What “Parenting First” Should Look Like

I’ve heard a lot of buzz this week about this Similac ad.

In case you haven’t seen it, the ad caricatures our culture’s “mommy wars” by depicting parents making snide comments about others’ parenting choices at a playground.

“Oh look, the breast police have arrived,” says a bottle-feeding mom.

“One hundred percent breast-fed, straight from the source,” another mom says.

“Water birth…dolphin assisted,” a woman proudly volunteers.

The parents wind up getting so agitated over their differences that a physical fight almost breaks out— until a child is in danger and all of the parents race to try to rescue the child! As the cloying music crescendos, Similac reminds you: “no matter what our beliefs, we are parents first.”

Judging from the conversations I’ve had and observed on social media this week, it seems like most moms that I know relate to this ad.

Adoption gives you a different perspective.

Breastfeeding or formula feeding? I had no choice in how to feed my daughters, so it’s not an emotionally charged issue for me.

All natural childbirth, water birth, Bradley method, elective C-section? My birth plan was “show up at hospital, leave with baby,” so again, not really something I’m particularly invested in.

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How should you eat/drink during pregnancy? I sat down and ate with my daughters’ birth moms a few weeks before my daughters were born, and they washed down their lunch meat with soda.  My daughters are fine.  I’m not saying that the dietary recommendations for pregnancy have no merit, but honestly, I don’t have a strong emotional reaction to your decisions.  I’ve learned not to.

Working mom or SAHM? If you’ve put in the time and money to adopt, you may want nothing more to stay home and pour into that child you’ve been waiting for.  You may need to go back to work because you just spent a year’s salary making that child part of your family.  Or you may need to stay home because your child’s traumatic history means that it’s best for them that you stay home and focus on bonding and/or assimilating them to a new language. Whatever your choice, I’m sure that you have based your decision on what is best for your whole family, just as a biological parent should, so no judgment here.

Do you feed your child all-organic foods?  My daughters were placed with our family in part so that they could have ENOUGH food.  I can’t imagine the humility and sacrifice it took to make that decision.  My kids’ birthparents are seriously my heroes, and we’re theirs, because we’ve partnered to make sure that our children have the best life possible.  Feed your child whatever you want, and be thankful that you have the ability to feed them.

I hate this ad—not just because I can’t relate to it, but because it critiques the “mommy wars” without elevating the conversation.  Sure, it clearly tapped into a nerve and went viral, but what does it actually contribute? The strongest “call to action” is to “stop judging and feeling guilty (and hey, buy our formula!)”

To me, a more share-worthy message would be, “hey parents, y’all clearly have a lot of passion and energy, and care that kids’ needs are being met.  That’s great! Now let’s channel that energy towards issues THAT ACTUALLY MATTER, like ending food insecurity among kids in your community, giving homes to the 101,666 children in the foster care system in the U.S. who are eligible for adoption, mentoring at-risk youth alongside your own kids, or supporting organizations who are fighting sex trafficking of minors.”

As Kristen Howerton said, “all of these petty wars about the choices of capable, loving mothers is just a lot of white noise to me…let’s stop quibbling about what competent mothers are choosing for their kids, and step it up for the kids that don’t have one.”

Let’s debate the best ways to help others—not these relatively innocuous choices.  Let’s care about others in our community—not about how others feel about our parenting style.  Let’s stand with others in our community—not on our own positions.

We are parents first.

Two Under Two: My Tips

My first post in this two-part series focused on the pros and cons of having two kids under two. In this post, I’ll share the practical tips and perspectives that I have learned along the way.

Here we go!

Experiment with naptime and see what you can get away with. 

-If at ALL possible, try to schedule their days so that you get at least a little bit of naptime overlap.  For the first 5 months of her life, Riley could only stay awake for about 2 hours at a time.  Zoe typically naps for about 1.5-2 hours.  I realized early on that I could usually get at least a little overlap if I did some calculating, then pushed Zoe a little bit later or put her to sleep a little early based on when I expected Riley to be asleep.  For a while, I got about an hour of overlap most days, which was glorious (especially since I used that time to work on grants, grading, etc).   That being said…

-Remember that routines don’t last long with this phase of life.  Case in point: right now, my girls are on completely opposing schedules.  Thankfully, I had anticipated that this might happen and had increased my childcare hours to compensate for the missed “naptime” work time, so I’m not stressed if their naps don’t line up (just exhausted! Ha!)

-As possible, utilize on-the-go napping.  For the first 4.5 months, Riley napped beautifully on the go.  I usually gave her one nap on the go in the Ergo or stroller in the morning while I did an activity with Zoe, one great nap at home, and then one cat nap (often in the stroller or Ergo again) while we roamed the neighborhood or played outside. It seemed to work fine for that phase where she could “tune out” easily.  Now, however, she seems to be needing two good naps at home.  This brings me to my next point.

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Set your house up for success.

-Riley seems to be needing more at-home nap time, which makes it harder to go to the park, enriching classes, museums, and zoo as much as Zoe and I used to.  In response, I have made our house and yard a bit more “fun” than they used to be.  Two examples:

1) We can’t always go to the park, so I brought the park to Zoe! We have a sandbox, slides, little car, small playhouse, t-ball set, toddler basketball goal, and a water table.  It sounds like a lot, but our yard is relatively large and all of these items were hand-me-downs, gifts, curbside freebies, or consignment store deals.  We also have fun with bubbles, “painting with water” on the sidewalk, collecting pine cones, watching cars/trucks go by, waving to airplanes, sidewalk chalk, kicking a ball around, chasing lizards, and throwing berries to the squirrels—all this while Riley sleeps feet away inside (I usually prop the screen door open, but a monitor would also work).

 2) I also beefed up our craft closet.  Crafts are great because you can strap the toddler into his/her high chair to do them…i.e., they are restrained! This is a great activity to pull out for the toddler when you need to feed the baby or rock the baby to sleep.  I usually plan a few crafts a week (Pinterest is a great resource, but so are parenting books or my imagination) and I have enough “general” craft supplies that we can be creative (paints, crayons, Dot-dots, stickers, different types of paper, foam sheets, etc).

-Create a place for your baby in every room of the house.  You never know when you will need to put the baby down to hastily attend to a toddler.  Don’t complicate things by having to scramble for a safe spot for the baby!  Rugs, blanket, Exersaucer, swing, vibrating chair, foam mats—screw your decorating scheme and make it look like a toddler and a baby threw up all over your house (chances are good that they literally will anyway).

-As possible, have friends come to your house for playtime.  I am so thankful for the friends who have visited us over the last 5.5 months.  It is way easier for us to host a playdate than to travel to visitors or a meeting spot, and it is easier to meet Riley’s sleep needs when friends visit us here.  We still leave our house most mornings, but since it takes two hours to get everybody fed, dressed, and out the door, any morning where we can cut the “out the door” part is greatly appreciated.

Additionally, friends with older kids are such an asset.  You can chat with them while holding your baby and their older kids can play with your toddler! PRICELESS!

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Set priorities, and don’t be afraid to take shortcuts to make them happen. 

-One of my priorities is that my family eats healthfully.  To get there with two kids, I have had to use some shortcuts…and I’m totally okay with it.

I used to never used to buy steam-in-the-microwave potatoes, pre-chopped onions, pre-cut squash, frozen brown rice, and other prepared foods like these until I had two kids under two and realized: I’m the person they make this stuff for.  Prepared food and cooking shortcuts can make the difference between “PB&J with a side of resentment for dinner” and “a healthy, balanced dinner.”  This season is ridiculously intense.  If you can remotely afford it, buy the stuff that makes it easiest for you.

Similarly, don’t stress if your meals are basic and often repeated.  This stage of life isn’t forever; everyone will survive if you serve the same 10-15 meals over and over again.  If it can be cooked in that tiny window before everyone melts down and it’s healthy, you’ve found a winner and should probably make it next week too.

Finally, have a take-out option ready for those nights when it is just. not. happening.  I am not a take-out gal, but there are times when the options are me dissolving into a puddle of tears before feeding everyone popcorn, and ordering takeout.  In those situations, to be in line with my priority, I pick take-out.

-Another priority? Personal hygiene.  To accomplish this, Zoe hops in the shower with her dad in the morning and I bathe Riley in the kitchen sink while Zoe eats breakfast nearby.  Are they missing out on the joy of fun bath time? Possibly, but they get clean in a way that works with our schedules.  Similarly, I shower at night once the kids are in bed.  Is that my preference? Does going to bed with a wet head produce a great hairstyle? Nope, but it gets me clean while everyone else stays safe.  The end result matters most in this case. 

Be realistic.  Reduce your expectations. 

-That sounds depressing, but if you expect to be able to have the same life that you had with one child, you’ll be disappointed.  It’s going to be different.  You won’t be able to accomplish as much as you’re used to or be as comfortable with your day-to-day life as you’re used to, at least for a while.  BUT…you have a whole new person in your family and they’ll be with you forever.  That is cool!  Try to savor it.

It has helped me to think of this as a new job.  You never feel comfortable or competent at the beginning of a new job, but eventually, you get in the swing of things and start to feel more capable.  Now, the difference between that scenario and this one is that you can’t quit, and you’re not paid, and there are horrible working conditions and no worker’s comp for your injuries…actually, this sounds awful, and if I am completely honest: sometimes it IS awful.  But when you begin to accept the crazy and unpredictable mess that is your daily life instead of resisting and complaining about it, you will feel peace and will be able to find joy and purpose knowing that you have the privilege of transforming babies into humans who will contribute to the world in amazing ways.  It’s an incredible gift. This blog post has a great perspective that has really helped me.

Also, there are hilarious moments.  Allow yourself to enjoy them.
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-If someone offers help and it would actually be helpful, take it.  That’s something I’m really working on…that if someone says “I’d love to come to your house and watch one of the girls so you can get some one-on-one time,” or “can I hold Riley so you can chase Zoe?” or “do you want me to watch the girls so you can go to the grocery store?” or “I made extra soup.  Want some?” and it would actually be helpful, and I trust them to help me well…to say yes.  My default is “no thank you, I’m self-sufficient,” but honestly, it often serves my family better if  I can swallow my pride, drop my sense of control, and accept the help.  This leads me to my next point.

-Find a good sitter that you trust.  Regularly use him/her for date nights, time alone with one of your kids, time alone in your house (this is what my work time is for me!) or time alone out of your house.  There may be people out there who can live the two-under-two life 24/7 without sinking into a deep depression or wanting to kill someone, but I am not one of them.  Having a few hours a week where I am not responsible for the care and well-being of two completely dependent children has been absolutely critical to my sanity.  A giant thank you to all those who have watched my children.  You are the reason I can be a good parent the rest of the time.

-You might have been a no-TV mom with one kid, but you’re about to meet your best friend: TV.  I use TV 15-20 minutes a day with Zoe, usually around 11:30 pm.  During that time, I feed Riley a bottle while checking my email, and prepare our lunches.  Without that 20 minutes, I give Riley stomach issues from chasing Zoe around the house while yanking a bottle in and out of her mouth, may go until 5 pm without connecting with the outside world, and eat pretzel Goldfish for lunch (if I even eat lunch).  It helps.

-Both kids don’t have to be happy at all times.  This was a hard mindset for me to accept at first, but sometimes, you’re doing your best and both kids are crying anyway.  In those moments, take a deep breath, identify the most important priority, and meet it.  Sometimes, the baby needs her bottle and the toddler will just have to have a meltdown in the corner.  Sometimes, the toddler needs some love and the baby will need to cry for a few minutes in her crib.  Sometimes, you need some exercise and your kids will have to cry in the stroller for a few minutes so you can stretch your legs and shake off the stir-craziness.

Take care of yourself.

-One of my biggest paradigm shifts ever happened when Riley was 4 months old, and I realized: I don’t just have to meet TWO people’s needs during the course of the day.  I need to meet THREE people’s needs.  In other words, my needs count too.   I typically work a 13-15 hour day with these children.  Sometimes they nap together; often they do not (and nap time is often work time anyway).  It is unrealistic to expect that I will have no needs during that time frame, or to expect that I can meet all of my needs during that 2-3 hour window after they go to sleep when I am exhausted and resetting the house for the next day.

Thus, I realized that I HAVE to make certain things happen for myself: showering, exercising, eating, and occasional socialization.  Without these things, I end up feeling like a caged animal.  And caged animals lash out.

-Make the things you enjoy most happen, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time.  I sometimes put on workout DVDs and do the workout until someone melts down.  Even if I got 7 minutes in, it felt nice.  I order two books a month from Amazon (because going to the library to search for a book myself is not happening,) and I read them when I cook, wash bottles, feed bottles, and brush my teeth.  I listen to podcasts and sermons while playing with Riley.  I occasionally talk on FaceTime or the phone until someone begins to act out.  I have written this blog post in short increments over 1.5 week, and although I would like to have sat down and typed it out in one relaxing writing session, that’s not my life stage right now.

-Accept your feelings without judgment.  At the beginning, I was too busy keeping everyone alive to acknowledge my feelings.  Then when I acknowledged them, some of them scared me. Why wasn’t I grateful for every second of my time with my kids? A conversation with a mom of triplets in which she told me that babysitting my kids for two hours had been (insert significant look) “a LOT” reminded me that oh, maybe because I am freaking EXHAUSTED, and this is HARD, and it’s okay to feel that way. If you’re reading this blog and find yourself identifying with this point, let me just give you a gentle reminder that your feelings are okay, and that they don’t make you a bad mom.

-Free yourself—as much as possible—to enjoy the good stuff. 

My house has not been deep cleaned in a month.  And I don’t care.

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As the poem goes, “The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”

I didn’t take a maternity leave with Riley, and in between our move, work, and getting used to two kids, I don’t feel like I was able to savor those first few months with her as much as I wish I had.  But regret is a memorable teacher.

I have made some changes, and in 2015, I am going to lie down on the floor and play more, cuddle more, take Zoe out for cookies more, and allow myself to ENJOY these kids.  Because this time, even in all its craziness, is really, really sweet.

Moms who have been there—if you have any additional tips to add, I’d love to read them! 

Two Under Two: A Review

When Zoe turned two, I was pretty excited.  Finally, I didn’t have “two under two.”  Everything would suddenly be easier…right? :)

A few days later, Zoe was turning heads across Trader Joe’s by screaming “NOOOOOOO!!!!!” at ear splitting volume because she couldn’t have another sample when it dawned on me: I have a two year old.  You know, the age that is typically linked with the word “terrible.” 

Suddenly, I felt like joining Zoe in her cry.

As evidenced by that anecdote, I’m not an expert on ANYTHING parenting related—but I thought would be fun to write a few posts about what having two under two was like (since I’m soooo far past that stage now).  I will share some pros and cons of having two under two, a few tips I have picked up, and some perspectives that have helped me along the way.

Today: the pros and cons of two under two (at least in my experience!)

-Pro #1: You have two sweet babies to love and hug.

-Con #1: You have two babies, so you will have less time than you want to sit around loving and hugging them because you will be too busy meeting their other needs.  You will remember what it felt like to sit and hold baby #1 for an hour, gazing into each other’s eyes—but you won’t be able to do it with baby #2 because of baby #1, and so your bonding experience feels different.

In all honesty, I struggled with crippling guilt in this area.  I felt like I was giving Riley 50% of the parenting attention and focus that Zoe had experienced as a newborn, and that Zoe was getting 50% of the parenting that she was used to.  I couldn’t do any better without cloning myself.  It was so frustrating.  IMG_2962

Over time, I have learned to deal better with this guilt and have begun to recognize some benefits of the girls having to “share.”  I have also learned how to involve them in one another’s care and nurture (such as “hug circles” where we pass along a hug, or reading to the girls at the same time and having Zoe tell Riley about the pictures in the book,) but it’s still an area that I feel pretty vulnerable in.

 

-Pro #2: Let’s be real: with baby #1, boredom occasionally sank in (especially if you were used to a faster-paced lifestyle before baby).  There are only so many things you can do with a newborn before you get stir crazy and wonder when things will get more fun.

Boredom will not be a problem with baby #2.  Chances are high that you are already doing a lot of fun things with baby #1 because they are mobile and NEED those outings to the park, friends’ houses, etc.  You will be so busy interacting with a toddler most of the day that you will cherish and appreciate any quiet moments that you get with baby #2.

-Con #2: You aren’t bored, but you’re stressed.  When Zoe was in that “baby baby” stage and napped for a lot of the day, I had hours to kill each day.  To fill our time, I would do things like make applesauce from scratch, organize closets in our house while I talked with her about my progress, meet friends for coffee, take walks, read her news stories out loud, etc.  Sometimes I would just sit shirtless on the couch, hold her, watch an episode of Hart of Dixie, and count it as as “skin to skin bonding.”  Although I wasn’t sleeping much and it wasn’t the most mentally engaging time of my life, my job was easy: meet one person’s needs.  Figure out how to stay happy in the house while she napped again.  Meet her needs again when she woke up.

Photo on 5-7-13 at 4.01 PMBaking with Zoe, spring 2013

With baby #2, these days of quiet simplicity are GONE.  There will be no homemade applesauce—instead, you will struggle all day to clean up the breakfast dishes.  There will be no “coffee talk” unless your friend comes to you and is willing to be interrupted.  And skin to skin gets awkward REAL fast with a toddler running around.

Basically, you aren’t bored because you are living in barely controlled chaos.  You wish you could be bored.  You have fond memories of boredom.

A piece of encouragement, though: I found that by the time Riley was 3 months old, I was mostly used to the chaos.  There are still some days when the craziness feels overwhelming, and in those instances I have learned to (literally) contain the chaos.  I will pop the girls in the stroller and take them for a 45 minute walk, sit them in their carseats and drive through Starbucks, or wear Riley while I chase Zoe around the neighborhood.  Containing even one of them helps diminish the chaos a lot.

Photo on 12-3-14 at 4.23 PM #2Wearing the exact same shirt and baby carrier, December 2014.  Different baby.
Definitely not baking.
PS – If you look carefully at this photo, Zoe is “wearing” her baby too.

 

Pro #3: With baby #1, everything is new. When you get to #2, though, you know what to do with a baby.  

Con #3:  You have no idea what to do with a baby AND a toddler.  Whose needs should come first? How do you keep baby #1’s world remotely familiar when baby #2 has so many needs? How do you get their nap schedules to be somewhat complementary? How do you meet the toddler’s needs for novelty without overstimulating your baby? How do you logistically handle two kids at the playground, grocery store, church…?

My friend Becky said she had learned to “love the one who needs you most in that moment,” and so I just pray for wisdom that I can do that well in those moments of craziness.  (In practice, I probably lean towards taking care of Zoe’s needs first, which is unfortunate for Riley…but Riley can’t hit anyone when she’s upset yet).

 

Pro #4: Being a mom is the best thing ever…and even if you sometimes feel like a stressed out, overwhelmed, guilty amateur with two kiddos, you still get these moments:

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photo-74and you realize that it’s all worth it.

Coming up next: some of the most helpful and practical tips I’ve learned in my “2 under 2″ journey.  

My Hopes For The New Year

I’ve always been a big goal setter.  New morning, new week, new year–it doesn’t matter.  I love the new.  Opportunity and possibility are intoxicating to me, and so the end of December (my birthday AND the beginning to a new year) is basically excitement central for me.

This December, though, instead of thinking and praying and journaling and talking enthusiastically about my goals—I mostly find myself quiet.

This year didn’t really pan out exactly as I pictured it.  I actually have accomplished a lot of the goals that I set last December.  That part isn’t surprising;  I set good goals.  But the context in which I’ve met these goals is so different than what I thought it would be.

Last December, I shared with my family that I would become a mother of two in 2014.

That is true.  It happened about five months later than planned, and with a different baby and set of circumstances.

Last December, I set some business goals.

I met those goals, but with a different line of work than I had planned on.

Last December, I set goals—picturing how I’d live them out in my daily routine, house, neighborhood, schedule, life.

My day-to-day life looks completely different now.  We moved, had an extra child, and both changed jobs.  I wash my dishes in a new sink, walk my dog in a new neighborhood (and less often…sorry, pup), mother one child with less attention than I could give her in the past, somehow meet the needs of another too, work for a new organization, and feel a different weight and responsibility from my husband’s job than before.  I went from feeling like a confident mom for whom mothering was easy, to a mom who has to ask Jesus daily for wisdom and patience and ability and energy because being the primary caregiver for these two little lives is the hardest job I’ve ever had.  I’ve implemented the spirit of those goals into my new life and situation, but I certainly didn’t picture all of this last December.

Honestly? After a few great years in a row, this year held many struggles for me.  Most surprised me.  What got me through was the knowledge that “I the Lord do not change…” (Malachi 3:6) and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).  Nothing was a surprise to Him.  Nothing changed His goodness.  And I trusted Him.

2014 wasn’t my favorite year in history, and it certainly isn’t what I pictured—but on the eve of 2015, I find myself at peace with the struggles, journey, and joys the year held for me.

And maybe it’s because of that peace—a peace not dependent on my circumstances being easy or happy or predictable, a peace drawn only from the Lord—that I feel no need or desire to set goals this year.

I don’t need to improve dramatically at anything; I just want to continue growing in general in the roles I have been placed in.  I don’t want to get passionate about new things; I want to choose joy in the current things.  I don’t need to start anything new; I need to keep going with what has been started for me.  I have less and less need for MYSELF to make changes and more and more desire for the Lord to increase in me instead.

My mom took a few photos in August that sum up my desires (and challenges) for the year ahead.

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IMG_5636My hope for 2015? That I can savor and embrace what I already have—the challenges, the joys, and the unexpected moments.  They are all gifts from God. And I want eyes that see and a heart that says thank you.

Loving God in the Midst of Mess

This post is going to be short and simple, but it’s what I have today.

A few weeks ago, I was having a bit of a bummer day.  David had left early that morning for a meeting, I was drowning in to-dos, and Riley napped poorly and just wanted to be held.  I felt guilty for overlooking Zoe’s needs to tend to Riley, for having a house that was so messy, for having uncompleted tasks all over the house, and for the fact that I was struggling to be joyful and patient through it all.

Why is this so hard? I asked God.  Why don’t I have this DOWN by now? 

In response, He brought this series of pictures to mind.

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Thanksgiving beach trip 2013

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Thanksgiving beach trip 2014

Oh.  That’s why :) Life is constantly changing, and my goal shouldn’t be mastery of a life stage.  (That stage will inevitably change anyway!)

Better goals: seeking the Lord’s presence and will, pursuing contentment and joy, and loving others, myself, and the Lord no matter where I’m at.

So—the girls stagger their naps so that I have no time to myself between the hours of 5:20 am–7:30 pm? (This happens to be today’s scenario). Thank the Lord for the gift of my girls and for the opportunity to serve Him well through loving them, and seek His energy and patience to help me make it through.

Work deadlines that feel out of reach? Seek God’s guidance in how to structure my time, and pray for His help in working efficiently and effectively in the time that I know He will provide.

House is disastrous? Thank God as I clean for the possessions we have, for the house that keeps me warm, for the gift of my health that allows me to bend up and down as I pick up the toys.

Feeling frustrated with myself because this is hard? Remind myself that it IS, but that I can do all things through Him—and that He loves me for me, not for my efforts, outcomes, or the ease with which I do this all.  Give myself some grace. (And maybe a latte from time to time…have you seen this “Blank Space” parody video? HILARIOUS).

On that musical note, I’m off to practice what I just preached with 3 foot naptime rebel…wish me luck!

Happy Birthday, Dear Zoe

Two years ago today, I was meeting this sweet girl for the first time.

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It’s funny, the things you hear over and over again as an adoptive parent.  Some of the most commonly repeated phrases I hear are, “what a blessing you are to this little girl!”

“She’s so lucky! She hit the jackpot!”

“You changed her life forever!”

Over and over I reply: she’s a blessing to US.  WE hit the jackpot and it wasn’t luck; it was the purposeful design of our gracious God.  SHE changed OUR life, and we are so grateful.

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My favorite explanation of adoption ever was something my friend’s almost-three-year-old said when she met Zoe for the first time.  She said, “Miss Sarah wanted a baby, and prayed for a baby, and the Spirit of God came and gave her a baby!”

Thank you, Spirit of God, for this beautiful baby—for all she has taught me, for all she will teach me, and for how she has changed my life forever.

More Grace

We have had some REALLY good days lately.  The girls are in such a sweet spot.  We’re mobile, they’re getting along, we’re on a schedule (and they can deal with reasonable changes to the schedule,) I’m keeping up with work, I’m being active most days of the week, and our house isn’t a total disaster.

To get here, I’ve had to let some things go.

No part of our dinner last night was homemade (unless you want to count my impressive culinary techniques of “boiling water for pasta,” “microwaving vegetables,” and “opening a jar of pasta sauce” as home cooking). Clean laundry might sit in a hamper for a week.  This morning’s Target haul is still sitting in bags, unpacked, while I write this blog post.  I ate Zoe’s sandwich leftovers for lunch.  I haven’t sat down for a formal Bible study time since Sunday. Zoe excitedly shouted “Clifford!!!” at Barnes and Noble story time yesterday, and I think the other moms thought that she recognized him from the books—but it’s definitely from the show. I blow my coffee budget by one coffee a week every week.

But this is life right now.  And I’m writing this while I finish my cup of coffee, before I grade papers, before I put away the Target haul and wash the bottles and clean up from the morning—writing while my heart remembers the scene right before naptime:

I was dancing with my girls—both of them—to “Your Grace Is Enough.”

We probably listened to the song ten times.  Each time the song ended, Zoe would just keep dancing like the groove machine she is, saying “more grace! More grace!”, fully expecting that I would play the song again.

Zoe gets it. 

I spent so much of my life being afraid of failure.  I didn’t make the jump rope team in third grade, and literally never tried out for a sports team again.  In junior high, I was on a recreational swim team but I wouldn’t go to meets because the thought of trying my hardest and losing stressed me out too much.  I went through struggles in high school and college and hid them way too long.  And in 2006, I met the Lord in a place of desperate need and said I guess grace will have to do, because I have no options left.

I was the most reluctant grace recipient ever.  Like I GUESS I’ll take it, but man, I WISH I could have earned it.  If only You had given me more time before hitting rock bottom, I might have created my own grace and not needed You for it! 

I’m so thankful that God grows us over time and not all at once, because 2006 Sarah would have been majorly freaked out by 2014 Sarah with her sometimes stay at home mom, sometimes consultant, sometimes professor, sometimes hands-on and sometimes Clifford-on, “letting some things go to focus on what matters most” instead of “trying to be good at all the things” self.

In the past, I didn’t always apply myself fully because I didn’t want to try my hardest and not be pleased with the results.  I thought “grace” was an excuse for not trying.

Now I know that grace is the reason I CAN try.

Grace gives me the freedom to try my hardest and give my all, knowing that any results are up to God anyway and that failure or success don’t define me.

Grace gives me the freedom to stop trying in areas that don’t matter to me, and to focus on where God has called me, trusting that He will make all things work together for my good and that the responsibility of making life work is off of me.  Grace is letting go of my need for perfection and letting something better and more lasting define me and guide me.

Grace is dancing through life, living as the me that I was created to be, saying “more grace!”, fully expecting that more grace will come.

Because it will.

Coffee Date

It’s been a while since I’ve done a coffee date-style post (although, don’t worry, there’s been plenty of coffee consumed).  Here are a few things about my life that I’d share with you if we were having coffee.

-Life with two: getting easier.

I am hesitant to put this into writing (because if mothering has taught me anything, it’s that as soon as you find something that works for a stage, the stage changes…) but I think I’ve found a good rhythm with the two girls.

Photo on 10-24-14 at 4.16 PM #4Riley’s face says it all.  GASP! 

About two months ago, I sat down and listed Zoe’s main needs (peer socialization, exposure to kind adults at church, arts and crafts, music, some unstructured play time in our house, time outside, and physical play,) my daytime needs (finishing work projects, some exercise, seeing other moms, and getting the heck out of the house), Riley’s needs (eat, nap, and get bathed from time to time), and our household needs (buying groceries, food prep, bottle washing, Target trips, not living in a hovel).  This is actually a rather annoying amount of things to juggle without a plan, so instead of looking at each week as a blank canvas and trying to figure out how to fit all this in, I made a weekly schedule that include all of these needs.

Now, Sunday through Thursday, my job each day is just to execute “the schedule,” adjusting as needed based on the girls’ needs that day.  For everyone’s sanity, this schedule includes 20-25 minutes of TV for Zoe.  It also includes a valiant effort at getting the girls to nap together (which works most days for at least 20 minutes—THANK YOU, JESUS!) and an iced coffee around 1 pm.

When Daddy’s home on the weekends, we change things up, but during the weekdays everyone seems happy and my sanity is intact—so I’m not changing a thing until I need to.

Also, did you notice that I’m letting the girls sit next to each other in that picture?! That hadn’t happened since Riley was about 3 weeks old because Zoe was getting violent with Riley. Happily, a few weeks ago, she decided she loves Riley and wants to be a great sister.  It was like someone suddenly flipped her switch from “destroy the invader” to “love your sister with all your heart, soul and mind,” so although our massive intervention efforts had to have helped, I ultimately give God praise for softening her heart towards her sister.

My day-to-day life is SO much better now that going to the bathroom is no longer a perilous choice between taking two kids (one of whom can’t sit up and thus needs a baby carrier) into my tiny bathroom, or peeing as quickly as I can hoping I won’t come back to screams and blood.  Zoe’s day is no longer spent in and out of time-out.  And Riley has an adoring fan and playmate instead of a need for a restraining order.

IMG_3629Buddies! My soul sings.


-Ministry anecdotes: they write themselves

A few weeks ago, David shared with the congregation how we sing “Jesus Loves Me” to Zoe before bedtime and naptime.  After the service, I shared with him that earlier that week, she had screamed, “No ‘Jesus!’ Want ‘Bout That Bass!'” before naptime.

You guys probably won’t get that update from the pulpit.

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(Related: that disconcerting moment when your daughter rattles off in her little 23 month old voice, “yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size 2.”  Right, because you’re a 2T…needless to say, I am paying more attention to song lyrics now).

This theologically rich exchange also occurred last Sunday:

Zoe: (trying to grab my keys away from me) “NOOOOOOOOOO! MINE!!!!”
Me: “Zoe, who’s the boss?”
Zoe: “Jesus.”

Boom! goes the dynamite.


-Taking care of business:

I’ve been contemplative for the last few months about what type of professional life and family life I want to have in the next two years now that I know I have two girls.  The question before me: am I building a job for myself, or a business? 

While I really want to build a business, I’ve concluded that for at least the next next year or two, I am just building and maintaining a job for myself—a job that has the potential to become a business, and that is set up on sound business principles, but is just a part-time job of no more than 8-10 hrs a week.  I can always build a business (how braggy does that sound? But you know what I mean), but these “little years” are the only time I’ll have these girls home full time with me.  I see an impact from my efforts with them and I don’t want to regret missing out on this time, so I’m capping myself off at a very small number of clients per year.  Just call me a boutique consulting firm.  Ha.

In the meantime, I can still implement principles like diversifying my client base and utilizing good accounting practices that will pay off if I do “go bigger” in future years, so thinking those things through has been fun.


-Date nights: 

One of the main reasons I like working is that I like to make money.  I don’t care about accumulating wealth; to me, money is just a tool to pursue what you value.  And one of the things I value most is this guy.

photo 1Just a normal night by our pool overlooking the water, dressed up in our house clothes.
Or date night.  You decide.

I don’t write a ton about our married life on here because my husband is an adult and can share his own narrative with you (also, I don’t know if people really want to read much about their pastor as written by his wife. Hashtag potential awkwardness).

But let me just say this about our married life: having two kids kinda makes you partners in controlling chaos.  And escaping the chaos is OH SO IMPORTANT.

Me as a mom of one: should we have the sitter come before she goes to bed, or afterwards? I don’t know. I don’t want to traumatize her!  Maybe afterwards.  And there’s only one or two sitters that I really trust…ok, here’s a 3 page document about all of Zoe’s preferences.  Even though she’s sleeping and will likely be sleeping the entire time you’re gone.

Me as a mom of two: You have a pulse and two arms? Cool.  We’ll see you later.  AFTER THEY ARE ASLEEP.  

Yes, that is exaggerated.

But my point is, the intense feeling of I NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE ALONE WITH MY HUSBAND strikes way more often with two than with one, so I’m so glad that I am working and it is financially possible for us to have a few date nights a month.  Also, Zoe thinks the sitters are her friends and talks about them all the time and even prays for them to come, so I am really thankful for them.


-Writing: 
I harbor a secret dream of writing a book.  There.  It’s out there.  And although sometimes I just have time to write a grocery list or a Facebook post, I’m trying to keep writing something every week.

What’s new with you?!! 

Mothering the Second Time Around

I’m at that part in the newborn phase where I start to simultaneously rejoice because I’m sleeping better…and still wish I was sleeping better.

In the earliest weeks with Zoe, motherhood was truly a joyful free for all.  I mean.  Look at me.

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I was thrilled to be a mom, but I couldn’t even hold my head up anymore.  I was just so tired.  I remember laying on her playmat when she was about five weeks old and sobbing because I just wanted to sleep more than anything.

Riley is a much easier baby than Zoe (there are no pictures of Riley like this…not a one)

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but she still isn’t sleeping through the night (although, PRAISE THE LORD, she is not up for 1–2 hours at a time several times a night, screaming the second you stop rocking her at the preferred rocking pace and altitude like a certain someone).

When we began considering a second child, it wasn’t the finances or daytime difficulties that I had to get over.  It was my fear of being tired.  I literally had nightmares about being that tired again (those nightmares would wake me up, and then my anxiety about this issue would cause insomnia…how meta, right?)

I’m one of those weirdos who loves being at my peak all the time.  When I worked full time, I very rarely drank even a glass of wine on work nights because I didn’t want anything to slow down my performance at work.  I put my all into my workouts and rest in between them to make sure I get maximum results.  I eat for energy.  I pay attention to how I work and live and critique myself to make sure that I constantly improve.

Being tired is my nightmare because it puts the brakes on all that.  Fatigue makes me forgetful.  It makes me want to sit around instead of work.  It makes me feel lazy.  It makes me crankier.  It makes my brain work slower.  I’m not at my peak when I’m tired, and the kicker is that no matter how I critique myself or try to push myself…I’m still tired.

For someone who loves game plans and self discipline and results, this is obnoxious.

But mothering the second time around means that everything I’ve learned about living under grace instead of perfectionism is actually internalized, instead of out there waiting to be learned.  Mothering the second time around means that I know that this is a phase—that it will take time, but eventually I’ll feel like me again (maybe even a a more badass version of me.  I looked for a better non-swear-word descriptor than badass, and there just isn’t one).  Mothering the second time around means that I can admit that yes, the middle of the night feedings are obnoxious, but they also create a bond between me, my baby, and God that nothing else could produce.

The first time around, I despised the weakness and tiredness.  I loved everything else about being a mom, but I just wanted to be BETTER (faster! stronger!) again.

This time, I’m learning to accept the tiredness not as weakness, but as signs that I am working HARD, getting stronger as a mom and wife, and doing my best, which is all you can ask for from yourself.

I’m learning that I have a choice in how I talk to myself—I can praise myself for what I accomplish despite being tired, which is life-giving, or I can chastise myself for what I still won’t have the energy to accomplish, which is pointless.

I can live in this phase, accepting it as it is and trying to enjoy it for what it is—or I can wish it away anticipating the time when my accomplishments feel easier to measure and achieve.

A certain husband says “we’re done” with kids.  I hope I win this debate, but just in case I don’t—I’m going to soak up the weakness and tiredness instead of loathing it.

Because I am mothering the second time around, and so I know:

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someday I will miss this tired.

A Photo Exhibit

Here are some photos that probably shouldn’t make the blog…but in the interest of promoting fine art, they will anyway.  MWAHAHAHAHA.  Crack open that cab sauv.  It’s about to get sophisticated up in here.

I call this one, “Who Woke Who Again?” 

Photo on 10-10-14 at 6.28 AM #3Contrary to appearances, I didn’t rouse myself at 5:15 am, that’s for sure.

This one is titled, “Hey Girl Hey.

hey girl heyJust catching up on the latest gossip.

This photo series is called, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us.  Also, Zoe Dressed Herself.” 

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This piece is called, “Silence is Suspicious.  Very, Very Suspicious.”  

IMG_3246(Me: “Zoe, are you eating cereal?” Zoe, through a full mouth: “No.”)

The following gem is from our recent professional family photo shoot.  During our session, Zoe went rogue and refused to smile unless David threw her into the air or unless the camera was pointed at Riley (in which case she would throw herself onto the floor in the background of the shot and roll like a log towards Riley screaming “cheese!” So helpful.)  

I call this, “Photojournalism at Its Finest, Birth Announcements at Their Worst.”  

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Lest you think I’m unfairly picking on Zoe, this photo is titled “WHO Did They Send Me Home from the Hospital With?”

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“Call Me Maybe” was the hottest song of the summer.  In 2012.  Hence, I call this photo, “Out of Date.” 

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And I’ll pick on myself a bit too.  Our next photo is called, “Why Mom Won’t Ever Be a Craft Blogger”  (alternate title: “Is that Minnie Mouse or V for Vendetta?”)  

IMG_3564“Oh well,” Zoe says.  “I’ve already been exposed to V for Vendetta.  I’m cool with this.”

IMG_3565Zoe then added “eyes” (related: she recently pointed to my eyes and counted 1, 2, then to the lenses of my glasses and counted 3, 4…a wonderful flashback to third grade.)  

IMG_3567After making Minnie Mouse, Zoe requested that I use my mixed media “skills” to create “fire.”  Um, ok, little pyro.  I took my best stab at it, then invited her to paint it.

Things got a bit messy.

And…edible.

The resulting photo is titled, “If You’ve Ever Wondered What Goth Zoe Would Look Like, Here’s Your Answer.”  

IMG_3571I can’t even.

The second-to-last photo in our exhibit today is titled, “Don’t You Dare Pay Attention to that Baby.” 

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And our concluding photo, “Nobody Puts Toddler in a Corner.  No One Who Wants to Live, That Is.” 

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