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! 

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:

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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…

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.

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

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

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

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

It was a gem of a weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Morning Miracles

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

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

NOTHING.

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

And me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From My Library…

Sometimes these blog posts write themselves.

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

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

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Sounds about right.

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.