Spring Thoughts

I’ve been a horrible blogger this year.

Working part time instead of “very” part time has killed my desire to spend any extra time behind a computer screen. Additionally, Zoe stopped napping last year (June 13, 2016 is basically my personal Pearl Harbor Day), and having a constant companion makes it hard for me to even know what my thoughts are, much less to process them in prose.

Also, as a writer, I typically draw a lot of inspiration from the world around me (that seems so adorably retro now, like carrying around a CD case in your Honda Civic and paying for your gas in a mixture of dollar bills and quarters…a sweeter, more naive time).  I’ll spare you the political talk but man, it’s bleak out there. I also draw inspiration from my faith, and 2017 has been weird spiritually as I attempted to “read through the Bible in a year.”  Who knew that the layout of the One Year Bible would suck all joy out of my spiritual life as I came to dread each day’s reading? I got almost two weeks behind with everything going on with my grandmother, and tried to catch up, but the layout of this reading plan had me reading essentially the same stories and laws for two months.

I didn’t want to catch up.  I wanted it to end.

By late April, I was only reading it because I felt like it was a chore I “should” get through, and that I “should” finish what I started out to do.

But as Shauna Niequist puts it, “should is a warning sign,” and as a recovering perfectionist, I am really sensitive to how quickly “should” can corrupt something good for me.  So this week, I quit.  I want my relationship with God to be a soft place to land, where grace can be given and accepted, where my heart is glad and free and knows it is loved. Life is hard enough without creating burdens for ourselves. God tells us to be diligent about knowing, remembering, teaching, and living the Word—but He did not say we have to read through it in a year.  🙂

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(I made it further than this, but basically, yeah.)

I’m trying to be more sensitive to the “shoulds” in my life—which, when combined with the other reasons listed above, is why you haven’t heard much from me this year.  I don’t want to blog because I “should.”  I want to blog as a natural outflow of my inspired, reflective heart.  My heart isn’t quite there right now, but despite the lack of self-reflection, I’ve been enjoying life! I’m in a good place in so many ways.

Zoe has been doing so well with managing her emotions over the last few months, which makes an incredible difference in my energy level and my own emotions.  She just gave me a Mother’s Day present that she made at preschool that includes a photo of her from the beginning of the school year.  She was so uncomfortable with many situations then, and was dependent on me to help her figure out coping strategies.  The progress between then (left, the best picture they could come up with because she was so uncomfortable…it was like a photo shoot of misery) and last week (right…joy-filled as she enjoys African dance with her class) is visible.

Praise God that she has come so far. I have learned a lot over the last year about how to advocate for what my daughter needs, but have also learned that I can only take her so far and then have to trust God, the community He has given us, and herself to take her the rest of the way. God has been gracious to continually remind me that He is my partner in raising my children, and that it’s not all up to me. It is not chance that the church we “happen” to serve at has an inclusive preschool program that “happens” to be the best place possible for her. I got her on the waiting list when she was one week old; I had no idea we’d need or benefit from the inclusive services. But God did.

Sally Clarkson writes about learning to trust God with her “different” child:

“If you accept this child as a gift from Me, I will use him as a blessing in your life. Let go of your questions, fears, and guilt. If you submit to My will with a humble heart, I will carry this burden for you so you can find peace…

A sense of freedom filled my heart when I understood that I didn’t have to solve all our problems at once or even understand them. God would be with me every step of the way. He would fill in the holes of my inadequacy with His grace” (p. 23).

I am finding this to be so true—the surrender, the peace, the freedom, the gift. And yes, I should probably just hand over the keyboard to Sally Clarkson and let her write this blog.

Maybe because of this freedom, my work/life balance has felt mostly on point for several months.  I’ve been stepping into rest more easily than in the past.  I’ve been vocalizing the things I want to do to have fun, and enjoying my city, my family, and my friends (I’m trying to do one new thing per week, which is a great challenge if you want to up your joy a little bit). Daylight Savings Time added two hours of daylight to my life and some serious pep to my step.

I’ve been quitting things that came from good intentions but didn’t feel quite right, like the reading plan and my monthly cleaning checklist…I’ll just live in filth, thanks.

I’ve been adding joy to my life through podcasts and exercise and reading and buying the expensive hummus (just do it—it’s amazing).  I’ve set up some fun rhythms with the girls, like watching some of The Voice every week when David works late (my final four predictions: Lauren, Chris, Brenley, and Hunter.  Lauren, I’ll buy your album.  Hunter, would it kill you to emote?!!)

One of my favorite podcasts talked about how truly stopping work can be impossible when you have young children, and how a more appropriate goal for Sabbath may be to “play.”  Instead of “resting,” focus on doing what you love and enjoy.  I’m so on this train.

This year has me traveling more than any other year in recent memory, which I am so excited about….I’ve already been to Philadelphia twice and Watersound, Florida once, and I’ll be making trips to North Carolina, Texas, and Minnesota in upcoming months, each with a different combination of family members. Pray for our ten hour car ride next week…

IMG_0337I’m not doing any type of regular formal ministry at all right now (for the first time in 7+ years) and a few of my high school girls (who were then my college girls, and are now my POST COLLEGE girls…what?!!) are coming back to town to start big-girl jobs.  I’m excited about the possibilities for continued mentoring and friendship, but cautious about committing. If God leads me this direction and opens this door, I would be very happy to step into a new chapter of mentoring young women.  But He may just want me to keep taking care of my little ones, and that’s okay too.

So, I’ve been a horrible blogger, but I’ve been a great live-r of life! I just wanted to write a little post to share that I am happy and healthy.  I will be back when I have something of greater substance to say (or when summer break drives me to sarcasm), but until then, I hope you all are enjoying your lives as well!

And Happy Mother’s Day to all of you moms!

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Celebrating

I haven’t written for a while because my Nana died, and I didn’t know how or what to write about that.  I was able to travel to say goodbye to her, and I have to say that I know God is real when you can sit at your Nana’s kitchen table, silent and jumbled-up and with an aching soul—and simultaneously knowing and feeling that He is at the table with you, not because you’re doing or saying or thinking anything good, but because He is good and He loves you.  God has met me in some very interesting places over the years, and this is one I’ll always remember—not because a miraculous healing occurred or because my heart was overcome with joy or because I heard a clear message or suddenly felt equipped to do the hard thing in front of me, but because He was there, and that was enough.

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I could talk for a long time about the experience of saying goodbye to someone, but Nana directed our feelings when she shared with us, “Don’t be afraid. This was easy.  I know where I’m going, and I’ll see all of you there.”  It was a sweet time, and I’m so, so grateful I got to be there.

A few weeks later, I was privileged to join my entire family to celebrate her life.  There was fresh snow, a freezing graveside service, a beautiful and inspiring church service, tears, laughter, wine, coffee, and unexpected train rides, so the entire thing felt a little bit surreal-ly balanced between happy and sad.

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After saying goodbye to Nana and beginning to reflect on her legacy, I have a clarified outlook on what really “sticks” at the end of your life, and I’m freshly aware that I am responsible for living now as the kind of person I want to be.  Sifting through Nana’s life made me realize that I want to be more intentional about being a good friend, making family memories, and doing the things that I enjoy (instead of thinking “wouldn’t it be nice to…” and then shelving the activity for some unspecified date).  

Thus…

Zoe and I went on a breakfast-and-sunrise date last week.

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I’ve been taking advantage of the wonderful weather and taking my girls to the beach with friends.

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When we leave the beach, we often stop for a sweet treat.  I’ve decided it’s just going to be an official, regular thing now.  I want my adult children to say, “remember when we were little and we’d go to the beach, and we’d always get ice cream/a chocolate muffin?!! That was the best!!!” 

I went on a beach weekend with my own friends, too (and we left the kids behind)!!!! This should also be an official, regular thing. 🙂

I went to an international fitness dance expo with two similarly dance-crazed friends and danced for two hours.

IMG_0274Clearly, we looked just like the lead dance instructor. #not

I’ve been enjoying a walk or two on our treadmill each week once the girls are in bed.  I wear Zoe’s toddler headphones (which don’t fall out of my ears like the dumb iPod ones) and praisewalk/dance like a loon to random Christian music playlists.  IMG_0262

I have thoroughly been enjoying my little ladies and the daily adventures they bring into my life.

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I am trying to find the humor and universality in the little annoyances of parenting.

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And I am trying to soak up the little moments…because they add up to the bigger picture of my life.

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Thank you, Nana, for all you taught me, and for all you keep teaching me.

 

Little Lessons, Big Impact

I just walked through my house, turning off lights in empty rooms, and a mental light turned on at the same time as I realized: I do this because my dad taught me to. 

There was a point in my adolescence where my dad explained that electricity cost money, and began fining us 25 cents for every unnecessary light we left on. We rolled our eyes and thought he was being ridiculous, but quickly adjusted our behavior when we had to hand over our precious quarters.

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BECAUSE I NEEDED THOSE QUARTERS FOR GAS MONEY.

And now, 16-or-so years and some blessed maturity later, I’m walking through my own house, turning unnecessary lights off.

I am in such a training phase right now with my kids.  I am constantly giving direction, redirection, praise, coaching, and enforcing do-overs.  My girls recently started fighting with one another for the first time; dual time-outs are a daily occurrence.

Ideally, I’d like to be promoting values and proactively teaching my kids, but I have to respond to behaviors so many times per day that it feels hard to move out of reaction mode and towards any “bigger picture” ideals.

I was listening yesterday to an interview with Sally Clarkson in which she said:

“A lot of women give up [on a certain ideal they want to have for their family] when they really are making progress, and their kids really are listening—they just haven’t gotten old enough to own it for themselves and to verbalize back to you how important it was to them.  I see so many people giving up at the wrong moment.”  

She explains that the verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) doesn’t say your child will go the right way immediately; it takes time  and maturity for that training to sink in. When he’s young? He needs lots of coaching and reminders!

I loved these back-to-back reminders that all of this training is a process—a process that can, occasionally, develop habits and thoughts that last for a lifetime.

So here are three things I’m trying to intentionally teach my girls right now, knowing it might take a lifetime to soak in:

(1) “God made you so, so special.  He loves you just the way you are.”    

One of my girls is beginning to realize that she is different from others, both in how she copes with things (“why am I more sensitive than them? I wish I was brave like her”) and in her appearance.  Additionally, she has been dealing with some teasing from her preschool classmates about her beautiful hair, to the point that she asks for a ponytail every day that she goes to school so the attention to her hair will be minimized (this is where I want to cry a little bit, because seriously, 3 year olds? I thought we had a few more years).

We have spoken with the teachers about the teasing, have brought in books that celebrate black hair and read them to her classmates, and (already) read these books at home.  We also got her a doll with natural hair for Christmas, as this perceptive child pointed out that all of her black dolls had relaxed (straight) hair, which I hadn’t even realized.  This was her face when she pulled the wrapping paper off and found a natural hair doll:

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The first thing she said was “her hair looks just like mine!!!” I can’t help but think that seeing this beautifully-wrapped, fancily-dressed doll made her realize that she must be beautiful if someone would design a doll to look just like her.

I want my girls to know deep in their core that they are created on purpose by a master creator, loved for who and how they are, and wanted.  So I’m reminding them at every possible opportunity:

When they’re good at something: It’s because God made you special, and part of His special plan was to make you good at this particular thing.  

When something’s hard for them: It’s because God makes everyone special and different, and He made you good at something else, and likes to watch you try and try and get better at this! 

When they aren’t like a friend: It’s because God makes everyone special and different.  He didn’t make any two people exactly alike, but you’re both special.    

When they don’t like something about themselves: God still made you special, and He loves you just the way you are. 

(2) “Let’s talk to God about that. He loves to hear our prayers.”

Prayer has never been my strongest spiritual practice.  I can praise God easily, but I like to bring my problems to God as a last resort, after I’ve pro-con-listed different solutions, maybe worried over it a little, and talked about it with a friend.  (I’m working on this.)

It occurred to me about six months ago that if I never show my children how to talk to God about their problems, my children will see me as their god.  If Zoe tells me, “I’m scared of being alone in my room!” and all I do is give her a list of suggestions to be less scared, I’ve taken away her power and His.

When I talk with her about her fears and then lead her to share them with God, I’ve taken myself off the throne and instead empowered her by giving her the tool to finding peace—and the chance to trust God and watch Him work.

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So I’m reminding all of us:

Let’s tell God that we’re scared and ask Him to help you calm down and sleep well.

Let’s ask God to help us not get so frustrated.

Let’s tell God that you’re nervous about going to school and ask Him to help you feel brave.  

 

(3) “There’s always a Plan B.  Let’s think of some ideas.”

I’m the queen of rigidity.  It’s really annoying, and I’m trying to spare my kids from having this be part of their personality.  So I’m trying to train them to think of a list of possible solutions and alternate ideas when their first idea doesn’t work, instead of freezing and/or melting down in frustration.  I want them to know that there are always lots of options if they can just get enough outside of their feelings to think creatively.

We don’t have time to go to the park because the sun is setting soon, but we can ride our bikes in our driveway before it gets dark, or do some water play in the bath tub. What are some other things we could do? 

She didn’t answer the way that you wanted her to.  What are some things we could say next?  

It is very frustrating when things break. We could hit our sister in anger and go to our room, or we could try to fix this together. Which do you think we should try? 

 

These are just a few of the “ideals” I’m holding up every day, and to be honest, sometimes I’m not sure I’m communicating them well or enough.  I’m not sure my kids are listening or watching.  I’m also not sure I’m the best messenger for ideals that I myself struggle with!

But I can tell you this: last week, my stroller broke while I was on a walk with Riley.  It was not my Plan A to sit on the sidewalk with Riley watching stroller repair videos on my phone before realizing that I needed a wrench to fix it, and then having to walk eight blocks carrying a 30 pound child and a stroller that I was holding in a perpetual wheelie.

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I felt all kinds of frustrated.  Plan A was good! A walk! Exercise! Why is everything so hard? This is exactly what I’m talking about—how can I create a strategy for communicating these big-picture ideals if I’m always responding to emergencies?! 

But later I saw what Riley was doing with her toy stroller.

img_0068She’s trying to fix it on the side of the road.  She’s doing what I so imperfectly modeled.

And now I know: in 16+ years, my little girls might find themselves turning off a light, or thinking of a plan B, or talking to God in prayer, or (I hope) smiling at themselves in the mirror knowing God made them.  So I’ll keep going with the training and the ideals, even in the imperfect moments. Because it does add up to a better person.  And one with a lower electricity bill.

And to my parents: thank you for parenting us so intentionally. I am only now beginning to realize how much energy and thought that must have taken! You are my role models! 

2017 Goals / Powersheets Review

We’re 19 days into 2017 and I have to say, so far, I have liked this year, minus the news that someone close to me is sick.

I usually do some posts about goal setting around the New Year, but this year, I took it offline and went through Lara Casey’s Powersheets goal-setting system.  Powersheets are not for everybody—my mom said “this is a NIGHTMARE” when I showed her the book, and David kept karate-chopping the air and saying “POWERSHEETS” dramatically whenever I would talk about it—but I’m really enjoying the way the system encourages you to break down bigger goals into small action steps.

I’ll keep my 55 pages of “whys” and “what I want to cultivate” to myself in case you’re on Team My Mom and all of this make you want to barf, but I still wanted to share a few of my goals, in case they encourage anyone else!

My big goals for the year are: 

  1. Establish a pattern of intentional action, celebration, & rest.

  2. Infuse my life and work with more creativity.

  3. Develop a deeper awareness of God’s presence and voice. Live with awareness of spiritual reality.

  4. Keep cultivating a fun & flourishing marriage.

  5. Embrace and enjoy this season. Engage in the little moments and enjoy them as gifts. Use what I have now instead of looking ahead/behind.

  6. Be proud of how I use my energy.

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Through the Powersheets process, I created small action steps that let me see that I am making progress on these goals. It’s really energizing and encouraging.  Here are a few of my daily goals for January that fit into the big goals:

Read the Bible/have quiet time every day.  I’ve been waking up whenever my first child wakes up (usually between 5-5:30) and giving them a little bowl of dry Cheerios to eat in their bed with some books.  Then I go out to the kitchen and journal and read with my tea until 6 am when the kids are allowed out of bed. I’m using the One Year Bible and so far, I’m keeping up!!! At one point, I got three days behind and almost gave up because every day is a lot of content, but I spent two nights catching up and I’m back on track! Whoohoo! Since I have committed to this goal, I am also going to bed earlier, so I feel better rested in general.

Complete one cleaning task per day. I made a list of all the “once a month” cleaning tasks, and am doing one per day. (For example, today, I washed our windows, mirrors, and appliances.)  This way, I don’t have to strain to remember what should be cleaned—I just consult the list and see what seems like fun not awful to do that day.  I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier.

Have “present lunch.” I’m trying to sit down and engage in conversations with or read to my girls during lunch time, instead of shuffling through the mail, cleaning up the dishes, scanning my e-mail, texting a friend to coordinate afternoon plans, etc.  Mealtimes are hard for Zoe and she often doesn’t eat lunch on Riley’s schedule, so the bonus of living out this goal is that I often end up getting 1×1 time with each girl.

Sit down for 1×1 reading time with each girl each day.  We usually do a bedtime story, but I want to do more reading with each girl.  So far, this has been the hardest goal because my children do not sit still for long!

img_9330My weekly (non-work) goals this month are:

Take a Sabbath each week–celebrate and rest! I started this over the fall, and felt the desire to continue to grow in this area.  I am reading an amazing book that is deepening my practice of and commitment to Sabbath.  One great idea from the book: make dinner easy on your Sabbath day.  The last two weekends, I have picked up a prepared meal from our grocery store on Sabbath, and it really lets me sink deeper into relaxation when I know that dinner is already taken care of and there aren’t any dishes!

Work out four times. I have been in a steady routine of 3x/week for the last year, but I was ready to challenge myself! Having this goal “forces” me to exercise one evening or weekend day each week, which builds on my weekly “Sabbath” goal since I find exercise really fun and recharging!

Listen to a podcast each week. This encourages my creativity and can also encourage me spiritually and/or in my marriage, depending on which podcast I’m listening to!  My favorite podcast is The God Centered Mom, but I also really enjoy Creative Empire, Coffee & CrumbsInspired to Action, and just about anything Lara Casey puts out.

Complete weekly life planning. Figure out what our obligations are, what we’re eating, who’s buying the groceries and when, what the girls and I will do during our time together, when David and I will work out, what my work projects are and when I’ll do them, and what needs to be done around the house.

Speak my people’s love languages. Looking at this goal each week helps remind me to speak love to my family members in the way they receive it, not just the way that is easy/natural to me.  For Riley, my cuddler, I seriously just have to remember to sit down throughout the day and make my lap available to her.  It’s a simple way to love her, but I’m not the “sit down” OR “cuddle” type, so I have to remind myself to do it. Within ten seconds, she’s usually on my lap, so I know it’s filling her little love tank.

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With the Powersheets system, you check in every day and every week and indicate with progress bars and check boxes how you’re progressing towards your goals.  I have found that it is really easy to remember to do this, and it’s so motivating to see that I am actually making progress on goals that otherwise feel abstract.  I love looking at my week with the goals in mind and deciding when I’m going to take small steps that add up to meaningful goals, instead of just hoping that I have time to take the steps.  I also really enjoy the Powersheets philosophy of setting meaningful goals, pursuing progress over perfection, and taking small steps that add up to your big goals.

Basically, if you’ve been on the fence about Powersheets, I either just convinced you to purchase them, or run far, far away, depending on your personality type.

This weekend, I’ll be checking out a potential future kindergarten for Zoe, organizing our storage room with David while my in-laws watch the girls (we’re turning it into a home gym space!!), meeting a friend for coffee, and skipping church and taking the girls to the beach to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday.  I’ll also be starting my friend Brittnie’s new book.  I can’t wait!

What are you up to? 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Late November

We just got back from our annual Thanksgiving-ish beach trip, which is always one of my favorite weeks of the year.

This fall, I had worked ahead so I didn’t have to take any work along and the trip could be a true time of rest. I decided to prioritize listening to my body and get as much rest as it told me to.  It turns out that my body is very tired.  One night, I went to bed one night at 7:45 pm and slept until the girls woke up at 5.

When I’m at the beach for the week, lazily reading books and taking walks and pushing my kids on swings, it’s hard to remember what tires me out at home and why I never sit down before 8 pm.  Then I come home and remember–oh, we have friends and family members that want to speak with us, clothes that need to be washed instead of stuffed back into a suitcase, a house that actually needs to be maintained, clients who need responses to questions so we can afford to live, children who need more nutrition than french fries and mac and cheese provide, and long-term goals we need to advance towards.

Oh yeah, that.  All of it good. All of it a blessing.

But it’s also a blessing to walk the beach, drink a glass of red wine at 4 pm, throw everyone in the car without brushing anybody’s hair, and drive to a restaurant with “Crabby” in its title, before coming home and going to bed early without doing a single dish. Amen?

1123160818(Zoe was feeling the vacation too…I walked into her bedroom in the condo one morning and found that she had quietly drawn this sweet picture of the four of us smiling on vacation!)

Other fall updates: 

Sabbath – As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’m making a concentrated effort to take a weekly Sabbath again.  Getting started “resting” will always be hard for me, but I noticed over the course of the fall that I become more comfortable with Sabbath and begin enjoying it sooner in the day each weekend that I practiced it.  Here are some things I/we have done with our Sabbaths:

  1. Ripping out hideous bushes in the front of our house and replacing them with cool plants  (gardening is not part of our usual work week, so this totally felt Sabbath-y)!
  2. Decorating our house for Halloween.
  3. Visiting a “pickers” market and indulging in my love of antiquing/vintage furniture (I bought a new light fixture for the kitchen…when I finally get an electrician out here to hang it, I’ll report back)!
  4. Having a friend over to teach me more hairstyles for Zoe’s hair.
  5. Planning and hosting our block party.
  6. Having lunch and visiting a garden center with my mother-in-law.
  7. Working out while I left everyone else at home.  🙂
  8. Meeting a friend for coffee.
  9. Reading a book! I’ve been averaging 1 per week.  My best reads this fall were Present Over Perfect and Hungry Heart.  I typically don’t critique other people’s art in writing because I like to encourage the expression of the human spirit, but life is short, so I’ll tell you to save yourself a weekend and avoid Commonwealth. 
  10. Visiting parks with the girls.
  11. Serving as the purchasing coordinator and childcare support for a very important back yard project: A SWING SET!!! Thanks to my awesome and talented dad for planning and building an amazing swing set for our girls! (Unpictured due to privacy concerns…but here is a picture of Zoe swinging elsewhere!)1121161652a

Work – Work-wise, the fall season has been exactly what I hoped for: I was able to explore new clients and new types of work, and gather information about what my ideal client mix looks like.  I’m not on “holiday cruise control” yet, but I’m getting there. My students are one assignment and one exam away from the finish line of our fall course.  I’m done with one grant writing contract for the year; the other two extend through part of 2017, along with a new client (a local children’s museum). This fall, also I helped a new nonprofit get set up, did some copyediting (having a critical personality is annoying but lucrative), and fell in love with helping high school seniors write college admissions essays (if only this was a year-round need…the intersection of empowering adolescents, helping them understand their stories and tell them well, and persuasive writing is totally my sweet spot)!!

Keeping these balls in the air is thrilling, but also stressful, and I realized at some point about two months ago that I am often moving too fast to celebrate my successes.  I am honestly more excited sometimes about checking something off of my to-do list than I am about the thing that I did MEANING something.  That’s weird, and seems like a ticket for the Burnout Express.  So, I have been training myself to pause and celebrate the successes.  Here are two: the last two months, I won $44,000 in separate grants for a grant writing client, and one of “my” high school seniors has been offered over $28,000 in scholarships so far! Par-tayyy!

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Potty training – We finished Z’s potty training in the spring and figured we were done for the year, but Riley initiated her own potty training about 7 weeks ago.  If I have accomplished nothing else this year, I have taught two people bladder control.

Identity crisis – After 12 years of starting my morning with a mug of black coffee, I switched to green tea in September. Who am I?!  (Answer: less caffeinated.  Also, less prone to a midday crash and GI issues that had crept up.)  I debated sharing this because I have a coffee-loving image to uphold, but this is what qualifies as “news” these days.  Consider yourself informed (and invited for your post-lunch latte, which is still a thing, because I need to recognize myself in the mirror/make it through the day).

Halloween – In a wildly unpredictable costume choice, Zoe was Elsa for Halloween.  She was also very eager to get trick-or-treating, so this family photo was the best we could do of the four of us:

dsc08416(Not pregnant – just phoning in a costume).

Christmas tree – has been chosen.

1125161117aNothing says “Christmas cheer” like Crocs, a Minnie Mouse Halloween costume, and a thin layer of sweat from the 80 degree weather.

Also, check out Zoe’s cornrows.  I have to say, I’m becoming a bit proud of my black hairstyling skills (when Zoe will sit still enough for me to use them).  Here’s a more basic two-strand twist:

IMG_5132.JPGTo other mamas attempting to learn styles: I would highly recommend the book Better than Good Hair,  and finding a friend who works for a nonprofit organization designed to help black girls celebrate their culture.  The latter may be a little more difficult to find, but amazingly, God has gifted me with such a friend! I am so grateful.  I actually have another hair story to tell you, but this post is getting too long, so I’ll share it another time.

Off to decorate the tree…

My First-Ever Political Post

Over the last year and a half, I’ve had many spirited and friendly conversations with friends and neighbors about politics, but writing my views out has always felt too pointed.  In a conversation, you can tell if you’re stepping on someone’s feelings and can quickly change the subject or address the miscommunication.  In a blog post, you can’t.

I haven’t want to hurt anyone in my family or church community by sharing my political views. I haven’t wanted anyone to feel that I don’t respect their intellect, judgment, or life experiences.  I haven’t wanted to engage in a point-by-point argument with anyone, because I enjoy simply swapping experiences and learning from one another, and don’t enjoy participating in conversations designed solely to “convert” someone to their or my point of view.  I respect others’ rights to their own beliefs and conclusions.

And so I have been silent on this space.  Actually, to be accurate, I wrote several blog posts that I didn’t post, because I value my relationships.

Behind the scenes, I read Zoe and Riley books about the political process.  I took Zoe with me when I voted a few weeks ago, so I could tell my daughter someday that she was with me when I voted for the first woman president.  Because surely he wouldn’t win.  

This morning, I had to explain to my daughter that he won.

“But Donald Trump’s not nice,” she said.  “Why is he the President?”

I don’t have an answer for you, baby.  I don’t, I thought.   

“Tell him not to be the President,” she said.  I told her that we couldn’t do that—he had won the vote.

“He’s bad!” she said.  No, I said.  I think that he’s a sad and confused man who makes some wrong choices.  And now that he’s our president, we can pray that he makes good choices.  

All morning, people have been texting me, wanting my take on what’s unfolding.  I’m not sure why, except that many people feel hurt and confused, and maybe as a pastor’s wife they expect me to be able to distribute nuggets of wisdom and comfort.  Wisdom? Comfort? It’s hard for me to feel these things about our earthly home right now.  But I do feel a responsibility, maybe, finally, to share my perspectives and a few things I’ve learned during this election season.

Here goes.

-This fall, I did not put a sign up in my yard.  However, I did plan and host our neighborhood’s first-ever block party. Twenty-six people ranging from the age of 9 months to 90 attended.  Everyone stayed past the stated end time, sitting in mismatched chairs on my lawn, chatting and laughing.  And then no one on the whole block put up a political sign.  We built bridges instead of a wall.  I am proud of my street.  I want to look for more ways to do that, and I hope others in our country take on this charge as well.

-I felt that in this election, it was more important to vote against something, than to vote for something.  It was also the first presidential election where I actually felt fear about the candidate I was not voting for, instead of thinking “I have idealogical differences from this person, but still respect him.”  I hope that our next presidential election offers more inspiring choices.

-I was surprised when men were so shocked and appalled by the sexual assault-related content in this election season.  As men denounced Trump’s actions and statements, all I could think was, where has this outrage been for my whole life? How are they surprised by his language and attitude, when dealing with this type of language and attitude has been part of my experience and the experience of every woman I know? The vast majority of the men in my life have been outstanding men who treat women with respect, but the way that Trump acted—and the fact that he was a presidential candidate—did not shock me.  My lack of shock was horrifying to David.  His horror was surprising to me.  To me, it was locker room talk—not locker room talk I CONDONE or PRAISE, but talk that was, very sadly, in line with my experiences as a woman.  It is sad to me that I was not more surprised.  We have to do better.  But sadly, I don’t feel that the outcome of this election will contribute to an advance in the way that women are treated.

-I want to thank Democrats for the fact that my daughters will never know a world in which someone who looks like them cannot be a serious contender for the role of president of the United States.  I do not share every belief your party espouses, but I am grateful that you champion underrepresented voices.

-I want to thank John McCain, Mitt Romney, and other Republican leaders who denounced Trump for taking a leadership stance within their party.  I feel badly about the situation that you—and other Republicans of similar conscience—found yourself in.  I hope you examine your role in creating this situation, and your responsibility in fixing it if you continue to attach yourself to this party.

-I have always considered myself a moderate, and have not registered or affiliated myself with a party. Although I tend to lean Democrat, I evaluate the candidates and vote for people on both sides of the aisle.  However, moving forward, I plan to register with the Democratic Party.  While I will continue to evaluate each candidate, there is no way that the greater Republican Party as it stands right now can represent my vision for America.  Numbers inform decision-making in politics, especially when you live in a swing state, and I want to make it clear that this +1 is going to a different set of ideals in hopes that this sends a message.

Plus, since our short-sighted state has closed primaries, I can now help select the candidates moving forward.  I do not think that that my newly-labeled party is perfect by any means, so as I attach myself to it, I will look for ways to use my voice to improve it. I don’t think a two-party system is perfect, either, but I feel like maybe I need to start trying to work within an imperfect system instead of trying to make a statement about its imperfections and having little voice.  We’ll see what happens.

-I want to thank Hillary Clinton for taking this job interview seriously.  You were not a perfect candidate by any means (although none of us are perfect anyway), but your debate skills and clear passion for policy have inspired me and reminded me that I can keep growing and learning for my entire lifespan, if I make the choice to stay engaged.  Thank you for supporting a peaceful transition of power.  I hope you get some time to relax now. Also, I would suggest that you avoid using e-mail moving forward.  It doesn’t seem to go well for you.

So.

When I woke up this morning at 4:20 am (for the fourth morning in a row…Daylight Savings Time, can you be outlawed in the first 100 days of a Trump presidency?? I could actually get behind THAT), someone close to me asked, “what do we do now???”

Here’s what I did: I read news, until I decided—enough.  I made breakfast for my kids.  I gave them hugs.  We had a dance party.  I did some laundry.  I went to Jazzercise.  I talked to someone who was upset by the election and let her cry for a few minutes.  I bought an expensive latte to remind myself that fear of economic changes does not control me.  I took my kids to the park.  I smiled at strangers at the park.  I reminded myself that we still live in a free country.  I reminded myself that this tiny place I live on this tiny planet in this big galaxy is just a temporary home—that God is still on the throne.  I decided to pray for our president-elect, as I have been doing throughout this election season already.  I texted with friends, listening to their feelings, trying to offer support.

I’m not thrilled by this new beginning.  But I also recognize that disengaging isn’t the answer.  So here’s my engagement.  Here’s my voice.

And here’s what I take hope in: the president is not America.  WE are America.  We work to make it what it is.  And ultimately, each of us has another, far more true identity than our nationality—and that is our identity as a child of God. I pray that we all begin to see, embrace, and work from that commonality, for when I see God in you and live like the God who is in me, this country and this world will become a better place.

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!!)