Do you remember when you tasted something for the first time?
The equal mixture of excitement and apprehension?
That’s how I am feeling these days.
Just when I thought things with our youngest couldn’t get any harder, they hit (what I hope is) rock bottom back in December 2020. My husband and I were surviving on fumes- every night wondering if we should take our daughter to the hospital to find some magical cure for her nightmare flaring skin. I was in the bathtub with her nightly at 2 am to help calm the itch and waking up at 7 a.m. to homeschool her three big sisters, thanks to the pandemic. We knew we could not survive much longer.
So we prayed. We asked everyone we knew to pray and add her to their prayer list and we searched. I spent hours and days and weeks and months researching and meeting with specialists of every kind from Virginia to Pennsylvania to Michigan and California to find any possible relief as we all, particularly she, continued to endure a living hell.
We changed her diet, we had her relentlessly tested for multiple issues and within the last month, she has improved.
But what happens after?
What happens once you emerge from trauma?
I’ve been waking up with Elizabeth every night for three years and even my pregnancy with her was ridden with weekly appointments due to concerns with her growth.
How do I adapt to “normal”?
I’ve been changing diapers for over 9 years nonstop and now she is potty training.
It amazes me how much we take for granted on a daily basis. It isn’t until we injure our toe that we recognize how much we failed to appreciate it fully-functioning. The same could be said for a heater in winter or a dependable car. But perhaps the thing we take for granted most is our voice.
Recently, my girls and I visited a children’s play place. I typically only frequent these madhouses during “off” times- anyone interested in a 3 PM dinner? See you at Chick-Fil-A. My strategy is part small-talk avoidance combined with reduced noise level and chaos for my 2, 4 and 6 year-old girls to navigate. Nonetheless, there’s no way to totally avoid socialization unless we stay home and since I’m not trying to raise my daughters in a bubble, I embrace these encounters for what they are: learning opportunities.
So when an 18 month-old recently took particular interest in my social-anxiety-ridden 4-year-old, I prepared my lesson. To any outsider, it was adorable. A little blue-eyed, towheaded boy recognized himself in our Harper’s similar features and grabbed a hold of her hand. To her credit, Harper attempted to roll with it until he refused to let go and followed her no matter how far she ran. With pleading eyes, she looked to me for help.
A few weeks later, in a different establishment, I was alarmed to hear my two-year old crying for the third time in twenty minutes. Since the play place was three stories tall with covered tube slides too small for my 9 month-pregnant butt to crawl into, I couldn’t figure out what had happened during the first two instances, but at the third outburst, the sibling of a child explained her sister had pinched my little Emma, for no apparent reason. Later, in the car, after discussing it with my older two girls, it was revealed that this same child had hit my four and six year old on the head at the bottom of the slide.
I asked what they did in response and they said they ignored her and kept on playing.
Although I’m proud my girls aren’t tattle-tales who cry over the smallest infraction, I immediately thought of the #metoo movement and recognized how imperative it was for me to ensure my girls knew that it is OK and IMPORTANT for them to use their voice.
I could see it in Harper’s face- she didn’t want to hurt the little boy’s feelings by asking him to stop holding her hand. And I knew my eldest didn’t want to disrupt the balance of play by complaining about the head-hitting but isn’t this what the #metoo movement is all about? Women afraid to speak up because of the potential repercussions?
I recognized right then and there that being encouraged to use their voice was something that had to be explicitlytaught at a very young age. I was struck at the realization that I had assumed my girls would know what to do in those situations and cringed at the thought of ever telling them to “ignore” or “get over it” and keep playing.
I looked at my girls square in the face and explained, “Your body is YOUR body. It belongs to you. If someone ever hits you or touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you must use your VOICE to tell that person to stop.”
I continued with an example.
“When that little girl hit you, you had every right to say, ‘That hurt me. Do not do that again. If you do, I will not play with you.'”
Simple. And yet why does it feel so hard to stand up for ourselves? I explained that if the girl or hand-holding little boy continued, then my girls should find an adult to help, just as a woman in a workplace should seek the assistance of her boss.
These things we take for granted must not be overlooked any longer. I feel so fortunate that my daughters are growing up in the midst of the #metoo movement, when women are empowered to come forward after years of silence. The fact of the matter is, though, many of these women did go to their bosses and were punished as a result, taught to remain silent.
No more. No longer. We will teach our children to use their voice so that silent acquiescence becomes the thing of generations past.
“Another thing,” I told them. “We are a family and we stick together. If you ever see your sister in trouble, you stand by her and help. You are not alone.” With this, my 6 year-old’s precious lips turned upward into a knowing smile. Empowered.
“In lieu of gifts, please bring donation items for the food pantry.” When I recently received this note on an invitation for a five year-old’s birthday party my first reaction was, “That is so sweet. What a great idea!” My second reaction was, “Should I do this for my five year-old’s party, too?”
Lately, I’ve been in purge-mode. Simplifying. I want to spend less time picking up toys and more time playing with my children.
I’ve also been yearning to teach my daughter the true joy that comes from giving to those with needs, greater than our own. But with a 1, 3 and 4 year-old in tow, time to grocery shop is hard to come by, let alone visits to nursing homes, food pantries, and homeless shelters.
This idea to accept donations in lieu of gifts seemed like the perfect solution. I would prevent more stuff coming into the house and provide my daughter the opportunity to put other’s needs in front of her own. This would be a great lesson not only for her but also for her friends!
Except that she didn’t want to do it. “But I want to open presents, mommy!” She’s been counting down the days to her birthday for the last 364 days and now I was encouraging her to forgo the gift-giving? This was not exciting for her. She seemed genuinely concerned about the kids that didn’t have a home but she still wanted presents for herself. What is a mom to do?
I reached out to my friends on social media who provided a mountain of great advice. I soon realized the following things:
The joy of giving is when it comes from the heart, not when you are forced to do so.
There is plenty of time in the future for me to get my children involved in volunteer work. There’s no need to combine it with a birthday, unless my child is on-board.
As the oldest, Aurora has always had to share her things. Something I had not considered when comparing her to the friend, who is an only child, that asked for food donations.
I should not compare my daughter to other children or myself to other mothers. We all have different situations.
Implement a “new toy in, old toy out” rule. Involve Aurora in selecting the toys to donate.
Many small actions can be more impactful than one single great action. I can teach my children the joy of giving all year-long by continually donating our clothes, food, and toys. We can participate in toy drives. We can continue to pick up trash and do nice things for our neighbors, just because. There are always teachable moments.
I want to continue to be mindful about the pressure I put on myself and the possibility of me transferring that pressure onto my child. I don’t want to turn Aurora off from doing good-deeds because her “mom made her” when she was little. I want her to give because it makes her feel good. I want her to pray because she wants to talk to God, not because she fears the consequences of not doing so. And I want her to enjoy the thrill of opening her birthday gifts, free of guilt.
In my excitement to turn Aurora’s birthday into a charitable operation, I found an incredible organization. It’s called “Project Night Night”. I was going to order bags from this charity and ask Aurora’s friend’s to bring a new or gently used stuffed animal, blanket and book to her party. After the activities of the day, we would all sit down and stuff the bags to give to children in nearby shelters.
Although I don’t think we are going to do this any longer for her birthday, I think I might still organize an opportunity for us to do this with some friends. That way she can still receive gifts and we can still give to those in need. In other words, we can all have her cake and eat it, too 🙂
People often tease me for taking too many photos; Nonetheless, they admire the gallery walls I’ve created in our homes over the years as well as our dozens of photo books. Friends often remark, “I am so overwhelmed by how many photographs I have, I don’t even know where to start.” So they don’t and sadly, their photos remain in their phones, cameras, computers or in a printed-stack collecting dust. Today, I am going to share the process of creating a Gallery Wall. Continue reading →