Friday, December 12, 2014


Noah, December 2013

'Tis the season of expectation.
But for me, along with the "Come, O Long Expected Jesus" variety of expectation, comes the (EEEK!) do-everything-just-right kind of expectation.

It is hard for me to release the need to be all the things to all the people.  It is also hard to reconcile the pressure of hungry bellies/ laundry mountain/ pile of dishes with the desperate sense that time is fleeting.  How can I do all of the things I have to do and also do all of the things I want to do?  How can I always feel so unprepared for the season of preparation?!!!????  I have no idea, but I feel like it sneaks up on me every year. I want to make this season magical for the children while the magic is still fresh and young and sparkling in their little eyes.  But the first Sunday of Advent comes whether I am ready or not, and life with these four boys rushes by in a whirlwind of meals and baths and diapers and homework faster than the Polar Express.  I know my time as "Mommy" is so short, but how do I stop and savor it?  How can I do it all?  And can I do it all just right?  Jen, you only have one chance. . .you can't miss it.  They are so sweet and little and they are growing right before your eyes. . .

See how the expectations keep mounting?
See why I was crying in my minivan the other day on the way to preschool pickup?
FOR NO GOOD REASON except that I love my kids and I want to be a good mom?
And I love the world and want to be a good person?
What can I DO?
However. . .

Jesus gave us one big commandment.

It was not give our kids the perfect childhood, bake the most delicious cookies, wrap the presents impeccably, send the most amazing cards, get the just right picture with Santa and trim the tree to look like a magazine.

It was just love God.  Heart, soul and mind. 
We can ALL DO that, amiright?

Now, all of those other external things are SUPER.  Santa is the man, cards are lovely and cookies are just about the best thing ever.  And for heaven's sake, no one should make anyone feel bad if they like to do those things.  If baking magically delicious cookies is how someone expresses love, then they should DO IT!  But, we also shouldn't feel ashamed if we see our friends doing that and that's not our thing.  It takes all kinds.  That's why Archway makes those Bells and Stars every year, people!  And no matter WHAT we choose to do or like to do or want to do, we will never be able to give our kids a Sears-Roebuck-catalog-perfect childhood Christmas.
So. . .

I'm going to be honest that the mountain I need to level during Advent is the mountain of expectations I put on myself.  What can I do during the season of expectation that adds to our collective joy?  What can we do in this home to truly ready the way of the Lord?  My guide for myself is that if I can't do it in love, I probably shouldn't do it.  We can't expect more of ourselves than God does. 

So, let's release the expectation of external perfection on ourselves.
So we can receive the gift.

God came to us as a gift in human form.  A tiny baby.  Born in a dirty room, to a humble woman, into a messy, broken, IMPERFECT world.
He can be born, too, into our imperfect hearts.  Our messy homes.  Our dirty kitchen.  Our hectic lives.
That's what Jesus is FOR.
That's why He came.
That's why He's here now, and comes again.
Once He's in, everything is perfect.
His grace makes it so.

Christmas will come whether we are "ready" or not.
(The Whos down in Whoville taught us that.)
Let the un-done be a symbol of all that we wait for.
The half-trimmed tree.
The messy-haired kids.
The pile of unwrapped presents.
The yet unopened Christmas cards.
The imagined and unbaked batches of cookies.

Because Jesus will arrive whether we get these things "right" or not.
This life is not meant to be perfect.
Only Heaven is.
God has given us the gift of grace.
Now, our task is to give it to ourselves.
To release the expectations, and expect only Love.

The gift of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thank You, Neighbor.

Philip, Daniel and baby Josh, winter 2011

About four years ago, I was struggling.  I had two-year-old, three-year-old and 8-month-old baby at home. In the middle of the winter.  In INDIANA.  I was feeling a bit a bit desperate in general, particularly for any sort of validation that I was worthwhile.  The tiny people around me seemed to be crying most of the time, everything I did got undone, and the house, the kids and I looked mostly like a hot mess, soooooooo, yeah. I wasn't getting any cues there.   Although the feelings I had certainly weren't ones that I was proud of, I thought maybe by sharing them it could help encourage someone else.

So, one day I pounded this out on my keyboard and sent this to a friend who has a blog and he posted it for me.  He called it, "Cold coffee. . .and Mister Rogers."  I liked that.  I am going to share it again now in case anyone else is out there and needs this message, too.  I have always loved our favorite "neighbor", ever since I was a little preschooler, and it's incredible to me how many messages Mister Rogers has for me as a grown-up.  I am so far from being perfect, but he always reminds us that people can love us just the way we are and to keep on growing. Sometimes I feel like I have needed his show even more than my boys, and if you read below you'll see one of the many reasons why.  

January 5, 2011
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what my vocation is in life.  I mean, I guess I know what it is now. . .if it isn't being a wife and mother I am not sure what it is!  I guess Facebook is something that really gets you thinking. . .you see all these people you went to high school and college with and they seem so. . .successful.  Wow- they are doctors, lawyers, professors, ministers, politicians, artists. . .these are the people you sat next to in class (or maybe skipped class with to go to a bar. . .not that I would ever do that!), clowned around with, went to parties with.  You took the same tests, competed or performed side by side, worked on teams together, and you always felt like equals.  But, all of the sudden (or maybe not so sudden. . .it has been a while, right?) you look around and realize that everyone has become their grown-up selves with all sorts of grown up accomplishments.  I am pretty confident that I have friends are going to cure diseases, write bestselling books, compose great music, make amazing contributions to the world and be remembered for a long, long time.  It's not that I'm jealous, it just makes me wonder what I'm doing for the good of the cause, or what potential I may have inside me.  I look down at MY grown-up self. . .a cushy mom/human kleenex wearing a purple sweatshirt and leggings, hair in a ponytail, baby formula all over my collar and smudgy mascara.  No awards on my wall or accolades, no advanced degrees, no need for pantyhose or manicures, no time for social activism, never mind time to finish my coffee before it gets cold.  As I am sure every mother does, I have puzzled over this a lot.  When you stay at home with your children, it is easy to feel like you don't get anything done.  There is no satisfaction of a straight A report card, pile of freshly graded papers or a completed project to turn in.  The dish mountain in the sink diminishes only to reappear again within hours, the laundry is folded and barely put away before the baskets are full again, meals are prepared and eaten and the refrigerator is bare before you even had time to recover from the last adventure at the grocery store with tiny helpers in tow.  A mother's work never ends.   No one has been banging down my door to give me awards, and my kids haven't given me a performance evaluation lately, let alone a raise!  If it doesn't make you act like a bit of a martyr every once in a while, you are probably a saint.

So, what's a person to do?  I'm a big believer in being content with what you have and making the most of every circumstance in life so I wanted to reconcile all of these thoughts and feelings.  Fortunately, my good friend Mister Rogers came just in time with the answer my heart needed.  My boys and I watch the Neighborhood together as a special ritual almost every day.  I try not to do anything else as we watch. . .just be fully present with my children in the moment and enjoy watching them be nurtured and educated by the show I grew up loving.  We were watching the Neighborhood Opera "A Star for Kitty" when my answer came from the musical puppets and friends.  The Kitty wants to learn to twinkle like the stars in the sky, and tries to twinkle by thinking happy thoughts.   You have to be able to suspend reality for a bit to accept a tiger puppet dressed like a star hidden in a toothpaste tube and a trumpet playing half-moon as completely natural.  I won't even go into why the cat is in the sky in the first place taking a twinkling class, but she tries in vain to twinkle, until she does a selfless act only to realize she has started sparkling without trying to at all.  As I watched, I thought. . .wait. . .that's me!  I'm Lady Aberlin dressed like a cat!  Nah, not really, but that's how I sparkle!  By putting others first.  I may not be shining bright, making contributions (or making much money for that matter), being successful, winning awards or changing the world.  

But my boys. . .they are my work.   They are my legacy. They are my sparkle.  If I put their little hearts and feelings first and nurture their spirits, they could grow to be kind loving, people who make the world a better place.   Maybe they could grow into someone as great as Fred Rogers! That seems pretty important to me.  

In our world of instant gratification, sometimes it is hard to remember the things that are eternal.  Leave it to Mister Rogers to still remind me over 25 years after I was one of his little viewers that it is the things on the inside that count after all.


After I wrote that, I felt better.  The thought that my life's work could not be to do something measurable, but just to love people, was pretty mind-blowing to four-years-ago-Jen.  It's something I have worked on every day since, moving from the uncomfortable feeling in my heart to the peaceful internal knowing that my value is not to be measured by external factors.  I can use all of my gifts. . . my humor, my mind, my compassion. . .right here with my little circle of people.  I may never even see the fruit of my work in my lifetime, but someone will. . .someday. . .I'm sure of it.  And, yes, no one ever is going to knock on my door with a major award.  (But one time the TV repairman said I was a good mom, so that's, like, pretty close!)  As one of my favorite authors, Glennon Melton, says, "Most people who have a deep desire for lives of meaning and purpose and love are the kind of people who already have lives of meaning and purpose and love."  It's all right here.

So, I will keep washing the dishes and doing the laundry and waiting at the bus stop and kissing the boo-boo's and singing the lullabies and listening to highly detailed accounts of imaginary things.  I'll do the hundredth tuck-in and pick up the thousandth toy and wipe the millionth tear.  

I can say I do it more gently now, and more purposefully than I did four years ago, because now I know that THAT is the work.

Not the thing that needs to be done before I can go off and do some more important world-changing work, but that is the work I am supposed to be doing.  Hugs and lullabies and stories and diapers and cleaning the pee ring around the toilet is "the work." Everyone's vocation is different, but I am sure that this is mine, all wrapped up in these four little boys.  It's nothing to be ashamed of or to brag about or anything in-between, because we are all called to do different things. . .and we need those friends of mine who are doctors and lawyers and surgeons and nurses and teachers and athletes and clerks and tellers and musicians and activists and all of those other important people doing their thing to make people's lives better.  
But this little calling is just mine, and it fits me now.  
Just like your calling is yours.  
It's kind of a radical thought, to imagine that you are just who you are supposed to be, and you are just WHERE you are supposed to be, when it seems that the world is always telling you to be more and do more be better and do it, like, NOW.  Nope.  Not accepting that any more.  "You're just the way you're supposed to be," says Mister Rogers, "you're growing just right."  

From Life's Journeys According to Mister Rogers

Thank you, television neighbor.  That's just what I needed. :)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Perfect Little Angels.

Birthday hot air balloons!

Yesterday at 7:15 a.m. on my 35th birthday, my four excited, exuberant, hyper little boys were bouncing balloons around the kitchen.  It was all giggles and elbows and static crazy hair when Phil stopped and said, "Mommy, I still need to make you a birthday present!"
I said, "Kids, you know what would be the beeeeeeest birthday present?  Can you be perfect little angels all day?"
I was half-kidding (but also half-TOTALLY SERIOUS) They sort of laughed, and went back to balloon bouncing trying to be like "perfect angels" bouncing the balloons.  It didn't take long before someone was knocked over, something got spilled, someone was in tears, and the balloons had to take a little break in the garage for everyone's sanity (mostly mine).  I was like, "Hey, guys, perfect little angels, right??" and they giggled and came in the kitchen to help me get ready for breakfast.  Again, it wasn't long before someone forgot they were setting the table and wandered off, looked at someone funny and made them cry, spilled something, had to run from the table to use the restroom. . .you get the picture.
The rest of the day progressed like that- kiddos trying to be "perfect little angels" and mostly just being typical little kids. . .falling, squabbling, whining, needed noses wiped, etc.  In the late afternoon, in the spirit of Birthday we decided to ditch the rest of homework and head to the park and meet some friends.
Along our walk, the air was crisp and the sun was slanting behind us in that perfect evening glow. It was a mix of "perfect angel kiddos" holding my hands bringing me special leaves as birthday presents and asking me super cute science questions and telling me stories and singing songs.  Also, about 50% tripping, falling, crying to get out of the stroller, lagging behind, etc.
Then we get to the park and rising behind us were two hot air balloons.
So, of course, I get all giddy.
The boys flip out, too. . .
"Mommy, LOOK!  Hot air balloons are your favorite!"  
"Mommy, they came to wish you a Happy Birthday!" 
"Mommy, I will take your picture with the Birthday Hot Air Balloons!!!" 
We stopped.
Phil took my picture.
And as the balloons rose over us and started to fly over the park, my heart was pretty full. I realized in that moment that they ARE ALWAYS and ARE ALREADY "perfect little angels."  Maybe in their minds and in their bodies they are clumsy and growing and learning and perpetually "messing up", but mistakes are how we perpetually learn and grow, right!?
On the outside, they may look less than perfect.  Their hair might be messed, pockets may be pulled inside out and boogers might be crusted on their noses.  They might make excessive poop jokes, be too wiggly in church, whine about their homework, or even punch a bro in the nose in a heated moment.
But in their hearts, where it really matters, they are just so, so good.
So, I will pause.  
Look at the boys on the floor wrestling on the unstuffed couch cushions.  
Look beyond my need for external, unattainable "perfection".
Look within.
And see those sweet little hearts. . .lighter and brighter than hot air balloons in the November sky.
My perfect little angels.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keep showing up.

I received a phone call from my principal a few days before I was supposed to head back to the classroom from my first maternity leave.  On my schedule were 6 sections of Integrated Chemistry-Physics, my favorite class to teach and not to mention, ONE class to prepare for. . .the ideal schedule for a first-time mom who also happened to be about to become a second-time mom.  I had my first two weeks of lesson plans done, copies run, when my principal said,  "Jen, we have a section of Biology we need you to take."   Now, in addition to the fact that this was going to be adding a prep to my schedule, this biology class was what we like to call "repeater biology". . .or, all of the kiddos who failed biology at the freshman center and needed to take it again in order to graduate (with a few transfers and kids going for a higher grade thrown in the mix).

I was not super excited for this opportunity, but determined to make the best of it. I walked into my block 4 classroom, a ragtag bunch of sophomores, juniors and seniors, smiled and told them that they were absolutely, under no circumstances allowed to fail Biology I.  "I am NOT going to let you fail." I said. "I know exactly why you failed last time.  You didn't show up, and you didn't complete assignments.  In order to pass this class, you need to show up.  I am going to make sure you complete all of your assignments.  I am not going to let you fail."

BAM.  That's right.  Don't mess with Mrs. Zink.  And I stuck to my word.  I mean, if 80% of success is showing up, that's like a B minus!  Not too shabby!  ;) I didn't stand for a single zero in my gradebook that semester, which meant hours after school with kiddos in "detention" (which was really just sitting in my room and doing the work they should have done the first time so they could get a grade, and didn't feel too much like punishment at all I am pretty sure, since no one ever complained and sometimes they even brought friends.)

And I didn't let them fail.  I lost a few through the year, but every kid who showed up received every single bit of my attention I could give them so that they could pass.

We showed up.  At first, I didn't feel like teaching them and they most certainly didn't want to be there.  But, with the right attitude it turned out to be one of my favorite classes I have ever taught and I could tell as the semester went on that they sure didn't mind being in my room, either.  We built a little community, my assorted bunch of friends and I.  Just by showing up for each other each day, and not giving up. 

Really, that seems to me to be more and more the key to life- it is often undervalued and it shouldn't be.  Just. show. up.  Some (grumpy) people scoff at awards like "Perfect Attendance."  "Why give an award for just showing up?" say the grumpy people. But think about how hard it really is to show up every day.  I mean every. day.  The days you feel crappy.  The days you don't want to.  The days you would much rather be anywhere. else. than. here.

But you do it anyways.  Certainly there are days when you would much rather not.  But the reward of showing up is great.   Michael Phelps showing up at the pool.  Yo Yo Ma showing up in the practice room.  Often the reward of showing up is excellence. But far and above all other rewards, and attainable by all regardless of skill, the greatest reward of showing up is relationship.

My mother-in-law has 10 kids.  Ten great kids who are all married and 25 grandkids and counting.  Last year we made her a book for her 75th birthday, and you couldn't read a few pages of the letters written to her by her family without wanting to cry.  You don't get letters like that from casual acquaintances.  You get letters like that from people you have shown up for, time and time again. She didn't just wake up one day to find that she had ten great adult fully grown kids with college degrees who loved and respected each other and loved her and were all contributing members of society.  Wouldn't that be nice?  But that's not how life works.  She showed up, every day, day in and day out, for decades.  Through puberty and blizzards and mountains of laundry and garage bands and diapers upon diapers and potty training and driver's ed times ten.  Showing up with the meatloaf on the table or the full size van in the pickup line.  At the football stadium or basketball court or art show or graduation.  In the middle of the night when someone was sick, or when a daughter has her first baby or when someone just needs mom to come pick them up from the slumber party early.  That's a whole lotta showing up.

Moms are amazing and pretty much the best about showing up.  My mom always seems to show up at just the right time with exactly what I need.  How does she do that?  I DON'T KNOW!!  She's magic.  All I know is, I want to do the same for my kids.  And for everyone else for that matter.

Looking back on the last 35 years I admit I can think of a lot of things I regret that I missed.

But I can't think of many times that I ever regretted showing up.

So, as I enter year 36 I am going to keep my life goal simple.
Just keep showing up.
For my kids,
for my friends,
for my family,
for my church.

I am going to show up before I'm ready.
Even if I don't 100% feel like it.
Arms full or maybe even empty handed.
On foot or in my Chevy Venture.
I might even show up (EEEK!) without mascara on.
But I'll wear my sunglasses to cover that up.
Cuz if you need me, I'm showing up.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Galatians 6:10

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.
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,
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


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.  :)