Monday, July 29, 2013

Feast of St. Martha: the art of celebrating imperfect

Vincenzo Campi, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha

This morning, I awoke to the pile of suitcases and unwashed things left in the living room upon our return last evening from a weekend away with family. The trip was wonderful- fun, relaxing, and joyful. We shared laughs by the river and laughs over barbeque and laughs over ice cream and laughs beside the pool. My children jumped on sofa cushions and bounced on sofa beds and crowded all at once into a hotel bathtub in the way only the youngest of siblings can...all splashing and trying to "swim" past each other with nowhere to go, then slipping and sliding in all the water that ended up on the floor.

When we got home last night, we were tired. After the kids were in bed, we decided to go to bed ourselves and leave the rest for later.

Later arrived this morning.
I went for my run as the sun was rising, and then I tackled life.

I am, after all, the Unpacker. I am the Washer of Things Dirty, the Cleaner-Upper of Messes Made. I am the Restorer of Order. And today, of all days, on the Feast of Saint Martha (who is the Patroness of Domesticity Done Right), it seemed like I should be about bringing my home and my family's life within it back to Clean, Shiny, Beautiful & Lovely.

The Feast of Saint Martha belongs to all of us domestic warriors, the ones struggling with perfectionism and a to-do list that never ends. It also belongs to my daughter, Nora, who shares a middle name with my grandmother, Martha. There being no Saint Nora, we gave her Saint Martha. I've often wondered if I'm setting her up, if she will struggle as I do with the specter of Perfect and always wonder if she is doing enough.

I hope not.

My grandmother Martha is no Saint Martha in the domestic department, but she always gets by. The year the table collapsed at Thanksgiving dinner, spilling the just-cut turkey and the collards and the potatoes and the fruits of her up-since-5-this-morning cooking, she sat in her chair at the foot of of that table and laughed and laughed and laughed until the rest of us did, too, because there was nothing else to do.

That feast, with her laughter ringing off the ceiling, was unforgettable...and so was the mess. I was old enough that year to remember both.

Did Jesus talk about messes? "This mess you shall always have with you," or something like that? I'm guessing he had more important things to worry about, but I'm grateful that Saint Martha seemed to get it. He showed up at her house, and while her younger sister sat raptly at his feet and hung upon his every word, Martha was busy getting things done.

After all, somebody has to get the groceries, make the meal, and clean up after the feast. No matter how much you love the Guest, there are always dishes to wash after he leaves. I always want to pat Saint Martha on the shoulder after Jesus rebukes her and tell her, "It's okay, sister, I get it- I'll help you sweep up."

It's hard not to look around here and see the messy, the less-than-perfect, the I-wish-I-had-time-to. The flowerbeds are weedy and the kitchen floor is sticky. The shelves are dusty and the floor is scattered with a perpetual sprinkling of little dinosaurs and bristle blocks and tiny shoes and open books. There are always towels on the bathroom floor, and the smallish boy who loves the foaming hand soap often sprays the mirror with it in his enthusiasm. The oven is still broken.

This mess, though- it's full of hidden beauty. The sand on the laundry room floor was trucked in from our lakeside picnic this afternoon with friends. The syrupy smears on the high chair trays were left by little girls happily eating their feast day breakfast-for-dinner. The handprints and nose smudges that cover the front windows are created daily by a crowd of small people standing clustered together on tiptoe, straining to be the first to spot their Daddy as he comes up the driveway after work.

As he comes home. To this house. No, it's not perfectly clean and tidy. No, it isn't the picture of modern decorating bliss. But the people inside it are happy. The children are thriving and growing and falling all over themselves to tell him all about what they did today. And tonight, we celebrated Saint Martha, the patroness of domestic life and of my little daughter with smiley face pancakes and a lemon meringue pie that someone else baked.

Life is perfectly, imperfectly good. Celebrating needs to be about just that. And the best way for Nora to grow up knowing that she can enjoy her life even if things aren't exactly perfect is for me to stop frowning at the mess and start the party in all its imperfect glory.

Saint Martha, help me to remember that we can dance on floors that haven't been vacuumed;
We can snuggle together for stories on the sofa with the stain on the corner of the cushion;
We can wrap up after bath time in towels that haven't been folded;
And while we may never be perfect, we are always perfectly Loved.
Bless our best efforts, and may we trust God's grace to cover the rest.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Why do we do all this saint stuff? Celebrating holy days at home

image credit: via Creative Commons

I didn't grow up with the saints. Role models, yes...people who lived good lives and had characters that we should emulate, definitely. But saints? Baptists don't really do saints. We were a saint-free household and a saint-free church.

As I followed my fascination with liturgy into Episcopalian and finally Catholic churches, I started to see them. The Saints. Those holy men and women whose faithful lives and devotion to God had earned them spots on the calendar, stained glass windows, holy cards, dedicated prayers and feasts and customs. A whole tribe of people who were the Church, too, just on the other side of the veil. A cloud of witnesses who had been where we are, walked where we walk, struggled as we struggle. They were human. They were imperfect. And yet they sought God earnestly and were blessed.

Saints come from all walks of life. Some of the earliest ones were Jesus' close friends, many of whom were martyred for their faith. Throughout history many of the saints were persecuted and killed for the sake of Christ, yet they persevered. They received the faith, and they handed it down. We are called to do no less. It is grace that saves us- thanks be to God!- but each of us is called to holiness. The saints are men and women who followed that path to holiness all the way to the end and who now cheer us on from the other side as we travel our own paths, striving all the while to be more like Christ. 

When my friend James died last year, I saw this concept more clearly than ever. He played a giant role in my faith development during his life on earth, and we stayed in touch through the years, sending long e-mails back and forth as we debated theological issues (and as he tirelessly answered my endless questions). James is in heaven now with God, probably enjoying some spicy food and perfect weather on His back porch. I imagine they talk about all kinds of things (as James was never really short on things to talk about on earth), but I don't for a minute think that James has forgotten about those of us he left behind here. I know he sees our struggles, and I know he remembers to mention them when God comes over for dinner. (Or coffee, or whatever. I'm no theologian.)

Thankfully, there are many theologians that have done plenty of writing on this topic. Church teaching on saints tells us that they intercede for us in Heaven, just as they did on earth:

956. The intercession of the saints.  “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness.... They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus.... So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” [Lumen Gentium 49; cf. 1 Tim 2:5.]
2683. "The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, [Cf. Heb 12:1 .] especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were 'put in charge of many things.' [Cf. Mt 25:21.] Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world."
                                                                      from The Catechism of the Catholic Church

When new Christians enter the Church through baptism at Easter Vigil, we sing a Litany of the Saints...kind of a holy roll call of the names of those who have come before us on the journey. It is one of my favorite moments in the liturgy, as everyone sings together the familiar (Peter, James, John, Andrew) and the less-familiar (Chrysogonus?) names of our ancestors in the faith. At the end of the song, the names of the catechumens (new Christians) are sung, making them part of a long line of the faithful throughout the ages. I love that we bring in the catechumens through baptism in Christ, singing together, under the watchful eyes of so many who have lived their lives for Him. We invoke their names, and they are part of our gathered community, praying with us over those to be baptized as we sing, "Pray for us...all you holy men and women, pray for us." 

It is traditional in Catholic families for each person to have a patron saint, a man or woman whose intercession we request and whose example we emulate. Sometimes, these patrons are chosen at birth (or at baptism, when a saint's name is often conferred). Sometimes, a child adopts a patron at the sacrament of Confirmation, taking a saint's name as her own when she claims her faith as an adult. Sometimes, we develop relationships with saints in unexpected ways as we grow in our faith. Maybe their writings speak to us, or maybe their history is similar to ours. Other times, there might not be a rational explanation for the connection we feel with a certain saint. Whatever the reason, I'm always grateful that our tradition recognizes the ranks of men and women who have come before us and who still intercede for us in prayer. The bond of love forged by Christ is unbroken through time, and the death of these saints did not make them work any less tirelessly to build His kingdom. We can count on them for help.

Don't Catholics pray to saints? 
Well, yes and no. We don't pray to saints in the same way we pray to God. We can go directly to God the Father with any request and "boldly approach his throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16), but we also have the gift of a community of holy men and women who are part of the Body of Christ. They want to see us succeed. They gave their lives in service and sacrifice to the Kingdom of God. Death is no barrier to their work on behalf of Christ or His Church, and we are free to approach them and ask for their intercession on our behalf. This is not idolatry. We do not worship saints. We worship only God. We do so, though, with the knowledge that the saints worship the very same God but have the benefit of doing so face to face. 

In my little domestic church, each family member has a patron saint, and there are other important saints that we celebrate during the liturgical year. On the feast day of each person's patron, we celebrate by having a festive meal together, complete with decorations and our best dishes. We read or tell the story of the saint's life and display a holy card or icon with his or her picture. Sometimes, we do a special activity to remember something specific about the saint. There is always cake or a special dessert, kind of like a birthday. Because attending Mass is difficult enough on the weekends right now, we don't go to Mass on our saint days (although I would eventually like to start that tradition when the children are older). We do try to perform some act of service to others or take some action to build the Kingdom of God as a reminder that we are all called to holiness and lives of service.

My own patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, famously said before she died, "I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth." All Christians believe that we can and should pray for one another here on earth. Why should we stop praying for the ones we love once we have died?

As as ecumenical Catholic Christian, I know that Catholic devotion to saints has sometimes been a barrier to dialogue with other Christian traditions. I see our relationships with saints as a way to build connectedness throughout the body of Christ, continuing the line of faithful discipleship from its origin with the Apostles straight through to modern times. We have much to learn from them and from the examples of their lives. My relationship with God is not diluted or confused by my relating to His saints; rather, it is deepened, enriched and revitalized by their wisdom and faithfulness.

All you holy men and women, pray for us!

What's your take on the communion of saints? Do you have questions about this part of the Catholic tradition? I would love to hear your comments.

Friday, July 19, 2013

7 Quick Takes: The Frazzled Parent Edition

This week is finally, finally over. 
As much as I try to focus on practicing gratitude in the present, I have been living for this weekend all week long. Now that it's here, I am definitely grateful.  I have not been a calm, composed parent this week, and it's been all I can manage to keep from coming completely unraveled multiple times every day. A fellow twin mom who is a bit further down the path than I am assures me that things will improve after the girls turn two (adjusted for their gestational age, which should be sometime in early October). I guess that's something to look forward to.

One: the number of Mennonite doughnuts it took for me to feel better yesterday afternoon. My best running friend (and companion in eating run-sabotaging sweets) brought me the most wonderful doughnut from Harrisonburg yesterday. I meant after the first heavenly bite to save half of it for George. Then I was going to save a third of it...but I ate it all. I didn't think of photographing it until it was already inside my tummy. I'm not even sure where she got it, but that might be a good thing.

Two: the number of amazingly helpful blog posts from talented writers who reminded me that I'm not alone in my struggle. Rabia invented the Frazzled Parent Solidarity Signal (brilliant, although she's still working out the specifics), and Haley wrote about how this crazy barely-keeping-my-head-above-water busy season of parenting tiny people can still be prayer. I'm grateful to both of them (and to all the other people who reassured me this week).

Also...the number of handpainted baptismal crosses that have been ripped from walls above beds by bouncing toddler sisters getting air from jumping on their mattresses after bedtime and grabbing at things hanging above their heads.

Three: the number of times my keys have been put in the trash can this week. (And once in the toilet.)

Four: the number of loads of unfolded laundry that are sitting in baskets in my closet right now. Notice that I'm not folding it...I'm busy writing this post. Also note that I only have two laundry baskets, so they are doubled up in there (and are sure to be wrinkled nicely when I do get around to folding them!).

Nora, measuring laundry piles.

Five: the number of times yesterday that Lucy found my deodorant (carefully relocated and hidden each time), retrieved it, and ate some of it. She even managed to open a "childproof" latch and pull open one of my dresser drawers (which then fell out of the dresser) right in front of me. I'm not sure what to do with her. Should I call poison control or the police?

Six: the number of times SuperSam has come out of his room (so far) tonight since being tucked into bed twenty minutes ago. His reasons for emerging (in order of appearance):
  • Dinosaurs inside his brain are threatening to eat him. He knows they are extinct on our planet, but since they are inside his head, he's afraid they might find a way to get out and get him.
  • His leg hurts and needs ice on it.
  • He thinks he is dehydrated because his pee before dinner was "kind of yellow." He thinks he needs more water. He has water by his bed, but he's afraid he might run out in the middle of the night.
  • He is afraid that he might hear thunder at some point during the night and it might disturb his sleep.
  • He can't find his narwhal. (It is under his pillow.) Then he is inconsolably sad because he is worried that he will get too many stuffed special friends in his bed and not have any room to sleep, and he can't sleep with The Sisters or with us because we already each have two people in our rooms (which is enough, he says), and the living room is too scary at night because you can see the streetlight and it makes shadows on the wall that look like dinosaurs that want to eat him, so he can't sleep in there, either, and the bathroom is just not really a good place to sleep.
  • He wants to remind us to be sure to put two dinosaur gummies (his bribe for staying in bed after he is tucked in) on the kitchen table for him. 

Seven: the number of days before we'll be headed out of town again for a weekend with family and friends. Let's call it the little vacation to recover from our vacation. One week before we leave should be just enough time to give everyone a chance to settle back into our normal routine and get comfortable going to bed on time again before we mess it all up by taking them to a hotel where we all sleep in the same room. Yay, family togetherness!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

We need each other.

Motherhood has eaten me alive this week.

I feel behind on absolutely everything. The house is a mess (mostly because every room that I straighten is immediately torn apart by a child while the other two are busy wreaking havoc in another corner of the house). Lucy has stolen my deodorant seven times, and when she finds it, she eats it. Nora has put three toys in the toilet (and one set of keys). SuperSam has rigged up four different contraptions by stacking furniture together that he can jump from in an attempt to touch the ceiling, and he's been pretending to be a narwhal for most of the week (which means he only makes "narwhal sounds").

I know they aren't really teaming up to defeat me, but it still feels that way.

Our oven has been broken since we returned from vacation. It might be a fuse- we're not sure- but until it gets resolved, there's a lot of slow-cookin' going on here. I thought it would be fine (after all, it seems much too hot to bake), but I hadn't considered that we couldn't reheat pizza or melt cheese under the broiler or heat up pita bread to eat with our hummus or make our frozen waffles more than two at a time.

(Maybe we need a bigger toaster.)

Anyway, I've been running (figuratively) all week without making any noticeable forward progress. My brain feels stopped up from not writing enough, and the laundry baskets are full of clean clothes (some folded, some very far from folded). I missed a run on my marathon training plan because I just couldn't get it together enough to find time to do it. We had to cancel one playdate for a sick child who turned out not to be sick so much as she was just run down and tired. (Kind of like her mama, I bet.) We had dinner guests last night, and I completely forgot to serve them dessert or offer them coffee after dinner.

I'm a hot mess, as my friend Bev would say. (She probably wouldn't say it about me, even though it's true right now.)

Haley wrote beautifully about praying with your feet, and I tried to shift my attitude toward everything with mixed success. I had a total meltdown at George on Tuesday night that ended with me leaving the house in a rage without my shoes or my phone to drive aimlessly around the county until the sun was going down. It was out of character- very irresponsible, which I almost never am!- but I was at the end of my rope and hanging on by my fingernails, and I just let go.

It's been a tough week.

Slipping & sliding in solitude...not today.
Today, I combined the chaos of my week with the chaos of two dear friends and their families. Together, we three mothers have ten children (and one of us is 39 weeks pregnant today). It's a rowdy bunch, ranging in age from "due any day now" to 8 years old. (I think that's right.) We have babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary schoolers, who ran each other ragged around the house and out back on the Slip n Slide until they were all worn out, soaked, and hungry.

I didn't take a single picture.

I was too busy appreciating the warm, fuzzy comfort of two women in my kitchen who know exactly what it's like to survive this kind of week. Over salads and fruit, we talked about communal life...what it would be like to share our food, our chores, our possessions, our children all the time instead of just occasionally.

Today was not the first time this topic has come up with friends of mine. Many women I know think that living together in groups would be desirable...if not in the same houses, at least near enough that we could holler at each other from our porches and have our kids run back and forth for cups of sugar.

Why are we so drawn to the idea of living in community?

There is a common feeling of totally-completely-overwhelmed that sometimes chases us, mows us down and crushes us with its weight. It happens because we as modern parents of young children are trying to do it all. Our society expects us to work, take care of our families, our houses, our yards, our cars, all the while trying to make as much money as possible so that we can buy more (bigger, better, newer) things.

What if less was really more? The idea that we could step back from that constant push for more and actually use less is appealing to a lot of us, I think. The idea that we could share what we have with someone else (and that both of us wouldn't need to own a lawn mower, a play kitchen, a grill, or a swingset) is fascinating. The idea that we could do what we do best and combine it with what someone else does best and make a life together where we don't all have to do every single thing is liberating. 

Doing and being everything is too much for one person.

There's more to it, though. The desire to live in community is born of a longing to know and be known, to share burdens that go beyond the practical ones about what we're having for dinner or who is going to cut the grass. It's about finding someone who can relate to your struggles, who can share your journey, who can be vulnerable with you as you find ways to ease each other's burdens.

My friends and I combined our crazy families just for a morning, but what we got today was worth so much more than the sum of our chaos. In each other, we found encouragement, an understanding smile, an empathetic ear. There is something so refreshing and normalizing about talking with someone else who gets it. Even if nothing changes at all, things seem better.

We weren't meant to do this alone. We need to find ways to help each other out.

Short of moving into a commune together, what can we do? I've thought about trying one of those meal exchanges with friends (where you cook enough to share so you don't have to make dinner every night), but I've never gotten organized enough to make it happen. We shared a riding mower with friends for a while, but it eventually broke. I share hand-me-down clothes with some friends' children, but I feel like I could do more. These things don't always come naturally in our "everybody for herself" culture, so sometimes it takes some creativity and flexibility to find ways to make sharing work.

Is it possible to share life in community with each other even if we are separated by great physical distance? Is "online community" a myth, or can we create true community with people we have never met face to face? I'd like to know what you think.

Five-Minute (Last) Friday: Present

This post is in response to last week's Five-Minute Friday prompt. For those unfamiliar, Five-Minute Friday is hosted by Lisa Jo Baker on her blog. Writers write for five minutes in response to a prompt without over-editing or backtracking, then play show and tell on her site. I actually wrote it last Friday night at my mom's house right after a wonderful baby shower for my cousin and his wife. Because of how the rest of that weekend trip and this week went, I am just getting around to posting it. The experience was so meaningful that I still want to share it with you all, even though it's almost time for a brand-new Five-Minute Friday prompt.
Five Minute Friday

Standing close together, we line the edges of the room, forming a physical wall around the young couple seated among us. Prayers flow forth from the gathered body: prayers for protection, for safe travel, for the life of the unborn child we have come together to celebrate. They’ve told us his name, and he is real to us…although not yet as real as he is to the God who is knitting him together, even now, in his mother’s womb.

Being here in this holy moment, among friends and loved ones, is a gift. Seeing the connections between generations- grandparents, parents, children who are now becoming parents themselves- to have been known and to know each other through so many of life’s stages, to have walked together through sorrow and joy, to have prayed each other through some of the darkest moments- this is what it means to be present. This is God at work. This is the Holy Spirit forming cords that are not easily broken. We have received love, and we hand it down to our children just as it was handed down to us. We are witnesses to the faithfulness of those who came before, and we are grateful.

How could we be anything but grateful?

We send them forth in prayer, this couple and their child. They will travel back to their coast and we will remain on ours. The firm foundation that has been laid for us as part of this family will be their sure footing as they take their first steps into parenthood. The love we have for them will never be far from them, no matter how far away they are. And the One who knows all of us before we are made, who hems us in behind and before, will always, always be present with them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rejoice anyway.

I am in the middle of one of those days that make me wonder if I am really cut out to be a parent at all.

We had to go for groceries this morning (and you know what that is like!). It didn't go horribly. It just felt like a lot of work. On the way home, as my children screamed at each other and Nora beamed a sippy cup at Lucy, striking her in the forehead and making her cry loudly, I started grumbling to myself about how everything feels like a lot of work all the time. Coming off a weekend of parenting without George at my mom's house (which has tall stairs and isn't set up for toddlers), I am grumpy and tired. We got home yesterday, and it feels like I've lost a day this week in which to accomplish chores and laundry and running and bathing the kids. There are not enough hours in the days I have left.

So many little time.

As I was preoccupied with the fifty-seven things I need to do, my kids were pulling at me, biting each other, unrolling the toilet paper repeatedly, and polishing off an entire pint of blueberries straight out of the grocery bag without asking. They "cleaned" the toilet with foaming hand sanitizer taken from my purse (Nora stood on SuperSam's stool to get it from the top of the piano- one of the few places that I thought was still out of their reach).

By the time they had eaten their morning snack and smeared the peanut butter all over the table (to make a "trap" for the fly that was buzzing around the kitchen), I'd had enough. I yelled at them (and almost immediately felt awful about it, since I've been working so hard on this). I quickly made them lunch, served it to them with no frills or chit-chat, and put them down for their naps an hour and twenty minutes earlier than usual.

Maybe it will reset the day. Maybe they are tired and out of sorts from traveling, just like I am. Maybe everyone just needs a little time alone.

Instead of tackling the laundry, I'm focusing on turning the day around. It is time for an attitude adjustment. This day needs to be reclaimed for what it is: holy time- 1,440 minutes made to spend together being grateful we are alive to share them.

This week actually as the same number of days and hours as every other week ever has.
And today actually has just as many blessings as the days surrounding it.
Maybe I'm just not seeing them today...or maybe those blessings are dragging me down the road behind them, white-knuckled and hanging on for dear life. Either way, they are here. They exist. Part of why we are created is to find those blessings and call them out for what they are.

After putting a reminder on the bathroom mirror, I've decided to take a nap, too. Part of my purpose is to rejoice in today...and maybe resting in the quiet will help me start doing it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

TwinsDay Wednesday: Surviving Grocery Shopping

I often write about surviving daily life. Sometimes I'm kidding. Sometimes I'm exaggerating. But this grocery shopping thing?

It really is all about survival.

For months after I went from being a mother of one to being a mother of three, pulling into the parking lot of our local Wal-mart would make me break out into a cold sweat. I would not go there alone for anything. Too many things could go wrong...multiple poopy diaper blowouts, preschooler tantrums, tiny babies screaming simultaneously to nurse...

(And to think I used to take SuperSam to the grocery store for fun!)

After about four months of avoiding the grocery store, I had to take the plunge. Waiting until George got home to take everyone out together was making life difficult in the evenings. I had to face my fear and figure out a way to shop on my own with the kids.

Maybe you like grocery shopping...the neat, orderly aisles, the carefully arranged produce, the endless number of cereal possibilities. If you enjoy your trips to the store, I'm happy for you.

For those of us with multiple young children, though, grocery shopping is one thing and one thing only:

I do all my grocery shopping at our local Wal-mart. I don't love it. I feel guilty sometimes about their business practices. At this stage in my life, though, I'm only going to go to a store where I'm not even tempted to hang around longer than absolutely necessary, and Wal-mart is the place where I have all the aisles memorized. It's not especially pleasant, but I can do it quickly. It's close enough to my house that I can transfer children to their beds if they fall asleep on the way home. Their produce is better than the other grocery store. It has some advantages...and when my kids are older, I can shop with a conscience and go someplace else.

Through trial and error (lots and lots of error), I have developed a Super Awesome Grocery Shopping Strategy. A certain mindset is required. When I shop, I am Calculating, Focused and Organized. This is no time for free-floating browsing. This is serious.

Here's my game plan for shopping with multiple little kids in tow:

1. Your List- don't leave home without it. Mine is organized by aisle. Part of that is because I'm my father's daughter (an organizing freak), but in the grocery store game, efficiency is key. I can't be looping back and forth across the store to pick up stuff I forgot. I keep a pad on the refrigerator so we can add things as we run out of them during the week. My husband almost always asks me where he should write something before he puts it on the list. After 11 and a half years of marriage, he's learned I'm just weird about the grocery list...but now that time is of the essence in the store, my weirdness is coming in handy.

2. Your Parking Space- know the best space and be willing to fight for it if necessary. When we visited the UK, Tesco (a major grocery store) had special spaces for families with young children. Here in the US, we are all about equality, which means that nobody is getting any special spaces without knowing someone at the DMV who can score them a handicapped hangtag for their mirror. If I'm shopping alone with my children, there is only one acceptable kind of parking space for me any more- the ones right beside the cart return.

Upon exiting the store, I push the cart to my vehicle and unload everyone into their seats. Once they are safely buckled in, I can unload the groceries at my leisure and pretend to be oblivious to their protests and requests for McDonald's Happy Meals.  Then, I can return the cart without feeling bad about leaving them sitting in the car.

You might think I should park close to the store, but being close to the store isn't as important as it seems. I can carry them all into the store if I have to, but I am always exhausted on the way out. If you have to choose between "easy in" and "easy out," making a quick and simple exit plan is the way to go.

If you're not in critical need of the spaces surrounding the cart return, please have pity- save them for me.

A Wal-mart plus: the garden center makes it easy to replace dead tomato plants.

3. Your Cart- pick carefully. Make sure it has working seat belts for everyone before you start buckling people in. Stick your crew in their seats and tie them down as quickly as possible. Once they're in there, you've got to roll. If you picked one with a messed up wheel or an annoying bump, you're going to be stuck with it, because the effort of moving everyone to a new cart is such a huge pain.

When the twins were too tiny to sit up, I wore one in a carrier and put the other one in her carseat into the basket of the cart. SuperSam rode in the little seat up front, and we piled the groceries carefully around the baby in the basket. It was always a gamble to decide whom to wear and whom to put in the basket...the honor of being worn always went to the one most likely to melt down mid-trip. 

Learn to love the giant cart.
If you can shop someplace with the super-size giant carts (you know, the ones you almost need a commercial driver's license to operate), it's worth it...especially if they have little kiddie steering wheels built in. (Ours don't.) They are just about impossible to steer because of their size. The sheer mass of them makes them hard to stop, too, so don't be coming out of the end of that aisle too quickly without a clear turn signal.

Don't expect people to move out of your way, either. You'd think they would, seeing as how your cart weighs as much as a tractor trailer and could squish them flat...but they won't. People in grocery stores seem to have a special, all-encompassing need to have the right of way (even when they are obviously in the wrong).

You might be tempted to let a kid who is on the edge of being too big for the cart walk along beside you. Resist temptation. Don't let anyone walk until their legs are too big to fit in the little legholes. It's our rule. Yes, they are all capable of walking...and if we are all together at the grocery store, none of them are allowed to do it. Buckle them in and fly, mama.

4. Have a built-in motivator. This is ours, positioned perfectly as we leave the checkout line and make a beeline for the exit:

Yes, you may cheer loudly for your coin as it circles around.

Bribing children is not inherently wrong, especially if it benefits a good cause. If I had a nickel for every nickel I've given the Children's Miracle Network, I'd have a lot more nickels than I do.

5. Plan and execute your checkout line strategy.

Let the kids put stuff on the conveyor belt so they will be distracted and won't bug you for candy. Find the non-candy aisle if you can. I've been known to check out in gardening or electronics to avoid the front end lines with their rows and rows of candy and toys. Only do this if you don't have any produce that needs weighing, or the electronics guy gets really, really irritated. (Lesson learned.)

This, in the checkout line, seems to be mocking me.
Checkout is so, so boring. It makes me physically itchy with longing to leave the store, and I'm 34 years old. How do I expect little folks with 4 or less years of life experience to survive it without some entertainment?

I try to always be prepared to dance and sing in the checkout line if I don't want my children to scream.  People might look at me funny, but I'd rather them stare at me for being silly and proactive than for snapping reactively at my crabby kiddos.

Sometimes I play peek-a-boo with them using a baby picture of SuperSam that I carry in my wallet. (I don't have any wallet pictures of my girls because I got a smartphone and I'm kind of lazy.) Sometimes I sing Itsy Bitsy Spider with funny voices and extra made-up verses. Sometimes I pretend my fingers are a little bug crawling up their legs and arms. We play I Spy, recite poems, and count fingers and toes...anything to get through that crucial ten minutes.

 (Lord, have mercy if it is more than ten minutes.)

One more helpful tip that makes a big difference for me- if the children are doing a good job (or even a marginal job) in the store, tell them. More than once.  Maybe you don't have the energy to write out your list and illustrate it so they can help you find what's next even if they can't read yet. Maybe you don't have the stamina to let them touch and smell all the onions or to compare the different types of cruciferous veggies or to count all the bananas in Mandarin.

Whatever. Nobody's sending scouts into grocery stores to look for Supermom.

It doesn't take much extra effort to converse with children when they aren't doing something we want them to stop doing...yet so many times, if they don't need help or a correction, we leave them to their own devices. Try this: while you are cruising around the store picking up your stuff, just talk to them about what you're doing ("Look! Crackers go into the basket,") and tell them every now and then that they are doing great. It takes some real concentration, since your brain is busy trying not to forget stuff. Just do it anyway. Don't stop telling them the ways that they are doing a good job. It helps them remember that this is your expectation. It has the added benefit of making other people in the store think that you are a really great parent.

And guess what? You are.

Take a deep breath. You can do this. And then you can go through the drive-thru and get yourself a Diet Coke on the way home.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mondays are for catching up, right?

We are back from the beach. The biggest difference in being away and being home is that at home, I feel like I have to DO all these things! It's almost 9pm and I'm just sitting down. I bet at the beach I'd have an hour of accumulated sitting by now, at least.

Vacation was fun- not relaxing, exactly, but neither is my regular life. I had some relaxing moments...lots of porch sitting, some beach sitting, and a lot of chasing my little ones on the beach (and up and down the three flights of stairs in the beach house!).

I would like to hug the person who invented baby gates.

So, what did we do on our trip?

SuperSam had his first try at miniature golf and played 36 holes straight.
(He almost fell asleep in his ice cream afterward, but he had a great time!)

All of us loved visiting the aquarium. Some people thought the water installation with the metal fish outside the front door was the most exciting part.

But girls, there are REAL fish inside...

We did some kite flying

That is a dollar-aisle kite from Target. Just saying.

some lighthouse looking

and some pier walking.

We went to the beach every day, even when it was raining. (As SuperSam pointed out, "You were gonna get wet anyway, so what's the issue?")

We smiled the whole time, all day and all night, and no one ever cried or had a huge stinking tantrum in a restaurant because she didn't want to sit in her chair. I felt rejuvenated and refreshed and completely delighted at all times.

(Um, no. I wasn't always patient, and I didn't enjoy every single moment. I didn't yell at anyone, though, and the general feeling of I-am-totally-and-completely-overwhelmed was less than usual.)

If you want to see more vacation photos, come visit me on Instagram (I'm dere_abbey). I'll be sharing more pictures as the week goes on.

In other news, marathon training starts today! The Richmond Marathon is just 130 days away.
I'm using the Marathon: Finish It plan from Train Like A Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea.

Here is a shameless Amazon affiliate link: if you buy this book from Amazon after clicking on this link, they will send me about 20 cents! If five of you did that, I'd have enough for a McDonald's ice cream cone. Almost. Not including tax. 


Marathon training and running in general aren't the entire focus of my life (obviously!), but for the next few months, I will be devoting a big chunk of time to training for this race. You can expect some updates as I go, although I'm not yet sure how many marathon posts I'll be writing.

Finally, Surviving Our Blessings now has a Facebook page. I have resisted setting one up because my blog and my life are so closely linked. I wasn't sure there was a point in separating my personal Facebook page from the blog. Over the past weeks, though, I've found more and more reasons to make a page just for the blog. Here are some of them:

1. There's often content I'd like to quickly share with my readers. I could start making a weekly "links" post to share these things, but I'd rather post them on Facebook.

2. I'm hopeful that we can create a community to discuss some of those things...and it seems like discussion is more likely if there's a space made for it to happen. Facebook works so well for that, even for people who don't generally comment on blogs.

3. I don't want anyone to feel awkward about following my personal page just because we might not have known each other since preschool.

4. All the cool people are doing it.

5. Oh, who am I kidding? Resistance is futile. Facebook is going to take over the world!

So pop over and like the page if you are on Facebook, please. That's where all the good things are going to happen.

(Now I will go do something else away from the computer so as to avoid feeling like I'm waiting at the mailbox for RSVPs for my own party. It kind of feels like I'm watching to see if you will check the box on a note I've just passed you asking if you want to be my friend.)

I so hope you will, though! It won't be as much of a party without you.