26 March 2014


When the kids and I get into a relational snarl- you know, the kind of bad spiral where their negative behavior feeds my negative emotional backlash to the point that I fear Child Protective Services should be called, or at least put on speed dial as a precaution- we "hit the reset button".  Either I or the kids can initiate it, and we literally use our fists as a button, and take turns "hitting the button" by pounding fists.  It looks like an elaborate urban greeting, except we are so not that cool.

And we take a collective deep breath and a few steps back up the negative spiral and try to start over with a fresh perspective.  I usually retract whatever dire consequence I was threatening, and they let go of whatever whining, demanding, or otherwise terrible behavior they were engaging in that made me want to throw away all their toys and cancel their birthdays. It feels like waking up, a little- and like getting your first breath after being underwater.  Reset.

I was inspired to write with an old overhead marker (remember those old things?  This particular marker is an ancient leftover from my teacher days)- anyway, to write on our bathroom mirror, "God always lets us hit the reset button."  I liked that the kids had another set of words they could use to relate to God's grace.  Something to negate the "angry policeman in the sky" idea that we seem born with. Or maybe we develop it in Sunday School when we learn about Noah and the ark? All I know is, I need God to let me hit the reset button several times a day, and when my kids are feeling ashamed or stuck, I want them to run TO God in that moment. Hence, the neat red marker letters on our mirror.

Well, a friend of mine was asking recently how other moms handle the stress.  The kind that makes you want to run, or weep, or run whilst weeping, fast and far away from the things you love that make you want to pull your hair out.  And I had to laugh, because other than the Sunday School answer (Jesus!) which she knows, I had no answer to give.  All I had is my memory of earlier in the evening, when my oldest had wanted to hit the reset button, and I had resisted.  We had hit it two times already!  And I was not currently mad, just (energetically) insisting they clean up their mess- so I had no feelings that needed reseting!  STOP ASKING TO HIT THE RESET BUTTON ALREADY! And my boy (who is ready to take his bar exam) tossed out this:

"You said that God always lets us hit the reset button!" Big blue eyes, earnest and accusing.

To which I responded, with all my heart, "Well he's a lot better at that than I am!  That's the point!"

And then I made him pick up his crap.  Errr- toys. And we brushed teeth, read books, and went to bed.  With only a little wailing and gnashing of (sorta clean) teeth.

So there you have it.  I am gonna fail as a mom because I only have so much to give.  And sometimes I forget to ask God to fill me with more.  And sometimes I do ask, like for patience and love and a delightful lilting voice instead of a harsh one- and God seems to say: not this time. But those painful times make me remember something!  God is better than me.  Duh, self!  Me being worthy of my kids' worship was never the goal.  So kids, Mom snapped, but someday there's heaven, and I have high hopes that there will be no cavities and no brushing of teeth. Sweet dreams.

Hello, my precious son, beloved of my heart. Do we perhaps  need to hit the reset button?
For a better post with a beautiful example of a time God did answer our constant mother's prayer for more love and patience, check this out:  How to fall in like with your kids

21 March 2014

class is in session

Okay, March.  Here's what I've learned so far in your icy days:

1. March is not spring.  Not this far north, at least.  We're more than halfway through, and the forecast the next four days has high temps in the 30's.  That is not spring in my book, people!

Ready to hike.
2. When you have two months until your child's birthday party, and some time to browse on Pinterest, anything seems possible.  Themed costumes?  Handmade favors?  Elaborate backdrops, games with prizes and certificates, photobooths with props? Cute clever signs for each little type of (homemade) food?  Yeah, I've got time to manage that, clean the house, and wrap presents, the last week of school.   Already laughing at myself.  Let's see... factor in budget... skills... capacity for time management.  Will count on having store-bought cupcakes, and two or three games that trick the children into running circles around the house to tire them and work off the sugar.  Done and done!

3.  I forgot that when you take a 6, 4, and almost 2 year old on a family hike, you have to use quotes around the word "hike." Also, it is possible for a 4 year old to lose their shoe, stop to pick up "nature," scratch their ankle, and remove "nature" from inside their shoe at a rate of once every three steps taken on said "hike".  But their expressions seeing bald eagles flying overhead?  No quotes necessary around the word, priceless.

4. This year there is enough madness in the house this March. The more traditionally entertaining kind, involving basketball, is passing me by this year largely unnoticed.  Did not even get around to filling out a bracket. Refer to #5.

5. Spring break found me off my game.  Having all three home all day- I was unprepared for the conflict.  Making mental notes to craft a schedule for summer vacation days.  Or, as I am referring to it in my mind, boot camp. BOOT. CAMP.

My youngest, teaching a friend
how to untidy a home.
6. Conducted my own little experiment.  Found that with all the children home all day, the house goes from "company ready" to complete and utter disaster, where every room is pretty well destroyed, in about 16 hours.  16 hours, people.  And they were sleeping for a big chunk of those hours.  I think it will take me 16 hours to clean it all.  So basically if I want to maintain the clean, I have to keep cleaning, full speed ahead, nonstop.  BOOT CAMP. It's real, and it's coming.

7. Okay, so I love having all my children home 97% of the time.  There have been epic moments.  The highlight for me of break was G and F putting on "church," complete with a CORE sign (the name of our church's high school ministry.  They charged money (it was a fund raiser), led worship with instruments, told a Bible story, and preached.  This was all their idea, and they planned and rehearsed before selling us tickets and leading us to our seats.  F told the Bible story, and despite rehearsals when she told it silly-style to get people to laugh, when she really stood on stage (G's bed) she was all serious and explained in a quiet voice how much God loves us.  Then G was excited to, as he called it, preach. He spoke fervently about our sin, God's love, and Jesus' death.  The whole time he was inexplicably holding this little leftover piece of PVC pipe with a string tied around it.  He wrapped up the talk by saying how Jesus' death and resurrection meant that if we trust him, God will remove our sin, like this- and at this point G used scissors to clip the string which fell to the ground.  I got tears in my eyes.  Not only was he preaching, he was using object lesson/ visual aids!  And he was proud to be doing what Craig does.  Seriously, my tired little "I'm so over spring break" heart grew three sizes that day.
Sign welcoming us to church (CORE). On the reverse is an
added sign pleading, "don't take it down!"

8. Now our children want to form a family band, and go door-to-door performing and asking for money.  Some of which will go to charity, of course.  Or as my boy spelled it on the band's poster, "charade".  How to explain that I am not going to our friends houses playing plastic preschool instruments whilst holding out an empty hat- how to explain that, without crushing my boy's sweet earnest dreams?  Can't find that chapter in my parenting books.  All this talk about our band's name, and selling posters, and making money, and how much money should go back to the band- I feel like I'm living in a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode.  I'll let you know how that goes.  In the meantime, I may have to go on a family hike. By myself.

11 March 2014

that time I got social and caused everyone respiratory problems

This late winter/ early spring season, we have been more intentional about being hospitable. And there is a whole lot of backstory packed into that little ol' sentence.  There is a lot of fear and trembling and toddler-like learning in that idea of hospitality, for me.

I pride myself on being friendly. In social situations I think I am an encouraging listener.  I'm a nodder- that much is indisputable.  I am a people pleaser to a sad degree, and when I read Bible verses about what to do about your enemies, I'm always a little stymied.  What enemies?

But. But.  I have learned a little about myself in the last 38 (ahem) years.  I am an introvert.  Hermit-level status.  Also, a people-pleasing perfectionist.  And I am much better at contentment, than I am at having the faith and initiative to change circumstances.  Including when it comes to housekeeping.  So although I personally can live in all kinds of clutter and mess and not bat an eye (or lift a finger), as soon as the doorbell rings, my people pleasing side kicks the panic into high gear.  WHO is at the door!? And how can I keep them from seeing this mess!?

Life is messy. At least, ours is.
And so I make all sorts of New Year's Resolution style plans for getting my house under control, once and for all. And when that magical (organized! clean!) day arrives, I think to myself, I will fling open my doors, and all my friends and acquaintances can come in.  I will have all sorts of over-the-top parties, and that will make up for this long stretch of me being too self-conscious to welcome people in... at all.

I guess I hoped the kind of friendship I wanted- needed- could be found without the mess.  Without letting other people see my mess, I mean.  And it's not like I NEVER had a friend over.  But when you shove clutter into a back bed room and pray they don't open certain disheveled cupboards or see the state of your fridge shelves and generally feel on edge about them seeing ALL OF IT- well, it doesn't lead to a very relaxed, authentic atmosphere.  Although I for years could quote all sorts of wise people about intimacy and living in community, I just could not live it.  And my humble, friendly little self, as hard as it is to admit, hurt some people by sending the message, "Thanks for inviting me into your home and life... but I just can't return the favor." I cringe thinking about it- I was so preoccupied by our dog hair covered carpet (despite daily vacuuming I assure you) that I missed saying to people, "You matter.  To me, personally.  You are important, more important than my pride. Please, come in, shove that pile of Legos aside and sit, and tell me how you are."

Bouncing off- err, climbing on- the walls.
This winter marks a baby step in the right direction.  We have had people over several times- on Monday nights, for dinner, with the kids bouncing off walls and life pretty normal.  And I kinda aimed for "normal". As in, not Martha Stewart clean, hosting a big party clean, but what I like to think of as "clean enough to not be featured on a troubling Oprah episode."  And one of the first times we had people over, it went badly.  So badly.  My meat thermometer went mysteriously missing, and I could not figure out if the meat was done.  Food poisoning, anyone?  Something had spilled on the floor of our oven, and I didn't know.  But I found out when I tried to cook the broccoli at 500 degrees.  Smoke billowed out of the oven and even putting the vent fan on high and opening windows wide didn't help.  Everyone sat at the table, waiting for a late dinner, peering through and breathing a choky gray haze.  

And I wanted to go into my room, shut the door, and let some of my stress trickle out my eyes.  Or at least spend some time sniffling shakily.  Alone. But I didn't!  God does change and redeem.  I bravely made distracted small talk, turned off the oven and declared the broccoli done (after half the cooking time) and served some food.  And it was good.  Not the food, I mean (maybe? it was?  I have no idea.  I was unable to taste much at the time) but I mean the night was good.  It helped that our guests were the kind of people that ooze grace and understanding.  And I figured, if Shauna Niequist* can plan a dinner party and get overwhelmed with her people-pleasing perfectionism and end up messing things up... then I was in good company.

So I am not giving up.   I am a person who struggles.  With my own, and others', expectations about what constitutes "normal," and how I live up to that.  My kids, my house, my hair, my small talk, my marriage, my shoes.  Can I let people see it all?  Observe the flaws and awkward edge?  I've learned that if I don't- when I don't- I get sad and lonely.  And I tried being okay with that for a long season.  But I want better, so I am closing my eyes and jumping off the high dive.  At least I found my meat thermometer.  In the hose attachment to my vacuum cleaner, of course. Take that, normal!

*Please refer to her book Bread and Wine. And then buy it.
Cooking is a family affair. 

03 March 2014


I paid the piper, a little, the other day.  I'd done the "dash and dump" cleaning a few too many times when guests were expected, and I had to sort through some piles of papers. Because I am a pretty horrible housekeeper who still craves order and cleanliness, I often ponder the root issues of my slovenly ways.  One of my favorite scapegoats is my children.  When you combine my three children's unending desire to create crafty junk- errr, art- with my sentimental heart, you get an avalanche of what should basically be recycling.  Papers, yes, but also cardboard boxes of every sort, toilet paper tubes, pipe cleaner creatures, and bits of yarn and ribbon tied into... I don't know what.  Junk.

And whatever fount of creativity my children tap into, well, it has no "off" valve.  Their art is legion, and to them it is too precious to be thrown away. Ever. So the other day when I had a substantial chunk of alone time I vowed to go through the paper mountain.  I wish I could chuck it all without another glance, but I know in each paperwork pile I have some gift certificate, birth certificate, or other random piece of paper that would save my life someday.  So I slog through it, all the while aware that a few minutes each day of effort at this would save me from these huge piles.  I hate how smug my hindsight can be.  Grrr. Anyways, I start out very businesslike, with firm resolve not to save anything I don't need.  When it comes to my kids' art, I figure that if I won't weep with happiness to have it in 20 years, then GET IT OUT OF THE HOUSE NOW. The "recycle where the kids won't see" pile grows quickly.

At first.

Then my heart softens. Memories of what it meant when our girl drew that lopsided heart come to mind. It seems certain that this card made by our oldest boy for our youngest is the perfect artifact of their relationship. The recycle pile slows. The "find somewhere to keep this forever" pile starts to pick up steam.  My work slows as I label and date all the treasures that beg to be logged in my personal Smithsonian.  After a while my heart sinks. Crap.  At this rate, the box I have for each child's lifetime of mementos will be crammed full by their graduations. From first grade.

Nothing in high school or college prepared me for this.  Okay, well it was supposed to. It tried. But it didn't.
In the end, I make progress.  And I know that in the future, I will have the willpower to recycle more.  For now, progress is enough.  And someday, when my children move out and have their own lives, I will bless them. With a great big box full of construction paper and printer paper with glitter and tipsy letters and misshapen hearts and memories. Which will probably be promptly set out on the curb. And that's fine by me. Because, Lord willing, they will have their own personal, commissioned artists with an overwhelming output filling up their home with love and color.