I need to admit something. I have a little problem. A fluffy, white problem to be precise. And no, it's not the kids unstuffing the couch on a regular basis.
(That's just a minor fluffy, white distraction.)
Confession: I love marshmallows. They are so cute!! And sweet and soft and fluffy, just like me!! And my kids love marshmallows.
How do you think I get them to smile for family pictures??
Hello, everyone gets a marshmallow if you smile!!!
How do you think I get Phil to take his allergy medicine?
HELLO!!! Put it in a marshmallow!! Works for pets AND 2nd graders.
If we are having a rough day, I'll just make it rain mini marshmallows in my kitchen Lorax-style.
Yesterday morning, my Dad and I were watching Noah run around the house in a circle. Wiiiiiiith a marshmallow in his mouth. My Dad looked at me like, "Um, Jen?" Busted. I am pretty sure I missed most of parenting 101 but I do remember something on the back of the marshmallow bag about being a choking hazard. I might as well hand him a dry cleaning bag to play with and let him hang off the mini blinds while he carries that thing around in his mouth. Dad and I extracted it and went on our way, but it wasn't long until Noah got in the pantry and found himself some of THESE.
OK, OK, I am going to admit. Buying these was not my best choice. But I feel like I say "no" to my kids so many times, for so many things they want. They are the askingest pigeons in town and I am like the bus driver all. day. long.
And honestly, most of the time they aren't even asking for much and I am not able to give it to them. They don't even want to drive the bus! So I always say yes to the extra hug and kiss and when they asked for the $1.99 bag of Jumbo Marshmallows at Aldi?? Of course I said yes! Make it rain!! And there isn't even food coloring in these, ALDI, BABY! 90 calories!!?? #worthit.
Paul came into the family room last night and said, "Honey, we need to talk."
"What is it, dear?"
"Honey? Why do you keep buying marshmallows?"
"Um, I don't know." (Um, I do know. Magically delicious.)
"Do you know how many bags of marshmallows we have in the pantry?"
"I have no idea." (Actually, I sort of had an approximate idea)
"Like FIVE, Jen. Like one on every shelf. I think that's enough marshmallows. Marshmallows aren't even good for kids!" and he looked at me with that sort of sweet half-bewildered half-disappointed face you might use to talk to a puppy. "Are you buying them every week?"
"Honey, I don't even have many opinions about parenting our kids or what they eat, but this. This, I am pretty sure of. Less marshmallows."
I took some time to ponder that. I am sure a few years ago I would have said "I CAN FEED THE KIDS AS MANY MARSHMALLOWS AS I WANT, DAMMIT!!" and left it at that, but I am slowly learning that occasionally Paul has valid points that bear weight on the parenting of our children.
So, I pondered it all of the way through yoga (where I try to work on my marshmallow belly- a problem more related to four kids than actual consumption of marshmallows) until about halfway through half-boat I burst out laughing.
And couldn't stop laughing.
Until Paul could no longer do yoga either and finally relented with, "WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING ABOUT!!??"
"Honey, you just had to have a marshmallow intervention."
"I know, Jen. It was serious."
And we were both laughing.
There are worse things that could happen. Marshmallow interventions are my new favorite thing. I am glad I took the time to listen to Paul because I think that was necessary. Five years ago, I might not have done that, I would have made up a story in my head about how Paul doesn't really understand what it's like to be me and how deep my love is for marshmallows and for our children. Also, if I hadn't gotten defensive I might have taken the marshmallow intervention very personally and started to beat myself up. I have also slowly been learning that mom guilt is not productive either.
Later that night I got on Pinterest quickly to look for something and the first post on my feed was "The Perfect Schedule for a Two Year Old." I took the bait and was immediately disappointed to find that the perfect schedule for a two year old did not include marshmallows or PBS kids or running errands. Well, crap. Should I beat myself up? But I look at my Noah. So happy, so loved.
And I decided that was great for that mama and her two year old but I would do what was great for mine. And maybe I could take a tip and throw in some more crafts when I got around to it, that looked nice.
We learn, we move forward. We know better, we do better. You take what works for you, and disregard the rest. We owe it to ourselves to be gentle. I have to be soft and fluffy with myself, just like a marshmallow. Only with (slightly) less marshmallows.
The other morning as I was throwing together lunches in the kitchen, Noah toddled up to me.
"Hey, Mommy." he said matter-of-factly, all chubby cheeks and little Santa belly and extra sweet since his mouth was full of Cocoa Puffs.
I would normally just look down and smile and go about my business, but this morning felt different. I got down on his level and sat before him even though lunches were still strewn everywhere and the clock was ticking until bus stop time. I paused, breathing in his little toddler sleep-and-cereal-and-milk scent and marveling at his long eyelashes and big brown eyes and perfect skin as he stood there before me in his Gerber footie jammies. The same ones worn by his brother before him. . .and his brother before him. . .and his brother before him. The ones that might have been a little scratchy before but are oh-so-soft and cuddly now by baby #4.
I must have stopped there in front of him on the kitchen floor for too long because after a moment he stopped shoving Cocoa Puffs in his mouth and looked at me with a puzzled expression in his big brown eyes.
"Uhhhhhhhh. . .you OK, Mommy?"
I started to snap out of my baby trance and laughed. "Yes, Noah, I'm OK. I was just thinking about how much I love you."
"Oh, OK, Mommy. Fanks," he said as he toddled back to the family room, off to finish crunching some cereal into the rug with a dump truck or whatever he was up to.
And as I went back to my lunch packing, my mind was still swirling. My life is so full of joy right now, but it's a sorrowful joy. Even in the midst of the good things in our own life, we just have to hold space for the hurting, and dear God there seems to be so much hurting in the world. I had just scrolled through my Facebook feed with tears rolling down my cheeks, in awe of our veterans and their sacrifices, humbled by the brevity of life in seeing two local young mamas lives cut so short, one by violence and one by cancer, while another Hoosier mama clings to her life in hospice so she can have more time with her babies before she goes home. Friends have lost parents recently, leaving a void in their hearts not to be filled again on this side of heaven. My heart hurts for the brokenness. Sometimes I just can't even.
But if I have a feeling like this, I am going to try to do my best to put it into some action, to honor those in pain by trying to live my life gratefully and live it well. I'm sure there's something on Pinterest to inspire me to live each day as if it is my last. Totally awesome when written in curly script over a picture of someone perched on top of a beautiful mountain, but in reality a little harder to practice. As our pastor Father Dan says, life is not all mountaintop moments. Most of it is in the valley. That is some TRUTH. I mean, if it was REALLY my last day on earth I definitely wouldn't be working. I'd also just eat whatever I wanted because WHATEVER. Fritos, dammit. I wouldn't be wasting any time clipping things on my Target Cartwheel or cleaning pee off of the walls (how does that even happen??) or scheduling my online bill pay.
Now, since I am still living, I still need to pay the bills and plan the meals and make sure there are clean clothes for church this weekend and sign the homework sheet and unload the other side of the sink where I put all of the stuff to "dry". I have to meet my work deadline and pack lunches and sweep the floor and change diapers and make sure people brush their teeth for two whole minutes. Life stuff. . .because I'm still alive, thank God, and I still have jobs to do. But I think the trick is that I can't let those daily tasks get in the way of my daily living.
I'm going to be honest, there have been times when I have snapped at my kiddos when I have been stressed about some situation at work, and I let a nasty email from someone outside my circle change the way I treated my people.
I've gone to bed before really sitting down and connecting with Paul, the love of my life, because I've just been too tired from working and cleaning and correcting and "mom"-ing.
I tend to save things for a special occasion. Oh, I won't wear that, it's too pretty to just wear around my house where people will wipe their noses on it.
I tend to think pretty far into the future. Have I already planned what I am going to wear on date night this weekend, and church and oh, yeah. . .Thanksgiving and Christmas? Of course. Have I written imaginary chapters of imaginary books in my head, songs that will never be sung, home improvement projects that will never be done? Of course. That's how I roll. I spend so much time daydreaming and planning and living in my head and mentally rearranging my furniture that sometimes I can miss out on the present moment.
Not just that, I also tend to worry too much about ridiculous things like if I don't teach my kids to chew with their mouths closed and use a Kleenex properly they will never grow up to be competent adults with happy lives and friends. Seriously, Jen. Why are you so dramatic?
But when someone dies, especially when it is someone just like us. . .a young mom, with kiddos to see grow and big dreams and plans like ours, it just makes one pause. In that moment where we begin to grieve for their family and then begin to think "how easily that could have been me." the shift occurs to the eternal perspective. When the world around us is swirling in grief and pain, it's good to know that Love is real and Heaven is waiting. And from that eternal perspective things in our daily life get a lot smaller. How easy it is in the midst of diapers and dishes and bills and homework to lose the forest for the trees, and forget that the next day is not guaranteed.
Times like these are like a mental mountaintop moment, where I look down on my living. What am I doing today to love the people closest to me? The people in my home?? Can I let them just jump on the bed and chew with their mouths open and mouth fart-sing "you're a grand old flag?"
Yes. I can do that.
The annoyance might be worth the peace and security of knowing that I love them and accept them as they are.
Can I leave the dishes in the sink for a little while longer?
The crusty food might be worth that extra hug being offered.
Can I haul myself out of bed in the middle of the night for the extra drink of water or tuck in or to look for a missing stuffed animal?
Yes. I can. If I am well enough to open my eyes at 2:30 in the morning, I can do that.
And I still have to do all of my daily tasks and pay bills and try to resist the entire bag of Fritos, but above all I have to remember that love is the most important task. Jesus didn't say "Make sure you brush your teeth for two minutes" he said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." And I can do my tasks with a smile. . .and burn the fancy candle and wear the pretty shirt while I do it. . .why not? With the thought in my mind that the task isn't the most important thing, the people in my life are. Will I do it perfectly? Of course not. No one is perfect this side of heaven. But I owe it to my family to try. To God. To myself. To those mamas who don't get to see their babies grow up. Holding them in my heart today, as I am sure you are, too.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.