Practicing Gentle Finishes

The end of May is filled with cheering – from culminating activities and graduation to beginning of summer barbecues and lounging – we are ready for a change of pace.

2016052195152241.jpgYesterday was Bea’s last day of school and when we got home, she fell asleep on the couch, unable to wait until official nap time. (When we got home, she asked if it was “real bedtime” yet.) In the craziness of dance recitals and preschool endings, I forget how much she internalizes and how exhausting that can be.

We buy her flowers and give her verbal affirmation of a job well done, but really, she needs snuggles and movies and quiet play. I need to remember this as we march through the years of school. May will get busier and busier and I need to remember to reign back our extracurricular activities and to focus on a gentle finish rather than a loud one.

When I was young, I would finish every school year with a days-long migraine headache. I internalized all of my performance anxiety until the very end and the moment I wasn’t asked to do anything, my body shut down.

I need to remember this for Bea. (And perhaps Elle, too. We’ll see…) The end of anything is exciting and culminating activities are so rewarding. But. They can take a toll on us, and I need to figure out how to help our daughters succeed without the chaos that can so often be involved with finishes.

Are you on school year-mode? Is May a busy time of endings or a celebration of the beginning of summer?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “cheer.”

Life Path Discussion

I have the honor of leading the book discussion of Luci Shaw’s Life Path over at SheLoves Magazine today. Here’s an excerpt, but click over to read the whole post and join the discussion!

After I got married, my parents drove up to our house with a trunk full of childhood memorabilia. Now that I had a garage of my own, I had to store these treasures. One box was filled with journals from middle school and high school. I didn’t get very far in reading them before I cringingly shut the box tightly and left it to gather dust in the garage. The angsty thoughts of my teenage self were just too much!

And yet, I couldn’t throw them away. There was something sacred about those journals and that time in my life.

Throughout Life Path: Personal and Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing, Luci Shaw iterates over and over again the importance of taking the time to reread our journals. Journaling isn’t for important events or deep thoughts. “The true journal is a commentary on all of life, and often it is the casual comment, the trivial event that is shown to be significant as you reread it later.” (p. 55)

The importance of rereading journals came to mind last autumn. My husband and I had a business decision to make and were going back and forth over the pros and cons. One day, he was flipping through an old journal and found that he had written we would make this particular business decision by the date he happened to be reading it. It didn’t help us get to an easy answer, but the reminder that we had actually been thinking and praying about this particular choice for years, gave us confidence in our final decision.

Shaw shares a story of a member at one of her writing workshops only writing on one side of the page. That way she is able to go back and write down reflections, insights, and revelations about her journey. (pg 69)

This interactive view of journaling takes our private processes and makes them less “morbidly introspective” and more of a spiritual practice.

Read the rest and join the discussion over at SheLoves!

Summertime Downtime

This last weekend was Bea’s first dance recital. After heading to the rec center every Friday since December and seeing countless renditions of her own Puff, The Magic Dragon dance done in our living room, we finally got to see the culmination of all that work.

It was as sweet and uncoordinated as a three-year-old recital could be. Two girls stood on stage without moving; one girl exuberantly did the motions in an over-the-top manner. Bea sang all the words and kept an eye on Miss Maggie and her fellow dancers.

This week is our last week of preschool. As of Thursday, we’ll have a wide-open schedule for the summer. Even though I’m available to work at the museum, our hours are cut back and we are able to really enjoy summer vacation.

Cleaning up the garden

We really have no plans until the end of June and I’m so looking forward to parks and playdates and hikes and swimming. Or not. I’m looking forward to lounging at home and last-minute decisions.

I think we all need it. For as social as Bea is, she also loves her downtime and I think it will benefit us all to quiet our minds and our days.

I’m sure there will be a day when summer camp and more activities will be necessary. When doing nothing doesn’t mean backyard adventures but unending boredom.

It’s interesting being back on the school schedule. When I was teaching, I’d spend my first week of summer doing absolutely nothing except reading trashy novels on the deck and sipping lemonade. Later, I’d wade into a Russian novel or something of equal length, but at the beginning, it was all about unwinding. When I first stayed home, our days and weeks blended. Summer was like any other season, only hotter.

Now that summer means something again, I’m looking forward to that first week off – of doing nothing and hanging out. Of instilling the idea of rest in our family. That we need to embrace and listen to the rhythms of our days. So, we’ll plant and hammock and find small things to get us out of the house each day for an adventure.

We have friends who already have every single week of summer filled with organized activities. Their family thrives on classes and camps and being busy. We have other friends who are already packed and ready to go – they’ll be out of town nearly every weekend and for a few weeks at a time. For us, while we have a few road trips planned and hope to camp a few weekends, we also thrive on tending the garden, walking to the park and to dinner, and sitting outside, watching the girls explore.

I may be singing a different tune at the end of August, but for now, I’m ready for summer-mode.

How about you? Do you like to keep summers busy or laid-back?

Spending Quantity Time

Tax season ended a month ago. I always think that April 15 (or 18) will roll around and the next day we’ll be back to normal. A friend and I were talking about the transition back to a family of four and she called this period a time of reentry. It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Or even in a month.

Part of our reentry process is taking time away. Our trip to Moab helped us reestablish routines as a family that would be tough to do in our own home where patterns are established and easily followed. But a beautiful vacation isn’t enough.

It’s a reminder that, no matter how intentionally quality time is planned for kids, it just doesn’t replace quantity time. Good, bad, mundane – the girls respond more to Frank being around consistently than all the special activities we try to plan while he’s busy.

IMG_2327Last weekend was a rare one without any plans. I don’t think we’ve had something so quiet since before tax season. Bea had been talking about going to the zoo as a family for a while, so we decided to head over on Saturday. The weather was cooler – perfect for seeing more activity. Bea is a great walker and usually runs around the zoo without complaint.

Once inside the gates, however, the whining started. As we walked by the giraffes and zebras toward the pachyderms, Bea would stop every few feet and demand that Frank carry her. Even her beloved hippo didn’t stop the constant, My knee huuuuurts! Caaaaaarry meeeeee!!!

We totally became those parents – the ones that I never thought we’d be. We threatened no treats, an early nap time, and even canceling our zoo membership. (Clearly we were thinking rationally…)

After a carousel ride to try and reset, we ended up heading back toward the car. At a potty stop before leaving, I was helping Bea adjust her pants when I saw the cause for all the moaning: She had put a small ponytail tie around her leg, under her knee. It had left a deep imprint as her circulation was cutting off. No wonder she was complaining!

I flashed back to that morning, when I saw her ootching the band up her leg. I told her to take it off, but clearly my advice was filed under Things Mom Doesn’t Know. That night, as we got ready for bed, there was still a mark under her knee. Though it had faded completely by morning, it was a reminder that our bodies take time to heal.

I thought about reentry and how immediately I want things to change. I thought about how, when things are tough and uncomfortable, often the fix is simply removing the offending tourniquet. Even though it seems obvious in hindsight, it’s easier to be carried. I’d rather whine and complain than stop and fix.

I was also reminded of how resilient we are. Even though the process can be painful, once we start the process, healing does happen. We do return to normal.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe the real lesson is to listen to my mom.

Have you ever found a solution to a painful situation that seemed so obvious in hindsight? 

Wildflowers & Cultivation

IMG_0813We recently put a new bookshelf in the girls’ playroom. It’s much taller and, because I had a few boxes of books from my teaching years in the basement, is already nearly full. It was so fun pulling out the books I kept – Fancy Nancy, Frog and Toad, science books. Bea loved looking through the new treasures.

A book I used to read to my class at the beginning of each year has become a new favorite. Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden is about a teacher who plants and cultivates her garden over the course of a school year. One of my favorite lines in it is,

“A few are like wildflowers and will grow anywhere you put them.

And some need gentle care, a special watching over.”

As a teacher, it was a great reminder of certain kids. But as a parent, I find this analogy beautiful for each phase, each activity, each new place we’re at in this developmental process.

Some things come quickly and easily – Bea picks up words and social skills without effort. Watching her navigate her world, making connections, and recognizing patterns in the world around her is amazing. It’s not necessarily something we’ve taught, but like a wildflower, Bea has picked it up quickly.

Other things, like swimming and sleep and sitting through a meal have taken time. We’ve needed to cultivate and care and watch over these activities in hopes that a foundation is laid for the future.

It’s a reminder for me, too. Some things come easily for me and others take work and cultivation. But each are beautiful – each produce amazing flowers and unique qualities.

Do you identify more with wildflowers or flowers that need more care?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. This week’s prompt is Grow.


One Small Change

At the beginning of the year, I signed Bea up for Guppy swim lessons. Geared to 3-5 year olds, the goal by the end is to bob under water, float for 3 seconds without support, and feel confident in the water. I started her in January with lofty goals – we had enough time to repeat a level here or there but by summertime, she’d be in her second round of Minnow, perfecting her strokes and ready for this summer.

IMG_9618Last week was the last day of our third round of Guppy. Bea was so emotionally exhausted that she fell asleep in the bathtub after class. (Perhaps the most disconcerting experience I’ve had as a parent so far…)

My new goal for this summer? To regain a love of the pool and swimming. I don’t think it was really lost – we just spent a week in Moab where Bea used her noodle to kick all over the pool – but I want to refocus my own expectations. She’s three. We will always have adults around to watch her. She is water safe enough that I’m watchful but not worried. We’ll play this summer and we’ll keep trying next year.

I feel like if I have learned nothing else from motherhood, holding my expectations loosely is a recurring theme. My ideals and expectations are still high. I still strive to be as intentional as possible with our decisions. But, I’m learning that the specifics are often not how I originally envisioned.

The journey is ever-changing, ever-shifting and I’m finding that the scenery I hadn’t expected is often more beautiful. Or at least makes for a better story when perspective is gained and situations become funnier with retelling.

It’s not an easy small change that I’m learning to make. In fact, it goes against my view of an ordered, “happy” life. But, it’s a small change that makes me a better wife, a better mom, and a happier person all around.

And while small changes are often more attainable than lofty goals, they are also harder to stay consistent with. Sometimes small changes are easily reverted back because they are small and seemingly insignificant. I guess that’s the misnomer of small, easy changes. They are small and most likely easier than a major life-shift, but they still take intention, discipline and a willingness to work toward the big picture.

So even though my small change is simply having fun in the pool this summer, I hope I catch glimpses of something bigger – that I see life and parenting as less linear and more looping, circular, spiraling, spinning, and twirling. I hope that instead of viewing this as one step forward, two steps back I view it more as a dance.

We may not be able to easily see the lines clearly but the end product is something remarkable.

What’s one small change you would like to make this summer? How do you see life – in a line or like a dance?

Linked up with Alexandra Kuykendall as she asks us to consider the power of the small as we learn to love our actual lives. Head over to her place for more stories!

Dear Mother, You Are Human

We had the honor of hosting a baby shower the day before Mother’s Day. Part of the shower was writing advice or letters to the parents-to-be and their little girl. Before writing mine, I flipped through a few – Take time for each other; Accept babysitting; Remember 2am doesn’t last forever; It’s ok to be tired. I added mine with the caveat that we’ve only been on this journey a short time. My advice should be taken with a giant grain of salt.

IMG_0840After everyone left, with Elle asleep in the carrier, I laid us down on the couch and read a bit from The Mother Letters, a compilation of advice and wisdom, collected by Seth & Amber Haines. Inspired, I thought I’d add my letter.

Dear Mother,

I am writing this, baby crawling over the keyboard, smiling and talking. Ratatouille playing  while our three year old sleeps next to me. She tells me she doesn’t need to nap anymore but somehow, in the car, snuggled on the couch, it seems she still needs afternoon rest.

Before this point, I would have forced the nap – and some days, I still do. But, as a mom, something I’m learning is that some battles aren’t worth fighting. Some things are so important and others it’s ok to go with the flow. And the thing about motherhood? Each day is different. Yesterday’s go with the flow is today’s important non-negotiable.

I’m learning, too that though I have thirty years on my girls, that doesn’t mean I know best. They know themselves so well. When Bea asked and asked to share a room with Elle, we kept saying later, when you’re older. But one day, we realized Why not try? So we did. It was no magic bullet but bedtime and sleep have been better. And they both love it. Why not listen?

When we’ve gone through hard times and reached out to our communities, people give us so much amazing advice. And I’m learning to take with adaptations. Advice is how we connect. And some works amazingly and some parts work well and others just don’t work for us. And that’s ok. We listen, we learn, and then we follow our instincts.

I guess my point to you mother-friend, is that we are human, raising humans. As much as we search for a guide book, as much as we think the older generations can answer our questions, each experience, each family, each kid is so different. So, we listen, we learn, we learn to follow our instincts. And that is exactly what our kids need most. For us to be fully human and allow them to be fully human, too.

My guess is that you are an incredible mother. That your good moments far outweigh the bad ones, no mater how unbalanced life may feel.

On this Mother’s Day, I raise a glass of champagne to being a fully human mother.

This post was inspired by The Mother Letters. Head over to Amber Haines’  to read more letters of motherhood.