Focusing on the Flowers

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

My heart hurts for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unrushed Moments

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

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

Riley shouted “B!!!”

Both girls erupted into a fit of giggles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riley, 18 Months

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Rest, Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It means I go to bed a little earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

And in those moments, too, I pause.

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

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

And this manager can take a quick rest.

October So Far

Hi friends! Another quick update.  Our move went well, minus the demise of our kitchen table (turns out it was literally on its last leg, HAHAHAHAHA you’re welcome) and we’re mostly settled into our new house! Here is where I would like to show you pictures of perfectly pulled-together rooms, but I have children, so this is the best I can do:

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It was clean and organized until 5:45 am.  Use your imagination to turn back time, or just enjoy it as it is 95% of the time (and note the “neutral AND bright” color that David and I convened on…it works, right?!!) Still to come in this playroom: art, a possible rug, and the removal of the last 3 moving boxes.

Our living room, shot from a hideous angle so you won’t see the stack of frames yet to be hung (“this weekend’s” project that may never be completed because kids):

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The real view, because I like vulnerability:

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Part of our massive backyard, complete with cute enjoyer-of-the-backyard:

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I’ll share more photos as I have opportunity to take them, and may even get fancy and do a “before and after” post for you chock full of juicy details like “paid someone to do this, so don’t ask questions because I honestly don’t know,” “this paint color is kind of blue and kind of green, and it has a name…er…” and “ask my dad.”  I will rule the home design blog genre.

Here are four of my favorite things about this new house so far:

-It provided an excuse for both of my parents to come visit.  I love seeing them, my girls love spending time with them, and no visit is ever long enough.  Tear.

-The chance for new rhythms.  For example, in this new house, I am decidedly starting each morning with quiet time.  The “wake up before your kids to meet with Jesus” concept has been a non-starter for us since these weirdos get up between 4:30-5:30 am and that’s just ungodly.  In our old house’s maze-like layout, the kids could easily wander and commit acts of violence if I didn’t move with them, so quiet time got replaced by “mommy is our constant companion” time.  Swell. Our new house’s layout is much more conducive to breezily keeping an eye on them while I do my own thing AND they’re both over 1 now, which is old enough to sit in A PLAYROOM FULL OF TOYS and PLAY for 10 minutes.  Zoe said the other day “I’m going to read my Bible because it’s morning time,” so I think it’s working.

-My good friend and her sweet daughter live next door.  Number of spontaneous play dates so far: too many to count.  This is awesome.

-Our double front driveway is the perfect size for car and bicycle riding, and our street is quiet enough that I can relax instead of patrolling the edge of the driveway.  We happily spend at least 20 minutes a day out here waving to airplanes, watching the clouds, peddling, and giggling.

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Unrelated to our new house, but still amazing: let it be known that on the morning of October 15, a slight chill entered the air.  You’d better believe the entire family went out for a walk in our lightweight fleeces as soon as the sun rose.  Mid-to-late-fall mornings in Florida are the bomb.

My goals for the remainder of the month are:

-be a little less self-centered and figure out what’s going on in other people’s lives.  The home buying, moving, and unpacking process have necessitated an intense internal focus for the last 2 months, but I’m eager to expand my gaze a little and figure out what the heck is going on outside of my paperwork and boxes.  It’s not a very specific goal, but I know it when I’m doing it, and my goal is to feel a few glimmers of that joy that comes in losing track of myself in serving and loving another.

-exercise 3-5 x/ week (3 Jazzercise classes + walks)

-bring my discipline and focus to work again after a few weeks of being a little more home-focused.  Get some clarity about winter/spring work projects and where I’m going next.

-get my updated will signed and notarized (hi next gathering of friends, I’m about to make you all contemplate mortality for a minute.  Bring a pen)

-hang those dang pictures.

bonus goals: enjoy Halloween with my ladies and possibly make it a threepeat month for Saturday beach trips…

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Talk to you soon! 

New House Details – Part I

I’ve been getting requests to “GIVE US MORE HOUSE DETAILS!”

Okay.  Here they are.

FullSizeRenderMy bedroom right now

Honestly, we didn’t have any intention of buying a home this year.  I like being a renter.  I’m scared of unknown expenses, spending my weekends on home maintenance, and being tied down to a geographic area.

Adding fuel to my “renters fo’ lyfe” argument is the fact that home prices in our area are ridiculously expensive, yet I don’t want to live anywhere else.  After living through Rat House (which, by the way, is now legitimately a Boy Scout hut…practice your trapping inside, I guess!), the thought of sifting through the crummy homes we could afford in this area and trying to decide was the least crappy so we could spend all of our money on it sounded pretty unappealing.  Our current rental has been great (although when your standard is “not infested by rats and insects,” there’s nowhere to go but up), and I didn’t think we’d be able to find anything remotely close to our preferences—in which case, I thought, whyyyyyyy???

However, our landlords decided to sell our rental house.

We don’t want to keep moving all the time, we needed somewhere to live, and it turned out we had a down payment.  David said we are done spending down payments on adopting children (I know, the guy who hates the traditional Christian interpretation of “head of the household” suddenly decides to get all authoritarian on me?!!) so we began investigating the housing market with a realtor and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Well! It turned out that by moving outside of our preferred middle and high school district (but staying within 3 minutes of our current neighborhood and inside my “area” boundaries) we could afford something we liked.  Since Zoe and Riley aren’t even in preschool yet, we decided that we could probably risk it.  Within a few weeks, we found something we liked, decided what we’d want to pay for it, put in our offer, and had ourselves a little deal.  That’s not really how it’s supposed to work in this area (there’s usually drama and bidding wars), so we’re feeling like this is probably our house.

Or like we are making a giant mistake that everyone but us can see.  One of the two.  Usually the first.

We are supposed to close Wednesday, complete some small renovations the next week, and move on the 29th.  I feel a little weird sharing photos of the house before it is officially ours, but I’ll share some (and some before and afters) once we move in.

IMG_2082Sneak preview.  Goodbye, hideous carpet.

In the meantime, we are packing, and I’ve discovered the incredibly fun and time-wasting world of home renovation blogs.  While I usually use Pinterest mostly to blatantly piggyback on my friend Jaima’s meal planning efforts (thanks Jaima,) I’ve been Pinning home ideas like a madwoman recently.  I have plans to implement exactly 0 of these ideas, but seeing what I’m attracted to has still been beneficial as we’ve picked paint colors and flooring and decided what our longer-term furniture goals are.

Yes, I suddenly have long-term furniture goals.

Mom, you should be proud.

More sneak previews: my favorite features of the house are the open floor plan, the huge backyard, the updated kitchen, the French doors going out to the backyard, and the bonus that my friend lives next door!

More to come if closing is successful!

(Also: blogging twice in one week?! Must have a grant I don’t feel like writing…)

The Beauty of Unplugging

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
-Anne Lamott

About eight months ago, David approached me about a conference that he wanted to attend at our old college in Washington.  He was rambling on about the theologians that would be speaking and the workshops he could attend and how great the Pacific Northwest is, and my tired eyes were glazing over until he spoke these magic words: “and they have a childcare program if you wanted to put the girls in.  I think they take them for the whole day or something.”

David had mentioned this conference to me every single year since 2010 and had tried to engage me in serious conversations about conference logistics for the last two or three years.  I was noncommittal.  Disinterested.  Why fly across the country to go to a few workshops?

But this year…it suddenly made perfect sense.

Childcare program.

Kids.

Gone.  

All day. 

I was in.  Ohhhhhh, I was in.

In early December I told my mom over the phone that we were probably going to the conference and that I was considering putting the girls in the conference childcare program.

“I’m not sure why you’d feel a need to do that,” my mom said. IMG_3986

I knew why.

Over Christmas, she watched the girls for a few hours.

A few days after we came home, she called me.  “I think you should put your kids in the conference childcare program.  I’d like to pay for one of them to go.”

We signed up.  And the thought of a WEEK OF CHILDCARE pulled me through the exhausting moments of winter and spring.

Riley’s fighting sleep training for 7.5 weeks? Oh well, she’s going to childcare for a week in July.  I’ll sleep then.  

Zoe has a virus mimicking strep throat and literally hasn’t stopped screaming or crying for six days? Wow, it will feel nice to get my break in July.

Tantrums? For a week in July, this will be someone else’s problem. 

There’s a study that shows that happiness is boosted more from the anticipation of a vacation than from the actual vacation.  I only wound up using the conference childcare for 3.5 days, but I milked about six months of anticipation from it.  And it delivered.

When we originally talked about the conference, I dreamed of spending the week writing.  About 2.5 months before the conference, as I began praying over what my project should be, I realized that what I needed most wasn’t a project.  What I needed most was to spend a week producing nothing.

And that’s exactly what I did.  I took a hike every morning.

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I read books.  I read the Bible.  I journaled.  I researched houses (we’re under contract now! More details to come.)  I napped.  I met up with a friend for coffee.  I went to the workout center on the college campus.  I spent time sitting outside doing nothing beyond enjoying the breeze.

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David and I went on a “coffee and hiking” date.  We also re-visited the place where we met for the first time.  Sweet, sweet memories 🙂

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I went to 1 hour and 20 minutes of educational programming (I know, go easier next time, right?) I did not do any cooking, meal cleanup, or laundry.

We extended our trip for 5 days after the conference ended, spending some friend time and family time, as well as some “4 of us” time.  I got to spend substantial time with three of my favorite college girlfriends.

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(not pictured: the night we took a newborn to a wine bar)

I met up for a hike and coffee with two other great friends from college.  We saw my in-laws and celebrated Riley’s birthday with a great group of friends.

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We took Zoe and Riley to a few favorite spots from college, found a few new ones, ate great food, drank amazing coffee and wine, hiked 8/10 days, rested, relaxed, and enjoyed the beauty of one of my favorite areas of the country and world.

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It was a giant exhale.  And it was so, so needed.

When Zoe was almost 1, I began to feel like I was getting my mojo back.  I suddenly felt energy to do things that had seemed too hard for 11 months.  Although Riley still wakes up between 4:50 and 5:15 every morning, we are mostly sleeping through the night over here, and I’m beginning to feel the same way again.

I want to be more active and challenge myself physically again.  I want to make a little more space for myself to do some of my favorite things.  I want to occasionally straighten my hair.

I am going to be a mom for a very long time.  I want to be a person too.  

This trip was a great kickstart to that process.

Shortly after we got back, my sweet and thoughtful husband surprised me with an unlimited month pass to a barre studio near our house and told me his gift included handling the girls so that I could go.  So three times a week, I’ve been feeding my family canned soup or sandwiches for dinner, putting my kids to bed a little early, and heading out to barre class.

It’s funny—knowing I’m going to barre class that night is kind of like knowing that childcare is happening for a week in July.

Regardless of how my girls are behaving or how my work ends up being interrupted, I know on my barre class days that I will have some space and margin to just be me and focus on myself.  (I also know I won’t have to really cook dinner or do a lot of dishes…which is surprisingly helpful to the ol’ energy supply.)

Barre class focuses on the mind-body connection.  After a year of ignoring almost every message my body has sent me (because resting when it told me to was legitimately not an option with two young kids and no family in town),  it feels foreign but important to focus on this connection again.  I’ve found myself going to sleep a little earlier some days, and other days, pushing my body or mind a little further.  I’ve been alternating Jazzercise and barre classes and am pleasantly surprised to find that my body can still be challenged without breaking down—it seems that even though I spent a year feeling weak, I’m actually still pretty tough.

My goal for the fall is to keep connecting with me, with rest, and with margin.  I want to make more space for joy and surprise.

My prayer for the fall: Lord, make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside quiet waters.  Restore my soul.  Make your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.  Open my ears and eyes to see it.  

One Year Later

This summer has been really, really sweet.  And it would be easy to write about what my family has been up to, but somehow, it’s harder to write about how I think and feel…it requires reflection and honesty and time.

But it’s good for me to make that space and time for myself to reflect, so that’s what the next few posts are going to be about—how I am, and what I’ve been thinking about and feeling lately.

Riley turned one a few weeks ago, which means it’s been one year since my “mom of two” journey began.  Man, what a humbling year.  The fatigue.  The constant feelings of inadequacy. The never-ending needs.  Laying myself down, over and over again.  Getting up morning after morning and praying for strength I knew I didn’t possess.  Messing up.  Getting it right. Messing up again.  Taking help.  Thanking God for help.  Wishing I didn’t need help. Enjoying the gift of my girls.  Resenting the burden of my caring for my girls.  Loving one moment.  Wishing the next moment would end.  I never felt one emotion for long.

As we approached Riley’s birthday, I started to realize that even though I had spent an entire year feeling inadequate and over my head, everyone was still alive and doing well one year later.  I had made it.  And that somehow, despite how hard it was, I was better than I was a year ago.  This year showed me many places where I am weak and need to grow—but along the way, I did grow, and that is something to celebrate.

photo-79So did the birthday girl! Isn’t she beautiful?!

I’m not the same person I was a year ago.  I am definitely more run down, which is a negative (I’ll talk about that in my next post).  But I’m also more focused, more intentional with my time and friendships, less concerned with outcomes and more patient with process, and less affected by worry and anxiety.  One year later, I’m more at peace with myself and my calling, even if I struggle with the implementation of that calling sometimes when the toddler moments strike and the baby needs me and the dog is barking and a client is calling wanting to talk for the eleventh time about the timeline of a grant proposal I turned in last week.

I have dreams of doing “big,” cool things for God’s kingdom someday—writing a book, doing some speaking, sharing some wisdom.  But I have to get wisdom first, and I feel challenged and encouraged that what I am doing every day in this stage of my life is the way to develop that.

I’m not a natural mom to two babies this close together.  It’s not easy for me, and the multitasking and casualness it requires is not the best fit for my personality.

But I’ve hung in there anyway because I want to be refined.  I want to do the hard work.  I want to dig in every single day with all that I have and serve and love those around me, even when it’s not natural.  I want to pursue wisdom and learn how the Lord wants me to live, and 99% of my days, I feel like I am actually doing that.  If I never get to do those “bigger” things, I’ll still be glad with how I spent my time and energy—on the biggest things there are—and I will still have lived a “big” life that I can be proud of.

I am more concerned with developing right character than a big calling.  And this year offered lots of opportunities to build character.

My exercise instructor said recently as the class struggled through an exercise, “if you’re shaking, that means you’re working.  If you’re shaking, you’re changing.”  I love this thought—that just because something is HARD doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong, or that it isn’t getting me somewhere.  How naturally hard or easy something is isn’t really important.  What’s important is how I respond to the challenge: whether I keep trying and grow, or take the easy way out and stay the same.

Each August on our anniversary, David and I reflect on and write down our highlights of the year in a special journal.  This year, we wrote: WE SURVIVED.

222014-2015: no one in this photo is dead.  That sums it up.

We’re definitely not the same people that we were a year ago, and I am grateful for the growth.  But I am personally ready to move beyond subsistence.  Maybe 🙂

More in my next post!

My Lent So Far

For Lent, I have given up Facebook, reading blogs, and looking at Instagram accounts (I don’t actually have my own Instagram account, so I mostly just creep on others’).  The following are some stream of consciousness notes on the experience thus far.

-I am such a rule follower that I honestly have not been tempted to cheat yet.  Noteworthy: I do not have a smart phone.  IMG_0196

This post needed pictures, so baby Zoe will be helping me out.

-I didn’t realize how much pressure social media created for me to “respond” and “be up to date.”  Within two days, I realized, “hey! This is pretty amazing…the only people I am conversing with are people who actually seek me out or whom I intentionally put effort into initiating conversations with.”   It’s like an introvert’s dream.

As I reflected on this, I realized that in between my roles as professor, consultant, friend, and family member, I already have two email addresses, one online learning system, and a phone to stay on top of.

Facebook and blogs initially felt like my “fun escape,” but removing them from my life made me realize that they still add that pressure to “stay on top” of something.

-I didn’t realize how much I used Facebook messaging to communicate.  As soon as I de-activated my Facebook account, I realized that I had made plans with a relatively new friend this week via Facebook message.  I am still trying to figure out how to get her number or email address to confirm our plans.  Oops!  IMG_0204

-I also realized that there are a few friends who don’t actually have my number or e-mail because we just use Facebook messaging to communicate and plan, and that a lot of my mom friends use “group message” on Facebook to plan play dates.  In all honesty, some of these friends may not chase me down if it’s not as easy as just adding my name to a message, and that’s okay.  In between sleep training, giving up my stroller workout class (which is during Riley’s naptime now), and giving up Facebook, I think I am basically bowing out from some social scenes…which actually gives me more space to focus on those close friends who wouldn’t let me bow out.

I LOVE making new friends, but sometimes feel a tension between my love of making new friends and maintaining those really life-giving relationships with my closest friends.  Giving up social media is making some of this tension go away.

-Without social media, I focus a LOT better.  Sometime along the way, my “starting work” ritual had become, “sit down, make work plan, check e-mail, check Facebook, THEN get to work.”  Now, I skip steps 3 and 4, get right to work, and stay focused the whole time.  This right here would be reason enough not to go back.

-My e-mails are so boring.  Seriously.  I do NOT get the dopamine hit from my e-mails that I got from Facebook.

-For a while now, I have relied on social media and blog reading as one of (if not the) main tool for my “relaxation,” but I haven’t felt like it was very successful.

Since Lent began, I have read one book in its entirety.  I found time to go on our library’s website and place a bunch of book requests.  I have watched two episodes of Gilmore Girls.  I have also had more nighttime conversations with my husband (who gave up espn.com for Lent).  All of these activities have successfully helped me relax, and have made me feel more peaceful and better able to focus on my purpose.

Peace trumps relaxation.

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-I don’t know why (Satan testing me?!! JK) but ALL THE FUNNY THINGS have happened since I quit Facebook.  Apparently I am supposed to just muffle the hilarity instead of broadcasting it to a wider audience?!  Oh wait.  I still have a blog.  So you all get to hear that:

  • in the last two weeks, I joined Jazzercise, wrote my last will and testament and advanced medical directives, and bought a minivan.  I doesn’t even need a closing quip to make this funny.
  • today, one of my daughters had a hysterical fit because she didn’t want to share a book with her sister.  The book? Sharing Time.  

There were others, but I respect your time (and am thankful you didn’t give up reading blogs for Lent).

Okay, email subscribers and those who access this blog by typing the URL of this blog into your navigation bar instead of lazily waiting for me to put this on Facebook…it’s been real.   Thank you for spending your time with me!

Life Lately

I’ve been writing a lot lately, but almost none of it has made its way onto this blog because when I proofread it the next day, I sound about as articulate as Chris Soules.

In related news, Riley’s in sleep boot camp.  Mama cannot function like this any more.  I mean, I love a good early morning party after not sleeping through the night as much as the next guy, but 6 months of it?!!

Photo on 1-12-15 at 6.18 AM

Not sure why ZOE is the tired looking one in this photo,
as she’s the only one who slept through the night.
Drink that coffee, girl.  

The training needs to actually, you know, WORK before I can think (much less say) something profound again, but since I have the itch to write, I’ll settle for sharing a few fun tidbits from our family life these days.

 

-Zoe: Hilarious

My sweet Zoe cracks me up every single day.  Some of her recent gems:

“I need a ponytail.  I have a busy day.”

Scene: Me, trying to put R to sleep in her darkened, sound-machined-up room.
R, screaming hysterically.
Z bursts into the room and says to me, as if to say come on, you’re missing an obvious cue here: “Riley no like dark.”  To Riley:  “Light, Riley?”
Duh…why didn’t I think of that?

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She has also started going behind her kitchen set in the morning and saying “soy latte please” while passing me a pretend cup (she says “medium mocha!” for David).  She also likes to pay for “soy latte please” with her pretend credit card at her toy cash register.  I have no idea where she picked that one up.   No idea…

She got to meet Elmo at a recent toy store grand opening.  She was transfixed.  She now prays for Elmo at night.

photo-77   Don’t mind David’s wardrobe choice.
He looks like he just got back from a funeral because…he had.
#OOTDpastoredition

At least once a day, she likes to pretend to be Mr. Frank, the oddly charismatic man who leads our local library’s story time.  She switches into her Mr. Frank persona by putting glasses on, putting a ball under her shirt to simulate his “bump bump” (her word for belly), telling us “I’m Mista Frank,” and leading us in a series of songs.

I really hope Mr. Frank does not read this blog.

 

-Riley: She doesn’t sleep.  But she does other things well, like be cute.

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I soak up every sweet cuddle and giggle from this precious little gift.

In addition to snuggling nonstop, she is also rolling everywhere, banging toys with determination, nearly toppling over with excitement when I read her books, and eating purees (well, spitting them out…tongue thrust is a bit of a challenge for her.  I had an informal consult at the playground with a feeding therapist and got some new ideas to try, and am ready to get more help if things don’t turn around in the next week or two).   

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These girls make me the happiest mama around.

 

-Bestie time

My best friend/old roommate/basically sister Becky came to visit for 5 days this last week. She brought her husband and 1 year old daughter along for the ride and we had a blast watching our girls play together!

10959381_783643375825_4633402131181552879_nWe also had a blast leaving our children and getting pedicures.  Amen.

 

My life as a hermit

Becky arrived at the perfect time.  Not only had I not had a pedicure since July 2012 (a disgusting realization I arrived at mid-pedicure…don’t worry, I left a large tip), but our 3 weeks of sleep training have made me a near-hermit in desperate need of social contact.

With our new schedule, R takes two naps and Z takes one.  Typically, they aren’t at the same time, which means I have about 45-60 minutes during the “work day” to go anywhere, if I’m lucky.  Good times.

(And by “good times” I mean FREE ME FROM MY PRISON).

I have always said “I’m a stay at home mom who doesn’t like to stay at home.”  But as the cruelties of fate would have it, home is where you’ll find me now, all day, every day (unless I decide I’d rather endure a ragefest/meltdown/car nap that negates an actual nap and results in psychotically cranky child/etc. in favor of some contact with the outside world).   

I realized that my home detention was getting to me the other day when I was THRILLED when some JROTC kids who were collecting donations for their program came to the door.  I happily handed them dollar bills in exchange for conversation.

This is my life now…

 

-On the upside: 

I am loving the 1-on-1 time with each girl that their non-synchronized nap schedule provides.  I’m a great mom of two when one of them is sleeping.

Fun with the girls

 

-Learning vs. doing:

For a few months this fall, I had a difficult time feeling engaged in my faith.  Historically, I’ve felt most engaged in my faith when I’m learning through reading, journaling, attending church, listening to sermons, etc., but with two kids, lots of distractions, and little brain power thanks to sleeplessness, I felt frustrated and told my friend Jeanette, “I just feel like I’m not learning anything new.”

Her response was awesome and has helped me so much.  She said,

“I don’t think God’s always teaching us something new every moment of our faith walk.  I think there are times for learning, and times where He just wants us to put into practice what we’ve learned.”

This is definitely a time for me to take the three minutes, five minutes, whatever I wind up having and yes, try to learn about faith and God…but it’s also the time for me to just practice DOING those foundational things that I already know He calls me to.

This morning, R and Z’s sleep schedule meant I would miss all of our church services, so I made pancakes with the girls, danced to worship music with them, and cleaned the dishes and wiped the noses and sat on the floor and played with the dollhouse figurines, remembering we can do everything for the glory of the Lord and that He can use anything we give Him.  And it was just as great and edifying as church.

 

Valentine’s Day:

Is this week.  I realized yesterday that I had V-Day plans with my toddler, but not my husband.  This situation has since been rectified (holllllla to my youth group babysitters).  

I really don’t write much about my biggest and first love—but I thought this post summed up everything I would say.  In the beginning stages of two under two, I wondered if we would lose something special in the insanity of our daily tasks…but as the storm settles and the tasks and kids get a bit easier, I realize how much we gained.  I love him more than I ever did.  I feel so blessed to have him as my best friend, love, and partner in all of this.

Now: important question! What are your V-Day plans?!!