Let Go or Be Dragged

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Art Print Credit: Mary Engelbreit 

It was a Thursday night, which was not our usual time for violin lessons, and my four children knew it. Our day was as overloaded as the spring ditch creek at the end of our driveway – group play date, library, and tumbling, all falling back-to-back. We landed at music lessons tired, overstimulated, and hungry for anything else besides the box of atomic yellow flavor blasted goldfish we’d been sticking out hands into all day.

While my eldest attempted to follow her teacher’s instructions, my youngest threw books on the floor while his sisters lolled over my shoulders and pulled at my purse, disconsolately asking whether or not I had any mints, or new snacks, and if it was time to go home yet. The scratch of violin scales doggedly began. Heat started to collect under my arms and along my temples.

My eyes desperately traversed the now-familiar classroom. The black and white clock stonily stated we had fourteen minutes remaining. The sun glinted off the warped and dirty snowbanks quietly melting outside the south window. And then I noticed it, a little sign taped to a file cabinet. It was a picture of a child haphazardly holding on to a bunch of helium balloons that were dragging him backwards across the grass.

The cheery lettering at the top read, “Let go or be dragged.”

I read it again, no longer noticing the child pulling at my jeans, or the frenetic whisper play of the twins going on behind me. The violin noise faded, and I inhaled slowly.

Let go or be dragged.

Somehow, this seemed like a startling new revelation regarding a number of circumstances I was doggedly working through in my personal life. Potty training. Tantrums. Financial puzzles. Interpersonal connection. Hurt. Faith questions. Exhaustion. The ever-constant need to clean and organize.

Let go or be dragged.

***

Take potty training, for instance.

Potty training a boy (after training three girls) is proving to be an animal with different stripes. I was warned this would most likely be the case, but by the end of the second week, our success was limited to me remembering to haul my son to the bathroom at the appropriate elimination time. He maintained a very laisse fair approach to the whole affair, going when he was prompted, but with increasing resentment and hesitation.

Meanwhile, we burned through an entire bag of miniature colored marshmallow treats (given out in magnanimous handfuls by his helpful sisters), a bottle of Clorox wipes, and a bag of overpriced Cars-themed pull-ups.

One night after I recounted yet another exhausting toileting mishap to my husband, he gently suggested that it might be time to take a break.

Inside, I rebelled at his words. We had made some hard-fought advances, after all. Our son was staying dry at night and during naps, and rarely had accidents during the day. He successfully held it in the car, and had only had one public accident.

I saw my days of careful vigilance and bleached training pants and bathroom floor reading time swirling down the drain, and it hurt my pride to admit defeat. But this was not about my pride.

It was about my son.

Let go, the little boy in the picture whispered. He’s not ready yet. Don’t push it. You’re being dragged. I didn’t want to agree, but I knew it was true.

The next morning, we went back to diapers.

***

The events of life, it seems, are hell-bent on getting their hooks in us. A meaningless jest. A bad meeting. A temperamental car battery. A child’s lost library book. These things are outside of our control, but often fall just close enough within our purview that we can’t stop thinking about them.

Letting go doesn’t usually occur to us.

We lump around like an arthritic dog, imperfectly guarding our territory. We mull over our thoughts, chewing over conversations, shortcomings, mistakes, and concerns like a well-worn bone.

It isn’t often we give ourselves permission to simply let go.

That seems too easy, our brains say.

That’s giving up. It’s letting someone else win, the world says.

Or is it?

In the act of letting go, of giving in to circumstances outside of our control, what it we are better able to practice the little celebrated art of surrender?

Definition-wise, surrender means: to cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority, to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand, or to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another.

Spiritually, surrender looks like what Jesus taught in Matthew 11.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

What if we have to start by getting over ourselves, and then seek out wisdom from the source?

Humility may not be many people’s favorite virtues, but that doesn’t make it any less important as a part of our daily lives– particularly when we need to let go of something and try another way. Humble surrender (as opposed to angrily giving in and then stomping around like a temperamental two-year-old) allows us to assess our circumstances and accept our position.

And if we’re lucky, it affords us the opportunity to pick ourselves up from the dust and either try again or walk away, this time with more clarity and perhaps, a deeper wisdom.

***

A few days ago morning, after our full return to diapers, my son grabbed at his pants and quietly mumbled that he needed to go potty. The deed was done successfully and with no cajoling, and I stood in the kitchen afterward in dumbfounded amazement.

I’m too old to pedal the old idea that if you let something go, it’ll come back to you if it’s meant to be. Life is too uncertain for platitudes.

But it is also, undoubtedly, too short to be threatened by thoughts that want to drag me, kicking and screaming, to somewhere I don’t want to go. Had I not stepped back from constantly directing my son to go potty (and thoughts of my own failure as a mother), he never would have had the space to determine his own urge.

Humility and gentle surrender will do far more good for a soul than clinging to failure and hurt.

Hanging on to words, worries, and fears and allowing them to direct our thoughts and emotions is dead weight, better to be cut loose from than strangled by.

Let go, or be dragged.

One Mom’s Response to the Tragedy in Las Vegas

Untitled designThe sky was alternating between a light and dark blue-gray and the air felt cool with rain, but Griff and I hopped out of the van and threw on the pack anyway. Every fall I make it a point to spend as much time as I can out at Wild River, the state park that’s just a couple of miles down the road from our house.

Today we took the easy trail through the oak savannah, in part because of the pending rain and me breaking in new boots, but also because I needed an autopilot sort of walk. Earlier, on our way to school, I had turned on MPR and heard the news about the Las Vegas mass shooting. The rest of the drive back, my mind felt numb.

There’s no one response to hearing news of violence and chaos, the gunshots ricocheting like harmless firecrackers on the radio. Here in the northern Midwest, I felt the strange combination of being far-removed yet somehow still close to the tragedy, as though some smarmy stranger had entered my home unannounced and left his greasy business card on the kitchen counter.

Tragedy is invasive. It is a reminder that safety is relative, and the world is not as friendly as I want to teach my children it is. It casually drips fear into the normalcy of our daily lives, discoloring our thoughts and leaving us upset, uncomfortable, and confused.

It also makes me never want to be in a mass gathering of people ever again. (If you need me, I’ll just be holed up in my kitchen, thank you very much.)

My son and I walked along the paved trail, and I pointed out the different colored leaves, the trees, the moss, the puddles. He bantered along in one-year-old babble, occasionally uttering something that sounded close to the word I was repeating. It felt good to focus on something near, pushing the senselessness out and away as I worked on expanding my son’s vocabulary.

Right after I heard the news, I Voxed a friend, recording a jumble of messy emotions that basically boiled down to, “this is horrible and I’m upset and I have no idea what to do.” There was nothing to do, of course (which is my normal route – when in doubt, make a meal, bake a pie, buy a gift, clean a kitchen, send a card, just don’t. sit. still.).

But sometimes our restless hands have to be stuck, still – caught in the needs of our daily life and those who depend on us – while we feel our way through the event, our emotions running from shock to anger, to sadness, to fear, to worry.

I’m learning, lately, that it’s important to listen to each of those emotions as they come, allowing them to sit in my cupped and shaking hands. Being true to myself also means being vulnerable, expressing my confusion and darkness and fear, because those are the places I am most likely to connect with others and find solace. Or in the words of Matthew 5 and the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Friends, I have nothing profound to say about today’s shooting. I’m just here in my little blue office, surrounded by legos and drawings and bills and an embarrassing amount of empty coffee mugs, and I’m sad. I hurt for the parents who sent their son or daughter off to their first concert, not knowing their children would come home with a new understanding of hate. I hurt for the couple who went to hear their favorite musician but can’t get the sound of gunshots and screams out of their heads. I hurt for the friends having a girls’ night out who are now scared to open their apartment doors. I hurt for the hotel employees and policemen and EMTs who looked into face after face of pain and shock and terror. I hurt for the loved ones on the other end of the phone line, receiving the darkest, hardest words.

I hurt because I am human, and even though I teach my children that humans should not harm one another, I know it still happens.

I hurt because this is a broken world, a fallen world, and hope can be a hard hand to grasp.

Nevertheless, I have found that hope is somehow always present, reaching through the panic and pain, not as a quick fix or a religious pill, but steady as a Father’s heart beating for His children. It is this heart and hope that I choose to stake my faith in, even on days like this.

So today I hurt, and today I hope.

And tomorrow I’ll get up, spend time praying comfort over those affected by the shooting, and then go about my work teaching my children to love, respect, and protect one another and the world around them.

It seems a small consolation, given the size of the loss. I know that. But it is something, and if we all did the same, choosing hope instead of hopelessness, action instead of anger, the next generation could only be better for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Onward: Kindergarten, Apples, and Hope

Honeycrisp apple treeThe fall that we moved to our hobby farm, my husband planted a small orchard of Honeycrisp apple trees in the front yard. The following year, we had twin babies, an active toddler, and one of the worst winters in memory. Newscasters kept calling it a polar vortex; I called it a one-way ticket to stay-at-home-mom insanity.

In the spring, (the late, late spring that year), a few of the apple trees barely leafed out. Some developed a blackish type of rot, and others just withered. Every so often, my husband would stalk across the yard carrying an uprooted sapling and add it to the burn pile. Meanwhile, he carefully tended to the rest of the trees: pruning, fertilizing, fencing, weeding, waiting.

Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a few small, red apples dotted the branches. Jason hid the biggest one on the top shelf of the fridge, a ruby red trophy, and we marveled at it every day for a couple of weeks, waiting for just the right moment to cut into it.

Meanwhile, apple alchemy was working its magic in the little orchard.

This year, five of our most gangly, teenage-looking trees produced an incredible show of nicely sized, bright red, juicy apples. Afraid for the young branches and the weight they were carrying, we decided to pick last week, though I’m sure it may have been a little early. (Remember, it’s amateur farm hour here. We’re learning by… experience.) The girls joined me in carefully twisting off all the apples they could reach, and I couldn’t help but remember driving past the orchard that polar vortex winter, wondering how on earth those trees were going to make it.

***

Four years ago, we were in the thick of raising babies. My eldest was two, and our twin daughters were two months. For better or for worse, our life was about small, concentric circles; we moved around the house in reliable patterns – meals, naps, laundry, baths. Taking an outing required a ridiculous amount of prep work: diapers, clean clothes, snacks, wipes, extra clothes, socks, shoes, toys, etc. and so most days we stayed home, managing best we could.

I want to say, “fast forward a few years”, the way people do when they scroll through vacation pictures and only remember the highlights (conveniently forgetting all incidents of puke, sleeplessness, and wardrobe malfunctions), but the truth of the matter is this: those early years of raising little ones did not go fast. They were full of wonder and challenge, failure and growth. And like the apple trees, there were times I wasn’t sure just how we were going to make it through.

first day of kindergartenBut two weeks ago, I watched my eldest hang her backpack in her locker and walk into her cheery kindergarten classroom. We stayed for a minute, processing her emotions and getting her settled in before turning around and navigating back down the hallway full of eager and nervous students.  The following week, I watched the twins walk confidently through the preschool entrance and line up by the door. And just like that, my minivan was overcome with silence (Griff isn’t a big talker yet).

I drove a few blocks, parked, and pulled out the baby carrier. Griff and I commenced to take on a beautiful, albeit sweaty hike through the woods in Taylors Falls. (Twenty-five pounds of baby and carrier adds a new level to any exercise these days.)

For a majority of my walk, I kept thinking back to two things – apples (namely, the giant bags in the pantry needing to be processed) and waiting, an action I’ve struggled with all my life.

You see, I had to wait for those wimpy little trees to do something, anything.

I waited through those long, wintery days when my daughters tested every ounce of patience I could muster, and it felt like we’d never be able to open the front door without a mountain of snow spilling into the entryway.

I waited while I mowed in circles around the apple fences and weed-whipped around the trees, keeping them clear of intruding vines.

I waited through seasons of discipline when I sat my eldest firmly down on the stairs over and over, talking through actions and consequences.

I waited in the smoke of bonfires, watching the dry leaves of another failed tree darken and curl into ash.

I waited through shopping trips of horror where my daughters took the liberty to climb like monkeys out of the cart, eat Chapstick, tear tags off items for sale, land us in the bathroom multiple times during one trip, and demand to be fed every eight seconds.

I waited because I had the promise of something else to come alongside me through the difficulty.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

I had hope. Firm, anchoring hope, a Hebrews 6:19 hope, that what God promised me through his recorded words was going to come true.

I wasn’t muscling my way through the daily grind without reason. I was waking up day after day, pouring bowl after bowl of cereal, mediating argument after argument, reading story after story, because I had faith that eventually my children would learn to do those things for themselves…and that my perseverance in teaching them the small things would prepare me in maturity to teach them the bigger lessons later on.

And then it struck me that here, in this season, some of the things I’ve been waiting FOR just climbed into the passenger seat next to me like it was no big deal. It’s like when you see your child make their own toast and pour their own milk and you feel like THE WORLD has opened wide up with progress.

We survived that first awful winter, and the ones after it, with a little bit of pluck and gumption. The toddlers that tried my patience are now talking about helping others on the playground and raising their hands in class. The apple trees are thickening their limbs, digging down deep to produce the richness they were meant to.

Our daily life, which used to feel so small, is now moving forward, not at breakneck speed, but with a steady, constant pace that I have grown to appreciate as I deepen my understanding of things like faithfulness, and patience, and hope.

Onward.

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.

 

What I Want my Kids to Remember

IMG_20170404_092229_495Outside my office windows, I’m starting to hear a sound I haven’t heard in months. Birds of all sizes and songs are migrating back north, stopping by our hobby farm in the St. Croix river valley and nestling themselves into the dense green of the arborvitae and the budding branches of the maples. They trill and chatter, and somehow, my soul relaxes, reassured that spring is approaching.

It’s not particularly trendy to love spring. People are not making stylized memes or posts about sloppy shoes and brown grass and endless piles of damp, dirty-kneed laundry the way they do about fall and marshmallows and bonfires.

Maybe that’s because new life doesn’t start clean and dry and wrapped in buffalo plaid. New life is wet, dirty. Babies emerge from their mothers covered in a primordial mixture of blood and water. Seeds break out of their shells and push themselves through dirt and mud in order to find the sun.

Life requires mess.

This past week we had an incredible opportunity to welcome a film crew to our farmhouse for a project. However, in order to prep for filming, there was a lot of cleaning to be done. I mean A LOT. Thankfully I had help, and come go-time, the house was glowing (and basically unrecognizable in it’s oil-soaped, shining-floored glory).

It has now been precisely four days since that clean house, and aside from the layers of fingerprints which haven’t had enough time to accumulate on the windows and cupboards, you’d never guess how pristine it was in here just a few days ago.

There’s dirt all over the entry way rug, and apple cores that made their way to the counter, but not quite the garbage can. The fireplace room is littered with crayons and paper and My Little Ponies, and the ladybugs have reinstated their domain in the window sills.

And even though I want to cringe, I know all of this is inevitable with four small children, a few acres, and the abundance of nature around us.

What matters is where I choose to look.

The dirty floor, or the open window?

The dishes in the sink, or the tangle of sweet girls and coloring books spread across the kitchen floor?

Saturday night, I was about to put the baby to bed when I noticed the rest of the family sitting on the front steps, watching robins and chickadees hop and flutter across the yard.

I was bone-tired, ready to shove the rest of the dishes into the sink, and fall asleep to the whir of the mixers on the Great British Baking Show. (Griff is still not sleeping through the night, and wakes up anywhere from one to five times per night, depending on…well…who knows.)

I was a single track mind, my brain flashing like neon: bedtime, bedtime, bedtime.

I wanted to look at my pillow. My eyelids.

Suddenly, our eldest daughter shrieked and pointed to a giant shape swooping out of the pine stand across the road. It landed on a corner fence post and settled, statue-like, about a football field’s length away from us. I assumed it was a hawk, but as we watched, he turned his head and leveled us with the unmistakable gaze of a barred owl.

Jason quietly went into the house and came back with the binoculars, and we all took turns watching the owl. And I can’t explain it, other than to say that the whole event was a gift.

A gift I could have missed if I had been looking elsewhere, like the task at hand.

When I was little, my parents and brother and I used to go over to our grandparent’s farm in the twilight of  summer evenings. My grandpa would have the metal folding lawn chairs ready, the kind with orange, yellow and white woven patterns that would poke your legs where the plastic fabric frayed, all set up in a line facing the north grove.

And then we’d do something unthinkable by today’s standards. We’d all just sit quietly together. No phones, no devices save for my dad’s 35mm Pentax. I’d settle into my grandma’s lap, absentmindedly rubbing the soft, wrinkled skin of her hand, and watch a family of owls emerge from the trees and settle on the clothesline posts, hunting for mice.

Their low, silken hoots echoed from tree to tree as they talked in stereo around us. Darkness would slowly fall on the yard, imperceptible at first until we felt our skin cool and shudder. It was normal for night to arrive without our noticing.

Was it inconvenient for my parents to keep us up past summer twilight, which was probably a good two hours past our regular bedtime? I’m sure. Were my brother and I tired and whiny that night, complaining our way into bed? For certain. Could my mom have stayed behind and had the house to herself to clean, rest, relax on her own? Of course.

But none of those things were as important as making time to watch the owls together.

I don’t know what my little ones will remember from their childhood, but I have the feeling it won’t be how on time they were for bed, or whether or not I picked up the house every night.

Hopefully, they remember owls.

 

 

 

 

Small Things, Great Love

balloon-girl

Yesterday, in a fit of nervous energy, I baked a batch of shortbread cookies.

In my head, all I could hear was, “Tomorrow is Valentines Day! Tomorrow is Valentines Day!, which meant I should: bake cookies, deliver homemade cards, clean up, get pretty, take pictures of the kids, buy fancy groceries, make a special children’s dinner, make a special-er parent’s dinner, light candles, etc. Etc. ETC.

As a mother of four children five and under, the list was enough to give me hives.

Meanwhile, the cookies emerged from the oven in a perfect balance of crisp and soft, studded with a rainbow of doughnut sprinkles. My daughters, entranced by the smell of fresh cookies foolishly baked the hour before dinner, immediately began bargaining. Half the batch was gone in 10 minutes, and the one thing I wanted to cross off my list stubbornly remained.

In years past, I’ve made similar lists for Valentines Day. It didn’t matter if I was single, dating, married, working outside or inside the home. The power of should shadowed me all day long.

What should I give? What should I receive? If ever a day was fraught with expectation, I’d say it was February the 14th. I’d also wager that most of us are left wondering what grand gestures we should do to communicate love beyond what we manage every day. Will they be enough?

Last week, the kids and I took a spur of the moment trip to my childhood home on the farm in South Dakota. My husband had parent teacher conferences and obligations all week, and it felt like a good time for a change of scenery (once I shouldered through the reality of road tripping with four kids).

One afternoon, a framed quote in my parents’ living room caught my eye. Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love. – Mother Teresa

Those words stuck with me all week, and they hit me again this morning.

I am not in a place to do great things today. I’m laying low with a sick baby, cutting out paper hearts with my preschoolers, trying to ignore the glitter glue and scraps that are stuck all over the kitchen table. I need to go to the grocery store with four children in tow later, and also collect all the documents necessary for a tax appointment scheduled for tonight before dinner.

The question is this: can I do those things with great love?

Can I hold the baby a little longer and wait to fold that last load of laundry? Can I settle into a kitchen chair beside my girls, look into their eyes, and help them with their work? Afterwards, can I clean up the table and scratch off the glitter glue with my fingernails without cursing under my breath? Can I dig deep for the gold of patience today as we shop, search, collect, file?

Can I simply let go of the “great” things I think I should do, in favor of the small things I can actually accomplish?

My to-do list above is real life. It’s not about expectation or the list of should-do’s that seem to accompany all holidays. It’s the every day reality that I have the chance to dwell richly in, if only I set the intention and make the time.

Small things, great love.

Today, and every day.

May it be so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Woman in the Bathroom

bathroom-signDear friend,

Can I presume to call you that? I hope so. Because that’s how I felt when we met eyes for a second in the women’s bathroom today.

I walked in with a baby in a car seat on one arm, a purse slung across my tired shoulder, and three little girls pushing to get around me. The girls were chattering excitedly, for a minute, I saw them as a stranger might.

I saw the black and white striped pants with the over-sized pink dress that Gabby loves to wear. I saw Ellis’s stained white tank top with the pink sparkly flamingo, and her black stretch pants that have somehow gotten a little too short over the summer. I saw Lucy and her curtain of self-cut bangs, trimmed up by her auntie but still managing to look like a short haired version of Farrah Fawcett. Gabby turned and I noticed I’d forgotten to comb out the bird’s nest in the back of her hair, the one she manages to recreate every night with great skill.

Then the baby started crying, and I whipped back in to the present, racing into the stall so we could get out before he started a full-blown beller of discontent.

I sat there on the toilet, counting the pairs of feet running past my door, and I thought of you, the stranger standing at the counter, watching all of us with a smile on your face and not a hint of judgement in your eyes while you washed your hands.

Friend, I’m so grateful for your kindness. I know most of the time, we are all a hot mess trying to get out the door. Someone’s shoes don’t fit, someone’s pants are dirty, and I’m desperately hoping that the blush I managed to swipe on my cheeks will make me look at least a little bit like I tried.

Heaven knows, I try. I wake up with Ellis at 6:45 most mornings, and haul the baby downstairs with us even though he’s not totally awake yet so that if he cries, he won’t wake up his twin sisters. I attempt semi-health conscious breakfasts and a load of laundry each day so that we have clean clothes. I remind myself to slam a glass of water after my two cups of coffee so I don’t get totally dehydrated and give the baby too much caffeine.

The day keeps going like that – full of tries that sometimes work, sometimes fail, but generally keep the wheels on the bus, and right now, that’s the best I can do.

So us out of the house this morning, dressed, fed, and generally in good moods, is a pretty good accomplishment. We’re definitely not the most stylish, but we’ve managed to get into the world and interact, and that makes life better.

And you, with your warm smile and kind heart? Well, I want to be more like you. I want to smile at people more. I want to not think twice about snarly hair or mismatched clothes, or even looks in general. I want to heap grace upon grace on everyone I come in contact with, knowing that being comfortable in another person’s presence is one of the greatest feelings ever.

Thanks friend-that-I-don’t-know. I needed that.

Maybe we all need a little more of that.

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: How Not to Open a Coconut

A couple of weeks ago, I inadvertently sliced open the skin below my thumb knuckle with a butcher knife. For a brief moment there was a lightning sear of heat and redness, and then I came to my senses, pinched the wound, and closed my eyes.

Cardinal rule #34 of motherhood: Don’t. Pass. Out.

I leaned over the counter, still pinching my thumb. It had begun to throb in a low, dull pattern. I didn’t dare let go of the skin, but somehow, I needed to get…  to reach… to open…

The kitchen began to spin, a kaleidoscope of morning light and the silver gleam of the sink.

I sank, cross-legged, on the cool hardness of the black and white floor.

Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out. You’re the adult here. Lord help us, you’re the adult. 

***

adulting stickers

Thanks to PeanutParade over at Etsy, you can now buy stickers to celebrate you and your friends’ life accomplishments. 

I don’t know why I still get all twitchy about the fact that I’m an adult. I just celebrated another birthday, firmly establishing my place in the mid-thirties set. But somehow, I still want affirmation for doing the grownup things. Moving appliances when I wipe off the counter. Dusting. Sticking to only the items on my grocery list.

For the record, the mid-thirties rock. I mean it. Being a full-blown adult gives me the freedom of accepting, being, parenting, and living as I choose. I love watching my husband grow into new hobbies and skills, and my daughters outgrow their shoes. I love wearing my favorite, worn in clothes and not caring if they’re stylish anymore.

I love being firmly gripped by Grace, every day a brilliant rescue, another reason for gratitude to my Maker.

Still, there’s a part of me that has a hard time believing I’ve been left in charge. It’s like when you babysit for the first time. The grownups leave, the kids stare at you, and the unfamiliar oven and range top you’re supposed to make macaroni and cheese on looks like a nuclear weapon.

Now my own small tribe of pink and ponytails depends on me for almost everything, and some days, that’s the hardest part.

Being needed. 

Strangely enough, I don’t ever feel ready for that role… the one role I feel like I should, somehow, innately just get.  And yet somehow, motherhood is the role I love. The role I play, day after day, sometimes turning in Oscar-worthy performances, sometimes wanting to hide all day in my dressing room.

The scary part is, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel ready.

Adulting is like that. Just when you finally get accustomed to scrubbing the bathroom sink once a week like a BOSS, you have kids and realize the toothpaste crusted to the basin is something that needs daily attention.

Whine. Sigh. Get the towel. Realize it takes twelve seconds. File it away as a mental note the next time you want to complain. Move on.

Nothing really prepares you for adult life. Nothing except the moments when you simply suck it up and do the work. And nothing you can see, at least, in the dizzying minute when you have to gather, rally, wipe away the blood, and haul yourself back to standing.

***

It took me a second to stop the spins, sitting there on the kitchen floor, clutching a bloody hand and desperately needing a few band-aids.

Thankfully, help appeared in the form of my four and half year old, who was more than eager to climb on a chair and dig in the coveted medicine cabinet. She emerged a minute later with the first aid box, along with some professional airs about being a nurse.

“OK. Hold still. This might hurt, but just… for a second. There. All better.” She gave my double band-aided thumb a well-meaning pat, which made me suck air like an industrial shop vac and confirmed that I probably needed stitches.

coconutStitches which I got, thankfully, in the form of glue (God bless those in modern medicine who understand us needle phobes) a few hours later, along with a strong admonition from my husband about trying to cut into a coconut with a butcher’s knife, at-home science project or not.

The YouTube tutorial was wrong. You can’t open a coconut by pounding the exterior with the butt end of a butcher knife. Or the sharp end, either.

Adulting is hard. End of story.

But the next time my daughter plies me with requests for exotic fruit with a hairy but cement-like exterior, I’ll know enough to say no.

That’s something, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: The Mug Brownie Moral

mug brownie

Picture courtesy theworstchef.com

It started with a mug brownie.

You know. One of those fad cooking things that sprouted, bloomed, and faded after a few months in the fickle soil of the interwebs.

Take a few things. Chocolate, mostly. Mix them in a coffee mug. Microwave. Bada bing, bada boom. Single serving mug brownie.

Somehow, I missed this craze. (Or just I always wanted more than one brownie.) Either way, I’d never tried the mug method before, until last week.

The opportunity arose. I had a little extra pumpkin bar batter. And since it was a new recipe that I was sending out the door with my husband for a community event, I wanted to make sure the product was edible. So I poured the leftover batter in the mug, put it in the microwave, and closed the door.

At this juncture, a reasonable person would have googled an actual mug brownie recipe to get an idea of how long you’re supposed to microwave this magic.

Apparently, I’m not reasonable. And I also lack a little common sense. Somehow, in the mess and muddle of my day, my pointer finger beeped out FOUR MINUTES, and hit start. I realized this was a little long, but I figured I’d check it after a minute or two and see what was happening.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, one thing led to another and I left sight of the microwave because my two year old announced she had to go potty, and this announcement/action chain goes much better when supervised.

Which means I forgot about the mug.

***

This is how it goes, right? We find ourselves with what seems like a really good idea, and we even manage the wherewithal to start acting on it.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, we get sidetracked. The great blog series we planned/exercise regiment we started/DIY project we bought supplies for/committee we volunteered on gets swallowed by this thing called NEED – which usually belongs to someone else – and all the good things we hoped to accomplish start to smolder and gather coats of ash.

We are left with two choices. We can blow on the coals of those ideas and intentions and watch the flames come back to life, or we can do nothing and watch the ash slowly turn grayish white as the heat dissipates.

For the last month, I’ve been a little out of breath.  Maybe you have too. Maybe the kids are still in the after-shock of daylight savings time. Maybe work is going all crazytown before the end of the year. Maybe the looming HOLIDAY season sends you less into hot cocoa land and more into snarl zone.

Whatever it may be that’s taking your breath away, please don’t let go without a fight. You NEED to foster the things that give you life. They are what make you unique, joyful, and fulfilled.

Which is why today I’m blowing on my coals, sitting at my desk, watching words fall off my fingertips and onto the screen.

I didn’t have an epiphany. I didn’t get a day all to myself to rest and recharge. I simply remembered something. Writing gives me energy.

Doing the things I love to do wakes me up, shakes me out, and resettles me a little more happily into my life. 

Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, four minutes is WAYYYYY too long to microwave a mug brownie, or a pumpkin bar, or really much of anything.

I finished helping my daughter in the bathroom only to return to the kitchen and find noxious clouds of billowing green smoke emanating from my microwave. The timer dinged before I could race over and open the door, but it didn’t matter.

The stench. The smoke. I gagged and coughed as I opened the door and waves of burnt cake smog assaulted my eyeballs. What remained in the bottom of the mug resembled charcoal and smelled like acrid darth vader death breath.

The next hour would have made a comical video. My daughters and I waved vinegar-spritzed rags like helicopters all around the kitchen. We concocted vinegar and lemon oil “soup” to boil on the stove top and the wood stove. We opened the doors, turned on the fans, turned up the music and shiver-danced to move the air around.

The stench didn’t completely leave, but we at least found a way to get our breath back. And so I leave you with this.

Moral of the story: Don’t cook a mug brownie/pumpkin bar for four minutes.

Other moral of the story: Don’t let what has sidetracked you permanently* keep you there, on the sidelines. Take a deep breath. Find the thing you love that’s been set aside, and fan it back to life.

I’m rooting for you.

 

Comment below and tell me about the things you love that always take a back burner (or a four minute death ride in the microwave).

*My house feels like it’s permanently going to be clinging to this reek, so if anyone has any good smell-busting ideas, I’m all ears!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Only Way to Start

I unlocked the door and pushed the familiar curve of the handle into my old kitchen. I was hoping for good news to share with my husband about our former residence-turned-rental. The former renters had moved out, and a wonderful family was moving in in five days. Meanwhile, I didn’t have huge expectations. Just empty space, wiped down cupboards, maybe even a clean refrigerator.

IMG_20150816_154543653

Creepy-doll selfie courtesy my four year old

Alas.

Giant black garbage bags squatted in corners, half open, half full of leftover belongings that must not have made the cut. My daughter immediately found a creeptastic purple doll and ran to the bathroom. “She should not be in the garbage. She needs a bath, mama.” I mumbled something incoherent and opened the fridge, appraising the damage of what looked like spilled BBQ sauce. Please let it be BBQ sauce.

I closed the fridge and let my eyes stumble over the entire kitchen. Layers of grime. Dirty woodwork. Spiderwebs draped casually along the walls and in the corners. The rest of the main level was mostly vacant and begging for some serious broom, shop-vac, and window washing love.

I could still hear the water running and my daughter chiding the purple doll. Honey, you have to wash your hair. You have tangles! Hold still! 

I took a deep breath and climbed the stairs, which still creaked and groaned the same song as when we lived there for six years. The second level was only slightly better. One garbage bag, one tube TV that time forgot. Bathroom drawers scattered with broken earrings and crushed bits of blush. A cheap, anise-lavender scented bubble bath gift set still tied in a gaudy gold bow. Broken blinds. Carpet littered with a mysterious miscellany of broken toys, leftover markers, half-sucked candy.

IMG_20150827_084752

ALL THE FEELINGS indeed.

I wandered back down to the kitchen. Then back to the dining room. Then back into the kitchen. I picked up a few dusty glasses left on the buffet and put them on the counter. I opened the oven. Coughed. Opened the freezer. Gagged. My arms suddenly felt like hundred pound weights. I was stuck. I stopped and stood there, hostage to ALL THE FEELINGS.

And then I did what any child need of rescue does. I called my mom.

She listened patiently to my list of and this was dirty and that was a mess and this needs to be replaced and there are scratches here and… She gave a few suggestions. We talked through whether or not the oven had a self-cleaning function. Bless it. It did.

But then I started escalating again, whining about how even the screen door was disGUSTING. So start there, she said. Sometimes the best place to start is with what you see first. Then work your way in. That way, the next time you come in from that direction, you won’t be so discouraged.

It made good sense. She promised to pray, and I promised to calm down. My daughter had finally finished washing the doll and was setting up a tea party with some old shot glasses she found in a drawer. I opened the bottom cupboard and found a turkey roasting pan, which paired nicely with a dusty bottle of vinegar left under the sink, some warm water, and a half-used roll of paper towels.

IMG_20150827_084630Because sometimes, the only way to start is to start. 

I’ve seen that saying a hundred times in Instagram and Facebook posts. Usually it’s in block font with a picture of a person running up a path that’s eventually going to lead them up a mountain, or something glorious and motivational like that. It’s never with a background of a dirty door smeared with greasy fingerprints and old ketchup stains. And yet.

The only way to start was really as simple as that.

Start.

Start with what I saw first. With what I knew I could manage. It didn’t matter how bad the whole of it was. The whole was frightening.

But the door? The door was doable. I could handle cleaning a door.

I just had to start.