Sunday, June 7, 2020

The first step.

Here's a common fight at my house:

Kid 1: He's annoying me!
Kid 2: (highly offended) "I am not ANNOYING!"
Me: Actually, you don't get to decide whether someone thinks you are annoying are not. If you want him to think you aren't annoying, listen to what is bothering him and change your actions. Otherwise, guess what, you're annoying.
Kid 2: (now annoyed with ME, stomps away stage left)
*end fight*

How often do we fail to realize our actions (or lack thereof) are affecting someone else? 

I've been learning this week that just considering myself "not racist" is not enough. 
My aversion to talking about race with my friends and trying so hard to "do the right thing" and "not see color" and "love everyone" and not ruffle any feathers has kept me from being a true ally and advocate for people of color.
And for that I am sorry.

In the words of the great wisdom teacher Daniel Tiger: "Saying I'm sorry is the first step, then how can I help?"
I mean, sure, I can tell you more about how I feel about it (I've got thoughts and opinions for DAYS, y'all)
but I'm pretty sure that nobody ever changed the world with their opinion.

And from what I've seen,
Jesus is not concerned with what I stand for as much as who I stand with.
Do I stand with the marginalized and the poor and the oppressed?
That's where Jesus stood.
And where he asked us to go.
"That they may all be one."
Here's the catch: I don't get to be in control here. I don't get to tell people they aren't in pain. When the marginalized show themselves, the gospel call is simply to respond in compassion and love.
It is time to take the first step.

In the words of one of my heroes:

So, I pray.
Lord, help me be a helper.
Send your grace into my heart so that I can make my circle of compassion big and wide.
Help me to listen and learn, and to respond in helpful ways.
To not make an idol of my opinion, but to put my love in action.
May your kingdom come
and your will be done
now and forever

We pray. And we do the work.


Here are some books I have read that opened my heart and eyes to things I never would have understood without them:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This book is unforgettable. I read it a few years ago and I have never been able to look at things the same way. I wanted to be a lawyer and go help these people when I closed the book, but even though that's probably not going to happen I want to share this book with everyone I know. Follow Bryan's org the Equal Justice Initiative for ways to help.

Gregory Boyle's books:

If I ever in my life thought I was better than a gang member, these books proved me wrong. They changed my whole perspective and humbled me.

Tattoos on the Heart
Barking to the Choir

"Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. 
We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. 
We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. 
At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. 
We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. 
We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away." - Fr Greg Boyle

Black Like Me
I read this book when I was about 12. It made a lasting impact. I'm getting ready to read it again.

Here are some resources that are helping me right now:

A 30 day challenge for June, created by Autumn Gupta, of things to to every day (depending on how much time you want to commit) to educate, be an ally and be an advocate. I'm doing it. Want to join me?

White Fragility:
If just the title of the book makes you cringe like it did me, it is probably time to read it! It is sold out on amazon and over 50 people were on the waitlist at our local library, so I bought it for my kindle and my sister and I are discussing it right now.


Brene Brown and Ibram X Kendi

I love this podcast anyways and listened to this most recent and it was excellent! Well worth the hour of time.

Plaid Skirts and Basic Black

Want to hear some delightful, thoughtful, helpful and spiritual black Catholic voices? Check out this podcast:

Social Media:

I realized a few years ago that I needed to follow more diverse voices. Here are some to start with. Change your news feed, change your thoughts, change your life. This post has many ideas:

Now, for kids:


An American Girl Story- Melody 1963- Love Has to Win
We watched this with our boys a few years ago. It was very good and they didn't even care that it was "American Girl"! We talked about it and unpacked it afterwards.

Hidden Figures:
All of our boys have seen it and it opened up SO many conversations. It is an excellent film!


Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners

Books on Race, Racism and Activism
We've read many of these titles, and I have started searching out more of them.

Sister Anne's Hands
We own this book, and it is a treasure. Summary:
It’s the early 1960s, and Anna has never seen a person with dark skin before. At first she is afraid of her new second-grade teacher. But Anna quickly finds that there’s no reason to be scared. Sister Anne is wonderful. She likes jokes and she makes math and reading fun. But then someone sails a paper airplane to her, with a cruel message written on its wings. Sister Anne’s wise way of turning a painful incident into a powerful learning experience has a profound impact on Anna and her classmates.


We watch this excellent video about Martin Luther King, Jr on King day every year:

Nightly News Kids Edition on the protests and race in America:


The amazing Power of Children exhibit on Ruby Bridges. We were very moved.

What other resources am I missing? Drop them in the comments!
Sending love and light to all of you.
- Jen

Sunday, May 26, 2019


Do you have those moments in your life where a seemingly random interaction with a stranger sticks with you forever?  Flashback to 2008, when I was at the pediatrician for a well visit with Daniel (a few months old) and Philip (about 15 months old).  Phil had just barely learned to walk, so I had the giant double stroller (my lifesaver!) with me at the office.  As I attempted to navigate my big ol' stroller into the tiny door, one mom kindly held it open for me and another mom stood there smiling.  She had the hand of a little boy in each of her hands, they appeared to be about 4 and 5 years old.  She looked at my little one-year-apart boys and smiled at bleary-eyed-and-struggling little Jen.

"It will get easier, I promise," she said, as she walked past me out the door. "Mine are just as close in age.  It will get easier."

I watched her back as she walked down the hall.  It was one of those moments where time stood still.  Her life was something the twenty-eight-year-old-me could barely imagine.  Who is this woman, with the tiny dark-haired children?  Some sort of prophet?  I don' t know.  But I can still picture that mom and her boys in my mind, even 11 years later.  As an exhausted mom of two-under-two, I would cling to those words, and to that vision of the mom walking out of the pediatrician's office with a little boy's hand in each of her hands, for years to come.  Just WALKING.  Everyone walking!  On their two little feet!

"It will get easier," I told myself, as I cleaned baby food times two off the walls in our dining nook.
"It will get easier," I said, as bottle-fed or nursed one baby and spoon-fed another.
"It will get easier," I said, as I bounced a crying baby on my hip while a toddler clung to my leg.
"It will get easier," I said, as I woke up in the middle of the night (again) to put a (different) pacifier in someone's mouth.
"It will get easier," I said, when I had three under three, and three in diapers at the same time.
 It will get easier, I said, as I managed the temper tantrum, cleaned up the vomit, mixed the bottle, washed spaghetti off the floor, threw in the thousandth load of laundry that week, took someone to the potty and pressed play on the Elmo DVD (again).
It will get easier.
It will get easier.

It was my mantra, given to me by a random mom in Circle City Pediatrics.
And you know what?
It did.
That part of it did get easier.

That diaper part?  It's so far in the past I hardly remember it.  Walking?  I can walk into the pediatrician with hardly a care in the world.  Shoot, they could probably check themselves in and scan my HSA card at this point.  She was right.  We just walk places. Gear?  We passed on our legend of a double stroller a few years ago, after so much faithful service, it was not needed anymore.  No more pacifiers. No more Elmo on repeat.  No more baby food or Gerber puffs or onesies or swaddle blankets or hauling the bottles and supplies everywhere we go.  No more buckles or helping with mittens or cutting pizza into tiny pieces.  My hands are so much more free.

But my heart, oh my heart, it is not.  It's the other side of the coin.  The part my grandma warned me about.  It does get easier. Physically easier.  SO much easier. I sleep through the night most nights.  I clean up vomit only when someone has the flu.  I read stories when I want to but also people read to themselves- chapter books!!?!?  Then turn out their light.  Everyone cuts their own food.  Everyone pours their own milk. Washes their dishes.  Helps sweep the floor.   Bathes themselves.  My hands are not needed for every button or zipper or butt that needs to be wiped.

Physically, my load has gotten lighter.  But emotionally?  "Just wait," my grandma wisely said.  "That gets SO MUCH HARDER."

Do you know that your heart is now walking around outside your body, Jen?  TIMES FOUR?  And that their pain is your pain?  And their sadness, yours?  It's one thing when your baby cries, and you just feed them or change them because that's all they need.  Totally another thing when your big kid cries when they've been rejected by a friend.  Or are stressed about a test.  I'd take a million hours of the same Elmo's World over the heartbreak of a kid that doesn't get invited, or the stress of a daunting homework assignment, or the worry of the scary story they heard at a party that's keeping them up in the middle of the night for months on end.

But then again, maybe I wouldn't.  To everything, there is a season, right?  They have grown, and I've grown, too. I learned to manage the pacifier, maybe now it's time for me to grow again and manage the intangibles.  Help them learn to be in the world and not of it.  Teach them how to be a friend and have a friend and live and love and laugh make a life worth living.  I thought I was raising babies,  but in the bigger picture, I'm raising humans.  Humans who will grow up and be (hopefully) contributing members of society.  It was my own mistake to be so short-sighted.  I thought I was getting through the milestones: walking, eating, potty-ing in a potty, sneezing into their elbow, eating vegetables, going off to school.  I thought that was my job, just get them through the little years.   When it got easier (and it did), I thought that easier was forever.

"This is it!" I thought.  "I have arrived at the promised moment!  It is easier! Just like I heard it would be!"

But what I'm learning is that easier is not forever.  Nothing is.  There are moments of ease, and seasons of relative bliss, and moments of challenge, and seasons of challenged-spurred growth.

I hit a dark place back in January.  It's not hard to hit a dark place in January in Indiana, but this one was especially dark.  I worried that maybe I had passed by all the sweetness of my life.  That second grade for the older boys was the peak, and after that it was all downhill.  I cried myself to sleep worrying that I had let them down.  I laid it all at the feet of Jesus, all my insecurity and my sadness and my doubt.

I wondered if this cup could just pass me by.
"But," the Lord whispered, "this cup is all there is."

I'm learning that JUST BECAUSE THINGS GET HARD does not mean I am doing it wrong.  It means we're growing.  We've hit some beautiful sweet spots over the years.  I look back in awe at those perfectly aligned moments in time where everyone is just the right age and they are all getting along perfectly and life is, for the moment, sweet. I hit the first one when Noah was about 6 months and the boys were 3, 5 and 6.  I thought to myself- "This is it!  I made it through the hard part!"  What I didn't know is that I was just in a sweet spot, and it wouldn't last forever.  Babies turn into toddlers, and sweet spots turn into growth opportunities.  Second graders head to third grade, kindergartners head to first grade. . .the only thing constant is change.  I have seasons in the past 12 years of parenting where my heart was so full that I thought it could burst.  And I've had seasons where I thought to myself. . ."I don't even like any of these kids at all.  Why did I sign up for this?"  But it passes, it all passes.  The good passes, the bad passes.  I grow and I change and I learn and I am new.  And, honestly, it's just all passing too fast.

Paul's been out of town this weekend and the boys have been so good that I'm wondering if this might be a sweet spot again.  I'm almost afraid to acknowledge it, but this time, I stop and I savor it.  I know too well that I need to store the sweetest moments in my heart for the days when things get hard.

On Tuesday, my "baby" has his six-year-old well visit.  I know I will  picture that mom of the little dark-haired children as I do every time I walk into our pediatrician's office.  Every well visit marking off another year in their lives, every step on the scale a reminder of the growing that happens while I'm not even paying attention.

It gets easier.  It gets harder.  It gets sweeter. It gets trickier.  You learn, you grow, you change, you adapt, you have no choice.  There aren't the right words to say it well in your standard social interaction, and plus nobody can simply tell you what you need to learn yourself.  So, I look at the mom fussing over her newborn and trying to entertain her toddler and smile.

"It gets easier," I promise her.

And it will.
And harder
And easier again.
All too fast.

Monday, October 15, 2018


Summer 2018

Paul and I were out on the patio having some beverages as the summer days faded into Fall, chatting about our memories through the years.  We were laughing about how carefree we were in our college days and young married-before-kids days, yet we didn't even realize how carefree we were!  

"I wish I could go back and tell myself the things I was missing!" we both agreed. 

So young and carefree!

I enjoyed our twenties immensely, but in hindsight I could have enjoyed it even more with all the benefits of the perspective I gained in my thirties!  The same goes for our days of littles - we agreed that when the boys were small we often missed out on how cute they were when we were feeling tired and worrying about all of the "have-to's" of parenting. . .baths and feeding and developmental milestones and potty training and sibling squabbles.  Now that I have the privilege of teaching preschool and I am so enamored with the cuties in my classroom, I realize that when my little guys were that age they were just as cute but I might have missed out on truly appreciating it while cleaning up the couch stuffing.  

Aren't we cute? ;)

I don't look back with regret, but I do look back with wisdom gained the hard way.  So, that had me wondering. . .

"OK, Paul. . ." I said.  "What am I missing RIGHT now?  RIGHT NOW- at 11, 10, 8 and 5. What am I going to look back in five years and say, I wish I would have known I was missing. . ."

Paul said, without skipping a beat, "Jen, you're missing how much they need you right now."

(insert imaginary mic drop and super long pause for this life-changing information)

Well, wouldn't you know it.  Paul was right.  That's exactly what I have been missing.  I mean, I knew that.  But I wasn't APPRECIATING it. I've been feeling burdened by how much they need me.  I will admit, I have even complained that as they have gotten older I feel they need me MORE.  They want to tell me everything.  They want my advice on everything.  They want to give me a recap of everything they played at recess, ate at lunch, talked about on the bus, built in Minecraft, read in their books.  They all want me to read to them, listen to their story, say a prayer with them, sit next to them, take them on a special outing, be the first one they see in the morning when they wake up, comb their hair for them because I do it better, fix their covers in the night, make them scrambled eggs in the morning or a bowl of ice cream after school.  And I, in my self-centered view, was only seeing how that was a little taxing on my mental space and personal time since there are FOUR of them.  As my friend Alyssa always helps me remember, it's not their fault there are four of them!  They didn't choose to have three brothers, they were born into this family.  It's my vocation to see each of them as individuals, while helping them live and thrive in a family.  It's my calling to be mindful and present to them NOW, so that in 5 years, or 10 years, or 20 years, everything we've laid in their hearts in our home will be with them as they go out into the world and create homes of their own.  And, so that in 5 years, or 10 years, or 20 years, I'll be looking back knowing I left it all out here on the field and I didn't hold anything back.

I'm reading a book called The Four Agreements, and in the book it teaches about how our words (or the words of others) can become our perception of reality.  I think enough people had told me  "You have your hands full" or "Wow, that's a lot of boys" or "Just wait until they're teenagers" or  "It must be crazy at your house" that I had really internalized those words.  They became my reality- that what I was doing right now was hard.  I was allowing my truth to be "I have four boys and my life is hectic and crazy."

In fact, it's just the other side of the same coin. I need to flip my words so I can flip that coin.

All of the little struggles (messes, fights, tears, endless dishes, people touching everything all the time and going every direction in every store. . ) are the other side of the coin of blessings I hold in my hand. . . four beautiful, healthy, sweet, ENERGETIC boys. Both sides are there, but I have to make the constant choice to look at the shiny side and not the messy one that makes me want to curl up in a ball. 

The sentence, "All of my children are here with me" can be read in two tones of voice. Not everyone has the privilege of saying it at all, so I'm trying to choose the grateful one. There is so much good to be uncovered when I choose to be grateful.  At the top of the trail of whining, there's a beautiful overlook.  ;)  And then, a downhill run!  It takes all of it to make a life.

"Mountaintop" moment!

Every day, I fall short of my own expectation of what I think the best mom would do.  But, every day that failure leaves room for growth and leaves room for grace.  Not I, but the grace of God in me.  If I made it look too easy, how would my children learn to handle their own struggles?  If I try to do it all perfectly and do it all myself, how will I learn and show my children how to accept our role as limited humans walking on this earth who are most definitely not God but need God a whole lot?

God, you are good.
You are You, and I am not.
But I am here.
Just trying to do the best I can
To love you
And serve you
By loving and serving your people
(Starting with the ones in my four walls- I'm going to admit, God, sometimes that's a little harder.)
May the love we share here
spill out into the world.
May I teach my children by example
To be fully human
Accepting your grace
Trying our best to do your will
And walking each other home.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Daddy and his boys.

My dear and faithful husband orders us pizza every. single. Friday and picks it up on his way home from work.  You could set your watch by this good man.  When he gets home at 6:15, he's greeted by four excited little boys in jammies who have picked a movie and are eagerly waiting to eat that pizza on their Angry Birds blanket in front of the basement TV.  It's our little Friday tradition, and the kids love it.

On a whim, I volunteered to pick the pizza up for the first time about a year ago.

"I'm warning you, Jen, they might not know what to do when you walk in there," Paul said with a wink.  "They've usually got my pizza out by the time I've come through the door."

Sure enough, I walked into Marco's and asked for our pizza and the two kind folks behind the counter raised their eyebrows at me.

"Where's Mr. Paul?"
I laughed,  "I was told that you might not give me the pizza."
They grinned and we introduced ourselves.  They told me about how much they enjoy seeing Paul every week and they count on his visits.  We chatted for a while (and they did agree to give me the pizza.)
"It was nice to finally meet you! Tell Paul we say Hi!" they called as I walked out the door.
"You, too! I sure will!"

It got me grinning, and it got me thinking.  
1.  I love being Mrs. Paul (Zink)  
2. Then I got that song Bob sang on Sesame Street when we were little, "Ooooh, these are the people in your neighborhood, the people that you meet each day. . ." 
3.  Living an an ordinary, everyday life sure is a precious gift.

Our culture celebrates the mountaintop, but as our wise pastor Fr. Dan says, most of life is lived down here in the valley of the everyday.  

We can Instragram a moment. . .crop and filter and caption and share. . .but a moment is only as good as the life that surrounds it.   We may get to the mountaintop a few times, and that sure is sweet- but what about the rest? It seems the things that matter most may not get us "likes" or look like much on our resume or add anything to our bank account or even be very much fun, but that sure doesn't make those ordinary things any less important.

If you are a mom, you probably feel me here.  I have washed the same little IKEA cups and bowls and forks and spoons and plates over and over again every day for the better part of a decade.  There are apparently no awards for empty sinks (I've been waiting!) and no one notices a clean dish (although, they sure will notice a dirty one!). But I'm learning when we wipe the crumbs on the counter and wash the colorful little dishes piled up in our sink. . . even on the days we don't feel like it. . . even on the days we feel like that's all we did, we're being faithful in the small things.  I love what Mother Teresa said, "God hasn't called me to be successful, he has called me to be faithful."  Feeling a call to "success" can be a slippery slope in a long-term game like parenthood, and that simple call to faithfulness seems even more important in the perspective of the eternal.

I think about my husband, Paul, and his beautiful heart.  He is so faithful in the small things.  He has read to the kids every single night of their lives. He makes sure they brush their teeth and gives all the baths and unloads the dishwasher every night before bed.  He goes to mass and mows the lawn every week and scoops the litterbox and votes in every election and returns his library books on time and irons his no-iron shirts and uses his turn signal and fills his car up with gas every Thursday and says his grace at every meal.  He is an excellent adult, I really enjoy riding on his adulting coat tails. On top of that, he is totally the type of guy who scoops up a bug to put it outside and smiles at babies and shakes hands with strangers and listens patiently to others.

These things can't be measured and a snapshot couldn't really capture them.  But at the end of Paul's life, which I hope is a very long one, how good it will be to have been faithful.  To have been kind.  To have meant a lot to a few special people.  In this digital age, it can be tempting to try to mean a lot in the eyes of the big, wide world.  Tweet for a day and you can see that shiny prize out there to mean a little bit to a whole lot of people.  But the glory and the beauty and the lasting joy aren't in "hearts" or "likes", they are right there in our everyday interactions, all wrapped up in real hearts. . .in meaning a lot to a little.

Its the movie nights and the pew you sit in at church and the cashier that knows you by name and the postman that always gives you a wave.  It's the folks you see on your walk and the friends in your class at the gym and the place you always go for lunch on Friday and the neighbor who always looks out for you and the custodian that cleans your office that you stop and chat with and the preschool mom you always smile at during dropoff even though you don't know each other's names.  You bring joy and human connection to one another's world.

And then, there's your "people".  Your circle- your close friends, your siblings, your parents, your significant other, your kids, your fam. The whole world may never know you, but you are whole world in the eyes of someone special. Every day, day in and day out, you're faithful to that commitment to love your people well.  There's no major award for that on earth, but we can be sure in heaven the treasure is being stored.  And when we move over to the other side of the veil, those are the folks who will miss us the most.

My friend Charlie and I ate lunch together nearly every day of my teaching career.  Every day (unless it was fried chicken day in the cafeteria), he had a brown paper sack lunch with a bologna sandwich and a container of homemade Jell-O, packed by his loving wife.  When his wife passed away, I called Paul to tell him the sad news. All I could squeak out was, "Who will make his bologna sandwich?"

Those little everyday things you do for the people who love you?  They sure do matter.  A sandwich made every single day or a pizza ordered every Friday or a lawn mowed every Saturday or a basket of laundry folded every week or a story read every night might not look like a major accomplishment on paper, but I'd like to think it's the best kind of accomplishment we can have.

This past Friday, I went to pick up the pizza again.  This time they knew me when I walked in the door.
I was greeted with, "It's MRS. PAUL!" and they handed me the pizza with a smile so I could turn around and deliver it to four happy boys.

Here's to your everyday.
Keep on keepin' on.
What you do matters.
Keep being you.

"The connections we make in a lifetime- maybe that's what heaven is." - Fred Rogers

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Forever tries.

Daniel is my bright little ray of sunshine.  He is the first to offer a hug, a positive spin on things or a kind word.  He gets out of bed every day ready to greet the sun and face the world with a smile.  He gets dressed in a favorite shirt- his "Oh Snap" lobster or his hip rhinoceros shirt are always  go-to options, leaves the hanger on his bed from said shirt, heads off to the bathroom to brush his teeth for something approximately close to 2 minutes but way closer to one, and then galumphs off to start his day.  

Then along comes nagging mom- "Daniel, was that really two minutes?  Daniel, is that your hanger laying on your bed AGAIN? Like, every DAY?  Daniel, you need to redo your homework, you got this problem WRONG.  I can't stand it when you don't take your time on your homework. Shouldn't you have taken your time last night?  What did you do with your lunch money from last week?  Did you even MAKE your bed?"  

Who is this lady?  Is she ME?  When did I become such a drag?  I wish that I was making this dialogue up, but these are sadly the typical things that come out of my mouth before he even spills any milk on the table or we find the forgotten lunch money crumpled up in the bottom of his backpack.

Usually my Sunny D apologizes profusely or jokes right back, "But, mom, the hanger is my friend!  I love sleeping with it!," and "Hey, I've never had a cavity!" and I give him a hug and shake my head and we move on.

But one morning, I looked at him at the breakfast table (after we fixed the homework, found the lunch money and wiped up some spilled milk) and he had tears clouding his eyes, and more streaming quietly down his face.  

It hurt me to see him so hurt- and I was the one to blame.

You know, sometimes my kids push it too far, and sometimes I push it too far.  I had pushed it too far, and I started to really not like how I felt or how I was behaving in that moment. It was time for me to pick up the mirror instead of the magnifying glass and look within.

If my voice is going to become their inner voice, how can I make it one of love and encouragement and gentleness?  If these kids are going to be the ones taking care of me when I'm old, how will I want them to treat me when I am forgetful or can no longer do things quite the right way, or do them quickly, or do them by myself?   What would it hurt right now if I let a few more little things go?   Would it mess them up forever to be more gracious with their faults? 

The fact is, they are not intentionally doing anything wrong most of the times that I am annoyed.  I am becoming aware that when I lose my patience, it is usually because their feelings and their needs are getting in the way of my agenda.  Ouch.  Isn't part of my job as their mama to help teach them to be fully human. . .with feelings and needs that can be expressed in healthy ways?  Is my to-do list or my comfort or my convenience the god that I serve? Often when I find myself being the kind of mom that I don't really want to be around, it is more about having my needs served- my need for order, or organization, for peace and quiet, or for well-behaved children, than it is about serving their needs with a kind heart in this season of life.  I've made an idol out of those things at some time or another, and it is time to smash it.

This season, and it is just that, only a season, is in fact loud and messy and full of, shall we say, "growth opportunities"  for them, AND for me. So, after a conversation with my bestie, Kris, a few weeks ago when we sorted through this, I'm asking myself: "What would it look like, for a whole (insert period of time here), to love my people exactly as they are?"  

Not who I want them to be, or who I think they should be, or how they could be if they just did this one little thing right that they are doing wrong right now, but exactly as they are. Right now.  Generously and appreciatively and joyfully, the way God sees them. 

In this, the only moment that we are guaranteed.

I'm starting with some increments of time to focus on seeing my people through the eyes of love and love and only love.  Starting with this moment, right now, and stretching that for even longer periods.  Can I stretch that gentleness out for like, a whole meal?  Or a whole morning?  A whole homework session?  If today was our last day together on earth, would the fact they use their sleeve as a Kleenex be the most important thing I want to talk to them about?  Is spilled milk worth our tears?  Can they forget to carry the one or put "i before e except after c" and still make it to heaven?  

Yes. Yes. Yes. No. No. Yes.

"The world has enough critics," I tell my kids, "be an appreciator." 
I need to heed those words myself.  

"Treat other people the way you want to be treated," I tell my kids.
I need to show them that with my actions.

"Is it more important to be right or to be kind?" I ask my children.
I need to ask myself the same question.

Because I know in my heart the answer- kindness matters most.  Now, there is a time for everything under the sun and there is a time to correct to be sure, but do I need to correct behavior at the expense of hearts?  Probably not.  There's a win-win out there somewhere, and I am praying for the wisdom to seek it and to live it, and praying for the grace to be gentle with myself so I can be gentle with them.  I'll never get it perfectly, but I know I can do it better.

The sun rises each day and shines on us all with new mercy.

Here's to greeting the sun like D.
Forever tries.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Over again.

"Can't we go back to page one and do it all over again?"  - Winnie the Pooh

I don't know why, but for some reason Halloween gives me all the feels!  Maybe it's because every year I realize these kiddos are a little bigger, can go a few more houses, try more adventurous costumes, and have more zeal for candy.  Not to mention the memories of all of the Halloween's past that appear, all the pictures of chubby faces squished into fuzzy costumes on our Facebook feeds.  It seems like a silly day to feel so sentimental about, but it is what it is!

This Halloween day I dragged out the costume box for Noah.  We were getting ready to go visit our friends at the nursing home and I wanted to make sure he had something cute to wear (as if he even needed a costume to score candy, he gets that every week costume-free) but kids in costumes just make people smile.  We dug through the box and I pulled out a treasure I had been looking for- the old Winnie the Pooh costume.  The one Daniel wore for Halloween when Phil was his Christopher Robin, the one Noah wore basically every day for an entire summer despite the heat, when he was just learning to talk and walked around proudly, saying, "NOOK!  I POOP!  I POOP!" sending his brothers into fits of laughter.

I have so many precious memories of Winnie The "Poop" that I was hopeful that he would put it on one more time.  The tag inside said 3T-4T.  Would it fit?

"Noah, will you try this on for Mommy?"
"Mommy, dat was from when I was a baby. I am FOUR and a HALF,"  he declared with a raised eyebrow.  (note: the HALF is very important.)
"Pleeeeaassseeee?"  I looked at him pleadingly, he looked right back at me with almost an exasperated face, as if he could not be bothered with this childish activity.  But after I promised him a piece of candy, he grudgingly approved the costume try-on.
We slipped it on and it zipped up, but, as he pointed out, "Mommy, dat's tight."
Kind of like my jeans, kid.  I get it.  Only I have less excuses.
I laughed at my own ridiculousness.  Of course it was tight!  It was from when he was 2!  The built-in Pooh belly, once so comfortable and squishy, looked more like a bowling ball, and his ankles were hanging out from below the cute little Pooh paws that used to pool around his feet.  
"Can I take it off now, Mommy?"
"Yes, but can I PLEASE take your picture first?  PLEASE?" I begged.
"OK, but don't share it with anyone."   He gave me an I-mean-business look.
"I promise."

And I kept that promise- do you see the picture here?  Nope, but it's on my phone as a reminder for me, that my little man is growing up and has needs and opinions and an interior life of his own that is worthy of respect.  And the pic squeezing into Pooh this Halloween was not nearly as cute as the pictures of him when he was a baby in it anyways.

I unzipped the "Poop" costume and helped take it off a Zink boy for the last time.  Noah saw my wistful face and felt the need to encourage me, "Mommy, I will wear something else, but I will still be cute, OK?" 

And he did, and he was, and it was all good.  He was a brave knight, slaying loneliness like any old dragon, stealing hearts and candy from all the fair damsels.  I watched him interact with everyone and marveled at how he is growing up.

After we left the room of one of our friends, he said, "Mommy, Lillian asked my name so many times!"
"I know, buddy.  That's just her question that she likes to ask.  She knows you, it's OK."
"Yeah, I know.  My feelings weren't hurt." he said, matter-of-factly.

He totally gets it, I thought.  I marveled at his compassion for others, the way he is processing the world and the way he articulates it to me.  I gave him a hug.

"My baby is growing up!" I said, in the standard "Awwwwwww" tone of voice I always use when I tell my kids that.  And then Noah screwed up his little face and said something that made me pause.

"Mommy, do you just like babies?"

He looked at me with concern.  It was a sincere question from his four-year-old mind, worthy of the most sincere of responses. 

"Oh honey," I melted into a puddle and held him close,  "I loved you when you are a baby and I love you now.  I love you all the time.  I love babies but I love big boys, too.  You are so special, and I love the way you are growing."

He looked encouraged and quickly moved on with his life, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  What message am I sending my "baby" when I am constantly articulating my tug between having a baby and big boy, the same tug that he's struggling with inside?   Obviously a strong enough message to make him wonder if having a cute baby was all I was into.  I need to be careful with my words and through my own give him the words he needs to share his interior life in the ways he sees fit.  So much to hold in my heart, and we were only halfway through Halloween.  See what I mean? ALL THE HALLOWEEN FEELS.

The big bros got off the bus and we had a blast.  An exhausting blast, as there is nothing quite like feeding four kids dinner and getting them costumed up on Halloween.  And JUST as I am finally getting used to the flow if it, the little years are almost over.  Isn't that life?  We went for our last theme this year, our final in a 9-year streak of themes because we thought perhaps next year would be the year the big boys wanted to go out with their friends, which I totally respect.  It was time to do it up right and savor one last trick or treat as a family of six.  I left the bowl of candy on the porch in our skeleton's lap because as much as I love greeting my trick-or-treaters in my witch costume there was no way I was going to miss my own kids out as The Beatles.

Oh, how much fun they had.  They were a hit at every house and Noah's joy spread down the street like beams of sunshine.  Our kids scored so much extra candy for their costumes that I had to quickly shuffle about four bags of it away while they were sleeping that night.  I couldn't tell if my face hurt from smiling or from the cold, but I think it was mostly the smiling.  I soaked it up- their joy, their good humor, their cuteness and the pure fun of making people laugh and smile and clap and sing.  They were so in character and they had ladies squeal over them and even had some people take their picture, which they thought was sooo cool.

After we warmed up from the cold, took off the costumes, sorted the candy, washed out the colored hairspray from Ringo and Paul's hair, got on jammies, brushed teeth and read stories, a tired-but-happy mommy and daddy were finally tucking the tired-but-happy boys into bed.

"Mommy, I'm never going to forget that," said Phil. 
"Me neither, buddy," I said, and I walked over to tuck in Daniel.
"Mommy, I'm sorry.  Today was really fun for us but I think it probably was a lot of work for you."
"Daniel," my heart ached at how sensitive he is and I felt ashamed that I had not pretended to be less tired at this point, "I'm sorry, bud, Mommy should probably do a better job of not looking tired.  Yes, I am tired.  But my heart is full from seeing you have fun. It was so worth it."

He smiled.
And it was. So. Worth. It.

It's easier now to be OK with the tired when I know that the days of being "hands-on" are slipping past, it was even easier after spending time at the nursing home earlier that day, where hands are no longer busy and rooms are quiet except for the sounds of the television and the beeps and purring of machinery.

And as much as I would love to hold one of my babies in my arms again, I can't go back to page one and live all the sweet moments (and only the sweet ones, right?) over again.  But we can try to live today the best we can, knowing that the other side of the coin of being happy is being tired, and vice versa, and that's just the way it is going to be for the season we're in.  As they say, you can have it all, you just can't have it all at the same time!

Paul and I went out for a rare date night last night to grab a drink and we talked about growing older.  We'd only go back and do it over again if we knew what we knew now, we agreed. We wouldn't trade the lessons we've learned (most of them the hard way) for a hundred yesterdays with less gray hair and firmer skin, no matter how sweet those yesterdays were in our 20's and early 30's.

As much as I miss the little Pooh and Christopher Robin of Halloween past, there is so much joy to be grasped today. 

I mean, seriously.  How much do I love them?  

I turned 38 today.  Time marches forward.  Will they still need me when I'm 64? I hope they do. My prayer is that I can make the most of the time I have with my children, whatever time I am given.  Thank you, God, for another year on this earth, another day to try over again to love my people the best that I can. 

"Any day with you is my favorite day, so today is my new favorite day."  - Winnie the Pooh

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hold On.

"Letting our children go is a lifelong process for parents, one that we wrestle with again and again.  Each parent has to wrestle with it in his or her own way." -Fred Rogers

"I'm going. I have to go.  I'm tall enough!  PLEEEEEEEEEEASE????" Philip begged.

"Oh, honey," I cringed and looked over at the Round Up, "I don't know."

I had made up my mind the first time I saw this ride seven years prior that the people who ride it must be absolutely CRAZY.  With a capital C and a capital-all-the-other-letters CRAZY.  The scientist in me understands the forces at work that keep you firm and secure, but the wimp in me says, "No, thank you. I'll be over here on the carousel."

Having watched considerably more episodes of NOVA than I have, Phil's eyes were gleaming with excitement for all of the g's he was going to experience on the Round Up.  My most responsible boy is also my biggest amusement park thrill-seeker.  Who could have a trace of fear when the laws of physics are so consistently enforced? 

I stood there stalling with my ten-year-old tugging on my arm as my mind spun around,  "What happened to the rides in kiddie land?  But you were terrified the first time he rode those, too, Jen. Remember?  You can't hold on to him forever.  You need to let him go.  He wants to, he's tall enough."

But there was no way I could watch him up there alone.  I gulped.

"OK, buddy, but I'm coming with you."

Phil grinned and ran ahead of me.  Instant regret filled me the moment those words came out of my mouth. Why did I say that? Now I must be the one who is absolutely crazy!  I looked up at the ride- it was half full of kids, none of them over the age of 12, and it was spinning vertically as they screamed.  I followed along behind Phil halfheartedly and plopped my hat and purse into the box next to the attendant.  I took my place on the ride and gripped firmly to the peeling metal bars on either side of me, suspiciously eyeing the small chain in front of me, whose purpose I could hardly grasp, and wondering how old this ride actually was.  Definitely old enough my parents could have ridden it as kids, which I later confirmed on wikipedia.  Through my fear narrative, I took a moment to notice that the kids on either side of me were elated, most especially my Philip who couldn't stop chattering about the ride to come. 

The college-aged ride attendant came over to this grown lady with white knuckles sandwiched between the tweens and gave me an encouraging smile. 
"I'm 37 and I have to admit I'm a little nervous," I told him.
"You'll be just fine!" he said, as he walked around casually, balancing the ride and making sure everyone was secure.

The clank of the "on" lever, the whir of the motor, and we were off.  I gripped the ride in terror, but when I glanced over the look on Phil's face was priceless.  I screamed the entire time, mostly, "HOLD ON!!!" although the laws of physics were, again, consistently being enforced and the act of holding was not truly necessary.  And I had to admit the view of the park from the top was pretty incredible.  It was over before I knew it.

That may have been my first time on the Round Up, but it wasn't my last.  After that first ride,  Phil ran off and got right back on again, taking my Dad along with him.  We ended up riding it a half dozen or so more times, and even brought some brothers along. And each time, I was befriended by the kids around me waiting for the ride to begin.

"I'm 8!  We're here for my birthday!"
"I'm here with my aunt and uncle, they bring me here for special occasions!"
"I've been on this ride 27 times!"
"I'm a Steelers fan, but I don't even live here! Do you like the Steelers?"

You know, for a seemingly terrifying ride, it was actually pretty friendly.  I made lots of new pint-sized friends.  I also learned after the first time that if you just focused on the center of the ride, it was way less dizzying.  And Phil's joy and pride in this new milestone made it all worthwhile.

As we stepped off the ride for the last time and prepared to leave the park, I couldn't help but reflect on the metaphor the whole experience on the Round Up had for my life as a parent.

Daunting.  At times terrifying.  The overwhelming urge to hold on. White knuckles. Intermittent screaming.  Nausea.  The conflicting feeling that things are over too fast and not over fast enough. 


Fun.  Full of pint-sized friends.  Thrilling. Lots of laughter.  New views and perspectives.  Worth doing multiple times.  Different than I expected, yet way better in surprising ways- especially if one can stay focused on the Center.

I've been reflecting on this more during my boys' fourth grade year.  Philip and Daniel are crossing that bridge from "little boys" to "young men." and I am watching it unfold before my eyes.  I have the overwhelming urge to hold on some days, while at the same time knowing that the whole point of parenting is letting go.  My head knows that I can't cling to them forever, but my heart aches in the letting go.  How could so many of those little days when they were one and two, or two and three, or three and four, have gone so painfully sloooooowwwwwwww, while those little YEARS simply flew?

Now these ever growing nine-and-ten-year-old little men stand before me, with compassionate hearts and great senses of humor and slightly more self control in using their shirts as Kleenex and their pants as napkins than they had when they were five and six.  Where did those days go?  Did I do right by them?  Have I done enough, invested enough in their hearts? What will their future bring, and what can I do to ensure they are ready for it?

I can take hope and comfort from the Round Up, however.  There, the laws of physics are consistently enforced, beyond my own power or will to influence them.  

Philip and Daniel each have a plan for their lives, beyond my own power or will to make it myself.  They have a reason for being here that is beyond my mind to fully understand but has been destined since even before my time on earth.  My job as their mom is to help them find God's will for their lives- I can't make it up myself, I can't force them onto the path, but I can try to help guide them there.  I can be their lantern to hold, I can be their safe place to rest, but I can't walk it for them, and I can't even walk it next to them clinging with white knuckles to their arm.  Darn it, because I'd really like to.  It's humbling and scary but also the most liberating thought possible.  They aren't "mine."  They aren't even Paul's.  They aren't the world's. They are God's.  And he's the Center of it all- for them, and for me.  He's got us.

As necessary as it seems to hold on, I need to keep telling myself that it's also going to be OK to let go.
The ride may be over fast, but the memories remain.