a mom’s life

I wrote this poem a few months ago, but I could have penned it yesterday. (Or today.) There is always that pull as a mom between the lives we are nurturing and our own life. Thankfully we have a God who nurtures us and them and gives grace for the days when the Legos and unfinished tasks seem to be taking over any quiet or peace.

My life
scattered in a million
Lego pieces and a necklace
draping over the handle of
the coffee table drawer
books, blocks, a pink dollhouse

and the stacks of plates
from lunch await me around the corner
hidden now from view

but I know they are there
just waiting.

These moments feel
stolen and precious and few
those of the naptimes
that never seem long enough
for all of the cleaning up
and creative tasks and keeping up
that is the other part of my life –
the part I can’t do when
they, my two little lives, are awake.

Identity lessons from “Angelina Ballerina”

I happen to be quite well-versed at kids’ cartoons these days.

I’m not generally a huge TV fan myself, but when it comes to needing 30 minutes to _________ [name sanity-restoring task here: clean, prep a meal, shower, take a phone call from your BFF/etc.], I am not above putting on some kids’ TV which almost perfectly guarantees freedom from interruptions. Today the girls were watching one of their favorites, “Angelina Ballerina.” I love this show. The characters talk in British accents, families are portrayed in a favorable light and the kids actually seem fairly respectful and kind to one another. Plus there’s ballet dancing, and becoming a professional ballerina is a secret dream of mine (that I’ll never realize since I get dizzy when attempting to pirouette). 

I overheard an episode today that connected with this morning’s discussion of the book of Colossians. One friend summarized the main message of this book as: “Who you are in Christ, and how to live according to who you are.” In a word, identity. A favorite topic of mine as one who can easily forget who God’s created me to be, and/or doubts the identity that’s already been given to me and so tries to prove myself through 1000 exhausting enterprises. (“Like blogging daily?” you, my kind reader, suggest. “Well, yes, now that you mention it.” But enough about me – on to Angelina …)

Enter Angelina. It’s her first day at an elite dancing school, and she’s becoming insecure about dancing ballet when she observes her friends doing Irish dancing, jazz, and other modern dance. In a last minute practice, she asks her friend to accompany her by playing any music other than classical. This practice session ends with Angelina in tears, and her accompanist frustrated as he shifts from one musical style to the next to try to keep up with her dancing. Angelina is the next one up after lunch, and the audience feels her despair as she cries.

Enter mom to the rescue. Her mom shows up unexpectedly, asks Angelina why she’s been crying, and reassures her of who she is: a great ballet dancer. She encourages Angelina to be who she is, not try to become someone different to impress her new friends. She’s a ballerina, and she dances best to classical music. This also in fact makes her unique. Being different isn’t any cause for alarm or change, but it’s reason to celebrate her distinct identity. 

We then see Angelina move confidently to the stage and request “a classical piece, please,” to her relieved accompanist. She dances beautifully as she stays true to who she was created to be. A pleasant result is that the other dancers also admire her style, and Angelina walks off the stage smiling.

A few observations about identity come to mind:

1. We get confused when we compare ourselves to others, becoming either prideful if we seem to be “better than” and despairing if we feel we are “less than.”

2. We need others to remind us of who we and that who we are is beautiful and unique.  Do you have friends, family, co-workers, neighbors like this? And when’s the last time you reminded someone else of his or her God-given identity? Do you as a Christian remember who you are? Spend some time soaking up the first few chapters of Ephesians or Colossians for a crash course in your identity in Christ.

3. Being who we are will bring joy and confidence. Living according to who we are means we say “yes” to some things and “no” to others; that we live out of who God’s made us and not who we think we should be. As a mom, the book Desperate has been amazingly helpful to remind me of this in terms of living as who I am as a mom v. “the ideal mom” I have in my head.

 

Mundane Monday

There are days that are mundane and then something surprising pops out along the way and you feel like the day is now glorious. Like the proverbial sun after the rain, or an extra-long nap time to enjoy some mid-day quiet as a mom, or a breathtaking sunset that you catch in your rearview mirror.

And then there are those mundane Mondays like today where nothing extraordinary happens and you don’t wake up as early as you’d like to so you can start your day “ahead” (meaning all exercised-up and prayed-up and caught-up and READY), and instead your first sound of the morning is the piercing cry of one twin after she was bitten by the other. You take a deep breath, sigh, and answer your abrupt wake-up call. Trying to comfort the one who’s hurting and appropriately mete out consequences for the aggressor. All before coffee and a shower. Yikes.

If someone had told me this would have been my life 10 years ago, I might have run away to the middle of nowhere, hid under a rock with a few favorite books, and asked God to let me know when it was all over. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but this is a girl who continued to enjoy sleeping in late in the mornings long past the time when it was probably ok or socially accepted (i.e. – long past college graduation). I’m an extroverted introvert who always scores down the middle on the Myers-Briggs personality test. What that means is that I am energized by time in a group of people, but I am also drained without regular intervals of solitude. My ideal social setting is a deep conversation over coffee with 2-3 good friends, and then a quiet evening at home afterwards journaling or blogging or reading.

I’m with two little people 24/7 whose depth of conversation has dramatically expanded to include sentences like, “I want to eat cookies NOW!” Tantrums aren’t more frequent with either of my twin two-year-olds, but there’s a higher frequency of a tantrum occurring since there are two tantrum-prone kids. They rarely both have hard days, but there’s rarely a day where one of them isn’t having a hard day.

What am I trying to say? Well, that today was a day where there honestly didn’t seem to be a lot of “glory” out there waiting to be found. I’m sure it was there, but I just couldn’t see it for whatever reason. And maybe it’s the ordinary and mundane days that make us appreciate the days that are special or the moments when glory catches us unawares. After a very busy last week, there was something good and refreshing about a day filled with our “regular” activities like laundry and neighborhood walks and a visit from a friend and an afternoon of work and a quiet dinner with my husband post-bedtime.

Perhaps I just found today’s glory after all.

Thankful Thursdays

Want to join up with me for “Thankful Thursdays”? If so, copy this icon:  leave your blog address in the comments below, and link back to this post. I’m thankful for “Loved and Lovely” for such beautiful artwork that I’m using. No rules on this as far as how many “thank you’s” or that it needs to be profound and deep. Let’s practice together opening our eyes to the grace that we’re showered with daily.

{I’m thankful for} a church who loves mercy and justice enough to do something about it, and run a high-quality sports and arts camp for those who wouldn’t usually have access to it. By going to their neighborhood, not making them come to us [except for the youngest kids ages 3-5 who ride by a chaperoned bus to our church for “Camp Jr.].

{I’m thankful for} a children’s minister who is energized by this week and loves all of these kids so well.

{I’m thankful for} God’s grace and strength to love 4 and 5-year-olds when it’s probably a little outside of my preferred area of service/ministry in the church.

{I’m thankful for} a daughter who wants me to open the blinds as she’s falling asleep, “because I want to see the clouds, Mommy!”

{I’m thankful for} generous friends from church who let me loot their kids’ gear and clothes that they weren’t going to be able to take with them to their overseas military assignment. We are now having *so much fun* with princess dresses, board games, little people sets, tricycles, and – the highlight – a kids-size “Little Tikes” washer and dryer. You know who you are, so THANK YOU!

{I’m thankful for} coffee in the mornings, summer birds greeting the day, new picture frames for $1.99 from IKEA, and doing a job I love.

Ok, now it’s your turn!

 

The one voice that matters most

Today I had a conversation with an old friend who’s a new mom, and something she said really struck me:

You know, I’m learning to listen to my intuition. That I really do have a mother’s instinct that I can trust.

Two things struck me about this: (1) How I wish I had begun learning this as soon as she is (her baby girl is 5 months old) (2) Why on earth are we as moms so quick to listen to other voices and opinions on how to parent our child(ren) and so slow to listen to our own? Before you classify me as some motherhood mystic telling you to tune in to your inner voice, let me pause and say that I believe as people created to be like God, He is the one who is the ultimate author of this inner voice. He’s the one who gives us as moms the ability to nurture helpless babes into mature, independent adults (or so we hope and pray).

I’ll go a step further and say that for those of you who call God your Father through faith in his son Jesus Christ, you and I are promised that we will have all that we need for life and godliness. This isn’t found in myself and my own resources, but in the life of Christ living within me through the Holy Spirit. It’s in being connected through vibrant relationship to God that I will have the love and patience and grace and forgiveness and, yes, even mother’s intuition, that the journey of motherhood requires.

But I get distracted so easily. I tune in to 1000 other voices, and I can’t hear the one voice that matters most because I’m listening to all the wrong voices. The guilt from the voice in my head that says I’m not living up to my image of “ideal mom.” The experts offering their research on every topic from nursing to sleep training to discipline to creative development and everything in between. The well-meaning friends who give unsolicited advice when what I really wanted was empathy and support. [And I have certainly fallen in this category myself – forgive me, please?]

Another good friend who does in-home counseling for troubled families was teaching about discipline and said,

Let me start by reminding you that you are the top expert on your child.

I forget that, and then I go frantically looking for someone else to share with me something that may or may not fit my particular situation with this specific child who lives with a mom and dad with our distinct set of strengths and weaknesses. I’m not saying that I am stopping my research. Far from it. I am saying that I want to trust God and His Spirit at work in me shaping me and giving wisdom that I’ll need for parenting. This wisdom certainly includes the humility to learn from others who have gone before, who are walking alongside, who may even do it differently from me. But it’s a wisdom growing from within, supporting and bolstering my God-given shape as a mom and the one Voice that matters most.

I am deeply indebted to Sarah Dunning Park, who first began me on this journey of realizing I was listening to all the wrong voices as I read her beautiful book of poetry, What It Is Is Beautiful. Specifically her poem, “Book Learning.”  If you don’t own this book yet, order one now – and go ahead and order 5-10, for the reasons stated in my review below:

In reading through this poetry book, I literally couldn’t put it down because what she’s writing is my story. I saw my frustrations about motherhood in black and white, as well as the tender moments, and the trying, and the grace. You will be refreshed as you savor the language and the topics, ranging from a hilarious piece entitled “Mom Jeans” to “Book Learning” that will move you to tears – and everything in between. It’s a book you’ll return to again and again to make sense of your daily ups and downs of motherhood, and you’ll want to share it with all your friends.

 

 

 

 

On my bookshelf

20130610-062659.jpgI am an avid reader. I always have been, and in fact as a child I would often stay up way past bedtime reading by the light of my nightlight or a flashlight under my covers. I was such a rebellious bookworm. (Yes, I agree that’s a bit of an oxymoron.)

Since I’m seeking to write more regular posts, I thought a weekly or monthly “On my bookshelf” would give me something to work with (and something for you to look forward to). You’ll notice that I always have one fiction book, which I usually read just before bedtime and/or at the beach or stolen precious minutes of naptime. Right now I’m reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It’s a murder mystery, a favorite genre of mine ever since Nancy Drew, and so far so good. A little hard to get into the story, but I love the writing.

Next in the stack is a nonfiction cultural read, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve written a little bit about this book already, and you will be hearing more from me on this topic in the future. One quote that resonated with me from Chapter 4 – “Parenthood”:

In many ways, the happiness of having children falls into the kind of happiness that could be called fog happiness. Fog is elusive. Fog surrounds you and transforms the atmosphere, but when you try to examine it, it vanishes. Fog happiness is the kind of happiness you get from activities that, closely examined, don’t really seem to bring much happiness at all — yet somehow they do. … the experience of having children gives me tremendous fog happiness. It surrounds me, I see it everywhere, despite the fact that when I zoom in on any particular moment, it can be hard to identify.

And then I like to be reading some sort of Christian book which will help to strengthen my faith and understanding of the Christian life. I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage for, well, several months now. Not because it’s not good but precisely because it is so good that I can only digest small portions at a time. I’ll leave you today with this quote from Chapter 3, “The Essence of Marriage”:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life throws at us.

Sabbath rest for a mother’s heart

If you find yourself in need of rest, true heart rest, these links will help you follow the voice of Jesus as he leads us there (Matthew 11:28-30).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

A poem by Sarah Dunning Park – http://simplemom.net/poem-book-learning/

“Chatting at the Sky” – When the days are long and the minutes are longer

Christina Fox at “The Gospel Coalition blog” – Motherhood for the rest of us

(in)courage blog  – How gentleness makes our children great

Jen Hatmaker – More grace: on not being mean, hateful, and horrible

 

 

For the love of poetry

232323232-fp537-5-nu=32-6-572--77-WSNRCG=336548-63532-nu0mrjThere is something about poetry that has a way of taking the ordinary and opening your eyes to the beauty hidden within the otherwise mundane, that can provide you with the words to express what you’re longing but couldn’t find words to fit. I love how Mary Oliver puts it in her poem “I want to write something so simply” (from Evidence, 2009):

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be,
my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think–
no, you will realize–
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself
out of your own heart
had been saying.

Which is obviously something I really love, given the title of my blog and its tagline. And yet it is hard to find the mental clarity and quiet needed to express in words how my heart is journeying through this unique season. Enter a perfect lunch in Williamsburg yesterday.

My good friend from grad school and counseling colleague, Mel, introduced me yesterday to Sarah Park, who is not only another fellow twin mom but also a published poet. And what’s her subject? “honest poems for mothers of small children” Really? When she handed me her book of poetry entitled “What It Is/Is Beautiful”, I took in my hands a gift. A gift of words to express what I feel and words to help me see what’s hard to see some days. (Like on Tuesday night when we put the twins back in their big girl beds  and found a string of *dirty* diapers they had retrieved from their *childproof-but-not-twinproof* diaper pail, and yes, we both stepped in poop as we entered their nursery-turned-modern art-display.)

While you may not be hearing a poem from me about poop or the angst of big girl bed transition for twins, you will be hearing more from me about Sarah’s book as its release date draws near (April 6th).

One of the few lines that’s already becoming a favorite is below, from “Already But Not Yet”. Join me in savoring the art of words that flow and words that fit –

I have already

drawn my children near,

tucked their hair behind their ears,

told them how much

I love them;

but I have not yet

made it through a day

loving perfectly,

free of discontent, guilt,

or fear.

when you run out of words to say

There are lots of reasons for running out of words to say. I have had a few rough weeks of parenting, and so I feel drained and quite frankly hypocritical to try to say anything about anything. What I need is grace, rescue, hope for new ways of parenting, loving, living. And it’s there. So I’ve been reading and thinking more than talking lately. (not literally, just metaphorically ….) The other main reason is that in all my reading, I’ve found so many who have expressed exactly what I wanted to say or needed to hear. So why add a blog that echoes someone who’s done it much better? With that intro, here are a few favorite links as of late.

Ed Welch @ CCEF.org – “Spiritual Analysis, the New Prayer Substitute”

A Holy Experience – “When You Give Up, and You Break, You’ve Made It” 

The Gospel Coalition Blog – “I Come Messy And Ashamed” 

CCEF.org – “Parenting for God’s Kingdom, Not My Own” 

Susan Yates at MomLife Today – Help! I Feel Like I’m Ruining My Kids”

Inspired to Action – “The beauty of neediness”

Enjoy!

The conundrum of potty training

Aah, yes. It happens inevitably for a parent raising kids. They get to the place where a combination of being tired with the mess and expense of diapers leads them to fantasize about a diaper-free existence for their toddlers – particularly if these toddlers are twins. (Of course, said parents gloss over the messy part of “potty training” in their minds or any possible obstacles like the said toddlers not really being ready.) This is what the new year brought us to in our household: potty training! And it has not gone well. It doesn’t help that there is no unified approach to potty training, toilet learning, elimination communication (I didn’t make that last phrase up – seriously is the name of an ultra-gradual approach). Just consider a few of the conflicting messages a parent will get when trying to train herself to get her toddler ready for using the toilet:

  • When? Either as soon as 18 months (or earlier) or as late as “whenever your child seems to be ready – could be 4 or 5 years old”
  • Parent-directed or child-centered? Some say it’s definitively the parent’s decision and should be controlled almost exclusively by the parent, and the child will catch on/learn quickly. Another approach says not to rush a child, and to wait for the child to show readiness signs before starting.
  • How long? As short as “one focused, intense morning” (yes, one book makes that claim) or as long as several months to a year for complete toilet training.
  • When to introduce underwear? Some say starting with underwear becomes the motivation for your child to use the toilet; others say to wait until the child is accident-free.
  • Once you introduce underwear, should you go back to diapers or pull-ups? Some say never because it confuses the child; others swear that night-time training is a different skill from day-time training and so you shouldn’t try to do both. Another opinion is that if the child doesn’t seem to be ready, you should return to diapers or pull-ups and wait a few weeks or months before trying again. And yet another opinion is that doing so could confuse or hurt the child, as if the parent is witholding a vote of confidence and this could damage their self-esteem.
  • What kind of rewards are recommended? For as many who say “the best reward is your hug and smile and rejoicing,” there are also those who recommend stickers, candy, etc. as positive reinforcement. Both camps seem to be feel adamant about their position.
  • How much should the parent assist during the actual “potty attempts”? The parent should always accompany the child (at first at least) is one approach. Another says the child should do everything completely independently, down to emptying the little toilet bowl into the big adult toilet bowl.
  • Should the parent give reminders? As expected, “YES! Set a 20 minute or even 5 minute timer,” is one answer. And then there is the equally emphatic, “NEVER! It’s the child’s job to learn how to go to the bathroom, not the parent’s job to remind.”
  • Are twins to be trained together or separately? To train them together will help you and them get through the process more quickly, says one camp. The other says to go at each twin’s pace, which means you’ll likely train them separately.
  • Is there ANYTHING that’s common to all approaches? Great question. I asked that myself. And I came up with the following (1) It’s essential for the parent to stay positive, upbeat, encouraging – a cheerleader and guide regardless of how the progress is going or how many accidents occur. (2) Never, ever, ever make the child feel pressured to go potty or guilty because she had an accident.

Truly, it’s a wonder that any of us actually become toilet trained. This is not  for the faint of heart. Speaking of heart, I think potty training could also be called “parent’s heart training.” Meaning you will be pushed to the limits of yourself and will be able to see a new angle of your heart. What you run to for comfort, how quickly you want to violate the inviolable rule of staying positive, why you feel like you need to control what’s ultimately not yours to control (your child actually deciding to “go” in the toilet), whether you tend to rush your child or to impede your child’s progress.

There is much for all of us yet to learn in this process! I’m sure there will be future posts on the process since we are not in the camp of “learned it in a day.” [That attempt was 15 days ago actually.] Apparently, my girls are in a different camp than me. I am needing to learn to s l o w  down and back off. This is hard for me, but good. I know I have much to learn, just in a different area than they do.