Doing the Difficult Things

shin guards toddler doodle.pngWe thought our four-year-old twin daughters would love soccer. On family walks, they are always running, jumping, or dancing down the road, and we thought soccer might give them the opportunity to do more of that. So, we enrolled them in a local summer recreational league, borrowed and bought a few pieces of gear and socks, and cleared our schedule on Monday nights for the next six weeks.

As it turns out, we were wrong. So, so wrong.

Imagine with me: a steamy summer six o’clock night, and four children waiting by the side of the van while mom grabs the diaper bag, water bottles, purse, and baby carrier. The baby immediately starts kicking as soon as he gets in the carrier, and the six-year-old whines that she’s tired. The twins insist on holding my hands, legs, or shirt as we walk across the dusty gravel parking lot to the field.

We are early, so we pick a spot of grass and try to talk through how fun! this is going to be. The girls are unconvinced. Meanwhile, I surreptitiously look at the other kids who have arrived early and realize that I, never having been in soccer, have outfitted both my girls with the shin guards on the outside of the socks, instead of under them. I peel the baby off my back and get to work rearranging the sock/shin guard/shoe combo on my daughters.

After this exercise in sweaty sock wrangling, I ply the kids with snacks and water and glance at my phone. My husband should be here soon. Good. We turn our attention back to the field where a few kids are starting to kick soccer balls around. More parents and kids arrive. They seem better equipped – lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, wagons. I start to sweat just thinking about standing back up and putting on the baby carrier and baby again.

Then the real fun begins. The first night is drill night, which involves stations and coaches and lots of movement. I look at my pile of stuff on the sidelines and sigh. Meanwhile, the girls aren’t jazzed about kicking the ball between orange cones. As in really, not jazzed. More like the opposite of jazz, like Phyrigian wailing. They are pulling at their jerseys, crying because they’re hottttttt, and I’m doing my best to mimic David Beckham crossed with a Vikings cheerleader (jean shorts and a baby carrier notwithstanding) as I clumsily maneuver the ball and cheer for them to do the same.

The first session continues on like this, except that my husband arrives to take over the baby so I can focus on helping the girls do drills, which equates to me jumping in and out of hula hoops with the rest of the four-year-olds while my daughters refuse, cry, or walk mopily through the exercise.

By the time the hour is finished, we are all red-faced, sweating, and ultra-cranky-town. To top it off, the girls want to get ice-cream because they heard other parents promising it to their little future soccer stars for their good efforts. I wait to tell my children their behavior warrants otherwise until we are safely in the van with all windows shut. The screaming lasts for sixteen minutes straight.

Needless to say, I was secretly glad we were on vacation and missed soccer the next week. But the week after, we were back again. This time, it was a scrimmage on the field, and the girls were having none of it. I found myself back in the middle of the preschool action, holding hands, cajoling, wiping tears, and basically doing anything I could think of to get them to play.

Nothing worked. At one point, I took a deep breath and tried to call up some of the wisdom from last year’s MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) mentors. Try to imagine how your child is feeling. How can you help them through that? So I got down on my knees, gently pushed my daughter’s bangs out of her caramel brown eyes, and asked why she didn’t want to play. It’s scary, she sniffed. I’m afraid those kids will kick me.

I couldn’t figure out how to explain to her that getting kicked is a strong possibility, but that the game was still fun. So I squeezed her tight, told her she was brave, and asked her to try a little bit longer.

Honestly, I had no idea what else to do. I wanted to quit. I wanted to tell her it was okay, we were all hot, and tired, and not really having as much fun as we hoped. I wanted to tell her I was terrible at sports as a kid, and that we could just try another activity. Preferably one with air conditioning. I wanted to be the nice mom, the one who went through the Dairy Queen drive-thru anyway because I hated seeing how upset my daughters were.

But another side of me whispered that even though this was a hard hour each week, it was worth pushing through. We’ve tried really hard to encourage our kids not to quit, whether it’s picking up toys, finishing a project, or helping us out around the house. Letting them quit soccer after two weeks seemed backward of everything we’d been teaching them.

I got home that night and stood at the kitchen sink later, rehashing the ridiculousness to my husband. I went on and on, overanalyzing and complaining. The baby. The heat. The dinner hour. The whining. In my head, my list continued until I realized something. It wasn’t really the kids who wanted to quit soccer. In fact, neither of them had mentioned quitting at all.

It was me.

I didn’t want to do the difficult work of guiding them through this hard experience. I didn’t want to be the mom on the sidelines cheerily shouting at my kids to follow the ball or get in the game. I wanted soccer to come naturally to them, without them having to work for it.

Life’s not really like that though. Everything worth doing turns out to be at least partially work, regardless of natural talent or ability. Taking them out before they had the chance to get over their fears wasn’t going to do them, or me – in the long run – any favors.

So on Monday night, we went back to soccer. We worked through the whining of putting on the socks and combing the hair into ponytails. We set our things down on the sidelines, got out a ball, and kicked it around. And when the time came for the game to start and my daughters to go in, they got up without whining. They stood on the field and walked after the ball. One of them even took the initiative to throw the ball inbounds a few times.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was VAST improvement. They were no tears, no fits, and more importantly, little glimmers of compliance. Sure, they didn’t quite go after the ball or kick it yet, but they were there with better attitudes, and so was I.

Baby steps.

 

Stories of Dark and Light: Hooking up with Night Driving Synchroblog

night drivingIt was dark the spring of my sophomore year of college, even though daylight savings time had bartered sleep for sun and the streetlights of Christian community artificially lit the campus where I lived all night long.

That year, dark did a strange thing to me.

Time stopped.

I mean this in the truest sense. In my world, time stopped passing normally. My anxiety was one of reverse chronophobia – instead of hours passing too quickly, they became painfully slow. Days seemed to widen and spread like the mold on the last few pieces of cheap bread I had in the kitchen cupboard. Hours that were not spoken for by class became a gaping chasm where I laid in my bed, pretending to read with my face to the wall.

The clock became an obsession. Twenty minutes in the shower. Ten minutes to get ready. Five minutes to eat breakfast. Seven minutes to walk to class. Class. Class. Then Break. A dreaded break. Where would I go? What would I do?  I’d plot where I’d walk, how long it would take me, and how to avoid eye-contact. Each move had to be calculated, or the wheels of my strange anxiety would hit pavement and I’d speed onto a highway of full-blown panic.

No one knew.

It was too hard to explain, and I didn’t really get it either. I didn’t know about triggers, and how easy it was to fall under the dark spell of depression. Meanwhile, the rest of my world was busy moving forward – something my anxiety with the clock prevented me from doing.  Other classmates excelled. Friends made new friends. A boy from another school that I’d had a deep friendship with told me he saw us always, and only, being friends.

I spent hours in my bed, clutching my bible like some sort of holy talisman. Sometimes I read it. Sometimes I just held the green canvas cover to my chest and mumbled intelligible prayers about wanting to wake up three hours later,  feeling normal.

And there, on the bottom bunk, staring at the brown metal springs of my roommate’s bed above, God did something strange. He held me. Quietly. Solidly. He pointed me deep into the Psalms, where I found David, a writer who seemed to understand how I felt in the pit and tangle of my fear.

I read. I read and I slept. My dip into depression was not deep, lasting about three months, though they were literally the longest months of my life.

Alone in my room, I read until I knew enough about God to believe what He told the writer of an Old Testament book called Ecclesiastes – that there was a time for everything and that somehow, time was not the enemy I made him out to be.

That spring, I also took a poetry class. I didn’t know anything about contemporary poetry, but I fell headlong into a world of metaphor and simile that threw me another means of rescue. My professor Judy encouraged me to submit my work to the campus literary journal, and my first published poem buoyed me to keep pushing into my darkness, prying into what it meant, and why it was happening.

I tell you this because I believe everyone has a story about dark and light. These are stories that deserve honor and space in our worlds for what they can reveal, and the ropes they can throw us.

Addie Zierman’s Night Driving is one of those stories. It catches you whole, packing you along with her carefully labeled totes and snacks and two small boys, and drives you down the interstate in a frenzy of giddy, winter escape. It makes you laugh with along with her wit and wisdom about gas station coffee and hotel pools, and think deeply about faith and the places you run from.

Night Driving is a perfect spring read, a realization that even a seasonal escape cannot bypass the reality that faith, like all living things, must endure the necessary dark and barren stretches in order to once again show green signs of life.

ANDDDDDDD… it releases today, which means you can buy it NOW at places like Barnes and Noble or IndieBound or Amazon.

Go ahead. Get one. You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

Twin Toddlerhood – The 18 Month Chronicles


I thought that life with two toddlers (and a preschooler) was, quite possibly, going to be a nightmare.

There. I said it.

I love my girls – don’t misunderstand me there. I was just scared out of my mind to have them actually move. They were so lovely and contained in their bouncy seats, their swings. I could always see their hands.

IMG_6456Fear had me imagining how one would be splashing in the sink, and the other would be heading for the basement stairs. Or one would be noshing in the flour tub, and the other would be climbing into the dryer. Or maybe they’d both make a pact to destroy the only houseplant I’ve kept alive for over a decade.

Perhaps that’s a fear of every mother with multiple children. A mama can only be in one place at one time. But children don’t abide by those rules. Toddlers run all over like the butter you were only supposed to soften in the microwave. Preschoolers slather themselves, and the surrounding walls, in vaseline because they have an owie. On their toe.

Meanwhile, in the middle of me trying to figure out how to quit being afraid of calling my girls toddlers, Gabby got off her knees and balanced on her heels, arms held wide. She was slow and methodical, and immensely pleased with herself. Lucy joined her after a month, and immediately, life changed. Thankfully, it changed in a very good way.

Here at 18 months and fully mobile, the girls are happier. More self-directed. (My three and half year old included.) They are less apt to scream for things they can’t reach, whine for something across the room, or cry because they need a change of scenery.

IMG_20150112_105823_308 (1)

No way, sister. No way.

Along with the physical steps, they’ve started making verbal strides as well. Words are still sparse, but every day I hear them say something new. I also now catch them singing, talking on the phone (any object with buttons), and jabbering to their stuffed animals. They’ve also mastered the art of yes and no. Specifically no.

But by far the best thing I’ve noticed this month is their level of affection toward one another. I’m friends with a lovely group of twin mamas on Facebook and Instagram, and I’d always feel a twinge of jealousy when I saw their twins hugging one another, kissing each other, or sleeping side by side.

kiss

                Love.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed something new. Lucy rested her head on Gabby’s shoulder in the shopping cart. It was the first time I’d seen them intentionally take comfort from one another.

Since then, I’ve seen all three of my girls venture into the territory of sisterly affection. I caught Ellis holding Lucy in our old blue rocking chair, singing you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. Gabby has started giving kisses on demand. Lucy is always game to snuggle with any of her sisters that are sitting down.

It’s nothing short of amazing to me. All of it. The walking. The attempts at talking. The affection.

In all my fearful wonderings about how it was going to work managing two toddlers and a preschooler, I made a big mistake. I didn’t temper my fear with any IMG_7305 (1024x749)daydreams of how awesome it was going to be to see my girls grow.  (Or in today’s case, how interesting it would be to type with a baby sitting on the desk in front of me, randomly poking at the keys.)

That sounds so rote. I know. Don’t worry about the scary stuff!! Think about the good stuff!! Smiley face!! Hearts!!

But please. Promise me something. Promise me you’ll try envisioning your children growing up. Not because I said so. Not because you need another piece of advice to pin, or something  to write on your chalkboard, or another link to store in your phone. Try it because if you’re anything like me, it’s simply too easy to lose sight of the big picture.

We are raising our children to be people.

Imagine your daughter sitting at the piano. Your son designing his first science project. Your teenagers sitting down at the table for pizza night. Think about the first time your child tells you they’re in love.

Fear doesn’t deserve as much space as we give it in this life- motherhood or otherwise. But growth?

Growth deserves all the energy we can give it.

Multiple Birth Awareness Month: My Confession

9 mo

Hear that? Mama thought we were scary. (G, L)

I used to be afraid of having twins.

It started at nine weeks when the ultrasound technician revealed the amazing truth that I was harboring two heartbeats. I was afraid of not being able to carry them to term. I was afraid of birthing them. I was afraid of how I was going to divide my time between them and my two-year old daughter. I was afraid I’d always be letting someone down.

I was afraid having twins meant I wasn’t going to be a good mother.

Two days after we came home from a thankfully uncomplicated birth, I got my first taste of the chaos I feared. It was breakfast time – my toddler in her booster seat, the babies in their rockers on the floor. My spoon was in my first bite of oatmeal when it happened.

All three girls started crying at once.

Ellis was done eating and wanted out of her chair. Gabrielle had her fist in her mouth and wanted to eat. Lucia was working on some business in the lower realms, her face turned red and squinchy. All of them were screaming.

I didn’t know where to start, still unfamiliar with the triage that multiples require.

That morning I did it all wrong, attempting to breastfeed a newborn, change a diaper with my free hand, and reason with my toddler that I’d be done in a second. It was a massive fail. My husband came in to find us all tear-blotched and upset.

People often ask if it’s much harder caring for twins. My answer? It’s not harder. (Changing a diaper isn’t intrinsically hard.) It just takes longer. 

Diapers. Baths. Clothes. Car seat buckling. Meal time. Crying. Everything takes twice as long.

Add this to the fact that babies in and of themselves are time-consuming creatures. They require slow and careful movements. They long to be held. To stare into our eyes. To form connections and bonds, brain synapses firing like lightning bugs on warm July nights.

april 042 (533x800)Funny thing is, toddlers need the same thing. So do spouses. Just all in a different way. And once I realized this, somehow, my fear of adding two tiny people to our family got a little smaller.

No matter how many of us were in the house, ultimately, we all just needed to be loved. And love was not a limited quantity item that went out of stock in my pantry. Love was the one thing I could always find, even when everything else was short on supply.

Not that it always looks like love within these walls. Everyone still cries. We all get frustrated with one another and the need to take turns. But as a mother of multiples, I’ve learned how to triage effectively. I’m not defeated when everyone needs something all at once.

I’ve learned that helping one daughter first allows the other two to understand the fine art of patience (well, someday.) I’ve seen how sharing, even in its early stages, will become one of the most important life skills my girls can master. I’ve even earned a spot in my own equation, advocating for myself and taking care of my own needs as well so I can better take care of everyone else.

I’ve found love to be an ever-renewable resource, wide enough for all of us, a perfect force for driving out fear.

 

april 022 (800x549)Written in honor of Multiple Birth Awareness Month for my 9 month old twins Gabrielle & Lucia, and my ever precocious toddler Ellis Olivia. For more great thoughts (and adorable pictures) on raising multiples, go check out  today’s link up at Twin Talk Blog.