Parenting Moments

I had a few milestones today with the kids that I wanted to document. The first one is, Penny turned 3 today! It was so fun to see her and Macy playing in the Columbia River tonight at the same exact spot we took our family/maternity pictures 2 weeks before she was born. Macy was only 5 then. Watching them interact just reminded me how quickly time goes on and how incredibly grateful I am that we added to our family 3 years ago. For those of you who don't know, we had another kid because I was totally not done after having one. And I didn't get pregnant again for a long time (hence the 5 year age difference). Tim was totally satisfied with one kid and I was not remotely satisfied. I was so in love with Macy and just knew I wanted another child. Then came Penny. Just such a magical little creature. She was such a perfect little newborn baby, great at nursing and very happy to be worn by mommy. It was bliss. Simultaneously, we were going through the biggest challenge of our family's existence - Tim's mental health crisis. It was such a strange mix of joy, fear, trauma and deep satisfaction. That health setback allowed our family to face our "stuff" in therapy and learn how to really love and care for ourselves as individuals. We were held up by our community in a real way during that time and I honestly don't know what we would have done without our family and friends. It's crazy to think what our lives would be like if I hadn't been so desperate for a second child. All of our lives would be on a completely different path. Not just because we would be missing the entire incredible element of Penny's existence, but also because it was her birth and the subsequent adjustment to it that forced us all to grow in such deep ways. At first, I felt guilty about how difficult of an adjustment it was for all of us, knowing that I was by far the impetus for such a change. And yet, we owe Penny a huge debt. Her birth and her existence has made us what we have become. I will always be grateful for that. I have this weird sixth sense when it comes to discernment and I'm so glad I've learned to fully tune in to my gut. I knew we weren't complete. And now we are. Thank God for Penelope Jin-Ok Sibley.
The other big thing that happened today was that Tim and I had to make good on a big, looming consequence for Macy. I won't disclose what she's been struggling with behaviorally, but it's an integrity issue that Tim and I have gone around and around with her about. We finally put the biggest thing we could think of on the line. And unfortunately, with full knowledge of the consequences, Macy made her decision today. It was crushing, just awful. So she will not be participating in Journey Theater this fall. No classes. No show. I'm really disappointed because it means the world to her. It had become something we enjoyed together and I'm feeling that loss personally too. It's so important to us to raise a child of integrity that we are willing to allow her to face the biggest consequence we can imagine (based on her priorities) to teach her this valuable lesson. Sometimes being a parent really hurts. But I know deep in my heart that we're doing the right thing. It's so critical for children to learn to take responsibility for their choices and to have natural consequences for those choices play out. Thankfully, I feel no struggle about the actual decision because we literally had no choice. Sometimes your child's choices back you into a corner and not following through is truly bad parenting. We offered her grace. We corrected misunderstandings. We explained things clearly. And she made her choice. I could see her processing and trying to keep her chin up but I knew it as soon as she started shame-spiraling. I saw her internalize her mistake "I was bad" and then projecting the loss as inevitable "I wouldn't have gotten a part anyway (in the play)". Gratefully, I can read her like a book and I immediately spoke into that place. "You're a wonderful child. You made a bad decision." And I provided empathy "I'm so sorry you're having to lose this. It's really sad." I held her for a long time while I watched her process her thoughts and feelings. When I felt tempted to renege, I remembered the parents of the Stanford rapist, who raised a young man without empathy, self-awareness and the ability to take responsibility for reprehensible choices. God knows where his victim would be if they had put his choices and subsequent consequences in his hands early on. Rather, they continue to behave as if rape is accidental, understandable and preventable with sobriety. I hate to provide consequences and yet, I must. For society's sake and for my child's sake. Ugh.

To The Mother of the Child Having a Public Tantrum...

...I see you. That moment of panic, when every nerve stands on edge. When every head in the room turns towards you to see what you're going to do. When that shrill tone pierces from your child's chest, I see you freeze. I know the sense of dread that washes over you. I've been you when raising a typical child, confidently waiting out the yelling and flailing knowing that my child was essentially being a "brat." How easy it was to cross my arms and wait it out. Because my child was just being a consumer, waiting something she could not have. My role was to stay firm and not give in. It's an easy lesson to teach, that tantrums don't give you what you want.
And now I'm you raising an emotionally delayed child, whose tantrum is a symptom of something more. Your child cannot hear you when that wire in her brain gets tripped no matter what you do or say. When your heart fills with compassion and fear and attempts again and again for your voice to be heard by your child who is spiraling into full-blown crisis. I see you floundering, trying to stay calm, trying to help her find calm. I see you unsure of how to reach your child. I see you hesitate. I see you feel ashamed that you cannot help your child in this moment, not as much as you want to. 
I see your shoulders tense, your heart ache, your mind race. I see people react to your child, trying to appease her, touching her, addressing her directly - making it worse. I see them removing the trigger, escalating her fury. 
I see the sheer interruption that your parenting moment brings to society around you. No one can hear each other or really ignore you, no matter how much space they wish to give you in that moment. I know that feeling of total lack of control of your life, your child, your day, your desire to stay in your location. None of that matters because you must physically remove your child from the situation. I see you abandon your cart, leave your older child hanging, your phone ringing unheard. I see you tearfully get to your car, completely exhausted for the day, whether it's evening or morning. You've been gone from the house for 20 minutes but it may as well have been forever. 

Is My Child Ok and Other Such Fears

I feel like I have a list of things that I need to process. They relate to many areas of my life and they all drain me emotionally as my life and/or my deliberate avoidance hits the snooze button on sitting in these feelings. One of the things on my proverbial list of things that require a journal entry and possibly some tears is my continual evolution as a mother. In particular, we're at the tail end of a long process of developmental screening for my 2 year old, Penny. As a caretaker, particularly because I've had the strange fortune of essentially raising my two daughters one at a time (Macy started kindergarten 3 weeks after Penny was born, so I'm getting 5 years of one-on-one time of life preparation with each of them before they launch into full-time school), I am good at adapting to my children. This means that I can accommodate their preferences and personalities and mold our daily patterns around what suits them best and for the most part, I'm happy if they're happy. (This is also what makes me a fabulous world traveler, if we're bragging here). My daughters are really different so it was interesting for me to approach parenting Penny in a new way. It's also been 5 years and she's a second kid, so I've changed a ton as a person as well as a mother.
Penny is a really unique kid. She can be so stinking charming. And she can be incredibly intolerant of anything she does not consent to or like. She wasn't an early talker and was frustrated often by that as well as by life in general for awhile there. Things have opened up for her as she's gotten more comfortable socially and better able communicate with words (she was always communicating but the screams didn't go over as well as her words do now:) That being said, I know how to be a buffer for her in stressful social situations, when she's tired or hungry and when her toddler-esque language requires translating. Macy did not require such a buffer (as much) and was more independent socially. It's amazing what you get used to as a parent as you adjust to your child and whatever life requires of you to be what they need. Just ask a post-partum mother who's up nursing every 2 hours for months on end. It sucks. But you can get used to it. It's wild, really, what becomes normal. And then the phase ends and you back and think "how the hell did I do that?" You just did.
As was out in the world with my charming grouch, I began to see which aspects of Penny's development were "normal" and which aspects might be more atypical. I'm perfectly fine to be raising a non-conformist and don't feel the need to use her behavior to make me look good. Sure, sometimes it's emotionally tiring to deal with moments where your child is behaving in a way that doesn't give you positive attention from strangers, but I don't let that dictate my parenting. I just let that give me permission to increase my self-care on those days (and by "self-care" I mean "chocolate intake"). And so I began the process of developmental screenings. Because ultimately, the mommy buffer must stand down at some point and in the meantime, I'd like professional guidance on how to buffer best. And boy, it's a lot of screening! They check fine motor, gross motor, adaptive, speech, social/emotional and sensory skills. This required me to sit on my couch and watch strangers test my child. So many moments I wanted to jump in and explain, rephrase, or just stop the testing. It is so incredibly vulnerable to have your child's abilities be ascertained and placed on a bell curve. How reductionistic to see this magical person be graphed based on the average of her peers! I felt like I was being tested, that if she couldn't answer a question it was because I hadn't asked it, that her potential to be typical rested in my ability to draw her potential out. (This is a really fun experience for a caretaking perfectionist, by the way. I highly recommend cancelling your next vacation and calling up the early intervention people. You won't be sorry!) And while I knew these things weren't true, that she would be her no matter what hoops I jump though, it was very emotional for me to sit back and allow her to be assessed so thoroughly and by such capable professionals. You can't pull one over on these people! 
And as you can imagine, having the sit down after all the tallying has been done and being presented with reams of information about your child is difficult. How can anyone tell me anything about my child that I don't already know? Who are you to explain my child to me? (The professionals through this process have been incredibly gracious and kind. These are just the big feelings the process unearthed.) And what do they have to tell me? What is possible and maybe impossible for my child's future based on the information within these reams of paper? If I burn them up, is the information still true? I'm not going to get into the details of Penny's results because this blog is about me (also why I haven't written much about my husband's job loss and season of part-time employment) but it all came down to this moment. At the end of her initial assessment, the two professionals asked me, "Ultimately, what are your goals through this process? What do you want to see for Penny?" And I said, "You know what? There are behaviors about living with Penny that have been difficult to parent. There are things we'd like to work on. But really, what I want for my child is to reach her full potential as a person, whatever that is. I believe that she will show me that. And I just want the tools to help her be that person. I want to know if my expectations of her are fair. I want to know when and how to accommodate her and I want to know when and how far to push her. Because the world will not accommodate her once she's on her own. I want to build her up and then I want to send her out as prepared for whatever lies ahead as best as I possibly can. And she will take that and do with it what she will. I want to know how to support her and to be whatever she needs however she needs it." And if that isn't motherhood, I don't know what is. 

Motherhood is Full of Something...

Motherhood is full of a lot of things. It's heavy. It's wonderful. It's exhilarating. It's full of shit both literally every day (if not, kindly call your pediatrician) and figuratively on a bad day. Here are a few things I've learned as a mother. Kind of like a public service announcement, if you will. 
1. There is nothing more socially awkward than hanging out with a family who parents differently than you do. Whew. Kids constantly interrupt conversation between mothers enough without constant play intervention from us. But not enough intervention is awful too. Nothing is worse than when another kid makes your child cry and their parent does absolutely nothing about it. Motherhood does require some homogeny to survive whether we want to admit it or not. 
2. Being a mother is really hard and really easy. It's hard because everyone has an opinion and seems to relish dumping it on mothers all around them. Many of those opinions are not shared by the mother, but the shame is still palpable and makes us feel defensive. To me, unless a child is in immediate danger or the mother is actually asking for advice, keep your freaking mouth shut or offer grace and understanding. It's easy because being with your kids and talking with them, living life with them, sharing with them (unless it's expensive chocolate) is really natural and lovely most of the time. And when it's not, it's just because you need a break.
3. Kids are suprisingly human. Meaning, they aren't as moldable as we were led to believe. Yes, we can shape their environment, their exposure to ideology, the imposed consequences to certain behaviors. But that's honestly about it. Their personality, their instincts, their decisions are their own and they start in the womb, dude. It's pretty bad ass, actually. Children cannot be controlled (unless they are being abused) and I find that fascinating, wonderful and at times, infuriating. It takes the pressure off having to make them be anything. They will be whoever they will be. We control ourselves, that's it. I have found that accepting this reality and empowering them to become whoever they are supposed to be is my ultimate goal as a mother.
4. I don't really worry about the future. I know. It's weird. But whenever I find myself spiraling in fear or needing to be in control of things I cannot control, it's because I'm borrowing trouble. "If I let them do this now, how much worse will everything be then?" Eh, let's deal with that then. So, I'm focusing on mothering 7 year old Macy and 1 year old Penny. And frankly, dealing with my own shit.
5. Speaking of, motherhood does not put all your own shit on the back burner. It informs your parenting because you're a person and people have "stuff." This is not because of some failure on our parts. It's on purpose. It's part of releasing control. We can't control them and deal with all our own stuff. Trying to control your children can be a great distraction from addressing our own pain, baggage and lack of direction as adults. Don't let it. It breeds resentment, a lack of confidence on their part and ultimately, doesn't work.
6. Plants seeds. One of the things we do get to shape is their initial exposure to how the world works. Of course, life happens to children too and eventually, they will sift through all the values we teach them and dump some and cherish others. But until that happens, teach your children the mindset you wish to see more in the world. Macy and I talk regularly about the value of all people, tolerance in regard to gender and orientation spectrum, the beauty of all skin colors, ownership of her body, sexuality, taking care of the planet, feeding the poor, honesty, and giving yourself grace. These are things that matter deeply to me. If you want your child to live in a more _________ (insert value here) world, teach them to be that person. I love being able to change the world by teaching my children these values.
7. It's okay. It's okay to not know what to do. It's okay to screw up. It's okay to feel overwhelmed, angry, exhausted. No one should have to raise a child alone. It's not fair to the parent or the child. Lean on your partner if you have one. Call your parents and your in-laws. Talk to other parents. Use a babysitter. Parents are better when we take ownership of our own humanity and accept that we are learning as we go and we have real needs. A healthy household acknowledges that it's not the parent or the child that needs to be taken care of. It's a balance. Parents take care of themselves and their children. It's not a fight to see who wins.
That's all for now. I guess the best thing I can say we give our children is us. Be yourself. It's enough. 

Mothers & Daughters...Adversaries, Friends & Everything In Between

It is well documented that the mother/daughter relationship is tricky. I have friends who are estranged from their mothers, ones in enmeshed relationships and everything in between. It is a very strange thing, to be in relationship with someone who literally was your first home. I know this applies to all mother/child relationships, but there is something unique about the mother/daughter dynamic (mother/son, father/son, and father/daughter, of course all have their own baggage too). 
There are a lot of expectations on both sides, whether they are spoken or not. Perhaps this comes from the fact that subconsciously, I think all children hold their mother most responsible for their childhood experience. If yours was difficult, then it's probably mom who wasn't nurturing enough, who should have stayed home, should have worked, etc. Even when the problem was obviously dad, say he's an abuser, somehow we still hold mom responsible for not standing up to him, for not appeasing him, for staying with him or for leaving. Maybe that's even why our society still blames women when they get raped, based on how she was dressed, how much she drank and where she was when innocently walking alone. 
No matter the reason, being a mother and being a daughter is an intense experience. I've written poetry documenting some of these feelings, the tidal wave of gratitude, fear and fathomless love I felt becoming a mother for the first time. The way becoming a mother reshaped how I saw my own mother and her mother before her. I've written about the pain of parting ways with some of the beliefs my mother taught me about God, life and myself. There is a true awkwardness facing a reality that your parents can't speak into, that they don't know or fully understand. And while it feels juvenile to me to have those feelings, it makes sense. For years, your mother is the steward of your experiences. She's the keeper of the memories. It's mom who knows your friends, teachers, boyfriends. Mom is the one in tune with your inner angst, joy, heartache. She creates, cultivates and monitors your environment.* Heck, she IS your environment for those first several months and years of your life. To move outside of that influence is both terrifying and critical for true adulthood. 
There are a lot of things I know my mom did right. It brings me great comfort as I confront her humanity. One of the things that I treasure most is that my mom was the one who woke up with us every morning. While my dad slept til 9, mom got up at 6 to make breakfast, pack lunches, set out our vitamins and sit at the kitchen table with us. Every. Single. Day. I don't have one childhood memory of my dad in the early morning, unless we were taking a road trip. While that is weird and maybe even sad, I cherish those hours spent with my mother. There is a true comfort and confidence that comes with that peaceful yet busy attention. It buoys you as you face the world each day. 
Lucky for me, I am the morning person between Tim and I just as my mother was. When Macy started preschool, it was decided that I would get up to get her ready for school each day. I love this time with her. And while I have always loved it, it has become more precious to me of late. Macy is turning 7 in a few weeks and every morning (at least the ones Penny sleeps in) I get a full hour just me and her. She eats her breakfast and I pack her lunch. Often I will read her a Bible story. We discuss her ideas about God. We talk about school and her friends. I give her hugs and kisses and we laugh together. 
She's currently recovering from a sinus infection and just started back at school yesterday. Emotions are right at the surface. This morning she fell out of her chair, hard. As she was crying, I picked her up and held her. I sat her on my lap while she let out her feelings. As she gets older, these moments grow fewer so I marveled at the joy of her sitting on my lap, both my arms wrapped tightly around her. There is nothing sweeter than receiving comfort from your mother and now, as an adult, being the one who gives it. 
I've been feeling down about myself lately, wondering what exactly it is that I do all day and if it is enough. It's sad that I'm in this place. Tim doesn't understand it, believing strongly in all the things I do. I made a list of all my responsibilities and that made me feel better. But all in all, as an achiever, at some point, the lists can be very long and you still fight this feeling of inadequacy. It's not so much whether you're doing enough but should you be doing more. It's a terrible mentality and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. At some point, I have to give value in my head to what I already know in my heart. What I do matters greatly. Maybe someday I will transition to a time where my day to day tasks look more accomplished, when my resume reads impressively, when I have titles and recognition. But in this time of lap-sitting and lunch-making, I must remind myself that in these moments, I am contributing to society in a big way. When we raise confident, loved children, good things happen in the world. And that's all I really want, to a be a part of something good. I can only hope that this time with Macy brings her courage to face the world at large and make it better, one morning at a time. 
* I recognize that not all children have a mother like mine. There are instances where the father is the more in-tune, nurturing parent. While I acknowledge that happens, because it wasn't my experience, I can't speak into that dynamic.

Perfect Moments

Life is made up a series of choices that lead us down whatever path we find ourselves on. Some things that happen in our lives are not a result of our own choice, but that of another, and sometimes straight-up freak things happen. But even what we do in those freak moments still comes down to choice. I say this not because I don't have compassion for why we make poor choices or because there is always one clear, good choice. I say this for the opposite reason, actually. Life is a lot harder to navigate when you think you know what all the right choices are, not only for yourself, but also for everyone else. 
It's an illusion, really. When you think you know what all the right choices are, it feels very secure and safe. You don't really have to wonder or worry about what to do. You may feel weak or unable to do what you're supposed to do, but you usually have a clear idea about what that is. And if you don't, you usually wait until you do. The problem is, as soon as something happens to you that doesn't fit into that paradigm, you either adapt your worldview to incorporate that reality, deny your reality, or try to make it still fit (insert pithy spiritual band-aids here).
I've already discussed this in one of my very firsts posts about my idea of "lived-in theology." The reason I bring it up tonight is because this reality of choice sometimes is what freezes us from making choices at all. As a perfectionist, I want to make THE RIGHT CHOICE. It's sweet, really, the naivete required to believe that the right choice always exists and that there's only one. And of course, that you're fully capable of making it. It also makes grace unnecessary
The first time I froze in the face of a huge decision without an obvious right/wrong answer was when I got engaged to my beloved Tim. It wasn't that we weren't in love or that I didn't want to get married. Absolutely, both of those things were true. But the idea of getting married meant that those years ahead of me would be married years. Does that make sense? I wanted my season of singleness to continue AND I wanted to be with Tim. But there's no way to be both single and married. We don't get to live in parallel universes. So, I made the choice that I knew I would regret forever if I didn't and got married. 
Here's the thing: I loved being single and I love being married. There are days singleness was wonderful and there were days it was awful. I could say the exact same thing about marriage. As a perfectionist, I'm well aware that life is fleeting and that can sometimes be paralyzing. You want everything to be right! The sad thing is, when we insist on life looking a certain way, we miss some of the most beautiful things about it.
I must say, we've had a terrible week. Penny's been sick, which in our world = shrill toddler. I got a migraine, which led to me spending 19 hours in bed. Tim had a terrible headache today while we were taking our family pictures. It's been rough. But tonight, Penny and I were home alone and of course, she didn't want me to read articles on Fifty Shades of Grey on my phone (seriously, there are so many good articles out!). Penny doesn't care about that. She wanted my full attention. Rather than my usual grumbling about delaying self-care, I decided to embrace it. We had a full-on mommy/baby dance party. And it was awesome. We started it with Adele's version of "To Make You Feel My Love." How poignant her lyrics were to me tonight:
When the rain is blowing in your face,
And the whole world is on your case,
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love.

When the evening shadows and the stars appear,
And there is no one there to dry your tears,
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.

I know you haven't made your mind up yet,
But I will never do you wrong.
I've known it from the moment that we met,
No doubt in my mind where you belong.

I'd go hungry; I'd go black and blue,
And I'd go crawling down the avenue.
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love.

The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret.
The winds of change are blowing wild and free,
You ain't seen nothing like me yet.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true.
Nothing that I wouldn't do.
Go to the ends of the Earth for you,
To make you feel my love
To make you feel my love

Suddenly with that little teething toddler smiling up at me, the days of isolation faded into the background. The health issues, the anxiety, the loneliness became but a memory as my little girl laughed and twirled with me. I don't think we'll ever know what our lives could have been if we had made different choices, or if we'll ever truly know what our lives are supposed to look like. But there are moments, glimpses really, that make it all clear. Everything is perfect RIGHT NOW. There is no perfect life, perfect relationship, perfect choice, but there are perfect moments. And man, did I savor that one. I soaked her up. And then we turned on Rihanna. 

Be a Joiner

One of the values Tim and I both are enjoying living into so much is what I'm going to call Participating*. I was sheltered as a child from the world around me, including my neighbors. This was not intentional, per se, but we lived in a wealthy neighborhood and everyone pretty much kept to themselves. We went to private Christian schools, predominantly outside of our neighborhood and participated in daily bus trips or carpools in order for my parents to live into one of their highest values, private education.
When it became time for Tim and I to decide how we were going to educate our children, we decided to go with public school for a number of reasons. Financially, we were in the same position as my parents were. We could afford to privately educate our children but it would hurt. A lot. If that was a high priority of ours, I know we would find a way to make it work financially, just as my parents did (we had a very leaky roof when I was little. Luckily, it rarely rains in San Diego!) What we decided was that we really wanted to participate in our neighborhood life. What better way to do that than to put our precious children alongside theirs to learn at school every day. I know a lot of Christians who care very much about assimilating into their neighborhood and being a real presence there. Do it! This is one of the ways we chose to participate. If education isn't where you want to do it, there are other ways for sure. Be home on Halloween for Trick or Treaters. Host block parties, holiday parties, garage sales, whatever sounds fun. There's no wrong way to be a good neighbor. One of the best ways to be a good neighbor is to be home and to answer the door when people knock. (This will probably be another value discussed in the future).
We've lived in the same townhouse for 9 and a half years. We love it! Our cul de sac is tiny and most of our neighbors have been here as long as we have or longer. Our kids ride their bikes in the street and everyone looks out for each other. I called the fire department when our neighbors smoke detector didn't turn off a few years back. Our next door neighbor called the cops when one of our teen girls was getting beat down by another high school girl in the street. We all came out. We got involved. We all stand up for each other. We've got each others backs. I can't help but wonder if part of that is because we aren't wealthy. This is probably my own prejudice speaking. But there's a certain group mentality that comes from actually needing each other, asking to borrow things we don't have, sharing our resources and being in each others lives that I did not experience growing up on an affluent street as a child.  
One of the teachers reading to the kids.
As you can imagine, this has greatly affected our public school experience. Our school is a Title 1 school, which means we get extra funding because we're considered poor (this was a funny realization for us since we've always felt incredibly blessed). The teachers are committed, well-educated and just all around kick-ass at their jobs. Macy's first grade class is 50% ESL students. It's a great, close-knit, diverse school environment. Macy's education has been fantastic (I've found that often Christian schools are more focused on protecting children in a "safe" environment than giving them a better education). I've been impressed by the moral values emphasized in the schools behavioral expectations as well as the consistency with which they deal with infractions. Everything is clear, streamlined and fair. At Curriculum Night this year, I was blown away by the Class Pledge Macy's teacher had created with the children's input. It read, "In our class we try our best to be respectful to each other. We are nice and kind and think of other peoples hearts. We are friends with everyone and we try to share. We help each other out and cheer each other on. This is our promise to ourselves and each other." Can you imagine if this was posted on our streets, in our stores, in church, on government buildings...This would change the world. And you know what? It is changing the world, with these 21 1st graders who read it every day in class.  
Waiting to sing!
When you go to a school event after hours, the PTA is there, the principal, many teachers, the community liason (she helps families with financial needs) and a gang of parents and kids. In the 15 months we've been involved with our school, we've participated in fundraisers, book fairs, a family dance, Thanksgiving feasts, Back to School nights, Curriculum Nights, conferences, performances, skate nights, bingo nights - you name it. Last night, Macy and I attended the school Barnes & Noble Book Fair. Barnes & Noble hosts the whole school (during normal business hours) and they give the school 20% of all purchases made by participants back to the school. The children display their artwork. Many classes sing and dance. There are trivia games between parents and kids. We even had a renown illustrator there to speak and sign books for the kids. As you can see from the photos, this is not really a conducive environment for such an event. But we don't have an auditorium at our school to accommodate all the parents and kids. So, for our school Seuss-themed holiday night, we sat on the floor of Barnes & Noble with children standing on blue tape lines 3 inches in front of kids sitting in the audience. 
Sorry it's blurry - trying to inconspicuously capture the parents.
We had a boom box playing the accompaniment. We had children in sweatpants, fancy gowns and everything in between. Faces streaked with cheesecake samples from the baristas, these beautiful, messy children sang their hearts out about the Grinch, Christmas, family and love. I gotta tell you guys, I was a freaking mess. What a beautiful experience! All of us crammed in together celebrating community, love, life and children. Turns out, the accommodations weren't amazing when Jesus was making his way out of teenage Mary's birth canal either. But his entrance was grand in all the mess and beautiful chaos that I can only imagine ensued. (Mary AMAZES me but that's a side note). 
Macy proudly showing the gift she made to decorate the walls.
This is my community. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Participate in the world all around you. It's ripe for the taking. It's easy to think, "they don't need me. Last night would have gone on even if I hadn't come." That's true, except if every person there had the same idea, those hard-working music teachers, art teachers, principals, children and awesome Barnes & Noble workers would have done all their work for nothing. No books purchased on behalf of the school. No one to impress with Seuss-themed artwork. No one to clap while they danced and sang. Your community wants your participation. It's the better for it. And so are you.

* If you're unfamiliar with my series on personal values, see my previous posts on honesty, kindness, sharing, giving dignity and decency

Perfectionism and the Holidays

Being a perfectionist around the holidays can be a truly terrible affliction. Not just for the perfectionist, for you the whole family of one (and we have two in our house!) It creates this vortex of colossal expectations, one-shot opportunities, stressful expense of energy and money, shame, shame, oh, the shame - So. Much. Pressure. Usually with a lot of people around. 
I've always been the holiday queen in this house. My husband is not really into holidays, though he tries to be a good sport (after we've had many conversations about how much they mean to me). But, I do everything I can physically do myself. This includes putting up our exterior lights and getting down most of the heavy boxes. When I get into "holiday mode" I want everything done my way, on my timetable (now!) and with cheer. This is why I do not wait for my husband. Our dynamic usually requires respect and patience and I don't exude either very well in these crucial holiday prep moments. So I do the classic perfectionist move (passive aggressive) of taking it all on myself so it can be done perfectly. I highly recommend this healthy choice.
I'm very emotionally invested in how all my hard work, dreams and extensive planning plays out. Not only must everything go well (exactly as I imagined), look beautiful, but everyone better have fun and be happy -- or else! The icing on the cake is that my therapist likes to point out that somewhere in all this expectation, exhaustion, total lack of grace for myself and others, I'm truly looking for appreciation. So, I run around hoping that everything goes according to my perfect expectations (very interesting when you remember that this involves two very spirited young children) while expecting every member of my family to be filled with gratitude after I've told them all exactly how and how not to have fun. 
This dynamic has never been more apparent to me than last night. I was in a really bad place to begin with, which is an indication to me that it was probably not a great night to add in all the holiday hooplah involved in decorating the house. But I still operate under the illusions that holidays are fun. Sweet, right? So when I'd had a bad day and I love Christmas, why wouldn't I unknowingly make the mistake of suggesting to your energetic six year old that it's the perfect time to decorate? 
As the usual crazy unfolded, I was also trying to put the baby down for a nap, keep our oldest from digging through the breakables, setting everything out "just so", and of course - secretly prepping our homemade Advent calendar because duh, it's also December 1st. Oh, and a school night. And I had an insane Thanksgiving week filled with hosting, endless cooking, traveling alone with 2 kids, lots of driving, working, shopping, plus a SHITTY day to begin with. All that means is, I didn't have any emotional energy to be patient, kind, generous, calm or gracious to myself or my family. This situation called upon my shame voice, just to be on standby for any human moments. All it takes is one broken treasured item, one terse word exchanged for it to start shouting. "See! It doesn't matter how much you run around. This isn't even fun. You're not having any fun and neither is anyone else." Or this self-pity gem, "Why do you even bother? All you do is make your daughter feel bad when you want to re-do her 6 year old decorating because it's not perfect. Sure, you're trying so hard to rein it in and let her help, but you just can't let everything go. You might as well be a tyrant. You've got to "correct" her sometimes and that hurts her. Look at how she's stomping her foot and turning away from you. Now you're shaming her too." Ha, even my shaming voice shames me about shaming my daughter. Who can win in that situation?  
If you thought I was going to end this post with all these loose ends neatly tied up, loaded with tips on how to simplify your life this Christmas season and all my personal anecdotes on how to give yourself grace and be victorious over perfectionism, you're not gonna get that from me. This was where I was at last night, people. Not much growth happens while you sleep. All I'm prepared to do at this point is identify how unhelpful shame is in this hot mess of unfair expectations, very poor self-care, and a total lack of giving grace. Sometimes just seeing yourself objectively is all you can do to say, huh, this isn't working. 
At least I have a whole 36 hours to figure it out, before we plan on cutting down our tree and decorate that thing too.

On the Cusp of Something

I'm in that weird vortex between two seasons of life. We all are. I've got one foot in fall and one foot in summer. Macy starts 1st grade on Wednesday. In some ways, this is awesome! I love the fall and frankly, I'm totally over sweating. I want to break out the skinnys and the boots. I want to have pumpkins on my porch and my child in school all day. I love her, but she is my mirror. And sometimes it's hard to look at my precious firstborn and not see myself in all my glory. I see her pleasing. I see her perfectionism. I see her enthusiasm. I see her insatiable need for love and attention. I see her wanting more and more from her loved ones. I hear her voice talking on and on. I see her passion, her anger, her smile, her fear. Sometimes it's overwhelming. Sometimes for my own sanity, I want to set her on a shelf for awhile. It's terrible, but it's honest and there's no way I'm the only parent who feels that way. I'm just that person who always outs themselves in brutal honesty.
I'm ready to slow down. I'm ready to take more time and energy for myself. I'm ready for some quiet. But the perfectionist in me also feels let down. Summer is over. All the things I wanted to do this summer that I didn't get to do are scrolling through my mind like a parade of shame. All the hours I let my kid watch TV while I hid in my room, I remember. I really tried to cut myself some slack this summer, but I still wish I was capable of more, that I could just go on forever. There's a grace in me being unable to do and be everything I want to be (and everything I feel pressure to be). Because if I could go on forever, I would. I would not eat, sleep, rest. I wouldn't. And that is one of the beautiful things about being human. I don't have a choice. Thank God for that.
As a caretaker, I often pull up short when my own needs present themselves. I don't realize I need to eat until I'm starving. I tuck self-care in the nooks and crannies of taking care of everyone else. This is common for women in this "season of life" when you have small children. But when I have noticeable emotional needs, it surprises me. Gah!
When I was in college, my therapist mentioned to me that small transitions require extra self-care for me. (Yes, I'm in therapy now and I was in therapy then. Best time/money spent ever). I need to give myself a little extra grace when the seasons change, when my schedule changes, when my friends leave and when new ones come. The changes don't have to be "bad". In fact, they are often the changes that I anticipate that throw me the most.
This seemingly small transition from one season to another is greatly exacerbated by Labor Day. I know, weird. It's such a non-holiday. But in our family, it has served as a benchmark of pain the last few years. 3 years ago, it was on Labor Day that we walked away (not by choice) from ministry forever. It was on Labor Day weekend last year that I took my husband to the ER and had him admitted for pervasive suicidal thoughts, with 7 week old Penny in tow. He then went to a respite facility for 2 nights, finally with dear friends for 3 weeks in town. In those weeks, I was raising our newborn alone (with MASSIVE support from friends and family), caring for a traumatized 5 year old starting kindergarten, and myself in a frightening post-partum experience. It was, by far, the worst thing I've ever endured. I learned I was capable and that I need help. I learned that marriage is a choice and depression is not. 
Well, Tim had a minor surgery on Thursday that landed me in a medical facility waiting for his medication and discharge for 2 hours with 2 hungry, tired kids. We then ended up in the exact same ER as last year 90 minutes after he was home from the surgery because he was vomiting all his pain pills. I missed Macy's Back to School night because I was juggling my now very mobile daughter while my husband was treated. And since then, I've been racing around caring for the 3 of them on our final days of summer. It's all way too familiar. Tim will have to get a stent removed from the surgery sometime this week, which means there will be another procedure. I've found myself crying in parking lots, crying in my kitchen, crying now at my computer. This is an anniversary I wish to never revisit, a season of life I would like to bury forever. I wouldn't wish the way I witnessed my spouse a year ago on anyone. Sometimes life has a way of sticking it to you, right in your weakest places, making the world that I usually see with naively rosy glasses suddenly feel cold and untrustworthy. 
I know today is not a year ago or 3 years ago, for that matter. As familiar as this feels, it isn't the same. This weekend gives me an opportunity to continue to grieve the pain that was last year and previous years. But it also serves as a reminder that we've come a long way. I choose to sit in that rather than focus on how far we still have to go. But sometimes on nights like this, it feels heavy. I try to be present, to sit in the mess. As you can imagine, perfectionists don't like messes, particularly emotional, familial un-fixable ones! I have a savior complex. Being "in process" myself, not being able to control the processes of my family members, and waiting for simple moments that come more often now but not often enough is not an easy thing for me. 
I'm learning that we don't get to choose our life, only the way we're living it. I choose to live mine honestly. I choose to tell my story when I'm crying in parking lots and when I'm laughing with my kids. It's all part of my story. And I have to believe that ultimately, my story is good, that I'm part of a greater story that matters. Our suffering has value. It's not a punishment. It's a reality, a critical piece of our human experience. In some ways, it is what most greatly unites us. I want to connect with the people around me, with their humanity, with their compassion, with their story. I don't want to live in an ivory tower, rising above everyone else. Of course, I'd love to get out of the trenches for awhile. I don't want to stay here forever. But if being in the trenches makes me a more open, honest, compassionate and generous version of myself, is it worth it? I think it just might be. Luckily, it's not up to me to decide if I stay in the trenches or not. We usually stay in longer than we thought we would or intended to. We're antsy and ready to rise above the ground. I believe I will, stronger than ever, in time. But for now, I'll be down here if you need me, in the trenches. 


I've always said that the first and second birthdays are the hardest. Then Macy turned 3, 4, 5, & 6. So far, there hasn't been a birthday yet that hasn't thrown me for a loop. Even though I anticipate my children's birthdays with excitement and I really enjoy making plans to celebrate them, somehow I'm still surprised when they actually happen. Kind of like how you feel when someone who's been sick for awhile finally dies. They were ready. They were looking forward to it. And on behalf of them, you were ready for them and celebrated their release from pain. But for yourself, it's still sad and somehow shocking. I still don't get it. 
My little Penelope is turning 1 year old tomorrow. For those of you who don't know, it took us 2 and a half years to conceive Penny. There was a time that I wasn't sure if we would ever get the pleasure of having another child. That process was such a learning experience for me and very personal in my relationship with God. He spoke to me in those places of longing, loss and impatience. There were times I really thought I was pregnant and wasn't. I tried to tell myself not to get my hopes up only to find myself disappointed time and time again. I remember one month, God actually asked me to thank Him that He did not give me a child. Ouch.
One year into the process, we were fired from ministry. Initially, God was asking me to trust Him with the timing of another child. That turned into a season of Him asking me to trust Him if there was to be no more children at all. And finally, asking me to thank Him for my empty arms. He reminded me that my arms were not empty, that He had already given me a child, whom I loved very much. At the end of all of that, we lost our friend Ryan to cancer. He was 30. In our grief, we clung to each day and to each person whom we loved. And in the midst of that grief, we conceived my precious treasure Penny. 
As I may have eluded in other posts, and will surely discuss many times in the future, my theology has changed a lot in the last few years. It's been a difficult but mostly intentional process. But there are a few things in my faith experience that are incredibly personal to me, times in which I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God was working. This fertility process and the timing of the gift of my second and final child is by far the one of which I am most convinced. 
I had a difficult pregnancy which resulted in me slowing down a lot. Her birth was totally nuts (somehow it took 5 days of false labor and then only 1 hour and 52 minutes for her to be born) which resulted in me biting my husband at one point (bet he was wishing I'd had time for that epidural). We went through a very painful post-partum season with Tim's depression, which was so much more severe than we ever could have anticipated. We had the privilege of being loved through crisis. Our life was literally held together by the people who love us. Somehow, in all the darkness that was this year (and we are SO not done), Penny has been the shining light through it all. As much as we've cried, our moments with her have been almost entirely pure joy. She is a gift. I call her my treasure (and then promptly sing Bruno Mars). 
I am so proud of the fact that I have spent night after night rocking her to sleep, nursing her, reading to her, feeding her (which feels like an Olympic sport these days), kissing her, holding her and talking to her. I have not taken her babyhood for granted. When I had my first baby 6 years ago, I was more anxious, almost seeing the baby phases as something to hurry through. Boy, did I regret that! Babies do require a lot of care, duh. But then when I didn't know if I'd ever have another one, I promised myself I would savor it. As much as this year has thrown us some very painful curveballs, ones that we never intend to repeat, I have so many moments with her that have changed me forever. She's changed all of us forever. 
She's made Macy a big sister, which I'm convinced has been as big of a gift to her as it's been to us. I've never been prouder of my oldest than when I've seen her day after day welcoming her little sister into her world. She has grown tremendously this year and I hope they will always have each other. There's just nothing sweeter than watching your kids love on each other. 
There have been moments this year when I've felt anxious about the passing of time. Like an hourglass, the time of Penny's babyhood felt like it was slipping through my fingers. In those moments, I've reminded myself that I really have done the best I could to treasure her, and that the time passing isn't within my control. I only get to decide what I do with the time I'm given. And so, with a heavy heart, I laid her in her crib tonight and kept my hand on her back until she fell asleep (this isn't me just being super nice, it's actually the only way she'll sleep:) And I came in here to capture my thoughts, knowing that the next time I see her, she'll have magically turned into a one year old. 

Pick Your Poison

It's been awhile since I've written. It takes me awhile to transition in short life seasons (from school to summer) and I'm realizing weeks have already passed! I got on here thinking I was going to write on one thing (sin), but am in fact all amped up about another thing (parenting). There was an article and then a response article floating around on Facebook today about parenting. One stating that we spoil our children and one saying we're not doing enough (do you hear my black and white mentality screaming yet?) I preferred the second one because I think kids (read: people) could always use more dignity and respect and let's face it; we Americans need some serious help with our emotional tool box, which might stem from how we tend to minimize children's needs and feelings. 
I guess what I want to say in all the fray is that perhaps neither option is right. As a perfectionist, I want to get it right, preferably the first time. But is there really a way to get parenting right? None of us really know what our currently small children will be like in 20 years, so we don't know whether our parenting philosophies will give us the results we're looking for. And even if we did, will our children turn out "well" (however you define that) because of us or in spite of us? This is the tricky thing about subscribing to one parenting philosophy and holding on for dear life. The second article mentions that our instincts tell us to pick up our crying children, so we should. I wholeheartedly concur. Is it overly simplistic to just follow our instincts? I love the exchange of ideas that I get from reading parenting articles and books. I have learned a lot from watching other parents and mentally reviewing the things my parents did with me that I liked as well. It's so helpful when your parents get some things right, since we usually do whatever was done to us. But at the end of the day, isn't parenting, above all, about balance? It's not about who's in control, who's more important, whose needs get met first every time. It's about realizing that children and parents are all people, and therefore, all matter equally. I just might be able to wait a little longer ("might" being the operative word here).
Children present needs often. I have learned skillfully to repress my needs (thank you, ministry baggage). So it would be easy for me to run around ragged trying to just put out the fires of my children's needs, all the while not resting, recharging, or having any fun outside of my relationship with them. I think this strategy can look like resentment and enabling over time. But the drill sargeant, hierarchical approach that I get from the idea that children are inherently selfish and need to fall in line or else really rubs me the wrong way. I think it could also lead to dishonoring and disrespecting the greatest gift I've ever been given, my formative, precious daughters. They're not sub-humans because they don't know how to advocate for themselves. And frankly, they're not sub-human when they throw tantrums either. At least tantrums are honest. How many honest adults do you know who can clearly communicate what they want/need and are willing to ask for it? Can't we love and respect both ourselves and our children? Do any of us need to be on the throne as alpha male? 
I was visiting with a friend today whom I don't get to see very often. I made the choice to arrive late (after notifying her) so that Penny could get a good morning nap. Yes, this was an important need for her to get met, but it also enabled me to stay longer and let her nap in the carrier while we were there, thus my needs for social connection (which I believe are as valid as her biological need for sleep) were met as well. It's not about ignoring or minimizing your children's needs and it's not about staying home when you're an extrovert because your entire life revolves around your little ones. It's a both/and situation. When I anticipate and meet my children's basic needs, I am also able to value and fulfill my own. 
My children don't own me and I don't own them. I get to raise them (God-willing) and I'm so grateful and excited about that. I don't view them as my adversaries or my bosses. They are the cats that I'm herding around in front of me, duh. And someday, when I'm old and delirious, it'll be the other way around. 

Funky Town

I've been in a funk lately. I don't know if it's the weather (it's actually SUNNY), my body (had some headaches), or the massive amounts of change to my support system all happening at the same time. All in all, I'm not feeling witty. I'm trying to stay in touch with how I feel and give myself permission to be in a funk, but it's hard to sit in those bad moods and not just distract myself in hopes that when I get back to my head, it'll be clear. That's always a temporary fix. Although I will say, I've purchased some seriously cute antiques in an attempt to distract myself.
I woke up this morning EXHAUSTED. There were no logical reasons for this. I got 8 straight hours of sleep (if I read myself writing this a few months ago, I would have screamed in outrage at my whining). Nevertheless, I was a zombie. I had a headache for the third straight day in a row. Both my kids were awake with needs seeking my full attention. I found myself barely moving around in Penny's room, getting the kids downstairs to breakfast well past our normal time. As I fumbled around in the kitchen, spilling Kix all over the counter with Penny screeching and pulling on my pants leg, I thought, man, wouldn't it be nice if I could just drink my coffee alone? I'd just love to be getting ready for work and have my concerns be all about getting myself ready for the day in perfect silence. 
Then I started thinking about what life will look like in a few years (they won't need me as much), and a few more (they may not like me) and a few more (they will be gone). It's going to be a long time before I can start my day and only think about myself. And I think when that day finally comes, it's going to make me sad. 
So there's that. I usually hate it when women tell other women to enjoy every moment when they have young children because "it just goes by so fast." It feels minimizing and it always makes tired women feel like shit. You're not doing something wrong if you're exhausted. And it really is difficult to have little people in your space all the time. I literally can't take a step in my kitchen without Penny trying to pull up on my leg. And if I step out of the room for a SECOND, even explaining that I'll be right back, somehow Macy is right behind me. In the bathroom, in the garage, in my room. After 6 years, it still baffles me. There's lots of whining, teething,'s hard work. 
But the truth is, there's good stuff and bad stuff about every phase of life, every version of life you're living. Whether you're single, married, with kids, without kids, in school,'s all hard and it's all good. And this, my friends, is my problem. There's no one way to live your life and find total fulfillment and happiness. We get glimpses. And it's our job to savor those moments, no matter how often they come. As a perfectionist, I want a map. I want a plan. I want rules. I want control. I want predictable. Ironically, I don't even think I'd like that either! Somehow I both love and hate surprises. You know what I think it is, I only want changes that I initiate. Perfectionism is so impractical! 

Whitney Houston Had it Right

I view my role as a mother primarily as one of response. My child presents me with a need and I respond to it. While this may seem simple, it certainly can keep me on my toes! My oldest is 6 and I believe I know her the best. But as she is her own person and constantly changing, many times the needs she presents take me by surprise. We have a certain rhythm between us, things we say and do. There is no easier rapport than a small child and her mother. As she grows, there have been many times, however, where I have had to go back to the drawing board in how I respond to her. She does things that are new, takes on different attitudes, grows into herself and so as a mother, I must adapt. 
Of course, I'm changing too. I'm growing older. I'm gaining life experience. I'm working on my own problems and that is making me aware of where I fall short. My daughter, Macy, is a lot like me. In fact, Tim says he can't think of an area of our personalities where we differ. This is a great joy to me and also a terrible burden. I see my own perfectionism in her 6 year old mind. I see her struggle to make her work exactly right. I hear herread an entire book over again if she makes a mistake. It breaks my heart. But I'm happy to say that as I'm learning new life skills (extending myself grace, making my own choices and owning them, dispelling anything that smells like shame), I am simultaneously sharing them with her. We talk about shame and grace. I apologize. I empathize as she struggles with her frustration when her abilities do not reach her high standards. 
I'm writing about this tonight because while I've had many seasons of adjustment with Macy, I'm going through my first real adjustment with Penny. She's 10 and half months old and she is starting to need me less. Don't get me wrong, she fusses when I leave the room, even to use the bathroom. But she's nursing less often. She's sleeping through the night. She's kissing her daddy voluntarily! (I have yet to share this joy). She's feeding herself more. She's walking. You get the idea. And while I'm ready in a lot of ways for a longer leash (it's been a tough year), I have to say, I'm still sad! Penny is our second and last child. 2 incidences of postpartum depression, the second of which was severe, will definitely inform your fertility choices! But she is my little treasure, an absolute joy to my heart. And she's ready to be shared with more people. Our tiny circle of 4 is starting to bust open. 
It's tricky being in an unequal relationship. A dynamic where one person's needs dictate your level of interaction. It's not that my needs don't matter or that I understand the value of setting boundaries with my kids (or at least, I'm working on it) but I believe the parent/child relationship will never be a fully 2-way street. I enjoy a friendship with my parents as an adult, but they will always be my parents. And I expect the same to be true for me with my children. 
I find a lot of parenting philosophies feel like the parents leading the children, enforcing the rules, showing them who's boss, etc. But I feel like in this relationship of response, it's the opposite. My children show me the way to be their mother. Sometimes I come in to reprimand and find they need a hug. And sometimes you nurse a baby every 2 hours until all of a sudden, you realize she can wait half the day at this age! (Sometimes I'm a bit slow on the uptake:)
Maybe this doesn't make me seem very powerful or commanding, but I'm happy to let my children lead me. I respect that they are people, very much a part of me, but entirely separate from me as well. I believe they have things to teach me, thoughts to inspire me, and love to fill me with joy. Yes, of course, I have things to teach them as well. But I'm working on teaching them the lessons they're asking for, moment by moment, as they lead the way. I know I've only been a mom for 6 years and there is a lot of new territory ahead of me, but this is what's worked for me so far anyway. Though I will say, one of the many things I've already taught my girls is that it's okay to change your mind.