Tonight was quite a night at the Zink house. When the school year begins, we move into High Intensity Parenting and it always takes me a few weeks to catch up. Or do I ever catch up? Maybe in June, right? ;) In the summer, I thrive as all of the parenting activities are spread out over the course of a leisurely day. Do a chore here, brush some teeth here, make your bed whenever. Usually if all of the "things" are done by the time I start making dinner and we've had some fun in between, I feel like we have totally rocked that day. But August-May, LOOK OUT. All parenting must be concentrated into super intense periods of time. Meteorologist Jen Zink reporting: There's a warning out for the "Getting Ready for School Tornado" M-F from 7-8:30 am, and then from 4-8 pm daily, be on the lookout for "Scattered Shitstorms."
Tonight the radar was mostly red from 5:45 pm onward. The end result was me wearing my apron for four hours straight before I finally made it to the sink to wash the spaghetti Wednesday aftermath, and the in-between was the best of times and the worst of times. THE MESS. Both literally and figuratively. But magic happened there. And that magic is the reason why I am sitting at my computer typing instead of curled up in the fetal position crying.
Sometimes I pray for things to be easy. "Let today be an easy day after school." I pray. "Why does the morning have to be like this?" I plead. But in this week of hectic, wiggly mornings and tearful yet exuberant evenings I have become aware. . .the crazy is the gift. The mess is where the magic happens. We have plenty of fun and peaceful and easy times to be sure, but the HARD parts are where we do the real work of life. I hate conflict, I avoid it at all costs. But conflict, and how we deal with it, is where we LEARN and GROW in this family. It is the biggest blessing we could have. I would love an easy morning, but an easy morning doesn't help me teach Daniel about time management. It doesn't help Phil to learn how to rise above challenges. It doesn't give me an opportunity to ask Josh for forgiveness for (gasp) HELPING HIM SET THE TABLE and give him the opportunity to extend it (update: I am half-forgiven for the table setting). It doesn't give us a huge belly laugh from Noah singing "Take it Easy" by the Eagles in the most crazy and least "easy" voice imaginable. It doesn't teach me to extend grace for spilled milk. It doesn't let me lead my family by example by admitting my own shortcomings if I oversleep or forget to run the dishwasher. Some days I would love to just hide in the kitchen and pretend to be making toast while I check my phone and the dining room explodes with little boy laughter about potty humor over their bowls of Bran Flakes and Cheerios. If I did that, though, I'd miss the chance to answer the million questions that pop up at breakfast about God and science and friendship and bullying and books and nutritional content of cereals.
By the time my kiddos get on the bus, I feel like have already taught a dozen lessons, a gift of the little obstacles of daily life. After they get off the bus at 4pm, the lessons begin anew. Someone might be crying in my arms from the moment they step into our front yard. Someone might pinch his brother, and then end up in a teary puddle explaining his feelings. Someone (ahem- his name starts with a D) might go completely boneless on the kitchen floor because of the possibility of writing out his spelling words. There's a highly volatile mix of little boy pent-up energy and I've been holding-it-all-together-exhaustion which can have my house fluctuating from joyful play to tears in the blink of an eye. In addition, meals have to be fed and cleaned, baths and showers given, teeth brushed, homework done, stories read. . .whew!! Tonight before dinner, Phil started crying because everyone was "ruining his pretend!! He was just trying to include them but they were RUINING IT!!!" Then at dinner, we were gifted with a two year old who decided not to take a nap today. He was crying so loudly about something related to his spaghetti that Phil started crying again because he "couldn't take one more second and just needed to be ALONE for a minute!" Josh was despondently poking at a meatball because spaghetti night is his least favorite, and Daniel had entered into his defense mechanism for all uncomfortable situations: clown mode Paul and I looked at each other in the same unspoken way that perhaps seasoned firefighters might as we just busted straight into that fiery mess. I prayed for wisdom. For patience for us. For a teachable moment in the whole thing.
So, as Paul gave some baths I got right into the thick of it with our oldest. It turns out Phil just isn't "feeling like himself." We talked about what that meant and what he might do about those feelings. Daniel was eavesdropping and started to chime in about his feelings, too. We talked about how Daniel was like Ferdinand the Bull in the story, with the flowers and the butterflies and all. Josh went downstairs to play, where I later found him asleep with a Lego clutched in his hand. Paul got the over-tired Noah to sleep with some Best Nest and a cup of milk, and I spent some time with my buddy Phil talking about what was going on inside that little noggin of his as he cried big giant tears and I wiped them with a Kleenex that Daniel brought us.
"Mommy, I just don't feel like me, I can't explain it." Phil said.
"Well, sweetie, I'm here. I'm here to listen."
"I feel like I just want to be by myself!!" he wailed. "I just want to go in my bed and not even brush my teeth and read a book."
"I totally understand! When I have a hard day reading one of my favorite books always really helps me. But, like, I always brush my teeth first. That's important." (seriously, kid has another cavity. gotta get that part in) ;)
"What books do you like to read, Mommy?"
"Well, one of my favorite books is called "I'm Proud of You" It's by my friend Tim. Do you know he was real life friends with Mister Rogers?"
"Really?" Phil's eyes got big and I could see that Daniel was listening intently from two beds away.
"Yes, real friends! They hung out and emailed and talked on the phone and everything!"
"Wow!" Phil said, as he waited for me to go on.
"So, Tim had a brother. His brother's name was Steve and they were really close, just like you and Daniel. But when his brother Steve was a grown-up, like your Daddy's age, he found out he had cancer. And later he died. And Tim was really sad just like you would be if you lost Daniel. But his friend Mister Rogers helped him through that sad time. And do you know what he said to him???"
"Anything mentionable is manageable. So if you can talk to Mommy about how you feel, I can help you with it, OK? You don't have to feel your feelings alone. If you tell me, I can try to help you."
So we sat together for a while, Phil and I. He totally stopped crying because once you start thinking about someone else's pain it's pretty hard to stay focused on your own. His mind was all wrapped up in Tim and Steve. He never did find the right words for his feelings, but we brushed teeth and read Stellaluna and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Tub People. By halfway through the first story he started to melt right into my arms on our comfy denim couch.
"Do you feel more like yourself, honey?" I asked, as we wrapped up Mike's adventures with Mary Ann in Popperville.
"Yes, mommy. Yes I do. That helped." And I started to melt, too. His little ash blonde head all cuddled under my chin, his big eyelashes, his even bigger heart.
See where the magic was in that mess? I would have missed that. If there wouldn't have been a hot mess of tears and conflict and boogers and spaghetti and silliness, I would have missed it all. The mess conspired for that moment. It was so worth the spaghetti-crusted dishes in my sink. As much as I love the easy days, the fun days, the no-strife days, the pizza nights, the lazy walks, the playground trips. . . I need these messy times, too. The crazy school mornings, the rollercoaster evenings. . .they teach us. They mold us. They're a gift to our family, even if they are about as fun and glamorous as a savings bond that you can't cash for years and years. But the investment is being made. And for that, I'm grateful.
As I corralled the kids through the early morning rush yesterday with Noah on my hip, Daniel was watching me from the bathroom with a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth and an inquisitive look on his face. "Mommy, how long are you going to carry Noah around like that?" he asked. "He's like half your size, you know."
My first thought was, "That's ridiculous! He's just a baby!" but then I realized Daniel did have a point. I mean, Noah is almost two and half and I trot him around my house in footie jammies with his paci and blankie like he's 10 months old. No shame. I hadn't even considered it. He's my baby because he's the youngest. Size be darned. And I pointed that out to Daniel. "Well, sweetie, Noah is like my LAST BABY. So, you know, maybe. . .for-eeeeee-veeeeeeer?"
Daniel laughed because he totally gets me. "Um, OK, Mommy," he said. "But you might want Daddy to take over. You are looking kind of ridiculous and people might think you are a crazy mommy."
"I will consider that, Daniel. Thanks for the feedback."
We laughed and crazy mommy scurried down the stairs with "baby" on hip to finish up the trio of lunches.
After the boys got on the bus, I was still running over all this in my head. I had to see for myself, so I went to the full length mirror with Noah on my hip to scope the situation out. I laughed out loud and Noah couldn't help but giggle, too. Daniel was so right. Noah is huge. His legs are so long they could wrap around me and his head is about the same size as mine. We do look like quite a pair with our brown eyes and blonde hair and goofy grins. But after having a baby on my hip (or two) for eight years straight, I'm just not quite ready to let go of this phase of my life. For one thing, I don't have a lot of time to sculpt my guns, so Noah really helps with that. And most importantly, I know there is a day I will put Noah down and never pick him back up and plop him on my hip to cook dinner or run into the store again. I'll never even notice it. . .the hip carry will just melt into history until one day I will be bouncing and rocking in the pew in church with no one in the crook of my arm playing with my hair. Hopefully I'll stop myself before people think I'm too crazy, but I am sure when I do I'll have a touch of longing for my hip mom days.
I also couldn't help but reflect on how my perspective has changed. When Phil was 13 months old I was hoping, praying, encouraging, prodding, anything to get him to walk! I had a newborn and a not-yet-toddler and I was dying for one of them to be able to help me with the trek from our bungalow to the car parked down the stairs on the street below. Or get into the high chair by himself. Anything. NEED A LITTLE HELP HERE! And not just as a toddler, poor Phil being my oldest has received a lot of pressure from me over his eight short years on earth to do all kinds of things on his own and have adult level reasoning skills. Before he was three he was a big brother twice. Since he is RELATIVELY larger than his baby brothers, sometimes I can forget how little he truly is. Something about being in a house with just your tiny people can make it very possible to lose that perspective of their size in the grand scheme of things. I'm guilty of losing perspective of my own size in the grand scheme, too! One look up at the sky usually cures that. And for my kids, usually it takes hearing their small voice on the phone or looking at them from a distance at the playground to gain that sense of small. Every single one of these guys can still count their age in mere double digit months. I've been alive for over 400! It's hard to put too much on them when I think about it that way. I have found myself growing more tender as I have transitioned from the desperate years of early toddler parenting, and especially so since the birth of Noah. I've learned that small kids means I need a smaller agenda, and I need to trim down the number of things I say I can do and the number of places I say I can be. I have also learned that I can't project too much worry about their future on their tiny behaviors. He won't need me to push him on the swing forever. It's just small stuff, all those things. . .the potty training and wiping your own tush and pacifiers cutting your own food and not spilling the milk at every meal.
So, yesterday I asked the big kids if I could go outside and push them on the swings. They didn't need it, but boy did they love it. I've also found myself giving more piggy back rides even though they could practically give me one. Reading more picture books, even though they can read themselves. Listening to the sweet, small sound of their little boy voices and soaking it in, even though I have no idea what minecraft-y thing or whatever they are talking about. I can't go back and be more gentle four years ago, but I can be the kind of mom I want to be now.
When the kids got home from school that day, Phil and Josh ran off to build Legos and Daniel and were enjoying some end of summer cantaloupe at the kitchen table with Noah.
"You know, D. I've been thinking a lot about what you said this morning. About Noah?"
Daniel seemed flattered. "Really, Mommy? Yeah, well, I just wanted to let you know. You know, crazy mommy and all."
"Yes, you really had a point." I said as we looked at Noah. "He is pretty darn big!"
"Yeah, look at his legs!!" Daniel laughed and Noah started laughing, too. "Hey, maybe you should pick me up, Mommy!"
So I picked D up and plopped him on my hip by the kitchen stove, just like we did in the old days. We giggled and looked at ourselves in the mirror. Unfortunately, as Daniel pointed out, he looked only slightly less ridiculous than Noah.
I told him he wasn't heavy at all. I'd pick him up any day.
A week ago as we ate a lazy vacation breakfast at the cottage kitchen table, I casually mentioned to the boys that they would be starting school, you know, in like a week. The response was less than spectacular. "Don't even tell me that, Mommy," said Phil, groaning and covering his head.
"Yes, Mommy, please don't bring that up again," Daniel said as he looked at me with a combination of terror and disdain.
"So, do you want me to just, like, wake you up next Wednesday and tell you it's time for school?"
"Yeah, that works."
"Yeah, let's do that."
Hmmmph. I looked at Paul with eyebrows raised and we sighed and gave a little shrug. We were a little bummed that our kids weren't more excited for school, but who could blame them after a carefree and unstructured summer of Legos and bare feet and silly old fashioned fun? Phil had already told me he was nervous and I know Daniel is not the hugest fan of all of the work that happens once the yellow bus drops you off, and I have to admit I really, really miss the kids when they are gone. Something about having them all here, even when they are completely wild and crazy, just makes me feel complete. Since I had mixed emotions, too, I decided not to mention too much about it (Denial!! My favorite! It's not just a river in Africa! It's a real place! Where I live!) but Monday was open house night which required us to actually GO to the school and visit their classroom.
But that's when the magic happened. I could feel the energy shift as we pulled into the parking lot Monday night. The boys were pressed against their respective windows and excitedly waving at friends they recognized. They were out of the van in a hot second and halfway across the parking lot before I reminded them that they needed to get their booties back over to the car and get their school supplies. Philip and Daniel floated into the school on a cloud despite the weight of their sacks o' crayons and glue sticks. We rounded the first corner and they had already run into a friend, and they could barely be pulled away. They waved and hugged and high-fived and half ran down the hall to their room, and when they walked in the door it only got better. They bypassed their new teacher to go straight to their desks where the excited shouting began. "LOOK! Josh is at my table!!"
"Look there's Laureli! And Jackson! And Jacob."
"Oh, Ben is going to be here, and Zach, and Tessa!"
They were going around the room as fast as their little feet could take them reading the nametags on the desks. By the time they finally got around to saying hello to their new teacher, there was a complete transformation of the boys from the week before. They were, dare I say it, excited??!?!! In the van on the way home, Daniel said, "Mommy, how many more days until I get to go to school? I can't WAIT to see my friends."
"All of our friends we know are in our class! Like, 90% of them! I didn't know they would all be here!" Phil chimed in.
Two little soon-to-be second graders could barely fall asleep last night and were giddy over their breakfast cereal planning their first day. The big question had been answered. They would have a friend. I didn't even realize that was the question until I saw the shift in their perspective, but once I did I totally got it! How many times in my life have I had that feeling, too? How many times has my stomach done flip-flops in the car, or have I hesitated at the door, or walked into a room with butterflies and scanned it for a friendly place to sit? How many of us just want to know we'll have a friend when we get there? I had to take advantage of this moment of revelation.
"Boys," I said, as they shoved cereal and bananas in their faces. "I want you to do me a favor today. I know you are really excited to go to school and see your friends, but today I want you to look for someone who may not have a friend and make them feel welcome, Okay?"
They barely looked up from their conversation, and I didn't want them to miss the point. SOOOOO, I kept on going in my droning on mom-style.
"You know how excited you are to go to school today? And see your friends? Well, there are some kiddos who are not excited to go to school today. They might even be crying this morning. They don't know if they will have a friend or not because New Britton is a new place for them. I want you to be that friendly person."
At this point I had their attention. They looked a little mystified that someone might be crying before school, so I told them, "You know, Mommy cried on the bus on the way to school her first day."
Now I REALLY had their attention. "Really, Mommy??" said Phil. "How old were you??"
"Um, I was in high school"
"WHATTTTT??? You cried and you were a TEENAGER!!!?"
"Yep, even high schoolers feel nervous if they don't know anyone. I was really scared to go to a new school and wondered if I would fit in or find any friends. I looked out the window of the bus and cried the whole way to school."
At this point kids minds = BLOWN, so Paul chimed in, too. "I was so nervous on my first day of high school, too. I was a new kid and I didn't know anyone! I mean, I didn't cry like Mommy but I was so, so nervous."
"So we really want you guys to be good friends! Think about those kids who are crying or scared to go to school. Look for someone who is lonely and reach out to them and make them feel welcome today."
"Okay, okay, Mommy," they chimed as they went right back to cereal and bananas and second grade boy recess planning.
They were thrilled to get on the bus. Thrilled to see their friends. Because isn't that what makes everything worthwhile? Friendly faces? People who know us and care about us? The big world is a much less scary place with a friendly smile to light the way. We'll see when they get off the bus in a few minutes if they found anyone to be that light to. I'll never forget the people who where that light to me when I was the new kid at school, which is probably why I am the first person to smother any new person in a group with my friendliness. . .sorry, new people. I can't help it. I still remember how much it meant to me. On the first day of school, I always say a little prayer for the new kids. The lonely kids. The scared kids. The missing their mama like crazy kids. The "Will I have a friend?" kids.
Dear God, please bring those sweet kiddos some friends today. Help us all to be a friend, and make the world a little less lonely together.
Today was the last day of absolutely no place to be. . .probably for the rest of summer!! How did it go by so quickly??? Tiiiiiimmeeee, why you punish meeeeee. . .AGAIN!!! Every time, Time. This is so not cool. So, I decided I was just going to treasure the absolute CRAP out of this day. Which is hard to do because as mamas we usually have a lot to do and lots of moody tiny people that we are doing it with. But truth be told, the reason I am treasuring this day has a lot to do with the fact that as my kids grow older I am realizing more and more that this is the last day in my life that is just like today. THE VERY LAST DAY where they are exactly as they are today. . .they are learning and growing so quickly! Which makes me get all achey inside and full of longing and pride and love and misty-eyed nostalgia. We aren't privileged enough to know when the last time will be for many things, but I sense this autumn coming in my life even in the midst of the hot summer of raising young kiddos. The first leaves of the river birch in our backyard have started to turn yellow, telling me that summer is marching past. I see the little signs in my boys that childhood is marching past, too- all those lanky arms and reading chapter books and showers that have replaced baths. The winks and giggles for jokes that are just between us, in a way that makes me feel like I am looking at a window right into their adult world.
And school, just about to begin.
Like Winnie the Pooh, I see my little Christopher Robins starting to grow. . .they leave me behind to go to "skull" and I feel a little bit like the Silly Old Bear, crying at the bus stop and waiting all day for my beloved friends to come back.
So, today I actually woke up before my kids (not my special talent). We stayed in jammies all morning, baked muffins, colored, played play dough. I got the costumes out and made macaroni and cheese for lunch (way fancy for me) and we went outside and were lazy in the backyard, little boys all draped over the swingset enjoying the breeze in the shade. We collected library books to return and reread our favorites. We got out a game and played about half of it. We read Charlotte's Web. I breathed in their little boy smell cuddled in my arms, and as I read to them about Fern and Avery swinging through the barn into the summer sky, I thought. . .that's what I wish for my boys. That joy, that abandon, that sweet summer of carefree childhood. It was like time stood still in that moment on our trusty faded denim couch, all arms and legs and shoulders and elbows and cheeks all over mine as we imagined ourselves right in that barn with Wilbur.
I still had to do and say all of the normal things I do and say in a day- lots of washing dishes and "put your pants back on" and "don't forget to flush" and "one more bite" and "get off the table" and "let's use our regular voice." There were a few meltdowns and at one point around 1:50 pm I looked at Noah and said, "YOU WILL TAKE A NAP RIGHT NOW." (and I might have added that Mommy was "all done.") But there's a spirit that has grown within me over the past eight years of parenting that has made it easier to take the meltdown moments with grace. In all honesty, about six years ago I would have done anything to escape some days with my kids. If you feel that way, I would not blame you in the LEAST. But here is what I was taught that made all of the difference. WHAT I FEEL is not who I am. If I am in a bad mood, that doesn't make me a bad mom. Moods and feelings are fleeting. They come and go and pass like the wind as long as we don't feed them with our thoughts. Because the next instant after I was ready to hop on the back of the mail truck and ride away from my three kids three and under, someone would hug me with chubby arms and my heart would just about burst. And I would think, "Am I even a good mom? I don't even know. Why can't I get it together?" But, slowly, I learned this: I don't have to feel great all of the time to be a great mom to my kids. I don't have to have it all together. . .as long as we're together, we've got it all.
Even though one moment isa complete shitstorm, the next moment might be the best moment of my life. I don't even know yet, so it helps to embrace the crazy and know that maybe the best moments are yet to come. Moods and feelings come and go, but LOVE. . .that's sticking around. Long after summer is gone and the birch leaves have fallen and the school bus pulls away. Love remains.
"Our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God's beloved children."- Henri Nouwen
As Phil and I were putting on lotion the other night before bed we were chatting about Vacation Bible School and the story of Elijah that we heard that day.
"You know what story from the Bible I love, Mommy?"
"I like that one about the powerful soldier and the servant girl?! You know that one?"
"Oh, you mean Namaan?" I said, almost in shock.
"Well you are not going to believe this, but that is going to be our Bible story on Wednesday!"
So, at this point I was pretty impressed because I am going to admit I had never even HEARD this story of Namaan until it popped up as one of our stories in VBS. I'm no O.T. Scholar. The 8-year-old has a major scriptural edge on the 35-year-old, apparently.
"What's your favorite part about that story, Phil?" I asked him, fully expecting that I knew the answer.
My mind had instantly gone to Phil's eczema, and I wondered how he might relate to someone like Namaan. Phil is friendly, outgoing, lovable and kind, yet like Namaan he has this skin condition that shows on the outside all of the time. Eczema can be itchy, it can be painful and sometimes just downright annoying. It takes a lot of time and sometimes can cost a lot of money to manage. It can make him feel different. Having a disease that other people can see, especially when you are a little kid, is no fun. I mean, I have thyroid disease and no one would ever know that. Well, except I just told the whole internet, but otherwise. . .you know, from LOOKING at me, you wouldn't know! An "inside" condition can be easy to hide. A skin disease is something different. I was fully expecting Philip to tell me he loved the part about how Namaan was healed as we have prayed for healing for Philip many times before. I wonder if he had imagined himself jumping in the Jordan River like Namaan and coming out with his skin pure as snow.
But, no, not our Philip.
"Mommy, I really liked that servant girl. Do you know Namaan killed her whole family and made her a slave, but she forgave him and helped him know where to go to be healed? Isn't that amazing??"
Um, no, YOU are amazing. But, yes, that's amazing, too. Of course Phil would admire the person who is kind and forgives. Phil is such a bright-side thinker, he even told me the other day that having asthma and allergies is a good thing, because it just means he "just gets extra love and care." We often talk about kiddos who have far worse illnesses, and I know he extends even more compassion and grace to them knowing just a small part of their struggles. He tells me how sometimes he likes to just admire his two "good" fingers, the ring and middle finger on his left hand, since they are the only ones that usually don't have scars. "Sometimes I like to just gaze at them, Mommy." When he raises his hand at school, he told me that he tries to raise his better hand because he's looked around and noticed that no one else in his class looks just like him.
"They all have smooth skin, Mommy."
"I know, buddy, I know. We'll just keep taking good care of your skin and maybe when you are a grownup you will, too."
"So, when I am a grownup, will you still put my lotion on for me? Or maybe my wife will just put my lotion on for me? If not I guess I could come over here every night and you could do it!" This made us both burst into hysterical giggles, imagining him as an adult coming over to my house so I could carefully apply his regimen of eczema creams.
"Well, honey, when you are a little bigger you can probably do this yourself. And maybe your wife can help you with the, you know, hard-to-reach spots." More hysterical laughter with that mental picture.
We laugh about it together, but the mama bear in me worries, too. Worries about the days he will be teased. Feels bad for the discomfort he is in, since if I had one single spot like has all over it would drive me absolutely up the wall. And of course, there's the part that feels guilty I can't fix it.
Nevertheless, I could hardly wait for Phil to get to Bible stories today so we could share one of his favorite stories together. I was especially looking forward to the part where the kids would color on themselves with markers and then come up to the Jordan River to be "healed". I made sure that I was right over by Phil's group, so that I could be the one to wash his hands free of the marker in our little Jordan River made of plastic and cardboard boxes and pitchers of water from the church kitchen. As the kids came forward, I would look at their nametag as I wiped their hands dry.
"Grace, you've been healed. Daniel, you've been healed. Anna, you've been healed." . . .all down the line. I finally got to my oldest little boy. "Philip, you are healed." I said, as I washed the markers off of him, his small hands cupped in mine. Of course, all of his other little spots were left behind as I wiped his palms dry tenderly. He looked at me with his squinty-eyed smile.
"Not yet, Mommy," he said sweetly, "Not yet."
At the end we closed in a little prayer where I asked all of the kids to hold someone in their hearts who needed healing. We prayed that that person would be healed, and expressed our confidence that if God didn't heal them while they were here on earth that they would be healed and whole again and rejoicing when they went to their heavenly home.
I looked over at Phil when the prayer was over and I could see he was a little bit emotional. I gave him a big hug.
I kept turning over the words in my mind that Philip said to me at the river.
He chooses hope.
He chooses the bright side.
He chooses faith.
Keep shining that light, buddy.
I love you.
"Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." - Isaiah 58: 8, 9a (NIV)
I was flicking through the camera roll the other day when I realized that my summer pictures mostly fall in the following categories.
1. Noah in his Winnie the Pooh costume.
2. Selfies of me and Josh.
3. The kids playing in the backyard
and 4. Aldi pictures.
Wow. We've been going to Aldi quite frequently, I must admit. Perhaps in their memories this will be the summer of Aldi for my boys. Don Henley, please write a song for me.
You may be wondering, why does Jen go to Aldi so much? Most would guess that it is because I have four kids and they eat a lot of food. That is partially it, but that would be giving me too much credit. Mostly it is because I cannot leave Aldi without forgetting stuff. The forgetting is two-fold. 1. I forget to put things on the list. Really obvious things, like the chicken to go in the chicken soup. and 2. I forget to buy the things that are on my list even though they are right there in front of me and I have a second-grader reading them out loud to me. I do not know why I have such horrible attention to detail when it comes to the grocery list. I have no problem with attention to detail in other areas of my life such as music, friendship, handwriting, throw pillow placement and accessorizing my outfits but the grocery list- FORGET ABOUT IT!
So, I was getting a teeny bit down on myself for being unable to plan and shop for an entire week. I have a friend who plans and shops for a month. A MONTH!!!??? Actually, it's not even the planning that's hard. My meal plan is a no-brainer. Feel free to borrow it. Is it Saturday? Oh, yes! Hot Dogs and Chili after church. Is it Wednesday? SPAGHETTI WEDNESDAY! And don't forget Taco Tuesday! Pizza Friday! Seriously, every week. It's that predictable. I served the tacos on a Monday the other week and blew everyone's MINDS. It's important to set the bar for yourself very, very low so that you can do something normal and blow people's minds. It's a great feeling. For example, I get comments like. . . "WOW!! Mommy, thank you for cleaning the bathroom!!", or, "Honey, you changed the sheets?! You already did that this month." or my favorite, "I really like the way you folded my jammies and matched them up, Mommy. That was very helpful." SEE?? Bar low. Blow their minds with stuff normal people do on a daily basis.
But, back to getting down on myself. That's no way to live, and the people need to eat, so I just decided that I would no longer even pretend like I was going to buy a whole week's worth of groceries. We would just go to Aldi every few days, and that would be that. I don't need to be anyone else. If other people can shop for a week more power to them, but I have a van and it could probably drive itself to Aldi, so why not go there a lot? And. . .guess what. WOW! What freedom. I can handle two days at a time. I can do that. Actually, I can ROCK that! The task is no longer paralyzing because I broke it down into smaller pieces. Just like when I taught Algebra and the kids would look at a hard problem and freeze. . .I'd just give them a step. . .a baby step like "distribute." And step by step, they'd get that big ol' problem done. I just give myself a baby step, like "just get the stuff for Fish Stick Monday and Taco Tuesday" and there you have it, two days of six people fed in the books. Isn't that like thirty six meals? Am I doing the math right? I don't even know. I'm sure I was a great math teacher.
I was admitting to my dear friend Maureen the other day that I have a hard time buying my groceries and have to go to the store every few days. We have been friends for over twenty years so she always knows just what to say. "Jen," she said. "Don't feel bad! That's very European." WHY, YES!!! Yes, it is. Thank you, Maureen, for that beautiful perspective. Now I'm not even ashamed anymore, I am just going to embrace how international I am. I walked into Aldi today to get more milk and bananas and Fruit Loops and felt super fancy.
About a month ago, I walked into the boys' school to drop off Daniel after an appointment. I had Noah on my hip, and Josh and Daniel were running along beside me as I pressed the buzzer, waited for the 'click' and used my hip to swing open the heavy office door. There was a huge lunchtime crowd in the room as I tried to make my way in, and the mom waiting in the seat right by the door reached over and grabbed the handle and started to hold it open for me so I could wiggle through with my crew. Then, she reached her other hand out. . .and put it on my belly.
Then it got even more awkward. . ."OH MY GOODNESS," she gushed in a sing-song voice. "Just looooook at that growing little baby bump!"
So in my head I'm all like, "Oh no she DIDDDDNNN'TTT." I was about to look around and see if she was referring to someone else, but since she was touching me I was pretty sure that she, in fact, diiiiiiiiiidddddd.
Also, I am 99.999999% sure that I am not pregnant, am not planning on becoming pregnant in the near future, and spend a lot of time trying to not look pregnant. I mean, I had on Spanx LEGGINGS that day, for Pete's sake. Not even Spanx under leggings, actual leggings made of the Spanx.
I just sort of scuffled by and pretended I didn't hear her and didn't feel her hand on me. I was so frazzled I failed to click all of the right buttons when signing Daniel in, then I hustled out of the office with head down and tummy sucked in to my van where I proceeded to drive home with all of the spirit of a deflated balloon.
My pity party continued as I dragged my Spanx and two youngest boys into the door, where I first had to look up the phone number of the school and call them to tell them that I never actually managed to sign Daniel in. Then, I called Paul and told him my sad story. "Ridiculous." He said. "You don't look pregnant. What is wrooong with people."
I love my darling husband, and my heart wanted to believe him but my head decided to believe office lady instead. Paul won't let me feel down for long so his new plan was to engage me in abdominal exercise. There is really only one kind of exercise that speaks my language and that is yoga, so Paul offering to do yoga with me was just about the sweetest thing ever, right up there with buying me a cat when we first got married. He's not a cat man, or a yoga man, but he's a good man. So, we've started doing yoga every night after the kids go to bed: Twenty solid minutes of deep breathing and Rodney Yee kicking our abs. Sometimes the kids come downstairs and giggle at us as we rock back and forth on the floor holding our feet like giant babies or our cat comes down and tries to wrap herself around my head, but for the most part they all leave us alone and yoga is our special time.
The only hangup with the abs yoga is that I am pretty sure I no longer have abs, as whatever I may have had before has been completely stretched apart by whole the four giant babies in six years thing. So, I tend to get a teensy bit discouraged. And by teensy, I really mean that I start to mentally beat myself up when Rodney flawlessly positions himself in half boat pose and encourages me to relax my eyes, neck and inner body, his soothing, gentle voice a total contrast to the internal screaming of my abs-or-lack-thereof.
Last week, Paul must have grown tired of hearing me sigh dramatically, so he looked over at me and tried to make me laugh. "Jen!" He said with a big grin on his face. "That's Rodney F@*kingYEE!! OK?"
We started to crack up and as I fell out of my pathetic half boat pose and realized that this was a defining moment.
Paul is funny, but he also serves me some truth.
I am not Rodney F@*king Yee.
There's only one Rodney F@*king Yee.
I'm just Jen, and that's OK.
No more "should-be-able-to"s. Why should I expect myself to be as good as Rodney, when even Rodney himself doesn't? I'm also not whomever else might be on the TV screen or Pinterest feed or Instagram or Facebook at the moment being more awesome than me at having abs.
New mantra for everything: I'm not Rodney F'ing Yee.
Feel free to extend this to any other comparison-based situation in life.
I know I will!
I'm just me. Doing my thing. Taking care of myself and of my health. Celebrating the gift of my body through some not-very-expert-looking yoga moves. Loving my four kids, thanking God for the stretched out belly that helped bring them into this world, and wearing my Spanx leggings so hopefully random strangers stop touching it.