Four Thoughts For The Times When Parenting is Hard

This week, I got a report from Zoe’s preschool teacher that left me in happy tears. The little girl whose preschool transition I worried about so much is a leader in her class.

I do not need my children to demonstrate any of the traditional indicators of success—as long as they are kind, happy, and doing their best, I’m overjoyed—but I saw Zoe’s natural leadership emerge when she was just fifteen months old and wondered what it would turn into.  For the last fifteen months, this potential has largely been overshadowed by her behavior, and I wondered what other qualities were being hidden by the difficulties she experiences.

I’m so glad she is learning the skills that let her be her true self.

At the same time that she has been demonstrating her abilities in school, we’ve had a hard week at home—think lots of tears, screaming, scratching herself and others, biting herself, throwing things, hitting, spitting, letting herself out the door, strange sensory-seeking behaviors, and arguing about everything. I don’t believe that these behaviors reflect her true self, I don’t judge her for them, and I don’t give up on trying to help the girl underneath come out—but I do get tired.

I’m trying my best to be honest about my parenting journey with her without throwing her privacy under the bus and without writing anything that might make her question my love for her if she ever read it. It scares me that I might do something wrong as I write about this. But at the same time, I want to be honest because I yearn to connect with others who are experiencing similar things and let them know that they’re not alone.

The truth is that parenting the child whose name means “life” has been both the joy and challenge of my recent life.  I have done harder things, but they were, like, REALLY hard things (recovering from an eating disorder) and I had plenty of professional support. (Not to mention that when I was in ED recovery, all I had to manage was myself—and now I have to manage 3 people!)

During the first few months of Zoe’s behaviors, I would feel God’s love and presence so strongly in approximately 4% of my moments, and then there would be 96% of the moments where my toddler was drawing blood from my infant’s eye in the shopping cart at Trader Joe’s and the cashiers were fluttering around with a first aid kit and concerned looks and I was asking Him WHERE HE WAS because gosh, I felt alone.

And I’d pray, and feel a little better, but then they’d wake up at 12:30 and 3 and 5 am and need so much from me, and by 3 pm my faith that God was with me through all of this would fizzle a little. If He was with me, wouldn’t He be teaching me to do this better and wouldn’t I have more energy?!

My recovery from an eating disorder took years of slow, plodding progress.  Similarly, God has not chosen to snap His fingers and make my parenting journey easier (although He just gave me in-laws six blocks away, which definitely counts for something)! 

But as I constantly remind myself, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean I’m alone—or that I’m not learning and growing with every step.   For example, my ratio now is more like 80% “cool, you’re with me, God, thanks” and 20% “what the ACTUAL heck do I do in response to this?” Growth!

This week, I felt compelled to write down four thoughts that God has been stirring in me—four reminders for the times when my child is having a hard time, when I feel like I can’t do this right, and when I need a reminder of His truth and design.

I thought I’d share them today, even though they’re a bit of a departure from my usual blog content. If you don’t like Bible study (or if you’re not a parent), feel free to skip everything else in this post, but studying these ideas has really blessed me, and I thought they might help someone else!

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(1) God made my child, and He calls her good.  She was knit together in the image of God and is fearfully and wonderfully made; His eyes saw her unformed body and all the days ordained for her when she was still in the womb. “Your works are wonderful; I know that full well” (Genesis 1:27,31; Psalm 139).

(2) God gave her to me to parent.  “Children are a heritage from the Lord; they are a reward from Him.” My daughter was placed into our family “with the help of the Lord,” and was the answer to our prayers for a child to love. He places each part in the body just where He wants it to be, according to His design (Psalm 127:3, Genesis 4:1, I Samuel 1:27, I Corinthians 12:18).

(3) I am not alone in this job. He wants to help me. He is “my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” I am never alone; I have an advocate to help me and be with me forever. When I pray “let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me,” I can rest assured that “He is faithful to His promises” and will help me (Psalm 71:3,; John 15:26; Psalm 71:18, 22).

(4) My job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through me to my child.  All outcomes are up to Him. We are told to teach our children to “love God with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our strength.”  These commands are to be on our hearts, to be talked about, and to be lived “as we sit at home, as we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.”  This implies active pursuit of God in my own life. Teaching Zoe about God—and teaching her the skills she needs to be successful—are both important, but loving the Lord myself is the most important thing I can do for my children. Apart from Him, I can do nothing; fruit comes only from abiding in Him and loving as He has loved me. I can plant the seeds and water them, but in the end, only God makes things grow (John 15:12-13, 5; I Corinthians 3:7).

To recap, and make it personalized for you (if you are still reading):

God made your child and He calls him/her good.

God gave him/her to you to parent.

You are not alone in this job; He wants to help you.

Your job is to seek and love God, and to let His love flow through you to your child. All outcomes are up to Him. 

I hope these thoughts encourage you today! 

My To-Do List

If you’ve spent any time with me lately, you’ve likely NOT heard me ramble about work-life balance…because it’s so raw and I don’t know what to say.  My work-life balance has been changing a little bit after several years of being in bare minimum career maintenance mode, and it’s weird.

Since I ramped up my efforts to build my client list (a marketing effort which consisted mostly of prayer and not immediately screaming “NO” when someone made a referral), I have been blessed with a steady stream of clients and work. I am no longer working “very” part-time; I work part-time. This comes with increased client management responsibilities, more deadlines to keep track of, and some slight changes in personal identity.

For about two months, I’ve been saying “I probably need to start saying no to any new projects”—but in those two months, I’ve said “no” exactly 0 times.  Here’s why:

-I genuinely like the projects and am so jazzed by (most of) the work that I do. I take on my clients’ missions and invest in my students’ futures.  I love getting e-mails from students thanking me for helping them learn and grow, coming back from meetings with my brain whizzing with ideas, and getting lost in research as I write narratives for my clients’ grant proposals.  I didn’t have an outlet for my passions, I’m not sure that my life would feel as meaningful. I know that I am called to be a present and engaged mom, but I don’t feel called to push down all of the things that I know and can offer the world in favor of having empty laundry baskets.

-It’s hard to say no to new clients who want to work with me, or to existing clients who would be a great source of continued business when I have a long-term interest in building a small business (or at least a job for myself) in this field.

-My counted-on contribution to our family income is all I “need” to do. But outside of that, I have hopes and dreams for our house, vacations I want our family to go on, and 529 accounts that I want (“want?”) to fill up.  Contract/freelance work = $.

Coming back to reality, however: at this point, all of my scheduled childcare time for the fall is booked with projects…so any new “yes” I say to work is a “no” to time with my kids, family, and/or personal time.

It’s tough to figure out the right balance between “this project pays for a month of your preschool tuitions, freeing up funds for a family vacation that will build priceless memories” and “this project makes me miss time with you and/or takes up any time I have to recharge, resulting in memories of time with a babysitter or a cranky mom.”  And I’ve had to accept that I’m not going to make the right call 100% of the time, because actually saying yes is new.

Trying new things is messy.  Add that to a life that was already a little less than put-together and it’s…well, messier.
photo-on-1-20-16-at-7-48-amBut there’s fun in the mess.  And with every messy challenge comes opportunity.

And so: I think that the challenge for me at this intersection of my kids’ development and my business growth will be to clearly define and act from my values.  The time I spend parenting will change and fluctuate as my kids move towards school readiness, but the value of my parenting time will not decrease, and the quality of that time should not, either.

This challenge also means I have the opportunity to experiment with new projects, clients, and work styles and schedules—and the opportunity to learn more about myself, my family’s needs, and what my future could look like—IF I pay attention.

Also, I realize that I am SO blessed to have these opportunities and choices. When I was fresh out of college, I wrote a description of my dream job. I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization, write professionally, be an adjunct professor, have the flexibility to work from home and coffee shops instead of always needing to be in an office, be able to cook a hot lunch (LOLZ, clearly of the utmost importance), and have time during my day to exercise, play with my then-imagined kids, and invest in other people.  In other words, way too many things, some ludicrous things, and also essentially what I do now.

The kicker is that when I left full-time work, I didn’t intentionally set out to achieve this life; I was just taking steps of obedience and looking, like, one foot ahead until I suddenly looked up and realized that I am actually living that dream (minus the daily hot lunch because it turns out that once I had more than one child, I began to struggle to even make a basic sandwich. If we could slightly tweak the goal to “making a latte after lunch,” though, nailed it). 

Even though this life is what I dreamed of, it’s not always perfect or easy or 100% fun.  It’s called “work” for a reason!  So when I begin to angst about the difficulty of balancing work and family and my soul, I have begun to tell myself: you are tired.  It’s time for a break.  Go for a walk with a friend.  Talk with your husband.  Watch a show.  Read a book.  Write a blog post.  Go to bed.  If your lifestyle can’t support Sabbath—something needs to change. 

In the morning, I wake up and journal and pray.  And towards the end of writing my honest reflections to God, I am always startled to realize that I didn’t have a situational problem; I had a gratitude problem, or was tired, or just needed to say no, or needed to set up an extra babysitting day but also plan a fun family activity to balance it out.  It isn’t actually that hard when you don’t carry all the burden of doing all the things perfectly all the time.

I don’t always know the “right” answer to the “should I take on this client/project” question.  And I won’t always get it right.  But generally, if I pause before responding, prayerfully consider a project, and move it through the filter of the important “to-do” list that I have developed below—I might.

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My to-do list: 

(1) Be an engaged and present mom and wife. I am there for my people when they ask me to be. I put down my thing/to-do and engage when they want to engage. I stick to clearly defined work times and don’t multi-task.  I work in my office or at my Starbucks office—not in the playroom.  I may leave things unfinished at times; this bugs me but I choose the better thing.  I’m there—fully present—for the big moments.

IMG_5178.JPG(Zoe before her first day of weeklong camp this summer! I was happy I could be there to talk her through nerves at drop off and see her excited face at pick-up.)

(2) Manageable and enjoyable work. I curate my projects/clients to a manageable list. As possible, I go for the enjoyable projects. I don’t need to “wow” on every project—meeting expectations is okay.

(3) Treat my soul with respect.  My life has time for quiet time.  I make time and space for a weekly Sabbath—a day or two with no “work work,” unless it’s one of my two grading hell weeks.  I make space for fun things with friends that seem like a waste of time from a productivity standpoint, because these friendships so greatly enrich my life and fun is actually important. I fight for alone time now and then.  I make time for reading. I pay attention to patterns in myself.  If my physical, mental, and emotional self all feel ragged—I talk about it and make some changes.  I “find rest in the incompleteness of the present moment as I learn to recognize the goodness of what is, [and trust] that what is needed for the future will be added at the proper time” (Sally Breedlove, Choosing Rest).

On that note, I’m going to go to bed!

Summer 2016: Two Weddings & A Frog

It turns out that life does not conveniently open up windows of time for contemplation and writing, so I’m choosing to say “wait” to a few things right now (and to give Zoe an iPad) so I can sit down and just type for a while.  It’s good for the soul!

Here’s a little recap of our summer!

We kicked off summer with a trip to Disney on Ice, also known as the ultimate in potty training rewards (go Zoe)! Little Riley got to tag along and was a surprise superfan.

0514161809aCan you handle the cuteness? I can’t.

Every summer, David always goes on a few week-long trips with youth from church.  This means I stay home with the girls and have fun/survive.  During one of his trips this summer, the girls and I all got sick (it turned out that I had shingles, although I didn’t realize it until a few days later). We borrowed “Mary Poppins” from a neighbor and spent the weekend watching it over and over again. It was quite the emotional journey:

Mary Poppins, viewing 1: This movie is way weirder than I remembered.

Mary Poppins, viewing 2: This movie is way more creative and groundbreaking than I realized.

Mary Poppins, viewing 3: Time with my children is passing by faster than I realize…soon they’ll be grown and all I’ll have to show for it are hours spent working at a bank…am I seizing every moment or grinding at that grindstone?!! (Begin softly crying, then remember that I don’t work at a bank and curse Mary Poppins and my lack of sleep).

It was a gem of a weekend.

Every summer, we go on at least one trip solely designed to provide sanctuary from the burning inferno that is this state.  This year, we went to Seattle and had a rip-roaring good time hiking almost every day…0715161017crenting a rowboat and going out on Lake Washington…0719161041going to a family wedding with a ceremony that perfectly reflected the couple (congratulations again, guys…)!!Attachment-1drinking lots of coffee, seeing some Seattle sights, and meeting up with my college girlfriends and a precious new baby who has been added to our extended friend-family.

While on this trip, we also learned something exciting: OUR KIDS ARE ACTUALLY FUN ON VACATIONS RIGHT NOW. They can handle long flights, they can be somewhat flexible about naps, they eat real food and don’t require planning for purees or bottles, one is potty-trained with few accidents, and they can handle time changes without being completely miserable! AirplaneThis realization has set off a flurry of vacation dreaming and scheming for next summer. We’ve made it through the darkest time!!

This summer, I taught my “accelerated format” course for the second summer in a row, which meant that I had ten fast and furious weeks of grading, video recording, and answering student e-mails…plus all of my other work. This may NOT be an every summer thing.

This summer, I opened our toilet seat and found this monstrosity sitting in the bowl:0720162002This picture was taken AFTER 5 minutes of screaming, hitting the frog with a spatula, and general mayhem as we tried to trap and release this ridiculous amphibian as he hopped all over our bathroom.

I’m not sure my children (who were placed in a crib for safekeeping) will ever forget this incident. I share it with you in the hope that you can think of this story during a depressing day and realize: it could always be worse.  I could have a frog in my toilet. 

This summer, Riley turned two! We celebrated with a “Frozen in Summer” party with three of Riley’s buds, three blow-up pools, popsicles, and pizza.0727161606f 0727161623Words can’t express my gratitude for the gift of Riley. Our family would be incomplete without her!

This summer, David and I also celebrated our 8th anniversary. In honor of the occasion, we revisited the spot where we got engaged (Kerry Park in Seattle). Our children were thrilled by this trip down memory lane.0718161237eThis summer, the girls took swim lessons twice a week. Zoe has learned to actually swim, and Riley has learned that she cannot swim by herself.  Valuable lessons all around! We have switched to private lessons to amp up their progress and will continue through October. I am so proud of both of them.

This summer, Zoe stopped napping.  Get out your violins, people—not because she is growing up and I’m emotional about it, but because my midday 1.5 hours per day of work/personal time are over and I’m emotional about THAT.  Naptime was a joy.  “Quiet” time…well, don’t get me started.

IMG_0413(Unrelated photo I just thought was too cute not to share. A related photo would have been me chugging coffee with a crazed look in my eyes, which I’m sure you can imagine without a photo.)

This month, David’s parents moved here. They now live 6 blocks away…and are watching the girls for me every Wednesday afternoon! We are all excited about this!🙂

Last weekend, I took my first kid-free trip (beyond my grandpa’s funeral) and went to my cousin’s wedding in California.  I had such a blast hiking, drinking delicious wine and coffee, eating some of the most delicious food imaginable, watching my cousin begin his family, and hanging out with family. Attachment-1-2I was surprised to learn that I am actually still a person when I get some time and space away from my children, AND I’m able to slip into that person very quickly, AND it’s fun to be that person.  To be honest, I haven’t been feeling a lot of ownership of my life these days, so realizing that I’m still there was such a good growth experience for me.IMG_5212That sentence probably sounds really melodramatic unless you have also had two children who are very close in age, or are a fourteen year old girl, in which case you feel me.

If you CAN relate, you will understand my mixed emotions at this photo: 0822161054This photo was taken at Meet the Teacher day last week. My girls just started preschool!

I’ll talk more about this—and work/life balance & what’s ahead for this fall—in my next post!

Saturday Morning Miracles

About a month ago, I took the girls to a birthday party on a Saturday morning.

When we got home, I texted my mom the exciting news about what had happened at the party and what had happened afterwards.

NOTHING.

For one of the few times in the last year…we were in a large, unstructured social setting and my daughter could identify and communicate what she needed.  She didn’t lash out, didn’t scream, didn’t get overwhelmed, didn’t get physically aggressive.  She didn’t cry on the way home.  She didn’t collapse or melt down when we walked back in the door at home.  Instead, she sat down and played with her party favors.

And me?

I didn’t have any new scratch marks. I wasn’t on the verge of tears.  I wasn’t discouraged or frustrated or confused.  Instead, I was bursting with pride and amazement.

It was mid-June of last year when I determined that my daughter was not developing the way that I expected to see and began to make appointments for her.  I have spent this year trying to understand who my daughter is, what she needs, and how I can help her be comfortable and successful.

It hasn’t been a continuous process—there have been starts and stops and “wait and see”s and “try this” and “keep trying this.”

For months, I saw limited-to-no improvement, which was tough, because I was WORKING.  I have never questioned whether I would keep going—because she is my daughter and so there isn’t a question—but I have wondered whether I COULD.

It has been intense.  It has taken more than I ever thought I could give.  The hardest part for me has not been the work, or the way that her behavior makes me feel, or the way that I sometimes worry that it reflects on me and my parenting.

The hardest part has been that her behavior, and her feelings that drive it, are distressing to her.    

Seeing my child in distress—and feeling powerless to understand and protect her from it, even though I am trying—and fighting to keep my joy in parenting intact instead of letting circumstances slowly mute it—these have been my particular burdens and challenges in the last year.  I know that many people carry much heavier burdens, and I am not complaining as I share this.  I didn’t expect that parenting—and particularly parenting a child who wasn’t given the best environment in utero—would be easy.  I just imagined that with lots of effort, you’d get answers or progress or incremental change or insight or acceptance or something.  Hitting a wall—but not knowing how to get over it—was maddening.

This spring, a failed hearing screening led us to our pediatrician’s office, which led us to an audiology appointment, which led us to an occupational therapist’s office, which led us—finally—to something.

It has led us to an explanation that, regardless of its loose fit, has helped me understand and help her.  To therapy that has built her skills.  To charts on my wall.  To a visual calendar.  To an arsenal of physical coping instruments.  And to birthday parties in which my child—who wants to attend, and wants to have fun—is able to make a plan ahead of time for success, communicate her needs, ask for a break, and rejoin the party.

There are still skills to be built on her end and on mine.  But my almost-daily “8 pm: cry tears of frustration” appointment has been moved to a less regular time slot.

One of my favorite writers wrote something a while ago that has challenged me:

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I’m still learning those last sentences.  For so long in this process, I think I labored under the lie that if I could just do something different, it would make all the difference for her.  I’m learning that the thing I can do to make all the difference for her is to accept and unconditionally love the child that I have been given, and to accept the parenting journey that I am on with her.

The lie was tricky to identify, because it didn’t come from a selfish place.  I didn’t want her to be different for my benefit; I wanted her to be different so her life will be easier.  But no amount of work on my end can take who she is and turn her into something that she isn’t, and no amount of work on my end can take away the struggles that she has been assigned. In my attempts to help her change, I was accidentally standing in her way.

A week or two before we got the diagnosis, David told me (during my 8 pm cry): “the reason that you don’t have any hobbies is because your hobby is trying to solve Zoe’s problems.”  I cringed, because he was right and because I knew it wasn’t healthy.  A diagnosis has helped me so much, not just in understanding her, but in accepting that she needs some help outside of me.

When I see strange behaviors now, I still feel sad or frustrated on her behalf, but I’m learning to observe her behavior without feeling like I have to solve it.  Instead, I make a mental note to share with her therapist, or decide I can just observe it and add it to my internal files without necessarily needing to process it and respond.

I’m learning to remind myself of “the village:” the amazing OTs who love her.  The preschool that has met with us to prepare to welcome her.  Our family that has tried to learn along with us, and who communicate love and support to her every time they talk with her.  The buddies who love her and who she feels safe with, and whose parents keep inviting her over even if we have to leave a play date early sometimes.  Her sister, who surrenders the parental attention when needed without being sad about it, and who goes to the other room to get her sister’s teether and blanket for her without being asked. We are so blessed.

I recently made a photo book of her adoption story.  She has enjoyed looking at the photos and listening to me read the simple text.  Interestingly, her main questions haven’t been about her birth mom or why people she doesn’t know visited her in the hospital.  Her repeated question is some variation of the following: “were you happy I was born? Were you happy I was your daughter?”

Our faces in the photo book answer her question; we are quite literally glowing with delight.  My hope is that she still feels that delight every day.  I am SO happy she was born and I am SO happy she is my daughter.

Our world needs this gem of a human being. And I do too.

IMG_5232(This is Zoe after a birthday party where she chose to bravely face her fears of unstructured settings, loud noises, an unfamiliar environment, and—the shocker to me—getting her face painted by the artist at the party.  

I could tell that she thought that the other kids’ face painting was cool, but she was nervous about it due to her sensory sensitivities.  I wound up sitting down in “the chair” and letting her pick a design for my hand so she could observe what body painting was and maybe feel more comfortable getting something done next time.  At the end of my hand painting session, she decided that she wanted to get her hand painted.  I could tell she was anxious, but she used her coping skills and was thrilled with our matching mermaid hands. After about 30 minutes of staring at her hand, she asked to return to the chair to get her whole face painted. She was glowing with pride and accomplishment afterwards, so naturally, we had to take some photos when we got home…and leave the face paint on for church the next morning! Nothing says “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” like some Elsa face paint!!)

From My Library…

Sometimes these blog posts write themselves.

Our library has a super-handy online catalog.  You can reserve books online, get an e-mail when they’re ready for you, and then use a drive through window to pick up your books.  As you might imagine, I utilize the heck out of this service (especially since the drive-through window is a mere four minutes from my house).

Today’s e-mail “from your library” truly encapsulates my life at this stage.  Here are the books I can pick up right from now until June 4, 2016:

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Sounds about right.

What Motherhood Has Taught Me

I didn’t think God would trust me to take care of a girl.

After all, I hadn’t been able to take care of myself. My early adult years—the first chance I got to take care of myself—were overshadowed by an eating disorder, self-destructive choices, shame, and a persistent feeling of never being enough.

Thanks to the relentless love of the Lord and those around me, I finally broke away from the lie that I was small and worthless if I wasn’t perfect, and learned to care for myself. I found an area of the world that I wanted to impact, pursued it purposefully, and began to actually transform some very small corners of the world. Slowly, my view of myself changed. I could do imperfectly good things.

And yet, as I began to feel the pull towards motherhood, I never pictured a daughter. Although I worked with girls professionally, and did it well, I knew that parenting a girl would be a much bigger job and frankly, I didn’t think God would trust me with the chance to wreck a girl again. Surely, he’d give me a resilient boy—someone that society would prop up in the places I didn’t do my job well. Not someone that our world tears down little by little. Not someone who looks to me as their model.

So when the nurse came out and said “it’s a girl,” I was overjoyed to meet her—and terrified about how I would mess it up.

IMG_0035Little did I know that having girls would mess ME up—in ways I still don’t completely understand.

Having girls has taught me how little I matter. I don’t say that in a self-deprecating sense, but seriously—in the scope of the whole planet we live on, with all the activities and people and joys and sorrows, no one else is losing energy over how my stomach looks today versus yesterday. Having two precious girls has both allowed and forced me to take my gaze off of myself and to focus on things that are infinitely more important.

I read the news differently—with an eye for what the stories say about the world we are creating. I realize that I won’t have eternity here on this earth and I want to spend my time making this world more loving, more just, and more gentle for two special girls and other children like them.

When I cry and worry now, I’m angsting over others—not so much myself. Having daughters with active minds and bodies has kept me busy enough that there isn’t time or energy enough for a rabbit hole of self-concern. I’m often the last thought on my mind, which is such a relief. When I do have time “to myself,” I recognize it as the treasure it actually is, and usually spend it productively and positively.

And as I have watched my daughters’ chunky legs give way to thinned limbs and their toothless grins turn white and their words come where no words were before, they have taught me to appreciate time. I realize now that THIS IS MY LIFE. It is fleeting. I cannot grab the moments again; I have to spend them well and release them—onto the next.

IMG_2773Our last house had one full-length mirror; it was in my daughter’s room. I realized pretty quickly that she watched me every time I looked at myself in the mirror. Did I want her to see me body-checking and feeling inadequate, or did I want her to hear me say “blue looks good on me, now let’s go play?” When we moved, I didn’t even bring the full-length mirror, because I’ve taught my daughters that having clothes on our bodies and shoes on our feet is a gift…and I don’t want to waste time critiquing a gift.

Staying home with my daughters has involved financial changes. Out of necessity, I stopped shopping for confidence in the mall and started developing confidence that goes beyond my clothes. I’ve bought less than ten pieces of clothing in the last two years—and along the way God has demonstrated to me in a way I would have never been receptive to before that my appearance is irrelevant to my worth.

IMG_1012Having daughters has taught me how hard and how long I can work and how much I am capable of with God’s help.  It has strengthened my ability to find joy in tough times.  It has increased my creativity and flexibility and trust in God’s provision.  I used to crave achievement; now, I crave wisdom.

Having daughters has made me think about legacy. It has made me get detailed about the characteristics and values I want to bring to my everyday, intimate relationships. It has made me assess who I am and who I want to be—not with eyes of critique and self-flagellation, but with eyes of possibility and dreaming and excitement about who I could be for them.Zoe and Mom mountainI thought I understood grace as a scared 20 year old, eating huge plates of food and recognizing the second chance at life she had been given. I recognize now though that I never fully accepted the grace—only the mercy.

I knew God forgave me, but I was still on edge.  I had used my one screw-up, and He had saved me, but I better play it safe and not mess up again.

If I went back and told that 20 year old that she’d have daughters someday, she’d think “oh wow, God really gave me a second chance.”

Being trusted with these daughters, and learning how to walk with Him daily as I parent them, has taught me that there is no such thing as a second chance with God. Because grace isn’t a second chance; it’s a first chance over and over again.

He’s not slowly recovering from my last screw-up, reluctantly handing over the trust again—I am white as snow to Him. The old has gone; the new has come, and it comes over and over and over again.  He isn’t pacing while He waits for my inevitable fall; He knows I will fail and yet He trusts me.

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A decade later, I am shaped and moved and carried by this and only this: nothing I do can make Him love me more or less.  He loves me because He is love—not because of me.   

My flesh fits comfortably now because He made it and He loves it. And slowly I am learning that when He looks at me, He doesn’t see my actions or my efforts or anything else I do to “deserve” or “earn” his favor or “win back” His love after my mistakes.

He only sees me.  And He calls me good—because I am His.

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Last week, one of my daughters had a series of bad choices that led to an injury and a mess. As I washed her hands in her tiny bathroom she apologized over and over and over again: “I’m sorry, mama. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. ” 

“Honey, I already forgot what you did,” I told her, meaning it.  And all I could think of was the scripture—“you are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” 

We are clean—not because of our merit. Not because of our good choices.  Not because of our outstanding achievements.  But because HE LOVES US, and because He has decided that is enough.

Becoming a mama has put flesh and bones on the gospel message: He loves me enough to give me endless second chances.  He loves me enough to give me something important to do.  He loves me even though I mess it up.

He loves me because He is love.

And He trusts me to be a vehicle for His love on this Earth.

There is no greater privilege.


I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this blessing- and challenge-filled job without the support of my own mom, dad, mother-in-law, sister, partner, and group of wonderful friends.  Thank you to ALL of you for investing in me and my family and for being my friend on this journey.  And I am especially thankful on this Mother’s Day and on every day for my daughters’ birthmothers, who gave my girls the gift of life and who entrusted me with this job.

Oh, and here was our best attempt at Mother’s Day photos.  We should be models!🙂

Mothers Day collage

The ABCs of Spring

For this post, I thought I’d give you a little recap of our spring…alphabet-style.

A is for Anna (and Elsa).

IMG_4995One of my children may someday be a Method actor.  Which one? IMG_4997 IMG_5003IMG_5006(The curtains = the kingdom of isolation.  Clearly.)

B is for beach. 

At the beginning of April, we had the joy of spending a week in Watersound Beach with my family.  Actually, to be precise, one of my kids had the joy of spending the week there:

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The other was not impressed.

IMG_6058It’s hard to enjoy the beach if you’re terrified of sand.

Still, it was a fantastic week.  Sally Clarkson writes about a well-timed getaway, “my heart was desperate for some new inspiration and rest from my draining and demanding days.” I hadn’t realized that I was feeling a little low, but then this week was full of rest, beautiful scenery, and fun that lifted my spirits and refilled my heart.  After a week away, the routines that had begun to feel mundane felt sweet again. I am so thankful for the week away.

C is for (some) clarity. 

It was hard for me to make the choice to sign both girls up for preschool next year, but knowing that this season is going to change in a few months has really helped me to appreciate and savor this time with them (and not feel bogged down in it).  Paying for two preschool tuitions will be more expensive than paying for one sitter, so I have been laying some groundwork to get some higher-paying projects and clients for the summer and fall so that I can keep making a similar net income.  It’s been interesting to reflect on where I am in my part time job/business/whatever and where I may want to go in the future.

I spent so much time in my teens and early twenties reflecting on what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”  These days, I find myself thinking a lot more about who I want to be. It’s amazing how much bigger your world becomes and how many more options you have when you start with the “who” question…

D is for D, the letter of the month. 

IMG_5130I started a “letter of the week” station in January and VERY quickly turned it into a letter of the month station. It’s fun to expose the girls to new concepts and to watch them explore sounds and patterns.  However, at the rate we’re going, we’ll be doing a letter of the month for a little over two years.  I’m not sure we’ll make it…

E is for Easter.

This year, we participated in three egg hunts, in addition to all the church stuff that you probably assumed we did. We also gave the girls their first Easter baskets. They were moderately excited by the contents.

F is for Forty, which is how old I feel in my SPF 50 sun hat.  

Photo on 4-20-16 at 4.10 PMYou can find me rocking my sun hat, sun screen, and LaCroix most afternoons as we play outside.  In related news, I also bought a one-piece swimsuit this year.

I am a stereotype.

G is for garage sale, which is where I found these Lilly Pulitzer dresses that my girls wore for Easter. IMG_5080I tried bribing them with M&Ms to pose for a photo shoot, but this action shot of them shoving weeds into the pockets of their dresses was the best I could do.  G is also for good thing these weren’t full price.  

H is for happy, which is how Zoe and I feel about the token economy we live in. Since January, Zoe’s only chance to earn TV time has been by taking a nap.  I think she’s secretly relieved to have an “excuse” to take a nap (she definitely still needs to nap), and I’m relieved to have the chance to get work done.

One of the things I think I’ll always remember from this stage of life is how proud she looks when she settles in on the couch after her nap and selects her show of the day.

IMG_4982Lately, she’s been pulling out a big blanket for me and asking me if I want to cuddle with her. Yes, I do.

Sweet, sweet moments.  So glad I’m here for them.

“I” brings me to a quote from one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2016: “It soon became evident that consistently choosing connection over distraction was the key to a more joy-filled life.”  –Rachel Macy Stafford, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfectionism to Grasp What Really Matters 

This book was poignant and thoughtful.  I appreciated every word she wrote and recommend it to everyone—not just mamas.

(Other runners-up for best book I’ve read so far in 2016: Women of the Word, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, and Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe. I read non-Christian books too—Just Mercy and Nickel and Dimed were two of my good non-Christian reads, along with several parenting books—but overall this has been a rich and engaging season in my faith and my reading list reflects that.  I’m so thankful for that, and for a hobby that works in my current life stage!)

J, K, and L are for Just Kidding, I’m not sure I can do this for an entire alphabet.  I may be Lamer than I thought…I’ll try a few more.  

M is for Messy. 

My sweet mom drove home with us and visited for five days after our beach trip.  In addition to whipping my house and laundry into shape, she also planted some flowers with my girls. They were very excited.

IMG_5093IMG_5096IMG_5097IMG_5098Until reality set in for my daughter who thinks “dirt” and “sand” are THE WORST. IMG_5099IMG_5100N is for NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!IMG_5101IMG_5102IMG_5103IMG_5104IMG_5105O is for Only Zoe is left.IMG_5106P is for “this alphabet schtick is Probably to be continued, but not tonight.” 

Hobbies, Hair Care Products, Home Design, and My Portrait

This is about how excited I am to finally have the chance to write!

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I truly miss this space and consistently sitting down to pour my heart out through writing.  I know, I know, we are all supposed to go forth and live the life you imagine and remember that this is your one wild and precious life and if you want something, make it happen, but I have found that I imagine and want a lot of things but physically can’t make them all happen.

I’m trying to take the long view—making sure I’m fitting in the things I and my family need each week, and then making time for the things that I want over the course of the month.  My life right now is built on a base of responsibilities with a sprinkle of personal interests, and I could “imagine” all I want that everyone could magically feed themselves and clean up their own literal crap, but that’s not the case.  I could walk around in a state of perpetual annoyance at my “rights” being violated and bitterly fight to get my every desire met, or I could embrace the opportunity to learn how to dig deeper, let my character be shaped, and find joy in things more lasting and important than the immediate gratification of all my needs and desires.

This season won’t last forever and it will never come around again.  I can ride the wave or fight it, but it’s happening either way.

My boss shared something with me this week that seemed relevant to this point:

5ce67bd517b00497ab01e77674873ad6As an illustration, allow me to update you on what has occurred since I began writing this blog post this afternoon:

-David and the girls returned from their quick grocery trip (mission: give mama a few minutes to herself.  Also, buy pretzels).  Riley walks in with a joyful “MAMA!” Zoe walks in saying “I HAD AN ACCIDENT.”  Apparently, it’s the second time this weekend she has mistaken her car seat for a toilet.  She has been potty trained for three months, so I’m not really sure what that’s about.

-David disassembles the carseat pieces so we can wash the carseat cover.  I send Zoe to her room to clean herself up while I unload and put away the groceries (they bought more than pretzels).

-I “cook” “dinner” (tuna melts for grown-ups, English muffin pizzas for the kiddos, no veggies given the situation) while reopening Riley’s straw cup for her approximately 40 times and providing a minute-by-minute countdown of how long it will be until this feast will be plated.

-While we are eating dinner, Zoe exclaims, “I have to go potty!!!” We applaud and encourage her.  Ten minutes of silence later, David checks on her and finds her naked and washing her clothes in the toilet (?!!)

-Clean that up.

-Discuss why we don’t wash our clothing in the toilet and why we don’t play in the bathroom during dinner time.  Play warden for a check-in and check-out of time out.

-Administer hugs and pep talk.

-Zoe’s dinner is cold.  It’s apparently soooooo hard for her to eat her food when it’s cold (and when it’s food).  After a battle of the wills that’s going nowhere, I end up reading her books to distract her while she eats.

-David gets the girls in jammies while I begin cleaning up.

-Dance party! The girls and I bust a move for 20 minutes (okay, actually they bust a move for 17 minutes and I realize at the 20 minute mark that I’m dancing alone to a song called “I Love My Shoes” and have been for the last three minutes.  Rhythm is gonna get you…)

-Bedtime routine—teeth, books, hunting for transitional objects that have been scattered throughout the house, emotional coaching.

-Finish cleaning up dinner.

-Attempt to clean up from the day; take trash out; enjoy sunset for a minute.

This brings us to the present. And now I want to talk about shampoo and conditioner.  Because clearly, when I haven’t blogged for a month, THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I COULD POSSIBLY DISCUSS.  IMG_5131(I figured that if I made this photo black and white, you were less able to see how dirty my shower was.  Slash I live and breathe art.)

Friends, gather close and listen to me wax rhapsodic about hair care products.  If Suave had informercials, I’d be on them, talking about how their coconut oil infusion shampoo and conditioner have helped me achieve soft, touchable hair when God, hard water, infrequent flat-ironing, and occasional chemical processing had other plans for my hair.  I genuinely sit around stroking my hair now and everyone keeps asking me if I just highlighted it.  It’s divine.

To the right of this photo is Coconut CoWash, which is a birthday present to Zoe from one of my friends who has similar curls.  It has cut our hair styling time by one third.  Her curls look and feel great, and my friend tells me it retails for less than $10 at Target!

Walk, don’t run (it’s not THAT big of a deal) to buy the hair product appropriate for YOUR ethnic and racial background!

Next, we will move on to something else important: MY PORTRAIT AND MY BREAKFAST. 

IMG_5128Zoe crafted this gem for me today.  It appears that I may need to work on brightening my face in the morning.  My hair looks great, though (thanks, Suave).

Also: I don’t know why she drew me eating cereal in this picture.  For the last month, my breakfast has consisted of hard boiled eggs and sprouted bread toast topped with smashed avocado and a squeeze of lemon, thanks to a magazine article on “how to have more energy in the mornings.” I actually think it has helped, which is why I’m passing this tip along. Trader Joe’s has very reasonably priced sprouted bread.

Finally: HOME DESIGN

Recently, my mom stiff-armed me into having an interior decorator come to the house (because I need someone to tell me where to put my $30 art and hand-me-down furniture.  Also, and most importantly, because she volunteered to help us for free).

IMG_5129I thought this wall was a high point of my decorating skills, but apparently this isn’t actually a look?!! I have lots to learn, but I’m excited, and our interior decorator (that makes me giggle) is great.  She will be giving me a plan for our future furniture purchases and some current layout improvement ideas.

Since we bought the house, we’ve put in new flooring, painted, painted our home exterior, pulled back overgrown landscaping, painted our pergola, added closet doors to every room, and done a few more miscellaneous projects I can’t recall. To my extreme shock, I am finding that putting effort into a house is satisfying and fun.  I enjoy it.

Oh, adulthood.  How you continually surprise me.

So, my long-winded point here is I may blog occasionally about home design, because it turns out that I like it.  And also, because I have an interior decorator.

 

EXTRANEOUS PHOTO TO LEAVE YOU SAYING “AWWW!” 

IMG_5044I hope you appreciated all of these valuable tips and life lessons (or generally shallow thoughts—however they might have come across).  I’m 25 graded papers away from FREEDOM (before the summer semester begins, at least…so PARTIAL FREEDOM), so I hope to blog again soon!

Sarah out…

Focusing on the Flowers

One of my children feels everyday things at levels of emotional intensity that I hardly ever reach. She grasps and struggles to remember her coping strategies.  Almost every day, we have at least one reaction that ends with her sobbing and me bear-hugging her to keep her and others safe. (That I would even write “at least one” is an improvement from last year, when I would write “at least five.”)

My heart hurts for her.

I’ve learned to set up her environment to help her succeed. I’ve read lots of books and tried lots of strategies that have seemed to help.  I’ve also tried and discarded suggestions.  I’ve visited a few professionals.  Her brain has continued to develop and I see progress as she matures.  But the world makes her feel big feelings and I can’t make them stop.

I’ve learned a lot along this journey.  One of the lessons that has been the hardest to learn and accept is to stop trying to find a magic strategy that fixes everything.  I still wrestle with this temptation–if we can just figure out WHAT CAUSES THIS, then I DO XYZ AND IT ALL GOES AWAY.

I like linear thinking and cause-and-effect; I am a CBT-practicing therapist’s dream. But my child can’t communicate about all of the things that influence her responses, and I suspect there are things that mediate her responses that she isn’t aware of.  We are diligently working to try to understand them, but it doesn’t mean that we will.

Which means we need to focus on practicing coping skills.  Both of us.

Another lesson I have learned is that in order for me to enjoy parenting and communicate love to my child, I need to move beyond a behavioral focus. In the beginning, I tried behavior modification techniques. Over and over again.  But I had to pay attention to the fact that when I ignored her as she wailed on the floor, or when I put her in time-out, or even when I used some old-school parenting techniques as a last-ditch effort, the behavior was not becoming extinct and my child’s feelings grew more intense.  She didn’t feel bad about her behavior; she felt alone with her feelings. 

I have come to believe that my sweet girl didn’t ask to feel such big feelings and isn’t trying to feel them; they’re unpleasant for her, too.  So the best way to be her mama isn’t to punish or ignore those feelings out of her; it’s to get down with her and be there as she feels them, and to help coach her in the best way to cope with them.

It doesn’t mean that we never do time-outs, but it means that instead of shoving her in her room wordlessly or with a “WE DO NOT HIT!”, I try to set her up in her room with her bean bag chair, her “bump bump,” her heavy backpack, some books, or her sensory teether and help her make a plan for how she is going to calm down.

It means that I take her away from situations that are too overwhelming for her, but don’t get frustrated at her for being overwhelmed.  If she handled her feelings in a non-acceptable way, I usually don’t punish her beyond the logical consequence of being removed from the situation; if she shows remorse, we move on and practice how we could handle the situation better next time.

It means that I resist the urge to view her behaviors as a deficit that need to be stamped out of her and try my hardest to remember that I am dealing with a human being with a heart that I am partially responsible for shaping.

Before every nap and every bedtime, I hold her hand and remind her: you are kind. You are good.  You are smart. You are loved.  She always begs me to say it again.  I think this is telling of how much she wants to be these things and maybe even how far-off she feels from these things sometimes.

IMG_1012Right now my kitchen table is full of flowers.  She picked a bouquet for me a few days ago and asked, “did this make you happy, mama?” I told her yes, they did.  Two days later, before the first bouquet had even died, she picked me more.  Then she made me paper flowers with her babysitter.  Each time: “did this make you happy, mama?”

My prayer in parenting right now is that I can focus on the fact that my table is full of flowers from a girl who wants to please me.  In the midst of trying to deal with all of HER big emotions, she values MY emotions.  What a gift!

When Jesus said “let the little children come to me,” he didn’t set a behavior standard first.  It wasn’t “let the children come only when they are good at coping with disappointment, anger, and sadness, and can communicate clearly using I-statements.” He wanted them to come as they were so He could share unconditional love with them.

That is my job as well. And as I stumble through it, imperfectly but with lots of effort, He shares that same unconditional love with me.

Unrushed Moments

Two days ago, I was driving home from the grocery store with both girls. The sun was shining and the girls were singing and dancing in their carseats as we told Selena Gomez to go love herself.  We were having so much fun that I decided we could chance a few more minutes in the car to hit up the Starbucks drive through.

After ten minutes of sitting in the line, I expressed impatience with how slowly it was moving.  Zoe said “mom, it’s okay. Want to play a game while we wait? We can find some letters!” and identified an A and a B in the Starbucks sign.

Riley shouted “B!!!”

Both girls erupted into a fit of giggles.

And I thought: I’m so glad I didn’t miss this. 

In our area, there is a lot of pressure to put kids in preschool early.  I was an outlier when I didn’t start Zoe at 1.5.  I felt countercultural when I didn’t put her in this fall at 2.5.

But I didn’t think Zoe was ready for it at 1.5, and I didn’t think she needed it at 2.5.  While I knew it wouldn’t be detrimental, I also knew that I would be putting her in preschool so I could get a break from her—not to meet a particular need of hers.

I had also just spent a year trying to teach her to be kind to Riley–and she was finally getting it! I wanted to give her a chance to ENJOY being with her sister, and for Riley to have the chance to enjoy playing with a nurturing, caring sister.

Also, after spending a year in survival mode simply meeting the constant barrage of needs, I wanted to give myself a chance to enjoy my girls as they entered less-needy stages and were finally on the same schedule.

On paper, it made sense to send Zoe to preschool—all of my friends were doing it, and I was tired! But whenever I thought about sending her to school, I felt a pit in my stomach.  When I thought about keeping her home, I felt peace. I decided to trust that if God was leading me to spend another year at home with both of them, He would give me energy to keep going.

I knew there would be some mundane moments (exhibit A: this particular morning in which we went to Jazzercise, the grocery store, and Starbucks—the SAHM trifecta) but I believed that I was being called to share those mundane moments with both girls this year.  Even if no one else in playgroup was doing it.🙂

It turns out that these mundane moments have been some of the best moments of my life.

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Playing in the yard…checking books out of the library…choosing strawberry jelly for Daddy at the grocery store…painting…reading…cuddling and sharing a blanket on the couch…driving in the car together…giggling over Riley’s latest trick…waiting in the Starbucks line together, deciding together to be patient and have fun while we wait…

The smallest moments of the smallest time of my life have brought me immense joy.  And I could have missed these unrushed moments because I was too tired and didn’t trust God to give me energy or because I felt pressured by what my peers were doing.

This definitely isn’t an anti-preschool or anti-peer rant…it’s just me sharing how grateful I am that I was obedient to what God called me to do, and hopefully encouraging you to run YOUR race, whatever that looks like for you! There are great rewards along the way.  IMG_4978

(Postscript: a large deposit from my bank account says that I am putting both girls in preschool two mornings a week next year.  Although part of me will be so ready for a break after 3.5 years of full-time loving and nurturing and educating and cruise directing, I am already sad about the reduction of our time together and the fact that Zoe will be starting on a school pipeline that she won’t get off of until she is an adult! How did this happen already?!)