Getting through Summer

I just finished a book I couldn’t put down. (If you’re looking for a super intense read, check it out. It’s called the Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair)It’s summer, so I am able to read a lot more. With the kids home it can be challenging, but it’s important for them to see me reading, right? If I want to raise readers, I have to show them how much I love reading.

But I was so into my book, I kinda didn’t want to read to them. Sometimes when this happens, Rebecca will pick up the slack and read. But she’s been attending a writing class and was hunkered down in her room with a map of a world she created and character sheets.

Margo piled books up next to me, while Isaac rolled on the floor and moaned, “But mommy, what about my practice reading time. You want me to read don’t you.”

With only a few chapters to go, I tried to distract them with outside time, blocks, or anything else they do when I am not reading and enjoying myself. They are having none of it. Then a idea overtakes me. “Hey Isaac, why don’t you practice your reading with Margo.”

Isaac loves the suggestion, in fact, he loves any suggestion that allows him to tell Margo what to do. So he grabs a pile of his books and says, “Okay Margo, we have to read my books, not yours. Mommy said so.”

Margo screams no, and then realizes if she wants to hear a written word, her big bro is all she has at the moment. They snuggle together in a big chair, and he pushes his way through the stack of books.

I pick up my book and continue on, proud that I killed two birds with one stone. Isaac gets the minutes for reading, and Margo gets minutes for being read to. And now I get to enjoy my own book in relative peace.

I love summer.

One of my favorite blogs is We Are That Family. Yesterdays Kristin Welch, the author of the blog, asked moms for their summer hacks on Facebook. In other words, how do you make your laziness work in your favor. Today she posted 25 Summer Hacks for Moms, it is bursting with ideas for all Moms who are just trying to make it through the day. Read through the list and add your own in her comments section. Look close and see if you can spot my own hack that was chosen for the post.

Who needs day camps, when I have a list like this.

Now, I am off to read a book. I’m calling it research for writing, which means I can shut the office door and read in peace.

Shhhhh

How do you make it through your summer days?

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Work it Out

My kids are pretty awesome at working out problems between each other. Part of it is their Montessori environment and part of it is the emotional intelligence we try to raise them with. But every once in a while, kids will be kids.

For example.

This afternoon, I was sitting in my office, trying to catch up reading for bible study at our house. We are reading Rob Bell’s series on What is the bible. A really incredible look into how a person should study the bible. He provides context to stories I have always taken for granted. Really cool stuff.

In fact, this afternoon I was chewing on a statement about truth:

Some things that are labeled Christian aren’t true, and some things that aren’t labeled Christian are true. Some atheists say lots of things that are true, and some Christians are full of shit.

I love Rob Bell.

Recently, I have struggled with truth. I always question the source, always wonder how I can hold it up to my faith. And then Rob Bell says faith is truth wherever it’s found. Regardless where it comes from.

So while I mull over in my mind, how to claim truth, regardless of its source, I hear intensified screaming from downstairs. It starts off as a slight buzz, and then voices grow louder and louder until a high pitched screeching ensues.

Crap, if God’s about to speak to me through Rob Bell’s words, it’s going to be drowned out by three kids who have had too much togetherness.

All three kids march up the stairs and simultaneously say, “I’m going to tell Mommy!”

My eyes dart around the room. Can I hide? Pretend I’m not here? If I were cleaning, there’s no way they would bother me, because no one wants to be conscripted to scrub a toilet. Okay, that’s not true, they love scrubbing the toilet. But I could be doing something decidedly unfun, like folding laundry. Oh why can’t I be folding laundry, so they will work it out themselves?

Rebecca’s head reaches the top of the stairs, and I run over to the door, slam it and lock it while giving the sage motherly advice they were seeking, “Work it out yourselves.”

Heavy sighs and loud thuds, “See, I told you she would say that.” And minutes later peace descends. They worked it out. All is well.

Slamming the door in their faces, so I didn’t have to deal with whining isn’t the best tactic. But it kept me out of their mess and they learned how to work out a problem themselves.  And I’m going to claim that as truth.

Right, Rob Bell?

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Stubbornness runs in the family

To say Margo is stubborn, is an understatement. This is the girl who preferred an enema to sitting on the toilet, while potty training. The toddler who held in her pee, rather than giving the doctor a sample to diagnose her with. A preschooler who will push away her dinner and go hungry until the next meal.

Or tonight rather than eating the cream of wheat she requested for dinner, put herself to bed, instead of going to the pool with her dad and older sister.

She is so stubborn . . .

And so much like me, it is painful.

When I became a parent, I worried how I would handle  parenting kids who were different from me. My sister liked to joke that our kids would be super extroverted, Greek loving, sports fanatic, normal people. After 10 years of parenting, what I am discovering, it is easier to parent kids that are different from you, because they surprise you.

But the ones that are just like you.

Wowza’s, that sucks.

When I am staring down Margo’s scrunched eyes and flared nostrils, it’s like looking in the mirror. Just ask my husband. And I know when she gets like that there is nothing I can do that will change her mind. I throw out consequences like grenades, hoping one will land and explode into change.

However, Margo can ride this wave of bullheadedness as long as she has breath in her tiny, tiny body. And I know this, because I am just like that.

All this week she has refused to eat meals. Any meal, even the ones where she chooses the food herself. The only thing she wants to eat are cheez-its and cherries, and even though her belly screams for actual nourishment, she gags herself eating the blandest of foods, all the while screaming, “I’M NOT HUNGRY!”

Rebecca and Isaac look at her with sad eyes. They’ve fought this food battle and they know how it ends. The encourage her, “Just choke down the kale soup, it’s better for everyone in the long run.”

Isaac tells her to plug her nose and just don’t think about the taste. Rebecca says just think about something else.

But Margo refuses, even knowing she’s going to miss out on something if she doesn’t eat dinner. It doesn’t matter if we pitch her food, save it until she eats it, or refuse her snacks until the next meal. She won’t eat it. No way, no how. And she’ll scream really loud in the process.

My husband tried a lesson in grace. On Sunday she refused to eat dinner, and at the end of the night, he sat her down and said, “I’m going to let you eat pie, even though you didn’t eat your dinner. I love you and we all make mistakes”

With a mouthful of whipped cream, she says, “Make a dinner I’ll eat.”

Lesson learned? I don’t think so.

And because she is so much like me, I know this continual fight is going to be the same, night after night after night.

This girl has staying power. This girl is stubborn.

This girl is just like me.

*sigh*

I try to think of the positives. How her stubbornness will benefit her in life. That’s if she doesn’t starve to death first,

or turn into a Cheez-It.

Is it easier to parent a child like you, or different from you?

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The long, dark night

Last night at bedtime, Isaac came to us sobbing. Bedtime is always rough. He hasn’t gotten over having his own room, and he misses the days when he shared space with Rebecca. Most nights he will go to bed, but when the routine is disrupted, say after vacation, he craves being close to his sisters.

Last night I was tired, and I didn’t want to deal with another round of tears. But something in me said, “You need to hash this one out.”

And I’m glad I did.

I used language from therapy. I have discovered, it’s not only useful for uncovering truths I don’t like to admit to myself, but it is a great avenue for drawing out of the kids, my husband, or others, what is really bothering them.

At first, Isaac held to the fact everyone else in the family got to share a room with someone else. It wasn’t fair for him to be the lone man out. In fact, he said, the problem could be solved if we had another kid.

Michael and I looked at each other and bit our lips to keep from laughing. That ship has sailed. And we tried to tell him without dismissing what he said, that we couldn’t have another child so our family was evenly distributed in bedrooms at night.

The tears kept coming.

It was obviously about more than the unfairness of the room situation. After further prodding, we learned, he doesn’t feel connected to the family at night. So I asked the questions I have learned to ask myself when I feel like he does.

1) What do you feel when you are alone.

2) How does sleeping with the girls stop that feeling

3) What can you do to feel connected to the family at night

We discovered through this line of reflection, that when he is alone, he can’t distract himself from scary thoughts. The TV show that was ok during the light of day becomes frightening at night. The book he thought was funny, makes him take a second look. If the girls are there he can distract himself and not think about it. By himself, the thoughts march across his mind like an invading force he can’t stop.

Boy, can I relate to what he said.

In fact in my own life, I have been trying to combat the worries and anxiety I feel, especially at night when darkness only illuminates my broken places. As we spoke, I thought about the book I was reading, called Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. Through her words, I am learning to embrace the darkness not as a foe that needs to be battled, but as a friend pointing out how I can draw closer to God in those spaces. The practice I just started myself, was to take these thoughts, and as they enter my mind, offer them up to God. Not asking him to give me strength to get rid of them, but offering them up to Him and allowing him to work in his own way on my heart, mind and spirit.

Kinda hard theology to explain to a 6 year old.

So I wrapped my arms around him and Michael and I prayed over him. We prayed that as the dark, scary things entered his mind, he could hand them over. Not in abdication, but in realization that faith is allowing the impossible to become possible. Allow himself to be connected to God, and in that connection, fill his dark with illumination.

We sent him up to bed and Michael tucked him in, and Isaac didn’t cry himself to sleep.

This morning, he jumped into bed, eyes sparkling and excitement bubbling over. “Mommy, Mommy it worked! I did just what you said.”

Excited, I asked, “So what happened.”

“The scary thoughts came, and I thought about cars instead!”

Head thump, that boy is so much like me. And isn’t our human condition to distract ourselves from the things we don’t quite understand or know how to take care of. I pulled him tight and said, “Did it work?”

He shook his head yes. And although it wasn’t what I expected would happen, I claimed it for God anyway. After all, it has taken me 37 years to figure this one out, and Isaac is already leaps and bounds beyond where I was at his age.

I learned from this situation, that I can’t assume I have all the answers. In order to help my kids learn to contemplate, reflect and grow, I have to show them how that’s done. I can’t provide the answers, but I can show them how I handle my dark places and allow God’s light to shine through. Learn from them, instead of being afraid of them.

The dark is only scary if we let it be.

 

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The best book ever

I’m kinda in love with this book I’m reading right now called Carry, On Warrior: thoughts on life unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton.

This is the woman who created Love Flash Mobs that raised a lot of money for 5 people who were facing some of the toughest challenges in life. She says a lot of profound things with a lot of humor, making me wish I had a best friend like her. What I love about her book is how authentic it is. She doesn’t hide the fact she was arrested 5 times in her crazy days. That she struggles with an eating disorder and addiction.

All these things she faces, and she still believes life is beautiful, even though it is hard. In fact, she describes life as brutiful. I love that, and it is so true. Just because life can be brutal, doesn’t mean we can’t see the beauty in it.

In this life we need to be authentic and transparent with those we meet. Complete strangers don’t need to know our life story, but there is someone out there who might benefit from knowing our struggles, our failures, our broken places.

I find myself wanting to write down everything she says. That’s when you know you have a great book in your hands.

“Then I remember what my most important parenting job is, and that is to teach my children how to deal with being human. Because most likely, that’s where they’re headed. No matter what I do, they’re headed toward being messed-up humans faster than three brakeless railroad cars.

There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being human, and that is this

Forgive yourself.”

The above quote, is something we all should remember. As parents, as wives, as husbands, daughters, sons, friends, co-workers, employees. We are just being humans, and we mess up. Be right with yourselves, so you can be right with the world.

Like Melton says, if we teach our kids this important lesson before anything else, the rest of life falls underneath its jurisdiction. We can love others better, give forgiveness more freely, let go of shame quicker, and handle hurt better.

Accept your humanness and embrace forgiveness. We all have something we want to hide, forget, or let go of. If we embrace grace, it will make the world a more brutiful place.

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Dreams Legitimized

The legitimization of a dream, is a hard thing. We expect the affirmation to come from others around us.

We want to hear:

“Go for it!”

“You got this!”

“We’re behind you 100%!”

But while we pursue our dream, something gets left undone. Left behind. Ignored. It is the feeling that we can’t be irresponsible that keeps us from our ultimate goal.

Our ultimate dreams.

After 6 years of being at home with the family, I realize I never legitimize my own dreams. I always wait for someone to give me permission to take a step forward. For someone to say, It’s okay the laundry isn’t done. Or that the kids were bored. Or the fridge is bare.

Because no one is ever going to say those things.

When I worked, I didn’t berate myself because I didn’t see my daughter for 9 hours each day. I worked, doing something I felt passionate about. But now that I’m home, I have one foot in writing and one foot planted with my family and I can’t keep that delicate balance. When I’m writing, I feel like I should “be a mom” and when I’m with the family, I want to write. And in both places, I never am satisfied with where I am at that moment. It’s always colored by what I should or want to be doing.

The expectations I placed on myself.

Sometimes I wish my writing ambitions were clear cut. If I found success, I could tell the world, “See, here, this is a job. I get paid to ignore family responsibilities for hours each day.” But like the plight of so many people who are stuck between two worlds they want to be in, I don’t get paid for any of what I do in my life, and therefore none of the time I spend doing anything feels justified.

It’s all just a hobby.

Or an expectation.

Today it occurred to me, that I have to legitimize my own dreams. While I keep looking for some outside source to say, “You are a writer, now write!” What I really need to do is look inside and say, Jessica, you ARE a writer. Now make time for it.

When we make the decision to put our dreams on hold, we say to ourselves, some day it will be MY turn. Then days, weeks, months and years go by and the dream sits like a lump in our minds. Mass without velocity, doesn’t feel good. The dream can only gain speed from within. Your boss at work won’t ever say, take a month off and finish that painting. Your kids won’t say, “We can feed ourselves, now go finish that chapter.”

Dreams have to be legitimized from within first and then others will see how important they are. Because if we don’t tell others how important it is to us, no one will ever know.

And as my husband likes to say, “So what are you going to do about it?” Self reflection only matters, if we pick up the thought and do something with it.

So what am I going to do?

Practice my no. I’m going to tell that demon inside me, no. I’m doing what I need to be doing right now. Sometimes that is writing and not taking a walk with my family. And sometimes it is going to the pool instead of writing. But I will only legitimize my own dreams with others, if I first give myself permission to have them in the first place.

 

 

 

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All Shall Be Well

 

“But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well

(no matter what)”

Julian of Norwich (italics added by Madeline L’Engle)

Our community was rocked by a violent crime yesterday. A restaurant owner was shot and killed during an attempted armed robbery, on a busy street.

During daylight hours.

I couldn’t hide if from the kids even if I wanted to. There were police on every corner as we drove to Target. With a sinking feeling, I knew something bad happened. Then I saw the news and an advisory to stay indoors, because the assailants were still at large. It was a lesson I hoped my kids wouldn’t learn until later in life, but realized it was a lesson they would learn sooner or later.

Things happen in this life that we have no control over.

On a perfect sunny summer afternoon our world darkens and changes. It’s a shift that causes us to sharpen and shape our beliefs.Who we were is changed by this new information about the world. One minute the world makes sense, and the next you are explaining to your 9, 6 and 3 year old that sometimes people are so hurt on the inside, they hurt other people. Or sometimes people get sick and we don’t know why. Accidents happen. Wars happen. Bad things happen.

Isaac was the most disturbed by the incident. He tried to make sense of how someone could hurt another person. We prayed for the victim and we prayed for the assailants. Part of me wanted to shelter my kids from the darker side of the world, but my motto in parenting is always be authentic, and if I hid the way of the world from him, I would only hurt him. I didn’t have to give him all the details, and I didn’t. But I had to have a conversation with him about it.

Kids need to see how we handle adversity, trauma, and pain in this life. I don’t avoid difficult conversations until the kids are older. I try to speak about things and give them information they can handle. I reveal the tip of the iceberg and with each passing year, uncover the behemoth underneath the water. For example, the kids all know I had cancer. They heard about my surgery, radiation, and lifelong testing. And when a mother last year in our church congregation passed away after a long battle with cancer, we talked about it. We talked about how scared I was when I was diagnosed. And that some people with cancer get better, but sometimes people with cancer die.

My goal is to talk with them about the difficult things in life, in a way that won’t scare them from living. But it’s hard, when the world is a scary place. Yesterday afternoon, Isaac locked up the house and pulled down the shades, because he didn’t want the robbers to see us.

I wish it were that easy to hide from tragedy in this life.

All I can do is continue to have a dialogue with him about how we respond to a world that doesn’t make sense. We respond with love, prayer, gratitude, and assurance that no matter what, God is in control.

Today, I read this quote by Lady Julian of Norwich. Madeline L’Engle, quoted her when she spoke about the time her granddaughter was hit by a truck on her way home from the swimming pool. Her granddaughter recovered, but Julian of Norwich’s words brought her comfort in the darkest hours, when they weren’t sure. Today they brought me the same solace, because it reinforces the conversation I’ve had with my kids about tragedy in life.

She just says it so much more eloquently.

Tragedy will happen again. And again. And again. We are not promised easy lives, but we are promised joy, even in the face of unspeakable hurt. The tragedy doesn’t defeat us, because in the end,

All shall be well.

No matter what.

Today, Isaac’s fear has recessed to the back of his mind. He brought it up, but it lacked the sting of yesterday. And I hope it is in some small part to the fact that he saw through our discussions that all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

No matter what.

How do you speak about tragedy to your children?

 

 

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Family Memories

The other night, getting ready for bed, Rebecca says, “I wish I had taken a picture of us having fun tonight. I want to remember that forever.” She was talking about an impromptu water fight we had as we put away toys from my birthday celebration. I filled up Isaac’s super soaker and snuck up on my husband, who was waiting for me with a hose.

Everyone had deep belly laughs and for five minutes we all lived in the present.

Although we didn’t have a picture to commemorate the event, I believe we will all hold that in our memories for a long, long time.

It made me think about how often we try to create these memories. We plan the “perfect vacation” that turns out not the way we planned. Or we schedule activities for the kids so they have a brain bloated with childhood fun. How many family portraits do we take, trying to preserve who we were as a family at a certain point in time?

But are those your favorite memories? Think back on your own childhood? What are your favorite memories?

When I look back on my life, the things I remember most aren’t planned trips or activities. I remember playing “beauty” with my sister.

Not as kids, as teenagers.

I remember arguing the subtle differences between deluge and torrential downpour with my dad and sisters as we huddled in the car waiting for a break in the rain so we could get inside the school building.

And I won’t ever forget, my dad singing, with his arms pumping, while our dog barked along with him.

None of those memories were planned, none were forced, they all just happened. And I was reminded of it last night with my kids.

How many moments do we miss, because we are all focused on making the most perfect memory?

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Consequences vs Results

Bear with me, because my mind is wrapping itself around a concept. And you readers, can help me, because my therapist is on vacation for the next two weeks and I need someone to bounce ideas off of.

I have been struggling with the concept of consequences. In my mind, I always associate the word consequence with something bad happening. I often tell myself that a decision will have a consequence, but I never mean it in a positive way. It is my go to line with the kids, when they make a choice that leads down a path they don’t want to be on. (or more accurately a path I DON’T want them to be on)

But it occurred to me today, that consequence, isn’t a negative word. It just is. I make a decision and that decision has a result. I am the one who flavors it with good or bad.

Are you with me?

All this time, I go around naming every consequence as bad. If I don’t exercise, I am going to regret it because I will gain weight/not be healthy/etc.

If I balance my checkbook, I am good and there is no consequence for good behavior. It just is.

If I pick a fight with my husband, I am bad because I can’t just leave things alone.

If I cook instead of eating out, I am good. We saved money and ate better.

If I eat these three donuts, I am bad, because I’ll feel terrible afterwards.

Can you see where I get off path? I am labeling my behavior as good or bad. I’m not bad if I don’t exercise, but there will be a result from not running. Just because I balance my checkbook, doesn’t mean my life is good and I won’t have stress. Instead, I should be seeing my choices, no matter what they are, as simply choices.

That have consequences. All of them.

When I yell at my kids, there is an outcome. They cry.

When I go for a run, there is an outcome. My body wakes up.

When I use outcome instead of consequence it takes the heat out of the words. There is not judgement of good or bad. It just is. I did this and there was a result. Leaving me with a feeling of, do I want this outcome to continue or not? If I say no, then I can explore solutions. What I am not left with is a value judgement leading me down paths of shame. Even if it is a seemingly good consequence, the problem with labeling myconsequences as good or bad is it doesn’t tell me why I did what I did, and what I should do in the future. All it tells me is how I feel about myself in relation to the decision and what feelings I want to avoid in the future.

But, if I say, “I yelled at my kids and they reacted.” I take away the power of shame, and I am able to solve the problem of why I yelled in the first place. If I avoid yelling because it makes me feel bad, I can never change the outcome. I’ll just avoid it.

This idea has me wondering how my life will change. If I don’t think of consequences as good or bad, but just results that will be changed, I believe this will revolutionize my parenting and life.

What do you think? Should we label our consequences as good or bad? Or should we focus on the outcome of our decisions?

 

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Earth goes around

Last year my birthday ended with Captain America singing Happy Birthday to me. Okay, so not Chris Evans. And he wasn’t REALLY Captain America. Just Cleveland’s version of him. He was poking 50 with a finger, wearing compression socks and an ill fitting superhero costume. But there is video of a very embarrassed me, trying to hide as Captain America sang to me.

The rest of the evening is a bit of a blur, because a summer release of Christmas Ale and Festivus does that to a person.

Turning the wrong side of 35 was hard. Yes, getting older isn’t fun. But last year I realized I hadn’t led an exciting life. Some cool things happened in my early 20′s, then I got sick for the rest of my fun, crazy years. I missed a lot because I was sick and tired.

And scared.

So year 36 for me, was a year of setting big goals. The one important lesson I learned from being sick in my 20′s, is life is pretty freaking short. And it’s about time I started living that way.

I finished the book I had been writing for years. And I stopped saying, “One day, I’ll run that marathon.” And I ran the marathon. My body might still be recovering. And I woke up today, June 23, another year older. The earth has gone round the sun (tra-la-la) another time and I want to set more goals. Because now I’m looking at 40 and it isn’t theoretical anymore. I really am going to be turning 40. I don’t want to regret my 30′s the same way I did my 20′s.

I want to continue to do big things.

After finishing my marathon and submitting my book, I felt a little lost. Achieving goals isn’t as satisfying as the pursuit. I spent a month wandering around, wondering if I could ever possibly top those two big life goals. I walked around acting like there were no more goals I could set.

This year, instead of marking the passage of another year with a hint of regret and nostalgia, I’ve decided to set new goals. My biggest regret in my 20′s (other than ya know, getting cancer) is being afraid of trying new things.

What are my goals this year?

1) I will either self-publish my novel, The Tin Years, or publish it traditionally. I will take the critiques I get from the writing contest and use them to polish my novel, instead of hiding behind its inadequacies. And if someone asks me what my book is about, I’ll tell them. Instead of my pat answer, “Oh, it’s women’s fiction.”

2) Paddleboard. Okay, it isn’t the loftiest of goals, but I am a chicken when it comes to doing anything new. All talk and no action. I am always afraid I won’t do it right, or look stupid doing it.

3) Skiing. Much like Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself, made me terrified of man o’wars in the ocean, Sono Bono’s death kept me from skiing. To the point I won’t do it. No way, no how, no matter how illogical my fear. But this year I want to ski, both cross country and downhill. Because it looks fun.

4) When I was in fourth grade, I declared I wanted to be a romance writer. And then I realized how silly that sounded and I decided to pursue a more reasonable career, like politics. Which I was fabulously bad at because I am an extreme introvert. I like how life has a way of coming full circle if we let it. I am now 37 years old and by the time I turn 38, I will have completed my first romance.

Birthdays shouldn’t be a day full of shoulda, coulda, woulda’s. Every year, we should reflect on those childhood and adult-sized dreams and make them happen.

Because life is too short to do otherwise.

What goals would you set?

 

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