Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lay Me Down

Snow is slowly falling outside, adding more to the five inches of unexpected snowfall last night. The old, browned stuff has a lovely new blanket on it so the world looks clean again. My dog is snoring gently next to me. The wash is in the dryer. Decaf is perking.

Quiet.

8 hours ago, things were not as quiet. My littlest one woke me up for the day shrieking for food. He had already been up 3 times in the night so Mama wasn't feeling the early wake-up. We snuggled for a little while and as he contentedly ate his breakfast, I wrapped my mind around another day with my husband far away and little sleep to go on. I asked God to give me the strength and humor I needed and have it replace the sleep I wouldn't be getting.

I made lunch and snacks for the older ones and got dressed. While my oldest son ate his breakfast, watching his baby brother, and the toddler slept on, I shoveled the driveway and cleaned off the car so we could make it out of here by 8 am. My neighbors cheerfully waved as they blew snow off their driveways and I broke my back doing it the old-fashioned way. 3 years is too short a time to spend money on a snow-blower so we have stubbornly done this by hand.

This morning, I really wished we had a snow blower.

Now, though, I'm thankful for the exercise a frenzied shoveling of the driveway gave me because there was no chance to make it to the gym today. I am a better person when I have exercised.

Our adventure without dad around has been going on for a week now and things are going better than I expected.

And you know what?

I am so tempted to feel like I have figured something out. Like I have become some kind of capable parent. Like I GET this stay at home parent thing. Finally.

But I know the truth. Just two short weeks ago I was a hot mess. Exhausted, hopeless, angry, frustrated, resentful.

This last week has gone well not because I am have figured something out or am somehow enough but because God is enough. And rather than clinging to my disappointments and rage, I have clung to him. I have laughed at the tantrums(okay, maybe not all of them, but way more than usual). I have stopped looking at the clock in the middle of the night and tried not to care about the actual number of hours of sleep I have gotten. I have thanked God over and over again for coffee. And for friends.

It is no coincidence that I stumbled upon a book called "Mom Enough" just a few days before my husband left for his travels. I normally don't enjoy reading books aimed towards mothers or, really, women for that matter. They usually make me feel "othered", like there are so many more gaping ways I just don't fit the "norm" of womanhood than I even realized.

But this book has been different. Possibly it was my desperation of knowing I could NOT do 3 weeks without my husband in the state I was in. Maybe I opened this book with more hope than skepticism.

Whatever it is, God has used the words to bolster me. To remind me that I cannot do this, this job that is arguably the hardest job in the world. I cannot. And I need to be ok with that.

This past week, I HAVE been ok with it. More than ok, really. And being more than ok with feeling like I can't do this has freed me up to enjoy it in ways I never have before.

This quote in particular has been sitting with me:

"We should run to the cross. To death. So lay down your hopes. Lay down your future. Lay down your petty annoyances. Lay down your desire to be recognized. Lay down your fussiness at your children. Lay down your perfectly clean house. Lay down your grievances about the life you are living. Lay down the imaginary life you could have by yourself. Lay them all down...Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone."

So, as my little ones sleep on (at the same time!) and as the snow falls, I am not dreading the long afternoon stretch and the chaos of bedtime. I am asking God to help me see the humor when it is quite possible that everyone will be crying and the dog will be barking and the phone will be ringing at the same time as I am trying to put food on the table. I am asking God to help me see my kids as who they are, beautiful bearers of the image of God, even when they aren't necessarily reflecting that image as well as one would hope.

I am asking God, quite bluntly, to help me lay myself down. Once again. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. Day by day.

And I am letting Him be enough for all of us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

And Here. We. Go.

My husband just walked out the door. Bags in hand, talks ready. Weeks of travel and interviews ahead. It's finally time.

On the homefront, I have been preparing for days.

15 loads of laundry done? Check.
Kitchen cleaned? Check.
3 nights of real sleep, thank you, darling. Check.
All sheets and towels changed? Check.
Playdates for the middle one scheduled? Check.
Generous friends offering to bring by some meals so I can nap during nap overlaps? Check.
Stocked up on diapers, wipes and all teething paraphernalia? Check.
Date out skating with my oldest to get some good quality time before dad is gone? Check.
Blog posts written daily since personal challenge issued? Almost check. Missed one day, ah well.

Seriously, though, God has done a work in just one short week. I had been dreading this trip for months. HOW in the world were we going to do this? How to keep the oldest one on his sports schedule when the middle one has to be asleep before he's finished? How to not watch the clock all day because watching the clock wouldn't actually mean anything if the husband wasn't coming home soon to take over? How to do two bedtimes simultaneously for the littlest people? How to handle the rage of the middle one without the ability to tap out?

In the last week, the "hows" have faded a little. The baby and toddler don't have the same bedtime at the moment due to an illness so the oldest can play with the littlest while the middle gets his long bedtime routine tended to. A generous neighbor offered to pick up the oldest from hockey so I didn't have to push back the toddler's bedtime. (For those with spirited children, you know that any deterrent from the normal timing and routine can be catastrophic.) The oldest offered to learn several new chores so he could really ramp up his help while he dad was gone. THAT. KID.

Bottom line, I just am not thinking about what is going to be hard about it. I'm just trying to do.

Attitude overhaul? Check.

It's funny what laying aside my worries and frustrations and exhaustion and exchanging them for just 30 minutes of writing every day can do to a person who is willing to stop and listen, isn't it?

On Saturday, my oldest and I talked about the coming weeks as we skated around Tenney Park. We talked about the opportunities we would have - that he would have chances to learn even more awesome ways to be a big brother, that we'd both get to work on our patience, that we'd have lots of fun time together after the littlest people went to bed playing legos and Sorry and reading together and having a pizza and movie night.

This morning, as he was kissing me goodbye before school, he grinned up at me and said "Our adventure starts today, Mom!"

And he's right.

No one ever said adventure is limited to globetrotting or trying new, exciting things, right?

Adventure is any new opportunity that we can face head on and say to God, "OK, together we've got this. It might not be easy, it might not always be fun, but it sure as heck can be good."

So, here we go. Let's see what the adventure brings.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Waking Up

It's MLK Day. I haven't had a lot of time to ponder it this year. I've seen a lot of his "nice" quotes up around Facebook. Quotes about love and peace. I think, like a lot of white people, that those quotes summed him up for me until just a few years ago. Growing up with whitewashed history, I was only taught one version of racial engagement: be colorblind, preach colorblindness, never talk about race ever. And didn't Martin Luther King just want us all to get along? He was about LOVE, people. End of story.

King, however, also had a lot of stuff to say that I'm guessing many of us white people wouldn't put in the "nice" category. Excerpts from speeches that we didn't see in our history books. A quick visit to his national memorial in D.C. will give you a brief but powerful education (and please, for the love of all that is holy, go. You will not regret it.) He wasn't always nice. He was, unashamedly, honest. And a lot of what he had to say applies today in stark ways.

Bottom line, we have got to wake up. Not as much has changed as we were led to believe growing up. Racism is very much alive and just as ugly as ever.

This post is brief for a reason. I had a heck of a nonstop day. But I didn't want this day to go unmentioned. I am grateful for the people in my life who did not allow me to sit in my colorblindness. I am grateful for the friends who got mad at me, who made me angry with them, who shared their stories, who taught me what Dr. King was really about, who prepared me at least on some level for what it would mean to be raising children of color in a very broken system.

So, friends.

Educate yourselves. Educate your children. Put the effort in. Read real histories, not whitewashed textbooks. Don't buy children's books that depict slavery as "not that bad." Talk to your kids about Ferguson and Charleston and Baltimore. Say the names of people who have died solely due to the color of their skin THIS YEAR. Say them out loud. Mourn them.

Colorblindness does nothing but deny the inherent beauty of God's creation while silencing the voices of those who have not been treated with the full dignity which that accords.

Colorblindness, my friends, is a surefire way to teach your kids to be racists.

PUT in the effort. Caring about this, listening to real stories, recognizing our own biases, speaking up in the face of this continued evil, joining in action and policy that works towards ending unjust systems...THAT is the only way we will see change.

Dr. King said it decades ago and we must say it with him. We have much to learn. So let's be in the business of dropping our selfish defenses, our guilt, our helplessness, our indifference, whatever it is that keeps you standing still and silent in the face of so much pain, and start doing the work that will wake us up.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Best Laid Plans

Last Sunday night, as I looked toward the final week before Reed leaves, I had plans in my head. Plans I ALMOST wrote down but have learned better in my years as a parent.

In my head, the week looked like this:

Monday: Normal day, take Nate to gym, hopeful for a nap overlap, one item of prep, etc.
Tuesday: Normal day, Josh has drums, hopeful for a nap overlap, one item of prep, etc.
Wednesday: Normal day, Josh has hockey, hopeful for a nap overlap, one item of prep, etc.
Thursday: Normal day, Nate has preschool, hopeful for a nap overlap, one item of prep, etc.
Friday: Beautiful day off to mentally/emotionally prepare myself for husband being gone for 3 weeks
Saturday: ice skating and lunch out with my oldest
Sunday: morning to myself while baby naps and older two go to church with husband

This is what the week actually looked like:

Monday: Normal day!
Tuesday: Woke up with terrible tooth pain, was a grumpy mess, understood my angry teething toddler better.
Wednesday: Didn't sleep the night before, called dentist first thing, husband has to stay home from work because toddler in full violent meltdown mode and mama needs emergency dentist appointment
Thursday: Husband has to stay home again so mama can go get a root canal, find out husband has another interview offer and will be gone an extra two days.
Friday: Husband can't take any more work off so day off disappears. No nap overlap to top it off.
Saturday: ice skating and lunch out with my oldest.
Sunday: morning holding hysterical infant with 103 degree fever while husband takes two older to church.

SO.

The best laid plans, right?

A week ago, when pondering what I had HOPED for the week and then seeing what actually happened, I probably would have dissolved in tears.

But God has been in it with me this week. And as much as I know the enemy wants me to be angry, to feel sorry for myself that I didn't get what I need, I'm not going to do it.

I say no.

So instead of feeling angry and sad and mopey this morning, I put on my best mama snuggle face and let my infant sleep on me for two hours instead of blogging and reading and drinking coffee and being alone like I had planned. And I treasured it. Because, really, how many times in his little life is he really going to do that? I sniffed his curly mohawk and kissed his fevered brow and crooned sweet words to my ailing little boy. And was grateful we had a quiet, warm house in the midst of negative ridiculous weather in which to take shelter and just be. The laundry can wait. It's ok if Reed leaves for his interviews and the house looks like a tornado went through. It really is. It's alright if I didn't get a chance to make some meals for the week.

Choosing today to change my response from anger to opportunity when the best laid plans go awry.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fight or Flight

I really love biology. Loved it in high school and loved it again when I took it at UW just a few short years ago. Ideally, I'll end up in a field that deals with it, but right now is not the time to be too discerning about what the future holds.

I've always thought one of the most interesting aspects of animal behavior is the idea of fight or flight. That when presented with some kind of very real threat, we have two choices. We run from it or we do battle.

In parenthood, you kind of have to choose the second.

Before you think I sound crazy and violent, hear me out on this.

Being a parent is the first thing I have ever done that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Not that I ever stop being married, of course, but with a rational human adult, one can take breaks. One can ask for space. One can assume one may sleep through the night without the other one waking her up. (Well, sometimes. The early months were dicey as we figured out how to share a bed, but that's another, more comedic story.")

Once you are a parent, that's it. If your kid needs you, nothing else will do. Maybe someone will give you a night off, but you always know there is the possibility of being called home in an emergency. Maybe you'll take a weekend away with your spouse, but you are still parent. Your brain cannot move from that state of being.

So when the battles come, you have to choose fight. You have to stay in it.

Now, biologically speaking, if I were a lesser being this would probably mean punching my toddler in the face after he has just punched me in the face. Meet force with force, right? Thankfully, I have rational logic and compassion to choose a different way to fight. If I didn't, my instinct to protect myself would surely kick in. And I would fight back at a very base level. A level that would not be in my children's (or my) best interest.

But, friends. It's hard. Take someone like myself who can be easily angered and add sleep deprivation and hunger to the mix, then when my 2 year old wallops me, I really, really have to work hard not to react. Not to lash out. Not to yell or freak out. Not to put him in time out and run to google and job search immediately so I can end this stay-at-home thing asap. Not to make the whole day about the one (or ten, as the day may be) incident. Everything feels more dramatic when I am hungry and tired.

This week, as I've been preparing myself to be alone for a few weeks with the little people (with some help coming a few days here and there, lest I mislead you), I have had to work hard to not fear. To emotionally plan ahead for the witching hour and how I will handle it on my own when the baby is crying and the toddler is melting down and throwing food and my 9 year old needs someone to read his spelling words to him to practice and the dog is barking at the neighbors at the hour of the day when my energy is the lowest.

I am preparing for battle.

But, I've really wanted to prepare differently than I might have a week ago. Prepare with hope, with intention, with a "WE CAN DO THIS" attitude.

And to get there, I have got to get past this perpetual feeling of anger. Anger at my life not looking like what I imagined. Anger that I am not working and not in school. Anger at being covered in bruises. Anger at being far from family and my closest friends during this challenging season.

I came across a quote this week in a rare moment of quiet reading about how Christians should approach that which feels like it's choking us of life.

"We should run to the cross. To death. So lay down your hopes. Lay down your future. Lay down your petty annoyances. Lay down your desire to be recognized. Lay down your fussiness at your children. Lay down your perfectly clean house. Lay down your grievances about the life you are living. Lay down the imaginary life you could have by yourself. Lay them all down...Stop clinging to yourself and cling to the cross. There is more joy and more life and more laughter on the other side of death than you can possibly carry alone." (From "Mom Enough")

Ouch. And phew.

Seriously, it hurt to read it but at the same time, it was like the breath went out of me.

Clinging to myself is not the way to do battle. The only way is to enter into the battle that God himself already won.

So, as the preparations continue, as I ready our family to handle being without superdad for a few weeks, I am finding glimmers of hope, small shreds of strength, quotes that are being put on index cards and placed around the house. Any little thing that will remind me that IT WILL BE OK. And maybe more than that, IT MAY BE GOOD.

Fight or flight?

I choose fight. But I choose to fight differently.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Upside to Novacaine

You hear people say a lot of things about root canals; mostly, how awful they are. They seem to be the benchmark against which people measure some truly awful opportunity. "I'd rather get a root canal than have to vote for Donald Trump," someone might say. I might say that, at least.

You never hear about what good they do, though.

About 24 hours ago, I had just been told by my dentist that it was possible I would lose my tooth and have to pay $4,000 for an implant.

NO. I panicked. I had just posted a blog about how much I wanted to lean into hope, how much I intended to look for it, to write every day until my husband heads out of town and then, bam.

I was really angry. I mean, sobbing, angry.

So, when the endodontist today said that, no, actually, he could save the tooth with a root canal and let's go ahead and get this thing done and get you out of pain, it was like someone was giving me a huge puppy. OK, a puppy that required a lot of novacaine and two hours in the chair, but still.

Seriously, it's all about perspective people.

Graying, toothless, 37 year-old woman with sleep-deprived bags under eyes and an anger complex, because, really, let's add a big empty socket in my mouth right now?

OR, graying 37 year-old woman with sleep-deprived bags under eyes and a hope complex.

I'll take the second, thank you very much.

And now I sit here, very gingerly sipping some warm coffee, trying to infuse myself with some energy before the little people wake up. Maybe years ago, I would have come back from hours of dental work and thrown a movie in, but now, I'll be down and dirty on the floor, playing trucks, wrestling, changing stinky diapers, having dance parties with a numb face.

And I wouldn't have it any other way. I mean, maybe it'd be nice to have an hour on the couch with a movie, but my oldest son injured his foot in PE today so HE gets the couch and the movie and an icepack and, as I promised myself I would do, I am writing. Claiming gratefulness, looking for hope.

Yes, today, friends, I am grateful for a root canal. As the pamphlet so eloquently puts it, today my diseased pulp was replaced "with a substance that will keep the tooth functional."  Sounds familiar. As I was laying in the chair, staring at the ivory ceiling, nodding along when the the doctor asked me questions, I had time to think.

This is so what God is doing right now.

He sees all this struggle, all the anger I have, the selfishness, all the ways I am way too weak to handle life on my own. He sees it, he diagnoses it. And then he drills down through my bitter exterior. He slowly, methodically, lifts out the gunk and replaces it with something that will make me function even better. He doesn't come down and rip the whole damn tooth out, leaving an empty spot and teeth that shift around and an awkward way to chew and a less than winning smile.

He saves who I am but makes it SO MUCH BETTER.

I gotta be honest, though, I do wish there was something akin to spiritual novacaine. Something that makes it feel less painful as the work is being done.

Oh, wait.

There actually is. If there was one thing I have seen, time and time again when I have found myself to be at the edge...during our miscarriage or years of infertility or waiting for our adoptions and now in the midst of an incredibly challenging phase in parenting...I have seen the people. The people who make meals. Who offer to fly out and help. Who pick up your kids so they can go play and you can nap or shower or write. Who text you things to make you laugh when you need it. Who pray.

People, friends. You guys. Spiritual novacaine.

And the upside to spiritual novacaine as opposed to a shot in the bloody gums?

You guys don't leave my face numb. You just leave it with a smile.

So, thanks. Thanks for your responses yesterday when I laid bare my heart. Thanks for those who are pitching in when he is gone. And those who are far away but who will be praying and thinking of us and yes, sending me things to make me laugh in the midst of it.

That's the kind of shot worth having.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Longest Year

War movies are my favorite genre of film, particularly those telling the various different angles and fronts of the Second World War. I love the new ones and old ones alike. Anyone who shares this passion has likely seen The Longest Day, maybe the most classic movie out there about D-Day. And, frankly, one of the longest. It tells the events of that day from both Allied and German perspectives - and from most perspectives, it was a day that never seemed like it would end.

This has been our year.

From the moment our middle child learned to crawl, life has been a battle. You name it, it's a challenge. Diaper changes, leaving ANYWHERE, getting dressed, brushing teeth, not getting exactly what he wants in the exact moment that he wants it and sometimes even getting exactly what he wants in the moment that he wants it, because, toddlers. We have changed his diet, sought professional help, tried to chart the things that trigger him the most.

Many days, it seems like being awake is the only trigger he needs for spectacular, screaming, violent tantrums. ALL. DAY. LONG.

And friends? I am exhausted. When you pile on sleep deprivation from an infant and the wonderful, but tiring world of a nine year old who has a thriving social life and extracurricular interests, there is just not enough of me. With a toddler who can wear out both of his parents within an hour of waking, it seems hard to have hope that we can ever be sane again.

We had two golden months around here in August and September. Two months where we could see the good. Two months where he was happy a lot of the day, where the level of chaos and tantrums was normal for a challenging two year old. Two months where my infant slept through the night. Two months where we thought, "Hey, maybe we can do this family of five thing and more than survive it."

We don't know where it came from or where it went.

And now, 3 months later, my husband is about to leave for several weeks of travel. I have plenty of friends in the military who have endured far longer stretches without a spouse. I am not trying to pretend that my situation is dire or that many parents haven't had to endure this for years at a time. I am just trying to be real.

And if I am real? I am scared. Scared that I won't be able to do it. That my toddler will break me.

But more than the fear, I am so tired of being tired. So tired of being hopeless, exhausted, sad, angry, fearful and helpless. Tired of just surviving. Tired of dreading the day's beginning. Tired of looking at the clock every 2 minutes in the hope that is is miraculously closer to 5 pm when my husband arrives home and can take charge of him.

I have no choice in the coming weeks. I will do it. He needs to travel and be his spectacular self and dazzle in his interviews.

I will be home alone, I will be mom, 24 hours a day. And the reality is, that I am not mom enough. I never was and never can be. And, oh, I so want to be.

So, because I am so tired of feeling defeated, from today until he leaves, I am going to make every effort to write one blog post daily. Just one post focusing on something that will help me look at these coming weeks as an opportunity to dig into the deepest wells of grace, hope and forgiveness that I can possibly dig into. Maybe I'll make a list of who, physically, can come take over if I am about to lose it. Maybe I'll have to lean into God's perspective of my boy to see past my anger and fatigue.

Bottom line, I don't know what will come out of this. But I am challenging myself today to find elusive hope. And because, historically, I have been able to find hope in hidden places when I've taken the risk to vulnerably write, then, gosh darn-it, I am going to find the time to write. Every day, even if it isn't pretty or polished. Even if I have to type through tears or with someone screaming in the background, I. WILL. WRITE.

Because, friends, something has to change. If there is one thing I can cling to right now, it is that God is always about redemption, about transforming things from ashes to beauty, bringing dead things to life.

And HE is God enough.