Letting Go

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From an early age in life, we crave a bit of control. Control over a toy or our parents. Or a sibling. Control over what food we want to eat. Or not eat. Control over what ridiculous clothes we want to wear. “What? A swimsuit doesn’t look good with tights under it?” As we grow older, we strive to control bigger things. Situations. Our work environment. Our home environment. Our spouses. And oftentimes, our children.

I have found that sometimes God chooses the most inopportune times to show us that we are not in as much control as we may think. I have a chronic illness that has wrecked my plans on too many occasions to count. It’s a pretty helpless feeling when the world outside of your bathroom or hospital room continues on. Without you. I have had to learn to let go. Of what was supposed to be, but now will not be. I try and just remind myself to focus on the next breath. The next minute. The next step. Not tomorrow or next week. Definitely not next year. Just the moment right in front of me. This can be difficult with three little ones outside of the door. Waiting on me.

It’s a lesson that I quickly forget when I recover. It’s one of the hardest parts of having something always, something that never goes away. It’s an illusion to try and control something like a chronic illness. I think it is a practice that has helped me let go of certain struggles as a parent. I have three boys that help remind me on a daily basis that my plans may differ greatly from God’s plans for me and my family. I think God intends for this to take some of the weight off of us. Just wait. Stop worrying. He’s got this. He’s got you.

1 Corinthians 2:9

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Maybe he hopes we will let go and let him help take some of the pressure off. The pressure we put on ourselves to do a million things a day and raise loving, compassionate, generous, caring, honest, and kind-hearted children.

The other night I was in pain and I couldn’t help put my children to bed. I hate when I can’t be the mom I want to be because of my disease. Doing it all. One of my seven year old boys came in to my room and said, “Mom, can I get you some water?” Of course. And maybe some toilet paper for my tears. My heart nearly exploded because of his unprompted kindness. And compassion. And patience with me. Then one of my other sons asked, “Mom, can I hold your hand?” Suddenly, I didn’t feel like such a burden. Suddenly, I could let go to realize the power in my sons’ tender hearts and love-filled actions trumped any of my shortcomings as a mother.

God worked through my two sons to lighten my load.

We can never predict the good that God will bring out of situations where we lack control. Situations where we feel overwhelmed. Situations where we feel unprepared for what’s before us. God looks out for us and constantly surrounds us with his grace and love. Sometimes the greatest lessons will come out of the mouths of the most innocent and dependent ones in our house. God works in mysterious ways. We have to let go of the control sometimes to humbly learn that there are much bigger plans in store for us. Plans we can’t begin to fathom. Because we love God. And he loves us more.

Grass Stains

 

 

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As I pulled the wagon up the hill, holding my four year old, and carrying the portable soccer goals, one of my sons lagged behind, barely walking as he held his soccer ball in his hands. Everybody had low blood sugar. It was nearing dinnertime. I looked back and I noticed that my son was visibly upset, with his head looking downward, while his shoulders stooped. I stopped the wagon and saw his tears. I asked him why he was crying.

“He’s gooder than me.” The words sputtered out. “He’s gooder than me at soccer.”

There was something so painfully innocent, yet heartbreaking hearing the words escape through the gap of his missing front tooth. A beautiful seven year old boy with disheveled, sweaty blonde hair and one pant leg pulled up. I had just finished watching and playing soccer with my three boys. Throughout the games, I stopped and talked about the rules of soccer after several (overly) competitive bouts had landed one or two boys tangled up on the grass. It looked more like rugby or football. “You can’t elbow or tackle each other. You can use your shoulders. Soccer is a contact sport, which means you’re going to bump into each other, fall down and most likely get some bruises.” Their boney knees were covered in grass stains. I shuffled the teams around. My youngest boy happily played goalie, unaware or perhaps painfully aware, of the battle going on in front of him between his older two brothers.

Our walks home from the park tend to be the perfect time for talking about important issues like nature, bullying, death, or today, sibling rivalry. I talked to my boys about growing up with sisters. I talked about my older sister, specifically, and how great she was at basketball. Much better than me. She could score on any defender from any where on the court. I spent countless hours after practice in high school rebounding her free throws and three pointers. I talked to my boys about why I think I became such a good defender besides the fact that I was skinny as all get-out and I had to out-hustle all of the bigger girls. It was also because I grew up guarding my older sister. I think I should credit the majority of my skills to the fact that I usually had to guard “Miss Basketball(she literally was)” in driveway pick-up games and practices. And I had my own fair share of frustrating, tear-filled moments of my sister being “gooder than me.”

We talked about how different we all are from one another. We talked about how our weaknesses can help us get stronger if we don’t give up. That it’s okay to get upset, maybe sad or disappointed, but then we have to keep working hard to figure out how to be better. Or maybe different. I talked to my boys about how young they are, how they have so many things that they haven’t even tried yet. It’s these kind of moments, when I’m talking to my twin boys, that help me realize how important it is to not define ourselves by comparing our strengths, weaknesses, or capabilities to somebody else. Not even to our very own twin brother.

I know as a mother to three boys that I will be dealing with this battle for years to come. My husband and I work really hard not to label or predetermine the places or heights that our children will soar. But it’s a tricky business navigating the places we’ve never been or experienced through the eyes of a parent and vicariously through the lives of our children. We do the best we can with the knowledge and experiences we have, both good and bad, which sometimes feel inadequate. At the end of the day, the most important and truthful thing we usually have said all day is how very much we love them. That will be something that they will never ever have to doubt. No matter what. No matter how good they are at soccer, no matter how good they are at playing the drums, drawing, reading, riding a bike, or any other thing they try. They will always know they are loved beyond measure.

Mom Smarts: the Playground Pooper

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I like to think of myself as somewhat of a professional. I’m actually in my seventh year of mom school, like a resident or fellow. Except that I didn’t ever go to school for mothering. I read a crud ton of books and listened to a lot of moms’ solicited and unsolicited advice, but most stuff, I’ve learned the hard way. The real life way. Through observing others or trial and error, cause and effect, the “what the….?” and the holy shit” moments. That’s seven plus years worth of mom smarts. Which ultimately amounts to nothing. I know nothing.

Today, my four year old son walked over to me on the playground and told me, “I have to go the bathroom.” Then said, “It started coming out.” Game changer. Oh. I looked down and his pants weren’t visibly wet. “You went poop?” That’s the one. I looked in his pants to find out that he was telling the truth. He not only had “started,” he had finished. Ignored the urge in the name of fun and crapped his pants. So, on a school playground, you don’t have a lot of options. Meanwhile, the five other boys I had brought continued happily playing. They needed to release some energy. This fact eliminated the option of me having everybody walk home, a long walk home for the one boy with crap in his pants, who most likely, would want me to give him a piggy back ride. Thankfully, a veteran boy mom friend of mine said “just go over there and empty it out.” There was an area outside of the playground. Good plan. I took the Capri sun box with me as a makeshift trash can. As I walked with my boy, who could have cared less that he had a load in his pants, he gave me a play by play commentary on where the poop had travelled. “It’s down my leg, Mom.” Oh, dear god. And now to suppress gag reflex, mom mode activated.

We made it behind the air conditioner vent where I began the heinous process of de-pooping his leg, his pants, etc. Goodbye, older brother’s Spider-Man underwear. Shhhhhh, I’m not saving you, and don’t give me any guilt, into the Capri sun box you go. I looked down. I had no options for wiping his butt except to use some large leaves from a plant that I hope was a non-poisonous alternative to toilet paper. My son cooperated as I wiped his butt cheeks the best I could. With plant leaves that were “cold” according to him. I will pause to let you know that as parenting book savvy as I may claim to be, I never ever read any parenting book that addressed how to dispose of any sort of pee, poop, vomit, etc. when not near a toilet. Please tell me every parent has several or too many to count of these disgusting stories.

Quite frankly, one of the most horrifying poop scenarios happened long ago, when my twin boys were under a year old. The sweet little guys were able to sit up and play in the water for what seemed like eternity. I didn’t mind. It was like a water filled pack n’ play. A mom vacation. I spent hours upon hours in that bathroom. I love-hated it. Until the day that one boy pooped in the tub. I can’t remember who. As a sleep deprived twin parent, your critical thinking skills fall into a coma of sorts. Oh. My. Wake up! What do you do when you see a new mysteriously shaped brown bath toy floating in the tub?

That’s. Not. A. Bath. Toy.

You freak out. Then your boys look at you. The babies start crying. Oh no! Affect regulation. It’s ok. It’s ok. No, it’s really not. You’re silently cursing every parenting book and parent who has ever talked to you. WHY would they never prepare you for this unwelcome bath time visitor? All of the lame stories but never “Turd Alert….what to do.” I adapted and quickly picked up and plopped their two slippery bodies out onto the bath mat. No towel. You want to just grab the kids, exit strategy. Leave the sudsy water and poop bobbing under the bubbles and brushing up next to toys. All the nine hundred toys. That’s enough trauma for one day. Get the boys, close the door. Surely, you could never go in there again. Or tell your husband when he gets home. He’s a much better fisher”man” than you. But you can’t because you’re going to have to bathe your poopy children. Again.

If you’ve never had the debate of whether you should drain the tub with the poop in it or go “poop fishing” with your hand, you’ve never truly lived. It’s a disgusting sort of adrenaline rush. In fact, every new parent should get one of those small fish store nets at their first baby shower. Maybe they should even learn about this scenario before conceiving a child. If not, the fish net should be a mandatory baby registry item that comes complete with instructions to be placed in the bathroom cabinet for “the code brown bath when you will need it.” The instructions should read “Baby/Toddler Poop Net.” That’s all.

If you didn’t know, now you do. If your child never shat in the tub, congratulations. As a parent, you can’t let emergent unexpected pee or poop ruin your day. Or you’re going to have a lot of shitty days.

Monday Morning

imageI held on tightly to the cold scrawny hands of my seven year old boys. I habitually reached down for them when we had to cross the road. And I didn’t let go the entire walk to school. My boys must have understood that I needed to hold their hands today. And maybe they wanted to hold mine too. After a weekend away at work, holding other kids’ hands as they cried, I had a hard time letting my own boys go as we approached their school. I love them so extremely much all of the time, but in a painfully sensitive and grateful way on Monday mornings. I stood on top of the hill and watched their backpacks bop up and down as they ran and disappeared through the school doors.

I didn’t think I could walk home. Physically. I felt like Monday had already knocked me over. And held me down. I felt defeated and it wasn’t even 9 am. The “I just can’ts…”had already crept into my head. “I just can’t brush my hair. I just can’t clean the house…and so on.” I walked across the street and Connie, the school crossing guard, told me to hop in her car and she would give me a ride back up the hill. She has done this for me many times. Maybe she notices the lack of pep in my step. My ratty hair. My coughing. Or the bags under my eyes. I always plop down in her backseat because she usually has a laundry basket in her front seat. She’s always giving stuff away to others. She’s enormously kind-hearted and will go to great lengths to provide for and protect kids. She takes off her neon vest and a few layers of coats, scarves, etc. before she sits down in her car. And exhales. She drives me around the block, up the hill and into my driveway.

It’s a small gesture that feels like a million bucks. She and I have the quickest, most deep, honest and awesome talks in those short minutes. We usually sit in the driveway finishing up our conversation. She graciously shares marriage and mothering stories with me. The lessons she’s learned. The sacrifices she’s made. She relates to me, encourages me and helps me feel less like I’m drowning most hectic mornings. She tells me I’m a good mom. And I believe her.

One morning, she held her stop sign up as we crossed the street. My husband was out of the country. I was trying to be two-parent strong by myself. And I’m not a morning person. I walked across the street with my three boys and two nieces. One of my boys cried the whole walk down the hill. I talked with him but couldn’t get him consoled before he entered the school building before the second bell rang. I felt awful. Like pure therapeutic grade shit.

Prior to leaving for school, my son had playfully laid on the floor kicking the wall with his shoes, accidentally leaving several mud prints. I didn’t freak out. But we were running late. I told him when he got home from school, he would have to clean up the wall. My request turned him into dramatic melt-down mode because apparently he thought he would never get to play again. In his life. Because he would be cleaning the wall. F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I tried to diffuse the situation with no success. So he cried. And cried. And he must have envisioned himself cleaning those three mudprints and missing out on the rest of his childhood. The whole walk to school.

Connie saved my morning. She talked with me. And helped me with that sneaky guilt that had leapt onto my back as I headed home. She told me I did need to have him clean up the mud prints. She told me I had done the right thing, even though I felt like crap. She reminded me that kids recover quickly. Then, she shared one of her stories of raising her son with me.  She helped push that mama guilt down off of my back. It still hung out by my side as I walked up the hill. It was easier to ignore there.  So, I purposely left it outside my door when I got home.

Connie unknowingly reminds me of the beauty in small kindnesses. Sharing a story or two, some advice, encouragement and a ride up the hill. She also stops cars and kids from running into school traffic. And she helps build up, encourage and strengthen parents like me. A real crossing guard kind of personality.  She’s a true hero in my book.

You really can’t ask me for much on Monday mornings. I don’t like to talk politics(really ever but especially not on a Monday). I don’t like to brush my hair. I need coffee. And patience. Lots of both, please. I’m an overthinking, over feeling, exhausted, missing my boys sort of mess. My favorite answers to questions are “I don’t know” or “give me a minute” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.” But there’s one thing for sure, if you ask me if I need a ride back up the hill, I will gratefully answer, “yes.” Every Monday morning.

How to Raise an @$$hole

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This is a rather unfriendly public service announcement. Because I’m tired of my kids coming home from school and retelling the cruel moments about when “so and so” made fun of this person or how “so and so” called him this name or said “twins are weird.” I’m tired of kids being rude, unkind, exclusive and for lack of a more accurately descriptive word, just pretty much assholes. On playgrounds. At school. At church. In the grocery store. Pretty much, everywhere.

However, I realize that most of the time, it’s not their fault. Somebody intentionally or unintentionally has taught them most everything they know at this point.

Come on! Let’s give proper credit where proper credit is due.

There are several ways to know if your kid is being an asshole at school. Or daycare. Or church. Or at a random park playground. Or anywhere really. I love the heck out of kids. They’re little sponges. They’ve got massive amounts of intuition, instincts, and innocence. They learn amazingly quick from the ways that others treat them.  Specifically how parents or caregivers treat them and the people around them.

Here’s a brief list of ways to predict if your kid will be an asshole.

1. Do you call your child names, belittle him, dictate what he can or can’t wear, what he can and can’t eat, who he can and can’t play with, all to a ridiculously obsessive level? Do you control him to the point that you would go ape-shit if a boss, spouse or another adult tried to control you to the exact same level?

Ding. Ding. Ding. Your kid may take out some of his pent-up lack of control on “weaker,” more sensitive non-conforming kids at school. Stop over-controlling your child. Let him make some choices every once in a while. Does it really matter if his pants and shirt don’t match? Everybody will know that he picked out his own clothes. And that’s okay, right? Riiiiiiiight.

2. Do you have the same group of friends, never including anybody new? Always the same. They look the same as you. Act the same as you. Do the same things as you. The same group of friends. Always. Do you scoff at or talk about how “so and so” tried to play with your child or tried to include everyone over for a party or play date? Do you have an anxious or allergic or condescending reaction to people who are different than you?

Do you also determine if you will be friends with someone based on their appearance? Where they live? Who they know? How they talk? How much money they have? Or don’t have? Have you ever started a sentence with “I’m not racist, but…” Or do you make generalizations about groups of people or stereotype people on a regular basis?

Congratulations. Your child is learning how to exclude others. From you. Your child is also learning how NOT to appreciate or embrace diversity. From you. Your child learns how to be racist, discriminate, judge others, and stereotype from your words and behavior. You probably think you know everything about everyone. Of course you do.

3. Are you rude, snarky, condescending or unkind to waiters, waitresses, baristas, cashiers, or basically, anybody that serves or helps you in some way, shape or form? Ugh. “Uh-hem”…let me guess, you need more of something? But you don’t ask. You demand. Bark. Bark. Your orders while you’re on your phone. You won’t say “thank you” or “sorry” either because it’s their job or their fault. Always. Never yours. Never.

Your child will quickly catch on to this behavior. And big freakin surprise here…he may want to be just like you. And treat others like an asshole. Gooooooood work. Not really.

4. When your child demands, wants or asks for something, do you give it to him? Always. Right away. Hurry up. Every single time. No matter what. So that you can avoid a tantrum, whine fest or feeling of inferiority as a parent, comparatively speaking. Bonus: you can also teach your child a valuable lesson in being an asshole. Other people should also give him any and every little or big thing he wants, commands, or demands. Immediately. No questions asked.

It’s back to the control issue. You’ve got yours and he’s got his. Big surprise.

The truth is that we’ve all been an impatient asshole at one time or another to some person. At least I think so. I know I have. (See “@$$hole Bedtime Parenting award” post) Acted embarrassingly. We’ve all probably said something insensitive, inaccurate, mean or just plain wrong. Maybe to our spouse. Maybe to our mom. Maybe to our friend. A waiter. A cashier. Maybe to our kids. The problem is not that you recognize you’re an asshole every once in a while because we all have those challenging moments or days. The problem grows out of control when you no longer recognize when you’re not being a decent human being. When you start becoming such an asshole that, ironically, you think everybody else is an asshole.

So, stop being an asshole. The world has enough of them already, right? Riiiiight.

Truth or Dare

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Truth or dare: a classic childhood sleepover game in which I always preferred the dares. Not surprisingly, I would have much rather done some ridiculous thing than share a previously unknown fact or “secret” about myself. It seems safer and easier to predict another’s response to a “dare” than to predict her response when she finds out a truth.

As a fun and light-hearted joke of sorts, I played the old game with a couple of sisters and friends last night. My boys saw me creating the game and asked if they could play too. So we played a fun kid version of this game today. My boys were also drawn to a certain side of the game. They laughed and thoroughly loved smearing whipped cream in their faces, kissing a tree and dancing with the dog and a broom. They each asked me if they could play the game again, only with “more dares.”

Life has always been a bit of both, specifically in parenting. No matter how many books you read, none will prepare you for the emotions, the feelings and the raw truths that parenting will reveal in you. Your pride, your hopes, your fears, your insecurities, all hidden in the midst of the gut-wrenching and utterly beautiful moments of raising a child.

From those first overwhelming minutes of meeting this new life before you, the piercingly beautiful sound of your baby crying upon breathing his first breaths, to the seemingly millionth cry in the night. Your baby that desperately needs to be fed, burped, or changed. Your baby that must need something again. You. There’s your toddler that needs constant help but doesn’t want to accept it. Or your preschooler that can communicate what he wants to eat but can’t begin to understand the emotion he feels when you say ice cream isn’t a choice for breakfast. And the parenting journey continues on.

Your child has this mysterious power to take a heart that you’ve possessed your entire life and place it delicately under a magnifying glass. For good and bad. All of the sudden, you’re whisked back to moments. To the classroom where somebody made fun of you. You’re feeling emotions all over again, in a different way. You’re seeing things in a more sensitive way, a more honest way, and a more difficult way. All through the magnified lens of your past experiences and through this new and innocent life constantly pulling, tapping, tugging and elbowing for more space in your heart. You’re feeling those difficult-to-describe emotions through the eyes, ears, and skin of a little human being dependent solely on you in countless explainable and unexplainable ways.

The parenting journey continues and I’ve learned it doesn’t always get easier. In some ways, yes. In others, no. Your child unknowingly dares you to do hard things on his behalf: make sacrifices, humble yourself, apologize, ask for forgiveness, confront your past, ask for help, and step outside of your comfort zone on a routine basis. Your child dares you to ruffle waters. Dares you to belly up to confrontation. You find yourself in a principal’s office fighting back tears to advocate for your child. You find yourself having difficult conversations on behalf of your child. You oftentimes feel lonely, isolated, different because you don’t want to fit in if fitting in means compromising on certain parenting issues. You routinely end up in hard conversations where you and your child bump, bump, bump into a door. Maybe it’s just temporarily stuck or maybe it’s locked.

The truth is you don’t have all of the answers. You never will. The dare is that still you readily leap into the familiar and unknown parenting waters. Time and time again. Not always gracefully, but willingly. You’re alternating strokes on a daily basis. Sometimes hourly. Often doggy paddling, back stroking and plunging yourself deep down, holding your breath for what seems like forever. You come up gasping for air. And the crazy unexplainable thing is that you will do it all again. And again. For your child.

Tears in Heaven

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We started our drive. I don’t let my kids use technology (most of the time) as we shuttle around town. For a reason. We have these really silly imaginative or extremely deep, awesome and sometimes hard conversations in the van. At red lights. On the highway. In our driveway. Or we listen to music.

The other night, one of my seven year old boys asked, out of the blue, from his backseat by the window,

“Can a kid cry in Heaven?”

Oh man.

I think we have more talks about God, Jesus, dying and Heaven in the van than the average family. My kids ask really, REALLY hard questions that most times, I don’t know the answer to. Questions that cause me to think about the most painful stuff as a parent. A child dying. My child dying. Going to Heaven before me. But without me.

Suddenly, a million thoughts floated frantically around in my head like a snow globe that had just been picked up and shaken hard. By a little boy. I suffered from a rare temporary loss of words, I didn’t know how to answer him. So, I dug a little deeper. I asked him a question back, knowing that his sweet answer may cause the huge lump in my throat to expand, making it difficult to talk. Or answer him.

Wait. Maybe we could just talk again about the ten deer we had just stopped to see. As we pulled up next to them eating at sunset, they nonchalantly stared back at us. All of their eyes looked up at us, as they chewed on their grass. My boys thought it was awesome. I did too. One of my boys said he would like to have a pet deer. To which his younger brother replied, “do you want one with horns or not?” No bucks. Good to know.

All of these spontaneous thoughts volunteered to help me change the subject, but I just couldn’t ignore his question or dodge it either.

So I asked him, “Why would a kid cry in Heaven?”

Then out came his too-quick-of-a-response.

“Cause they miss their mom and dad.”

My heart dropped. Or maybe it stopped for a second. And then I was driving and silently crying. His sweet answer physically hurt. His honesty, his innocence. It really doesn’t matter how great Heaven is if you have to go there without your mom and Dad. That’s scary and sad. I got it. I understood him. And so I talked about how God and Jesus and so many others, like Gammie, would hold, carry and love on a kid in Heaven and how even though it seemed like a long time to not see their mom or dad for a little while, they would get to spend forever with them. One day.

Then my son said, “I wanna be a kid when I go to Heaven.”

I quickly replied,

“I don’t want you to be a kid when you go to Heaven. I want you to be a grown up. A lot older than you are. Like Grandma Fritz.”

“No, I don’t want to die like a kid…..I just want to be a kid when I’m in Heaven.”

Oh. Okay. I could understand why he would want to have a kid’s body and energy to live and explore and play in Heaven. Maybe because Grandma Fritz needs help moving, going to the bathroom, or getting out of her chair. She also has a hard time hearing. She’s 94. That’s who they know that may be going to Heaven soon. Its not easy describing how our bodies may look or be different in Heaven in a way that is easy for seven year olds and four years to understand. Or me. And it’s not like I’ve been there to speak from experience. So then, he asked me a few more questions.

“Does it hurt when you die?”

My goodness. Another tough one. I talked about how I hope it doesn’t hurt. How I hope it’s peaceful for Grandma Fritz. But I said I didn’t know. Again.

We had twenty more minutes to drive. The sun had set. The car was dark. And I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. It’s hard thinking on painful things that aren’t supposed to happen. Things that are my worst nightmare as a mother. It’s hard to be separated from my boys for a few long shifts away at work. I definitely don’t want to think about death separating us. Too soon. Before I’m ready. But it will happen. A temporary separation. One day. Hopefully, a long, long way away.

Of course, it’s more fun to talk about pet deer. And taking rides on shooting stars. And the human body, especially the spinal cord. Most days, I would even choose to talk about how to handle mean kids that mistreat and call others names than talking about Heaven and dying. But, for some reason that night, my son needed to know if a kid could cry in Heaven. So, I answered him the best I could.

Then, I started to think about the moms and dads that go to Heaven. Too early, too young. Too soon. Without their kids. How I would cry in Heaven too. Cause I missed my boys. Temporarily. Just a blink of the eye when compared to forever. So, I will keep believing in forever. I have to. Even when it’s hard, painful, confusing or unknown. And a little scary. Maybe there are temporary tears in Heaven. Maybe not.

Either way, I shake up the snow globe of my thoughts again. This time I think on the excruciatingly happy moments of life. I imagine the joy of birth, hearing my son’s first cries. Holding them for the first time. I picture their arms wrapped around me, snuggled up in the rocking chair. I imagine them reaching up and saying, “Hold you, momma. Hold you.” I imagine the joy of seeing my school-aged boys waiting for me to pick them up after a long day at school. I imagine the joy I felt when I hugged my big sister after not seeing her for over a year. I imagine the time my husband showed up at Starbucks when I was working and he had just gotten back from Australia. Or when my best friend flew in town and showed up unexpectedly in my hospital room. I remember the joy of driving home with the windows down from the hospital after weeks of being there. I think of our crowded dinner table, growing up and still, everyone talking, eating, and laughing.

The moments keep coming. Accompanied by the joy felt when experiencing all of these times and a million more. I collect all of this joy. Gather it up, and set it in a special nook in my heart. I hold it tightly. Dearly. This happiness. And it helps me feel a lot better if there are temporary tears in Heaven.

Driveway Hugs

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I started to put the car in drive. Then, I looked up to see one of my seven year old boys running out to my car. I thought he must have left something in the backseat. Or maybe he wanted to tell me not to forget to do something before I left for a long day away at work. Nope. He surprised me. I opened the door and he quickly wrapped his skinny long arms around me. Oh, a hug. He wanted to give me a giant unprompted driveway hug. I held him. Then, I pulled him up onto my lap and asked him a question I already knew the answer to.

“Wanna help me drive around the driveway?”

I didn’t even need to wait for his response. I started to close the door when all of the sudden, another seven year old boy had arrived at my door. His twin brother must have noticed his absence. Or mine. He showed up for a driveway hug too. He assessed the situation and climbed onto my lap for a drive around the circle. Unexpected running hugs from seven year old twin boys deserve a reward. We sat happily crowded together in the front seat. I put the car in drive. They helped me steer and reached their feet down to press on the brake or more accurately, slam on the brake. My cup flew to the passenger side floor board. Cup holders can only do so much. They giggled and may have felt like the coolest two seven year olds on the planet. One loop around and they quickly exited the car after I told them how much I love them.

I’ve been leaving my husband and boys for twelve(-ish) hour weekend option shifts away for seven years. I’ve tried not to sneak away. I’ve wanted them to know I am leaving and will come back home when they’re sleeping. I’ve always hugged my boys repeatedly, kissed my husband, held them tightly and then had to let go. I’m always running late. Always. Over the years, I’ve left screaming babies and sobbing, pleading toddlers, “will you pleeeeeeease not go to wook today?” But I have to. You’ll have fun. You’ll have a good day. You can tell me all about it tomorrow. I always say. I always come back. I say that too. But it’s hard.

So, this morning, when I was on the brink of running late, like I have been for the past seven years, I could have rolled down the window and said, “I’m running late! I’ve gotta go!” But l couldn’t resist my excited, running seven year old boy, that has outgrown his pants, and noticed I had left my parent’s house without a proper departing hug. I had just hugged his brother at the kitchen counter. My mom said, “Pretty soon those legs are going to be touching the ground.” Yes. But not today. I held and squeezed him tightly.

The harsh reality of working in an emergency department teaches you that sometimes moms and dads don’t make it back home. You should always hug readily and tightly those you love before you leave for a long day away. They should always know how very much they mean to you. Just in case.

I will never regret running to the time clock today. Running because I spent an extra couple minutes hugging my first born twin boys in the driveway. And driving dangerously, or so they thought, around the tiny circle driveway in their mama’s lap. I hope they will always remember the sweet moments we have before I leave for work. Not so much the crazy mama getting ready moments, but the family room, kitchen, driveway, and garage hugs.

I always get a little emotional when I leave, as I am driving on the highway. For a lot of reasons, but I always think how hard it is to leave them, how enormously I love them, and how lucky I am to have them to return back home to. I always think…What if I don’t make it back home to them?

Will they know how extraordinary they are? Will they know how much joy they bring me? Will they know that the world is better because they’re here? Will they know that it’s always worth being a few minutes late to hug the ones you love the very most?

The answer today and the answer I would love to think that they know everytime one of us leaves each other is, “Yes.” Always. Some things will always be worth being late for. Driveway hugs just so happen to be one of them.

The Dog Monster

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I’m not quite sure of the exact day that “the Dog Monster” arrived on my boys’ playtime scene. I do know the general time period and the exact playground where she made her strange, yet dramatic, first appearance. A monster that barked and tried to grab little children as they ran across the unsteady bridge up to the twirly slide. She proved herself to be a ridiculous yet dangerous new breed of monster. Especially for little boys clumsily bouncing across playground equipment. She lurked or sometimes fell asleep under bridges and slides, waiting patiently for a child to venture close enough to be grabbed.

My twin toddler boys and I would stroll up to Pawnee Elementary school to play on one of its three playgrounds. The mama’s main goal was to release some of the “twinenergy” in an atmosphere outside of our house. A half mile away from steps, hardwood floors, wall corners, door hinges, etc. seemed to be a safe enough distance. My boys have always been phenomenal climbers, lifting their seemingly weightless zero percentile bodies up onto higher areas than they should have probably ever climbed. It’s always easier to get up somewhere than down. Most likely because the startling view from up high can rattle even the most confident of climbers. Spoken like a true mother fearful of heights.

The Dog Monster must have made one of those amazingly hard-to-forget first time impressions that imaginative, playful characters sometimes do. Her presence has been requested or demanded on close to every playground we have journeyed to since. Nearly five years later. There have been the many awkward times when I’ve been talking to a mom friend or new park friend and my boys have come running up, trying not to interrupt (sort of) patting my leg incessantly,

“Mom, could you be the Dog Monster? Please, Mom! PLEASE!!!!”

And repeat.

“In just a minute, boys.”

Then, I have to explain what “the Dog Monster” is and ask that parent if their kid will be scared if I run after my boys barking and chasing them like a weird mom monster. I’ve often found myself chasing tons of kids begging for me to get them too. Apparently, the Dog Monster’s bark is a lot scarier than her bite. The thing is kids like for grown-ups to play silly games with them. Grown-ups can be so serious sometimes with the dish loading and the bill paying and the struggles of being an adult. When kids see grown ups playing, something magical happens. Every time.

Having a healthy relationship with kids is just like any healthy adult relationship in a lot of ways. When you meet a person at her level and invest time and energy into her, the outcome tends to be pretty positive and rewarding. We, grown ups, make a lot of grumpy boring demands of kids who just would rather be playing. But they have to learn that they need to complete certain monotonous tasks in life. There’s really no job that I’ve found where there are not some parts that just aren’t as enjoyable as others. As a barista, I would have much rather frothed milk and talk to customers than cleaned those hideous stinky drains or bathrooms. I suffered what seemed like a million paper cuts sorting out insurance enrollment forms. And even when I was the mall Easter bunny, I had to put on the sweaty costume that the guy before me had worn. Never. Again.

I’ve found in parenting my own children (who aren’t perfect) that if I’m willing to meet them on their level, as the Dog Monster or a super hero or be “It” in a game of tag, they’re a lot more willing to meet me on my adult level, doing chores, listening, following directions, etc.

So, yesterday, on an early release day, we snuck away to the park after school. The three boys climbed and played happily together as I stood shivering watching them with a heart so abundantly full. Then, one of them asked me,

“Mom, will you be the monster that puts us in jail?”

I was wearing boots. And jeans. It was muddy. I could have said “not today.” But, I didn’t. I chased the three of them around crazily on a sunny but cold winter’s day. Grabbing them and putting them into jail as they laughed and yelled for a brother to come help. I told them,

“And you better stay in there!”

Knowing they would shortly tag each other out and work together as a brotherly team to not let the mama monster win. I’m thankful for my health and the ability to chase them crazily around although sometimes I do fear tearing my ACL. I should probably always have my phone charged just in case. There have been many times where my boys asked and I couldn’t be the “Dog Monster” because something was hurting too badly on my body. Not yesterday.

The Dog Monster takes her role very seriously. I think she knows that her days are somewhat numbered as now, the oldest boys are no longer toddlers. They often have homework to do when they get back. Homework they are much more willing to complete after a good romp in the park. With the Dog Monster.

Don’t forget to play with your kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews.

Also, watch the movie “Finding Neverland.” It’s one of my favorites. A great book is “Playful Parenting” by Lawrence Cohen.

Kitchen Table for Two

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Thursday nights are rough. Daddy’s gone all night. It’s the end of the week. Everyone’s tired. Or at least the mama is. And we’ve always got homework to do. We sit at the table before or after dinner. Most Thursday nights, there are gigantic quiet tears that slide down one of my boy’s faces onto his paper below. The dreaded paper that holds the week’s spelling words.

Siblings, with the help of parents, can both intentionally and unintentionally be the earliest and most phenomenal teachers of life’s most important and hardest lessons to one another. They can help teach children and adults about love, loyalty, compassion, empathy, sacrifice, sharing, conflict resolution and so many other valuable life lessons. They can also teach challenging lessons having to do with resentment, jealousy, and competition. Siblings can shine a spotlight on strengths, weaknesses and striking similarities and differences in people raised under the same roof. At this point in our household, sibling rivalry has more to do with one child possessing a skill or personality trait or toy that another sibling does not. Like the ability to spell or read. Or the skill of properly writing the letters that create the words.

I aspire as a mom to work on homework with my twin boys at separate times of the day. It’s one of many of my motherly aspirations. I just need an extra day added between Wednesday and Thursday. I think this setup may reduce some of the frustration and competitiveness that comes with two boys trying to get their homework done. The quickest. However, life happens. Busyness always takes over. And honestly, most times, my boys happen to love each other a whole lot. So that results in all of us playing tag at the playground or hanging out together. Leaving a limited amount of time for working with each boy separately. Time constraints: the struggle is real.

Tonight, I sat next to and rubbed one of my boy’s backs at the kitchen table. I encouraged him and told him that he was almost done. I couldn’t get inside his head but I recognized his expression and the big slow tears that dropped onto his paper were tears of frustration. Frustration that his brother finished and he was still sitting at the table. With me. Frustration that I had him correct his mistakes. Repeatedly. I knew that he had to persevere and finish his work. And it sucked. I would rather be “it” for a never-ending game of tag. Any day of the week. It’s a hard, handcuffed type of a feeling as a mother to watch your child struggle and know that you can’t pave every gravel road for him. Or just pick him up and carry him. My hope is that by sitting next to him at the table I can teach him to push out some of the negative thoughts. Those debilitating thoughts can wreck a person. Especially a young child that has a lot of years left to complete in school.

I hope he will feel less alone too. I hate feeling not good at something. I hate having my mistakes corrected too. But it’s a part of life. For all of us. Maybe spelling will help make him more hopeful and aware that even when something is hard, he can finish it and be proud that he pushed through. I’m also hopeful that this skill will carry over into much bigger and more important things in life than spelling words. Afterall, there is spellcheck. I won’t tell him about this phenomenon yet. It’s just not the right time.