When my first daughter was born eleven years ago, she was very slightly jaundiced. The doctors asked us to bring her back in to the hospital just a few days after birth, to do blood tests and make sure all her levels were acceptable.  I still remember laying my little bundle down on the table for the sweet nurse to prick her tiny heel and gather the blood necessary for the lab work.  She held my little one’s struggling foot in her hand…then asked me to help hold the baby….and once she finally managed to get the sample, she looked at me with wide eyes.  “She is strong,” the nurse informed me.

Little did we know….

At four months, I was so exhausted from simply surviving her presence that I chose to take her to the Mom’s Day Out where I was taking my two-year-old son once a week. Looking back, I’m slightly horrified–she was four months old!  But I remember my desperation for any kind of break from the crying.  There was the colic; you could set your watch by her: at 5PM, everything fell apart and it didn’t stop until around 9:30. But there was also, simply, the crying.  The “I’m never happy….what will you do to keep me happy….that worked for ten minutes but now I want something new” crying. Her first day at Mom’s Day Out, she came home with a note from her caregiver:  “She certainly knows her mind!”  That’s an understatement.

The tantrums of her toddlerhood.  The violent frustration that might show up unexpectedly, at any moment.  Scrolling through “Your memories on Facebook” recently, it revealed that at age four we had a conversation:  “Are you going to go upstairs now, get dressed, and get out the door at a reasonable time?  Or are you going to have a screaming fit, spend all your time crying hysterically, and finally give up and get dressed?”  Her response?  “Yeah, let’s do that.”  Sigh.

I don’t need to go on, do I?  Because if you have a strong-willed child, you know.  You have your own stories, probably even bigger and larger-than-life, that you’re dealing with daily.  The draining, depleting kinds of stories.

Can I tell you something?  A strong-willed child looks quite different at eleven.

It looks like a kid who sings in six choir performances during the Christmas season….with undiagnosed bronchitis.

It looks like a kid who is teaching herself to play the piano.  Each time she turns the page to a new song, she struggles a bit, and growls a bit, and each time she sets her jaw and works until she’s got it.

It looks like a kid who plugs along, doing the things that need to be done, until she finally admits that her ear hurts a bit….and is informed by the doctor that she has a double ear-infection and a blister on one eardrum.

It looks like a kid who, in fifth grade, is wrestling with questions I only took on in high school and college.  What do people mean when they say God spoke to them?  What does it mean to follow Jesus with all my heart?  What does “giving all my life to God” look like?  (A small sampling of our conversation over my coffee this morning….)

It looks like a kid who will find a way to make things happen, instead of rolling over and playing dead when she’s told they can’t.

I remember joking, when she was tiny, that someday this stubbornness might be a good thing. I think, maybe, we may have reached that point.

So to all the parents of strong-willed little ones who are pulling their hair out with frustration and exhaustion:  it gets better.

These kids of ours may very well end up doing something magnificent.

Why I left Facebook

February 19, 2017

Last Thanksgiving I decided I was pulling the plug on Facebook for awhile.  The holidays were underway and I thought, for my own sanity’s sake, that I didn’t really want to see all the picture-perfect photos of everyone’s picture-perfect celebrations when there were still occasional days in our house where my child’s depression won, and everyone would fall apart, like a domino run, one after the other.  Obviously, the election played a part in my decision, too, but at the time my choice was less politically motivated and more out of self-care.  I had enough on my plate without having my nose rubbed in everyone else’s apparent happiness.  Our days were improving, and I wanted to enjoy that to the fullest, instead of getting pulled into the comparison trap.

I still logged in once each morning to clean up notifications and to check the “Your Memories on Facebook” page.  As a homeschooling mama, I belong to a ridiculous number of groups, who are always hosting a ridiculous number of events; I did feel the need to check in occasionally there.  And as someone who tends to use FB to chronicle the fairly mundane day-to-day life taking place under our roof, the memories were wonderful to look through and laugh at and sometimes share with the kids (and to remind myself that happiness wasn’t always this tenuous).

No news feed.  No sorting by most recent.  No so-and-so liked this or so-and-so shared this or random ads for….why would you think I’d want an ad for this?

Can I tell you something?  It’s been really pleasant.

Fast-forward to now, about three months later.  As I’m reading in Psalms, I come across verse 14 in Psalm 34:  “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  I stopped to really consider those words, and it occurred to me that they summed up what had been happening over this past accumulation of weeks.

Depart from evil.  No, I’m not saying Facebook is evil.  But the feelings that get stirred up in me, from the political posts or the comments or the “shares” that haven’t been fact-checked; or the envy that crops up when I see someone else doing or getting something wonderful…..those feelings can be pretty ugly.  And I’ve been gradually leaving those behind.

Do good.  Guess what?  When you aren’t sitting and scrolling through your news feed constantly, you can get more done.  Add that to how much better I feel since I’ve left, and more of what is “getting done” is full of good.  (Please also note:  “getting done,” with a three-year-old in the house, sometimes looks like “playing kitty dollhouse.” That’s allowed.  I’m not talking about business productivity here.)

Seek peace and pursue it.  That’s exactly why I left in the first place.  Facebook did nothing to help my peace.  All it did, in various ways, was stir up stress and anxiousness in me.  It’s not in the business of creating peace; that’s not its job.  (Now, that’s an interesting question: what exactly is its job?)  Turning away from it has helped increase my peace dramatically, and allowed me to pursue things that contribute to peace even more.

Let’s be honest….now more than ever we are a people in need of peace.

 

 

I love our house.  God blessed us with a home that has met needs we didn’t even know we were going to have when we moved in.  It has been flexible enough to allow my husband to work from home, and still had space enough to welcome our third child.  Somehow its four walls managed to expand and allow two foster children to move in, and now it’s relaxed back down to contain a more comfortable three-kids-and-two-dogs family. But I admit to stalking houses not even a mile south of us.

Mere blocks away there are houses that back up onto a forested creek.  I’ve said, repeatedly, “I love our house….if I could only pick it up and set it down in the middle of the woods!”  (Which is, frankly, ridiculous.  Part of the appeal of this house when we bought it was the yard full of mature trees.)

But if you drive home “the back way” there are rows of homes surrounded by trees, with no real backyard neighbors but the creek.  A range of homes, too:  yes, there are a few cul-de-sacs of high-end pricey ones we could never afford, but there are also some really reasonable ones that we could.  If, by chance, we ever decided to move again.  And yes, I was frequently stalking those houses, thinking about moving.  (Because now that things have settled down, let’s stir things up, right?)

It turned out that our Sunday School class’s annual Super Bowl party was in one of those houses.  This couple was newer to our class, and when the address was sent out I almost burst out laughing:  we’re practically neighbors!  (Truly:  my husband and son walked home that night.)  I was going to get a little taste of what it might be like to live in one of Those Houses.  I wondered if I’d end up envious.  Or maybe if I’d end up with a lead on a potential home for sale?

Instead, I ended up with a near panic-attack.  A truly beautiful home, with a small, scenic backyard…that dropped off sharply into the creek.  My evening was mostly spent keeping tabs on the three-year-old:  Where’s the baby?*  Is she back outside?  I need to go check.  Wait. No.  She’s here.  Where is she now?  I think she’s downstairs.  Maybe I need to check?  There she is. Etc.

For three hours.

I joked with my husband later how glad I was that we had that experience.  I could just see us, led on by my glorious rustic imaginings of barefoot big kids playing in the woods and wading in the creek, moving into one of those homes, and then immediately being hit by the reality of a three-year-old who doesn’t swim.  Oh, my word….what have we done?

I hereby choose to shift my focus onto gratefulness:  for a home that I love, for a (relatively) large yard the kids and dogs enjoy, and for the fact that when my youngest wanders out back unattended I don’t think twice.

 

*Yes, we still refer to her as “the baby.”  I think it has to do with the age difference in the kids:  we have “the bigs” and we have “the baby.”  Please bear with me…surely at some point we’ll decide on a new nickname.

February springtime

February 11, 2017

This happens every year, where we live.  Truly, I promise it does, and one day I’m going to look up past data to confirm it.  There are always a few days in February–sometimes January–where it’s sixty-five degrees and sunny, and it feels like spring has sprung; even though all the weather forecasts promise a change in two days.

My son had a youth group outing at a big new arcade place, so I dropped him off and took my daughters (plus a friend) to our neighborhood park.  They played all morning together, with the sun occasionally disappearing behind thin clouds only to reappear again, warming the playground even through the still-cool breeze.  We watched geese wander across the park to the pond.  They discovered a hollowed-out tree perfect for animals to hide in.  My youngest was surprised by the arrival of her neighbor friend, and they played house and tag and hide-and-seek and all the dozens of things that short-attention-span three-year-old’s can play in an hour.  It was so warm all the girls shed shoes and ran barefoot.  Then we wandered to the school playground next door to spend the rest of the morning, until we had to load up and collect brother.

Is disconcerting the word I want? Maybe disjointed?  There was something about taking three grubby girls, all windblown and pink-cheeked and dusty, into the sleek new bowling/arcade/zip-line/food court…..a collision of two different worlds. (Disturbing, maybe?  That seems a little extreme….)  My son’s event was scheduled months before, so I wasn’t bothered too much by him spending the morning there: nobody expects pleasant weather in mid-February.  But the idea that families were arriving that day to shell out their dollars in a cavern that overwhelmed with flash and spin when it was sixty-five degrees out in February.

Don’t you see?  You grab those days. You take those when they come and you revel in them, outside, in the fresh air.  There’s plenty of time to hole up and breathe manufactured HVAC.  We get quite a few opportunities for that where we live, on either extreme.  But when you get springtime in February, you tell the kids let’s go outside.  And guess what? It’s free!  No, there’s no video monitors or strobe lights or generic pop music at full volume, but I bet you can live without that for a day.

Go enjoy a spring day!  It’s winter.  And tomorrow’s forecast is cloudy with a high of 45.

Bedtime

February 10, 2017

It started very innocently….a few comments here and there.  Eleven-year-old daughter wasn’t really a fan of her loft bed.

The immediate backpedaling always went: “But I love the desk space!”  She really did love the huge expanse of tabletop underneath.  It’s the bump-your-head-on-the-ceiling bed she didn’t care for.

We’d changed from her regular bed to the loft bed when she was sharing a room with her foster sister.  (There was a while, back in 2014, when I truly felt like there was no problem IKEA couldn’t solve.)  Her double bed–part of the furniture set that I inherited from my grandmother when I was a little girl–was much too large to fit in a room with yet another twin bed besides.  She has an exceptionally large bedroom, but not that large.  Eventually our fosters moved out and moved on, but the loft bed stayed.  Great storage. Great desk.  And, yeah, there was a bed up there, too.

A few weeks ago my daughter was sick.  She was up in the middle of the night vomiting, and once she hobbled back to her room I asked if she’d like me to just make her up a bed on the floor….because who wants to climb a ladder when you want to puke?  She’s always been the Queen of the Blankets, so we had enough to make her up a comfy “mattress,” with some left over to tuck her up.  She slept there the entire next day (poor kid) and then the next few nights.

And then the next few weeks.

And then today the fateful words:  “Mama, could we move my mattress to the floor?”

Deep breath.  “Would you consider selling your loft bed?”

“YES!”

I’m conflicted.  There’s a piece of me wanting to beat myself up for wasting money on the thing; because it feels like wasted money.  Why did we buy it if we’re just going to turn around and sell it, 2 1/2 years later?  But that bed was used–I would almost say necessary–for the time we had it.  When we had two girls in that room, it even gave them each their own desk….and a heck of a lot more floor space.  We couldn’t predict the future; we didn’t know that she wouldn’t be sharing a room indefinitely.  And now, it is no longer serving its purpose here:  it’s more of a problem than a solution.  It’s time to let go.

Wow, does she have her work cut out for her.  We won’t sell it until she’s figured out what to do with all her Stuff:  Books, stuffed animals, and Legos all made their home in that thing.  She’s upstairs right now, though, with a big box (which she requested, “for all the stuff I’m going to get rid of….”) and with her mattress moved to the floor (“Look!  Now I kind of have a window seat!”).  I wish her luck.  Now I have to go shop for mattresses.

(Quick update:  “You know, when I really go through my stuffed animals, I only have ten left!”  Now THAT’S progress.)

 

Words of Inspiration

February 3, 2017

Months ago–maybe even over a year–I put The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on hold at the library.  I was something like 312th in line; at some point, we butted up against our hold limit, and I removed it from the list to put a hold on something else more pressing.  So when I found it at the library recently (on the shelf!), I snagged it.  On the way out I did a quick pass through the new book display and discovered her latest, Spark Joy.  I walked out that morning looking forward to a new round of reading and maybe a new way of thinking.

I enjoyed both books.  Some things I admittedly thought were a little quirky…the idea of folding every item of clothing we own I found a little ridiculous.  Our closets seem to be serving us just fine, thank  you–and maybe that’s why I thought it was a strange idea.  If we were struggling for storage or having trouble with making our space work, the folding concept might have really appealed to me.

Other things I felt strangely vindicated by:  keeping things that “spark joy” has apparently been a guiding force in my decluttering for years; I just hadn’t put words to it.  It was nice not only to have a phrase for what was leading me but also to have a reason for keeping the odd things I couldn’t quite bear to get rid of.  I’ve always theorized that if you get rid of enough stuff that doesn’t matter, you’re allowed to keep those things that do, even if it’s a little “weird,” to use my son’s favorite term.

The most important discovery for me, though, came from her book Spark Joy.  “No matter how much stuff you may own, the amount is always finite.”  The amount is always finite.  I almost have to use the word “epiphany” here….the realization that there was An End.  There would be a point where every room in the house has been gone through, has been evaluated, and has been decluttered.  That idea lit a spark under me (sorry, that was completely unintentional) and I dove into the basement storage area with renewed energy.  Because after all, it’s a finite amount of stuff!!

Basement storage, for our needs, is really very specific.  We need a place for seasonal decorations, a place for tools, and a place for those icky “you can’t  get rid of these tax records for at least seven to ten years.”  That’s it.  The unfortunate truth was that the room was turning into storage for “we might use this someday” (Exhibit A:  an inflatable wading pool I used when the bigs were about 6 and 4, around seven years ago) and “I’m too lazy to carry this trash upstairs” (Exhibit B:  that bag there…and there….and there….).  I went in inspired, and succeeded in creating a storage room that was actually a functional storage room.  The east wall consists of bins for seasonal storage, the northeast corner a workbench with tools, and the north wall ends in a small bookcase that holds two file boxes.  Yes, there is still a bit to weed on the tool bench, but the room is so clear that the bigs set up a table against the west wall and brought down some Legos.  (My son refers to this as “baby-free space.”  Even though the “baby” is three now.)

I weeded through our seasonal stuff and managed to narrow things down to one bin per season, except for winter.  Christmas means that pretty much all the other bins down there are “winter,” and I succeeded in scaling back enough to ditch one entire bin from Christmas storage.  In all, I’m down five bins of “stuff…” Amazing how things fit pleasantly when you’re not overcrowding your space.  😉

I now need to grab hold of that “the amount is always finite” idea and apply it to our laundry room closet.  Again.  But I will celebrate any victory I can!