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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What 50 Shades of Grey Teaches my Daughters About Love

Dear friends,

Yesterday, I spent the day scrolling through my social media feeds, overwhelmed with the amount of things being shared about 50 Shades of Grey. There is constant buzz about the movie, and it seems the world is both intrigued and unsettled by its existence.

EllisI hesitate to add my voice for a few reasons. One, I don’t want you to think I’m judging you if you’ve read the book or plan to see the movie. Why? Because, friend, I care about you. You’re here in this community of people, and your thoughts, feelings, and opinions matter to me. Which leads me to number two. I care about you. I care about me. I care about my daughters, and the world outside our door that I must raise them in.

But any time we care about something, it becomes infinitely hard to talk objectively, and talk well about it.

If you’re looking for a review on the details of the movie, or specific examples from the book, I’m sorry. I’ve got nothing. I haven’t read the book. I don’t plan to see the movie. That means this post will be short, and to the point.

There is one thing that concerns me most with the widespread popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, and it’s this: mainstream sexual violence is now acceptable.

You can sit on the bus, in the break room, or on the exercise bike and read about a man whipping a woman for his own pleasure without thinking twice. You can grab dinner with the girls, and then head to the movies to watch sexually explicit acts next to someone’s daughter, or someone else’s son.

It’s acceptable because it’s popular.

But if this type of sexual violence is popular now, what will be left by the time my daughters become women and start looking for a man to build a life with? Should I teach them that it’ll be okay for their future husbands to throw them against the headboard on their wedding night? That it’s normal to submit to being beaten with an object during intimacy?

Moving the societal norm in this direction is frightening. Popularizing sexual violence in mass media means that this generation of watchers will come away with a new idea of what might be okay in the bedroom. If Hollywood sets the standard of what’s desirable, and X million viewers walk away thinking that Christian Grey is a pretty great guy, I firmly believe that our children are in danger of losing sight of what love actually looks, feels, and acts like.

For the record, here’s a really great list of things that love IS:

Love is patient. (No masking tape necessary.)

Love is kind. (Whips – no thanks.)

It does not envy (or leave bruises), it does not boast (or bite), it is not proud (domination has no place.)

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (It’s the opposite of Christian Grey.)

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. (No locked pleasure rooms necessary.)

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

This is the kind of love I want my daughters to find. This is the kind of love I want you and me, in our relationships, to be wrapped up and around with.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s day. I’m not going to tell you what to do, or how to do it. I’m simply going to ask you to compare what love looks like in 50 Shades of Grey with what love looks like from the list above (taken from 1 Corinthians 13), and decide which type you’d rather celebrate.

The year I ruined Valentine’s Day

I didn’t mean to be a jerk on the holiday of love. It just, well, it happened.

It was never destined to be a frosted, heart shaped sort of day at my house. The girls were needy, and I was empty. I slogged through the morning edgy and dry. And then the radio announcer would make a comment, or I’d see my Google search covered in hearts, and something in my brain would cackle that I was supposed to be celebrating my loves.

Vday card 2014We tried. Honest. I took a cute picture of the twins for the grandparents, and made a card on a fun site called Fotor. And when the girls went down for their tiny afternoon nap and Ellis woke up early, we baked cookies. Unfortunately the activity lasted for seven minutes, at the end of which Ellis and I both consumed an unhealthy amount of cookie dough and my kitchen became a shrine to measuring cups and spilled flour.

Meanwhile, my Love with a capital L was in the throes of tonsillitis. He came back from the doctor’s office with a new prescription, a jug of orange juice, and barely enough energy to make it up the stairs before collapsing into bed.

I knew our plans of dinner with friends and snowshoeing were out.  Along with them went my fast-waning patience. The girls cried. The house vomited princess dresses and Mr. Potato Head pieces.

And I wanted nothing to do with this messy, imperfect side of love.

Love was easy in a new dress and candlelight. It readily accepted the flowers and blushed gracefully at the card with its polished sentiments.

Love at 4:17 in the afternoon was grueling. It had unwashed hair and flushed cheeks. It ran out of tolerance as I packed the girls in the van, dropped them off at church’s childcare, and spent the next three hours alone.

***

A few days earlier, it had been my birthday.

If I’m allowed to admit it, I LOVE birthdays. Particularly mine. Because something happens on my birthday that I have a really hard time doing on any other day of the year.

I give myself permission.

Flashback Atlanta 2008, roomie bday breakfast

Flashback Atlanta 2008: roomie birthday breakfast

Let me explain. During college, my roommates and I started this tradition of crazy celebration. The day started with Bruegger’s bagels and bright red strawberries, coffee, coffee, coffee. It ended with the four of us around a restaurant table of really, really good food.

My celebration wasn’t just reserved for mornings and evenings though. One year I ditched class and spent my birthday wandering through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The next year I planned my way through IKEA. I bought myself cupcakes from Lund’s, buttercream icing piled high. I never, ever, worked.

Slowly, things changed. My roomies all got married and the bagel tradition fell by the wayside. I stopped taking the day off. I realized, in true I’m-a-grownup-now-fashion, that the expectation of celebration needed to be consistent with life’s current circumstances.

So this year, when my birthday started with my toddler announcing (in her best outside voice), “MOM IT’S NOT DARK OUTSIDE ANYMORE. GET UP!”, I decided to institute a new phrase into my day.

So what? It’s my birthday.

I repeated it, even though the words felt dumb. Yes. This would work.

No one drowned!

Birthday swim day – no one drowned!

The twins were jabbering and cooing in the next room already, so I gathered my girls, made some sort of elephant herding maneuver down the stairs, and settled into the kitchen to make French toast. (The nearest bagel shop is probably 37 miles away.)

And when Ellis spilled syrup all over the floor, I said to myself, So what? It’s my birthday.

When we were half an hour late meeting Jules and crew for our swimming play date and the van was out of gas… So what? It’s my birthday.

When we ate lunch out and both babies started to scream and wanted to eat at the same time?

So what. It’s my birthday.

***

I’m not uptight. I think I just get tangled up in the difference of how things should be versus how they are. (Wait, still? Didn’t we talk about expectations, ahem, a year or so ago?) I guess some character follies just keep coming back up, whack-a-mole style.

That’s a problem. I stink at whack-a-mole, and seeing life in terms of should means I’m using someone else’s measuring stick. When that happens, the results are bound to be different.

Seeing life as it is and accepting it as such means I throw out the measuring stick. It means I stop getting upset when something turns out differently than I expected. It means I give myself and the world around me permission to be imperfect. Not unkind, just imperfect.

In that permission, love can survive. It might be messy. It might have snot stains and markers on its pants. But permissive love doesn’t keep track of what went awry – it simply acknowledges that when things don’t go as planned, when the babies cry and the knight in shining armor is in bed with a fever, it’s not the end of the world.

That love says, “So what”, and then goes on with a certain steadiness. Circumstance may prune it down some days, but the results are always a branching (LM Montgomery) that will, eventually, bloom bright.