Gifts that give this holiday season

Costco, August 21

As I entered Costco this summer and passed the beach towels and swim goggles at the door, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Christmas wrapping paper on sale.  I took a picture and sent it to my husband with the caption, “It’s August.”

It seems as though each year the stores we frequent are pressuring us earlier and earlier to remember that “consumption season” is coming.  Everywhere I turn, the message is clear:


No matter your beliefs or the holidays you celebrate, I imagine we can all admit that it’s easy to get wrapped up in unwrapping gifts.  I love a good gift as much as the next person, and if Greg were reading this, he would find out I would love a new espresso maker.  (Hint, hint, the one we have is broken.)  For me, it is so easy to forget that the reason I celebrate this season is the ultimate no-strings-attached-gift-ever – the gracious birth of the Savior of the World. If the meaning is different for you, I think we can agree our culture pressures us earlier and earlier each year to consume more.

I’ve wrestled with how to point my children to the giver of every good and perfect gift during this season, to make our faith the focus instead of an afterthought. We can all do better in this area.  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Do a gift exchange within your family so you buy a gift for one person instead of for many.

  2. Give small, homemade gifts to friends and neighbors such as baked treats, homemade body scrubs, or flavored simple syrups. Pinterest is a great place to go for ideas that are both from the heart and won’t break the bank.

  3. Focus on gifts of time instead of gifts of stuff. Buy your bestie concert tickets so you can go together, or museum passes.

  4. Look for gifts that give and serve the purpose of life-sustaining work to those in need. Some of my favorite companies are ABLE (, 31 Bits (, Purpose Jewelry (, Raven and Lily ( and Noonday Collection (

But perhaps my favorite focus shift for the season is not in the gifts we give, but in daily Advent service projects.


Years ago, my mom gave me an Advent calendar in the form of a house.  It has little drawers for treats that can be discovered each day in December leading up to Christmas.  I decided to include notes with an act of service my children could do (with help). When I started this, I had a four-year-old and a nearly three-year-old, so our first one included pretty simple tasks such as “go through your toys and find some to donate” and “give a friend who is sad a hug.”  Today, of the 24 drawers we open, those two acts still make an appearance.  But as the kids have grown, we’ve added age appropriate service items.






Around Thanksgiving, I come up with the list by looking at our calendar.  I look for days when service projects are already scheduled and include those.  Then, I think about the various activities we do annually and where they might fit best based on everything else that’s going on.  For the busiest days on our calendar, I choose activities that won’t take up a lot of time. Here are some examples from years past:

  1. Send Eliza to school with underpants and white shirts for the orphans in Kenya.
  2. Stack our cord of firewood so we can enjoy fires.
  3. Help mommy weed the garden.
  4. Pack six homeless bags to keep in the car so we can pass them out at traffic lights.
  5. Pack a basket of snacks and water bottles and set outside for delivery people.
  6. Go through your toys and games and pick at least three to give to Toys for Tots.
  7. Go through your books and pick at least three to give to Milk and Bookies.
  8. Choose a pair of your old shoes to donate for children in Sierra Leone.
  9. Go to Build-a-Bear, make bears, and put them in the donation bin at the store along with our other Toys for Tots donations.
  10. Build our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and deliver to Samaritan’s Purse.
  11. Write letters to your teachers to thank them for all they do for you.
  12. Write thank you letters for all your coaches and music teachers for all they do.
  13. Write a letter to our Compassion International child and mail it to her.
  14. Bake cookies and deliver them to our neighbors.
  15. Pack backpacks for the kids in need at our local elementary school.
  16. Volunteer at A Wider Circle’s North Pole Holiday Program.
  17. Collect hats, mittens, gloves or scarves to donate to a local coat drive.
  18. Take a meal to a family with a new baby.
  19. Clean up all your messes in the house today without being asked.
  20. Make a care package for a college student we know who’s taking finals and mail it.
  21. Send a care package to each of the deployed military members we know.
  22. Shop for our Angel Tree selection and take it to church.
  23. Take some canned goods to Starbucks and donate them in the collection bin.
  24. Deliver Christmas treats to daddy’s co-workers.
  25. Make a casserole and deliver it to a local homeless shelter.
  26. Forgive someone who hurts your feelings today, even if the person isn’t sorry.
  27. Make your siblings feel special today.
  28. Spend the day with friends and be kind to them, putting them first.
  29. Visit a nursing home and make crafts with the residents.
  30. Deliver breakfast to firefighters or nurses in a hospital.
  31. Throw out a piece of trash you find outside.
  32. Take the dog for a walk and play with him in the yard.
  33. Bake a birthday cake for Jesus.

Of course, the list will continue to change over time as the children become teenagers and perhaps come up with ideas of their own.  They – now 10-, eight- and five-year-olds – receive a lot of gifts.  I do love the wonder of Christmas morning and of unwrapping gifts that have been carefully made or bought with each other in mind.  But it warms my heart every year when I pull out the Advent house and the kids get more excited about it than any other Christmas decoration.

May this Advent season be filled with the wonder of gifts well gifted and graciously received.










A Different – And Desirable – Level of Crazy

Violet Crawley
She is timeless.

I have completely neglected this blog.  There are a few reasons for it, or some might call them excuses, but I think they’re pretty valid.

  1.  I started a part-time job about a year ago, and while I love working in a somewhat official capacity, it leaves me less free time to write recreationally,
  2. Re-writing about the antics of a two-year-old does not help me cope like it did when I dealt with them for the first time ever, and
  3. I have three children.  Three beautiful, amazing, demanding and very different children.

Last weekend, some childless friends had us over with some other friends who have a two-year-old and six-month-old.  (They are in the thick of it.)  And the dad said, “Having two kids is not twice as much as having one kid.  It’s like three times as much.  It’s more than two kids.”  Yes.  A thousand times yes.  And then he turned to Greg and me, and I responded, “Three is like having five.”

Truly, once you have more children than you have arms to hold them, you are in a different ball game.  Writing about the daily shenanigans, brawls, mishaps, messes, spills, poop, and yes, pee of three children doesn’t hold the same wonder that writing about how crazy life gets when you add a second does.  It doesn’t seem like a special level of crazy anymore, because you adjust to it.  I am so used to not being able to complete a sentence or a thought that in the moments I am able to do so, it feels strange.  And if the kids are home and it’s quiet enough that I can string cohesive thoughts together, it means something bad is happening.

But I do want to write and document these moments and years.  Yes, they are crazy, but boy, are they amazing.  And I don’t want to miss the joy of what having a house full of noise and love represents.  Today, I found out that someone I know who is 17-weeks pregnant with her first child (after trying for a long time) has a cancerous tumor on her bladder.  And when you get slammed with news like this, which it seems like the past year has been full of stories of loss and heartache, it also seems a little weird to me now to vent about how challenging our healthy, crazy lives can be.  I don’t want to take these days or years for granted, or be ungrateful.  Right now I’m sure there are many, many parents who would trade places with me, who would give anything to pull their clothes out of the shower while in it because their two-year-old threw them in for fun.  (That happened yesterday.)

So, I’m not sure how much I will write, I only know I want to do more.  And I hope to tell funny stories and make people laugh because they can relate, but I also might get more pensive in my writing this year.  I’m not sure what the future holds in so many ways.  It wouldn’t be my first post of 2016 without a quote from the Dowager Countess.  In the first episode of Downton Abbey, during her fight with Isobel about the future of the hospital, Violet says, “I suppose we only know what we are capable of when we test our limits.”  I am looking forward to a year of testing mine, and coming out the other end a better mother, wife, and I hope, blogger.

Parenting lesson #20: Some lessons must be learned over and over. And over.

Olivia's photo at our front door with peonies, which fittingly represent healing and life.
Olivia’s photo at our front door with peonies, which fittingly represent healing and life.

I’ve never before re-posted a blog.  But I’m amazed at how easy it is for me to lose perspective.  Sometimes I revisit my old posts because I need to re-read the lessons I thought I had learned.

Originally, I called this post “I submit there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and poopage.”  Amazingly, the past 24 hours have not only involved poop (and the remembrance of a death), but also dog vomit and pee.  Of course, they have also included an out-of-town husband and a sick toddler, and with my third child, that means a menace who goes from extreme clinginess accompanied by inconsolability, to running around and destroying things like the Tasmanian Devil.  I think once you have more than one child, it’s all just chaos, and whether you’re cleaning poop off your flip-flop or vomit off the rug, it’s all just part of a day’s work.

The lesson I need to be reminded of is that these ARE the good days.  There are tough moments, but the days are good.  They are blessings.  I didn’t graciously respond to every inquiry or issue today — far from it — but I’ll take it.  I’ll take all the above, because the alternative is devastating.  Yesterday, our dear friends marked four years since their daughter Olivia died unexpectedly.  FOUR YEARS.  And I can assure you, the pain of the loss is so slowly ebbing.  I still keep her photo in our living room as a reminder to treasure all the moments.  And remember to hug and kiss your babies tonight one more time in their sleep because they are still here.


When you spend all day with toddlers, chances are something either really gross or scary (or both) is going to happen at some point in the course of 12 hours.  It’s almost a given.  This morning, I took the kids out in the yard to play.  As I do most days as soon as I get out there, I started to clean up the dog poop to prevent the kids from either accidentally or purposely getting into it.  (Eliza still asks, “Mommy there’s dog poop.  Can I eat it?”)

Well, this morning somehow within about two minutes Zach not only managed to step in a fresh, wet pile (why it couldn’t have been a sun-dried one, I’ll never know), but he also managed to get some in his hair.

And moments like this are frustrating and annoying, but for the past few weeks, I’ve tried to thank God for them.  I don’t want to make anyone cry, but these two weeks have been tough.  Dear friends of ours lost their beautiful 14-year-old daughter, Olivia, in a tragic drowning accident on June 23rd.  And I’ve lived through tragic deaths before; but this one has hit me more than any other unexpected loss.  This family is just so amazing, so loving, so wonderful, that it seems so unfair for them to have to live through something like this.  At the viewing, I was hugging Steve, Olivia’s dad, and I said, “You give great hugs.”  And he said, “Hugs are all I’ve got right now.  Do me a favor and hug and kiss your babies for me when you get home.”

I’ve been so struck by how much EVERY moment is a gift.  Though not likely, and certainly not fun to think about, any moment could be my last moment with one of my precious little ones.  And I’ve really pondered that these past couple of weeks.  When Zach has been waking me up (almost nightly for a reason I still haven’t determined, but I think it’s nightmares), in my tiredness and frustration, I’m trying to feel blessed that I can hold him and touch him and comfort him.  When Eliza and I have one of our 72 daily conversations that exacerbates my patience,  I’m trying to be thankful for her inquisitiveness (or desire to be annoying – I am not sure which it is yet).

Just this morning, we had this conversation:

Me: “Eliza, we need to put the Play-Doh away because you’re dropping it on the floor and Zach doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t eat it, so we need to play with it when he’s not around,” and she says,

“Why mommy?” and I say,

“Because he’s still too young to understand that it’s not food,” and then she says,

“But why mommy?”

and I try patiently to come up with an answer (my favorite these days is that I don’t have to explain myself to her and she should trust my judgment).

But back to my point, I guarantee that if she weren’t here tomorrow to ask me these questions, I would give anything (an arm? a leg? all our assets?) for one more annoying moment with her.  And if something happened to Zach, I would give anything to clean the poop off of his shoes again if I could have one more of his amazing hugs.

So in my grief, I want to encourage you to enjoy the gross and scary moments before they’re gone.  And in the words of Steve, go give your babies a hug and a kiss, just because you can.

New year, new you? Maybe the old you was already great.

She is oh-so-blunt and oh-so-right!
She is oh-so-blunt and oh-so-right!

Now that Downton Abbey is back on, I am in television dreamland.  And on Sunday, the Dowager Countess had some fabulous one-liners and insights to impart upon the world in the season four premiere.  In one scene, Lady Mary confessed that she feared she wouldn’t be a good mother because her softer side had died with her late husband.  The Countess responded sincerely, “My dear, there’s more than one type of good mother.”

Those words continue to resonate with me, because I know a lot of good moms, and many of them aren’t like me.  But I like to think I’m a good mom as well.  It becomes increasingly clear that there’s no one right way to do this parenting thing.

We all have in our minds some ideal, “perfect parent” and what that person does.  Maybe she reads more with her kids, or cooks better, or keeps a cleaner home.  Or perhaps she signs up her children for every activity, or has more money, or is craftier and not afraid to get Play-Doh on the furniture.  It could be that she never complains, or has a sweeter disposition, or that she works out, or is sexier and gets out of her loungewear on a day-to-day basis.  Just typing out the ideas above makes me realize I could be doing more in all these areas (especially with getting out of my PJs).  But then I am instantly faced with the notion that I’m not doing a good enough job because of things that generally won’t matter one bit when my children are grown.  I am only one person, and the demands of being a wife and a mother (and for some, a provider as well) leave little time for every estimable pursuit that could allure me.  Parenting on a day-to-day basis is sometimes like trench warfare and sometimes more beautiful than anything ever.  We have to prioritize and do the best we can with the things we can predict, and more often than not, the ones we can’t.

Every new year, many of us make resolutions to change for the better.  Perhaps something in my list above about the “perfect parent” is close to one of your resolutions.  I have to say that this year, I did not make any.  I find that I never keep them.  I’m not saying we should not strive to improve or allow God to work in our lives to make us better.  What I’m saying is we should make sure that what we are striving for is both desirable and attainable.  Can you measure when you’ve “gotten there?”  And is where you’re trying to go where you should be?  Is it even possible when realistically considering the constraints of your life?

Doing my best for my unique children and family makes me a good mother.  And it makes you a good parent if those are your goals.  During our visit back home over Christmas, I went to dinner with two very old and dear friends.  One of them said that her New Year’s Resolution was to enjoy every day with her healthy children and husband, and to be thankful for all that she has instead of focusing on the fact that she really hates her teal carpet.  I completely concur.  That’s a resolution I can get behind.

The truth is God has given each of us the children we have for a reason.  Your child or children were born to you for a particular purpose.  Each of us, with our unique personalities, gifts and quirks, has the potential to be a great parent.  The cheerful, stoic, social, shy, creative, nerdy, organized, impulsive, dreamers and doers can all be simultaneously – and in their own ways – great.

Life will never be perfect and there will always be things to get done to improve ourselves and our lives.  Just remember to focus on how you are uniquely suited for your children.  If you’re trying to turn over a new leaf in 2014, remember the Apostle Paul’s words of wisdom in Galatians 6:4: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else.”  Here’s to all of our personal bests this new year!

If I could travel through time, this is what I would go back and tell myself after having my first baby

The beauty of the third baby
The beauty of the third baby. Photo credit: Chelsea Hudson Photography.

About a month ago, we welcomed our third child into this world.  I am in awe at what an amazing little miracle and gift from God he is.  The experience this time around has been so different.  Maybe it’s because I am more experienced.  Or maybe it’s because my mom stayed to help for three weeks instead of just one (and left today – sniff sniff).  Or it could be a number of other things.  But in thinking through the past four weeks, my mind dwells on so many beautiful, wonderful moments.  I wish I could have felt the same way when I had my first.  I keep thinking about things I wish I would have known or been able to focus on.  So for those of you out there whom this might help, here’s what I would say to myself if I could go back to the day before Eliza was born:

Hi there.  Tomorrow your life will change forever, but relax, it will be good.  It will be better than good.  But it will be harder than anything you’ve ever done before.  Your life as you knew it is not over; it’s just turning over a new leaf.

I know you have thought through everything you would like for labor and delivery.  You don’t need to throw it all out the window (because that’s actually what’s going to happen), but the whole process will be better if you are able to let go and release yourself to what’s not going your way or as you had hoped.  I know immediately after Eliza comes out you’re going to go through a really difficult time and you’re not going to feel a lot of joy and love for her right away.  Be okay with that.  It will come.  I can even tell you that despite how little you feel like holding and cuddling her now because of depression and your delivery injuries, that she has grown into one of the most nurturing and caring people you know.

Despite having read books about newborn care and taking nursing classes, you are going to struggle in a major way with both.  I think most new parents do to some extent.  This is normal and you should expect it.  Keep the phone numbers of friends who have already been through it handy, and warn them you might call in the middle of the night for support.  And then pick up the phone and actually call if you’re in a rough moment.

Having a baby is not like taking a math test, where if you study hard enough, there is a formula you use and you get the same result every time.  It couldn’t be more different from that.  So stop thinking about a sleep formula right now.  You cannot spoil this new life by holding her.  You are her favorite person, and your breasts her favorite part of you.  She will learn to sleep, but first she has to learn to eat.  In fact, go ahead and leave yourself topless for the first few days and keep her in a diaper, and let her sleep on your chest and nurse anytime she wants.  Enjoy her despite of and in the midst of your pain and baby blues.  Even though you’re not sleeping much and your whole bottom hurts, try to take her in.  You can’t, but you should try.   Journal your thoughts and write her love notes.  I’m talking a sentence here or there, because you won’t have time for more.

I know the sleepless nights that are coming.  You will get through them.  I know they seem interminable right now, but they will end.  I know there will be incessant crying, and the feeling that you’d just like to put her outside in the back yard so you can’t hear her for a few minutes.  You might want to squeeze her or shake her.  You won’t do it, but you will beat yourself up for having the thought.  Don’t do that, either.  This moment that is so hard is also fleeting, and she will sleep and stop crying.

Trust your natural motherly instinct and your body.  Get every bit of help you can get from lactation consultants, midwives, nurses or doulas in the first two days.  Make certain you are getting a good latch.  A bad latch will hurt and after doing it over and over, will mutilate your nipples.  It’s great to know you feel so strongly and fierce about nursing; but also know that if you just need rest and for someone else to feed her formula so you can sleep, doing that does not make you a failure or a bad mom or physically deformed.  When you find out that she’s lost too much weight, the formula supplement they are telling you she needs is not going to poison her.  Your husband and father were formula-fed, and they grew up healthy and pretty darned brilliant.

The pediatrician and lactation consultant are telling you to have a Guinness a day not only because it will help you produce more milk, but also because you need to take a serious chill pill.  Your body cannot heal and produce milk if you do not allow yourself to sleep and relax.  I know at night you want to do what you would normally do, and you want the freedom to stay up late, but it’s just not worth it right now.  Go to bed.  Take the baby with you.  That will also help your milk.  This seemingly inexorable phase is actually pretty short.  In about five years, you will go to Eliza’s dance recital, she will have a loose tooth, and will be preparing to go to Kindergarten, and you will wonder how in the heck you got there.  And you will then know how fast these early days not only go by, but how fleeting all the difficulty of them is.

So rest and relax, my dear self.  Accept help.  Forgive yourself when you flip out or lash out or feel like an idiot for crying.  Let go of how clothes should be folded, stacked in your drawers, or how they don’t fit.  Be okay with paper plate dinners.  Allow others to make meals for you.  Eat dessert.  It, too, is good for your milk.  And cherish and marvel at what God has done.

Parenting lesson #3: You are embarking on a new phase in life that many see as an invitation for unsolicited advice and judgment.

They certainly look like a fun way to pass the time …

As with everything else, not everyone will agree with you when it comes to parenting.  And it seems like more so than in any other occupation, family and strangers alike feel the need to voice their opinions about the job you’re doing.  It’s possible there’s nothing else we do in public that’s as judgment-inducing as how we deal with our children.  When you have a newborn and you’re already nervous about being out, inevitably some little old lady will tell you that your baby – who is in a fleece sleeper and covered in blankets – is cold.  When Eliza was four-weeks-old and I was dealing with feeding issues, my mother-in-law came to visit.  I had just fed Eliza and she was crying.  My MIL said, “Do you think she’s hungry?  Why don’t you just give her some formula?”

I wish I could say that these unsolicited remarks end at some point, but they do not.  It happened to me Wednesday while traveling alone with the kids, and I know it will happen hundreds more times.  After spending 1 1/2 hours driving to the airport, and the next 1 1/2 hours going through security and traipsing the kids across the terminal for 3 gate changes, I was already spent.  Honestly I was just thankful I hadn’t lost my kids in an elevator or bathroom.  But the wait wasn’t over.  There were storms that were keeping our plane circling above, and in the end, our flight was delayed an hour-and-a-half.  When your kids are at the past-exhausted, giggly, we’re going to hit each other because it’s funny mode, you can only do so much.  I decided that getting them some exercise on the moving walkways was a good way to expend energy and pass the time.

Once there, I felt a little like perhaps this wasn’t the best decision.  I didn’t want to be in the way of people hurrying to make their connections.  I did a decent job keeping the kids to the right so people could pass on the left.  Regardless, there was one older couple traveling with a single female companion, and they all huffed and puffed as they walked around us and threw me disapproving glances.  Then the single companion said to my kids after passing them, “Children, hold on to the railing!”

In some ways, it’s entirely annoying that others – especially strangers – do this.  I am not perfect and I might not always make the best decisions, but I would appreciate it if people assumed I have thought through what I’m doing.  Were my children in danger of falling?  I don’t think so.  Were they in the way of others?  Perhaps a little.  Did their presence on the moving walkway hinder anyone?  Maybe by a few seconds.  But honestly, if you’re a stranger and you want to help a parent, sending dirty looks at her is not helpful.  If this woman had looked at me and said, “Do you need some help?  Would you like me to hold their hands and help you get through the walkway?”, I would have known she was concerned for their well-being, not trying to chastise me for what she thought was carelessness.  There’s a part of me that wishes I would have reacted how Greg would have reacted, which would have been by saying, “Yes, and kids, remember not to speak unless spoken to.”

I really hope that regardless what stage I’m in with my kids, I give others the benefit of the doubt, and if I really want to be helpful, that I’ll offer actual help, not judgment.  When I see a woman holding her baby in one arm and feeding her toddler some candy with her other while loading groceries into her car, I’m going to offer to strap her baby into his car seat or load her groceries, not shake my head at her for giving a toddler candy.  Because I’ve been there, and I don’t want to forget what it’s like to live that tough moment.

This parenting journey is hard, with lots of twists and turns.  Sometimes what we need least are these opinionated naysayers.  But if we can laugh it off, and perhaps take any bit of truth from these incidents for the next test, it’s all part of the experience – the wonderful, challenging, beautiful experience.

My child cured my road rage.

If one of these cut me off, I’d probably be okay with it.

At least for a day, seeing as I haven’t driven yet, Eliza has fixed my road rage.

Since having children, this is yet another thing that has changed.  When I first had Eliza, I thanked God that she couldn’t understand a word I was yelling (and sometimes cursing) at other drivers.  When she started to talk, I realized she would repeat pretty much everything I said, especially if it made me laugh.  Remember dammit?

Now, I have one repeater (Zach) and one “mommy” (Eliza).  Eliza is very maternal, likes to tell people what to do, and likes to correct them.  (I know you’re laughing right now if you know me at all.)

Last night, we were on our way to her very first dance recital, and I was concerned about not getting good seats, so of course, every other car on the rush hour road was a serious hindrance to my plans.  I’ve changed, though, in the sense that I now simply talk down to other drivers instead of yelling at them.

“Really?  That’s what you’re going to do?  Thanks – a turn signal would have been nice.”

“Oh, please, cut in front of me, because what you have to do most certainly must be more important than what I have to do.”

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?  I was in the middle of having some of these one-sided conversations with the people on the road.  And Eliza said, “Mommy what are you doing?”  And I said, “I’m just talking to the other drivers.”  Then she said, in a calm and slightly condescending manner, “They can’t hear you, Mommy.”  Of course Greg had to chime in, “I’ve been telling your mommy that for years, Eliza.”

Perhaps he has.  Maybe it’s easier to learn from your innocent children than it is to do so from your spouse.  But when she said that to me, for some reason, I didn’t want to respond with, “But it makes me feel better.”  I didn’t have anything to say for myself.  I was just quiet.  She was right.  They can’t hear me.  From now on, I’m going to try to stop talking to them.  I have no idea if it will stick, but at least for the moment, she has me contemplative and cured.

Is your heart grateful for the gunk?

A cute scream ... most of them aren't

The past week has been bad for me.  I actually haven’t written because as honest as I am, I’m embarrassed at some of the things that have happened.  We all have an upper respiratory illness bubbling up, and I am in physical pain from training for a race that I might not be able to complete because of runner’s knee.  My patience is running very, very thin for things like Zach’s screaming and Eliza’s incessant jabbering.

Yesterday in the car, Zach screamed for I believe the 6th time at the top of his lungs, and I turned around and screamed, “STOP SCREAMING!!!” (the hypocrisy was palpable) as I smacked his foot (the only thing within reach).  Eliza stared at me, surprised and a bit frightened.  Last night after dinner, I was D-O-N-E, and I asked Eliza to clean up her Boggle game.  She asked “Why?”  I said very firmly, “Eliza, the next thing you’re going to do is clean up that game, and if you say anything else before it’s cleaned up, you will get a spanking.”  She immediately said, “But mommy … ” and I took her away and spanked her, which made her cry.  (Definitely the best way to get in a control battle with a strong-willed child is to do what I did.)  Last week, I tried to get a babysitter so I could go to the orthopedist and get X-Rays of my knee, and a few people let me down for help.  I called Greg in tears, begging him to work from home so I could have some “sick leave.”  I said, “I just need to go back to work.  If I were at work right now, the kids would be in daycare and I would just use sick leave to go to the doctor.  I don’t get sick days.  Whaaaaaa!!!”  (Poor Greg.)

When I confess these moments to other moms, they all communicate that they’ve been there.  (And if you’ve never done anything like this, you must not have any children older than about 9-months.)  I have been feeling more and more like I would like to work part-time, partially to use my brain in a different way, but also to force myself to realize how awesome the time I get with my kids is, and to better maximize it with precious time instead of wasted time, or even worse, time I’d like to erase and re-do.

I recently read a quote in the book “girls!” (which in my opinion, is worth the read if you have any daughters ages 4-12) that struck me.  The authors say, “Whether you are a dedicated career woman or a stay-homie, your role is secondary to the attitudes you communicate about your role.”

So, today I thought about this.  I didn’t bad-mouth my role, or mutter under my breath about my unhappiness with my kids’ behaviors.  I kept my cool in the tough moments.  I thanked God for their extra hugs and kisses and cuddles because they aren’t feeling well.  And I thanked Him for the gunk (in their lungs and in our lives).  And mostly, I thanked Him that I get to stay home, sick days or not.

I suffer from “Just for a minute” disease

The clock is ticking ...

Before naps and bedtime, Eliza asks me to cuddle her.  Sometimes I outright say, “No” because she really just needs to go to sleep.  But when I do agree, despite really enjoying these precious times, I find myself so often saying, “Okay, but just for a minute and then I have to go (fill in the blank).”

I’ve realized I use this phrase a lot.  Eliza will ask to read books, and I’ll say, “Okay, Eliza, but just for a minute.  I have to get the laundry.”  Zach will walk up to me with a toy, and I’ll say, “Okay, Zach, but just for a minute.  I have to cook dinner.”  And on and on it goes, with playing, or dressing up, or going outside, or singing.  (And of course, there’s “Just for a minute’s” evil cousin, “In a minute” if I’m already busy when asked to do something.)

I know I am at home to pour myself out to these kids.  It’s the main reason I’m here and not in an office for this season.  So why, if I want to give them all that I am, do I find myself short-changing these moments in exchange for dish-washing and floor-mopping?

Are these “just a minute” times enough?  A minute hardly allows my kids to build memories they will reminisce about, saying, “Remember when mom used to get all the couch cushions and we’d build a fort together?”

I know I use “Just for a minute” as a tool to warn them that whatever we’re doing has a cut-off point. Because they don’t really understand how long a minute is yet, what I’m often doing is communicating that our activity will end even if they don’t want it to, and there’s something else we must do.  But I don’t just use it for that.  I use it as an excuse so I can get to unimportant things and my to-do list.

Trying to find the time to do everything that must get done as well as what I consider a priority is tough.  I mean, the messes do have to get cleaned.  But I sit here wondering if these children are capable of understanding why household chores sometimes come first.  If I’m honest, I’m not sure they can make sense of it.  I’m afraid that perhaps the message I’m sending to them is, “I’ll do this for you, but it’s conditional because what I really want to do is what’s important is me.”

Last weekend we ended up at a playground next to some basketball courts.  There were a handful of seemingly unattended kids, ranging from ages 3-8, playing on the playground.  We finally figured out that they belonged to some of the men who were shooting hoops.  As I watched, there was one dad who was obviously inconvenienced by his 3-year-old boy who wanted a drink.  He was begging his dad for some Gatorade, but the dad decided to berate him, saying in a sarcastic tone, “You didn’t share your toys so I’m not going to share my Gatorade with you.  How do you like that?”  He then put the boy in a time out for escalating the situation because he continued to cry, “But I’m thirsty.”  And the boy asked, “but daddy, where’s my drink?”  And the dad said, “I don’t know where your drink is, go find it yourself.”  It was clear this guy wanted to play ball and everyone was waiting on him to recommence the game.  When the game ended, the dad immediately left with his 3 kids.  He didn’t stick around to play with them on the playground.  It was such a sad display for us.  But I can’t sit here and say that I’m not guilty of similar behavior sometimes.  (Though I would never leave my 3-year-old to be supervised 100 feet away by other children while I played basketball in a public park.)

It’s tough to balance all of life’s demands within the confines of time.  It seems there are three types of time in my days.  There is wasted time, and then there is time that must be spent on certain tasks (like chores, getting the kids to activities, and cooking) and then there’s precious time.  And I realize that I’d like to fit in more precious time.  In fact, it’s taken me a long time to finish typing this post.  Two days ago I had picked it up and started writing again, and Eliza approached me after waking up from her nap and asked, “Hey mommy, do you want to make cupcakes now?”  And I said, “Yes, Eliza, I would love to do that right now.”  It was a lot of fun, and the perfect moment, because Zach was still sleeping and we got to spend some quality mommy-daughter time.

I’m so glad I set down this laptop because now I’m finishing it at a time when my kids are otherwise occupied and not wishing for my attention.  Often, the things I want to do can be fit in at a later time.  I want to cut back on saying, “In a minute” and “Just for a minute.”  Here’s to replacing them with “For you, dear, I have all the time in the world.”

Getting away will cost you: the aftermath of grandma

We're on a boat ... without the kids!

I came home to my normal life from our anniversary getaway and wondered how on earth anybody does this.

Before I begin, I know my mom is going to read this, so first of all, mom, you know how I feel about you and this is not reflective of you doing anything wrong; rather, this is more about the grandma’s right to spoil her grandchildren.

Getting away without the kids was fabulous.  There was peace.  There was quiet.  I even read for fun, instead of all the non-fiction how-to parent stuff.  But after being home from our trip for about 15 minutes, I realized my life is consumed by constant, loud noise: Eliza singing her ABC’s on repeat; Zach screaming at the top of his lungs to get my attention, clenching his fists by his side like he just kicked the winning soccer goal in the European Cup; Eliza tapping on me in mid-conversation, saying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy – look at me!”; me asking her to give me a few minutes to talk to Omi (grandma); Zach crying because Eliza took away his car while singing her ABCs; Eliza switching to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” because I asked her to sing something different (funny – different words, but same, darned tune).

Unless they are sleeping, there is always noise.  And if there isn’t any noise while they’re awake, then there is trouble.  You can’t win.

The contrast is stark between the quiet of an adult-filled lake house and the ear-damaging loudness of my kid-filled house.  It was amazing to realize just how much ambiance I hear on a daily basis.  But there was something else.  I also realized the kids were tired and more used to getting what they wanted when they wanted it.  There were more whining demands and tantrums.  It has been tough adjusting.

I’ve tried to embark on a re-training schedule.  Even today, Eliza whined to me that she wanted to go downstairs to play with her kitchen, so I turned off the TV and starting to go with her, and then she threw a fit about wanting to finish what was on TV.  In that moment, I felt like a puppet, and instead of caving into her antics, I picked her up, took her to bed, and told her it was nap time.  Her tantrum got worse, turning into one of those times she could barely get her words out amid her tears and gasps for air.  I kept my cool and didn’t budge, and she realized her efforts were futile.  I walked away.  She fell asleep.  Which is exactly what she needed.

I read one mom’s perspective today that when her kids were little, she could never get enough sleep.  And when they were toddlers, she never had enough patience.  It’s so true.  Although I still don’t get enough sleep, patience is really what rearing toddlers and pre-schoolers requires.  I am a broken record of behavior correction and modeling.  Sometimes I am dumbfounded by how many times both Zach and Eliza will test whether I mean what I say.  And since grandma came, I’ve had a lot more testing.

But our trip was still worth it.  We’re getting back to normal, little by little (which is to say a place that still requires vast vats of patience).  It is really hard, but it is also really awesome.  And at least today, I know I can do this.