Transformation by Toddler

I’m living in a token economy right now.

Due to some previously-alluded-to adjustment issues, sweet Zoe—and everyone else!—now receive a sticker reward for “nice touches” to Riley.  I personally am wearing one sticker; Riley is wearing three (the rules get a little fuzzy after the sticker is awarded).

In addition to our positive reinforcement, we are also making heavy use of “time out.”  Even Java, our bichon poo, spent some time in time out today for not listening (Zoe’s advice to our canine inmate: “sorry to mommy!”)

I was never one of those moms who was totally overwhelmed by a newborn.  There were tough moments, but it was actually easier than I expected.  Your basic duties: hold them and help them stop crying.  You’re doing great!

Toddlers? Totally different story.  Your job description reads teach, coach, prevent injury to other and self (this involves putting yourself “in their head”—basically, lose half your wits, pretend you drank three energy drinks, and feel ALL THE FEELINGS at once and you might be close) and MAKE A HUMAN BEING OUT OF AN ANIMAL.

Now, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that I genuinely enjoy toddler Zoe.  I’m actually kind of obsessed with how funny, intelligent, and interesting she is.  But every so often, she seems untamable and I just think, please hold me and help me stop crying.  I have no idea what to do with this kid.  

IMG_3483“Just taking a cute photo of Ri—AHH!!”
Toddler impulse control strikes again.

And those times make me feel like a real big failure.

On Wednesday I was feeling particularly bogged down in despair at my inability to control (I should probably write “positively coach,” but let’s be real…) Zoe’s behavior when I got to leave the house for a few hours for a work meeting.  I put my lipstick on and walked out of the house, trying to avoid a conspicuous fist pump as I breathed in the sweet, sweet air of freedom.

As I trotted into our city’s coolest coffee shop sans stroller, diaper bag, or concerns, I thought: maybe I should go back to work full time.  At least I feel successful at this.

And then, as we waited for our conference call to start, one of my fellow team members showed me pictures from her daughter’s recent wedding and then read this blog post out loud to me.  And unexpected tears came to my eyes because I realized: there is so much more to come.

Raising a toddler is hard.  When each day takes everything that I have, it’s hard to keep the long view in focus.  I find myself focusing only on this stage’s successes (or often, challenges).

But as my teammate reminded me, I’m not raising my girls to be toddlers.  I’m raising my girls to be teenagers, adults, professionals, friends, moms, wives, grandmothers.  There’s a whole life ahead of them.

And when I look up long enough to remember that? It totally changes my perspective.

The day-to-day life in the two-under-two trenches is hard, but by working with them every day on kindness and gentleness and self control and sharing and all of the things that make us, you know, NOT ANIMALS, I am hopeful that there will be days ahead of me where:

  • my preschool-aged daughter will share some of her favorite things with her younger sister (this already happened this weekend when Zoe and I were leaving a birthday party and she told me that she wanted to share her party favors with Riley!)
  • my elementary-aged daughter will discipline herself to work towards a goal she is passionate about
  • my middle school daughter will stand up for an underdog at personal cost to herself
  • my high school daughter will love volunteering with children at an underserved elementary school
  • my college aged daughter will understand how to set boundaries
  • my adult daughter will thoughtfully consider her gifts and the world’s needs, and make a career choice she enjoys
  • my adult daughter will understand that a good relationship takes work, and will be dedicated to doing her part of the work, producing a joyful and life-giving relationship that we’re all proud of
  • my daughters will be friends. Maybe, they will even be MY friends.

It’s easy to focus on the toddler behaviors that need to be modified (and they do need attention).

But when I take a step back, look into my daughter’s eyes, really see the amazing human being in front of me, and dream for a second about the potential, that is so much more life-giving and inspiring.

IMG_3496I don’t have all the answers to deal with Zoe’s pinching problem.  My sticker system may not work.  I might lose my temper sometimes and other times I might be so shocked by a behavior that I can’t muster a good response.  Riley will have a whole different set of issues when she gets to this age (pray for me?)

But Zoe isn’t just a toddler.  She is a human being with a beautiful heart and limitless potential. She’s a gift.  She’s MY gift.

I love what Gloria Furman writes in her book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: 

“God’s sovereign grace releases me from the worry that I’m doing a haphazard job of orchestrating my children’s lives for them.  The gospel reminds me that a mother’s plans are not ultimate; God’s are.  God is the one who has created these children, and he has far more intentional intentions to glorify himself through these kids than I could ever dream up

He knows the number of their days and no part of their story surprise Him.  He is the God to whom we want to actively, daily entrust our children.”

My expertise is limited, and some days my patience is too.  But God knows what she needs—and what I need.  And as I earnestly seek Him, I am equipped with what I need to serve her, and to grow into the mom and person God wants me to be.

Some days, I look at my daughter thinking “AHHH! She needs to change!!!”  But really, we’re both on a transformative journey.

And the sweet thing is that we’re traveling together.

Photo on 9-22-14 at 6.57 PM

On Impact

For months after transitioning from full time work to being a mostly stay-at-home mom, I mourned the loss of my work.  I missed seeing the impact I had on my students’ lives.  I missed the relationships I had with my coworkers, who had grown to appreciate my faith even if they did not share it.  I missed having an impact on the future of an organization.  I felt called to be at home, but I didn’t see how my work here as having a very large impact on anyone besides my family.

A few months ago, David, Zoe, and I were on a Sunday afternoon walk when we ran into our associate youth director from church.  He and David swapped stories from the morning (“the sermon went well! I got a lot of good feedback!”) (“we had the BEST conversations in Sunday school today! Students were asking such great questions!”)

Then they looked at me.

“I cleaned poop out of the bathtub this morning,” I volunteered.

“Awesome job!” the associate youth director said.

As we walked away, I shook my head a little, thinking well, that about sums up my impact right now.  I keep things going at home so that David can have an impact.  

And sure, I have my moments where I think, okay, NOW I’m having an impact, because I’m being really intentional about reaching out to that person or making this charitable contribution or tangibly helping someone with something they need.  But most of the time, I feel like I’m just a stay at home mom trying to fill my day and my toddler’s day with fun stuff so she grows and develops and I don’t die of boredom.  My reach isn’t far.

That’s where I’ve been for months.  Not unhappy with my life AT ALL, but not seeing my influence right now as very big.

A few weeks ago, though, that idea began to be challenged.

Through a series of conversations that had to be God-orchestrated, I learned that while I’ve been walking around believing my reach to be small, God has been using me in places I wasn’t even aware of.

Someone told me that they read an email I sent them every morning and that it gives them strength to face the day.  My words were not that great, nor did I envision it being an ongoing read, but it is for her.

A coffee date I walked away from months ago thinking “meh, that didn’t have an impact?”  The person just contacted me and wants to get involved in our church.  Eight or nine months later, she’s still mulling over what we talked about.

My exercise class—surely it’s just an exercise class, right? Except it’s not.  Because people are talking to me about faith and pain and struggle in the middle of jumping jacks now.  What the what?

The pain and loss I’ve been experiencing in the last few months? Helped me understand a little better how to reach out to a friend when she had a miscarriage a few weeks ago.

The soup that I made yesterday, only to realize, oops, that recipe made way more soup than I want to eat? It’s going to a friend whose family could use a home cooked meal.

God doesn’t waste ANYTHING.

We are the ones that waste.  We complain our way through circumstances that could teach us something if we’d only open our heart a bit more.  We dream of the opportunities we’ll have in the future, ignoring the real possibilities right in front of us.  We make small talk, thinking that’s what others want, when they’re actually desperately craving real talk.  We get too busy and too routine oriented to look up and really see what He is doing.  We say things like “my impact is small right now” or “I’m JUST a…” or “right now, I can ONLY…” when really? Every single moment of our life can have an impact.

For months, I’ve been praying that God will use my life and my story.  I’ve wondered what form that will take in the future.

All the while, it’s been taking form.

And now I know.

I’m thankful that my eyes are open, albeit a bit late.  I’m hopeful that from now on, I’ll partner with God in the NOW, seeing the opportunities and possibilities through His eyes instead of my own, seeing what I’ve got instead of believing the lies that it’s not much.

These slower, more family-focused moments of life? Are not a break from my real life.  They are my life.

And He can, and is, using them.

This Journey Matters

I have just one short thing that I want to say to the other mamas out there today.

IMG_2276This thing we get to do? IS AWESOME.

There’s so much chatter out there about the difficulties of parenting, the tragedy of giving up your own life, the fact that your life will never be the same again.  And yes, it is hard, and yes, you say goodbye to your old self, and yes, eating a yogurt in silence and giving NO ONE any bites of it is what qualifies as an amazing self-care moment now when you used to NEED pedicures and shopping and getaways with your girlfriends and significant others and none of that is part of your life anymore.

But I gladly trade all of that for the privilege of watching my daughter try to make me smile when she thinks I need a little silliness in my day.

I gladly trade all of that for the privilege of walking around a nature park with her, noticing birds and bugs I would have never noticed a few years ago and taking her little hand when she offers it to me as we traipse through uneven grass without an agenda.

And I gladly trade all of that for the awesome responsibility of showing Zoe through my actions what kindness, love, empathy, compassion, wisdom, self-control, intelligence, and self-sacrifice look like.  I realized the other day just how much she copies me, just how much she looks to me as a model—just how much she is learning every day from ME.  Though it’s terrifying to realize that I am her primary example, it is also exhilarating.

The emphasis I put on developing my character and living with integrity, passion, purpose, and a heart for others will have a direct impact on my daughter’s development of all of these things.

No, I’m not the ONLY one responsible for this, nor will I do it perfectly…I cling to grace and need a fresh helping daily to cover my inadequacies, selfish tendencies, misplaced priorities, and mistakes.

But what could I possibly do that is more meaningful than this?

“Christian parenting is truly a sacred journey. It invites us parents to purify ourselves, to use the process of raising kids to perfect holiness, and to do this consistently, every day, out of reverence for God. If we enter it armed with this understanding, each segment will gain new meaning and purpose-even the difficult ones. We live in the midst of holy teachers. Sometimes they spit up on themselves or on us. Sometimes they throw tantrums. Sometimes they cuddle us and kiss us and love us. In the good and the bad they mold our hearts, shape our souls, and invite us to experience God in newer and deeper ways. Although we may shed many tears along this sacred journey of parenting, numerous blessing await us around every bend in the road.”

-Gary Thomas, Sacred Parenting