I took down the crib a few weeks ago. I moved the 'baby' into a big girl's bed (a mattress on the floor), even though it broke my heart to do it. I chose a day that was extra busy, so I didn't have time to start crying, because I knew if I started, I might not stop for quite awhile.
That crib is the same crib that Jeff and I bought for our oldest, now off at college and nearing twenty-one years. We were newly married, in our mid-twenties, and hardly had two pennies to rub together, when we found out we were expecting a baby due nine and a half months after our wedding. My in-laws gave us seventy-five dollars to put towards a crib and we found one for a little more than that at JC Penney. Everything else we received for our first baby, we were given at two small baby showers and thank God, there were no registries. My mother and mother-in-law, seasoned aunts, grandmothers, and friends and sisters and a host of other relatives chose what they knew we needed. And just like the crib, I still have quite a few of those wonderful gifts.
Back then there were no Targets in our area, no Babies R Us, if Pottery Barn Kids or any designer brand name baby gear stores existed, I didn't know of them, nor would they have held any possibility for me either. I had a short list I had typed (on a real live typewriter) gleaned from the pages of a baby book and checked off till I felt prepared.
Fast forward eighteen years, when I'm expecting my sixth. I walk into Babies R Us to get a few things and walked out empty-handed and overwhelmed and more than a little annoyed. The choices! So many things marked as necessities! So many bottles and formulas and infant feeding mechanisms! So many different seats and chairs and things with batteries and lights and sounds and motion! The costs! One thousand dollars for a stroller? Three hundred dollars for a stroller? Unbelievable, I thought. A new mom could easily be led to believe that she must spend or receive thousands of dollars worth of items to provide properly for her new baby.
I know that a baby needs some things. Every mother has a list of necessities to take care of baby best with, and has since the beginning of time. I had to fill in supplies here and there with each baby-it's fun to 'nest'! But I can't imagine that moms who aren't yet "in the know" of what is truly needed, feel overwhelmed and pressured to provide their baby with all sorts of expensive items. Have baby supplies joined the ranks of clothes and cars and jewelry functioning as status symbols of wealth? Have we invented hundreds of ways to not have to hold, or soothe, or touch, or carry, or care for, or feed our babies? Are we trading acquiring things for time with our little ones? It seems crazy to me.
I think today new moms, more than ever, need to step away from this insanity and think.
Our babies need us. A baby needs his or her mother more than anyone or anything else. We should be first on that list. A baby needs the perfect, unequaled food that nature has provided our bodies with to help that baby grow and thrive. That's free and requires no man-made equipment. That baby needs our arms for holding, it needs our warmth, our scent, our adoration and tenderness. Free again.
No one can adequately take our place, and unless it means starvation or lack of basic shelter for our baby, there isn't much worth leaving our tiny, innocent, helpless babies for. We have naturally designed intertwined instincts and chemical reactions towards our babies-we are designed to be good mothers, and if we stay connected, and trust these instincts, we will be able to take care of our babies well. Staying connected means staying close in proximity, creating a bond that we don't allow to be broken for worldly things and cultural trends. It means that we do the bulk of care, and a strong knowing bond will result from that care.
To simplify, there are very few material things to acquire for a baby that are more important than our time spent nurturing and caring for him or her. I want to hang that on a big banner and drape it across the entrance of every baby super store in America.
The old crib went up in the attic. It will most likely be deemed grossly inadequate and terribly unsafe one day and meet the garbage dump, but I will let someone else make that call, hopefully when I'm long gone, and save myself the heartbreak. I have to laugh at my sentimentality and remind myself that nary a baby of mine slept a night in that thing anyways. I recognize it for what it really means to me-the beginning of the journey of motherhood and marriage, how quickly time flies, how being open to life for two decades has blessed me in ways I will forever marvel at...and alas, of course, how "babies don't keep".
"Think about your particular assignment at this time in your life. It may be to get an education, it may be to rear children, it may be to be a grandparent, it may be to care for and relieve the suffering of someone you love, it may be to do a job in the most excellent way possible, it may be to support someone who has a difficult assignment of their own. Our assignments are varied and they change from time to time. Don't take them lightly. Give them your full heart and energy. Do them with enthusiasm. Do whatever you have to do this week with your whole heart and soul. To do less than this will leave you with an empty feeling." -Marjorie Hinckley-
I haven't done one of these here in a long time. I need some motivation to get my act together (winging meals almost never works for me!) so here is the week coming up. Sunday Chili Monday Pork Tenderloin with Horseradish Sauce (I don't use fat free mayo or sour cream in sauce just the normal kind.)
Baked Red Potatoes
(This is a re-published and re-edited post from three years ago.)
A whole different set of skills is needed! It’s all so new and frustrating and
scary and fun. Just like when new
parents are handed their first newborn, it’s so hard to describe to anyone that
feeling-I think in a way parenting starts all over again at the teen age.
It has been quite a learning experience for me and I have far to go.
Nothing humbles a parent like raising a teen. (Or many of them at once!)
Here’s a recent
experience to demonstrate what I’m talking about.
I received this comment years ago after I posted photos on my blog of a recent family vacation:
you sometimes think your daughter’s shorts are too short?
It made me laugh.
Actually the daughter in question was sitting at the computer when I read
it and we both looked at each other and laughed together.
Because the answer is
yes. I do! I think my 15-year-old daughter’s shorts are a tad
too short. I also think she wears too much make up and doesn’t
need one drop of it, so any is “too much” for me. I am not fond of the fashions right now. (Haven’t all mothers said this? I know my mom did!) And I wish she wouldn’t get so stressed
about school, and friend drama and sometimes I really wish she would not be so
picky and particular on just about everything. And the only nail polish color I
really like on girls is light pink, and she likes yellow or blue or sometimes
My daughter knows this.
Sometimes we argue about it and sometimes we downright battle about it. It’s hard. I wish she would listen to everything I have to say and do
exactly what I tell her to do all the time. She did when she was little. We could go shopping and oooh and aaah over
all the same stuff. The matching tights, the cute colorful knit dresses.
Those red sparkly shoes and the cute pink tennies. We got along great all
the time. Because her opinion and my opinion matched perfectly.
In junior high we
started clashing about little things. Maybe it was at what age we would
allow her to get her ears pierced. Or why I had to be so strict about how
high the heels were that she wanted to buy for 8th grade graduation…”everyone
else” was wearing those high ones, why couldn’t she? We started getting angry
at each other as she pushed and I pulled -as she exerted her opinion that was
different from my opinion – yes, she had somehow developed her own, how the
heck did that happen?
I held her back
against the growing-up-too-fast pull as best as I could. Oh, if only I
could keep her inmyworld, totally, completely, create that bubble. If only I could just say yes to everything she
wanted because it was the same as what I wanted, it would all be so easy. If only she would stay my young
little girl forever.
I’ve found the teen
years are full of change in the parent and child relationship…that push and
pull, back and forth, and a sense of loss for both of us as our children
develop into adults. We have both cried tears over the last years….over
how darn hard and different it has been. Me shedding tears of doubt – Am
I doing this right? Am I being too strict? Should I have stuck to
my guns? Why oh why can’t she just trust that I know what is best for
her? And her with tears of frustration, anger, and just plain old hurt
When it comes to
raising teenagers I think there are three roads to take. Two are easy…and
so tempting because you, as the mother, can always be happy and there is little
or no conflict, tears, drama.
One is the route where
anything they want is fine with you. The drinking, the boyfriends, the
hotel rooms rented at prom. Rules are a pain, and being popular is the
name of the game. There is never a fight because who wants to fight?
“Yes,” is your answer, “sure go ahead honey, we’re best friends right?” You
turn your head or laugh and say, “Teenagers will be teenagers, what can I do
The other end of the
spectrum is just the opposite. You keep total control. You make all
those decisions for them. You require them to call you on their cell
phones every hour because the big bad world out there is dangerous. You teach
them that they can’t trust their own decisions and choices and that you have
all the answers. You criticize and control and protect and hover and warn
and do everything in your power to keep them under your wing constantly.
Things stay the same as they were when they were three, seven, nine –
when it was easy. Their only choice is your way or the highway.
I have seen both
styles of parenting teens and I know in my heart and from observation that both
have pretty good odds of producing results that are less than ideal when it
comes to healthy growth and development. The easy way, darn it, never seems to
be the right way. Even so, it’s tempting.
See that place in the
middle of those two extremes? It’s tons of work. It’s work every
day, whether you are up for it or not. As a parent we might be exhausted,
sick, busy, or we might just want to keep that good mood going and not rock the
boat for once. We know we must gauge when to move up or down in that
middle ground. Constantly we wonder when to let go, when to be quiet, when
to just listen, when to speak up, when to hold fast, when to stay firm.
I’ve learned there are
many rules or guidelines that start out one way, and end up another as teen’s
progress, grow and struggle – and as we
parents progress and grow and struggle also. Sometimes rules need to be
adjusted as kids get older, and as they present a case that makes good
sense. There needs to be a gradual letting go of the reins…a handing over
(literally!) of the steering wheel of life. Trust is broken and gained.
Lessons are learned and tears are shed. Sometimes consequences need to be
learned the hard way – but it’s tricky to know ahead of time when something is
going to be a good learning experience or digs a deeper hole with a price to
high to be paid. Sometimes responsibility for decisions is given too soon, sometimes
at the right time and sometimes late enough to cause major resentment.
It’s difficult to hit that “perfect timing” thing every day. The
light bulb moments us moms savor can be few and far between. And sometimes
those light bulb moments are moments when my teens have taught me as much or
more as I have taught them!
Every day, I’m making
decisions large and small on the spur of the moment, in the heat of the moment,
in the light of day and the dark of night and it all renders me mentally
exhausted – weighing the pros and cons, thinking and rethinking, trying to
figure out what’s really important – it’s a learning process. And then on
top of it all, I learn that what works for one child certainly doesn’t work for
another. For some teens, the surefire way to get them to do something is to let
it be known that we prefer the opposite. For other teens the tiniest hint
of criticism from us leads to a breakdown in communication for months and we
must work to regain that relationship. I’ve had one teen say to me, “You
don’t have to be so careful about telling me whatyouthink Mom! I want to hear what you have
to say. I need your advice!” And I've had another child say, “This is what I want. I
know it’s right for me even if it isn’t what you would chose.” Sometimes it's the same teen but a different week, stating both! Keeps me
on my toes, that’s for sure, and scrambles my brain at the same time.
But if I’ve learned
anything in the last few years of parenting teenagers it’s this. My role
is not to turn my back and go with the flow and hope for the best and it’s not
to keep them young and dependent with no choices of their own on us so they
don’t really grow up. My job is to get
them to the point where they can make healthy decisions -large and small – for
themselves and do it confidently and well. It’s to accept that my children may
want different things out of life than what I had imagined for them when they
were little children. It’s to watch them develop their own styles and
taste and opinions (which I have learned changes so quickly in these years) and
try not to cringe too much when it’s not that super cute sun dress, the darling
flats, the preppy shirt – or the friend, or the extracurricular activity at
school – that I would have chosen for them.
And yes, it is standing
firm and strong at the same time, not being fearful of saying no, and not
losing the battle against cultural norms.
Combine all that and we have a dance with the most complicated choreography
between parents and teens. It is highly personal-what looks like a pair of
shorts too short to someone outside of that intricate relationship, could have
the most complicated story behind them-a compromise made after one hundred no’s,
a battle not chosen at an emotionally delicate time in that teen’s life, a
gesture of love and acceptance when she feels love and acceptance from no one. It can’t be judged from afar, from the
outside, by anyone. This dance between
teens and parents- it takes years and years to learn, it is an art-just as
choreography is, dancing with trust, with compromise, with hope, with authority-but
always with love.
Today is the March for Life in DC and today is the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn.
I haven't always been passionately pro-life, I must admit. I spent the first 25 years of my life not thinking much about pro-life issues, and the next ten or so years, entrenched in day to day motherhood and life in general, and wondering what I could do about something that seemed hopeless anyways. It seemed easier to not think about, it expended less emotional energy.
And then one day I read an article in National Geographic of all places. It wasn't about abortion at all, it was about something I had never heard of. It was something about some tribe in a country in Africa, who was still practicing some horrific act-it is called mingi-and for something as little as a toddler having a chipped tooth, or their top teeth coming in before their bottom teeth, the tribe deems them evil, and will take them out to the bush and leave these little children, in the middle of nowhere to die. To die of starvation or dehydration or the elements or wild animals. I threw the magazine down when I read that, wishing I hadn't filled my brain with that information, knowing I would never forget it and would haunt me. I looked at helpless, sweet, trusting, loving, totally vulnerable Janey, my toddler, standing next to me, the same age as what these little children would be and cried. How many days would it take? How long would she be crying for me? When would she just give up? What ignorance I thought, what stupidity, what uncivilized, barbaric people are we talking about, who could kill a sweet baby in this way? How could they treat a child as if it was disposable, at is if was responsible for evil, as if it could be just thrown away, and what reason could be "good enough" to justify this?
But as I was sitting there, I thought, halfway across the world from me, or maybe one hundred years from now, someone is or will be just as horrified as I was, and use the same words to describe legalized abortion in 2015 in the country that I live in. We have been conditioned to think otherwise, we have been spoon fed lies, we have been convinced, and attempt to convince ourselves, that there is nothing wrong with killing our young. We do it in barbaric ways, we do it when we want to do it, we do it when a human is at it's most vulnerable state and not able to fight back, we do it and we justify the act in a hundred different ways. How have we come to this? Mothers killing their young, in the name of convenience, in the name of anything, in one of the richest, most educated, civilized countries in the world? How have we perpetuated lies and ignored science this blatantly? We don't have an excuse anymore. Not believing that life begins at conception is like still believing the earth is flat. Science has long proven that fact, but we find a million ways around it. We need only to look at an ultrasound and we can see with our own eyes, but still we deny. I could easily see why any society who truly respected women and treasured children would consider us ignorant, uncivilized, and barbaric. They would consider the act of intentional abortion another horrific atrocity against human life.
I pass no judgment on those who have been desperate or scared or backed into a corner, or pressured or fearful and are led to believe they have no other choice or aren't worthy of motherhood abort their babies-and I think that has to describe all women who have an abortion. I can't imagine the pain they live with when they make that choice and then forever after, and truly my heart breaks for their loss.
And I do like to believe that the majority of all mankind mean well. But I can't wrap my head around the lies that are being told to women. I can't wrap my head around that fact that we women will play victim to a sexual culture that results in our babies paying the price by death, and us paying the price physically and emotionally. Do they not know the pro-creative power they hold? Have they not been told how their bodies work? Do they not see they are paying the price in that clinic as no man ever will? It seems that some women are so busy waving their signs about choice, they haven't stopped to think of how completely, for lack of a better word, crappy those choices are? All for what? Sexual freedom? We have the power to control our bodies, we are not victims, we are not weak, we are not inconvenient, nor are our babies, we are educated, strong smart women. We deserve better. By denying our fertility, by pretending that our bodies don't function as they do, by not demanding commitment and love from the man who wishes to perform an act of procreation with us, we are, in a way, desecrating ourselves and our bodies. Feminism? No, just the opposite. Self-hatred. (Here is a beautiful article, that explains my point more thoroughly.)
And our babies-our babies, our unique, gorgeous, lovely babies. There is nothing like a mother's love. Have you ever tried to describe it to another woman who hasn't experienced it? It's impossible. How often do we say we'd die for our children. But right now there are other women convincing a scared, vulnerable, desperate women that her best choice is to kill her child, not knowing that once she had that baby in her arms, she'd fight tooth and nail if someone would dare threaten her baby. Or worse yet, they tell her that her child is a mass of tissue instead of the wonderful unique human being she could hold in her arms one day, and love for it's perfection, and think no other baby must be as wonderful as hers.
I realized too, that if I believe what I do, that abortion is the worst human rights violation of our time, how can I stay silent? How can I bury my head in the sand and go about my daily life? I was thinking of how I reacted my freshman year in high school when we watched a film about the Holocaust. I remember going home and talking to my mother about it and saying angrily, "How could people just stand by and watch this happen and do nothing? What about the people living next to the concentration camps? They saw the droves going in and no one coming out. What about the people who knew, or knew enough to be suspicious, and did nothing? How could they live with themselves, do they not hold some sort of responsibility and guilt?"
But now I understand how they could- I have been doing the same thing. They were busy with their own lives, they were afraid to speak up, they didn't know if or how they could do a thing about it anyways. If I believe in my heart that humans, in their most vulnerable state, are being murdered every day by other humans, who have convinced their mothers with pure deception in so many different ways that what they are doing is necessary, than I am the one living like those I questioned, right next to a concentration camp, and going about my business every day, with nary a glance at the ashes falling from the sky.
One day, when I am old and almost in my grave, could I look back at my life, and live with the fact that I did nothing? I can't, and it took me until I was in my forties to begin to think about this. I realized that I could do something, whether it was as small as speaking up even when it is uncomfortable to do so, or buying a pack of diapers or little baby clothes or sending a check to our local Heartbeat, or one day, when time allows giving more of my talents or time to those fellow women who feel alone and confused and pregnant. Maybe then, when a young girl reads a history book and says, "How could they? How could people stand by and let this happen?" I could rest in peace.
This year it was just me with the little ones at home for New Years Eve. Jeff took the older kids on a special Christmas gift ski trip out to the mountains. We all had so much fun.
Back here, I picked up a Dairy Queen ice cream cake (because it was my last day of sugar for me, and that was my choice for my "last supper" of sugar, and the kids coincidentally asked for one) and we all were in bed by nine. That's my ideal New Year's Eve. I had my calendar all filled out and I reflected on the past and the future (mostly the future) and the kids played with their new toys and it was OH SO EASY. I remember thinking how exhausting and busy it was having three back in the day! Oh, three is easy, it's a walk in the park, it's a piece of cake. Give me eight or ten, and I'll be saying the same thing about having six, isn't that funny how that works? And little ones vs. teens? The saying "little feet, little problems, big feet, big problems", it's so true. It was just a nice reminder for me-not a reminder of "oh how awesome it is with just three kids and no teenagers" but a reminder, that when all six are here I am doing BIG work and I need to give myself credit for that. And also, that nothing tastes as good as a last supper of Dairy Queen cake.
It's funny how my resolutions have changed over the years also. I have no new unreachable demands for myself. I need to eat healthier, more fruits and vegetables and water, and less (which means no) sugar, which I would like to survive on, but it makes me more tired and crabby and is just no good. I once again have to go cold turkey for awhile till I can eat small treats in moderation and not crave bags of Hershey Kisses morning, new and night. I also need to do some sit-ups, no, I really need to do some sit-ups!
And on bigger things:
I was reading through a little journal entry I had written awhile ago. I want to preface with this, please take note: I didn't write this because this is the who I am, I wrote it because this is who I want to be. I tend to take things seriously, I have a tendency, as I look back at twenty years of raising kids, to worry, to take things way too seriously, to project in the future. I think it's a balance, that comes with age-the balance of helping shape them into the best versions of themselves, but also just stop shaping and enjoy them as they are at the moment. They need us to do both! I need to do both.
Here are those observations I made a few years ago, these are just scribbled notes, casually written:
(you doesn't mean you the reader, it means me the writer, writing to myself)
1. Pretty much anything you read, or do, isn't going to make more difference in how your kids "turn out", than you having an optimistic, joyous outlook on life and spreading that joy and optimism to them. Also-showing love in many ways every day. Making sure you spend time with them and use mostly positive words-making them feel loved.
2. FAMILY-it's all about what you do here in this house. That will be the difference in the world-"Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean" (Goethe). There are service lessons, all kinds of lessons, right here. No amount of work anywhere else is going to make the difference as what happens in your own home.
3. Love your "job". Find ways to love it more-even the stuff you don't like. Find a way to cook that is easy and serves your family and YOU well and makes it less of a chore. Find a laundry system that works for everyone, so you don't grow resentful. Find joy in caring for your home and family, using the talents God has given you. Manage well, have systems that work so you can enjoy your work, and your days.
4. Worry-it's such a waste. Explore the worry-it's based on fear. Worry sucks joy, it's heavy to carry, it clouds thinking. Meet it head on. If that means a conversation you need to have with a teen, or a spouse or anyone, have it. It usually also means time needs to be spent in prayer. Prayer relieves worry, centers you and builds strength.
5. It's not complicated to know what the "right" thing is. There is so much talk, argument, debate, fear-mongering in this culture. The truth is the deepest, purest core of nature-what is right. The culture is crazy right now. It's backwards.
6. Which means your need to be on the hunt for job, for that pure truth, and give it the attention it is due. Concentrate on the joy, concentrate on the good. You can switch everything around to find the good when showing the kids that it exists-using compassion and love and hope-remember the truth is obvious this way. Dwell on the good, find it, point it out. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."
7. Be careful of where and how you spend your time. If you surround yourself with negativity, you will feel negative. If you surround yourself with positivity, you will find joy.
8. Enjoyment-find the things you enjoy doing and do them. Life goes so fast-the little things that might drive you crazy now with a busy family life-one day you will look back with the fondest of memories and laugh. Remember that!
After I read what I had written, I was thinking, what if some physician told me I had one year to live? Not to live sickly, but just to live. One year. Period. How would I truly wish to spend the next 365 days? Stressed? No. Worrying? No. Going on cruises, traveling the world, seeing this and that, experiencing everything? No. Not for me.
I would spend more time praying and going to Church and reading the Bible.
I would take care of myself so I would feel good every day-I wouldn't waste time with tasteless garbage food-I'd eat apples off the trees and strawberries off the fields like I did growing up-I would eat real food. I would get enough sleep so I could spend every day full of energy. I would go outside every day and listen to the birds in the morning in spring, and the crickets and cicadas at night in the summer and take long walks on the crunchy leaves in fall and watch the sunsets in the winter down by the river.
I wouldn't waste time on the negative-stupid politics, stupid gossip, stupid complaining, the internet and almost all media in general. The news, blah! I wouldn't want one bit of it. It's not reality, it's not the present, it's not what life is made of, it's what drains life's energy, drains the soul.
I would spend more time with my parents, because they are truly the most admirable people, and hold a wealth of knowledge about life that I need and want to know.
I would want to spend every day with my husband and children. Staring into their faces and soaking them up and truly truly just enjoying my life here at home.
Having as many of those little moments, when I stopped living logistically, and just talked with my teenage daughter about life, listened to my older boys funny stories, or thoughts about this or that, listening listening listening, and played ball or games, or in the snow, or outside with my little boys, and kissed the face off the "baby".
What is stopping me from doing this NOW? Nothing. NOTHING. There is no excuse! I have a husband who works hard to provide for our family, my days, my hours, my minutes, are mine, I am doing what I love, there is NO job on earth I would ever love as much as the job as mother, so...
...what gets in the way of how I'd really like to live my life?
It reminds me of this Bible verse, I am NO expert in the Bible, or Catholicism, or Christianity, or anything (well, maybe babies) but this verse just strikes a chord with me:
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The lamp of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be healthy, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.
If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and money."
Do I take the time to center myself every day and remind myself of all that is joyful? Do I let myself fall into negativity too often? Do I take care of my body, where my soul is housed, so I feel good, mentally, physically and emotionally, every day and can therefore enjoy my days? Do I get distracted by "earthly treasures"-what are my preoccupations that take me away from being present every day?
This is what I want to strive for more than ever this year-the habit of making sure my heart is where my treasure is.
I imagine there isn't a mother right now, on the 29th of December, who isn't. Especially mothers of many children, especially mothers of little ones, and especially mothers of teenagers who stay up late.
This is the 21rst Christmas Jeff and I have celebrated together, and as we've added more and more children, I have gotten the hang of the season-I know what I will commit to and what I will say "no thank you" to. I have a system of keeping track of gifts, I can rival Mr. Claus (I should I say Mrs. Claus, we all know a woman is behind that well-oiled machine!) with my list twice-checked. I have whittled our traditions to the most beloved and satisfying. I know what Mass time is the best fit for us, and I have my go-to teacher's gifts. I love our messy tree, I remember the year long ago when I shed the yoke of magazine perfection, and realized, with relief, that in the end, the gift of many little hands helping, produced a 'rare and beautiful treasure' that makes that magazine perfection look cold and shallow.
So what was it with this Christmas I ask myself? Why did I feel so behind this December, and so tired and so overwhelmed, doubtful of our traditions, a little resentful that most of the work falls to me, and well, honestly, a little crabby? Was it wrong to give children who have so much, more, especially with all the work involved in doing so? That guilt was feeding my resentment, confusing the meaning of Christmas in my already tired, and exhausted head. In turn I struggled with guilt for feeling this way-I told myself I have so much, I am so lucky, I will never get this year back, what of the dear family who lost their son in a car accident just weeks ago, who am I to be anything but joyful, all my children are here and alive and good (not perfect, but good!), I have a hard-working husband who will do anything for us, and SNAP OUT OF IT for God's sake alive, what is wrong with you? But still...why must the baby (not a baby, she is two) decide to not take naps now? Why must everyone takes turns getting sick this month? Why must my husband's work be more time consuming at the end of the year right when I need help more than ever? Around and around my thoughts churned and my mood reflected those thoughts.
And then, a few days before the big day, I felt my heart changing. It was something I heard-I can't even remember where-maybe it was the Catholic radio station I listen to during my quick errands, or the homily at one of the Advent masses, or maybe it was something I read. It was a message of the greatest gift given ever- freely, with no heavy sighing, with no resentment or doubting, with no tallying, with no questions asked, with nothing, nothing, in return.
Here is my Son. For you.
It was my job to buy and wrap some presents, put together some celebratory dinners and bake cookies, decorate a tree, hang some lights, and set up a nativity scene in celebration of that greatest gift. It was minuscule in comparison, the work I was doing, to celebrate a gift I could never ever imagine giving. At home here, I was reminded that as mother I have the awesome opportunity to imitate the gift at Christmas for my family-to give as selflessly, joyfully, peacefully, tirelessly, completely as I can.
It wasn't any new information, and I imagine when I am in the thick of December I will need the reminder every year for the rest of my life.
I am doing God's work, and it's big.
When I take that into account I am gentler with my expectations of myself and I know that come December, tired is good.
Work is love made visible.
Christmas is work for us mothers, some years more than other but in working we experience the authenticity of the meaning of love.
I received a couple dozen really sweet notes this last week in my email inbox asking after our family and wondering where I disappeared to and if we were ok.
We are alive and well!
There is no extraordinary reason why I've not blogged but I did want to back away for a little and take some time for quiet contemplation.
That sounds dramatic, I don't intend it to be, I promise!
While our addition was being completed I stepped away from blogging except sporadically because I had to with all that was going on here. (I didn't think it was going to be fun, but heck, I will honestly tell you that if I could foresee the stress involved (mostly because of bad contractors) I'd have never done it. That's not to say I don't love it and the space isn't beautifully useful for our family, just to say...it was maddening. I'm going to stop myself there, because I've come to peace with it all, and don't want to dredge up my anger again.
After it was all said and done, I needed to regain my equilibrium, and center my mind, and FOCUS on my family. I felt like I had lost months with my children, a beautiful summer, because of this project and the energy it required of me. I wrote this a few years ago-it was time for a major "regroup" here-we were all craving it, me especially.
But during that stepping-away time, I also began to really have some strong feelings about blogging our family journal-I have written about this before so I won't bore, but as my children have grown, as I've seen the effects of social media, as the internet has changed (and maybe it hasn't but it seems so to me from when I first began) I wanted to listen to these unsettling feelings I kept pushing away over the last year or so. Since I am an overthinker by nature, I had a high time of overthinking-going back and forth, waiting for a sign or a new direction.
In the end I decided to take it slow and play it safe. I tried a few different things (concerning ads and comments, wondering if that would suffice) but I still had those nagging feelings. I decided, in the end, it is best for me to make our family journal a private keepsake for Jeff and I and my children, and I transferred those personal posts to a private blog. It feels really right to me.
But I also love THIS place, whatever it might become, if it becomes anything at all other than what it is. I love writing, when I can find the time-without pressure. I love putting my thoughts down on "paper" -somehow that is all the reminder I need of the way I desire to parent in a culture that is constantly telling me I must do, be, want more. I've heard from so many lovely readers who have felt the same as me-sometimes it's nice to hear we have companionship when we feel like we are swimming against the grain.
But...Do I have the mental energy and the time for it now? I don't know. Can I write and maintain that balance of authenticity and privacy? I don't know. Have I said everything I want to say and will just constantly repeat myself? I don't know. I can get really self-conscious about it if I let myself. I don't have all the answers, really in the grand scheme, even with 20 years under my belt-I'm a "new parent"-what do I know? And writing is also a habit for me-once I get out of the habit, it's difficult for me to step back in.
So that is where I am at...just thinking on things when I have the time, and trying hard to be present in real life because that is always my priority, especially at this time of year that requires more of us moms.
...I've also been reading...like a fiend during nap time, when I used to blog, and it puts me to sleep at night. I have so many books to share, but I am over the moon in love with Jane Kirkpatrick's writing and I can't get enough.
For the past years I've been "ordering" books through the library, but it was never really working for me-they'd all come in at once, or I'd forget to pick them up and they'd be sent back. I decided I was going to spend the $4 most of the books I want cost when ordered used, and I now have a shelf of excellence waiting for me-no pressure, deadlines, disappointment.
Have you ever read Jane Kirkpatrick? The most lovely well written historical fiction, all pioneer times, all about strong, strong women. Some of the books are part of a series-this one above is three books in one, which accounts for its hefty nature, and my sore, but muscular wrists. :) I am trying to pace myself, because I know once I'm finished with my Jane Kirkpatrick binge, it's going to feel like I am saying goodbye to a dear treasured friend. She, alas, can't write faster than I'm soaking up her gift of storytelling.
We each have our own seasons-a time to be a student, time to be a new bride, a time to be a mother, a time to have a career and/or a time to share the accumulation of our life's knowledge with others.
With these seasons, we are also given choices to make. We can fully embrace each season for what it offers us, enjoying each moment so that when the season passes we have no regrets. Or we can try to overlap each season, trying to appreciate all these joys at once, only to find we can't adequately keep up with any of them, and greatly increasing our stress in the process.
If you are in the seasons that calls you to motherhood, focus on that season. Embrace all that your child is, and all that God is calling you to be as a mother.
By surrendering to God and your motherhood, you will call into play all the gifts, intelligence, and creativity with which God has blessed you. By savoring this season, you will find peace, a joy and a level of self-discovery that simply cannot be found in the workaday world.
A reader, knowing I love the inspiration of a "life well-lived", sent me this beautiful tribute she read at her beloved father's funeral. So inspiring and touching and a reminder that life is not all about the awards and accomplishments and accolades, but about the way we make people feel. Thank you, Mary Lynn!
I wanted to share some things about my dad with
you. Some you may know, some you may
not. To the world, he was a 73 year old
husband and father, grandpa, uncle and brother.
He would’ve turned 74 on Monday.
He was born in Springfield, Illinois (home of Abraham Lincoln) and was
the oldest of 4 children. He joined the Navy in his younger years and
was a hospital coreman. He then went
back to school and after earning his MBA he took a job at GE in Finance which
brought him to Cincinnati. It was from
GE that he retired after over 32 years.
Those are the basic details, what you could read on paper.
What I’d like to share now are things you may or may not
have known about him, but what certainly made him the person we all loved. He loved oysters on the half shell and
seafood and crème brulee. He loved escargot from the Maisonette but also the
“senior rootie tootie from IHOP.” He
loved music. He’d sit in the living room
with his green ear phones and listen to everything from Bob Dylan to Patsy
Cline from Manheim Steamroller to the 1812 Overture. He loved good music.
He loved his Irish Setters – he and my mom both. My mom often said he would be able to
determine the length of their marriage by how many Irish Setters they had. And they had a lot.
He loved taking pictures. He was into photography before it
became the hip thing to do. He was always behind the camera and all our albums
at home are because dad took his camera with him everywhere and always took the
time to walk around to take pictures of his friends or family laughing or
talking, rarely just posing for a picture. From slides to reel to reel, film
and flashbulbs to his digital camera and trusty Nikon around his neck.
He was the ultimate handyman. He spent countless hours at his
tool bench, in the yard, and always tinkering with things. He built the kids 3
different treehouses (complete with windows and painted cool colors), a sandbox
with seats, stilts to walk up and down the driveway on, Dave’s pinewood Derby
cars, the bookshelves in the living room, toy shelves in the basement and just
countless other creations. If
something needed to be fixed, he did it right away. He made a big wooden twinkling star for
Christmas and put it on the roof every December– his favorite part was having
the grandkids over and turning it on for them at night to hear their little
“oooohs and aaaaahs.” What a good man.
He loved grilling and cooking – steaks, hot dogs, chicken,
shish-ka-bob, veggies – he believed in hot meals for the kids before they went
to school – making pancakes and eggs and bacon or hot cereal with a little
brown sugar on top, making breakfast for his kids at 6:30 in the morning before
he went to work.
He would never let his or my mom’s gas tank go below ½ full
(and most times when it was a quarter down he’d run up to “top it off.” When we got in the car on Monday, mom asked
if the car needed gas and dad must’ve filled it on Sunday – it was full to the
top. He enjoyed camping and took so many
trips to state parks and campgrounds.
He’d meet his family from Springfield, Illinois ½ way and camp with everyone.
We especially loved Camp Kick-a-Poo
State Park –(supposedly because it was the ½ way meeting point from Springfield
but mostly because we loved saying that name). He loved camping with David and
the Boy Scouts. Those trips were always
very special to him.
He had a love of grammar and when I was at work, I’d often
call home to ask dad a grammar question or how best to write something. His favorite joke “you never use a
preposition to end a sentence with…” Oh,
If you needed something done, he did it right away. Friends
would stop over and while they were busy, he’d go out and turn their cars
around, wipe off their windshield and put Rainex on it. Just because that’s the kind of person he
was. He was the ultimate gentleman. He would ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS hold doors for
my mom, for all of us. He was so
thoughtful. Always asking my mom what
she needed or arranging her things just because he knew she’d like it that
way. He was SO KIND. Today is our mom’s 70th
birthday. He had told her he bought her
a birthday present (and did she want to know what it was) but that he hid it in
the garage, but hid it so well he couldn’t find it. We did end up finding it – he bought her
Romance – her favorite perfume. He was
He taught me and my brother David so many good lessons. He
was such a good dad. He was always
protective of us and one example - every
year he’d paint a red line at the end of the driveway that we couldn’t ride our
tricycles or bikes across (of course we’d always toe the line). But that red
line and him wanting us to be safe is just ingrained in our minds. He loved us so much – he was so proud. He wanted us to be happy and healthy and was so
very happy to see us with such good partners and children.
He was so loyal to our mom. So loyal and faithful, loving
and totally devoted to our mom. He doted
on her and went everywhere with her (except when she felt like shopping by
herself!!!). He was patient and when mom
went to do physical therapy or water aerobics, he’d bring his Kindle and just
read while waiting in the pool area, ready to help my mom when she was done.
Speaking of reading, he loved books. He was a voracious
reader and while he had a nice collection of books, he learned to love the
Kindle and downloaded and read all the time.
He loved history and WWI and WWII and the Civil War. He LOVED the book To Kill A Mockingbird and
would stop us every once in a while to read one of the quotes from the book –
what he called gems. And he had certain
books – Shackleton or the Frontiersman or John Adams that he probably read and
reread 6 or 7 times.
He loved to travel.
Every summer he took the family on a trip – most times to the beach in
Destin or Hilton Head or North Myrtle Beach.
They went to Washington DC and Gettysburg and so many other places. He traveled a lot for work in his early days
– to Paris over 18 times and to Germany and Amsterdam. But the travel he really enjoyed was with Mary
Lou. They took countless cruises – to
the Caribbean to Alaska many times and enjoyed their recent trip to
He went to mass most mornings at Glenmary and usually with
mom (unless she was babysitting!) He
felt a real connection with that small, intimate chapel and when we went to
mass on Tuesday, the priests and people hugged us and Father Charlie even had
part of his homily about dad. He and my
mom regularly volunteered at the Drop Inn Center and made and served food. He did this quietly but often and did it
He loved his family in Sprinfield, Illinois. He
would pack up the station wagon and for almost every holiday they’d make the
trek to Springfield to spend time with everyone. He went back for Alan’s surprise 60th
birthday party, he made trips to visit his mom – sometimes by himself when he
needed to help out or just be there for her in her later years. He loved his nieces and nephews. What great
memories the cousins had playing together, camping together and spending summer
vacations together. Family was so
important and those memories they have, he helped create.
He was PROUD without reserve. He’d talk about his grandchildren – “that
little Arleigh is just so attentive – look at how she notices everything….Lily,
listen to hear read – and her vocabulary!!!, she’s amazing…Griffin is such a
good boy and just so smart.” He loved
his little grandchildren and always had a treat stashed in a little bag to give
them. They knew they could count on grandpa to sneak them a snack. He’d be so patient and enjoyed watching a
cartoon with them. We’d walk by and there’d
be Lily and Griffin sitting with grandpa watching Care Bears or My Little Pony
– and he just enjoyed it. Most recently
mom and dad went on a European cruise – from Istanbul to Athens, Paris to
Venice. At dinner with a table full of strangers he said, “you know my
daughter-in-law Rachel won the Flying Pig Marathon!” I’m sure they had no clue, but it didn’t
matter – he’d talk about his kids or his family any chance he had. He loved Rachel and loved Greg like his
own. He was proud of them and happy to
be in their company.
There are no words to describe how much he was loved and how
much he will be missed. It hasn’t sunk
in, it doesn’t seem real, but we trust in God’s plan. We know it’s not goodbye, but that we will
see him again one day.
Every morning before their walk at Winton Woods, mom and dad
would say this to each other. Dad would
say “This is the Day the Lord has made” and mom would say “let us rejoice and
be glad.” And dad would end with
I picked up my old worn out copy of Mitten Strings for God yesterday-I know I've said it before several times, but there is no other book I have loved more as a mother than this one. Just reading this book calms my soul and reminds me of the kind of home I want to create and the kind of mother I want to be. There is SO much wisdom in this book.
"I used to feel guilty about idle moments. Time spent splayed out in the lawn chair, staring at the sky, was time "wasted". A walk in the woods with a friend and her dog, meant that I wouldn't get my aerobic workout for the day. When Henry, at three, wanted to hear the same story every day for a month, and have the same conversation about it every time, I could not help thinking about the stack of unread library books that was gathering dust in the meantime. But I have come to believe that all of these activities are essential. They are what is meant by "nurturing". As the writer Julia Cameron reminds us, "So much of what we need, so much of what we want, is to be savored, cherished, cared for and cared about. So much of what is missing is tenderness." Our children do not need any more possessions to be happy; they need only to feel sure that they possess our hearts, our attention, our acceptance of who they are." -Katrina Kenison
Have you ever had a tough decision to make? Have you ever second guessed your instincts? Have you prayed for answers, but then felt too afraid to trust them?
My decision to quit my job after JaiseAnn was born was not easy and happened a bit unexpectedly.
While there are a myriad of reasons as to why some of you my not relate to my decision to stay home with my daughter, I hope you can relate to my feelings in the process of making a tough decision. My worries, anxieties, fears, prayers, etc.
Before JaiseAnn was born, we discussed the option of me staying home. We didn't feel it was possible, so we planned and hoped that I would be able to work part time. Honestly, I felt that was the "best of both worlds." I wanted to get up and dressed every morning, spend time doing something that brought in a steady income for my family and that I had worked hard to be able to do, and then come home and be a mom. I told Zach that I thought it would be best if I always worked part-time even if we could afford for me not to.
And then she came. And my world changed in an instant. I belonged to her and she belonged to me. We were partners entering a brand new world together. I was readmitted to the hospital only a few days after she was born and it was a really scary time for me. She needed me so much during that time. I could not sleep because she wouldn't be without me. She wouldn't let anyone else hold her. I felt like she saved me in a time when I was so scared and unsure. She knew I needed her and she made sure I knew how much she needed me.
There were a lot of things that lead up to me finally saying to Zach, "I can't go back to work. I just can't. It will rip me apart."
There were so many reasons not to quit, finances being at the top. Everyone kept telling me, you have to make sacrifices to stay home." "If you want it badly enough you can do it." Well, I also have to make student loan payments. I was worried about my career. I was enrolled in graduate school and had a career path in mind--do I just leave that behind? I worried about my physical appearance. Would I take care of myself? Would I be able to go to the gym?
But I still didn't want to leave my little girl. So I prayed for guidance. I prayed for help. I prayed...and prayed...and prayed. I don't think I stopped praying for weeks.
Little by little ideas or thoughts just came to our minds. Zach thought he should look into the remaining balance of one of his student loans. We had enough to cover that balance in the bank. It would deplete a good chunk our savings, but it would save our monthly budget. We paid it off.
"Have Zach put you on his benefits." was a thought that came to me one day. That way I would be free to choose a job that was more flexible, part-time, or work from home. I could even run a daycare. If Zach put us on his benefits, it would open a lot of doors for us. So he did. And I waited for that first paycheck while holding my breath. I was so worried it would be too small. The check came and it was enough. Zach had worked overtime so we didn't really even notice the change. "I'll keep working extra." He promised.
After that, I started searching for online work and plotting and planning a daycare. The ideas were coming like crazy. I wrote cover letters like I was a force to be reckoned with. I wanted this so bad and I was definitely being assisted in my efforts. I could feel it as I jotted down activities for a day care. I could feel it as I wrote out resumes. I could feel it in my heart.
It came time to make a choice. With very little promise of an income for me, but all of these options out in the open, we decided to pray about it me quitting my job. When we decided that I would go to work the next day and resign, I felt a wave of peace wash over me. It was the right choice.
After resigning, I spent days at home worrying about the things that had already been tucked away safely, not to be worried about again. I am the queen of bringing those things back, and so I did. Every walk we took. Every time I nursed JaiseAnn. I started second guessing and hoping for a more sure situation.
Then my boss called. She offered me the job of all jobs. It was the job I had been going back to school for. Only it was part-time and mirrored Zach's schedule. JaiseAnn would never have to go to daycare. She would never be without one of her parents. I would get to continue working in a job that I loved, but still be home more than half time with my baby. It was the best of both worlds.
Except after that phone call, I sat down with my daughter and my heart felt heavy. I suppose I should have known right then and there, but I fought it. I wanted that job. I loved that I had been offered that job. I entertained the idea of taking it for several days. Zach felt that we had already received our answer, and promised he would work an extra shift after talking it over with his boss, but he also said he'd support me no matter what.
We went back and forth on it, because I wasn't sold. Zach told me to write out a pros and cons list to see how it added up. There were so many "pros" to taking the job. A steady income, continuing my career, having an income through next summer, and time for JaiseAnn to play with her dad. As I moved to the "cons" section I wrote, "Have to leave JaiseAnn." I felt like Ross on the episode of Friends where he tries to chose between Rachel and Julie. His only con for Julie is that she's not Rachel. The only downside to this job opportunity was that I would have to leave my little girl. Sure it was only a few days, and most people would jump at that chance, but the thought still left my heart heavy.
Our Heavenly Father is so incredibly patient with us, I know this because I still fought it. I wanted a deliberate answer right then and there.
The day I was supposed to call my boss, I was still teetering back and forth. Every time I decided out loud, I decided I wasn't taking the job, but in my head I still sort of wanted to and it was a struggle for me. Zach and I fought that day. We hadn't fought, really fought, in a long time. And this fight was a big one. One of our biggest. I spent that day angry and in tears. I was angry with my husband, but I was more angry with the situation. "If this job offer hadn't come up.." I began thinking and before I could even finish my thought, there was my answer.
In our situation, this job wasn't a blessing. The offer had created contention in our home and stress that had not been there before. I wasn't supposed to take the job. So I called my boss and turned down the "offer of a lifetime."
"I need frozen yogurt!" I declared, and Zach, JaiseAnn, and I went and ate our yogurt while basking in the sunlight. We talked about how next summer, JaiseAnn could partake in my favorite treat with us and for the millionth time, talked about how wonderful our little girl is.
We tiptoed around each other, treading lightly, throughout the rest of the day. That night, as I nursed JaiseAnn to sleep while rocking her just before we went to sleep, I felt a real wave of peace wash over me. I whispered to Zach, "I made the right choice."
Because here's the thing: I could list reasons to keep working or not all day long. I could hear valid arguments about it. I could make a million pros and cons lists with very good points for both sides. None of the options I have had at my disposal have been inherently bad. Which is why prayer seemed to be the only solution. Only He knows where I belong right now and why.
Personally, I'm so grateful for the opportunity to leave my work behind and embrace this new job. For motherhood is truly the job of all jobs. I want to get to know the new person I've become.. I'm grateful that for now my answer is to be home with my little girl. There will always be time for work, but I won't get this time back. When she's grown, she's grown. I only get one chance to do this job and I want to (get to!) put my all into it right now.
Our finances aren't completely outlined on paper. I'm not sure what it will look like or how long it will last (honestly, I hope it lasts forever) but we've gotten our answer (more than once) and we're taking a leap of faith in following it.