Yes to Lazy Summer Days

This weekend I had my semi-regular meltdown about the state of our playroom. I pulled out a garbage can and started throwing in all of the broken goody-bag toys, the loose papers, the pens without caps, and the stepped-on plastic Easter eggs. I threatened taking away all presents for every birthday and Christmas forevermore since we clearly don’t need any more junk in our home!!!

IMG_4633It was at this point Frank decided to pack up the girls and head to Lowe’s to buy a couple replacement basil plants after our unexpected snowstorm. Once they were gone, I turned on my mid-30’s white-mom Pandora station and started really cleaning. Without the girls, tackling the playroom doesn’t take all that long and I soon had the toys put away and under control.

I even stopped cleaning with enough time to begin my new book and eat lunch all by myself in the quiet. When my family returned and Elle was down for her nap, Frank went outside to clean up the garden while Bea and I tackled the puzzle box. We put together all the puzzles and threw away the ones with missing pieces.

Time sitting together on the floor, project in front of us, chatting together. Bea’s love language may be physical touch (and at least one foot was touching me knee the entire time) but mine is quality time and this filled my “love tank” with my little girl.

This is the last week of school. Preschool graduation is on Thursday and then Bea can officially call herself a kindergartener, something she has been longing to do since January. Our June is pretty quiet. Maybe some camping trips. Frank’s parents may come for a visit. The pool opens. But really, I’m trying to keep our time open.

I know that summer days can be especially long and that we won’t want a loose schedule for too long. I also know that we’ll get into a rhythm because we always do. But for now, I’m looking forward to not rushing, to not nagging to get out the door, and to remembering that while the days are long (sooooo long sometimes!) the years are flying by and I want to savor these summertime moments.

I’ve seen families create summer fun lists – things to check off before school starts. These sorts of lists stress me out. I lose sight of the fun and only think of the list. Maybe when the girls are older and need more things to fill the time, this will make sense. For now, I want to just say yes as much as possible. Yes to swimming and movies. Yes to backyard camping. Yes to taking the light rail to get ice cream downtown. Yes to bike riding and parks. All of those things or none of them, we’ll see.

I have fond memories of unstructured summer months. July holds a couple of formal activities but overall, I want to establish those bored lazy days with the girls now. I know that there will be long days when I long for school to begin. But now I’m looking optimistically ahead, hoping that my quality time tank will be full before Bea starts a new journey to full time school.

What are your fondest memories of summer? Do you like structure or open schedules? And, how do you keep the playroom clutter under control?!

The Power of Claiming a Label

When I was teaching, every year Mrs. Nichols would visit our school. We would gather on the uncomfortable pull-out bleachers in the gym and try to keep our students from I like myself!I like myself!I like myself!fidgeting too much. Mrs. Nichols was an energetic woman and would throw candy to kids who were sitting still and listening. Her job was to get the students excited about our yearly fundraiser of selling cheap wrapping paper in order to fill in funding gaps. (Lesson? Always vote to increase school funding.)

Before she would start the real assembly, Mrs. Nichols would have us all stand up, do a little dance, and repeat, I like myself! I like myself! I like myself!

This little dance and mantra made me highly uncomfortable. At 8-years-old, most of my students did like themselves. Why would they need this cheesy reminder? It wasn’t until I was complaining about Mrs. Nichols to Frank that I learned this was a common motivational speaking trick. The whole fake it till you make it or name it and claim it mentality.

As teachers, we practiced this in the classroom. When I started teaching, the trend was to call our students writers and artists and mathematicians and historians whenever we were teaching that particular subject. Sometimes it felt natural. When we were in the midst of writer’s workshop and working toward publishing our stories or an anthology of poetry, I found myself calling my students authors and poets.

Other times it felt completely fake. I had trouble calling my kids mathematicians as they struggled to remember the difference between quarter-past the hour and a quarter of a dollar. Learners sounded more natural at that point than mathematician.

The other day, Bea told me that she was going to be a leader during the day and an artist in the evening. I asked her what she would do as a leader and she responded, Oh, you know. Leadership things.

Maybe naming it and claiming it with kids feels unnatural because they already do it so well. My students set the bar high. If their dreams become reality, I’ll have taught future Broncos quarterbacks, millionaires, and movie stars. And maybe those dreams will come true. But most likely not, which is totally fine.

I struggle with claiming my dreams. I still flounder when talking about writing or the places I volunteer. I second guess my dreams and interests and label them as hobbies or just something I do during nap time.

There’s power in labels, certainly. We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I know for a lot of women, this is a label filled with conflicting emotions. In these intense years, it’s a label I feel like I have earned and one that is continually defining me. It’s a label that I’m learning means so much more than simply giving birth to two girls.

I’m learning to balance labeling things I know to be true, things I hope to be true, and the reality of what is true. I’m learning that, when I am confident with certain labels about myself, I am modeling confidence for my girls.

So, as Bea strives to be a leader, I’m encouraging her leadership skills now by calling her a leader. I don’t use the label flippantly, but I am on the lookout for those times when she is exhibiting those powerful skills. And I’m learning that the more I name her talents, the more confident she is in claiming them.

What are your views on naming and claiming labels? What are some labels that come naturally for you? Are there others you’re wishing to claim more confidently?

Parenting Without Immediate Results

The other day I felt like the Best Mom. I put aside my to-do list and focused completely on Bea. During quiet rest (which is just as much for me as for her) we read books, played an imaginative game, drank hot cocoa with her tea set, and wrote a book. It was a sweet three hours, just the two of us.

IMG_1708When Elle woke up from her nap, a switch flipped. I had assumed that all this quality time would carry over to the rest of the evening but something happened and suddenly Bea became a wild thing.

My first thought was, Well that was a waste of time! I could have just worked on my to do list and gotten the same results.

Of course, parenting isn’t a results-based practice. We can do all the “right things” and still not get the immediate results we’re hoping for. Sometimes this extremely long-term vision is tiring. I want to know right now that my kids will turn out ok; that my attempts at patience and empathy will pay off.

The immediate results that I am seeing are that I always have a little bit more. Even when I think I don’t have an ounce of patience or energy left, somehow I do. No one has ever died of playing one more game of tea party or reading one more book.

I’m reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Vicktor Frankl. In it, he talks about the need to look to the future, that without a future hope our present becomes meaningless. I’m taking those words and putting them to this journey. That even on the longest days, my hope is that these endless tea parties will make way for future friendships.

What is something you’re doing now with the future in mind? How does that long-term vision impact the way you view certain tasks now?

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

You Don’t Have to Give Up Your Friends to Join a Moms’ Group

I recently read an article titled something like, Why You Shouldn’t Join a Moms’ Group. It was all about why new moms should just keep the friends they already have without making new friends. That old friends are way better and that it’s important to have friends without kids.

bag-gypsofilia-seeds-1716655_960_720On one level, I do agree with this author. When I had Bea, my friendships didn’t simply end. My friends without kids came over and showered my new baby with toys and clothes and food. They held her and cooed and reminded me that life was still normal, just a new normal. But then they went back to work and I stayed home with this new human, watching The Wonder Years on Netflix and wondering how I would fill our days.

When she was about six weeks old, I ventured to our neighborhood library for Book Babies and my life changed. I was invited to a Mothers of Preschoolers group at a nearby church and started going. Now, in addition to my pre-kid friends (who mostly have kids of their own now) I also have this group of women who have held my hands on this journey of motherhood.

My moms’ group stood by me during those fresh newborn days, though sleep training and milestones. Though toddlerhood and adding a sibling and potty training. My moms’ group talked about all those mothering things, yes. But we also talked about how we advocate as moms, how we remember social justice as we engage with our preschoolers. My new mom friends went with me to a conference on Race and Reconciliation and pushed my thinking of how to was the  engage with those radical ideas.

My moms’ group filled a void in my days that my friends without kids simply couldn’t. They held my babies and cooed and reminded me that life was still normal, just a new normal. I still get together with my friends without kids. I cannot imagine life without them. They push and shape my thinking. They love my kids with time and energy my mom friends just don’t have.

What made me sad about the article was that the author made it sound like an either/or choice. I understand that polarization sells, but you don’t have to give up your friends without kids in order to join a moms group – if that is a requirement, I’d encourage you to look into a new moms’ group. But that’s certainly not the norm.

Mother’s Day is this weekend and I know it can be a time of heartache for many women. The road to motherhood can be filled with trauma and tragedy and unmet expectations. It can be a stark reminder of a life wished for but not fulfilled. It can remind us of broken relationships with our own moms.

I still love celebrating Mother’s Day. I love remembering my own journey as a mother and I love taking time to remember those who have helped me on this journey. From my own mom and grandmothers to aunts and friends to whom was the friend-without-kids for so long. From my friends in my moms group to my friends without kids now.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is thank you. Thank you to my friends without kids who so graciously show up to my messy home and engage with my girls. Who offer perspectives and experiences that I often envy because of your freedom. Thank you to my friends who are ahead of me on this journey. Who offer hope and wisdom and a sense of humor to these little years. Thank you to my moms group friends who are right here with me in the trenches. Who commiserate and reminisce and laugh at our sweet and insane days. Thank you to my friends who started out as single girlfriends and who have grown into motherhood with me. For the patience and flexibility of the changing nature of our relationship.

Mothers Day is as complex a holiday as motherhood itself. I am thankful for the women in my life who have held me up through these first years of my own mothering journey.

How do you support the moms in your life? Did you ever join a moms group when you were a new mom?

Creating Space for Wonder

The other night, after putting the girls to bed, cleaning the kitchen, and shoving the stray toys into the playroom, I settled onto the couch to breathe and relax. Before I even finished my exhale, I heard a rustling upstairs.

IMG_3910Upon investigation, I found Bea peaking through the railings. I thought I heard a door open. I had been praying that God would tell daddy that his little girl misses him. I guess he can’t hear through the ceiling.

Bea, being Bea, seemed more disappointed in our ceiling than in God. She embodies that childlike faith that I have long forgotten – stopping to pray for anything or anyone without hesitation, believing fully that God is waiting to listen to her.

I’m on a planning team at church filled with people who have Advanced Degrees in Theology and Knowing God. We gather every couple months around a table, brainstorming, talking, and wondering about upcoming sermon topics. It’s an invigorating evening and I always leave learning something new. But I also leave wondering why I’m at that table. I’m definitely more on Bea’s end of the spectrum, as far as What I Know About God goes, and I often wonder how my own experience compares at all to those who actually know what the Bible means.

But that’s not why I’m on this team. I’m there because there is a place for me at the table. Because my experiences, though not as profound or as well-researched, still matter. And because our pastors place high value on the voices of our congregation, regardless of Biblical knowledge.

Bea asks a lot of questions about life, about God, about the way the world works. Even Elle’s favorite question right now is, Why??? It can be so tempting to try to find the answers. And there are some easy answers, but most are not.

Even if I do know the answer, I’m learning to respond to the questions with, I wonder.

I wonder if God can hear you through the ceiling?

I wonder why the moon is still visible during the day?

I wonder why that man is asking for money and food?

Sometimes we go home and look up the answer to our questions or after we wonder, I can help supply an answer. But I like starting out with I wonder. It keeps the discovery fresh and alive. It reminds us that our world is full of wonder.

I’m learning that I need to keep that as part of my own faith journey. If, instead of reading the Bible for answers or looking to figure out why God operates a certain way, I’m learning to wonder. Instead of wishing for (or demanding) answers, I’m learning to live in the space of wonder, of discovery, and of grappling with the unknown.

How do you balance answers with wonder? Even if you know the answer, how do you create space for discovery?

When Getting Up Early Fails

I was talking with a new friend the other day about finding time to write. One of her kids gets up at 5:15 everyday, on the dot and has since he was a baby. I asked if she had gotten the alarm clock that turns green and I clearly struck a nerve. Yes, they had. No, it did not work.

img_3740We’re in a fairly good sleep pattern these days, with bedtimes going smoothly and the girls sleeping through the night. Bea does use that alarm clock, meaning I know exactly when she’ll be jumping down the stairs. Elle is still on that blissful 12-hour-a-night cycle, and I’m enjoying it.

The other day, I thought I’d set my alarm about 45 minutes before Elle usually woke up. Other moms manage to have quiet moments in the morning and when I read about those early morning hours, a cup of coffee and a journal or book in hand, it sounds idyllic. I wanted that, too!

The moment that alarm was set, Elle knew it and decided to wake 45 minutes earlier for about a week. I turned that thing off and went back to waking up and hoping for the best. Some days, I’ll get up and read or write. Others, I lie in bed until I hear stirrings from her room.

Books and blogs have been written about the importance of finding time for ourselves. That we can’t let these little years take away our identity and sense of self.

I totally agree with this. I look back at these early years of motherhood already and see ways in which I’ve been able to pursue interests and passions that I didn’t have the time or energy for while I was working full-time.

And yet, in my enthusiasm to find this Me Time and really take care of myself, I’m reminded that I walk a fine line doing that. My full-time job right now is motherhood. While I’m lucky enough to have a support system in place that gives me moments and hours and even a day occasionally to myself (thanks, mom!!) I’m mostly here, writing in the margins and with my helpers nearby.

This friend recently wrote her own blog post about the magical 22 minutes of a kids show, and how so much can get done in that time. For a while, I relied on those 22 minutes, getting so much done during one Daniel Tiger episode. Until we had a kid who is just uninterested in screen time. No matter how I try, Elle just does’t engage with TV. Which is a good thing. But those 22 minutes? I long for them, some days.

In the meantime, I’m assessing my goals and visions. It’s not like I want to write a book or blog everyday… right now. I’m actually very much content to tap away at this little blog when inspiration strikes and keep it strictly in the hobby realm.

Because right now, I’m getting ready for kindergarten roundup and a year with just Elle by my side and the reality is that these tiring, intense, nonstop years really do pass so quickly. I’m learning to savor every moment and remember that my Me Time is simultaneously kid time.

(Also? A year ago, I wrote about this same thing. Clearly it’s a recurring theme!)

When and where do you find time for yourself? Moms, did elementary school change things? When does “me time” become easier? (Or is that a myth?)

Finding Balance is a Gift

The windows are open, at least for a couple hours on this warm January afternoon. The backyard fountain is running, reminding me of summertime when it flows nonstop. Our new deck is finished and, with the sliding door open, I’m thinking about the next season and using this space that has been too unsound for us to enjoy since moving in.

img_3388During quiet rest, Bea curled up next to me with her pile of books while I read Rising Strong. I debated sending her into the playroom, which is our usual quiet rest custom. Both of us need time apart, time to reenergize. But I’ve been thinking about kindergarten a lot lately and how these days together are quickly coming to an end. So we snuggled and read and were just together for a while.

I’ve drafted several blog posts lately but none of them seem right. Perhaps it’s because of my helpers, never far, always talking. Perhaps it’s because when I want to write something deep and profound and yet also encouraging, I’m just too tired.

Like everyone else, the news is exhausting. I wake up in the morning wondering, what next? A friend recently wished we could return to the days when Facebook was newborns and what we ate for dinner. And while part of me wishes for that too, I also recognize the privilege I have in being able to turn it off. I don’t need to check the news all that often because the news doesn’t really directly impact me.

But I also recognize this reality and am finding this balance. Of feeling grateful that our lives continue without too much impact. And of finding ways to instill important values. How do I want my daughters to remember this time? How do I want them to view their childhood? What do I want our family story to say?

So, with these windows open and the true blessing of sitting at a big work table with my daughters working next to me, I’m thankful for our life right now. For the ability to enjoy this day and these moments. And I’m also looking into ways we can spend our money to support those who are far more equipped and qualified to fight injustice. I’m emailing organizations about volunteering our time as a family.

I’m remembering that finding the balance is a gift I’ve been given. And I don’t take that lightly at all.

How are you finding ways to balance the news and balance your outlook on life? What is your best way to practice perspective?