what I’m looking forward to in July

I cannot believe that it’s the first of July already. There is some bittersweetness because my birthday month is over (that’s a shout-out to my friend, Lev, who has encouraged me in his practice of celebrating birthdays all month long), and with it the way June initiates summer and holds the longest day of sunlight. July means H.O.T. humidity. But there are also things to look forward to in July. Here goes – 

1. Fireworks! I love them. I don’t know when it started but somewhere along the way I got over my intense fear of them and actually began to love them. When I say intense fear, I’m not exaggerating. My brother and I were so terrified of the sound and the thought that some stray spark might fall on us that we made my parents bring umbrellas to one neighborhood fireworks display. And my sweet parents did, and they opened them for us as we huddled beneath them. Wow – true love. Another early childhood memory is my grandma taking me into a bathroom until they were over because I was screaming in fear. So maybe I’m trying to make up for all of that lost time, so that’s the one thing I hate to miss on the 4th of July. I’ve dragged my less-than-enthusiastic husband to them every year of our marriage (except for the years when he won out and then I was disappointed and sulky). This year my plan is to meet up with friends after the girls go to the bed, leaving hubby behind for some quality time with his daughters. (He’s only too glad to volunteer.)

2. Freedom from diapers – I hope. We are going to try potting training boot camp [again] starting on Independence Day. We will have three days in a row of both parents on deck; it will be warmer than our last attempt (January 1st); and I think that the traumatic memories of that first attempt may finally be behind all of us. Here’s to hoping!

3. A fallow month – meaning that we aren’t anticipating any major social or work commitments/meetings/etc, and this will allow our busy pastor + counselor family schedule some time to breathe. I am looking forward to time to be spontaneous, to just be together as a family, to be alone, to wrap up home projects that have needed some attention to bring them to completion.

4. Beach days – because of the unscheduled nature of this month, we want to try to take advantage of living so close to the ocean and enjoy the wind, waves, and sand between our toes. (and in our hair, bathing suits, arms, legs, eyes/etc etc) We may even combine this one with #2 and do potty training beach-style. Leave those diapers at home and bring a portable potty with us. What better place for everyone to enjoy potty training than the beach? Just stay clear of our beach spot if you find us – consider yourself duly warned. 

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.

My favorite birthday gifts

Today I creep closer into my “mid-30s” as I’ll add another candle to my birthday cake. And this year more than any other, God has reminded me of the two gifts that are my favorites. My twin daughters who are closely approaching 3-years-old in early fall.

As I began my birthday morning with my daily devotional reading from Psalm 127, it was as if God was speaking right to my heart – reminding me of these two beautiful gifts that are straight from his hand. I so often forget, and I complain that mothering is hard and difficult and discouraging. And of course it is all of those things, but it is also a privilege and a deep joy to have these two girls call me “Mommy.” Psalm 127:3 (ESV) speaks of this so clearly:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

So how am I celebrating my birthday? With these two girls and my husband. We had breakfast bagels and coffee at Yorgo’s, and then hung out at the mall play area together and browsed books at Barnes and Noble. Just to keep it real, I’ll also tell you that we had a major chocolate milk spill in the car in which said Mommy-who-loves-her-kids got pretty upset with the offender (who did it on purpose to her twin sister’s great amusement); that we had a major diaper change in Barnes and Noble; and that I was pretty glad for naptime once we got home. I love my alone writing/processing/reflecting/reading time.

But these years of naptimes and tantrums will pass quickly (so I’ve heard), and before I know it these two will be in preschool, and then I’ll blink and they’ll be graduating from high school and I won’t know where the time has gone.

So, God, give me grace not to miss your daily gifts to me in the two sets of blue eyes who greet me each morning (ready or not).

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.

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.

Confessions of an angry mom, part 3

[Part 3 of a 3-part series. Click here for part 1 and part 2]

Ok, thanks for hanging in there! Here is the final part, as promised, and my prayer is that you feel a bit of hope dawning in your heart – like the first light of sunrise. This is certainly not my final time to discuss this topic here. I’m thinking it might be merely the beginning of a longer conversation. Also, please know that what I write is not merely “past tense struggle.” Today I was angry when two cranky girls pushed my buttons on our way home from church. The irony of it was that while my husband was preaching to the second service, I was losing it in anger towards my nap-starved toddlers at home. Oh, Lord, we need your mercy daily! Moment-by-moment. And thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that we have a guarantee of it – eternal, cascading mercy and grace. May you know that today wherever you are struggling.

*Part 3*

As I began exploring my heart and God’s Word, since true change always comes as the two intersect, I discovered that God has a lot to say about anger.  I found a sermon from a favorite preacher in New York City,  Dr. Tim Keller, titled  “Healing of Anger”.  Once again, God used him to invite my heart to the beauty of the gospel as it connects to anger. Much of what I’m reflecting on here is from that sermon. A few key verses on anger:

  • Psalm 86:15 – “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” It is not that God is angry, but He is slow to anger and His anger is over the right things that make God’s anger so different than mine. His slow anger means that I am not destroyed because of my sinful anger against my children. His slow anger makes room for grace, for abundant love and mercy. His slow anger made a plan for how to deal with the source of his anger: sin. And at great cost to himself – he would allow his own Son to be the sacrifice his anger demanded for sin. So that we (the sinners) could be called sons and daughters. God’s anger is always against sin, and yet he allowed Christ to receive his wrath against sin so that we could be counted righteous. So that we would not have to be enslaved by the sin that grieves his heart. This is my greatest hope as I battle anger.
  • James 1:19-20 – “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Yikes! What a contrast to God’s anger. Mine is hardly, rarely righteous anger, and it actually does not accomplish what God wants in my life – the righteousness He has given me and clothed me with in Christ. God’s anger is always against sin; my anger is usually because of personal discomfort. This is why I get enraged over a child not going to sleep at night but why I hardly blink to hear about the latest genocide in Africa. My anger is not righteous; it’s disproportionate. The injustice in the world that should anger me barely causes me to turn my head while I am disproportionately angry towards the person who cuts me off in traffic or the child who screams, “No!” when I tell her to come upstairs.
  • Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When I respond with harsh words instead of a gentle answer, I make my anger and that of my kids worse.
  • Proverbs 16:32 – “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Being slow to anger will take tremendous soul strength, strength that I do not have apart from Christ. It’s compared here to the ingenuity, military prowess and planning necessary to take charge of a city. Patience will entail planning, fortitude, and strength – it will mean divine resources, available through Christ’s life and death on my behalf.
  • Proverbs 25:28 – “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” No self-control leaves me vulnerable, without protection and susceptible to destruction like a city without the protection of its walls and gates.
  • Ephesians 4:26-27 – “ ‘In your anger do not sin;’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Sinful anger is toxic and gives the devil an opportunity he should not have. It is part of my old self, not my new self in Christ.
  • Genesis 4:6-7 – “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” The very first instance recorded in the Bible of human anger is Cain’s anger toward his brother Abel that arose out of jealousy that Abel’s sacrifice to God was accepted and his own was rejected. The Lord here comes to warn Cain, and this story is a warning to me. Cain did not heed God’s warning, and anger gave way to murder. Anger’s natural unchecked consequence is death, and that means not just physical death of murder but the ways that anger unchecked always results in some level of relational death. In the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ, I will rule over anger or it will rule over me.

What does anger say about my heart? For me, it’s usually one of the following:

  • I am not believing God is sovereign, good, loving, and personally involved in my life.
  • There is something I want more than loving my kids and exercising Spirit-empowered self-control – I’m refusing to live in God’s kingdom and instead want to live in the kingdom of self.
  • I have unmet expectations, desires that have become demands, and I need to reexamine those desires as well as readjust my expectations. Maybe I’m expecting more of my child than is developmentally appropriate. Maybe I have turned a good desire into a controlling (idolatrous) demand.
  • I need forgiveness, and I need to repent. I need Jesus!

Hope is found as I agree with God about what he says about my sinful anger, confess to him and to others, seek the grace always plentiful and available in Christ through faith, and make Spirit-empowered choices that are different. This can include researching a good child development book so that I better understand why my children are responding in the ways that they are and adjust my expectations accordingly. It can include calling a friend who has similarly aged children and asking her how she’s dealing with a certain behavior or issue. It’s often included a conversation with a more experienced mom to ask for her perspective on this particular stage. Heart-transforming change always means coming before God in prayerful dependence, asking specifically for the help that I need and asking him to show me the “way out of temptation” before it comes. I have written verses I want to meditate on and remember on 3×5 cards and put them in highly visible places where I will see them during the day (my kitchen sink, car dashboard, etc). Most importantly, it means rehearsing the gospel story of redemption to myself again and remembering where I am in it: declared righteous by Christ’s death and resurrection and living a life no longer enslaved to sin in community with the body of Christ. I am awaiting Christ’s return to make everything right, to destroy sinful anger forever, and to restore all of his people to a perfect relationship with a holy and beautiful God. This is the hope that purifies me day by day, and it is remember my identity in this story that gives me courage to live out its beautifying truth. Even – and especially – as I battle anger as a mom of toddlers.

Confessions of an angry mom, part 1

Today I had the privilege of being part of a panel discussion on the topic of “Nurturing Emotional Health as a Mom” with our church’s moms’ ministry, entitled (appropriately) “Nurture.” I learned so much from my preparation as well as from my fellow panelists. And so I wanted to share here part of what I shared today, in hopes that you too will know (1) you are not alone (2) God meets you (3) you can change. I am experiencing all of that and more in this journey. A journey of “imperfect progress” to quote Lysa TerKeurst in Unglued.

Anger and fear/anxiety are often two sides of a coin. They are two responses to feeling out of control and two ways to seek to regain control. I have lived in both places, and I often still do. Anxiety used to be my prevalent and familiar emotional response to out-of-control situations, like a pending job transition or move, pregnancy with twins, bed rest while pregnant with twins due to preterm labor, trying to feed newborn twins, and the run-of-the-mill daily issues like budget, income, and people pleasing. Anger I was not so familiar with from the inside out. Until my precious daughters reached about 18 months, when they began turning from babies with predominantly physical neediness of me to toddlers with extreme emotional demands of me and a huge emotionality of their own that they brought to each day. I began losing it in angry outbursts, almost but not quite as frequently as they would erupt in a toddler temper tantrum. It became as if we would set each other off. I felt out of control and at the end of my emotional resources. Completely, utterly drained, with no hope until preschool of any relief or refreshment. And I don’t know about you, but as often as I hear “it goes by so quickly!” and really want to believe that, it does not help me to get through these very draining days and weeks that feel as though they are eternal in length and demands.

My anger continued to increase, despite my best efforts at prayer, seeking help, trying to be more self-controlled. And I think that’s part of the problem. It’s not about me being self-controlled, but about me being more Spirit-controlled. I’m learning ways to manage heat-of-the-moment anger and seeking God to heal me of the roots of my sinful anger, preventative care of my heart and soul. My anger is often my temper tantrum against God. I began keeping an anger log – tracking the times when I got angry, what I did in response to what was happening around me, why I became angry – looking at what I wanted in that moment, and then seeking God’s help for biblical truth to fortify my heart.

I noticed the many ways that anger can manifest itself – not only the loud yelling or outbursts, but also criticism, sarcasm, a lingering bitterness or resentment. The object of my anger was not always the one(s) I was acting angry towards. Sometimes I was angry at myself for getting angry; other times I was feeling resentful towards my husband and directing it towards my kids; and yet other times I was upset with my kids but taking it out in an angry resentment towards my husband. Ultimately, I was angry with a God I viewed as controlling yet distant. Far from caring, compassionate, and intimately involved in my day to day battles as a mom to twin toddlers.

Some of the messages of my anger were:

  • “I don’t deserve this. I deserve better treatment, more respect, kids who listen to me, etc.”
  • “I feel so emotionally overwhelmed that I don’t know what else to do.”
  • “I need a break”
  • “You’re getting in the way of what I want.” [Usually peace and quiet and kids who can self-parent – to quote Paul Tripp in his parenting series “Getting to the Heart of Parenting.”]
  • “You are not meeting my expectations.”
  • “I feel helpless to gain control of you.”
  • “CALM ME DOWN!” This last one I am indebted to Hal Runkel’s book, ScreamFree Parenting for, in which he discusses the need to take responsibility for my reactions toward my kids. Saying “you make me angry” just isn’t true. I get angry when others get in the way of what I want/think I deserve/expect in the moment.

I began with a lot of repentance, first toward God (the real target of my anger), then my husband (who would sometimes get fired upon), and most often, my daughters. Who, though often the ones seemingly triggering my anger, were the ones I sinned against in my angry yelling at them and out-of-control fly-off-the-handle moments. I talked to friends, honestly admitting my anger, asking for prayer, and finding that I wasn’t so alone as I thought I was. Hence this blog post, and our morning’s discussion, and each of you who find that this resonates with you. We are not alone! And that is the first and most important step in dealing with anger as a mom. Stay tuned for more in the next few days.

******

Want to read the rest of the series? Part 2 here, and part 3 here.

tears and transitions

As the tea kettle began its high-pitched whistle, releasing steam from the boiling water inside, I felt it to be the perfect metaphor for the emotions steaming within me. After an hour of bedtime antics, I was D.O.N.E. We would sternly warn them not to get out of bed, they would say, “yes ma’am,” to indicate understanding, and as soon as we settled into our comfy spots on the sofa, we would hear yet again the tell-tale pitter patter of feet on the floor above us. Too bad for them, it’s a squeaky floor in an old house and so there is no hiding their delight to exercise their newfound freedom now that they’re in “big girl beds.” We would parade upstairs, trying to be firm and unemotional and the PARENTS-whom -they -should-respect-and -listen-to-and-obey. We would enforce our consequences, march them back to bed, trying to be no-nonsense and all business. And it would not even seem to matter.

So after about the fourth round of this, I did what every sane mother does: I put on the teakettle and told Seth that it was all him from here on out. I was here for his emotional support, but I could NOT take it anymore. It shouldn’t surprise me that monumental transitions for my daughters are equally difficult for me. And yet this one seemed to catch me by surprise in the intensity of emotions their “failure to comply” evoked for me. Their dream performance on their first evening in big girl beds (with absolutely no testing) also lulled me into unrealistic expectations for the future evenings. Which have become progressively worse with each bedtime. It certainly didn’t help that last night’s bedtime fiasco followed a day in which we were cooped up at home due to Hurricane Sandy. All of us were stir crazy, and apparently they still had some extra energy to burn off at 9:30 pm – a solid two hours past their bedtime.

Ironically enough, I am preparing to be part of a panel for moms at our church on the topic of “Nurturing Emotional Health as a Mom” and my focus will be anger. Strictly from a clinical standpoint, of course, utilizing my counseling training/etc. Ahem … right. And if you believe that, you must have skipped about half of my blog posts about my struggles as a mom. It never fails that anytime I am preparing to speak or teach on a certain topic, God makes sure to arrange that I have plenty of “fresh material” to use. It keeps me humble, for sure, and I can only hope that how God meets me in the depths of my struggle with anger as a mom will and can be used to help other moms who may feel isolated and alone in similar ways.

So right now, what am I learning? First of all, it’s usually when I think I’ve turned a corner on an area in my life that I’ve been working on that God sees fit to test me – to reveal how deeply I still need the saving work of Christ to forgive my sin and to empower me to overcome my sin. As I was working on this anger material (in quiet nap times, in coffeeshops on the weekends while my husband watched our daughters), I thought that I had really begun to get a handle on it. Then last night I was faced again with how quickly my heart can be triggered into irrational anger. I still want control of most things. I still want peace and quiet and feel like I deserve and am entitled to those blissful gifts at a certain time (7:30 pm or shortly thereafter, to be precise). I still don’t really want to serve my children. And I still doubt that God is good and is here and cares about me, even in moments when I’m pretty frustrated.

I wanted to begin doing some major internet research and friend research into the best methods to keep your two-year-old in bed once they’re not in cribs anymore. And I did start a little of this. Which isn’t bad, of course. But a wise friend wrote the following to me, and I think she captured the heart of my struggle right now:

I wish like crazy that I had some advice for you but unfortunately all I know is that this transition is just one that takes time and patience. Child rearing is such a sanctifying experience as it provides us with so many opportunities to practice patience, flexibility, empathy with others, etc. Hang in there. It does get better with time. The novelty will wear off and a routine will develop. The girls will learn to go to bed and stay there till the morning. I promise.

I’m clinging to those last three sentences in particular. And I’m asking God for the endurance and wisdom to learn and practice patience, flexibility, empathy with others … etc. Join me in this? We need one another on this journey. And as for tonight, after a few rounds of the spring-loaded toddler out of bed act, I decided to give everyone a break and split up the twins for the night. Lucia’s now peacefully asleep in her pack n’ play in the guest room, and Alethia finally settled down for the night in her big girl bed in the nursery. Whew. Exhale. Breathe. Reflect, and ask God for strength for tomorrow. Because I’m sure I’ll need it then, too.

Now I’m going to read a few more chapters of my latest favorite book, “Unglued,” by Lysa TerKeurst. You’ll be hearing more from me on that front soon.

on becoming two

 

We celebrated two with a fanfare of a birthday party, no theme other than good-old-fashioned-birthday – meaning we had balloons, birthday-themed plates, and two “cakes” designed from cupcakes. Almost all of the girls’ friends and neighbors came for a Labor Day cookout/birthday party. And good times were had by all.

But this isn’t a mommy-specific blog, where I ooh & aah you with all of my Pinterest-worthy aspects of our party. I love reading other blogs that do that, although I must admit that I can struggle with creativity-envy afterwards. Or I may be inspired by such blogs and Pinterest pins, just depends on where my heart is in a given day.

The twins becoming two has been a slow, ever-increasing process that began around 6 months ago as both the tantrums and the precocious nature blossomed. Now both aspects are in full bloom, which leaves me both laughing in delight and exasperated in anger in the course of a day (or 10 minutes). Many moments, it is wonderful to watch the way they will play together, yelling “Come find me!” and running away for her sister to chase her. They love their new sandbox on our back deck, and they end each day laughing and “talking” to each other as they drift off to sleep in cribs across the room. Other moments, I again feel the twin-pull that’s been present since birth. Of TWO very needy children in the same stage, wanting the same thing from their ONE Mommy. And I feel completely at a loss of how to respond. How do you triage the toddler who just got bitten with the toddler who bit her? The girls who are both melting down with fear or with tiredness or hunger and want to be held now while also expecting me to meet their need (of cooking dinner, for instance, or putting each down for a nap). I am faced with a sense of inadequacy in these moments. One that I should be used to by now, but which still feels hard. Maybe it’s more of a cumulative effect, building with each month, rather than one that goes away.

In one such moment, I desperately opened the Bible (rather than the cookie jar or Facebook or email), and this verse jumped off the page for me: “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19) I’m going to take a big hermeneutical leap and jump straight to applying it to my life as a mom. I know that’s not the original context (persecution of the early Church was), but I think God who was present with those suffering Christians then also wants to be present to us when we suffer now in the self-sacrificial calling of motherhood. The frustrations of motherhood fit into this category of suffering according to God’s will. And so what am I called to do? Entrust my soul (what’s in danger of harm) to God, my Creator who is faithful. While continuing to do good. This is Christianity on the go. Spirituality that I can live with as a mom.

God says to us, “Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s good work. Yes, it involves suffering which will test and try your very soul. But I, who made you and created you, am faithful to care for you, strengthen you, empower you to continue to do good. Your suffering in the pouring out of your life for these little ones is according to my will for you. I who strengthened your Savior who endured this and more, will strengthen you also. By His very life – the life of Christ available to you, dwelling within you by the Spirit.”

I finally sat down to write this out because (surprise, surprise) I need to hear it again in this moment. The morning was lovely, I was able to get tasks accomplished after we played with a neighbor down the street, lunch was battle-free, and then naptime hit and they rebelled. My heart did so, too, in response. We are the same. We need the same Savior. My only hope for pointing them to Him is that I run to Him myself.

As a small comical ending, in reading “Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender?” (a developmental classic by Ilg & Ames), they concluded their book with some practical pointers that I recommend to myself and all of you fellow parents of two-year-olds. Doubly so, if they’re also twins:

THINGS TO AVOID:

1. Avoid any expectation that all daily routines will go smoothly. Even if you do your best, your child will not always cooperate fully.

2. Do not introduce any sudden changes in routine without warning or without some cushioning buildup.

3. Avoid any questions that can be answered by “No,” such as, “Do you want to have your bath now?”

4. Do not give choices when it matters.

5. Do not expect your child to wait for things or to take turns easily.

6. Avoid ultimatums, such as, “You have to eat all your lunch before you can go out and play.”

7. Avoid getting all upset by your child’s demands and rigidities. Try to see these behaviors not as badness or rebellion but rather as immaturity. Try to appreciate the wonder and complexity of growing behavior, even when it makes trouble for you.

8. Do not be surprised or upset at “No” or “No, I won’t.”

9. Do not take away or object to your child’s security blanket or favorite, bedraggled toy. Do not fuss at him when he sucks his thumb.

10. Do not expect your child to share easily with other children.

… and my personal favorite: 11. Do not be surprised if you are unduly fatigued at the end of the day.

Sound familiar, anyone? Yes, I see those hands! Though published in 1976, I’ve found it to be helpful in at least attempting to understand what’s going on with my 2-year-olds. Now, doing what they recommend as a result will take much more than my self-effort. See my thoughts on obtaining grace in other posts (and re-read 1 Peter 4:19).

 

How my toddlers’ tantrums expose my own

Twin toddlers. Whew. Really it’s a whole new ball game, but then I think I’ve felt like that about every stage of having twins. The exhaustion never recedes completely, just shifts from one stage to the next. The good thing about this age is that they sleep really well and very predictably 95% of the time. Twelve hours at night; two-hour afternoon naps (at the same time). So I should be more physically rested. And I think I am most days. They’re also independent, so getting places is much easier now. They can walk down the stairs to the car; they can each crawl up into their car seats; they (usually) hold my hand when heading through a parking lot. The only things I have to remember to bring with us are diapers and lots of snacks. They eat on their own, so I place their food in front of them, and voila – anything that they are going to eat, they do on their own. No more of me feeding them. All of that is doubtless easier than the first six months when I remember days when I didn’t know how to find time to take a shower, much less anything else. It was survival mode.

But. The emotional drain of toddler twins is not to be underestimated. One tantrum at a time is bad enough, but two of them at the same time? Exhausting. And even if they’re not simultaneous, with two there is just more possibility that a tantrum will erupt at any given time. Yesterday when I was shopping at Bj’s Wholesale Club (my favorite store because they have grocery carts that fit two in, which are easy to navigate), I was looking through the yogurts trying to find one with an expiration date later than tomorrow. (I kid you not – there were none!) While I had my head in the cooler, I was interrupted by a shriek of pain from one twin and turned to see a familiar sight of the other twin clamping down on her arm. Yikes! What do you do then? One needed comfort; the other needed discipline; and we were in public and I was at the start of my shopping trip. So I forewent discipline (a topic for another time) and separated them, putting the victimized twin in the cart as a treat – with all of the other groceries. As you can imagine, this arrangement didn’t last very long since the twin in the cart was enjoying trying to open all of the familiar packages. “Nanas!” “Boo-berries!” “Crackers!” Whew … thankfully, this particular story ends well. I put them both next to each other; gave them another snack in hopes that they would eat that instead of biting one another; and we made it out without any further incidents. I feel like my days are characterized by what feels like endless moments such as this one.

Then I add my own frustration and anger to the mix, and it is not pretty. I remember moments when they were babies and were both crying and I would join in with my own tears. I feel like at this stage, it’s way too easy for me to join in with my adult tantrum as they tantrum. My tantrum looks much different. More socially acceptable (usually). I yell; I tell them to stop; I make empty threats hoping they’ll change; I pout until I get a break and count down the minutes until nap time, or Daddy’s arrival home, or bed time. Then I collapse in guilt and exhaustion and get angry at God for arranging days that feel like too much for me to handle. The truth is that these days are exactly what God’s arranged, and they are too much for me to handle. I need grace. I need grace to pray in the moment instead of getting angry. Grace to exercise Spirit-infused self-control instead of joining in their out-of-control tantrums. Grace to know when I need help and to ask for it. I’m learning; we’re learning; and I am glad for a community of friends and family to support all of us as we go through these days.