Leveling the playing field of importance (why wiping butts counts for something too)

Minnesota autumnIt’s November, and darkness narrows the margins of my landscape. It lingers later and later into the morning, and calls again far too early in the afternoon. Much of the color has been blown from the trees and fields. Only the framework of the growing season remains.

Sometimes I think bears have it right. Hibernation is a great idea.

I’m looking in the direction of winter, steeling myself. It has been a challenge to get out with the girls even when the sun is warm and daylight streams through the branches of the oak trees in my yard. But now there will be the need for hats. Mittens. Boots. Blankets. Extra everything just in case of emergency.

There will be long afternoons when everyone is restless. There will be floors to mop. A bathroom to clean, over and over. More art projects to stock for, and another collection of rags covered in glue and feathers to toss in the garbage.

There will be stretches of days when the weather is so inclement that it’s safer for me to keep the girls tucked in at home. There will be wind. Cold. More darkness.  And it will be very easy for me to listen a little bit longingly when I’m at the table with family and friends who are out and about, active in their worlds, doing their work.

I took a walk this weekend with a friend, and had the privilege of listening to her explain her work in the realm of therapy and healing. We kicked along in the leaves and dirt, pushing air through our lungs, needing the exercise in different ways – calm and contemplative for her, world widening and leg stretching for me.

IMG_2194(Let’s be honest. Sometimes the furthest walk I get in a day is to the chicken coop and back. PS. Our chickens finally started laying this week. Phew.)

At one point in the walk, she laughed and said something like “do you really want to hear all of this?” and I couldn’t say yes fast enough, because it was so nice to have the luxury of extended, uninterrupted discourse. But another answer, hidden and a little bit ugly, was there too.

I loved listening because I felt as though I didn’t have as much to say. And I didn’t have as much to say because I felt like what I spent my days doing was not as important.

I tried to laugh this off in some sort of offhanded joke about spending my time wiping bottoms. My friend laughed too, but then she said something I won’t forget any time soon.

She reminded me that there is a huge importance in raising a child who loves others instead of harming them.

That the world can be a dark place unless we know the One who is the light of the world.

That everything a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or extended family member does to further and support a child is necessary and beautiful because it creates a healthy, well-adjusted little person who cares for those around him or her.

It is important work.

I adore being home with my girls, but I’ve also had to push hard against feeling like I’m no longer contributing as well to society, to my church, to my family, or to my friends. That my home is now a place of chaos instead of a welcoming calm. That maybe I shouldn’t go out, see friends, or even take walks because of the potential for all hell to break loose when the girls get tired and hungry.

(This is where I also love being married to someone trained in psychology, because the best way Jason encourages me when I am afraid of something is to make me visualize the worst possible outcome. These days that’s basically a lot of screaming for a fairly short period of time until the problem is solved.)

It’s easy to keep spinning the unspoken fears that live in the back corners of our minds. But the broad and bright reality is that when we actually voice them, testing their truth against the air, we can finally see them as what they are. Fiction. Story. Nothing more.

But maybe what I also needed to hear was external validation. Validation to believe that I what I was doing was just as important as any the work of any doctor, teacher, or architect.

KindnessI’m not trying to get all “motherhood is the highest calling” here. The problem just repeats when any one person claims more importance than anyone else. I just want to believe the truth that raising a family is important, not because I have anything to prove, but because I owe it to my girls.

If I believe that my work is small, I may as well tell my girls that they are insignificant.

If I believe my world to be small, how can I show them how wide and big it actually is?

And if I believe that my worth is small, how can I teach them the steadiness of their value?

These are hard realities. They require action every time an unfounded fear darkens my eyes. But the practice of pushing them back, and the grace that results, is like the fire we continue to build night after night when the cold settles in sharply outside the windows, the crackling amber heat a solid wall against the pressing chill.

It may need to be coaxed day after day, match after match, but coals that are well-tended need only a brief reminder to burst brightly again into flame.

 

 

 

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Present duty, present pain, present pleasure

IMG_20130918_095101_164Sorry, no post last week. We are in the middle of two really happy events – both Jason and my youngest brothers are/have gotten married back to back this month. That means last week I spent two days straight doing laundry, packing clothes, checklisting for a six hour road trip to South Dakota, etc. and the things I normally tried to sneak in (writing, eating lunch before 3 pm) took the last seat on the bus. And this week, I busted out my former life skills from working in a bridal shop and made a ribbon lined elbow length veil for my awesome future sister in law.

I also learned that putting said veil in the dryer FOR TWO MINUTES to try to shake out the wrinkles in the tulle will melt the whole dang thing.

Life lessons. IMG_1699

***

This week the twins are two months. Time passing, my how they’ve grown, etc. etc. Here’s my biggest PRAISE for this phase. We are all Sleeping. Through. The. Night. As in, they go to bed around 10:00 or 10:30 pm, and wake up pretty consistently at 5:30 or 6:00 am.

This feels a little like I’ve hijacked an ice cream truck and have a whole summer’s supply of those really bad for you but really good waffle cone drumsticks with the fudge drizzle on top. It’s amazing.

Here are a couple of mug shots from their recent photo documentation. My favorite might be Ellis “helping” by pointing out Lucy’s facial features while I’m trying to take pictures.

In other news, we had the two month check in this week. The good news is that the girls are starting to catch up to one another in weight- Gabrielle was at 10 lbs 14 oz, and Lucia at 10 lbs 1 oz. The bad news was that they had their shots. There are a lot of awful things in this world, but pinning down your infant on a hard clinic mattress and watching her get poked with a bunch of needles is pretty rough. Then again, coming down with whooping cough or some other Oregon trail-esque disease is way worse, so I count the shots as worth it.

***

 My friend Nate posted a great quote on Facebook the other day, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it.

From “The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis”
TO MRS. RAY GARRETT: On the real program of the spiritual life—living in the present moment.
12 September 1960

The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use. They are indeed like drugs—a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective. We must not bother about thrills at all. Do the present duty—bear the present pain —enjoy the present pleasure—and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.

That’s the programme, isn’t it?

I used to have a pretty big beef with the monotony of routine, but these days it saves my life. And as much as I feel like a fun-sucker to say it, the sweetest days can often be the ones with nothing going on. Those are the days Ellis climbs in my lap and we read story after story before nap time. I get to sit down on the couch with each baby individually and schnoogle with them. Laundry gets down, the chickens get let out, and some sort of creativity in the kitchen usually occurs in the form of supper.

Sounds a little like do the present duty, huh?

I completely love getting out and seeing friends and something other than my four walls, but no joke, it takes serious effort and lots of time. It’s like convincing yourself it’s fun to eat an orange. Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t peel an orange properly. I usually end up hacking it open with a knife. And those little plastic orange peelers? Not helpful, unless you count squirting yourself continually in the eye with acid juice “help”. But the perfectly sweet, heaven-sent interior… that’s something entirely different. And it’s always worth it.

Do the present duty—bear the present pain —enjoy the present pleasure

At home or outside of it, I find myself doing all three of these, which makes my mind wander to a line from my grandpa’s favorite hymn Day by Day. Lovingly, it’s part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.

I think these writers were on to something.

***

I ended the week listening to the newest Civil Wars album and holding my girls. Jason was chaperoning the elementary crowd at the homecoming football game (herding cats), but since the weather was calling for rain and the game started at Ellis’ bedtime, I kept the pink brigade at home and did a round of baths for everyone. And for a couple of hours after everyone was fed, bathed, and laid down, there was peace. Rest. Quiet. All of which I appreciated more because of their opposing activities during the week.

It was a moment of pure and present pleasure, and it fell over my shoulders like my favorite nubbly old sweater that I pulled out this week because apparently it’s cold now.

And all I can really say here is amen.

Welcome to the mom scene

This Thursday, I explored new territory.

Yep. I went to my first mom’s group.

I’m a little late to the stay-at-home-mom scene. I’ve been working up until this point, so I was the one who had to politely decline morning bible study invites, midweek play dates, and spur of the moment trips to the zoo.

It was hard at first, being THAT mom. Feeling somehow disconnected from my daughter. But slowly I learned to give myself grace. An allowance for our circumstances. And to do the best I could with the time I did have with Ellis.

But today I saw things from the other side of the fence. Literally.

The mom’s group met at Sundance Mission Stables just north of Scandia. While the older kids were taught a lesson in grooming horses, the mamas with babies and toddlers in tow congregated in the horse barn with Barb, the owner. Barb had a single horse on a lead rope, and she asked each of us if we wanted to lead the horse around the ring, back it up, turn it around, etc.

As the women took their turns, it was evident many of them had never been around horses. Barb took this opportunity to connect how they asked the horse to obey with how they asked their children to obey.

Some of the women were timid. Some had difficulties asking the horse to back up. Some were not sure whether to lead or to follow the giant creature gently plodding the dirt ring of the enclosure.

And in the back of the group, I stood there thinking, “I’ve SO got this.”

I grew up around horses. I participated in horse camps, riding competitions, and even took English dressage lessons for a summer. If there’s one animal I know a lot about, it’s a horse.

So when it was my turn, I confidently walked up to the horse with Ellie on my hip, patted his nose and neck for a moment to introduce myself, and then firmly took the lead rope and led the horse around the ring.

After putting the horse through his paces and arriving back to Barb the facilitator, I expected to be congratulated. I was confident. In charge. I made sure the horse did everything it was supposed to.

Barb smiled and said, “Well, I can always tell a lot about a mom’s parenting style by the way she approaches the horse. This assertive, or even aggressive method certainly gets the job done, but leaves the door of resentment wide open for children later if they are not given a little more space, or rope on the lead.”

Aggressive? Assertive? I was thinking more like “Wow, she was great with that horse. See how she was calm and in control?”

Hm.

I smiled it off, made an offhand comment about having a little horse experience, and let the next mama take her turn. But inside, I felt off kilter. Me? Aggressive? Seriously? How does she decide this from how I walk a horse around the ring? Is she some sort of parenting guru? I’m so even keel. Kind. Calm. I DO NOT GET MA…

Oh. Right.

I am the parent who responds immediately with a raised voice if my daughter is doing something she shouldn’t. And I’ve done my fair share of shoulder-hauling to the timeout step in our house, and yes, I’ve spanked my daughter when she’s bitten me (it’s the only swattable offense in our house these days.)

I’ve also questioned how effective any of this really is. (Seriously. If my daughter puts herself in timeout when I point to the stairs, I might need to rethink things.)

***

Afterwards, I met some really great people, reconnected with an old friend, and breathed a prayer of thanks for the mothers that were prepared and brought more than an air temperature 32 ounce water bottle for their toddlers at snack time.

(I thought I was doing pretty good to remember the water bottle.)

The more I am faced with these everyday challenges, the more I realize I have a lot to learn about what children need. (Uh, snack food, for starters.)

But more so, I think I need a little more calm to balance my firm hand. A gentle voice instead of an angry one. The patience to get down at face level and talk a situation through instead of immediately resorting to time out. Don’t get me wrong. All the latters have their time and place. I just need to figure out which and when.

Preferably before the twins turn two. Which means I have a long ways to go.

***

Do you have a preferred parenting tactic for toddlers? I’d love to hear it. Really. Truly. Comment away.

PS – In other small accomplishments, I figured out how to completely collapse the stroller, and then forgot again when I had to leave and ended up manhandling it only half folded into the back of the van. I think I also got manure on my shirt in the process, but I’m just chalking that one up to the hazards of mom’s group on a farm.