Dwelling in the Mysteries of This Journey

We’re in a season of neediness. Bea needs me to walk her to school, to pick her up, to sit beside her as she does homework. Elle needs me to read with her, to get her dressed, to make her lunch, to put her to bed.

IMG_5757These are needy times and it’s easy to imagine life when they can make their own lunches and do their own homework. (Does that ever happen?) But even in the midst of this intense time, the patronizing voice of moms farther along can be grating: Just hang in there. It gets better! Don’t worry moms of littles, this terrible season doesn’t last!

While I’m eagerly anticipating independence, I don’t think this is a terrible season. I know I’ll miss the days of neediness. Of snuggling on the couch and holding hands as we walk home from school. I’ll miss the ease in which secrets are shared and words of comfort are accepted.

I was reading Jan L. Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women this morning and she offers this blessing:

That you may have
the wisdom to know the story
to which God calls you,
the power to pursue it,
the courage to abide in its mysteries,
and love in every step.

This blessing can be applied to so much of my life right now, but today I’m choosing to frame it in this season of motherhood. That I may be wise to this story of raising small humans and that I may remember to love every step of this mysterious journey.

How does this blessing speak to your particular season? How are you learning to dwell in the mysteries and love every step of this journey?

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

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Saying Yes to Jammies and Self-Care

Today is looking different than planned. We’re home, rather than on a last road trip and I was planning on laundry, cleaning, maybe a park, but definitely a quiet day. Bea woke up looking tired and complaining of a hurting tummy. I tried all the tricks – eating breakfast, drinking water, did she go to the bathroom?

IMG_6064And then I remembered the power of a mental health day. Maybe Bea really is feeling off. Maybe she’s just tired. Kindergarten has been one huge transition for us and day after day of routine can be too much for a five-year-old.

Growing up, my parents always encouraged mental health days, though I was too much of a “perfect student” to feel comfortable taking one. I knew I wanted to listen to my kids when they needed time off, to encourage rest and rejuvenation. How else do we model self-care and Sabbath-living?

So, we’re here, in our jammies, with no plans. Maybe a movie? Definitely the grocery store. Our deal was naptime so that I could get a few minutes of rest, too.

School is important and valued in our home but I want my girls to know that they are valued and important, as well. That we all need days off and I’m here to support them in all their popcorn and movie day needs.

How do you deal with mental health days and school? Any tricks to knowing for sure what an “upset tummy” is? And more importantly, how do you recognize a need for a mental health day for yourself?

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

Finding My Place at Home

This summer passed by in a flash. Before we knew it, school started and we were thrown into a routine. Part of me was so ready to get into this rhythm of schedules and the security of knowing what happens on Tuesday. But part of me mourned the fact that we were out of time for one more camping trip; one last swim at the pool; one more lazy day.

IMG_5895I suppose this is what the changing seasons is – an excitement in the new mingled with disappointment of what is lost.

We had a trip to Yellowstone planned for this weekend. Just one more adventure before the weather turned cold. We’d stay in a little cowboy cabin, head down to Jenny Lake one day and up to Lake Hotel and the Geyser Loop the next. Until we saw the forecast for snow. As much as we love northern Wyoming, I didn’t want to be in a cabin without heat or electricity in the snow and rain.

In so many ways, this is probably a good thing. We just got back from a weekend in Ocean City (where it rained!) and are still settling into a good routine. A laid-back weekend is never a bad thing.

Frank grew up going to Ocean City – it’s part of his family history and it was fun watching the girls create a new generation of memories there. All of the cousins go regularly and love it and it was magical watching our landlocked kids chase the waves, dig in the sand, and eat ice cream right before a greasy dinner. Ask any of Frank’s family for a memory of childhood and most likely Ocean City will play a large part of the story.

In a lot of ways, we want Yellowstone to be similar for our kids. Already, Bea remembers hikes we’ve done and geysers we’ve seen. We want this park to be a place of good family memories, the stuff that starts most of our stories.

Last year, I listened to part of a podcast and the phrase, theology of place was used. I don’t remember the exact point or where the conversation went from there, but that idea stuck with me. It’s the theology of tangible moments; of creating a gritty story that you can run through your fingers. It’s finding God in the routines outside of home; in the stories we tell as a family to our children. It’s this idea that our place matters. The locations in which we choose to spend our time matter.

I love the intentionality behind this theology. That our routines matter and that kids have something to look forward to in their vacations. And yet, life gets busy or things happen and that place may look different.

When I reflect on our weekend in Ocean City, our girls loved the physicality of being next to the ocean, yes. But the loved hanging out with their cousins, playing games, reenacting Moana, waking up together, eating every meal together so much more. I need to remember the point behind the place.

I’m learning to look around right now, in our own home. What are we doing to establish a theology of place routine? I remember that for many, an escape to the mountains or the beach is simply not possible. And yet, this family rhythm is still important. What park do we always visit? What pancakes mark rest and vacation? What simple things do we do to remember our place in this world?

I’m not sure if this is exactly what that podcast meant but for me, theology of place is grounding me home and reminding me that our everyday rhythms are as significant as the vacation routines we’ve established, as well.

Where do you find your rhythms? When you think about theology of place, do you think of your home or a destination?

Actively Loving My Neighbors

We sat around two tables, ten women, a teacher, and me. Five women wore a hijab or some sort of covering. Four women were from Mexico. Two women relied on their friends for translation. We sat in a mobile classroom with a broken air conditioner, though during the morning class the heat wasn’t all that noticeable. We played a few name games, I helped a woman fill out a registration form, and after the coffee break we practiced leaving a voice message to let the teacher know if there was an absence or tardy.

school-375976_960_720Earlier this year, after the travel ban was enacted, I looked for ways to tangibly show my immigrant neighbors that they were welcome and a necessary part of our community. I reached out to a few different organizations but they were flooded with volunteers and yet had a lack of refugees who needed help. An acquaintance advised me to wait – that school would provide a more organic opportunity to help.

When I saw the poster at the Welcome Open House for Family Literacy, I immediately put my name down as a tutor. As a teacher, it was so hard to watch parents whose primary language wasn’t English try to decipher homework, forms, and school expectations. I knew that helping in the classroom was important, but if I could help parents help in their kids classrooms, that seemed exponentially more important.

Part of this program is English acquisition – practicing daily conversations and situations. Part of it is school specific – filling out forms, doing homework, understanding the new math curriculum. Part of it is teaching the parents how to volunteer in the classroom and give back to the school. It’s teaching them the cultural expectations and norms of American public education.

Our little class has just started meeting and already I’m excited for this year ahead. I look forward to the opportunity to get to know these other moms, not as student-teacher but as fellow moms at the school. I’m here to help with English but my goal is also to listen to their stories and to simply walk alongside them as we all navigate this world of elementary school together.

It’s such a small thing, this once a week commitment but it has already changed the way I read the news and world events. While I’m not out protesting or calling my representative’s office, and while we don’t have political signs in our front yard, I am making a political statement of welcome with my presence. I am actively loving my neighbor and our little circle of women gives me hope.

What are small ways you respond to world events? How do you actively love your neighbors?

Creating Safe Spaces

I had the honor of sharing these thoughts about transitioning from full-time work to part-time work to truly staying at home over at the MOPS blog a couple weeks ago.

creating-safe-spaces-1002x539When I quit my teaching job right before having our first daughter, my principal told me he fully supported my choice to stay home. But he didn’t think it would last long. I thought that was an interesting thing to say. I was committed to raising our kids and being completely content focusing on them full time, at least through the beginning of elementary school.

Just five weeks into being a new mom, a position at a new museum opened up and I decided to apply. This seemed like such an incredible opportunity: A job that combined my undergraduate degree in art history – a notoriously difficult field to find work in, my master’s degree in teaching, a brand new program committed to best practices and the flexibility of part time.

Partway through the interview, all of my postpartum feelings surfaced and I found myself faltering, wondering why on earth I had squeezed into a dress that had fit just last year, left my baby with my dad and driven across town for a job I didn’t want. I think my future boss felt the emotional shift, too. As kindly and HR-correctly as she could, she wondered if this was a good fit for me at this time? It seemed as though I needed to focus on being a mom for now.

I went home and focused on those whirlwind first six months with Bea. We settled into a good routine. I started going to MOPS, we made friends and even ventured on a play date or two. In January, I got an email from the museum: Would I be interested in applying for the role of Gallery Teacher? They would love it if I’d consider putting in my application.

This time, during the interview, I felt confident and ready for a new adventure.

My old principal was right – I didn’t stay home long, not really. Work at the museum definitely had its challenges but overall, the hours weren’t too demanding and the work was exactly what I loved: Teaching in front of priceless paintings, guiding kids in new ways of looking and thinking, and then going home without the grading and stresses of classroom teaching.

When I got pregnant with our second daughter, we were in a really good rhythm. On paper, life looked pretty amazing. I was balancing it all! I was play dating and teaching and figuring out self-care!

Until … I started feeling like I wasn’t doing a good job at anything. I was resenting my time commitment at the museum; I was too tired to be as engaging of a mom as the girls needed.

My ever-supportive husband gave the most unhelpful advice: Do what makes you happiest; what makes you the best mom. I’m behind you! What I really wanted was for him to just make a tough decision for me. Ultimately, I knew what I needed to do.

I talked with my boss and told her I loved the job and I loved working for her, but it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. After that last conversation, I felt a sense of relief. With Bea starting kindergarten next year, we’ll have a lot of changes as a family. It’ll be the only year Elle and I have, just the two of us, before she starts preschool. I want to be mindful and intentional about this coming year.

My last day was bittersweet as I said goodbye to colleagues I had worked with for over three years. My boss told me that I had a job there anytime. I left knowing I had given my best and yet, there was a sense of peace and closure.

I recently wrote my purpose statement with a life coach: “I claim creativity and curate safe spaces for discovery.” After we crafted this statement, I was talking with her about my decision to quit my job. She laughed and said, “It sounds like you’re already creating safe spaces for yourself.”

I guess that’s my takeaway so far on this journey of motherhood. I am creating a safe space. Sometimes this is in the form of working in a field that invigorates me and excites my passions. Sometimes it means letting our playroom get messy and seeing this physical space as a place for the girls to create. Sometimes it means carving out time to write and pursue other unpaid passions.

What I do know is that I’m learning to hold these moments as sacred. I don’t take lightly that I had the opportunity to work at a world-renowned institution – a job many would dream of. I equally don’t take lightly the privilege and opportunity to stay at home during these precious, formative years.

One concern I had when I decided to quit was what I would say at a social gathering. Stay-at-home mom doesn’t keep the conversation moving nearly as well as gallery teacher. I worried about this new loss of identity. I was talking with an older friend the other day about these feelings and she reminded me that my identity, no matter what I’m doing, is in Christ.

And that’s so true. Regardless of working or staying home or some hybrid of the two, I’m remembering to place my identity in him, above all.

How has your identity changed over the years? What are ways you are creating safe spaces for yourself? 

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/creating-safe-spaces/.

Remembering My Kids are Different

I’m over at the Kindred Mom blog today, writing about our family’s culture. It’s still a work in progress and I’m learning that what works today may not work in a month. But, this is where we’re at right now. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll go over to Kindred Mom to join the conversation!

annie_postA couple years ago, this same daughter and I were in the midst of the classic “threenager” drama. I remember sitting on our upstairs landing one day after yet another power struggle—in tears—wondering why on earth I had been chosen to be the mother of this strong, opinionated, passionate girl. I felt incompetent; like such a failure.

Suddenly, a book flashed through my mind. When we were first married, a friend lent us The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I knew he had written one about children and that evening I picked up a copy. As I read about how our children respond to love and discipline, I saw how I could improve our family culture.

After reading the descriptors, it was clear that my daughter is a classic “physical touch” kid. When she’s frustrated or upset, she stamps her feet and throws toys. When she feels unsafe or tired, she snuggles in and needs to be held. When she’s content and wants to talk about her day, she does it sitting in my lap. When she snuggles, every single part of her body has to touch my body.

This is not at all how I’m programed. My love language is “quality time,” in which I don’t need the close proximity that my daughter loves. With this insight, I set about to rewrite our interactions. I looked for small, natural ways to incorporate her need for physical touch before she became desperate.

Of course, nothing is magical and we still experience our share of misunderstandings and power struggles, but when I can start our day with a snuggle and a book rather than rushing around, it sets the tone for a better morning. Read the rest over at Kindred Mom!

Do you have any parenting books that have shifted your perspective? Any tricks that have stood the test of time?

Summers Are for Saying Yes

I had the honor of sharing these summer adventure ideas over at the MOPS blog this week.

During the school year, we are a schedule-driven family. Preschool three days a week; MOPS one morning a week; one day free for play dates or pajama days, whichever we need most. Most of the time we need to be out the door by 9:00 a.m. and home no later than noon to start to wind down for naps and quiet rest.

summers-are-for-saying-yes-1002x539I love the idea of being a “yes mom.” Someone who recognizes the beauty of the present moment. Someone who isn’t so tied to a schedule that those precious detours are savored. But, my firstborn, Type A personality just doesn’t make that a natural habit.

Summertime is different. For the entire month of June, we have nothing planned. Just a few penciled-in activities, a few loose play dates. Nothing is set in stone; nothing must be done.

I decided that this would be the perfect time to practice being a “yes mom.” Bike riding and Popsicles after breakfast? “Yes!” Backyard camping midweek? “Yes!” Pajamas and forts and movies? “Yes!” There are so many possibilities and I want my kids to feel like they have a say in what we do during these days.

Of course, at nearly 5 and 2 years old, my kids need some sort of routine. Without a loose rhythm to our days, freedom quickly turns to chaos and magical moments turn into hot tempers. We’re still not in a place to spend all day at an activity. My toddler still naps for a few hours and my preschooler needs quiet time, even if she doesn’t think she does.

Here are some morning activities that are totally outside our normal routines, off the track from our usual memberships, but still easily done before lunchtime.

Take public transportation to an ice cream shop.
My girls are still in the stage when all big trucks and public transportation can stop an activity. Buses and trains are just so cool! Denver has a great light rail system and a newly renovated downtown central station with coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. A favorite summertime activity is to drive to a station that isn’t too far from downtown and catch the train to Union Station. We walk from the light rail into the beautiful station, arriving just in time for the ice cream shop to open. What tops a train ride? Ice cream before lunch!

We eat our cones, maybe play in the water fountains, and then head back to the train. Because kids ride free, this can all be done for the cost of one adult ticket and ice cream cones. Not a bad way to have a fun morning adventure.

Find a trail for a wandering day.
After reading, Best Friends for Frances, a story about Frances the badger by Russel and Lillian Hoban, my preschooler longed to go on a “wandering day.” A day without grownups, where she could wander all by herself. Even though we live in a fairly safe neighborhood, the idea of letting my 4-year-old just head out the front door on her own is way outside my own level of comfort.

One of the best parts of our neighborhood is the state park that’s just 10 minutes away, right in the middle of the city. With miles and miles of trails, we can easily find a wandering spot. We’ll pack plenty of snacks and my daughter can run ahead without fear, while our toddler and I follow at a slower pace. We’ve found a few trails that are less than two miles, which is the perfect distance for this phase of life. I can carry our youngest and know that our oldest is able to complete the loop without help. Finding an outdoor park to let my kids roam free is a way I can instill a love of the outdoors without waiting for the weekend.

Host a front yard Popsicle party.
Our neighborhood is filled with kids and grandkids on their bikes. One of my summer staples is buying a huge box of cheap Popsicles. Even though I find this a stretch to count as an “adventure,” my girls live for Popsicle parties with their friends. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or after nap time at the heat of the day, the kids come out and gather for bike riding, Frisbees, scooters and skinned knees. The moment an injury occurs, the popsicles come out and everyone is magically healed. Originally, I tried buying the fancy organic fruit-only pops but I soon realized that the kids just want iced sugar. And since it’s summertime, why not?

I’m learning that, to be a “yes mom,” I need to keep my expectations attainable. I can do bigger things like the light rail but I can also easily keep popsicles on hand for the next three months. I’m learning that, to create a sense of adventure, it’s all about attitude and looking for those small opportunities to take us out of our normal routines.

What are some ways you’re saying yes to everyday summer adventures?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/summers-are-for-saying-yes/.