Friday, June 6, 2014

Messy Motherhood

My kids are awesome.  I mean, I realllllly like them.

I like my kids when we jump on the trampoline together, all bounces and giggles, hair flying every which way with static, clothing rumpled and mussed-up with leaves and twigs.

I really like it when people are blown away by my oldest boy playing music on the piano.  In that moment, I'm utterly proud, and can't imagine anything better than being a mother to this kid.
I like it when I watch my older daughter snuggle my friend's one-year-old - comforting him and connecting with him in a uniquely heart-felt way.

I like when my 6 year old randomly looks up at me with big, innocent, blue eyes and says "Mommy, you're pretty!" in his hushed, raspy little voice.

I like watching my kids climb trees, do gymnastics, talk to our elderly neighbors, draw pictures, pray cute little prayers, sing songs, read to each other, and be imaginative, creative little people.

Those are the times when my heart bursts with gratitude, and I feel
"This is what parenting is supposed to be" and I am content with my role as Mommy.

But sometimes I don't like them.
Peanut butter, meet the Tablet

For example: when they fight, complain, make messes, fight, whine, argue, rub peanut butter all over the tablet, disobey, fight, run away when I'm calling them, break my favorite earrings, spill crumbs everywhere, push each other, spill juice all over the floor, act obnoixiously in front of our friends, and whine the whole time we try to put them to bed at night.

Then I begin to wonder and question:
"Why am I doing this!?" and I think
"I must be doing this all wrong since they act like this A LOT!" 


I know mistakes are normal.  I know that perfect children are abnormal.

So I'm guessing that feeling like a mess as a mom must be normal, too.  

The turning point for me was a few days ago, when my 4 year old yelled at me: "You're a bad mommy!"

Although I knew that this was the wailing, emotional, unrealistic assesment of an overtired child, it still made me a little bit sad.  Especially after having a day filled with frustrating moments with my kids.

Yet, this time, instead of feeling frustrated and angry - instead of thinking "I just don't enjoy this parenting thing!", I actually felt love in my heart.  It was strange, really.  It should have been one of those "throw in the towel" moments where I calmly shut his door, walked away and then screamed into my pillow.  But instead of feeling like I was dealt a bad hand of cards, and my kid was just unlikeable - in that moment, what welled up within my heart was LOVE.

I realized that no matter what mistakes happened or will happen in the future, I was made to love this child.  It's foolish to think that LOVING means always liking.   Certainly the goal of a loving relationship is compassion, kindness, and loads of patience.  But it doesn't mean that things are going to work perfectly.  It doesn't mean that you will always say or do the right thing as a parent.  It most certainly doesn't mean that you will always FEEL the "right" way.

More important than liking my kids all the time, is loving them - messes and all.  I can love them even when they say childish things to me.  I know, deep down, that I love them even though they make messes, cost me lots of money, and take up most of my waking hours.

Love covers a multitude of sins.

I realized that even if I'm not feeling it, even if I don't have warm fuzzies towards my kids due to their immature, age-appropriate behavior, it doesn't make me a bad mom or mean that I shouldn't have chosen this as my profession, or that I'm not qualified to raise them.

Once in a while, when my husband is dealing with one of our older children's outbursts, in the midst of their emotional diarrhea spewing out towards him, he'll just pause for a moment, smile, and say "I love you!"  I really admire this about him.  It's as though he can cut to what really matters - and that this moment, this lapse of restraint and unlikeable behavior will pass.

What remains even if the house is in shambles and we didn't have a perfect day is relationship,
and love.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

How To Hear

My dad, making a lot of noise with a jack hammer!
I have hearing loss.
It seems to have increased after the birth of each of my six lovely, boisterous children.

Okay, if I'm really being honest, I don't think I've actually lost any hearing ability.  Truth be told,  I've heightened my selective hearing ability after each child was born.

For example, one of my older kids could yell to me with intense panic: "Mom!!  Ezra's eating sugar!!!"  and I don't think I'd even flinch.  I'd keep folding laundry or picking pencil crayons up off the floor or whatever it was that I was doing... with little or no concern.  It's as if I didn't even hear their hysterical accusation.

It's hardly different from the way I tune out my children's incessant tattling - or their whining complaints against each other - or the proclamation that Ezra (yes, he's quite the four-year-old) is peeing in the yard or parking lot or off the church balcony... again!

Maybe mothers gain this ability as a tool of preservation.  Because if we really did respond to every little gasp, whine, cry or grievance - we would literally go insane! 

Now here's the problem.  I worry that an ability to be selective in my hearing may actually hinder my ability to listen to the things that really matter.  Just like perspective matters in how you view the world - whether you can take the time to see beauty in everyday situations - I believe that there is just as much value in learning how to hear. (You can read more about How to See in a blog post I wrote a couple weeks ago.)

Sometime one of my little guys will peep up with a random "I love you, Mommy!" and I might be in the middle of something - even in the middle of a frustrating moment with another child, but something in me knows that I ought to respond.  So it's often a quick "I love you, too!" right back at him, and sometimes I spend a little more time or put a bit more effort into my response - but I know that I'm keeping the door of connection open to his little heart - and it REALLY matters.

Other times, I hear the typical: "Mom!!!  Look at this!!!"  And it could be that my 6 year old is balancing a rock on his head - or maybe my 4 year old drew a picture that looks like a cross between a cow, a house and a turtle - but I will gasp and say "Wow! That's great!"  Because I'm speaking to his heart, his treasure, and he's vulnerable about my opinion and whether the things that are important to him matter to me.

Here's what I've noticed.  When I'm too busy, too frazzled or even when I'm just being too complacent - I don't hear my kids the way that I should.  Even worse, when I'm consumed by the interactions of social media - the voices that talk constantly, but say little that really matters in life - when I'm plugged up by all of that noise pollution... I don't hear.

Hearing can only come by intentionality.  Hearing requires focus, and purposefulness.  Because I'm not talking about noise that registers decibles in your brain - I'm talking about understanding and connection.  I need to really HEAR my kids.  I need to HEAR my husband and care about what's happened in his workday - even though I feel like I've survived a dozen earthquakes and I've had to navigate the stormy waters of several pre-teens and my teenager clashing and being "emotional".

It's hard to hear.  It's hardest if you feel like no one really listens to you - and believe me, even when I yell and I'm frustrated, it seems like my kids still aren't listening!  But even in the best of circumstances, listening - really hearing those around you - is an art.  It is intentional and requires engagement with the people (even the little kids) around you.

Here's a thought for those who have trouble really hearing those around them.

Learn how to be STILL.

It feels like, in this day and age, we have so little opportunity for true quiet.  My iPhone follows me everywhere with bleeps, bloops and alerts.  I can even watch movies in the bathroom! (Not saying that I do that...)  While I don't want this to be just another blog about how you should flee from the evils of technology, I still feel that it is worth mentioning.  Turn off your freakin' phone!!!!  I guarantee, you will not learn to be quiet if your iPhone is beside you, alerting you to the newest angry-cat clip that your friend posted or if it's tempting you to play the next level of Zombie Candy Crush Super Saga (or whatever those annoying games may be).

So learning how to hear starts with practice in the right environment.  When you learn to be still, you have a chance to find true rest for your soul.  In stillness, we can recharge with prayer, meditation or simply quiet communion with God.

Next, hearing those around you, and listening for the things that matter requires insight and intentionality.  Sometimes you have to look for the unspoken signs in order to hear the whispers of a heart that is trying to be conveyed.

I'll end with this...  A few nights ago, when most of of kids were already in bed, my hubby and I were hanging out in our room with the door open, chatting on our bed.  One of my older kids (who shall remain nameless), came and stood in our doorway.  They didn't ask for anything and it wasn't their bedtime yet, so we didn't shoo them away.  That's when I got it - a sense that comes from learning to listen.  I realized that this child was seeking connection - that they needed affirmation and closeness with us. So I initiated a conversation that allowed us to talk about some of the deeper, more important things in life.  Afterwords, I marveled at the gift of intimate communication that I could have missed out on if I hadn't taken the time to hear.

“There's a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”  -G. K. Chesterton

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”  -Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Being Okay on Mother's Day

It's here! 

The radio, Twitter, Facebook and my email inbox are blasting me with messages about one of the most anticipated events of the year - Mother's Day.  It's a day of extremely high expectations - and if dads and kids and even the pastor preaching a sermon at church don't deliver - moms will be disappointed and feel under-appreciated. 

On a positive note, I've seen many beautiful tributes filling up the Facebook newsfeed and pictures of moms of every kind - young moms with babies, mothers with grown sons and scanned old photographs of mothers from decades ago.

Some of us have fond memories of our mothers, and for some Mother's Day is etched with sorrow and grief.

Some mothers delightfully look forward to a day of pampering, adoration and  acknowledgement, and others feel guilt, anxiety, disappointment  and emptiness.

I've been a Mom for nearly 15 years now.  I have six kids.  I guess you could say that I'm kind of qualified to speak about being a mom.

Being a mom is nothing like I imagined.  Being a mom has a lot more mundane than I expected; scattered with high times and low times.

I thought when my first baby was placed in my arms, that I'd be magically equipped with all the patience, wisdom and virtue that I needed to deal with a willful, uncooperative yet beautiful little person.  I thought I'd be full to the brim with ooey gooey mushy infatuation that would power me through every long, sleepless night.  I was supposed to be such a good mother that even when my kids got older, we would be harmonious and happy - instead, I often feel challenged and I doubt myself.

I never thought I'd actually get to the end of myself and secretly lament: "I wish I wasn't doing this.  What was I thinking?"  But, sometimes those feelings come.   So after a good cry, some chocolate, time on my knees and maybe a hug from someone who is not utterly dependent upon me for EVERY. LITTLE. THING.,  I find some new inner strength, and I plunge back into my role with perseverance.

So as this Mother's Day approached, I have been mindful of the fears and trials and the lessons I've learned (and I am still learning) as I continue my life-long career as a mother.  I hope I'm not the only one who approaches Mother's Day with some hesitation.

Mother's Day might be all about gratitude and adoration - but I need so much more than a "Thank You" card and breakfast in bed.  (A day in the mountains, followed by a candle-light dinner with steak and wine might be sufficient, though!)

So here it is - the simple and perhaps obvious fact that reassures me as a mother:

Kids are resilient.  Even when you mess up, even when life is crazy and you can't provide the "perfect" environment, kids are remarkably capable of defying the odds and coming out on top.  I have a friend who told me a story about her childhood.  She said that at one point, her family went camping for around 3 months - imagine that!  They spent the entire summer cooking, eating, playing and living outdoors!  She said that as a child, she thought it was awesome.  However, as an adult, reflecting upon this memory, she realized that something was a little weird about her family camping for such a long time.  She asked her parents and they told her that it was because they were literally homeless - Dad had lost his job, and they had nowhere else to go - so they just camped for a while until they could get back on their feet.

I think we put an awful lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect moms, with perfect homes, and we try to juggle so many things, attempting to be the glue that holds it all together and keeps our children's world defect-free.  The truth is - our kids will be ok.  They don't need everything to be utopian all the time.

So those blurry months when I had morning sickness and felt like I barely had enough energy to change diapers - let alone cook a somewhat wholesome meal for my other kids and the TV pretty much babysat them?  It's ok... it all turned out.

And the months of transition that we've experienced with my husband changing jobs (twice) and moving from city to city and house to house - so that homeschooling became incredibly inconsistent and only happened if I could actually find our books...?   I think we're going to recover from that too.  Thank God kids are resilient.

Sometimes life throws us a curve ball, and sometimes we just screw up as a mom.  I don't need to stop making mistakes - I just can't get stuck. Our kids need us to forgive ourselves, and move on.   I think God has a special grace for me as a mom, because DESPITE my many failings, my kids keep on loving me.   

Unfortunately, Mother's Day can be a time that highlights inadequacy for some of us.  It's easy to think of all the accomplishments of a mother and praise her for them, but it's equally easy for those accomplishments to feel like weighty expectations, heavy with immense responsibility.

I'm not bashing the celebration of Mothers - I'm not bashing Mother's Day cards and Mother's Day sermons - BUT...  I think a lot of moms need reassurance more than anything.  Because you can celebrate us today - even give us the day off, but we have to go right back to reality tomorrow.  We need to know that we're doing ok.  We need you to know that we don't feel perfect and motherhood is really hard and sometimes we don't even feel like doing it anymore - but it's not exactly the kind of job where you can hand in a resignation (believe me, I could try, but the kids would wail and scream and eventually bang down my bedroom door.)

So I encourage you today.  If you are an imperfect mom and you worry about being enough, doing enough or even surviving motherhood - you're gonna be ok.  Your kids are going to be okay.  The good news is that you don't have to be a super-mom to raise good kids.  Kids are resilient and forgiving.  I remind myself this daily.

Happy Encouraging Mother's Day!

How to encourage a mom on Mother's Day:
To put it simply - I think that on Mother's Day, Moms need mothering.  We need to be taken care of, believed in, reassured and... okay... maybe a little bit of chocolate or flowers or a massage would help, too.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How To See

It was a gloriously warm, summer-like day.

I was happy.
I wasn't yelling (much) and our little exploration had turned into a winner in that we had spotted turtles in the wetland - something we'd never seen on previous nature walks at that particular location.  
The kids were excited, contented, playing, and most of all, they weren't bickering, complaining or fighting with one another.

It was bliss.

Even the antics of this boy -  my wild-child, as I call him, couldn't disrupt the beauty of our meditative outdoor enjoyment.  So when his drawing paper landed amidst Water Striders and Whirlygig Beetles in the glassy, aquamarine water, I calmly scooped them up with little more than a sigh, and laid the papers to dry on the dock in the unusually hot May sun.  It wasn't even breezy (which is unusual for our city), so in a matter of minutes the accidental near-drowning of drawing papers was forgotten.

I wonder: Why can't every day be like this?

I told my husband later that night, as we stood in the kitchen wiping up crumbs and putting away pots and pans, "See.... the sun makes me so happy!  I'm made to be in warm places!"

And it's true.  I gain an unusual contentment from long, summer days.  Winter is my hibernation - I eat too much, feel sluggish, want to sleep more and often find it difficult to face day after day of cold weather that coops us up indoors. I can relate to the dormancy of a deciduous tree - barren, no life apparent, waiting for the kiss of the sun and warm weather to "spring" forth with green buds; welcoming the chorus of songbirds and awakened with the promise of a fruitful summer.

Yet, as I looked at my pictures and strained to see the beautiful moments that I felt so strongly, I was surprised that I was scrolling through mediocre snapshots, not stunning works of art.  My heart remembers the warmth, happiness and joy - but the images captured with my iPhone don't come close to expressing the true beauty we indulged upon.  But my heart is still happy.

How much more so is my life a snapshot in time?

Can I look for the beauty - glorious moments where life and love pop up, unexpectedly - even when skies are gray?

If only I could remember and abhor my proclivity to be too busy, too sharp, too narrow-minded...

Often, it's when I'm finally quiet, breathing slowly, eyes closed and unsuccessfully attempting to sleep that I finally remember

Each day is filled with opportunities for wonder
if I could slow myself enough to notice.

My children are marvelous creatures who are always learning, growing and changing and I can hurry them along, or try to see life through their eyes by taking time to really listen.

In the pauses; the deceleration of our minds and hearts, we see more clearly and begin to hear the melody of life's symphony.

When we train our eyes to look for the beautiful, we find that as Dostoyevski said:

"Beauty will save the world."

Because it's the ugliness of my wrong intentions, my false expectations and misperceptions that are ruining me.  I don't see beauty because my eyes are drawn far too quickly to the soiled, the broken, the misleading.  And it wears me down.

I'm not naturally a "glass half-full" sort of person.  But there are moments in time, flashes of inspiration and divine unfolding when the dust and smog of the pains and cares of this world peel away and I truly see, and breathe, and absorb what I believe this world was meant to be.

There are moments in life when you can't deny the God-tinged, unearthly and unspoiled illumination.  Like when my last baby was born and I held him - still blueish with waxy, vernix-smeared skin and then his eyes opened on this side of earth for the first time, and his little lungs sucked in his fist breaths, and I beheld life: freshly kissed by heaven.

When we see beauty, we see the Divine.
 "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen" -Romans 1:20
Who doesn't gawk with awe at the mighty Rocky Mountains?  Who doesn't gasp at the awesome roar of thunder?  Something within us all is set to respond to the magnificence of earth.

My aim, then, is to peer at the world in anticipation.
To watch, to wait, and then to wonder

"Then sings my soul, my God, how great thou art."
Carl Gustav Boberg (1859–1940)