Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Extra hands

This is me.

(Well, it's not, of course. It's Nora.)

But it could be me this week...bedhead, still in her pajamas, a child on each hip with another one clinging dangerously to her ankle and about to be stepped on, holding the phone and frantically trying to return a call while the fourth child drapes himself over the furniture, about to pass out from hunger because he's had to wait so long for his snack. And just look at the mess!

This week feels a little like climbing, hand over hand, out of a well, without the use of my legs. The rocks are slick, and as soon as I get a little way up, I slip back down a few feet. My arms and fingers are cramping. I can see the light at the top, and I know I'll eventually get there, but climbing is hard, and I'm tired.

The problem with getting sick as a mother is that the mothering doesn't stop. People still need to be fed, dressed, wiped, read to, and generally loved as much as possible. It doesn't matter how much sleep I didn't get or how whiny and self-pitying I am feeling. When the morning peeks through the blinds and announces herself, my children will be in the hallway for only a second before bursting in and announcing themselves, and breakfast has to show up shortly thereafter. It's the way of things. This rhythm of mothering flows on, winding through the day, soothing and holding and cleaning and carrying, all the way until bedtime...sometimes through the night, too...and again the next day.

The further down we mamas get, the harder we have to work to get ourselves together. People are depending on us. They don't stop needing just because we are worn out. I know this. My patience, though, is very thin despite my best efforts. I snap at them, say things in the worst possible ways (did I really ask her why she ruins everything? how could I? how much psychological damage did I just cause back there?) It's hard not to yell at them to play more quietly, even though I know their volume would seem fine to me if my head weren't aching. Headache or not, we have to keep on keeping on. There is always work to do.

But this martyrdom thing...this dragging our weary bodies around when all they need is rest? This is no way to care for anyone. This is not what I want my daughters to do when they are mothers. How can I drag myself back and forth in front of them, sighing heavily, pained grimace all over my face as if it is just what's necessary when I know they are watching, taking it all in?

There are two lessons here I wish I could learn for next time. Or the time after that. Or hey, maybe I will spend my whole entire life trying to learn these lessons (but that's another post for another day):

One: It will not kill me to lower my standards. Yes, it's good to keep the house tidy. Yes, it's good to get our schoolwork done. Yes, it's good to serve nutritious, home-cooked meals with lots of different colored vegetables. But frozen pizza will not kill us if we eat it sometimes. And watching a movie instead of doing math will not make everyone's brains rot instantly and drain out their ears. And leaving the lunch crumbs on the living room floor today during nap time so I can rest on the couch will not cause the Earth to stop spinning on its axis. It will be okay. Whatever I need to do to get by, it will be okay. I can stand to stop trying so hard all the time and let a few things slide for now.

Two: It will not kill me to ask for help. I am not SuperMama. You are not WonderMother. We are just doing the best we can, and sometimes, it's not quite enough. No matter what the voices in my head tell us, that is okay. In these moments, what we really need is an extra set of hands...someone to fold a load of laundry, or clean the bathroom, or bring by some chicken broth when there's none in the house. Another pair of willing hands to hold a child, read a story, wipe a nose, sweep a floor.

I can call my husband and tell him I'm at the end of my rope, and it doesn't mean I'm weak or inept or failing at being a mother. I can call a friend and ask for a broth delivery, and it doesn't mean I'm not doing a good job at managing this whole thing. It's a lot to manage. Friends are made to help in time of need, after all.

I know I'm blessed among women to have such friends- friends who will encourage me to rest, who will offer to lighten the load, who will show up and ask what they can do. It is no small thing to have their hands to help me. And it is a gift to be able to offer my hands to them, too...somehow, bearing one another's burdens is how we mothers make the whole load feel lighter.

I've heard it said many times that we are Christ's hands in this world, put here to serve one another as we would serve Him, as He would serve us- to wash one another's feet and one another's dishes- and I believe it.

But when we serve one another like this- with food and warmth and holding and comfort- I think we are also the hands of Mary. When we nourish, soothe and encourage each other, we are mothering each other for Christ's sake. 

We can and should do this for one another. Let's not allow our ideas of self-sufficiency or our own impossible standards keep us from offering this gift to each other...or from accepting it when we need it.

with deep gratitude to George and Cori/Jason for being my extra hands today

Friday, March 20, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Real.

Some of you are new around here, and that's such a humbling and wonderful thing. Welcome. I'm so glad to have you. On Fridays, I often participate in Five-Minute Friday. It's a free write...a chance for us to empty our heads and hearts by writing for five minutes in response to a one-word prompt. More importantly, Five-Minute Friday is a community of writers supporting each other for love of the process. We don't worry about making things perfect on Fridays. We just write because we're writers, and we encourage each other because we're friends.

Want to join in? Visit Kate's blog for more information and to link up your own post (or to write in the comments if you don't have a blog).

And now, my thoughts on REAL.

There are lots of different kinds of friends- the church ones, the ones I used to see at work, the ones who frequent the same parks or story times that I do. There's the man who drives the garbage truck that always waves when he picks up our can- we made cookies for him one day, and he beeps the horn at us if we stand on the porch when he goes by. There are the friends from high school, whose children I see and admire on social media, the people whose birthdays I know because Facebook tells me when they are. I can line up all of their faces in my head- the people who make up my days, weeks, months and years, forming a sort of cloud around my life, overlapping and intersecting with each other, knowing me a little bit and letting me know them.

But then there are the friends who know me now. The ones whom I have never met in person, but whose blogs and conversation and notes and long-distance hugs are solidarity and strength. The ones who bring over the bits and pieces from their fridges, combining with mine to feed a dozen in a loaves and fishes moment. The ones who crowd around our table with their families, not minding that it wasn't designed to hold that many. The ones for whom I don't need to vacuum, whose children's forgotten socks mingle with mine in the laundry, who think nothing of dumping that laundry out and folding it with me when they're here. The ones whose laps my kids will agree to climb into for a story. The ones who sneak quietly in the front door during nap time to visit me, because that's the only time I can have an uninterrupted adult conversation (maybe). The ones who read my writing and honestly tell me what they think. The ones who come over to talk about grownup books and drink tea and remember with me that mothers are people who sometimes think about things other than children. The ones who remind me every day that I have the strength to get through, no matter what happens...and that part of my strength comes from loving and being loved by you.

When I think of you, all of you, I can only be grateful for all the people who share my life and whose stories overlap with mine.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate's blog, Heading Home.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Desperate times...and flying by the seat of my parenting pants.

Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, you know? Although I'd love to be one of those mamas (I'm sure you know some, or at least one) who never seems desperate, sometimes I am. just. that. Desperate.

Yesterday, I startled awake with a set of slimy, chubby baby fingers working their way into my mouth. The next thing I noticed was the ambient sounds of Disastrously Rude Children, already hating on each other first thing in the morning.

"You will NOT play with my things, Lucy!!"
"Oh, yes, I WILL!"
"You smell like POOP!"
"Well, you are STEW, Sammy!"

"Stew" is what they say now. They say it because they think I don't know that it's a stand-in for "stupid," which we don't allow them to call each other. I definitely know this. It's just that I usually let it slide. We can't actually control what they say, and they always find another way to be unkind when they really need to be.

It is still so weird to me that I'm on the other side of this, that I'm the parent and not the child who is trying to figure out how to score the most mean points and do the most damage to her brother without her parents knowing what she's doing.

(Aside, to Abram: I have no defense. I'm sorry. I was horrid at least 63% of the time.)

When I went to check on them, they wore three of the grumpiest, most unpleasant expressions I have ever seen. I encouraged kindness. Remember our "be kind" rule? Well, you're all acting like you might need a reminder about that. Remember how we treat each other with love and kindness? Ok? There is NO HITTING. We do not use our bodies to control or hurt other people. Yes? Yes. Ok. They looked unconvinced, but at least no one was screaming or smacking anyone else in the face with an empty coffee can from the recycling bin.

The uneasy ceasefire lasted approximately until I crossed the hallway and went back into my bedroom.

After I took a shower and had half a cup of coffee, I suggested they all go back to bed for five minutes so I could come wake them up again and let them start the day over.

As if their footie pajamas had cinder blocks in them, they trudged off to their rooms. I followed, Felix on my hip, pulling open the curtains, singing loudly the way my grandma always did when we spent the night at her house. Good morning to you! Good morning to you! Good morning, good morning..." I adopted a low, rumbly voice, moved Felix's arms and pretended he was singing the end with silly, operatic style. Goooood morrrrnnnning...tooooo...YOOOOOU! They giggled.

Just as I was patting myself on the back for this total morning rescue (good job! You were silly! You didn't yell! It's all better!), Sam smacked Lucy in the back of the head with his beanbag chair for trying to play with one of his stuffed planets. She screamed like a hyena who has just witnessed its hyena best friend being flattened by a speeding garbage truck and bit him hard in the shoulder.

We had not yet even made it to breakfast. The baby was crying. I felt like crying. The situation was officially desperate.

Enter the strangest parenting decision I've ever made in desperation.

Enter The Manners Wolf.

Sam's stuffed wolf, Akela, was lying in the hallway. Scooping him up with my foot, I grabbed a piece of scrap paper- where on earth do these ideas come from?- and hastily wrote his name on the front.

Sam read it, intrigued. "Manners Wolf. What does he do?"

I had no idea.

"He watches you," I told them. "He is an observer. He is looking for signs of good manners and kindness."

"Well, what do we get if we do a good job?"

I looked straight at him. "I don't know, Sam- I have no idea. I've never met a Manners Wolf before. You'll have to ask him."

Sam looked fascinated. Unbelievable. Isn't he too smart for this kind of stuff? I knew the whole idea was completely ridiculous.

To my complete amazement, this completely ridiculous idea ACTUALLY WORKED.

They stopped being rude.
They started being overly polite and helpful instead.
They were positively deferential to the stuffed wolf.
And, every few minutes, I'd say something like, "Oh, the Manners Wolf notices that people are sharing the rest of the apples!" Or "The Manners Wolf sees that Lucy got a towel to help clean up Nora's spill."

He never praised or corrected them. He didn't really pass judgment at all. He didn't do anything but sit on the table all day with his sign...the sign bearing his totally uninspiring name...and watch us, but he completely changed the climate in our house. People spoke kindly to each other. People were more patient. People helped and shared and volunteered for things that weren't their usual jobs.

There's no way to know if this can ever be replicated. I have no idea if it will work again. But on this day, in this place, doing something completely ridiculous totally saved the day. I didn't yell, not once. There were no rewards or bribes. Just the Manners Wolf, sitting on the table all day long, watching us.

I hope he comes back tomorrow.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Gather


There's something about an opening book that makes them all come running. They clamber over the cushions, vying for the best positions on either side of the open pages where they can most easily see the pictures. Those who can't squeeze right up next to me end up behind me, sitting on the back of the sofa...and although every mother bone in my body wants to tell them to get down, I usually let it slide.

Everyone wants to see. What fun is a picture book if you can't see the pictures? And although I could read like a librarian, upside down with the book facing out, part of the fun of being mama is being able to cuddle up snug while we read, the book facing us like a friend in conversation instead of turned round the other way.

I give them a moment to get settled (sometimes, several moments)- they tug on the covers and arrange their dolls and dinosaurs and Jedi just so- until finally I ask them, "Is everyone sitting comfortably?"

They are.

And so we begin, losing ourselves in the story and forgetting for a moment whatever troubles the morning might have held. We are transported. We are together. We are united, readers in love with reading. The simplicity and purity of this act of sharing a story together can erase any bad feelings that might have come before.

It's my favorite part about being their mama. It is one of the things I do best. And so, no matter what else we have to do today, we're going to make time to read out loud. We are story people. This is what we do, because that's who we are.

For more Five-Minute Friday, follow the link below to Kate's blog.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Morning mythology

There's this myth in motherhood, especially in the shared sisterhood of mother-writers, that if we get up early enough, we can work before our children are awake. I seek those dark, cloistered moments in my kitchen, huddled with a journal and a cup of something warm, scribbling my thoughts in the quiet of the open morning before the real day begins. Mornings are supposed to be empty and open and dripping with potential, like dewy grass or the coffee that is calling me with its gurgle-pit-pat as it collects in the pot. Morning is ready for something, for anything...and in the half-moment of quiet, if I stop and hold my breath, I feel the possibilities and almost believe them.

I could make cinnamon rolls and surprise everyone!
I could paint the laundry room!
I could go for a run before the snowstorm hits!
I could write the short story that's been rattling around my head for weeks and then let the kids help illustrate it!
I could get all my chores done early and then relax!

No matter how tired I am, especially on a Saturday, SuperMe takes over, beckoning me into the Realm of All The Things I Can Do. "Come on! Think of how productive we could be!" And I follow her. I can really do everything. For that moment, I am a regular mama demi-god...powerful, motivated, filled with unstoppable creativity, with energy for days.

And then a door opens. A toilet flushes, maybe, or the water runs long enough to arouse my suspicion. Instead of SuperMe, I hear a small voice in the hallway: "Mama?" and the quiet is over until tomorrow.

I know one day I will sit quietly all the time, all day, every day, and I'll long for their voices to call my name, to ask me to help them, to talk with me about what matters to them. I'll miss their hands (which are so small and occasionally sticky these days), coming to me full of drawings or dandelions or tiny stones they've found. I will long to hear someone ask me to read that awful library book one more time (well, maybe). I will wish, probably, that I was more in the middle of their worlds, the way I am now, when I sometimes wish to be somewhere else.

And so, this morning, with rumblings and rattlings and voices calling in the hallway, I choose to be grateful. I'm grateful for their noise, their mess, and their interruptions, because I choose to be. And all the other words in my head and the projects I dream about will have to wait for another moment, because in this moment, my children aren't likely to wait another second.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#HolyLens, Lent 2015

Well, I changed my mind.

I'm allowed to do that, right?

I realized that I was going to miss seeing the #HolyLens posts on Instagram and sharing about our days and bearing witness to the little holy moments in each other's lives. I remembered that taking tiny snapshots of those moments isn't a burden- it's a spiritual discipline. These photos (for me) are more than just photos. They are signposts of God's grace in my life. I think I need them.

So, just in case that's true for anyone else, I'm putting up some prompts for Lent.

Here are the prompts for this week. (They will be posted on Sundays for the week ahead.)

I hope you'll join me. I know there are lots of other photo-a-day projects out there. The important thing isn't to do this one. The important thing is to remind ourselves that God is always working, even in the most ordinary, mundane moments. This project helps me to do that. If it helps you, too, then please post your photos on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #HolyLens. Let's keep each other company as we look for the places God is present with us...even if we happen to find him sometimes between the forks and the spoons in the drawer or between the mismatched socks in the hamper.

Have a blessed Lent.

Previous weeks' prompts:

On Silence. And Lent.

Sometimes, it seems like there isn't quite enough of something.

I tug at the edges or let out the seams as much as I can, trying to make the pants cover the tops of her socks when there aren't any other clean pants and we're late for story time. I look through my yarn stash over and over, trying to find something to use to finish the sleeves on a tiny sweater when the blue yarn I need has been discontinued.  I twist and squish and fold and press the tube of toothpaste to coax out the last tiny bit onto three small toothbrushes, all of them moving targets in the hands of their owners, and I don't have time to go to the store.

And when there isn't enough time to write, I scribble my thoughts around the margins of my church bulletin and never get around to opening my computer.

I know this space has been very quiet lately.

I've been busy, of course, but I'm almost always busy...there are fourteen activities to fill every waking minute, it seems. The more free time I have, the more ways I find to fill it. Somehow, in the middle of doing school and post-Christmas resettlement and getting my family all healthy again from illness, it's suddenly Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday? How did that happen?

I'm not at all ready for this. I don't have Lent "planned." I don't have any lists or ideas of what we're going to do this year to mark this holy time between now and Easter. I haven't written photo prompts for #HolyLens, or gospel reflections, or blog posts about meatless meals to help inspire me (and maybe you, too). I haven't changed the wreath on my door or prepared the candles for our table or thought about how we'll do our family prayers.

I've done nothing to prepare.

I've been quiet. Reading, writing a little, knitting. Hanging out with my family. Sweeping the floor more often than I used to. Doing the laundry, and doing it again. Reflecting on my life and the gift of those people with whom I share it daily.

With Lent upon me, things feel different this year. I don't have any activity checklists or new Lenten playlists or collections of helpful links or innovative recipes for cooking meatless meals. I'm feeling an irresistible pull to come inside and shut the urge to look inward and sit quietly with what I find.

I don't feel called to lead Lent this year. I feel called to pray. To be still. To sit and read and wonder and soak up what's around me. To gather up what I have, even though it feels small, and offer it to God. I'm going to take my loaves and fishes, and instead of attempting to arrange them artfully on a plate and posting them on Instagram, I'm just going to bring them to Jesus and wait for him to tell me what to do next.

I don't have any big proclamations to make. I'm not giving up blogging for Lent, but I don't know how much I'll write here. Maybe a little. Maybe more than that. Maybe not at all. I'm not swearing off social media, but I probably will take long breaks from it. I'm just looking for Jesus so I can practice walking with him, or sitting with him, or generally being wherever he is going to be, for the next 40 days.

And I'll be praying for you.

If you have a special intention or prayer request for which I can pray, would you please let me know? I'd be honored to spend the next few weeks holding your concerns and needs. Please feel free to leave me a comment here, send me a message on Facebook or e-mail me.

Thanks for being my friends and for being patient with me. At the end of my life, I doubt anyone will say that I was an excellent blogger- I don't follow any of the rules, ever. Even so, I'm grateful for every one of you who reads my thoughts here and shares this journey with me.

If you are still looking for ideas of what to do for Lent, try Auntie Leila's post at Like Mother, Like Daughter. She's so good at that kind of thing. If you're feeling short on time and wondering how you can keep Lent as a busy parent, try this lovely, insightful post by Jenna at Call Her Happy or these practical suggestions from Sarah at Two Os Plus More. And if you want some reassurance that (like every year), this Lenten journey is going to be exactly how it is supposed to be, try this post from Laura at Mothering Spirit. I'm taking comfort from Kathryn's words about Lent this year at Team Whitaker and Molly's invitation to walk with Christ these 40 days and let our time with him unfold gradually as we go.

Finally, I'm trying to remember that sometimes, all we are called to do is to hold open a space for God. Even a small one is enough for him to use.

I'll be around. A blessed Lent to you all.