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?!)

Riley, 18 Months

I promised a few months ago that I’d write more posts about Riley.  She just turned 18 months old, so I felt like it was high time for an update!

IMG_8044-2.jpgWriting about Riley typically reduces me to an uncreative, wordless puddle of mush. She’s just so sweet that it’s hard to describe her without sounding like a sixth grade girl talking about her crush. “SO CUTE!” “I LOVE HER!” “EVERYTHING ABOUT HER IS JUST SO PERFECT!”

To counteract this tendency, I will begin by describing her (only) two annoying qualities:

she wants me to hold her nonstop (unless we are trying to dart into Starbucks for a quick coffee, in which case, she wants me to put her down and let her fling bags of potato chips and popcorn with reckless abandon while she roars like the dragon she sees pictured on the Komodo coffee bag. You’re welcome, employees and patrons). When not in Starbucks, she is typically on my lap or in my arms, with her face pressed against mine, OR crying “MAAAAAAAA-MAAAAAAAA” because she wants to be on my lap or in my arms with her face pressed against mine.

-she is beginning to develop opinions.  Sometimes they are different than mine. (NO!!!!!!)

That’s all I can think of to be annoyed by, and these issues are barely legitimate. BECAUSE SHE’S ACTUALLY THE BEST BABY IN THE WORLD. XOXOXOXOXOXO.

There I go again, getting all sixth grade girl on you. Maybe sharing some photos will inspire me to share actual facts and informative comments with you.  Here goes.1124150900_HDR-2“Nack. PEEEEZZ!!!!” These are Riley’s most-used words, followed by “dah-dah” (cracker), “na-nuh” (banana), “yo-ga” (yogurt), “deeee-dah!” (pizza), “see-ya!” (cereal), “cheese” (needs no interpretation). Riley loves to snack and would love a world in which she could steadily munch on an unvaried diet from 5 am until 7 pm.

Unfortunately, mean old mom insists on some balance, so she reluctantly eats 3 meals with some degree of nourishment in between the 2 happy snacks. “Day-you” for keeping me alive, mom.

(Notice what’s missing from this daily meal plan? Riley sure did, at least for several sad weeks. Thankfully, the heavy emotional toll of the great “bah bah” weaning seems to have finally decreased, as has mom’s end-of-the-day dish pile now that we are down to 0 bottles!!!! CUE HAPPY MUSIC!!!)Photo on 12-21-15 at 2.45 PM #2“Cean up.” One of Riley’s current favorite activities is cleaning up, which serves as a great counterpoint to Zoe’s current favorite activity of pulling each piece of clothing out of her drawers and dropping them throughout the house. While Riley’s efforts are not actually helpful enough to merit any violation of child labor laws, I appreciate the sentiment.

Riley’s other favorite activities right now include playing outside with her riding cars, going to the “paaaah” (park), reading books (“Where Is Baby’s Belly Button” is a particular favorite), “daw” (drawing with crayons, chalk, or Do-A-Dot pens), “doc-dah” (playing doctor with a doctor kit), and “baaaah” (taking a bath). She also enjoys brushing her teeth, singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” loudly on my lap, and doing anything her sister is doing.1210150722Riley’s Schedule: Riley sleeps through the night 99% of the time. Mom loves this fact 100% of the time.

She is usually up by 5:30 am and ready to eat a bowl of “see-ya” with her trusty blanket and stuffed monkey by her side.  After feeding herself two small bowls of cereal with her own spoon, she dramatically flings milk everywhere and demands “all done. Wash!” We move on to our next activity (often, a much-needed bath before some playroom time).

After an argument about clothing, we’re usually out of the house by 8:10-8:30, and typically spend our mornings out at Jazzercise, the library, a park, the zoo, a friends’ house, running errands, etc., or some combination of the above (unless we are hosting a play date or feeling like we need some slow time at home). We are usually home by 11:15-11:30 am for lunch.

IMG_4912During lunch, I typically read the girls 2-4 books, which they LOVE. Riley and Zoe go down for their naps together around 12:15-12:30. By 2-2:30, Riley’s usually up and ready for another “nack.” We’ll spend our afternoon playing with our neighbor, goofing around in the yard, reading books, making art, visiting a park, Facetiming a family member, or going for a walk, before dinner at 5:45ish, books at 6:45ish, and bedtime by 7:15-7:30.

1217151901aToddler stuff: Riley has like, 12 legitimate chompers now, and has experimented a little bit with biting. Thankfully, she usually says “BITE!” before she is about to bite you, so YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

She also enjoys trying to break into the toilet locks and trying to get into the trash can.

She has begun to say “no!” to us but usually giggles and apologizes with lots of kisses if she thinks she has pushed it too far.IMG_4791Riley as a sister: I couldn’t have asked for a better little sister for Zoe. Riley is thrilled any time that Zoe wants to play with her. The sound of them giggling together is my favorite sound in the entire world. Riley is quick to forgive her sister when needed, and has even begun to point out to Zoe when she needs to take a deep breath.  Last week, she woke up first, and walked down the hallway to Zoe’s room calling “Zo-Zo!” because she missed her sister.

I thought that having to spread my love between two kids would take away a little bit from my ability to love each of them, but I find that I have even more love for them than I did before, because I love them each as individuals AND for who they are as a sister.

On a less sweet note, now that they can both run and tell me “no,” I definitely feel like I get a run for my money during outings.  I have even begun wearing tennis shoes on the regular, even when it’s a fashion “don’t.”  I know, who am I? 0109161003Other pertinent Riley facts: she weighs 23 lbs, is measuring high on the growth chart for height, and is wearing 18 month and 2T clothes and size 4 diapers.

Everyone always says “her curls are so perfect!” Thank you. They are.  I wash them and then use this fancy product called conditioner. (Zoe’s hair takes ~30 minutes after each bath, so I am very thankful God gave me one wash-and-go girl, at least for now).

As evidenced by all of her direct quotes in this post (ha), Riley is very verbal and basically knows the word for anything she needs. She is beginning to use short sentences (i.e. “all done. Wash,” or one I hear frequently as she plays with Zoe, “no! mine! mama! mean!”)

Well, a picture says 1000 words and I just said over 1000 words—so between the two of these, you just comprehended like 9000 words about our favorite 1.5 year old.  I’d keep going (LIKE I SAID, I’M LIKE A SIXTH GRADE GIRL OVER HERE) but I recognize that you may have a cut-off point.  Just know this: to know Riley is to love her! We are so blessed to have her as a part of our family.

On Rest, Part II

Life has settled down so, so much over the last few months, and I am so, so grateful.

Day-to-day, I have a good rhythm going between my work, children, husband, friends, ministry, and personal interests. I’ve had to drop some expectations to get here—for example, I won’t win friend, housecleaner, or blogger of the year anytime soon—but most days, I feel a sense of balance, peace, and calm.

For most of my life, I have resisted being “at rest” because it felt like giving up. Resting felt like surrendering to stagnancy and a life of limited accomplishments.  I felt like I had to stay in motion or I’d lose my significance.

But it turns out that occasionally being “at rest” is the key to actually going somewhere with all my motions.

IMG_4741One of the biggest lessons that I learned this fall was what resting looks like for me.

I already knew that I was not a very good “rester” in the traditional, kick-your-feet-up-on-the-couch or take-a-nap kind of way. Trying to “relax” that way is actually way more frustrating than energizing for me.

I also knew that chasing and nurturing two energetic toddlers, being a ministry spouse, and running a part-time business don’t really set the stage for rest—but I enjoy all of these aspects of my life, and felt called to embrace them rather than to shut them all down.

So I prayed—that God would show up and help me learn what resting looked like for me, in this life, with this personality, with this inability to nap.  And He did.

It turns out that, for me, the most therapeutic and restorative “rest” comes from short pauses—the ones where I ask, what are my goals? What are my values? Does making this decision help me live into those, or take me further from those? Why am I doing this particular thing? Is this my assignment? Whose expectations truly matter most here? Who will I gently and peacefully disappoint? What is the bigger picture of my week? What is the bigger picture of this month? What do I want to move towards for the next season, and what does that mean for today? What goal won’t I meet today because I’m choosing something better?  

Asking and carefully answering those questions makes it so that I don’t really NEED to collapse on a couch, because I’m not overwhelmed and run down and exhausted—I’m living purposefully and using my energy wisely.

It means I go to bed a little earlier.

It means I say yes to one assignment and no to another.

It means that I push past the pressure I feel to have the house clean for the dishwasher repairman who will be here soon (because what will he think of us?!!) and choose to do the messy art project with my daughter (because making a mess is how she learns…and who cares what the dishwasher repairman thinks?!) 

It means that I choose my marriage, every night, instead of advancing “just one more” item on a to-do list that I have learned will be there tomorrow.

IMG_4739Taking these pauses to consider my choices has made every day so much more enjoyable. And when unexpected events occur, I have enough margin and physical and emotional reserves to get through the events without completely losing it.

There are still the moments when everyone needs me all at once and I think, “This is just TOO MUCH for one person!”

And in those moments, too, I pause.

And then, full of awe and joyful realization, I repeat myself: yes, this IS too much for any one person. No one person deserves all of these blessings! Why has God been so gracious to me?! 

And like Lysa TerKeurst says, I remind myself that I’m managing blessings.

And this manager can take a quick rest.

My Goals for 2016

December was full of fun, laughter, and joy.  I wish I had time to recap all of it for you, but I wanted to share my annual goals with you, and I don’t have time to do both.🙂

This year, I have 6 goals.

1 – To passionately pursue my marriage–pursuing intimacy and a relationship that is separate from our parenting relationship.  

WHY: My marriage deserves this attention.  I want to experience the joy of a thriving marriage and to share this joy with my husband and our children as well.  This goal involves a lot of “laying down of self” and intentionally choosing to pursue someone else’s needs over my own, which sometimes feels costly in the moment, but I want an amazing marriage–not just a good one.

2 –  To transition well from youth ministry to new ways of serving in summer 2016, keeping in mind that I won’t be “done” with existing mentoring relationships.  

WHY: The girls that I have been loving and serving since they were in 6th grade are graduating and moving onto college.  I have learned (much to my surprise) that youth ministry does not end when the students graduate; instead, you begin doing college ministry.  Right now, I mentor a few girls who have moved on to college and a group of girls who are seniors in high school.

When I started youth ministry, I had a dog and a youth pastor husband.  Now, I have two children with perpetual needs and an associate pastor husband.  It’s become a lot more difficult to do what I really want to do as a mentor.

For this reason, I have spent the last two years focusing on getting “my” girls through their seasons and not on building any new relationships.  This summer, all of “my” girls will be heading off to college, in college, or freshly out of college.

It’s a chance for me to switch gears.

This spring, I want to prayerfully consider what ministry will look like for me moving forward, keeping in mind that I’ll still be doing some long-distance and college-break mentoring.

I want to serve my church and world. I also want to be mindful of the constraints of my existing responsibilities, at the same time that I remember that I serve a God who turns a simple offering of loaves and fishes into food for thousands.

I’ve been thinking about how I could assist a ministry at our church by donating some grant writing services.  I am also open to other new ideas that God may share with me.

3 – Attend Jazzercise 3x week + do other frequent physical activity.  

WHY: The investment of my time into physical activity pays huge dividends for my ability to perform all of my other roles.  I am a better mom and wife and a happier Sarah when I take this time for myself.  I don’t exercise for vanity; I exercise for sanity!

Although in my dream world I would exercise most days of the week, 3x a week is the perfect amount of time for my kiddos to be in the childcare program and still look forward to going, and it will keep me in reasonable shape.

4 – Continue morning devotion time and begin doing devotions with Zoe. 

WHY: I love this time with the Lord and want to continue to grow in His image and gain His wisdom and strength as I seek Him. “What you say flows from what is in your heart” (Luke 6:45) and I want to put good things in my heart. I want to see the cumulative effect of patient study of God’s word.  I want to build Zoe’s awareness of God and His love for her and her ability to have a relationship with Him.  (Mini update: I’ve already started the devotion book with Zoe and she loves it!)

5 – Make $X amount this year, maintain a minimum of 3 income streams, and prayerfully and sacrificially give from my earnings to our friends’ YoungLives ministry.  

WHY: “Change a teen mom and change a baby.”  In 2015, I wound up exceeding my income goal by 11%.  In 2016, I want to continue incrementally growing my business, but I don’t want growth to simply benefit my family.  God is the source of any business that I get and I want to offer what I make back to Him.  Our friends in Washington are looking for support for their YoungLives ministry (Young Life’s ministry for teen moms) and I feel called to take a painful and scary leap of faith to commit to giving up some of the comfort and cushiness of my money habits to help teen moms get the mentoring and support that I benefit from as an adult mom plugged into a great family and church.

I still haven’t decided whether I will give a percentage monthly or quarterly or a one-time gift at the end of the year, but giving an amount that mildly scares me is a goal of mine.  Hold me to it.  :)

6 – Spend one-on-one time with Zoe each week.  

WHY: Some of my silence on this blog this spring and fall can be attributed to the fact that knowing how to parent one of my children is a perpetual challenge for me (and that actually parenting her is exhausting).    I don’t think it is fair to share much online about my children’s struggles, which is why I have been pretty quiet, but behind the scenes I have been learning how to best support the needs of a child with a temperament that is very different than my own and a set of needs that is more intense than many of my friends’ same-age children seem to have.  We have had some professional evaluation as part of this process and apparently, I am doing everything “right”—it is just exhausting.

I notice that I feel a lot less frustration with her when I spend special time with her—time dedicated solely to studying and appreciating her unique personality and to having fun together.  I want to love and know my child the way she deserves to be loved and known, and I want to enjoy and appreciate her personality—not just patiently endure it.  I feel convinced that one-on-one time together is a critical part of this.  This week, we start an 8-week parent/child gymnastics class that we will attend together—just the two of us.  My goal is to keep some special time each week (whether it’s a class, park date, cookie date, or simply running errands) to invest in our relationship this way.

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Well, I hear some naptime-ending-noises, so I’m going to pop this up without proofreading and hope for the best.  I’d love to hear your goals if you feel like sharing any of them with me!