Summer Lovin’

I have approximately 25 more minutes before I have to leave to pick up the kids from their last morning of gymnastics camp (<–an intense term…they have gone three mornings in a row to do gymnastics for a few hours.  No one is sleeping in a cabin, and I haven’t seen a lanyard yet).

Anyway, you’d better believe I’m going to milk every one of those quiet moments…and what better way than by blogging?

When I last posted, I was 8 days into summer, and wondering if I could survive the summer intact.

Every night, I was going to bed completely exhausted, wondering, “can I do this tomorrow?” We were having a blast, but my kids were physically wearing me out. 

David kept reminding me that every time we take a break from preschool, I wind up loving having the kids around 24/7 and end the break questioning if we should even send them to preschool at all.

I remembered those words coming out of my mouth on multiple occasions, but wondered how I ever got to that place, because I was feeling so exhausted!

Then, around day 11 of summer…something magical happened.

IMG_4204I remembered the pool.  

It turns out that if you promise your kids that if they behave well in the morning, you will take them to the pool that afternoon…then they behave well in the morning to earn the pool, you have a fun activity in the afternoon when it’s hottest anyway, AND they are so tired after said activity that they don’t have energy to get into mischief!

IMG_4407 Too tired to move = SUCCESS

We have been loving the pool, and I’m SO thankful to have stumbled upon this magic recipe for great summer days! This is the first year that I have felt confident that I can supervise both of them in the pool, so I’m also thankful that we committed those years to swim lessons.  Moms with little ones…keep at it!

Other things I have been loving lately:

Making everything into a picnic

Every meal is more fun when it’s served picnic-style…whether the picnic is actually outside, or just on a blanket in your living room.  This has been a favorite trick of mine for a long time (popcorn picnic with a movie! dinner picnic when daddy’s working late! snack picnic when you’re cranky!) but it’s even more fun in the summer.

We have also been enjoying a variation: the reading picnic (basically, cuddling on a blanket on the floor, eating a snack, while I read books to them).  Zoe has been obsessed with chapter books lately, and we are working through the American Girl books.  It’s so fun to read books with an actual plot! I read all of these books when I was younger, but have forgotten most of the stories. Sometimes I find myself reading ahead to find out what happens, which is funny after years of Goodnight Moon-esque plots. 

Working in my garden

If we aren’t texting friends, be glad—because if we are, you are likely sick of me sending you gardening photos. I can’t help myself.  I AM GROWING THINGS, PEOPLE!!!

(And pruning things after I take photos.)

The previous owners of our house planted some beautiful perennials and fruit trees, but there were still a few empty beds.  SO, I asked a master gardener from our new church to come over and help me make a gardening plan.  She gave me a few plants, and my Mother’s Day present was a Lowe’s gift certificate and two days of planting help from David. This jumpstarted my new hobby/obsession!

I love caring for the garden and spend anywhere from 15 to 75 minutes on it every day.  It’s so great to have an excuse to “have” to be outside every day, work with my hands, and enjoy God’s creation.  The girls “help” me most days, and it is ridiculously invigorating to watch things bloom and grow as the result of my care and dedication.  Zoe has fully embraced the joy of gardening along with me, and we have been having so much fun looking for fresh stalks and blooms, pruning, tending, watering, and watching our garden change!

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I would still consider myself a total “beginner,” but I’m excited to learn more through trial, error, and education!

My new romper

Sorry for the double selfies, but I had to tell you that if you have thought, “I’m just not sure I can pull off a romper,” you should reconsider.  I have spent several seasons ignoring rompers.  I’m still brokenhearted by the rapid decline of non-ironic overalls in the early 2000s (RIP) and didn’t care to repeat the mourning process.

But then I saw this one in a consignment shop, fell in love, and decided that maybe I’d risk the pain of attachment.

IMG_4414Bought it, love it, won’t take it off.

It feels like PJs, but you get style points.  It’s breezy like a dress, but you don’t flash people when you lean over to pick up your small children.  The only potential pain point is a more complicated bathroom process, but I am used to going to the bathroom with 1-2 people touching me, watching me, and asking personal and invasive questions, so adding a few buttons isn’t much of a strain.

Podcasts

Man, maybe I should retitle this blog post, “Sarah Finally Hops on 2016 Trends.”  I got my first iPhone in 2017, sort of by accident, thanks to my growing frustration with my continually breaking dumb phones, the generosity of my friend Leah who reads this blog, and the lies of a Verizon employee who told me adding data would be $5 a month indefinitely.  I now pay far more than $5 a month to take photos, use emojis, not get lost, and LISTEN TO PODCASTS.

My favorites (you will notice a theme):

God Centered Mom

Mom Struggling Well

Chrystal’s Chronicles 

Coffee + Crumbs Podcast

I will also listen to random business/marketing podcasts, but overall, the area where I feel like I need the most support and encouragement is in my journey with faith and mothering.  Through podcasts, I get the opportunity to learn from those who are wiser and more experienced than me (sort of like one-sided mentoring) and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn and laugh as I garden, walk, wash dishes, and fold laundry!

IMG_4529.JPGA scene from this morning’s walk…and podcast listening session 🙂 

Do you have a favorite podcast? What is it? 

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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!

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! 

My To-Do List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My to-do list: 

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

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

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

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

On that note, I’m going to go to bed!

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!!)

What Motherhood Has Taught Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He loves me because He is love.

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

There is no greater privilege.


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

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

Mothers Day collage

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.