Monday, June 30, 2014
Most people wouldn't classify me as a terrible summertime mom. I mean, I've already shared with my readers the color-coded calendar I hold in such high esteem. I'm very good at finding activities for my children to participate in during the hot summer months. It's the downtime I have trouble with.
That, my friends, is what makes me a terrible summertime mom.
I work. Which means that my time with my kids is relegated to anytime during the week after 1 and before 8 or 9 p.m. (preferably 8). That's usually when my kids want to go to wet places like the pool or the splash pad or the lake.
Now, I do love summer. Really. I grew up frolicking lakeside with my cousins, skiing, wake boarding and living in my swimsuit. It never bothered me that my diet consisted mainly of Rainbow white bread and bologna. In fact, at 10 years old, I liked it that way. I don't remember a lot of adults hovering around. Heck, I don't think I ever wore floaties or a life jacket. My family members just threw us in and hoped we'd float, I guess.
Deep down, I want that kind of abandon for my kids. I really do. But, the truth is, and I hate to admit it, I'd rather lay around the pool getting sun on my pasty skin than to slide into the frigid water to ensure my children didn't become drowning victims.
That's the first reason I'm a terrible summertime mom. Because I'm selfish enough to long for the freedom to soak up cancer-causing UV rays while catching up on the latest issue of People instead of yearning for the opportunity (fleeting as it is) to frolick in the water with my children. Do I frolick? Yes. Yes, I do. And I do enjoy it. Mostly.
Aside from my loss of sunning time, I find that my frequent visits to the pool are just another reason for me to worry. See, I have a 6-year-old who thinks he can swim. He can't. But, will he listen to reason? No. Will he wear the floaties? No. So, I'm constantly having to keep a visual vigil to make sure he doesn't literally get in over his head. This stresses me to no end. I'm longing for the day when he, like his 10-year-old brother, can touch most places in the pool so I can relax a little. I don't have these problems during other seasons of the year.
And can we talk lake water for a minute? Again, I'm not so neurotic that I'd let my over-exposure to nature shows ruin me for summertime fun. But, I've heard about the little no-see-'ems that live in lake water. When I submerge into the murky depths that I reveled in as a kid, now, as an adult, I'm imagining all kinds of icky things squirming into my swimsuit. I cringe every time I think about it. And now you are cringing, too. I'm sorry for ruining all your future lake trips. Just forget I said anything.
The next reason why I'm a terrible summertime mom? Schedules. I love them. I find a great deal of comfort in the mundane, as I've previously posted. I can't tell you how excited I get when the fall is rolling around and everything shifts back to its proper place. My Fall TV shows return, anchoring my evenings, my kids' school schedule kicks in and life makes sense once again. During the summer, I'm a one-person cabbie, carting kids from one camp to another (between pool visits). We're sometimes at full-day camps, sometimes at grandma's house. Other times camps don't start until 9:30, sometimes they end at noon. All of this juggling makes for an exhausting game of "what's next?" which scrambles what brains I have left.
And, while we're on the subject of things that bother me about summer, let's talk bugs. Now, I'm not a squirmy girl who can't stand all creepy crawling things. But I do hate mosquitos. Know what I hate more than mosquitos? June bugs. They just give me the creeps. I hate the way the buzz and crunch. And they seem to have no direction. They aren't flying towards the light; instead, they seem to just be writhing around like they have epilepsy. When do these little gems of nature appear, I ask you? In the summer. That's it. Never in the winter or the spring. Just summer. So, that's number three.
The fourth reason I suck at summer is the boredom factor. Even my kids have a certain threshold for swimming, movies, board games and scavenger hunts. And I can only fill the weekends with so many road trips and excursions. At some point they always whine the inevitable phrase, "I'm bored." It usually takes about five to six weeks before we reach this point. But, by the time they've had enough, we still have eight weeks of down-time looming before us.
And, not being the most Pinterest-y crafty mom out there, I can only do so much. I mean, the floors have to get mopped sometime, right? All of this open space where kids have so much unstructured time can weigh on a person. I'm starting to think maybe we need to have an optional summer school for those children of parents that just don't want to deal with the summertime slump.
I know. I know. All of this makes me a terrible human being. I should point out, though, that just because these particular areas do not fall into my "favorites" category, doesn't mean I don't find the joy in them. I realize all-too-well that these summertime moments with my kids will quickly pass by me. So, I soak them in, and bask in my beautiful kids' laughter and freedom.
My kids have no idea that these small annoyances bug me in the slightest (well, except maybe the June bugs). And I plan to keep it that way. One day, when they are on their own, I'll find plenty of time to lay around the pool. Not too long from now, my van will be empty of children needing me to cart them from one place or another (hopefully by that time I've traded the van in for a red convertible). And, at some time in my life, I'll have no reason to be outside when the bugs come out. When that happens my life will feel a lot emptier. The small feeling of irritation I have today will be replaced by a pain of longing for days gone by.
That's why it doesn't matter how much I suck at summer. I'm going to dive in while I still can. With bug spray, of course.
Monday, June 23, 2014
I grew up a girly girl. My mother entered me in my first pageant at age 4, and I continued on through the Miss America system until I aged out at 25. So, my life was pretty much make up, high heels, glittery dresses and spotlights from the time I could walk a straight line. I couldn't wait to doll up my little girl with frilly things and pretty bows. I was so ready for that!
What I wasn't ready for, however, was the bitter disappointment I felt when I was told we were having boy number two. My spirits plunged. I had the ultrasound tech check again. Yep, she said. She was certain. I smiled, of course, thankful that our baby was healthy and that we were blessed by another little person to raise. But I couldn't shake the disappointment. And I hated myself for it.
It took weeks of discussions with my husband and older women who also had multiple boys for me to let go of my visions of girl talks and shopping trips.
When Beau was placed in my arms, I couldn't believe how much I loved him. Just like with our first son, J.T., all it took was one glance and I was hooked on this kid. Suddenly, the thought of having two boys to tumble around with appealed to me. I could see them playing together, fighting with each other, supporting one another - loving each other in ways that I couldn't. It was the greatest gift I gave my oldest son, having a lifelong buddy that would "get" him more than anyone else in the world. Forever.
As my boys are growing up (they are 10 and 6, respectively), I revel in their sweaty, messy, loud rough-and-tumble ways. But I am constantly batting down others' suggestions that we "could" have a girl if we "tried again." This is said by strangers, family members and friends, as if to say, "all is not lost; there's still hope." In a way, it feels as if I need to apologize to these people for being okay - thrilled, even - at having only boys.
Here's a shocker: I don't want a girl. Because I remember the nightmare I was when I was a 13-year-old girl. And I don't want to revisit those years. Don't get me wrong, I respect my friends who have girls. I adore little girls. They are pretty in their Easter dresses and curls. They play quietly and use sweet sing-songy voices. They like frilly things, like I do. But I know a girl wouldn't be the right fit for me, just as God knew that.
For those of you who like numbered items. Here are just five reasons why having boys is awesome:
1. They come with few accessories - I can hop in the car with just a couple of juice boxes and a sketchy idea for the day and we're off. No groping for hair bows behind the dresser or matching socks. They are good to go at a moment's notice (well, if they can find their other shoe, that is).
2. Buzz cuts - Yes! Come summer time, my children are shorn like sheep. We buzz their heads to the nub. No threat of lice, it washes off with the water hose, and cuts down on the sweat smell a little. Girls don't have this option, especially in the South, where a woman's hair is her crown of glory.
3. Everything matches - Boys don't care if they mix plaids with stripes. Our wardrobe consists of cheap t-shirts, khaki shorts, jeans and a few dress pants and shirts with a few polos thrown in for good measure. That's it. I can outfit both my kids for under $200 for the year. Seriously. What mom of girls can say that?
4. Hand-me-downs! - If I had one of each, we'd be spending a fortune on clothes and decor. Having two of the same gender means what I buy for the oldest does double duty for the next. Cost savings plus! When my oldest inherited a bunkbed from his cousin, his decor automatically transferred to his younger brother. We didn't have to unload a bunch of Disney princess stuff. Win, win!
5. Boys always love their Mommas - My brother is 43 years old, and still hugs my mother like he's 12. My two boys are the best cuddlers in the world, and I know they will always have my back. I'm the only queen in my castle, which means my knights will defend me and fight on my side as long as I live. That's a very comforting thought as old age looms ahead.
I don't need hair bows and lace to revel in motherhood ; I've got superhero capes and plastic swords instead. I won't have quiet tea parties, bead-making tutorials or mani-pedi sessions. I'll take light-saber battles, camping trips under the stars and digging for worms instead any day.
No, I don't need a girl, thank you very much. We are happy with the two boys we have, and make no apologies for not longing for the girl everyone thinks we need - or should want. So, if you run into me at the super market or on the town square, you will know where I stand. Save your sympathetic looks. Because, frankly, I've got it pretty good.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
As with most birthdays, I've become a little reflective this week. You know, pondering things like,"What have I accomplished?", "What have I done?", "Where is my future headed?" In these times of thoughtfulness, I realize that each decade has brought its own transforming moment. And with those moments have come certain lessons that, I hope, I'm passing on to my children.
My childhood was one of, let's just say, transition. Mom and Dad divorced. He pretty much disappeared from our lives, and then remarried quickly thereafter. I plunged into an uncontrollable depression at age 7, where I couldn't stop crying. Mom tried everything from counseling to bribes to getting me a puppy. Nothing could stave off the deep well of depression I found myself in. I hated everything about everything. It was terrifying.
The problem persisted to the point where I was convinced people were watching me through the vent in the bathroom. I was so terrified of water that I would make my mother sit with her hand on the bath tub faucet so I would be certain it wouldn't overflow. Then, I would get into the bathtub fully dressed (we're talking socks and all) to avoid the people in the vent, and take a super quick bath.
Eventually, I did overcome these phobias. But it was a time of darkness I will never forget.
The Lesson: Don't be ruled by your fears. If there are people in the vent, give them an eye full.
I guess you can say the crazy stretched into my teenage years, when I plunged into my "grunge period." During my father's first second marriage (he ended up remarrying, like four or five times; I've lost count) my step brother began molesting me on my weekend visits. This is not something I'm ashamed to talk about today, but at the time, I was terrified of my abuser, and didn't share my secret until I was 13 years old, many years after my Dad divorced my step-mother. Because of the way I felt about myself and because of this secret, I wore black clothes, ripped jeans and a pretty sour expression most of the time.
Interestingly enough, it wasn't until after my secret was out that I began to feel the freedom to be pretty again. I started showing an interest in colors besides black (much to my mother's relief), and yearned to rejoin humanity. Pretty soon, friends I had been keeping at a distance re-entered my life, and my teen years were filled with parties, boyfriends and activities. I also started writing again, which earned me the opportunity to lay the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C. I was no longer afraid to explore who I was without the shackles of guilt and pain associated with molestation.
I ceased being a victim and became a survivor.
The Lesson(s): 1) Secrets can only thrive in the dark; shining a light on them leads to freedom from bondage. 2) Don't allow others to determine your worth. 3) Black may be slimming, but it can also be depressing.
My Young Adulthood:
By age 18, I had become a pretty jaded person. A series of toxic relationships, including the one between me and my father, had soured me on life. I was not a very pleasant person. Instead, I was snarky (I mean even more so than I am today), and scornful of pretty much everything in my path. In short, I was a cynic.
I don't care who you are, 18 is too young to be cynical. There's too much to explore, to experience. You should at least wait until your, I don't know, 40 to be cynical. But I digress. Without going into too much detail, I agreed to attend a worship service on my college campus, where I was introduced to a true relationship with Christ. At first, I thought all these people were a bunch of kooks. But, eventually, I came to realize what I thought was kooky was, in truth, joy. They were happy. And I couldn't identify with that.
I recommitted my life to Christ alone in my dorm room later that year. And the next day everything looked, smelled and felt different. I was truly changed. That one decision altered everything about my future, from the career path I chose, to moving to Texas to marrying my husband. Looking back, it all hinged on that one moment in my dorm room. It even led to my eventually forgiving my father and my abuser. The scales fell away. I was healed.
The Lesson: Christ changes everything.
Well, this passage could go on for pages, but I'll try to keep it short. I feel like the most growth I have known has come since becoming a wife and mother. I've had to learn what it means to separate self from service. Because, loving someone requires sacrifice and compromise. It requires placing their needs above your own, and trusting they will do the same for you.
I was born a pretty selfish, vain person. So, this was a huge transformation for me. This period in my life has seen me go from a career-minded journalist living alone with her pomeranian to a work-at-home mom whose primary goal is to see her husband and children thrive. It has seen me go from thoughts of "me" and "mine" to "us" and "ours." I've grown in patience (at least a little), compassion, prayer and even domesticity (shocker of shockers). It's seen me grow as a person, friend, daughter and woman. And all in the context of change, which I was never really comfortable with in the first place.
The Lesson: Change, though scary, is the catalyst for all things beautiful.
I'm approaching 40, yes. And at one time that would have bothered me. A lot. But not so much any more. As I look back over my life, each decade has brought forth colors in me I never knew were there. Each laugh line is a swift brush stroke on the Lord's canvas. And I'm eager to see just what God paints next in this masterpiece called life.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Now, I'm not usually so easily offended by my kids. I get that they are kids. They don't take into account the hundreds upon thousands of times I've made their lunches, dinners and breakfasts. In their minds, dinner magically appears with a wave of my hand. They don't hear the inner groan whenever I think about menu planning, or understand the effort it takes just to muster the energy after a long day of meetings, tasks and deadlines to pull together our little family meals.
I get that he's 10. His world is very small and protected, thank goodness. But on this particular day, my emotions were just raw enough (and perhaps my meds were just unbalanced enough) for his remark to feel like a slap across the face with a weighted glove. It hurt.
Because I am a pretty busy little bee, what with running my consulting business on top of holding down a part-time job, my friends have often commented on how I "have it all together." "You keep everything running so smooth," is a general statement. What they don't know is that each and every day I walk around feeling like spewing the F word: Failure. Fraud. Phony. (Okay, so the last one isn't technically an F word, but you get the point.) When moms give me props, I feel like pulling them aside undercover spy-style and confessing to all my flaws. Add that one to the F-word pile.
So, here's a little tip for any new mother out there or any mom struggling to measure up to her own idea of what a mom should be: none of us feels like we are doing it right. And, to be honest, searching Pinterest only fuels my feeling of failure. I mean, have you actually tried making fruit roll up origami swans? Trust me, it's not easy and, no, it doesn't come out looking like the picture.
For my mom's generation, Donna Reed was the unrealistic ideal to live up to. Today it's all these nameless faceless Pinterest moms who must have nannies because, let's face it, who else has the time? But I digress.
Each of us is facing an unattainable ideal that we can just never reach. And we get it from all sides. Magazines urge us to GET THINNER IN 10 DAYS! Or BE A BETTER LOVER IN 5 EASY STEPS! Or LOSE THAT BABY FAT! They want us to CRAFT OUR WAY TO HAPPINESS and HAVE THE HAPPIEST KID ON THE BLOCK. But the truth is, we are each just trying to make it to nap time without losing our minds.
When my son compared me to his more culinarily gifted grandmother, it stung. But he was telling the truth. She is a better cook than I am. However, in that one statement, I felt he was pointing out what I already knew: I'm a fraud. I'm a failure. I'm a phony. No matter how hard I try, it's just not going to be enough. In that moment, I felt defeated. Truth be told, I cried. A lot. (Not in front of him, of course, but alone in my car on the way to the store). And then, I prayed.
In that quietude with the Lord, I realized something very important. I may be a fraud, but at least I'm trying. Every day, I do my best to do my best. The Lord knows we will never measure up to the ultimate goal: to be like Jesus Christ. Yet, he still asks us to try. Every day. And in ministering to my children in a Godly fashion, the fraudulence falls away and what's left is a human being "working for the Lord, not for human master." Colossians 3:23
When I returned home, my son, with sadness in his eyes, sincerely apologized for hurting my feelings. I wrapped him in my arms, overwhelmed by what a kind-hearted child he is. In that moment, my feelings of failure melted. I mean, I must be doing something right, after all, to have a son who hurts at the very idea of wounding his mother.
What was left was gratitude: for the gift of motherhood and all the lessons God is teaching me through it. Because, phonies or not, we are each His children and we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" Psalm 139:14, origami fruit roll ups or not.
Try to remember that the next time the dinner is burned, the laundry is still piled in baskets unfolded around the house, you haven't made it to the gym and your craft box has gone untouched for another month. To God, a prayerful effort is way better than a pretty Pinterest page any day.
(Note: No Pinterest pages were hurt in the writing of this blog. Incidentally, check out my Pinterest Page for more blog posts. Yes, I'm aware of the irony.)
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Do you see that picture? That's my kids' summer schedule, and it's a thing of beauty. All those color-coded, scheduled events read like a Monet painting to my eyes. But I've sort of always been that way. I like structure and schedules, knowing what's coming next, and having plans B and C ready to go in case (heaven forbid) my original plan gets shredded.
But while I really like to have something set for every minute of the day, I know it can be trying on my kiddos. So, I made a radical (for me) decision for this summer. I decided to schedule weeks of nothingness amid the camps and trips.
Now, let me explain why this is a big deal for me. And by big, I mean HUGE. When I first met my husband, I was about as rigid as you could get. I liked to be spontaneous, as long as it was carefully planned out. And sitting down for a "quiet moment" was not among my favorite things. I felt antsy, like I needed to be doing something more ... productive. My husband, Dan, on the other hand, was a master of nothingness.
While I've learned to relax more over the years, I've certainly still not mastered the joys of doing nothing. And that realization is what did it for me. It dawned on me that I was passing down this rigidity to my own children. Hence, the new improved summer schedule.
You see, while I understand it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round, I notice that my husband has a calm about him that I envy. He's rarely rattled, and usually is even-keeled emotionally. As to where I am more intense, energetic and emotional, which makes me a ball at parties, but not so much in moments of chaos. I have a theory that adding more of "nothing" to your life will improve one's emotional state including:
A. A Balanced Perspective - When you contemplate the beauty of God's nature, you begin to realize, just as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 6:26: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your lifee ?" When we consider their worry-free life, we can't help but look at our own worries as petty in the life of eternity.
B. Reliance on Imagination - Our children are constantly entertained - by T.V., video games, computers, cell phones, you name it. Everything is geared toward filling their "down time" with some sort of diversion. Very little is required of our children's own imaginations. By reducing my children's outside activities for several weeks during the summer, I'm asking them to make their own fun. While some of this "at-home" time does include a movie or two, many of the hours are spent playing outside and in their rooms with little else but each other and their make-believe worlds.
C. An Appreciation for Extracurricular Activities - Let's face it, we dump so many outside activities on our kids throughout the year, that expensive summer camps and road trips seem like white noise, blending into the rest of the busy-ness. More time at home, just being, builds up my kids' excitement about the other events I have planned for them later in the summer. So, next week, when I get them suited up for a fun church camp, I'm not going to hear moans and grunts. Instead, they will have had enough decompression time at home, that they will be eager to get out, make new friends, and dive into the summer fun.
Four days ago was our first day of summer. I decided to have someone come to the house to watch the boys while my husband and I went to work instead of scheduling them for a camp that week. They slept in, stayed in their pajamas, played board games, you name it. But they never left the house.
I was curious to see if my A, B, C theory would hold water. The result: a resounding "Thank You!" from them both. Not once have I heard the words, "Mom, I'm bored." Or "Can't we go somewhere?" In fact, while they were happy to go swimming with me in the afternoon after I got home from work, they weren't begging for me to take them, either. This proved my theory.
We must all learn to embrace a little more nothingness in our lives. As Americans we are told that we must get up, work hard, never give up, always strive for better, and so on. And all that is very true. But it doesn't have to consume our every waking moment. In fact, we might be more productive if we build in time to do absolutely nothing for an hour a day. That's right. Just sit and listen, with no cell phones or ipads to distract us. Find a spot, close your eyes and marvel at the "birds of the air" and the "lilies of the field."
Because, once we do that, we, like my kids, might just be more enthusiastic about the experiences that lay ahead.