Wednesday, October 1, 2014

To be worthy.

I've been holding on to this pin since 1995.  Not a hoarder.  Nope.

As we were saying prayers last night, Daniel caught me a little bit off guard.
Daniel: I'd like to pray that Jackson has a good day at school tomorrow.  Especially since I won't be seeing him there.
Me: Really?
Daniel:  Yes, I am not going to go to school tomorrow.
Me: Why, D?
Daniel: Well, there is this test. . . 

Ohhhhh, Daniel.  I just held my (giant) little guy in my arms and listened to him tell me his worries, and it took me right back to 1993, my first week of Freshman year at HSE.  I was so in over my head, a new kid in a big school of kids who seemed to have known each other for a long time.  Everything seemed so overwhelming to me, especially my first period class, Spanish I.  The day started off OK. . .we would watch Channel One for a sweet fifteen minutes of Anderson Cooper and Icebreakers Gum commercials, but then it was game on.  Our Spanish teacher was strict.  She was smart.  She was sassy.  She was not going to be accepting anything less than the best español from any one of us.  Considering I had never even heard the word "Hola" before the first day, I felt totally behind.  "Como estan ustedes?" she would call out.  "Bien gracias, y usted?" all the kids would chime back.  I distinctly remember blinking back tears and being so grateful that all of our desks faced the front of the room so no one could see me starting to cry.  

Of course, my mom asked me how school was and I told her about Spanish class.  How I didn't want to go back.  I just wasn't going to go.  I hated it, I was in over my head, I was going to fail.  I cried big, heaving sobs in the tiny hallway outside my bedroom door while my mom looked on quietly and listened to me pour it all out.  Then, when she finally opened her mouth to speak she said something that has stayed with me for the rest of my life.  I can feel everything about that moment. . .my hunter green and navy color-blocked suede loafers, the worn beige hallway carpet, the door of my bedroom half-open, the upstairs air warm with the weight of August.

"Jennifer, your Dad and I don't care if you pass Spanish class.  What we DO care about is that you have done your best, and that you are a kind person. "  

BAM!  My mom just dropped the ultimate parenting knowledge bomb.

"But the teacher is SO MEAN!!!, I weakly protested. 
"Just go back and be kind and do your best, that's all we expect of you."

And she left it at that.  So, I let that settle for a while, and I went back to class, knowing that I couldn't really fail in the eyes of the people who meant the most to me.  I tried really hard, but without the worry that was on my heart before.  And it turned out, my teacher was not really mean after all.  She was, in fact, pretty awesome.  Also, Spanish was really fun.  A lot like English, only easier and with flan and Trini Lopez and Destinos!  I ended up signing up for four years of Spanish class, becoming the secretary of the Spanish club and even being my Spanish 1 teacher's student assistant my senior year.  A far cry from the tiny freshman who didn't know what "Hola" meant and was terrified of first period!

I dug around in my box of treasures found my pin from high school Spanish class, and I will give it to Daniel when I tell him this story tonight.  I also found the test he was referring to this morning, in the pile of not-quite-ready-to-recycle-in-case-someone-asks-about-them papers I keep in the kitchen.  It wasn't a test he was about to take, but one he had already taken.  His spelling test had been carefully tucked in his cubby instead of the turn-in basket and came straight home with him without being graded.  He was afraid to turn it in, afraid that he hadn't done good enough.  When I showed him the test I had found over breakfast, his face turned red.  I asked him if he could please give it to his teacher today, and without looking up at me he said that he just couldn't.  Then he glanced up and gave me the most pleading face. . .  "Could you just grade it, Mommy, and put a sticker on it and an A+?"  

I looked at the test.  Out of 10 words, he had missed 2.  The bonus words on the back were a wash. . .with 27 hard enough words to study I don't even go there.  He worked so hard with Daddy practicing his words on his Magna Doodle last week.  Honestly, considering that it is only the second month of school and the words were challenging, I thought he rocked it!  But, it wasn't my job to grade his paper.  "Tell you what buddy, I'll go put a sticker on it before you give it to your teacher."  He smiled. I went and found a fancy post-it note, and this is what I wrote. . .

"Daniel, I am so proud of you for studying hard for your test.  You did your best and that's what matters. Love, Mommy"

I handed him the paper, and he looked up at me with a half-smile, and a face that said, "Really?????"  I could feel the wind coming back into his sails, just like mine when my mom said the same thing.  "D, just do your best.  Mommy loves you no matter what your grades are, just work hard and do what you can do!"  I tucked the paper in his folder, and I hope he turns it in to his teacher today. . .not to mention the other test he told me that he hid in his reading folder.  AAAHHH!!  Daniel.  I also hope he knows that no matter what the grade on the paper says, what matters is in his heart. And D has a beautiful, beautiful loving heart- even when he forgets to make his bed for the fifth day in a row, or gets a 6/30 on his math paper or loses one shoe for the millionth time.


Numbers don't determine our worth.  
We are worthy of love because we are.
That's it.  

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me the gift of that worth.  I'm ready to pass it on to mis niños.







Friday, September 19, 2014

Enough. Let them be.

My seven-year-old is "Star of the Week" in his first grade class, so this morning he could pick out two special things to bring to school to show to his classmates.  Oh, boy, was he excited!  Without hesitation, he disappeared into his room and emerged two seconds later with his arms full of blankies and his favorite stuffed animal, Kanga and Little Roo.  "Is this too many things, Mommy?  I know it's three but these are my favorites."  My heart melted into a puddle at the sight of his precious lovies piled up to his chin.  He might love Angry Birds and Star Wars and fighter jets and basketball and Lego and fart jokes, but he's still my baby.  There's no "cool" filter here, just pure, authentic SELF.  Children are simply the best.



I have to admit, it was hard for me to send my boys to full-day school this year.  It's my own heart beating outside my body in my four kiddos, and you had better believe I want to keep them close to me forever!  But, I believe in the good of public schools.  I graduated from public high school, and a public university.  My mom is a public school teacher, and so was I for many years.   Some of the finest people I know are public school teachers, and I was so privileged to learn from them and eventually work along side them. I believe that the free public education we offer all of our citizens is the foundation and future of our democracy.  It's not perfect, but it sure is one of the best things about our country.  Plus, I love our neighborhood school.  They have wonderful teachers, counselor, bus drivers, principal, librarian, secretaries. . .the list goes on!  Their school is full of people who care about kids and love my kids as much as I do.

But, there's one teeny-tiny problem.  And it's making my heart ache.  My kids are little.  They are sweet.  However, the expectations being put on them by the "powers that be" are not little, and not sweet.  We've been feeling the stress already this year.  Testing.  Data.  Testing.  Data.  Data.  Data.  Data.  My kiddos have already spent valuable instructional time taking one huge standardized test this year, and will take it again in the spring.  They have to improve a certain amount on the test, or their teacher will not be considered effective.  "Never mind that he's in the 99th percentile, he had better improve. Otherwise what was his teacher doing all year?"  That sort of thing. All considerations about whether the data is valid or if this is even a valid use of this particular test aside, I just don't feel right about my kids taking all of these tests.

I haven't breathed a word to my kids about their test scores, on the standardized tests or the spelling tests or the math times tests or any test for that matter. 
I don't care if they can't spell "while" yet.  If they read enough books, they will learn. 
I don't care if they can't add fast.  It's only the second month of school. Math facts will come with practice and time.
I especially don't care how my kids "measure up" compared to other kids in their class and district and grade level and world. 

I do care if they LOVE LEARNING. This is why I sent them to school.  This is why I have been answering every ridiculous, insightful or mundane question they have thrown my way for the past seven years of my motherhood and Paul reads them book after book after book even when he is exhausted after a long day at work.  They love to learn.  PBS Kids, Paul and I gave them that!!  PLEASE, DEAR TEST PEOPLE, DON'T TAKE IT AWAY!!!

Love of learning is an attitude that is caught, not taught.  We catch it from our parents, and from our teachers who nurture our curiosity and encourage us to grow.   There's no score for it, no test for it, it simply can't be measured. I feel like my kids are successful in school if they come home and say, "I gave someone a compliment today" or "I love the book that our teacher is reading us!  Let me tell you the funny parts about it!"  I've heard both of those things because their teacher is lovely, and it makes my heart full.  But, I have also heard, "Mommy, I am nervous about my spelling test today.  I don't want to go."  "Mommy, if I am sick, I don't have to go to school, right?  I could just stay home with you?"  There's the heart ache.  I can see it already, the cycle of measurement beginning.  My kids seem to be doing fine on these tests, but when will they start getting burned out on these things?  And what of the kids who don't measure up?  They start feeling that in first grade?  What way is that to start their school career?  All kids want to do well and please the ones they love.  But what if the test says they aren't good enough?  A child is so much more than a test score.

As much as the people who make their living measuring people would like us to believe, you can't measure success.  At least not this way.  In the adult world, we know we can't truly measure success with numbers- your bank account is not where the real wealth is.

Success is resilience in the face of life's challenges. 
Success is people who love you and whom you love in return. 
Success is kindness, patience, and persistence when the odds are against us.

Can you learn the foundations of this kind of success in school?  Yes, you can.  But not if your teacher is forced to teach to a test in order to preserve the roof over their own kiddos' heads.  Only if your teacher is teaching the way they know how to teach.  Those research-based methods of instruction they spent tens of thousands of dollars to study and now can't implement because they are too worried about testing?  Yep, those will help our kids love learning.  The love in their hearts and creativity that they are struggling to express because of the need to produce data?  That will help, too.  Our kids don't need fancy ipads so they can take more tests on the screen, or more standardized tests to give us more data about them, or longer school days to take all of the tests.  They just need to know they are valuable and loved.  The learning will come right along with it.  You can't measure it, but you will see it in the light in their eyes and the joy in their step going into school.

Teaching is not so much a profession as it is a vocation. 
Enough measuring "success", as the life's work of a teacher may not bear fruit until many, many years down the road.
Enough with the pressure of these tests to tell them they have been successful.
Let them be teachers.

Our children are so precious to us.
The important things about them can't be measured.
Curiosity.
Kindness.
Wonder.
Courage.
Love.
Enough with the pressure of these tests to tell them they have been successful.
Let them be little.
 
I don't really know who this letter is to.  I guess all of the "powers that be". All of the "measurers" doing the measurement on my kids and yours and  their teachers, too.  Just. . . enough.  Let them be.  I also don't know what I can do about it, but I guess I just felt like I needed to speak out for our kids and for our tired and frustrated and overworked and caring teachers.  We parents stand behind you. You are good.  You are loved.  You are ENOUGH.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A case of "The Thursdays"

Cereal arranged by fiber content.  #sheldonalert
In college, Thursday was totally my jam.  Um, helloooooo??  Thursday was basically the new Friday, and we could all get our party pants on and head over to the Neon Cactus with our giant plastic mugs to rock it to some Britney and N'Sync and enjoy filling those mugs repeatedly with Long Island Iced Tea.  AHHHH, SWEET THURSDAY!!!  My adults self obviously didn't get the memo, as I am NO LONGER a Thursday person.  I get a case of the Thursdays every week, and here's how it goes. . .

Mon:  Yay!  A clean slate before me, allow me to rock this week and my ginormous to do list. . .
Tuesday:  Ahh, this is the life!  It's only Tuesday and everything is great!  Plenty of time left!
Wednesday:  I haven't really gotten much accomplished this week, but don't worry!  It's only Wednesday!  The week is still young!
Thursday:  CRAAAAAAPPPPPPP where did this week go?  Tomorrow is Friday??  PANIC!!  Despair!  Discouragement!!  AAAHHHHH!!!!

(Friday:  Oh, well, I'll just do it all next week.)

I don't know why, but my four kiddos are also not "Thursday People".  When everyone is whining, crying, laying around lethargically and moaning and generally just a hot mess, I can look at the clock and be sure it's 4:30 pm on a Thursday, and we are going to need to do some major deep breathing and powering through to get to dinnertime and bedtime.  It starts at breakfast most Thursdays, the tired and whiny voices of kiddos who know they still have two more days of structure before sweet, sweet weekend freedom.  Cereal box walls are built and tiny arguments start to form at the breakfast table over things like "He's looking at me!!!" or the relative fiber content of our four cereal selections.  It's not always like that, just Thursday for some reason, and it ain't pretty.

I maintain equanimity through the majority of the week, but Thursday morning usually finds me snapping at my Whinese-speaking kiddos during the breakfast rush.  So, this morning, I was determined to be aware of my triggers and make this day better.  I got up plenty early to shower and be fully made-up before my kids woke up.  Because, let's face it, I wear enough makeup to go to prom every day, and if I don't have it on I'm just not ready to go.  That's how I roll.  I woke the kids up with hugs and smiles and packed lunches that included notes (because I was informed that "MOMMY!!  THE OTHER KIDS HAVE NOTES!!!") but also was sure to include Bugles and Pudding Cups, because this mama knows what her boys love!

I was patting myself on the back when I looked at the oven clock at 7:35, knowing all my jobs were done and my kiddos were dressed and brushed and loved and peacefully enjoying some basement playtime.  However, I heard the early stages of "The Thursdays" beginning beneath my feet.  I can't remember the details if the next 20 minutes, but it involved way too much refereeing on my part.  I am a pretty peaceful parent for 10 minutes of a multi-child meltdown, but after that I start to lose my Zen.  Now, the meltdowns were all about something sweet, they had all decided to color, but the strife related to selecting appropriate coloring materials was multiplied times three cranky boys.  As we entered minute 20 and there was no end in sight, this mama just snapped.

"WOULD YOU STOP FREAKING OUT!!" (Now I recognize the irony of freaking out about freaking out!)  STOP IT!!  I CANNOT LISTEN TO IT ANYYYY MOORREEEE!!  Just figure it out and COLOR!  I have had ENOUGH!  DANIEL!  PHILIP!  JOSH!  ENOUGH!"

Now, the instant I lose my temper there is immediate remorse, but this morning it was even more so. (Side note- my own mom NEVER lost her temper with me.  How did she do that?)  I looked down at Noah, who was standing a few feet in front of me this entire time.  He was looking up at me with his sweet little 17-month-old face and his eyes were brimming with tears.  His lip was quivering.  His cheeks were red.  Eyebrows raised.  In short, he was terrified.  OF ME.  Then, to top it all of, he cried out, "Mommmyyyy????" as if he didn't even recognize the woman in front of him.  

I scooped him up in my arms to apologize.  Daniel shuffled off to the kitchen and I heard him getting each of his brothers a glass of water as I comforted Noah.  The bros sat in silence, sipping their water and coloring, as I rested my head on Noah's tiny shoulder in shame.  I shouldn't have to lose my patience to get my kids to listen to me.  I know better than that.  I am better than that.  I thought I had that all figured out. . .I woke up early, eliminated all of my triggers so I could be all ready for "The Thursdays."  I had it ALL. UNDER. CONTROL.  

Oh, wait.  I didn't have it all under control.  You know why?  Because IIIIIIIII was the one trying to do it all by myself.  See all of those "I"s in that paragraph above?  See me over there trying to figure everything out? Leaning on my own understanding? Enough time to put on prom-level makeup but not enough time to put myself before God?

Sometimes it takes a moment like that to bring the heart back to humility.  I did not have it all under control.  God has it all under control.  

From now on, I have some tweaks to my Thursday approach (after prom-level makeup time.)  First, breakfast will be served out of Crock-N-Rock cups.  It's Thursday.  Let's live it up.  But most importantly, I will take some time out to humble myself before God before the whole whirlwind begins, lest I be humbled again by a sweet toddler boy who just wants to know where his Mommy went.

I even wrote a prayer for it, a long while back, that I keep in my kitchen.  I need to pull it out every day, but especially on Thursday.  :) 

Dear Lord, walk with me today.
Help me to live with intention,
to live my vocation
with kindness,
humor,
and Love.

Help me to be patient with the needs of my children today,
no matter how small
they may seem.
Help me to remember that their needs
are your needs
and when I am serving them
I am serving You.

Help me to choose Love today
remembering that my words
can give life
or take it.
May I choose the words
that bring your Love.
May I choose the actions
that make your presence known
and honor your people.
May I make the most of the precious time
You have given me
to serve You on earth.
Let me be your hands and feet today
To everyone I meet, may I show kindness, mercy and Love,
Use me to do your will.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to get my Thursday kiddos off the bus and power through until dinner!!



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Vantastic.



A few weeks ago on one of my numerous visits to the pharmacy, I came outside to find a sweet elderly lady circling my van.  
At this point as I was leaving CVS, I was super sick, running a fever and feeling generally awful. . .not to mention totally embarrassed that I was wearing no makeup, a dirty ponytail and for some reason in my feverish state I had selected short shorts and a t shirt to wear when it was about 64 degrees outside.  Feverish AND cold, not the best combo!  I was really kicking myself for the short shorts as I was grasping my paper bag full of antibiotic and cough syrup in one hand and pushing the toddler in the umbrella stroller with the other.
"Is this your van?"  She says, smiling sweetly with her white hair and trim white slacks to match.
When she asks me this question, I am inclined to think that. . .
A. Something substantial has fallen off of my vehicle or is leaking from the bottom of it.   
B.  I left my van door wide open for the entire hour I was in CVS.
C.  It is like on fire or something.
I hesitate. "Um, yes, that's my van?"  
After performing a quick scan I can see that, thankfully, no fire coming out of the bottom, and the door is closed. Perhaps this is a flat tire?  I can only imagine and I brace my hot/cold/dirty self for the news.
"Oh, WELL!!", she gushes, "It is just such a lovely COLOR!  I pulled in this parking spot and I have just been admiring it!"  
Me: (Speechless)
Now, if you have SEEN my van, you have probably not even noticed it.  I mean, I barely even notice it and I drive it every day.  No offense, Van.  It's not like I am embarrassed by my van, I really love it. . .it just sort of blends in to my life and I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about it.  ESPECIALLY not about its beauty! Our 2002 Chevy Venture is what the manufacturers like to call "bronze". . .which is just a fancy way to say sparkly brown.  We bought it from Paul's brother who bought it from Paul's parents. . .it's been a workhorse for this family to be sure!   It's got some rust accents on it, I'm not gonna lie. . .but from my extensive childhood Crayola experience I feel like rust and bronze kind of go together. And I can definitely say that this is the first time in four years that ANYONE has complimented me on my van.
So, comparing her comment to my impression of my van, I think I am somehow being punked, or maybe I am hallucinating, but the lady is so sweet and smiling I have to go around to her side of the van to see what she is referring to.
She continues. . ."I HAD to get out of my car and take a look at this lovely van!  What is this color CALLED????!!!!!"

"Um, Bronze?"

"Oh, well, I just LOVE it. . ." and as she continues to gush about my Venture I look over and notice her car is white (to match the pants and hair.) And kind of lovelier than my car. Definitely cleaner.  Mine is still covered with the half a million bugs we caught on the drive to Michigan last week.  "Oh, there is this little spot!" as she points to the substantial rust spot that has started rippling over my passenger side wheel well over this past (ridiculous) winter.  Her face starts to grow a little concerned as she pokes at it with her finger, like somehow the most glorious Bronze Van has been defiled, so I feel the need to, like, make her feel better about it.
Quickly, I jump to the van's defense.  "Um, yes, well, you know, um, it does have 150,000 miles on it.  But, it is just a little rust but it does hold all of my kids and get them places!"
"Oh, yes, well, isn't that so nice!", she beams at me again, "Bronze, you say?  Just lovely!  Well, you have a nice day now!"
"Um, you, too?!?" 
The sweet lady shuffles off into CVS and I get into my van still kind of confused from the entire exchange.  But, I noticed after that despite the fever and the shorts and lack of makeup, I drove that van a little taller.  And when I went out to my van (in another pharmacy parking lot later the same night) at sunset  I caught myself admiring it in its bronze glory.  Actually, I catch myself admiring my van a lot more lately.  Sometimes it just takes a fresh pair of perspectacles to help you see the things around you with new eyes.
Thank you, white slacks lady.  And not too shabby, old van.  Thank you for getting my kids from place to place, and for holding our whole family.  It's the people inside who make the van anyways, right?  


And, let me never forget that you are BRONZE.  


And aren't you lovely.  :)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Take me to Cloud Cuckoo Land.


I don't like to talk a lot about my oldest son's food allergies. 
After watching the Lego Movie approximately 16 times, I have decided that I might just be a little bit like Princess Unikitty.


"Any idea is a good idea except the non-happy ones. Those we push down deep inside where you'll never, ever, ever, EVER find them!"

Girl, I can SO relate!  And, hey, I like living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.   HAPPY THOUGHTS!!! POSITIVITY!!  No frowny faces!  No bushy mustaches!   I'm there!   If I don't think too hard about his allergies, all of those thoughts don't bring all of the feelings up to the surface. But, the summer brings lots of reminders of living with allergies- cookouts and picnics and playdates at the park and block parties galore- not to mention the annual trip to the allergist.  The poking, prodding and the dreaded waiting for the results.

So, last week I woke up and I just had this feeling that "today was going to be the day." 
The day the allergist letter comes in the mail.  
(dun, dun, duuuuunnnn. . .)
Even though the doctor says to give them 6 weeks and the appointment was just about three weeks ago, I could feel it.  The letter was coming.

Sure enough, when Philip was upstairs putting his laundry away and I ran out to check the mail and there it was.

My hands were shaking a bit when I opened it.  The allergist had given us some hope this year, citing that allergies to multiple foods were statistically very rare and he was doubtful that Phil would show a continuation of his allergy to eggs and tree nuts in addition to peanuts as he had in the past.

I unfolded the letter and scanned the numbers eagerly, looking for that magic zero somewhere.  My heart sank, all of the allergies were still there.  Still avoiding all peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.  Retest next year.  IgE levels, blah, blah, blah, business, business, business, numbers. Really, no change to our lifestyle, but I didn't want to have to tell my sweet little boy the news.  I went inside and puttered for a minute when I heard him from the stairwell.

"Hey, Mommy, did you get distracted?"

"No, buddy, I'm on my way.  I just had to check the mail.
Hey.
Your letter came today from the allergist."

"Oh?"

"Hey, Philly," (I took a deep breath and looked him in the eye.) "you didn't outgrow any of your allergies.  
The numbers are all still there.  
I'm really sorry. . .
I was really hoping that you would outgrow some."

"Yeah, me, too, Mommy."

I could tell he was trying to be brave, but his eyes were starting to well up with tears.  He was biting his lip and looking away, and his voice was starting to shake.  I put my arm around him as we sat there on the staircase.

"Sweetie, how do you feel about it?"

A tear slipped down his cheek.

"Sad.  I feel sad, Mommy.  It's just that eggs, eggs are in everything!  They are hiding everywhere.  I . . .I was just was really hoping I could outgrow it."

Underneath his sadness, I could also sense his anxiety.  Even though his nut allergy is so, so much more severe, the eggs are his first concern, because they are, as he puts it, "an ingredient."  You can't see it, smell it, or taste it to know the egg is there.  Plus, it is an ingredient in just about everything delicious Phil loves. . .cake, cookies, pancakes, muffins. . .the treats at basically every celebration everywhere.  And no matter how yummy and fabulous your mommy's egg-free baked goods are, Phil is old enough to know that he is different.   He has to wait for his special treat, ask questions, be on alert.  He handles it so well, but being different isn't always easy, and even at 7 he knows as much.  His eyes have welled up before asking me why he has to be different, and it breaks my mama heart.

As we sit on the steps, my arm around my sweet oldest boy, my heart is sad, too.  I have learned to live with the anxiety. . .that constant, underlying, on-edge feeling when we are any place new, any place with food, and place with people who don't know us, or, EEK!  All three.  I have learned to deal with the anxiety by being vigilant, being prepared, educating Phil and just praying to God to protect my sweet son.  Phil has many guardian angels right here on earth watching out for him, and for that we are so blessed. Daniel is his number one guardian angel and protector, and who better to look out for you than your brother and best friend?   But even though I can manage the fear, I was surprised by the sadness.  The sadness is new- I didn't have it when he was a baby or a toddler and he didn't understand the severity of his situation.  Just since he is older, and now he is starting to understand the weight of it.  He "gets it".  He has feelings about it, and when we talk about it my heart just absorbs all of those feelings.  His pain is my pain, his sadness. . .mine.  I guess this is what being a parent is all about.

But, being different teaches him important lessons, too.  He's wise, compassionate and insightful, and also the biggest little optimist I know.

"Well, Mommy," he says, as his voice starts to transition from wavering to chipper. . ."there's still a chance I can outgrow it, right?  Maybe next year!"

"Right Philly!" (even though I am not so sure, Princess Unikitty is going to jump right on board with that.)
"And you know what, maybe someday there will even be a cure!  And then you won't even have to worry about it at all."

"Really?"

"Yep."

"That would be great!  Now," (pointing at the swim trunks I have been holding in my other had this entire conversation) "are you going to go put Daddy's swimsuit away or what?"

"Yes,"
I laugh,
"let's go."

I reach out and feel his trusting hand in mine.  I clutch it as we go up the stairs, holding on just as tightly to the hope that things will be okay, and someday, yes, someday. . . they might be EVEN BETTER.  

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future
Jeremiah 29:11

Yep. I can hold onto that.

Friday, July 11, 2014

As sand through the hourglass. . .


"I am kind of sad Noah is a baby TODDLER now.  I kind of like normal babies better.  I wish I could keep him a baby forever, but he keeps growing."

Daniel made this observation as we watched little Noah toddle around the backyard this morning, arms out like a teeny Frankenstein, a joyful laugh as he navigated bumps in the landscape without a fall. He's growing so fast, as observed by my also growing-so-fast five year old whom we jokingly call "Great Dane-iel" when he tries to crawl into bed or onto a lap to cuddle.

And tomorrow, my baby boy, Phil, turns seven.  
SEVEN.  


My firstborn son, who changed my whole heart and my life forever with his entrance into the world, will be in big-kid land, the so-called "age of reason."  I feel nostalgic, of course, but also I have to admit I feel a little teeny bit robbed.  People bring it up as a conversation filler, "oh, yes, time goes so fast. . .blah-dee-blah. . .wow. . .he has grown. . .yada, yada" and as I nod and smile and agree my heart cries out, "SERIOUSLY!!!  YOU ARE NOT KIDDING!! WTF, TIME, WHERE DID YOU GOOOOO!!?????"

Since it is not really socially appropriate I don't normally say that part aloud, but I am totally confused by the passage of time.  I can't help but feel like someone deceived me.  Time seems to be slipping away faster and faster as the days go by.  A cruel trick like this can only have one man behind it. . .Stefano Demira.  
Just kidding.  But seriously.  Who is stealing the Days of our Lives?  TIIIIIIME???  WHY YOU PUNISH MEEEEEEE????

On one side I am bombarded by well meaning grocery store shoppers informing me to "enjoy this time, it goes so quickly" and self-help articles about "how to maximize your time" and a facebook feed full of sentimental blog posts about "oh, how precious it is!!" 
OH MY GOODNESS, how I know!!  My eyes fill with tears and I nod my head and I agree with every word spoken about time.  Yet all the while as I try to grasp it,  it slips all the faster through my hands.

Since the birth of baby Noah, it has only accelerated, pushing me into wistful tear-up mommy mode on a regular basis.  While days home on maternity leave with newborn Philip seemed to go on forever, I would feel as though I had just gotten Noah up from his nap and enjoyed merely a moment before it was time to set him down again.   When we got out the Christmas decorations last year, I had the strangest feeling like I had just put them away.  This is not me trying to be cute- NO, SERIOUSLY.  I had a freaky and off-putting moment, like, I just packed these, why am I getting them back out????  The last two weeks of kindergarten crept up on me so quickly and quietly that I had no idea they were coming until they were RIGHT there, staring me in the face, mocking my unchecked list of imagined adventures for our year.  Nails and hair are trimmed and grow again the moment they are cut, pants creep up above ankles that are no longer chubby, teeth fall and out and come right back in.    Faces change unnoticed until an old photo reminds you of the squishy cheeks, strings of drool, and wispy little curls that once graced them.

Of course, my boys are so beyond thrilled about growing.  My heart aches, and simultaneously bursts with pride as I witness it.  It's a joy that has a twinge of pain, that pain that comes any time we are involved in letting go.  Josh pumps himself on the swing and catches right up to his brothers, Noah bursts with joy as he climbs to the top of the playset, Daniel and Philip check out books on their own library cards and read to the younger boys.  My days are filled with, "Mommy, Look!  Look at me!  Look what I can do now!"  

Yet the look-at-me days that seemed so luxurious in my own childhood go by in a blur.  Most of my want-to's end up getting replaced by have-to's. . .my perfectionist tendencies draw me from the idyllic parenthood I hold in my mind.  .  .probably crafted for me by a Country Time Lemonade or Cheerios commercial years ago.  It seems that despite my best intentions, in the march of time I only manage to grab moments.  A glimpse of sun dancing in the backyard, a lullaby, a tender moment between two of my sons.  But, perhaps, that's why lemonade and cereal commercials are only 30 seconds in the first place, and that's really all I need.  I go back over and over to Glennon's "Don't Carpe Diem" post, which reminds me very much of one of my spiritual heroes, Henri Nouwen.  All in the fullness of time.  

"But sometimes we experience the fullness of time.  That is when it seems that time stands still, that past, present, and future become one; that everything is present where we are; and that God, we, and all that is have come together in total unity.   This is the experience of God's time. 

It is in the fullness of time that we meet God." - Henri Nouwen

Real time may slip by too quickly, but I will relish the moments where time stands still.  Where I meet God, and for just a moment, I get to hold Him as the clock slows.  He's cuddled in my arms as tears are wiped away, loving words are spoken into a mess of sweet blonde hair. That moment is savored before we part ways and I go back to my dishes and He to His Legos.  
Full.

My Philip too, was lamenting how quickly our time with Noah has gone just a few weeks ago.  "I wish we could just keep Noah a baby forever.  Then we could always have a baby.  I just love babies."

I nodded my head in agreement, imagining how much I also wanted to keep Philip little, too. Before I could speak, he went on. . .

"But, you know, some other babies might come into our lives, and we can enjoy them.  And someday (he gets a twinkle in his eye) WE will have babies, and then you will be a Nana!!" (twinkle turns to giant grin and we are both giggling. . .)

All in the fullness of time.



Happy Birthday, sweet Philip. :)


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When your insides match your outsides. . .


Disclaimer: It is scary for me to put myself out there and share the following and admit some things below.  However, I feel like I owe it to others to be honest, because if I don't break my life open for others and share my struggles, I may never know who else is struggling, too.  I hope that this story is a gift to just one other person!  

You know how you carefully curate your facebook photos?   C'mon, you know you do it, too. ;)

Back in August, I was putting together my little facebook album for Daniel's 5th Birthday.  I caught a picture of myself and as I quickly cringed and tried to pass by it. . . I stopped.

All of the sudden, I realized what I was doing.  I mean, I like to be honest. Honesty is one of my husband's greatest traits, and something I respect and admire in him and others.  I believe what John Wooden said- character is who you are when no one is watching-  so I always make sure that what I represent in my facebook statuses is the real me- not just the happy and loving me, but also the me that is totally working on things in my heart, has a messy house, a dirty bathroom and four goofy kids that eat a lot of fish sticks and breakfast cereal.

HOWEVER, that keeping it real thing was totally not applying to my pictures.   Believe me, maybe only one or two photos of me from the waist down had appeared on Instagram or facebook post-baby, and that was intentional. . . I realized that I would rather post a picture of myself with my cowlick sticking up, food between my teeth and a huge booger coming out of my nose than a picture of my mid-section post-baby #4!   I was not going to be posting this in Daniel's birthday album!



 In fact, here is the VERY first picture of our entire family together.  Easter Sunday, Noah was 6 days old. This should be a JOY!!!  But I was too embarrassed to post it.  It still makes me sad to think of that!


The real low point came when I was at church, all dressed up with high heels and a dress and, of course, Spanx and control top pantyhose.  On this day, I was feeling like I was looking pretty good (my husband told me I was beautiful so that counts, right?) but as I went up to Communion the Eucharistic Minister placed her hand on my belly and gave the blessing of God to my empty uterus.  AAAHHHHHHH!!!!  Considering I have seen the same people at church every week for 20+ years, and Paul was holding a 5 month old Noah right in the back of the sanctuary, this was my wake-up call. 

"WAKE UP, JEN!!!"

It had been easy to put off because I love myself and on the inside, I was happier than I had ever been in my entire life.  The boys are so funny and such a blessing.  But I felt like I didn't have the energy to keep up with them, or, you know, any pants to wear in order to leave the house with them.  And you know what, kids deserve to leave the house, even if mommy's only pair of high-waisted leggings is in the wash. And even if mommy has been up late working and up all night with a baby. . .these four boys deserve to have my full love, patience and attention.  

Also, some of my friends were going through really huge struggles.  Struggles that made me just want to wrap them up in my arms and lift all of their burdens, and also made me realize that you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow.  As scary as it is to admit, thirty four may very well be it.  The very best time in my life.  I have all four of my living and breathing children right here with me who want nothing more than to sit in my lap and cuddle, a husband of ten years who adores me unconditionally, and we have wonderful siblings and all four of our parents right here close to us.  

THESE are the good old days, I am living them today.  

The days that are crazy right now but I will look back on them and think, "Damn, we were so blessed."  Even though we may never feel like we have enough time, or enough money. . . we have all of the people we love, loving us, right here.  What more do you need, Jen?  Seriously?  And what other body am I going to get other than this one to enjoy said life with?  Even though I can only show the physical parts of myself that I like on social media, I still have to take my actual, real body outside of my house every single day.  No amount of Spanx could hide the 30 extra pounds I was carrying around my waist, and quite frankly I was tired of trying to hide it.  The 30 pounds were keeping me from serving my family and friends the way I needed to.  It was weighing me down, both literally and figuratively.

It was time.  If you are at this point that I was, I hope you are blessed enough to have someone find you like my friend Stephanie found me.  Just take baby steps, take control, know you can do it.   You don't have to do it all at once, and you don't have to do it alone.  Stephanie had introduced me to AdvoCare, and after being a huge skeptic for an entire year, I told her I was FINALLY ready to do it.  I jumped on a 24 day challenge.  It worked for me because I had amazing energy I didn't have to count calories, and someone who has to count pennies and count whether they have their four kids with them all the time doesn't need to be counting calories!   To be fair, there are lots of ways to lose weight or to change your health and energy.  The biggest factor is not a product, but having someone that cares who will be right there to help you reach your goals and loves you just the way you are as you do it.  I hope that I can be that caring friend for someone else.  I know I am forever grateful to Stephanie for being that friend to me.

Fast forward a few months- I was loving my newfound energy and my new wardrobe (of my old pants), but I hadn't realized how much my outsides had changed until I was going through pictures of Noah's first birthday to post on facebook and saw this one.  It was a candid.  I wasn't wearing Spanx, and I was SITTING DOWN.  Six months ago, I would have cringed.  Or maybe cried to myself at night.  But when I saw it, I couldn't believe my eyes.  

I looked the way I felt on the inside.
And I am so grateful.


This Easter Sunday, we took a family picture.  I will treasure it always, but I will treasure the one from last year, too.  All five of my guys, right there with me.  The good old days, I am living them right now.