Category Archives: Gratitude in Parenting

A Different Lament

It seems it is gaining in popularity these days to complain about how hard it is to have kids.  And I get it.  It is hard.  Really hard.  Half of my half-written blog posts (because I never have time to finish them with all these kids) are about how hard it is.  But I am kind of getting tired of yet another big lament that describes the borderline abusive “real thoughts” of the struggling parent –  it is really starting to get to me.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am all for honesty and, if you know me well, I am not one to be peachy-keen all the time about life.  I can complain with the best of them and I think it is important to have the ability to vent when we need to.  But you see, that’s something I don’t always want to do.  In fact, I think the harder thing is to feel the freedom to share our gratitude or a word of praise about our kids.  It would be bragging right?  Or at least that is my fear, so I don’t go there often enough – it’s always a little easier, for me at least, to connect over complaints.  But how refreshing would it be to speak about the other million moments in the day that aren’t so hard?  That are in fact so beautiful and meaningful that they truly take your breath away.  The moments that keep us going and remind us why we took on this crazy endeavor to care for and raise completely dependent, irrational, unpredictable human beings.  The moments where we well-up with tears of joy that do not in fact have to be downplayed by postpartum hormones.  Just pure full-hearted love.  I think I could use some of that to keep me going on this parenting journey as well.

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My husband’s family has a way of getting together and telling all the good stories from when everyone was a kid.  I was struck by this when we were first dating because it was a unique phenomenon to me.  There’s the polyester suit story when he was 3.  The “I know” story when he was playing piano with his aunt.  The famous football game against Central.  All good stories told with love and pride and delighting in who he was then that led to who he is now.  I love these stories.  Even though I have heard them a few dozen times myself, it is how they are told that gets to me.  My husband was loved, still is, and these stories leave no doubt.

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Couldn’t we all use a few more of our good stories floating around?  Wouldn’t that be a neat way for our kids to be known?  It would be kind of like turning the sun like a flashlight on them, just to shine some sweet warmth in their direction for the world to partake.  How neat to be so brave as to say there are things we adore about them, whether they were there to hear it or not, and not just find fault or complain.  Would it be so bad to speak more often to the gratitude we have for the precious gift of their lives and the unique ways God has made them to be in this world?  I think it could be pretty sweet – good for them and a perspective shift for me.

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A friend and mentor of mine, Cheryle, was talking about her son once and referring to him as “my Austin. I can’t believe my Austin is going off to college.” She has 5 kids and I was so struck by how adoring she sounded of her middle son that I tentatively had to ask “oh..is he your…favorite?”

“Oh, no, of-course-not!” she said with a laugh “But he is such a neat kid…” and she went on to unabashedly tell me more about what made him special and why she was going to miss him.  I just loved that.  I basked in the glow of her love for him, for all of her kids over the course of our friendship, and it has absolutely influenced the way I parent my own.

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I get that parenting it hard.  Let’s be honest about that for sure.  I am just wondering if there is room, safety, and enough grace to speak to the good parts too, more often?  I know I personally need to do a better job of taking notice some days and would love to feel the freedom to speak to it, as a form of discipline almost, in the day-to-day chit chat with friends.  I am not calling for a shallow brag-fest, or the social media shout out, but a deep-hearted, soul-baring gratitude between friends that, while inherently acknowledging how difficult it is, admits there is also something to be said for all that is so very good.


Real Life

butterflies-cute-jar-junel-nature-Favim.com-142556I fell to sleep at 2:00 a.m. last night after being pretty shaken up by the recent death of a dear mentor from my past, Don Rhymer, who encouraged me as a Young Life staff person in my newlywed days.  Married for 29 years and father to 3 really neat kids, he was truly an example of a man who lived a good life of strong faith and great relationships. He was one of those people I said goodbye to in California and hoped to spend time with again in future days.  He was a good man.  You can read his story here http://radiatedon.com. (warning, he has a great sense of humor, you’ll laugh through tears at his writing)

Eyes swollen from crying, I was woken again just before 4:00 as my 2 year old wanted me to come cuddle with her.  My baby chimed in wanting to be nursed, so he and I crawled into bed with her and I tried to sleep while she tossed and turned and he suckled. At 4:25, she started to choke and spew throw-up into the air, all over me and the baby and I leapt into action, babe still attached, calling to my husband for back-up.  Just one of many crazy days of parenting.

Still, it is a pretty great life I have.  I don’t say that as a trite response to hardship, nor to brag, nor because it is perfect.  It is far from perfect.  I am sleep deprived and a little spacey at best, impatient and crabby at my worst.  I take a shower an average of a few times a week, and I am usually wearing a shirt with day old spit-up (I know, gross huh?).  I figure with mountains of laundry, why make more?  We have some business concerns that feel pretty daunting.  My marriage, sayeth the marriage and family therapist, is not at it’s best.  We are in that post-baby, well post stressful-summer –  heck let’s just be real honest and say post-becoming-a-pastor’s-family (there should be a term for that) – season of busy life where we are looking across at the person we most cherish and adore and thinking “Hey, you look familiar? Do I know you? We should hang out sometime.”  Who has any time?

Especially those crazy folk like us who keep having all these kids.  And speaking of kids, on a regular basis we worry about them, that one or more of our children is doomed for jail, the psych-ward or the streets. Obviously I exaggerate, but you know what I mean parents out there.  I could go on with a myriad of worries, imperfections, faults and failures, but what I am overwhelmed with right now is what a great life I have.  I don’t say that without the awareness that there are those who suffer, really truly suffer from very hard things, and my concerns really are very small in comparison.  But probably because my life is so far from perfect, there are divine moments where huge gratitude over something very small overtakes me, and it keeps me going.

It happened when I was holding my fussing baby today, doing what I could to help him fall to sleep.  My two year old was just lulled to napping down the hall.  My baby’s cries softened with each of my bounces.  His sweet face burying into the space between my arm and ribcage to try and block out the world. Eyes roll back, then closing, and the big sigh of sleep breathing taking over.  Isn’t naptime the best? I am standing in the quiet of my room and glance over at the big comfy white chair near the window, where I rarely have time to sit these days, and then over to the row of books beside it.  The one on the end is my favorite, Great With Child by Debra Rienstra.  On the cover a glowing belly bulges from under a soft shirt.  Her posture is laid back, relaxed, contemplative in it’s pose. My heart warms at the idea of sitting in that chair for a few moments to read it – once both my little ones are napping, just before the big kids get home from school, when the laundry is done, the meals are cooked, the clothes mended, the children listened to, played with, kissed and held and loved, and well, probably never, or at least maybe not for 5 years or so.  It would be pure indulgence!

And it is just the possibility of that moment that fills me with gratitude.  Because really I could sit and read, and sometimes I do, when everyone is all tucked in for the night and I am feeling rebellious enough to leave some of the work of all this for tomorrow.  It is not often, but that’s okay, because this will not always be and I try hard to remember what I know so well.  That nearly 9 year old down the hall used to be this small and I strain to remember the details to answer her request for stories of when she was little.  I wish we could go visit those long days of being a first time mom, when the road ahead seemed so long and full of unknowns.  I know these days pass by quickly and my ache to capture them is akin to gathering the scent of summer in a glass jar to carry me through winter.  Impossible.  I had two full journals and a detailed baby book written to my daughter by the time she turned one.  This little guy’s baby book stares blankly at me by my bedside table.  How do I start, when I know it will end?  I take pictures, thousands of them, and they sit frozen on my phone and computer.  What is it now, 20 cumulative years of photo memory books for each year of my children’s lives to complete?  Huh, maybe I should let that one go.  But that kind of makes my heart hurt and my lungs get tight.  They will grow up too fast, and cliche beyond cliches, I know I will miss these precious days.

And so I look with a big heart of hope at that favorite book of mine, knowing one day I will have time to read it again, and if the day is not today, it is for damn good reason. Because the endless mundane and meaningless laundry means my kids have lived a good day and will be clothed tomorrow.  The meals that come together without too much creativity these days, means their bodies are nourished to grow and be healthy.  The listening and the mending and the kissing of owies and the reading of stories and the cleaning up throw-up and the work work work of it all is so very worth the opportunity to nurture these most precious souls for a season. When my house is empty and quiet for years to come, creating those photo books won’t mean I am ignoring a little voice or risking more sleep deprivation.  I am not sure I will be able to bear it then, taking in all that has passed, so for today, I try to breath deep into my imperfect life and take in the scent of a very good season.

Don, it would be a gift to know you were hanging out with my Fisher in heaven.  He would be almost four now and I am sure he’d get a kick out of being your buddy.  I wish all my kids could have met you.


Little Things, Never to Forget

I want to memorize the length between the lower curve of your plump bun and the back of your knee.  It can’t be more than 3 1/2 inches and then another to your pudgy bare foot.  One little lovable chunk of you that will too soon be long and lean like your sister’s.  Your voice is elf-like, high pitched, sing-song, curious and amazed at most things you speak to these days.  Unless it’s a command to “ho-d you me” “cuddew me” or a sweet whispered “wove you mama.”  Then your voice is deep and a bit raspy, possibly a glimpse of you at 12 or 24.  Or it’s a scream that accompanies a temper tantrum, full of life, fierce for that one thing you are wanting to have or do with your little strong body that I can barely redirect anymore with any sort of ease.  You have more passion and persistence than I have yet to witness in a child and I thank God you are my 4th, 3rd to make it to age 2, because I have far more experience, patience and tolerance for this age of big frustrations for you.  I get you though, I see your heart and know how badly you want to live by it and I adore that about you.  I pray regularly for the ability to encourage your full fledged self and help you harness your wildness in ways that will serve you well in life.  I can be exasperated and at the end of my rope with you and in the very same moment look into your tear filled fierce full brown eyes and be so overwhelmed with love for this full of life child I get to call mine.  You’re 2 1/2- delightfully, frustratingly, preciously, lovingly 2 1/2 and I don’t ever want to forget any bit or piece of this time with you.

“Mama, I feel like I haven’t had much time with just you and me lately.  Will you read my Pippi Longstocking book with me?” came the invitation from my girl who reads long chapter books within a few hours, has completed the Laura Ingalls Wilder series a few times over now and would choose to cozy up with a book over kicking a ball outside with her little brother any day.  Feeling lucky you would ask, I left the chore of the moment, looked past the end of day messes to be tackled, and joined you on the couch where it was quiet, away from a little brother and sister who were upstairs getting ready for bed with Papa, a rare brief moment with just you.  I pulled a blanket over us and your head leaned into mine as I started to read where you left off on page 103.  When a sound or my trailing tired thoughts cause me to pause, you put a finger to the word I stopped on and I am tempted to ask if you want to be the one to continue.  But I can tell you are 3 again, in preschool when you were the last kid to want to leave the reading circle while your teacher read the story of the day.  You’re 5, in kindergarten refusing to try and learn to read because it’s far more enjoyable to listen to the story than struggle to sound out syllables.  Now you’re 8 and it has come so fast, consuming more literature on your own than we ever have together in our sacred nightly ritual of bedtime stories before prayers and cuddles.  There is so much within your mind and world that I am not privy to any longer and I know that will only increase, naturally, as it should, but still I feel a bit left out not knowing so much of your thoughts and stories no matter how much I try to be intentional and ask.  So I am feeling nothing less than lucky to be invited into your most favorite past time, a world nearly as magical as this moment with you.

You’re 6 my son, and growing so quickly that your naturally athletic, amazingly coordinated body is a bit clumsier than usual.  You bump into corners and misjudge stairs and your tears are the same as when you were 4, so sad and so hurt.  I go to comfort you, hold you awkwardly on my 8 months pregnant belly and kiss your hurt places.  How much longer will I get to do that and it will help?  I appeal to your growing intellect as well with empathic words about your body changing and therefore you naturally get awkward for a while.  I am dealing with that too, I say smiling with my big belly, it’s not easy at first when our bodies grow but then we get used to them again.  You smile back at me and run off again full speed.  Later you take a break from your full-of-energy play and join me in the kitchen on a stool next to the counter where I am doing dishes.

“Mama, is it hard work being a mama by yourself when you have a baby in your belly?”  This is the season when your papa works long days, or is gone away for weeks at a time and you are ever the perceptive one. I have been tired, but conscientious about taking time for fun and for rest and building a rhythm that honors all of our growing bodies.

“Sometimes it is, but it is my favorite work I get to do,” I respond emphatically. I put down the dish I am scrubbing and turn to you perched on the barstool across the counter from me “Why do you ask?” I say, fearing I may have made you feel like a burden in some way.

You look out the window, and off into your mind say, “I am just thinking about the kind of dad I want to be someday.”   After a few moments you turn back to me “like making breakfasts like papa does when he’s home and you need some extra sleep.  I want to do things like that.”

Really, at six you’re thinking about this?  My perceptive, empathic child.

I get a big hug from you around my big belly, and a knowing look of love and gratitude for the baby brother you’ve been longing for all these years too, and off you go again outside to your adventures.

You would be 3 1/2 my sweet boy.  I have no pictures of these days and years I would have had with you.  No memories to try to cherish and hold onto.  Just 9 months in my belly and that one day, when you lay peaceful and breathless in my arms, when I could hardly breath.  I would give anything to have you now, even to have that one day when I got to hold and memorize you, terrible and exquisite as that day was.  My heart still aches beyond measure to know you my love.

Who would you be now?  Quiet and kind-hearted as your big sister?  Energetic and empathic as your big brother?  Wild and delightful as your little sister?  I can only daydream of who you would be, knowing full well you’d be something all your own entirely.  Oh and that hurts, so deeply, to not know and to wonder.  To have conceived and formed and grown you to fullness, to empty my womb when emptying is meant to bring life, only to tell you goodbye, still, always, leaves me hurting and longing.

 

My love is so big and full for you, even as I grasp to remember the details of you, details that are nothing to the joy it would be to hold you breathing in my arms, run and play a game of chase with you, read stories that delight your mind and talk with you about who you dream to become.  Our family is big and growing, but always incomplete without you.  I yearn for heaven to know you.

Kiss my son for me dear Jesus, play and run and talk and be with him, delight in him and cherish him, and please tell him he is loved beyond measure, each and every day until I am able to say it with you.

Thank you, for each of them my Lord.


Night Waking

I hear a cough, a sputter, another cough, then a rustling of blankets and a froggy voice calls.

“Mama, mama…”

In the dark I come to you, turn the bathroom light on around the corner from your room, to light my path.  Outstretched arms greet me from your seated slumber.  Eyes squint from the dim light entering your dark chamber.

I scoop your half awake body up into mine and, as always, we fit.  Your arms and legs wrap around me where they always go.  My arms slips beneath your padded bum, the other around your ribcage to squeeze you tight. Your head finds my shoulder and burrows in.

Papa peaks in.

“Grab the humidifier” I whisper, and smile that “isn’t she precious?” smile we share, to let him know you’re okay.

While he goes, the armchair calls for a moments’ comfort, you and for me.  In one instinctual, but quite clever rotation I have you vertical across my body, yours stays slack as you melt easily into our new position.  Eyes open briefly to make sure of mine and then close quickly again.

Your length is twice the width of me now, head resting on one arm of the chair, feet on the other.  The faint light makes only your toes glow.  At least they are still so little.  Our bellies breath together.  You grab my ears, I stroke your hair and lean in for a kiss to your forehead, your cheek, and about 14 more soft sweet places on your face.

Your hair smells of honey and flowers from your evening bath and your skin smells like you – like your blankets, and clothes, and your room does when I first open the door to greet you after a sleep.

God, if I could capture the scent…please never take her from me.

We sit and rock until your breathing grows loud, long, a snore even, from that lingering congestion that called me to you.  I’ll take it.  These interruptions of the sleep I claim to be of such value, for health and well being and sanity.  Really it is this that gives my life any well being at all.

In comforting I receive.

Peace. Meaning. Purpose. Gratitude. Grace. God. Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, all here with us in the dark of this nights’ interruption that reveals the course of my soul.

Thank you dear Jesus.

I love you dear child.


Little Voices

Her words are forming more intellectual these days.  His is losing the charming accent of unpronounced letters.  The littlest, nearing two, is rambling sounds of increasingly recognizable forms of communication.  This, that is so often the background noise, I notice new.  As if the violin of the practicing symphony suddenly comes forth clear with a melody, then the cello chiming deeper with punctuated profundity, the fluttery high pitches of the flute weaving in and out, up and down so whimsical, on one of our many car rides to everywhere and nowhere at all.   For this moment, only this seems to matter.  It is the music, all of it music, if I am listening.

So often I am not though.  The things I “must do” cloud my mind, clog my ears, and fills the space for sound in my head.

Need to get to those e-mails – so many half conversation waiting for a response.  How many am I forgetting that have slithered too far down on my screen, out of sight out of mind?  Think.  Think.  Oh I used to be so reliable.  Speaking of reliable, so many things I am not getting done.  Must do.  Must do.  What am I really doing with my life?  What is my purpose?  Sorry I ask that God.  I know I am yours.  What have You made me to do?  I love doing this and that, but there’s more, always more that I have no time for.  So many things I am passionate about, so many things can feel purposeful.   More time.  More time.  I long for more, and less, all at once.  Downtime!  That is what I need.  Time to get lost in something creative, a good book, a nap.  Push pause, that is what I will do, I will nap when my baby naps today.  Or maybe write a book chapter!  That would be fun.  But that would be work.  But meaningful, so much more meaningful than the breakfast dishes and crumb laden floor waiting at home for me. Oh and that laundry that is waiting to be put away.  Who am I, to think I can get anything done beyond this?  Who am I created to be?  Dear Lord, who do You want me to be? What do you want me to be about? I want to live that out, I just don’t always know how, or I know too many ways how…eggs, can’t forget to get eggs today.  What else do we need at the grocery store?”  On and on I go.

So much noise in my head.  That practicing symphony of incongruous sounds sometimes sharp and self deprecating, sometimes growing melodic, appearing to go somewhere, until interruption of the next urgent sound breaks through.

“Mama?  Mama?”

“Yes” I say, and I listen.  I can hear this and know infinite worth.

I can hear little voices.  The one who uses big words. The one who likes to tell long stories.  The one whose notes reach such varied heights I could plot them on a music bar for quite the cantata.

Too often, their sounds blend into the noise of my head and I don’t really hear.  Facing forward, always driving, in this moment I can see only the beauty of their sounds, and I know where I am to go.

Melodic, heart piercing sounds that I know so well I sometimes forget to take it all in.  Tomorrow syllables will form words, high pitches will deepen from a fresh shaven face and spelling words will become essays of eloquence.  Where will this time have gone?  Like the vaporous mist that rises in the dawn of these chilly fall days, I hope to capture what I cannot keep.

Knowing I have these voices as they are, only today, fills and breaks my heart.  I will close my eyes, my mind, push pause on the background noise of everything else, and let these melodies fill my soul.


These Days

Fall fell upon us
The bigs are back in school
You and me
have big things to do
in our pj’s and disheveled hair
pull things out of drawers
off shelves
test the theory of gravity
over and over again
with big grins and thrills of delight
over sound and unexpected consequence
big things
like climb all those stairs
and come back down
five pudgy fingers
clasped tight around one
dance to lullabies
and mama’s favorite rock tunes
cry with you in my arms
as we spin around the room
to love songs
written just for you and me
I get to look into your eyes more
these days
with just us two
see you think
nuances of emotions
wonderment and frustration abound
I get to see you, know you, calm you, help you,
love you
(what a gift
how do I deserve this?)
words forming
in emphatic syllables of garbled sound
increasing in decibels with big body gestures
as I guess
ball? bear? hair? there?
we are figuring out our language
you and me
dancing to rhythms
of this precious life
thankful beyond measure
for the everyday normal
of nothing too special
that exceeds anything
special,
so special.
The world, my God,
is here now.


So much, adieu


There are cupcakes to be made,
by morning
like ice cream cones
with sprinkles
and glitter

It is late
in the silent house
where life was lived well today
full and loud
I shuffle around
the remains

dishes heaped
crumbs cling to feet
annoying
on the floor
desperate to be swept,
a days’ worth of grime
maybe two
on a high chair to scour.

piles,
piles,
in every nook
to fold
sort
organize
discard
check off
re-stack
ignore again.

e-mails
endless,
of course,
how many have I already forgotten
of the thousands saved for later
when there is more time
which is never
and work things
to do, to do

too many ideas
stirring, igniting, inspiring, weighing, waiting
to accomplish,
create,
take in,
complete
better
more fully
at all

I think at night
when silence allows
and other pieces of me creep out
like the playroom toys
that come alive and play about
while children are sleeping

She cries out
breaking through the thick fog of it all
at an hour I should be sleeping
she wakes me

calling me
to comfort

20 pounds
of sleepy unrest
renders me still
calm
rest as I rock
soothing I am soothed

I get to
hold
melt
kiss
feed

a soul

escape
from all that matters
so little

as nothing
NOTHING
more eminent than this.