The Waiting and the Harvest

Waiting for something is hard.  Every single day, you look to see if it’s time.IMG_4329But even if you’re ready, it doesn’t mean it’s time.  IMG_4332This is a lesson I’ve been teaching my daughter through gardening.  It’s a lesson I think she’ll be learning for a long time, if she’s anything like her mama.  When it looks like THAT, then it’s time.  Not before.  IMG_4333In the meantime, I tell her, we don’t just sit around.  We prepare. IMG_4337We put in the work.  We pray for God’s blessing.IMG_4338Then one day, it’s time.  And, bedhead and all, we are ready.  IMG_4362 IMG_4363 IMG_4364 IMG_4366 IMG_4367 IMG_4368 IMG_4369Waiting isn’t fun.  But harvest time is sweet.

On Love

I haven’t written anything about our failed adoption in a long time, and as much as I would like to say that my heart is all healed, it’s still something I think about often.  It’s so weird to me that the baby that was almost ours is now 15 months old.  I wonder if she looks like Zoe did at 15 months.  I wonder if she has Zoe’s spunk and zest for life, if she says as many words as Zoe did.  I wonder if she is being cared for in any minimally appropriate way.  I think about her, and I wonder, and I have no answers.

At the same time, I look at my second beautiful daughter—the one I wouldn’t trade for anything—and rejoice.  I rejoice and I marvel and I realize that I couldn’t possibly have the answers.  I only see a hands-breadth in front of me.

Trusting God to work purpose through my pain and entrusting God with someone I love are among the hardest things I have ever had to do.  Yet that is what we are called to do everyday as Christians and as parents and as life-livers.  The things we grasp tightest didn’t originate with us.  Loosening our hands and lifting them up with thanksgiving and trust is the only response that will free us to truly enjoy them.  You can’t own or earn grace.  You just live in it.

The same is true for answers.  You can’t own or earn them either.  Sometimes, you are given them, and sometimes you just live in the mystery—and that is still grace, although not always in ways you appreciate.

With that perspective, it feels trite to try to understand: “if it hadn’t been for Brianna, we would have never been in the adoption process and we would have never gotten Riley!” because really? If God wanted us to have them both, He would have made a way (thankfully for my sanity, He did not make this happen).  I’ve found that adoption makes you wonder what God really intends as plan A and plan B and I am increasingly hesitant to speak for God on these matters.

But what I do know is this: despite the pain, loving Zoe, Brianna, Riley, and their birthparents has been a gift and a privilege.

We are meeting Riley’s biological family this week for lunch and I am so excited to look into her birthparents’ eyes, give them warm hugs, and hear—really hear—how they are doing.  I am thrilled to show them how our child is growing and developing and how she claps to “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”  I am nervous to see my parenting reflected through their eyes; I am hopeful they think we’re doing it well.  I am not new to this, so I know there will be some awkward moments and some lulls in the conversation where we don’t know what to say next. But I also know there is a gift of grace that binds us all together.

Glennon Dolyle Melton writes about her conversation with her young son after the death of his favorite fish:

“When he asked me, “why, mom? Why does God send us here where things hurt so much? Why does he make us love things that he knows we’re going to lose?” I told him that we don’t love people and animals because we will have them forever; we love them because loving them changes us, makes us better, healthier, kinder, realer.  Loving people and animals makes us stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways.  Even if people and animals leave, even if they die, they leave us better.  So we keep loving, even though we might lose, because loving teaches us and changes us.  And that’s what we’re here to do.”
–“On Fish and Heaven,” from Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts On Life Unarmed

I am thankful to have had the chance to love and to learn about love from these people.  It has made me stronger and weaker in the right ways and I am better for it.

Mother’s Day Thoughts

Every Mother’s Day weekend, I get a little weepy about the amazing blessing of being a mom. I’m beginning to realize that the hard work might not ever go away and that there might always be parts of my day as a mom that are mundane and duty-driven instead of fun, but still, my overwhelming feeling is that being a mom is a a get-to, not a have-to—and that being a mother is one of the most amazing journeys I’ve ever been on.

Here’s one example.

A few nights ago, Riley began wailing around 1 am.  I rolled over, looked at the time, and foggily prayed, “Holy Spirit, comfort her and help her go to sleep.”  Immediately, I felt a rush of energy and heard inside myself, get up.  She needs your comfort to fall asleep.  The voice reminded me that she had rejected her 6 pm bottle after eating a minimal dinner, and instructed me, She’s hungry.  Go feed her.  Then she’ll fall asleep. 

I made a bottle, walked into her room, and was greeted with delighted baby sounds as I picked her up, changed her diaper, and sat down to rock and feed her.  She guzzled the bottle, then lay in my arms as she cooed her baby words of thanks and gratitude.

I couldn’t put her right back to bed.  The moment was too sweet.

And as I sat there rocking her, I was struck with this realization: I had asked the Holy Spirit to put her to sleep, meaning do it for me so I can keep lying here.  I’m so tired.  

But the Holy Spirit wants something better for me then a good night’s sleep.

The Holy Spirit hears every prayer I pray.

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The prayers for my daughters to have a secure bond with us and for them to know how much they are loved.

The prayers for the ability to lay myself down and serve my children with humility, sacrificial love, and willingness.

The prayers for parenting wisdom.

For me to know how to meet and serve my husband’s needs.

For insight into my children’s needs.

For growth and maturity in my faith.

For the ability to find joy and purpose in even the mundane moments of life.

To help me submit to God’s plans for my moments, days, and life.

The Holy Spirit weaves all of these prayers together with the needs and prayers of others, and then gives me opportunities to live out what I asked for—to have that insight and wisdom, to sacrifice, to show love, to submit to God’s plan for my 1 am (and 5:40 am, and…)IMG_4404
I can choose to roll over and ignore the opportunity, making my prayers meaningless and my growth non-existent.  Or I can choose to embrace the opportunity, and be given abilities and insight and wisdom beyond my own.  (Not to mention that my actions can also be used in ways I don’t even understand by God! Who knows what He does on a cosmic level with my daughters’ sense of self when they realize “I call and someone answers,” “I don’t understand my own emotions but my mommy can help me,” or “I can be forgiven even when I had a morning full of bad choices.”) 

Gloria Furman writes that motherhood is full of “calls to worship,” adding “if we have ears to hear these invitations, then we have opportunities to worship the Lord, who is nearer to us than we often realize.”

I would add that the “calls to worship” of motherhood have opened my eyes to the inadequacy of self-sufficiency…and my ears to the One who says, “let me help you.”

Yes, motherhood is full of challenges.  But i do not want an easy life.

I want a meaningful life—a life of growth and adventure, passion and purpose, joy and peace, maturity and authenticity, love and humility.  These do not spring up overnight or through exclusive pursuit of my own self-interest; they are cultivated over time through joyful surrender to the processes and paths that the Lord desires for me.IMG_4406

C.S. Lewis writes, “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the ‘intolerable compliment.’ Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be.

But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”  (The Problem of Pain)

Admittedly, as I was writing this post this afternoon, Riley woke up from her nap earlier than expected and I said in my nicest voice to her sweet nine-month-old face, “I guess you kids just don’t want me to have any hobbies or complete a thought ever again!!” As my embarrassing sarcasm reveals, it is so hard to surrender all the time (it’s even hard when you’re writing a blog post about why surrendering is ultimately good!)

But I put the laptop away and tickled her and played with her anyway.

Because I choose to respond to the call to worship.

Because that is the kind of person God is making me to be.

Because every “interruption” is actually part of the best get-to of my life.

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Musings on Church

There was a boy who came to youth group, just because a girl invited him.  He had nothing else to do that night, and she invited him, so he came.  The leaders were friendly and the kids were friendly and over the night, his tentativeness turned into laughter and his hesitance into participation.

And when the night was over, the leaders and some of the kids said “are we going to see you next week?” and he said, “this happens every week? Is it here? Same time? Yeah, I think I’ll be back!”

And he was.

That night, the youth group was focused on planning “Youth Sunday.”

So a week later, he helped the youth group lead the congregation in worship.  He hadn’t been to church in a long time and didn’t understood much of what was going on, but it was “Youth Sunday”—and he was a youth.  He stood with the other teens and sang with the congregation.  He wore a Youth Sunday t-shirt.  He passed out bulletins.

He was back the next week.  That week, he signed up to lead a middle school mission week later in the summer.

That night, the girl that invited him asked me, “do you think it would be okay if I bought him a Bible? He’s asking a lot of questions and I don’t know how to answer them all. Oh, and did you know he signed up for our high school discipleship trip this summer?”

And I smiled.

In high school, I attended a church where you couldn’t sign up for summer trips without providing the trip leader with your written statement of faith.  Youth Sunday was the work of a small group of teens with polished testimonies and sterling reputations.  When I tried to make friends in the youth group, I was gossiped about for being “too popular” and having “too many friends at school,” with the dramatic punchline “and most of them aren’t even Christians!”

I’m glad I’m at this church now, with these Christians, with these non-Christians.

I’m glad I serve a God who is big enough to be glorified by the worship of a kid with no clue about His magnitude—only that he feels something and wants to know more.

God welcomes us extravagantly to the table that is set for all.  And although I did not set the table, it is my joy to pull out chairs for others and tell them I hope they stay for dessert.

The Miracle in My Mailbox

A few minutes ago, I walked out the door for my usual afternoon chore: dump the full diaper pails in the trash can.  Check the mail.  Nothing exciting.

But in my mailbox today, there was an envelope from the Social Security Administration.

Inside, there was a card.

There was her name.  Riley Grace Ourlastname.  There was a number.

And then there were my tears.

After a year and a month’s worth of paperwork, this was the last detail for my last daughter.

Three years ago, when we started Zoe’s adoption process and began what would become nearly three years of continuous paperwork, I read the book “Adopted for Life” by Russell Moore.  He writes,

“Keep yourself from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of all this paperwork by seeing it for what it is—a labor for the children God is calling to be yours.  You are kind of like Jacob of old, working years of arduous labor for the permission from her father to marry Rachel.  For Jacob, the years of work ‘seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her’ (Genesis 29:20)…imagine that Jesus himself is asking you to fill out that stuff, and do it with joyfulness and gratitude.”

I fully embraced that philosophy.  All of the work and i-dotting and t-crossing has been part of our calling to find and love these girls and make them part of our family.  And it’s over.  And they’re ours.

And it still all feels like a miracle.

I couldn’t fill out enough paperwork to earn the right to hear these girls call me “mama.”

It’s all His gift.

Thank you, Lord.

“Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness…let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  –from Psalm 150 

Where I’ve Been

I didn’t mean to disappear for almost a month, but that’s exactly what happened.  Zoe was sick, my family came to visit for a week, and writing professionally and editing others’ writing professionally seems to kill my interest in sitting at a computer and writing during my spare time.  Lent also impacted me a lot more than planned (more on that to come) and oh yeah, I have two kids and they’re both MOBILE now.

AHH!

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(As a side note, this post will feature even more gratuitous photos of my cute kids than usual because I have a MONTH to catch you up on.)

To begin, I want to finally admit “out loud” that having two kids so close together is way more work than I ever thought it could be.  There are so many joyful moments, but I do not think I would use the phrase “tons of fun” to describe the last 8 months.  Perhaps “overwhelming,” “surprised I didn’t die,” and “just ordered powerful under-eye cream” sum things up better.  As each one of David’s and my parents have independently observed when coming to help, “wow, someone always needs something.”  

It has been hard to hang on to the Sarah that isn’t just a need-meeter, but a person with her own needs and interests.  Sometimes I have done a good job of planning and anticipating my own needs, and sometimes I have pushed past them and wound up angry at everyone else.

Thankfully, I am growing and learning at the same time as my girls, and I feel like I am getting a little bit better at taking care of myself.

Here are some of the things that have helped me be “Sarah” lately.

Sleep.  I mentioned a few months ago that we were starting to sleep train Riley.  I am overjoyed to report that after 6-7 weeks of effort, the plan worked, and my big girl has slept through the night almost every night since.  I go to sleep with a smile on my face now knowing that I will probably sleep from 9:30/10 until at least 5 am.  SLEEP IS THE BEST.

photo 1-11Kisses for sleep.

Joining the Jazzercise studio down the street (and using its childcare).  Zoe adores the kids’  room, prays for the childcare worker and asks to go every day.  Riley hates it.  Too bad. I’m going 3-ish times a week, which gives me 3-ish more hours per week where I don’t have to be in charge and instead get to listen to cool music and get my cardio dance on.  Awesome.

Walking the dog: Thanks to the later daylight patterns brought on by Daylight Savings time, I can now walk our dog alone after putting the girls to bed.  I watch the sunset, clear my head, enjoy the silence, and/or call a friend.  It’s a great 15-20 minute exhale.

Working.  I’m busy and I’m good at it, and it makes me happy.  As a bonus, David and I now meet at Starbucks to work together one afternoon a week (which reminds us of our sweet college selves and is a great investment into our “fun away from the girls” tank).  When I’m not at my Starbucks office, this is where the magic happens:

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In related news, I dream of a designated office space…

The girls’ babysitter.  She brings craft ideas for Zoe and even folds our laundry, which keeps our house going and lets me have some rest time in the evenings.  She is the best.

A continued break from social media.  I did not rejoin Facebook or jump into daily blog reading after Lent.  My free time is very limited, and I have realized that I want to spend the little time that I do have on activities that really, truly refresh me or that bring me a step closer towards the person that I want to be.

During Lent, I read 6 books and reconnected with my love of reading the news.  I made nice lunches for myself during nap time instead of eating Zoe’s leftovers.  I reached out to friends more often via phone or text because I couldn’t just open my news feed and know what they were up to.  I found myself more productive with my work time.

I want to be a lifelong learner, an aware citizen, a person who honors herself, an intentional friend, a productive and focused worker—and I feel GOOD and refreshed when I do these things.  Many people can use social media responsibly, and I may return at some point, but for now, it’s just too much information to process and respond to, and is not the most valuable use of my energy or time.

photo 4-9After all, it takes a lot of energy to direct this motorcade.

Riley’s nap time.  Thanks to the sleep training program, Riley now takes a 1.5-2 hour nap every morning.  At first, I resented this because it basically chains us to the house.   After complaining for a few weeks, I felt God pressing on my heart that these mornings are my best opportunity to teach Zoe and fill her little love tank with one-on-one attention.  With that perspective, I’ve grown to love and cherish this time.  We planted a few container gardens, and we water and check our seeds’ growth every morning.

Zoe gardenAfter checking on our seeds, we play outside, read, do crafts or a workbook that I got for her, clean the house (“mommy, I do dust pan”), play with her dolls, build roads for her cars, etc. Throughout our time, I engage her in uninterrupted conversations about her feelings and viewpoints.  I feel our hearts connecting, and I’m so grateful to God for giving me the perspective that this is a time to give my best to instead of wish away.  One of my biggest desires is to be an intentional mom, and this is my chance to do this with Zoe.

Honesty.  I’ve really been working on being more honest with myself and with God about my feelings.  More to come on this in a later post, but here’s one snippet of that honesty:

When I got married, I knew that marriage (and eventually, my role as a parent) was a commitment to something deeper than my personal feelings of happiness.  Parenting a toddler has challenged me to understand this principle on a new level! It is NOT all fun and it does not always make me happy.  But I am learning to emotionally detach from the tough moments—because they are fleeting and not intended as personal attacks anyway—and lean in to the good ones.

Girls in the backyard

An older woman once walked by as I loaded a defiant Zoe into the car while wearing Riley and said, “I remember when my children were exactly their ages.  Those are such great memories!” I literally cried right then and there because I was so glad that someone who had been in my shoes looked back and remembered the good things first.

That’s my goal!

The last 8 months have felt hard, but I can see where I have grown and gotten it right, too.  I can’t go back to a stage of life where things felt easier and I can’t skip ahead to a time when my girls’ needs will be less intense; instead, I’m doing the hard and worthwhile work of learning to be Sarah where God has planted her now.

IMG_4207And I’m thankful to have been planted here.

Adoptive Parent Questions

On this blog, I typically write about lessons I’m learning and experiences I’m having.  I don’t write from a place of complete resolution very often—my blog title is “Journeying with Him,” not “Journeyed” or “There!”–but I always try to share SOME nugget of a lesson learned or perspective gained so reading it isn’t just a waste of your time.

Today, I thought I’d break from that and write from a place of complete NON-resolution about some of the things that I find myself thinking about as an adoptive parent.  None have answers; they’re just things I think about and weigh from time to time.

So many of my readers have expressed an interest in adoption.  Here are some of the things you may find yourself considering if you go that route.  Some apply to multiracial families, some to open adoptions, some to adoption in general.

Race/Ethnicity:

-In an average week, what color is my child’s world? Is she seeing people who look like her? Where is she seeing them? What are they doing? What assumptions might she make about people who look like her from what she sees? In other words, is she seeing black/biracial people in a variety of jobs with various levels of educational attainment and SES, or is she just seeing white people and/or white people who are served by black people?  (The default in our area is one of those two, which frustrates me to no end, but that’s why I think about it and try out different solutions.)

-Do we have friends of other races? Do we have friends from other ethnic backgrounds? Are we spending enough time with them to make sure they are quality friendships? Do my daughters know these friends?

-Do we see and spend time with other multiracial families?

-When my daughters read books and watches TV, does they see children that look like them and families that look like their family? If not, where can I find these materials for them?

-How do we talk about race in our family? What are our terms, what is our approach, and what is developmentally appropriate? For example, Zoe just started talking about “dark skin” and “light skin,” “brown eyes” and “blue eyes.”  Do we add words to the conversation like “beautiful” and “different,” or just keep it to the color descriptions right now? At what point do we progress the conversation to why our skin is different?

-How do I best care for my daughters’ hair? What products, grooming routines, and hair styles do I need to learn about to keep their hair healthy and to help them feel comfortable? What resources do I still need to learn about and who can I call for more consultation?

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-The same questions above, in relation to their skin?

-What will my daughters look like as they get older? Will my daughters be accepted in this mostly-white area? Will boys want to date them? Will they be accepted in image-focused activities like dance team or cheerleading if they want to (and do I want them to? Ha).  These are the kinds of questions that every mom probably has, but I have no insight from my own life to draw from as I sit around projecting into the future :)

Adoption:

-Lots of my friends are pregnant right now.  Zoe has been very intrigued with the concept of a “baby in belly” and talked about how “Baby Zoe” was in my belly.  I told her that some babies grow in their mommy’s bellies and some grow in their mommy’s hearts, and that she and Riley grew in mommy’s heart.  This was probably not developmentally appropriate and it’s definitely not biologically accurate; however, I did not want her walking around with the incorrect thought that she grew in my belly, and she is not old enough to really understand the concept of her birth mom.  When do I begin unpacking this for her?

-Likewise, Zoe understands that “P” had something to do with Riley’s birth.  What does she understand? How much should I discuss this/how much should I have discussed this?

-We have a lot of adoption books, all depicting different aspects and stories.  How often do I read these, which should I read now, and how much should I just let her set a pace for our discussions on this?IMG_2884

-What resources (if any) should I provide to friends as they discuss our family with their kids?

-What language do I teach my girls about how to tell their own stories?

-As my daughters grow and understand their stories, I know that aspects of their identity, self-esteem, and sense of belonging will probably be impacted by the fact that they were placed for adoption.  What else might be impacted? How do I build strong foundations for my girls in these areas now? How do I know if they are struggling at some point?

Birthparents:

-How do I best preserve memories of their birth stories, correspondence with their birth parents, legal documents, photos, etc.? Keeping up with a baby book is already a struggle, but I have to make time for this too, as they deserve access to information about their stories.  What’s the best way to do this for them, and when do I introduce these records of their stories to my daughters?

-How will each daughter’s individual story affect her at different stages of her life? What do we tell each girl, and when do we share that information?

-I have different types of information about each daughter’s story (and different pieces of missing information in their stories).  How will the holes in their stories affect them as individuals and as sisters?

-What will our ongoing relationship with both girls’ birthparent(s) look like? How do I best serve my girls? How do I best respect their birth moms? Should I still be sending photos to one of their biological grandmothers, who asked me to, even though she never responds?

-How are our girls’ birthparents doing? Do they need anything? We can’t really give it to them if they do, but are they doing okay? How are their families? Along those lines, how do you keep wise boundaries (relationally and emotionally) in place, while still loving?

-There are some aspects of my girls’ stories that I’ve chosen not to explore.  Is this actually doing them a disservice, or is it the best thing for them and for respecting their birthparents?

-Will we be asked for something by our girls’ birthparents in the future?

-Will our girls wish we would have done something differently someday?

-Should I reach out and say “thank you” to their birth moms on Mother’s Day, or is leaving them alone more helpful for them?

-Is sending lots of photos at our pre-determined photo intervals helpful, or does it harm the healing process? Is 7 better than 30, or is 30 better? What updates do I include? Do they want to see their baby only, or does it bring them more peace to see their baby in her community/family? Is it safe to share these photos? Are these photos being shared outside of our private communication? Do any of our photos reveal anything I don’t want shared about our neighborhood, family, or community?

Closing thoughts 

As you can see, some of these questions are productive and some aren’t.  Some questions have research and a best practice recommendation surrounding them, while others have have no answers and no way to get closer to answers.

Listing all of these questions all out like this probably makes it seem like I fret a lot, but the truth is that I am usually too busy with the logistical concerns of caring for a baby and toddler to spend lots of time analyzing these questions (and I would never let myself think about all of these questions in a row anyway…hello, anxiety!)

Still, I should think about them from time to time, as I think it would do my children a disservice to parent them as if we weren’t a multiracial family, as if we weren’t an adoptive family, or as if loss wasn’t a part of their stories.  (For more on the latter, read this fantastic blog post.)

And I do have one answer: the best things I do as an adoptive mom is the best thing any mom can do, and that is to pray for wisdom, trust that God will give it to me, and take the advice in Philippians 2:4: “…each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If I am interested in my daughters’ emotional lives, proactively begin conversations with them about their feelings as they grow, pray for them, and seek insight into how to understand and support their unique needs, I cannot go wrong.

What I Do

I have been trying to write a variation of this post for a few months.  Every time I sat down to write it, the words that came out were academic, impersonal, distant.  I had a truth I wanted to share, but somehow, it was getting stuck.

Start with the personal.  The answer came tonight as I made pizza for my family.  As I spread the pesto and washed the mushrooms and grated the cheese, the words began.  And as I am learning to do, I baked the pizza and plated the food and praised the toddler and put the pajamas on and sang the goodnight song, holding off the flow of words but not losing the spark.  And now I sit down to write these words, that once were choked and now are loud:

I am finally proud of what I do. 

So here’s the personal: when I first became a stay-at-home-mom, I was proud of myself for making the decision to stay home, but I felt mixed about the decision itself.   I was proud that I had made the decision based on my values instead of societal pressure, but I still felt societal pressure.  Additionally, my success at work had become a huge part of my self-worth, and taking it away left some definite holes (this actually prompted some positive growth, but growth isn’t always easy).

On a day-to-day basis, caring for my daughter and seeing the benefits of my work with her took away this angst.  I knew I had made the right choice for her, and honestly, I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, so it felt like the right choice for me as well.

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But when I had to admit to other adults what I did full-time, it was a different story.

For about a year after leaving my full-time job, I dreaded the “so, what do you do?” question that people would ask at parties and networking events.  I didn’t know what to say.  Did I tell them what I was capable of, or what I was currently doing?

After a few social events fraught with these instances of panic and pause, I asked David, “what do I say when people ask me what I do?!”

He mildly replied, as someone who was not experiencing an existential crisis would, “maybe say what you do?”   

But to me, the answer “I’m a stay-at-home mom” somehow reflected “I am June Cleaver and hoped and dreamed that I would find fulfillment in the home as a homemaker.”

I knew people who had dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom since second grade.  These are the same people who spend lots of time on Pinterest and who can make pie crusts from scratch.  THOSE people were the stay-at-home moms.

I was not.  I hadn’t spent my whole life waiting to be a wife and mother; I was surprised when I wanted either.  I liked working and advancing professionally.  I’ve only made two pies ever, and both burnt.  And so even though I found myself happy as a stay-at-home mom, it didn’t seem like enough. 

So, “I used to be a —–” is what I would settle on, feeling like a fraud, “but now I’m a (hurriedly under my breath) stay at home mom and I do consulting work part time on the side too.  Man, this bruschetta has a kick! Gotta go get some wine! I hope I never see you again and that you don’t remember this conversation at all!”

It’s hard to put into words exactly why this role was hard to own, but I think some commentary from our culture will help:

From an article on depression among executive women: 

“Choose a female-friendly employer, said Harriet Greenberg, a partner at Friedman LLP, an accounting firm in New York City. Its open-door policy and flex-time option help women cope. If a woman stays home for a few years to chase kids, ‘she’s welcomed back,’ she said.”   (Source, emphasis mine.  The semantics kill me! We couldn’t possibly be imparting anything of VALUE during those times with our kids…nope, just chasing them).

From a conversation last Friday with a new colleague: 

“So, what did you do before children interrupted your life?”

From a conversation with a man (who has children!) two summers ago: 

Him: “So, you left your job? Do you actually find that spending your day caring for your child is fulfilling?
Me: “Yes, I do.”
Him: “Really??”

From a conversation with a recent (female) college graduate: 

“I bet you can’t wait to get back to work, huh?”

I’m not trying to be overly sensitive, nor am I skewering anyone quoted above for their word choices.  These comments and excerpts reflect a larger debate in our culture over the value and necessity of a stay-at-home parent.  I understand why we have that debate, and from a sociological and historical perspective, I think it’s important that we keep discussing it.

But I hope that conversation evolves a little to say this: act from your values, ignore the critics and “shoulds,” and make yourself proud.    

As a woman, I’ve been told everything from you should of course stay home with your kids; how could you leave them? to if you don’t go back to work, you’re betraying all women. How do you ever expect your daughter to respect you if you don’t?

On that spectrum, I’ve experienced everything from congratulations, you’ve made the best decision for your kids! to rolled eyes at a university faculty meeting when I said that I was a mostly stay-at-home mom and an abrupt silence at a professional luncheon when I mentioned my kids.

But I’m learning to be okay with it.  Because it’s my life, and I’m acting from my values.  Yes, they are values that surprised me, but it’s okay to be surprised by the evolution of your life. Accepting that evolution is called “growth.”

Since becoming a mostly stay-at-home mom who works an average of 5-8 hours a week, I’ve earned $40,000 in grant funding for nonprofits, taught college classes, trained youth professionals, nonprofit employees, youth, and parents in our area, and helped a nonprofit organization completely recreate its evaluation plan to better measure their impact, to name a few projects.

But the most important thing I do? Undoubtedly, is care for and nurture these two girls.  

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Now, truth: it’s sometimes the most boring thing that I do.  It’s often the most thankless thing that I do.  It’s not sexy and it doesn’t look great on a resume (or apparently, to a female-friendly accounting firm).  But in my core, I know it’s the best thing for my family now, and honestly, I find so much joy in it.

And admitting that latter part? Is huge for me.  Because I’m finally admitting that what I do as a stay-at-home parent matters, and that it’s okay to have made this choice—and to enjoy it.

Our culture doesn’t always value it.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

So what do I do?

I’m a stay-at-home parent.  And I’m finally proud of it.

My Lent So Far

For Lent, I have given up Facebook, reading blogs, and looking at Instagram accounts (I don’t actually have my own Instagram account, so I mostly just creep on others’).  The following are some stream of consciousness notes on the experience thus far.

-I am such a rule follower that I honestly have not been tempted to cheat yet.  Noteworthy: I do not have a smart phone.  IMG_0196

This post needed pictures, so baby Zoe will be helping me out.

-I didn’t realize how much pressure social media created for me to “respond” and “be up to date.”  Within two days, I realized, “hey! This is pretty amazing…the only people I am conversing with are people who actually seek me out or whom I intentionally put effort into initiating conversations with.”   It’s like an introvert’s dream.

As I reflected on this, I realized that in between my roles as professor, consultant, friend, and family member, I already have two email addresses, one online learning system, and a phone to stay on top of.

Facebook and blogs initially felt like my “fun escape,” but removing them from my life made me realize that they still add that pressure to “stay on top” of something.

-I didn’t realize how much I used Facebook messaging to communicate.  As soon as I de-activated my Facebook account, I realized that I had made plans with a relatively new friend this week via Facebook message.  I am still trying to figure out how to get her number or email address to confirm our plans.  Oops!  IMG_0204

-I also realized that there are a few friends who don’t actually have my number or e-mail because we just use Facebook messaging to communicate and plan, and that a lot of my mom friends use “group message” on Facebook to plan play dates.  In all honesty, some of these friends may not chase me down if it’s not as easy as just adding my name to a message, and that’s okay.  In between sleep training, giving up my stroller workout class (which is during Riley’s naptime now), and giving up Facebook, I think I am basically bowing out from some social scenes…which actually gives me more space to focus on those close friends who wouldn’t let me bow out.

I LOVE making new friends, but sometimes feel a tension between my love of making new friends and maintaining those really life-giving relationships with my closest friends.  Giving up social media is making some of this tension go away.

-Without social media, I focus a LOT better.  Sometime along the way, my “starting work” ritual had become, “sit down, make work plan, check e-mail, check Facebook, THEN get to work.”  Now, I skip steps 3 and 4, get right to work, and stay focused the whole time.  This right here would be reason enough not to go back.

-My e-mails are so boring.  Seriously.  I do NOT get the dopamine hit from my e-mails that I got from Facebook.

-For a while now, I have relied on social media and blog reading as one of (if not the) main tool for my “relaxation,” but I haven’t felt like it was very successful.

Since Lent began, I have read one book in its entirety.  I found time to go on our library’s website and place a bunch of book requests.  I have watched two episodes of Gilmore Girls.  I have also had more nighttime conversations with my husband (who gave up espn.com for Lent).  All of these activities have successfully helped me relax, and have made me feel more peaceful and better able to focus on my purpose.

Peace trumps relaxation.

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-I don’t know why (Satan testing me?!! JK) but ALL THE FUNNY THINGS have happened since I quit Facebook.  Apparently I am supposed to just muffle the hilarity instead of broadcasting it to a wider audience?!  Oh wait.  I still have a blog.  So you all get to hear that:

  • in the last two weeks, I joined Jazzercise, wrote my last will and testament and advanced medical directives, and bought a minivan.  I doesn’t even need a closing quip to make this funny.
  • today, one of my daughters had a hysterical fit because she didn’t want to share a book with her sister.  The book? Sharing Time.  

There were others, but I respect your time (and am thankful you didn’t give up reading blogs for Lent).

Okay, email subscribers and those who access this blog by typing the URL of this blog into your navigation bar instead of lazily waiting for me to put this on Facebook…it’s been real.   Thank you for spending your time with me!

Life Lately

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but almost none of it has made its way onto this blog because when I proofread it the next day, I sound about as articulate as Chris Soules.

In related news, Riley’s in sleep boot camp.  Mama cannot function like this any more.  I mean, I love a good early morning party after not sleeping through the night as much as the next guy, but 6 months of it?!!

Photo on 1-12-15 at 6.18 AM

Not sure why ZOE is the tired looking one in this photo,
as she’s the only one who slept through the night.
Drink that coffee, girl.  

The training needs to actually, you know, WORK before I can think (much less say) something profound again, but since I have the itch to write, I’ll settle for sharing a few fun tidbits from our family life these days.

 

-Zoe: Hilarious

My sweet Zoe cracks me up every single day.  Some of her recent gems:

“I need a ponytail.  I have a busy day.”

Scene: Me, trying to put R to sleep in her darkened, sound-machined-up room.
R, screaming hysterically.
Z bursts into the room and says to me, as if to say come on, you’re missing an obvious cue here: “Riley no like dark.”  To Riley:  “Light, Riley?”
Duh…why didn’t I think of that?

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She has also started going behind her kitchen set in the morning and saying “soy latte please” while passing me a pretend cup (she says “medium mocha!” for David).  She also likes to pay for “soy latte please” with her pretend credit card at her toy cash register.  I have no idea where she picked that one up.   No idea…

She got to meet Elmo at a recent toy store grand opening.  She was transfixed.  She now prays for Elmo at night.

photo-77   Don’t mind David’s wardrobe choice.
He looks like he just got back from a funeral because…he had.
#OOTDpastoredition

At least once a day, she likes to pretend to be Mr. Frank, the oddly charismatic man who leads our local library’s story time.  She switches into her Mr. Frank persona by putting glasses on, putting a ball under her shirt to simulate his “bump bump” (her word for belly), telling us “I’m Mista Frank,” and leading us in a series of songs.

I really hope Mr. Frank does not read this blog.

 

-Riley: She doesn’t sleep.  But she does other things well, like be cute.

Photo on 1-28-15 at 2.31 PM #3

I soak up every sweet cuddle and giggle from this precious little gift.

In addition to snuggling nonstop, she is also rolling everywhere, banging toys with determination, nearly toppling over with excitement when I read her books, and eating purees (well, spitting them out…tongue thrust is a bit of a challenge for her.  I had an informal consult at the playground with a feeding therapist and got some new ideas to try, and am ready to get more help if things don’t turn around in the next week or two).   

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These girls make me the happiest mama around.

 

-Bestie time

My best friend/old roommate/basically sister Becky came to visit for 5 days this last week. She brought her husband and 1 year old daughter along for the ride and we had a blast watching our girls play together!

10959381_783643375825_4633402131181552879_nWe also had a blast leaving our children and getting pedicures.  Amen.

 

My life as a hermit

Becky arrived at the perfect time.  Not only had I not had a pedicure since July 2012 (a disgusting realization I arrived at mid-pedicure…don’t worry, I left a large tip), but our 3 weeks of sleep training have made me a near-hermit in desperate need of social contact.

With our new schedule, R takes two naps and Z takes one.  Typically, they aren’t at the same time, which means I have about 45-60 minutes during the “work day” to go anywhere, if I’m lucky.  Good times.

(And by “good times” I mean FREE ME FROM MY PRISON).

I have always said “I’m a stay at home mom who doesn’t like to stay at home.”  But as the cruelties of fate would have it, home is where you’ll find me now, all day, every day (unless I decide I’d rather endure a ragefest/meltdown/car nap that negates an actual nap and results in psychotically cranky child/etc. in favor of some contact with the outside world).   

I realized that my home detention was getting to me the other day when I was THRILLED when some JROTC kids who were collecting donations for their program came to the door.  I happily handed them dollar bills in exchange for conversation.

This is my life now…

 

-On the upside: 

I am loving the 1-on-1 time with each girl that their non-synchronized nap schedule provides.  I’m a great mom of two when one of them is sleeping.

Fun with the girls

 

-Learning vs. doing:

For a few months this fall, I had a difficult time feeling engaged in my faith.  Historically, I’ve felt most engaged in my faith when I’m learning through reading, journaling, attending church, listening to sermons, etc., but with two kids, lots of distractions, and little brain power thanks to sleeplessness, I felt frustrated and told my friend Jeanette, “I just feel like I’m not learning anything new.”

Her response was awesome and has helped me so much.  She said,

“I don’t think God’s always teaching us something new every moment of our faith walk.  I think there are times for learning, and times where He just wants us to put into practice what we’ve learned.”

This is definitely a time for me to take the three minutes, five minutes, whatever I wind up having and yes, try to learn about faith and God…but it’s also the time for me to just practice DOING those foundational things that I already know He calls me to.

This morning, R and Z’s sleep schedule meant I would miss all of our church services, so I made pancakes with the girls, danced to worship music with them, and cleaned the dishes and wiped the noses and sat on the floor and played with the dollhouse figurines, remembering we can do everything for the glory of the Lord and that He can use anything we give Him.  And it was just as great and edifying as church.

 

Valentine’s Day:

Is this week.  I realized yesterday that I had V-Day plans with my toddler, but not my husband.  This situation has since been rectified (holllllla to my youth group babysitters).  

I really don’t write much about my biggest and first love—but I thought this post summed up everything I would say.  In the beginning stages of two under two, I wondered if we would lose something special in the insanity of our daily tasks…but as the storm settles and the tasks and kids get a bit easier, I realize how much we gained.  I love him more than I ever did.  I feel so blessed to have him as my best friend, love, and partner in all of this.

Now: important question! What are your V-Day plans?!!