Dear mom, now I get it

Dear mom,

The other night I snuck into my own kids room while they were sleeping to spy on them. After doing the nightly crib search of “where is he at underneath all these stuffed animals and blankets?” I looked over into the corner and saw the pajamas of a little girl who asks to wear them nightly but ends up sleeping in her undies any way.

They don’t know I’m in there.

He doesn’t know that regardless of which side of the bed his feet end up on, his hands will be clutching a lovie, his bottom will be in the air, and his cheek will be smooshed against the mattress

She doesn’t know that her blanket she isn’t able to sleep without will inevitably end up flung off of her or that her body will be sprawled out in every direction with no pjs on it.

But I do.

I get to know these things about them that the rest of the world doesn’t know.

That they don’t even yet know.

Like the way their skin felt when it was first laid on mine.

Like the pitch their voice squeaks out when they feel really proud of what they’ve done.

Like the shape their face takes when their eyes are about to well up with tears.

Like the warmth of their morning cuddles or the stench of their dirty diapers.

Now it makes sense, mom.

All those times you knew something was wrong the moment I answered the phone.

When you knew you needed to knock on my bedroom door and check on me.

When you knew what the light in my eyes, crack in my voice, and quiver in my lip meant.

When you knew I felt afraid even though I thought I was hiding it so well.

When you were cooking dinner and already knew exactly which foods that night I would pick around and which ones I would devour.

When you knew the words I needed to hear.

When you knew the space I needed to sit in.

When you knew the consequences I needed to face.

When you knew how hard I tried, how badly I failed, or how far I’d come.

When you knew the hug I needed to embrace.

Because you knew me, mom. You knew me even before I really knew myself.

And now I get it.

From one mom to another

I have seen a picture of the well known Katniss-Everdeen-salute floating around with the caption, “this is me when I see another mom with her screaming toddler in the store.”  Well, I am here to tell you that I am currently her.  I am another mom navigating the same store aisles as you while our toddlers attempt to completely unravel us in front of other, once peaceful, shoppers.

I’m in these trenches with you. I do not have much to look back on and I do not really know where I’m headed. I’m just right beside you speaking solidarity. And it is from here that I am going to share a short list of life-giving phrases that have been infused into my mama-brain by many others that have gone before me. These aren’t deep theological truths or even necessarily practical to-do’s. I’m not trying to give a pep talk or ensue a guilt trip. Rather, I wanted to share some simple sayings that continue to free me up when I’m tempted to cower in fear and shame or puff up in pride and judgement. I hope they give some life and liberation to you as well:

Breathe it in

I know this is the most cliche one in the book and border line obnoxious. I know it can tend to have a reverse effect and bring about similar negative feelings (like guilt) I just mentioned above. At times though, these words have been spoken into my situation in such a tender and timely way. I’ve realized those times are not typically an antidote to long days- and certainly not long nights- but rather as a sweet reminder in the still moments. I now try to whisper this kind cliche to my own still moments. Moments where my legs are tingling from both my kids dozing off on them. All squished on the same sofa. All feeling the same sunshine beating through the big window. There won’t be very many more moments where I’m wrapped in the same fuzzy blanket as my Buddha-belly baby wearing only his diaper and my pig-tailed toddler wearing every color and pattern imaginable. And I tell myself to breath this very moment in. Every little bit of it.

This too shall pass

While I have found it freeing to speak over these moments with words about one day missing things like this, I’ve also found very different words necessary in the moments that I need to just be, well, kept alive. I’ve found that it’s not only about kindly whispering to myself, but sometimes assertively shouting at myself, “this is not forever!” Because if it were, I’d be done. Gone. Count me out. Mom fail, at life. But seriously. Some parenting days are really really hard. And I’ve had to give myself permission to say that and to stop there. I think it’s okay to admit if we don’t drool over the smell of our new born baby or jump for joy over our toddler’s first real birthday party.  We like some phases more, or less, than others. Certain milestones have more, or less, significance to us than others. No one says to enjoy every single moment of anything else in life. Some minutes we are just trying to make turn into hours. Some days we are just aiming to get through. And even some seasons, we are literally just surviving. Don’t worry mama, there will be more than enough good to remember.

Everyone is different

I know this sounds both vague and obvious, but it’s been crucial to me in so many ways; particularly in times of grasping for easy answers. I think one messy thing about parenting, like all relationships, is that as human beings we have a hard time heeding godly wisdom and accepting general life principles that produce likely consequences or benefits. Yet we want seamless formulas and seek after quick solutions where there are no text book answers. There are no textbook answers because there are no textbook kids. There is no magic number for an amount of sleep a child must get or an amount of veggies a child must eat. No doubt our impact is significant on our kids’ well being. But our gauge should be our own kid and not everyone else’s. This frees us up to love and parent our kids for who they are: with their very own tendencies and idiosyncrasies and struggles and strengths. We don’t always have to make sure our kids are “on par” with everyone else’s. Kids develop at different paces and need different things. And that’s really okay.

You have nothing to prove

A competitive nature mixed with an insecure spirit is breeding ground for performance driven parenting. Don’t ask me how I know. But the life-injecting reality is that there is no other human being, not even that mom that we most want to esteem us or simply accept us, that we have to give an account to. We do not have to have the approval of anyone. We do not have to live up to their standards or do things their ways. We can promote other’s from the crowd without needing to step on stage and be recognized with them. Our worth as a mom is not measured by other people’s perceptions and opinions of us. We can be free to lean on and learn from each other, without competing and comparing with one another. We can be both teachable in who we’re becoming and stable in who we already are.

There’s grace for that

Honestly this phrase is just my whole life theme. But it has guided and guarded me as a mama, too. For all my worst mom-fears, there’s grace for that. When I’m in a season of survival, there’s grace for that. When I fail my kids. Again and again and again. There’s grace for that. Grace for winning and grace for losing. Grace for learning and grace for longing. Grace for striving and grace for resting.

So much grace.

What my daughter’s 3 year old birthday taught me

Last month our daughter Reese turned three. We decided that we would take advantage of her being young enough to think that hanging out with only her family for an entire day was still cool. We thought we would take the opportunity to capitalize on family time, experience, and try to keep it fairly low key yet fun.

The day started off at a donut shop and ended at the place with the yummiest pizza and best prizes.. that’s right, the one and only, Chuck E. Cheese. Actually in all honesty (they did not pay me to say this), I was pleasantly surprised by the prices and even the pizza. I guess when you go into a place expecting to pay hundreds of dollars to win a tootsie pop and eat melted cheese on a piece of cardboard, it can really only go up from there. So there is my first lesson: the lower you set your expectations the higher chance they have of being exceeded. But seriously, as pleasantly surprised as we were and as enjoyable as the day was, there was this moment that stopped me on the inside, in the midst of the chaos. With the smell of cheese pizza filling our nostrils, the sound of ski balls crashing and motorcycles racing, the bright lights flashing and the presents around the table crowding us in, I kept hearing my daughter essentially say “is it time for the next thing yet?”

I couldn’t really blame her. Sensory overload was in full affect for us all. But that’s when the somewhat lighthearted yet striking thought occurred to me, “well this kind of flies in the face of what we try to teach her every other day of life.” Places like Chuck E. Cheese make it hard to practice things like slowing down, enjoying, and appreciating. I’m not here to bash Chuck E. Cheese, or Disney Land, or Christmas Day. However, it did open my eyes in a fresh way to the cycle that celebrations and vacations can be. It’s often something like the hype, the high, the crash, and the confusion.

So how do we bridge this gap between a day filled with confetti and the inevitable normalcy of the next day? How do we teach our kids, and our own selves, to grapple with all of life’s “day afters.”  How can we expect our kids to not aggressively rip through their presents and quickly move onto the next when we’ve set up the entire day to say it’s all about you? How can we expect them to not be met with disappointment and confusion when they wake up the very next day to hear the opposite message of stop whining, life isn’t all about you? 

To be clear, I don’t regret what we did that day. I wouldn’t change a single thing about where we went or what we did. It was a really fun and memorable day. In fact, Reese has continued to talk about how her birthday was “her favorite one yet!” Especially because she got to meet “the real Chuck. E Cheese!” Which is obviously saying a lot considering her long and experienced life. But of course, like most things in life, this is not really about Chuck E. Cheese. It’s about how we help our kids process the days of  all-you-can-eat-cake and the days of all-you-must-eat-veggies.

So here are 5 lessons I want to store up and take with me to the next birthday:

  1. Tell them what you want them to know

    This may seem like a silly point to make but I think sometimes we forget the simple power behind actually vocalizing things. At least I do. Words mean nothing without actions. But words build a foundation of understanding underneath the actions. So in the years to come, my hope is that after we bombard our kids’ room with a beautiful rendition of the birthday song, we take the time to actually tell them what Lewis birthday’s mean to us . We want to help them navigate the excitingly out-of-ordinary day ahead of them by simply talking to them about it. While this doesn’t buy any melt down free guarantees, it reiterates the values and expectations that are the same even on the mundanely ordinary days.

  2. Remind them thankfulness is a part of the day

    One of Reese’s crash-symptoms was that she was “unable” to talk to her family on the phone at the end of the day. The ones who had taken time to wish her a happy birthday and many who sent her gifts. I get that she was mostly just an exhausted kid after a fun day. And let’s be honest, even as adults, trying to find adequate ways on special days to say thank you can feel daunting and tiring. So as a take away, instead of trying to force thank-yous, we want to carve out time for them. Hopefully this creates the space for gratefulness to become more genuine and thought-out on their own. And also for giving thanks to become as much an expected part of this whole birthday gig as cake is. This might mean calling a few people to thank before bed. It might mean Face Timing the next day. Or it might mean sending a thank you note a few days later. Whatever it may look like, we hope that carving out time to say “thank you” is a reminder that ultimately it is people that make special days, so special.

  3. Explain who it’s about and who it’s for

    I think it’s good to say “this day is about you!” And then to take it a step further and say “and you are made up of a lot of other people!” Just like the day itself took a lot of other people to make it what it was, our kids’ lives take a lot of other people to make them who they are. So it’s a non-exclusive mix of being about them and for others, too. Then we can strive to help them see this as a happy thing and not a dutiful thing; “isn’t it fun that the people who love you all get to enjoy celebrating you together? Let’s think about the best ways we can make it special for them too!

  4. Define deserve

    A super easy leap (or maybe baby step) to make is thinking that the more we are given things, the more we deserve them.  I think the human heart takes what we have been given and subtly makes it into something we ourselves got. “Given” implies a free gift and “got” implies an earned reward. Suddenly the parties and presents and pizza become a birthday right. When our kids think their rights are being withheld they become upset. And when they think their rights are being applied, well, they become indifferent. After all, it was something they deserved.

  5. Emphasize worth

    I think there is an important difference in the message “you are deserving” and “you are valuable.” True value doesn’t incite entitlement but beckons honor. Birthdays are a unique opportunity to shower our kids in honor and affirmation and encouragement. This could look like everyone in the family taking a turn to say one thing they love about the birthday boy or girl. It could also look like all thanking God during prayer time for one specific thing He is doing in that person. Or having friends write down a word that has marked their life over the past year and giving it to them to keep. Whatever creative and meaningful ways praise their person-hood.

    Whether it’s a surprise slumber party or small family dinner the goal is to say to our kids that we delight in celebrating them simply because they are delightful. And that is what we hope our kids remember… even more than getting to meet “the real Chuck E. Cheese!”