Sunday, July 27, 2014

Do the Best You Can

Raising kids is overwhelming.  Period.  No matter how much you love them or the process of raising them, there are moments where you just wish you could disappear for a moment and compose yourself.  One of my friends has four children and I told her how much I admired her cool, collected style of parenting.  She replied, "Oh, I'm just faking it.  Aren't you?"  Yes.  Yes I am.  Aren't you?

I find myself saying to my kids as all three of them need something at the same time, "Please be patient.  I'm doing the best I can."  Apparently they have been listening.

My oldest was at my mom's for the morning and my baby girl was sleeping so I thought it was a great time for my two year old to paint.  He always wants to paint but the logistics get a little nuts.  The set-up isn't a big deal but the clean up can be quite a project.  Sometimes we end up in the bathtub after a particularly creative expression on his part.  I love this about preschoolers but it can be tough to nurse a baby and give a bath so I try to plan accordingly.  This was the perfect time.

Just as I tied his little apron strings and laid out his paintbrushes, my baby woke up.  I grabbed her out of her crib and came back into the playroom/preschool art studio as quickly as I could.  In those few moments, he had decided to discard the brushes and go with finger painting instead.  "Mama, look!!" he said.  "I have paint all over my fingers!"  
"Looks great, bud!  Just keep the paint on the paper, okay?" I asked him.
"Okay!" he said as he went back to mixing and swirling his colors on the page.  So far so good. Then the doorbell rang just as my baby started to nurse.  

I interrupted her to get the door and gave her a quick apology.  I turned to my preschooler as I headed for the stairs and said, "Drew, stay here while I get the door.  Your painting looks great!"  I met the exterminator at the door and said, "Hi!" a bit too brightly.  "I have a little one upstairs so come on up!" He looked at me blankly but I just smiled and ran back upstairs.  
"Uh, Ma'am," he said.  "Where are the stairs?"  Guess I forgot that part.

Drew finished his masterpieces as the exterminator worked and I was able to clean him up without a bath.  And then things got nuts.  

As we washed his hands and arms and face, the exterminator said, "Ma'am, you're all set.  I just need a check and a signature."  Then my youngest announced, "I have to go peepee Mama." My baby started to complain about laying on the bathroom rug and then, of course, the doorbell rang again.  It was my mom with my oldest and the door was locked.  I must have looked shell shocked because my two year old put his little arm around me and looked into my eyes as he said, "Mama.  It okay.  Just do the best you can."

And I think that's really all we can expect of ourselves.  We can't do everything at the same time.  We have to triage and decide what is most important at that moment.  We have to stop and make a mental list and work the list until the door is answered, the preschooler has peed and the baby is nursed.  But mostly we just have to do the best we can.  Thanks my little one, I'll give myself a little more grace the next time life throws everything at me at once.  Will you?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's My Job

"Mommy, could you please leave the car on until this song is over?" my oldest asked as we pulled into the garage.  I strained to hear him over my baby girl's screaming.  
"No, honey.  Rosie is miserable.  I need to get her out of her car seat," I told him.  "Here's the good news," I said as I unbuckled my seatbelt.  "That same song will be on the next time we turn on the car."
"No it won't!" he bemoaned.  "It's never on the same song when we get back in the car!"

I was just tired and stressed enough to want to engage him in this conversation.  My mind started the argument.  "Actually, you are wrong," I thought, "CD's were invented in my lifetime - I have had hundreds of them!  I have listened to CD's for twenty years!  They always turn back on exactly were you left off in the car!"  This, of course, would get me nowhere with a five year old intent on getting his own way.  I decided the go with a less argumentative approach.  "Oh," I said.

I unbuckled my red faced baby girl and lifted her out of the car seat.  I started mentally strategizing how to get these crabby kids to bed the fastest way without any other meltdowns but my son had not yet moved on.

"I never get to do what I want to do," he said angrily.
I opened my mouth to respond but my two year old beat me to it.  "Don't talk to Mama that way," he said firmly.
"Thank you, love, but I can handle this," I assured him.
"No, Mama.  It my job to protect you," he said.

Time stopped for a moment as I took that in.  My little two year old was ready and willing to protect me.  He had actually listened to us when we told him how important it is to protect the ones they love.  It was incredibly touching to hear those words come out of his little mouth.  I did feel protected.  Protected and loved.  (This really helped me go easy on him when he threw 100 colored pencils all over the playroom about 5 minutes later.  Hey, nobody's perfect right?)

We have to remember how important it is to keep talking to them about values, even when we think they aren't listening.  They want to please us.  They want to do the right thing.  But they will only know what is right if we tell them.  

What values are important to you to pass on?  How can you bring them up in day to day conversations?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Change of Plans

If you come to our house and look at our pictures, you probably would not even know we have a daughter.  Sure, we have the occasional 4x6 frame but it's nothing compared to the 11x14 prints of our sons that line our staircase.  At least this is how we have justified another round of family pictures.  And because our daughter is so cute.  And so fat.  And so happy.  We simply must have pictures taken of her.  So I booked a round a family pictures.

I spent an hour scouring our closets and picked out the perfect coordinating (but not too matchy!) outfits.  I packed a picnic lunch so that we could have lunch at the botanical garden after the photo shoot.  I was ready.  We loaded into the car and I sent a quick text to the photographer.  Here was the response:

We were already 30 minutes from home and I didn't want to just turn around and go back.  "Guys - It looks like we aren't getting pictures done today.  Let's go to the park," I suggested.  
"Let's go to the Children's Garden!" my oldest said.
"We can't do that today, bud, but there's a park on the bay front that is really fun.  I promise," I explained.
"I don't want to go there," he complained.
"Well, that's where we are going.  Let's make the best of it," I told him.

I unpacked my little crew and we headed toward the park.  From a distance, I saw caution tape waving in the wind.  As we go closer, we found a sign that read, "Playground Closed for Renovations."  Great.  "Well, the playground is being fixed but we can still play along the bay and run around on the trails," I told them.
"Okay!!" my two year old yelled as he ran over to a big hill.

"We should have gone to the Children's Garden," my oldest said under his breath.  
I was done with the attitude so I bent to eye level.  "Look - You have a choice to make.  You can either decide to have a good attitude and have fun or have a bad attitude and be miserable.  Drew and I have decided to have fun.  What's your decision?" I asked.
He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious.  "I think I'll have fun," he said.  He ran off to chase his brother down the hill and I took a deep sigh of relief.

And you know what?  It was the best day we have had in a long time.  The boys walked along the rocks on the bay, climbed trees, rolled down hills and had races on the walking trails.  We had a picnic while we watched the boats bobbing in the water and my baby giggled at the antics of her brothers.  Sometimes the unplanned days are the best if you can decide to have the right attitude.

How do you help your kids turn their attitudes around?  How do you respond to unexpected changes of plan?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Look What You Did

I try to help my boys understand that there are consequences to their actions.  Sometimes the consequences are natural.  They know, for example, if they dump their food on the floor they will not be getting any more to eat.  They understand if they throw something and it breaks, it will not be replaced.  Those are natural consequences.  But sometimes they must have a little help seeing the direct results of their actions.

"OW!!!" my oldest yelled.  "That hurt!!"
I looked up from doing the dishes to see him rubbing his bum.  "What happened, bud?" I asked.
"I was just talking to Rosie then something hit me in the butt!" he explained.
I heard a stifled giggle from upstairs.  Apparently, my 2 year old was the culprit.  "Drew - What happened?" I asked.
"Oh I just threw something at Lukey from the loft," he said breezily.  He was still feeling good about hitting his target.
"Come downstairs," I said firmly.  "We don't throw things at each other.  Sit in time out," I said.

He stomped down the stairs and complained about the unfairness of this drastic punishment.  He finally made it to the time out spot and sat down in a huff.  After his three minutes, I made my way over to him.  "I need to you to talk to Luke about this for a minute," I said to him.
"Okay," he said cheerfully as he jumped up to freedom.
"Luke, can you tell Drew what happened when he threw that stick over the loft railing?" I asked.
"Sure.  You gave me a booboo right here," he said.  And then he proceeded to take off his pants completely and bend down with his butt in his brother's face.  "The stick hit me right here," he said through the opening between his legs.  "Is it red?  Can you see a mark?" he asked.
"Yeah, Luke.  I see it.  Sorry!" my two year old answered, totally unphased.

I guess he had to see it to believe it.

How do your children help each other to understand the consequences of their actions?  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Power of Honesty

"You really don't have to come.  You've heard all this before," my mom said to me.  She was planning on giving her testimony at church and she was trying to talk me out of coming.  But my mom has been there for every thing I've ever done - It was time for me to be there for her.  I put my baby girl in her jammies and headed out with a good friend to attend our evening service.

Have you ever heard someone give a testimony before?  I have only heard a few but they usually follow a predictable script.  Someone tells of struggles in their life then they talk about their journey to finding Christ.  They explain how their life changed because they now have Jesus in their life and you leave inspired and moved at the power of God's love.  My mom was able to do this with her characteristic wit, humor and a realness that made us feel okay about having sometimes screwed up our own lives, too.

She told of her birth as an illegitimate child in the fifties and her experience living in orphanages until she was five.  She told of her mother finally getting enough money to take her home only to move thirty times before she was ten.  She talked about her crazy extended family and her discovery that if she just did things for them, they would show her love.  She shared that her stepfather adopting her was the first miracle she had ever experienced and the three sisters that followed were the second.

She moved on to her adult years and admitted to our congregation that she had committed adultry in her first marriange and struggled with alcohol and temptation during her marriage to my dad.  She explained that she found herself unhappy with my father when I was fifteen or so and, in an unlikely turn of events, told his sister about her unhappiness.  It was in her arms that my mom first really learned about Jesus.

Instead of coming home "saved" as so many experience, she came home with a glimmer of hope.  She bought a Bible, The Message Bible, and began to read.  She started asking questions and praying in bits and pieces.  She found a quiet, intimate relationship with Jesus and has lived and shared that love ever since.

She was right; I had heard all of this before.  And yet, her speech was so powerful that it brought me to tears.  I spent a few days thinking about why it had affected me so much and I came to a simple conclusion.  It affected me because I had heard it all before.

How many of you, as parents, would tell your children that you had had an affair?  How many of you would admit that you struggled with alcoholism?  If you were her, would you have shared that you were illegitimate?  And yet, she did.  None of this was ever a secret.  It was just part of her story.  She would always say to us, "Take a look at my life and decide what you will do differently.  I want you to be better than I ever was or will be."  That has given us so much freedom to be who we are.  It left every topic open to discuss and broke down the walls of secrecy.  It showed the amazing power of honesty.

I challenge you today to look at your past and your life.  Will you give the gift of honesty to your children?  Can you tell them that you want them to learn from your mistakes?  Can you ask them to question your choices, even your parenting, and accept that they may do it differently?  It takes guts to do that.  But as the child of someone who did, I can tell you that it's worth the risk.  They will love you through it.  Maybe even more.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Know Why Boys Like Girls

"I think I finally figured out why boys like girls," my five year old announced as I tucked him into bed.  This idea has been puzzling him greatly.  What is the fascination that boys have with girls?  Why do people want to be married?  Why is it a big deal to cover up privates?  The last one, especially, has plagued him.  It just doesn't make any sense to him.  He would be just fine walking through life naked and doesn't see why anyone else has an issue with it.  He thinks every one else should be just as open.  

I have struggled with these questions - How much information is too much?  What is age appropriate?  He has sensed my discomfort and it has only increased his curiosity.  We answered questions in this vein for months as he tried to figure out how I got a baby in my belly and how, exactly, that baby was going to make her exit.  This time was a bit different.  He was bringing me a conclusion rather than a question.  I was intrigued to find out what he had discovered.
"Eyes up, buddy.  Now tell me what you've figured out.  Why do boys like girls?" I asked.  I have had to talk to him a few times about staring at my chest.  This was one of those times.  He dutifully lifted his big brown eyes and said earnestly, "It's because their privates are so interesting.  They just want to see them."

Uh...yeah...that's about right.  I took that in for a second and said, "That's true, buddy.  And when you are married you will be able to see your wife's body," I explained.  I'm not exactly that conservative in my views but I figured this was the easiest way to get my point across.
"But I'm not going to get married.  I'm going to live with Granny, remember?" he said as his brain went into overdrive processing the implications of this decision.  
"Oh that's right.  Well, that's up to you," I told him.
"I might have to think about this some more," he said.

As a parent, it can be so hard to know how to answer their questions without either giggling or telling them way too much.  The topics they bring up can be so incredibly uncomfortable!  And yet, they will figure things out whether we tell them or not.  They will reach conclusions about a whole myriad of touchy subjects, even at the tender age of five.  Our children should be able to come to us with those conclusions.  They need a safe place to wonder about things and get their facts straight, even if it makes us squirm.

Are there any topics that you tend to skirt when your children bring them up?  The next time it happens, try asking what they think.  You just might be surprised at their answers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

It's Getting Better

Sometimes, when I feel more emotional than logical, songs will pop into my head that help me to understand more fully how I feel.  Do you remember the Beatles song, "It's Getting Better"?  I love the chorus as they sing, "I have to admit it's getting better.  It's getting better all the time."  Today, as I blew bubbles with my kids, that song played over and over again in my mind.

As I told you earlier in the week, my oldest has been sick and I've had a lot on my mind.  This combination has not been ideal and neither has my attitude.  I usually love being around my kids, even on really crazy days.  They are so funny and witty and joyful that they can make any day better.  But as I try to navigate heavier emotions, I find that I want to retreat into my mind.  That is not an option for a mother of three under 5.  I made a decision to stop seeing them as a hinderance to my happiness.  I decided to see them as a pathway to reach a peace in my heart.  And it's begun to work.  

I took my oldest to the doctor this morning while my wonderful mom stayed with the younger two.  He didn't talk much (a rarity!) but he did ask me to hold him for the first time in at least a year.  He sat on my lap and let me stroke his hair without a "Mommy!  Don't!"  He nuzzled his head on my shoulder as we walked out to the car, just like he did when he was a baby.  We went to CVS to get his prescription then walked the aisles for something fun to bring home.  He found some bubbles and then we headed home.

I was worried the spell would break when we put his siblings in the mix but it didn't.  It was like he had been filled up with love and was ready to share it.  "Rosie, Drew!  Want to do bubbles with me?  We can take turns popping them!"  he said.  He gave them each a series of turns popping them and even caught bubbles for his baby sister to pop.  She squeeled in delight and bounced on my knees trying to get even closer to the action.  Then I began to hear the song.  

It is getting better.  It's getting better because I'm opening my eyes to the blessings I already have in my life instead of thinking about all the things I am losing.  It doesn't make the hurt disappear but it certainly provides a salve to my heart.   Hugs, $2 bubbles and a few giggles are all I really need to have a good day.  That, and an openess to the peace that God can provide if we just decide to welcome it.
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