their real life, they’d see that there are blessings all around them.

Park better. If you find yourself with the wheels of your vehicle over the lines of the parking spot in 2014, take the time to back out and try again. Otherwise, someone else may resolve to key your vehicle or leave you a nasty note. Or just resolve that you’re not smart enough to park between two straight lines.

Listen. If it’s a child telling a never-ending and nonsensical story or an elderly man talking about his grandchildren in the grocery store, they’re telling you because they want you to hear it. Just listen.

Volunteer. Not to humblebrag. But to offer something that is invaluable and always there, no matter what your bank account says: your time and your heart. If you can’t give, help. Contact local food pantries to see if they need items or help stocking shelves. Contact local churches to see if they have outreach ministries. If you’re involved in a church, pray about what department you feel strongly about and could offer one day a month to help with. Mentoring or tutoring programs with schools or libraries. Women’s shelters. Nursing homes. Soup kitchens. Homeless shelters. Prison ministries. Pregnancy centers. Children’s hospitals. Do yardwork for a widow or even just mow your neighbor’s yard while you’re already out there doing yours. Contact someone who hasn’t been to church in a while and let them know they’re missed. Babysit – for free! Hug someone who has been hurt. Share your love as passionately as you do your political beliefs. Give of your time and heart and make a difference.

Accept people for who they are – not who you think they should be.  Many of the times in my life that I have been disappointed by someone, it is because I expected them to be someone else, or at least behave a certain way. If someone has always been a flake, then I can’t expect plans with me to change that. If children are inherently selfish, then I can’t expect mine to not struggle with sharing. My mother is bipolar, no matter how much I wish she weren’t. Loving someone who is bipolar is as much a roller coaster for you as for them (and I may blog about this alone in the future). But I was reminded by my aunt that she is bipolar no matter how much it affects me. I can either accept her as she is (and remind myself that sometimes there’s more illness than individual), or not at all. Yes, sometimes people just ARE that dumb. But getting angry about it won’t make them smarter or help either of you. The sooner you let someone else’s choices or quirks roll off your back, the happier you’ll be. Someone being rude to you has nothing to do with you – they’re just rude. So don’t take it personally and move on. My younger son does not behave the way my older son does. The sooner I accept that he is NOT my older son, the sooner I can appreciate what makes him so different. If someone is living a lifestyle different than my own, they are not doing so as a personal affront to me. I do not have the right to be offended that someone is different from myself.  Accept people for who they are, and your life will get infinitely happier.

Buy small. Maybe there’s a cute boutique in your town. Maybe you know someone who sews or embroiders or paints or builds. I’m sure you know a mechanic who works in a small garage. A hole-in-the-wall local favorite restaurant. I have dozens of friends involved in direct sales, everything from Scentsy to spa products, wine to supplements, jewelry, purses, home decor, makeup… I challenge you this year to use your dollars to support small businesses, small business owners, and local favorites. If you’re going to have to buy something anyway, see if you can support a friend while doing it. The customer service you’ll receive will almost always be better, products will almost always be higher quality, and your community will be directly influenced by your support.

Watch Impractical Jokers. Just once. You’ll laugh so hard you might pee yourself.

Reduce your ingredients, not your pants size. If you’re going to resolve to get healthier this year, do it to be actually healthier, not smaller. Diets are temporary. Changing your lifestyle will have much greater impact. Denying yourself a Snickers for all of 2014? Good luck with that. But educating yourself about the ingredients you introduce into your body will make you much more passionate about your health, and will probably have the added bonus of wittling away at your waistline.

Accept responsibility. The sooner you stop blaming others and accepting how your own actions affect you, the sooner you can do something about them to change whatever you’re unhappy with. Are you mad at the guy driving slowly in front of you? Maybe if you’d left on time you wouldn’t be so rushed. Friends keep letting you down? Maybe you asked too much of them. You have the worst parents in the world because they won’t upgrade your iPhone? Maybe you’re a spoiled brat. Accept that we’re all human, all fallible, and all capable of messing up our lives. Accept your responsibility. Then go a step further and do something about it.

Love on your pastor. And his wife. And his kids. Don’t have a pastor? Then find someone who pours into your life, encourages you, gives of their time, and love on them. Ministry is a largely thankless job that is definitely not pursued for the money. I’m sure this will end up being a blog post of its own in the future, as well, but for now, just know that pastors deal with a lot. While you’re at it, police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and many other professions where someone leaves their family to help yours is worthy of the occasional thank you. Muffins, gift cards, notes, hugs…. Take the time to thank someone who took the time.

Welcome troops home. Go to the airport, make a sign, and prepare to cry your face off. If you can’t make it to a homecoming, then adopt a soldier. Send cards or letters to deployed soldiers. If you live near a base, offer your home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or really any meal for someone’s son or daughter who misses home badly. Their job is harder than yours, and they don’t see their loved ones as often as you do, so reach out, thank them, and do what you can.

 

As usual, I’ve gone on much longer than I expected to. There are countless ways to do better this year, so let’s hear your suggestions! Good luck everyone, and Happy New YOU!

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.