Day Off

It’s 5 P.M. and I have decided I’m taking the day off, today.  Between the Kindergartener crying before school, the toddler’s epic battle at nap time and the almost 4 year-old locking us all out of the bathroom, I’m declaring myself done for the day.

My patience level is at a negative zero and I’m tired of expecting myself to somehow dig out another ounce.  Today, I just want to go back to being me before children.  It’s impossible I know, and not something I’m going to want once I see them all sleeping peacefully on the baby monitor later, but right now, I just want to pretend that I don’t have to always think about my actions all of the time.

I don’t want to set any more examples today of how to keep your cool when you really want to blow your lid.  I don’t want to care about many bites of healthy food they eat, how much screen time they are getting, or the size of their poop in the potty.

I’m dreaming of binge-watching my favorite TV shows, of long, uninterrupted phone conversations, and eating junk food without having to hide it.  I’m going to imagine myself sleeping until it gets boring, reading until I get a headache, and shopping in a speciality boutique store just because I can.

Tomorrow, I’ll grab my coffee and get back on the parent horse- making sure my kids eat their protein for breakfast, clean up after themselves, and behave like good citizens.  But today, I’m giving myself a break.  I’ll go through the motions tonight to feed them and get them to bed, but if all hell breaks loose, I. don’t. care. because. I’m. done. today.  Join Me!

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Pre-Baby Days

My Children, My Teachers

“Honour thy father and thy mother.” One of the 10 Commandments. Most of us were raised to regard our parents as our superiors.  “Because I said so” is an oh-so familiar phrase in most households. We consider our children OURS. They belong to us. It is our job to guide them.

But what if we, instead, regard our children as our teachers?

I’ve been reading a great deal of parenting books this summer: The Conscious Parent and The Awakened Family both by Dr. Shefali, The Whole Brain Child by Drs. Siegel and Bryson are just a few. Very honestly, I typically feel resistant to pick them up and read them. I fight a feeling of eye-rolling, as if to say “Don’t I do enough, already? I hardly have time to read as it is, do I really want to spend my time thinking more about my children?” And yet, I am left with a sense of clarity after every page. A tiny shift in perspective that feels like a fresh breath of air.

Instead of only focusing on the wisdom we have to bestow on our offspring, what if we opened our heart to the lessons they are teaching us every day? For instance, patience. Slowing down so they can keep up when we walk, slowing down our speech so they can understand, slowing down our schedules so that we have time to marvel at their magnificence. Slowing down when we rush them to get their shoes, jackets and seatbelt on. Witnessing them learn. Viewing the wonder of the world from their eyes.

Or how about our capacity to love? Our hearts have never experienced a love this fierce. We love them so much that when they disappoint us we feel it personally within our own hearts, as if it is a reflection of us. Perhaps it is. Perhaps rather than focusing our anger on them, we could open our hearts to the lesson it has taught us on how to be a better parent. Perhaps we could learn to love ourselves as much as we love them.

Forgiveness. Murderers have parents who still love them, in spite of their evildoings. Maybe we can learn to forgive others or even ourselves with the grace we give our own children.

When we start to witness our children as our teachers, we release the pressure of parenting perfectly. We wait, we watch, we consider and we enjoy.  We grow as they grow and love them not only for who they are, but also for all they have taught us.

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Nourish

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Camille Vaughan Photography

Songwriters often say they write their greatest music after a heartbreak.  Athletes play their best game after a significant loss.  In the midst of tragedy, artists and writers create their masterpieces.  It’s almost as if we need conflict to have depth and gain insight.

I wrote a lot last year.  I was surviving.  Consumed by my parental responsibilities, struggling to find my identity.

I was so focused on how much I felt my kids were draining me, that I neglected to recognize how much they have nourished my soul.

It’s hard to have perspective when you are physically exhausted, overwhelmed, and consumed.

But my heart has never known a love like this.  Without them, I never would have known its depths.  And I never would have understood God’s love for me as well as I do now.

My children have taught me patience, the joy in the simple things, and selflessness.  They challenge me to be the best version of myself, because they are watching every. single. thing. I. do. and. say.

They give me something to look forward to every morning and in all the years to come, watching them grow in character and personality.

I wrote a lot last year, when I was barely treading water.  But now, I’m simply enjoying making memories with them.  Hopefully that is something worth reading.

When Multitasking Hurts

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Emma Jane at 18 Months Old

Emma nearly died twice today before 11 a.m..  Both incidents were fully preventable.  Both incidents were caused because I was distracted.

The first was at 9 a.m.  I was getting the five and three year-old ready for swim lessons and needed to grab their goggles from inside the Protect-a-Child pool fence.  Emma followed me into the backyard and fussed at the fence, wanting to get into the pool.  I quickly told her we didn’t have time and heard the gate swing shut behind me as I walked back into the sun-room, fully expecting her to follow.

Some of the items I gathered from outside were still a little wet, so instead of bringing them inside, I dropped them on the sun-porch floor and thought to look for a bag.  I heard Emma continuing to fuss in the background, which is when I turned around to see her opening the pool gate.

It had closed, but had not latched.

Had I not seen her, she would have been in that pool, drowning in the next 5 seconds.

It scared me to death.

The next incident was right around 11 a.m.  We had returned from swim lessons and a grocery trip and I started carrying the bags inside the house.  Emma loves to play in the garage with all of her yard toys and was happily distracted with her tricycle and cars.  The big girls were setting up a large blanket for our picnic.

I took one more peek at Emma in the garage before organizing lunch for the four of us, leaving the kitchen door to the garage largely cracked so I could still see her.

That’s when I heard the scream.

I ran outside, to find Emma in the middle of the street, a car stopped just in front of her.  Her older sisters helplessly standing in the grass, witnessing Emma running in the road to get the ball that had rolled down the driveway.

We live on a half-acre lot but 30 seconds was all it took for Emma to make it from the garage to the middle of the road.

I had turned my back to dish out broccoli and chicken nuggets into the plates and my baby almost died.  Again.

I feel foolish.  I feel unqualified to be a mother.  I feel angry with myself.  I feel sad for my older daughters who experienced that terror and whose screams were the only reason I knew what had happened.  I feel gratitude for the mercy God bestowed TWICE on my child today.  I feel the need to share this story, to remind others how quickly distraction can kill.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I should have double checked the pool gate like I have 1,000 other times, but today, I was in a hurry and I didn’t.

I never should have left Emma alone in the garage, even if I could see her from the kitchen, because she is 18 MONTHS OLD.  But the thought of trying to prepare lunch for the four of us while she screamed and cried at the kitchen door versus her happily playing with her toys, propelled me to make that poor decision.

I tell my girls all of the time that it just takes once to break a bone, to fall, to drown, etc.  I don’t want them living in perpetual fear but I do want them to understand that just because we got lucky once, doesn’t mean we will again.

We live in a world that enables multi-tasking.  Bluetooth capabilities to talk while driving in our car and Apple watches on our wrist to alert us of a text as we jog.  It seems there are never enough hours in a day to finish everything we want accomplished, which is why we feel proud when we are able to “kill two birds with one stone”.  But at what cost?

Today, it almost cost me the life of my youngest child.

Yesterday, distraction surely caused someone else to lose theirs.

Just a week ago, I watched a chilling video that forced me to become a less-distracted driver.  I started putting my phone out-of-sight in the car, as a result of this video but gradually, my phone has made its way back onto the middle console.

It seems ridiculous that I could be so careless, when this entire video is about how “better-than-most” is not sufficient.  The pool fence is a step-up from no fence at all, but it’s worthless if it isn’t closed.  The cracked garage door is only helpful if I keep my eye on that crack the entire time, which is impossible.

None of us is perfect, but this video and what happened to my family this morning, has been a much-needed reminder of the importance of constant-vigilance when driving and caring for children.

I’m not waiting for God to grant me any more second-chances.  I’m so grateful I didn’t have to learn these lessons the most horrible, worst-way imaginable.  I’m taking His grace and slowing down.  I hope you will, too.

The Video that Changed My Life

Secret Garden

Waiting until the last sliver of light hits the horizon against the ocean. Sleeping in on Saturdays. Literally dancing in the moonlight on the dock of a bay.

Why on Earth would we give these things up to have children?

They don’t sleep, they cry, we lose ourselves.

We have them because they are our Secret Garden.

Sure, no one tells you how difficult nursing is when you are so focused on the birth. You tune out the laments of “teething”, “twos” and “teens”.

You focus on that tiny baby in your arms. Who grows and challenges you and rules your schedule.

Sometimes you daydream of life before children.

But then you remember your heart.

You’ve never known a love like this before.  It’s unlike any other.

And then you see your mother for the first time.

It’s like an awakening.

A Secret Garden.

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My husband, Emmett.

Pause

Refresh the water cups, pull back the covers, turn on the night-light.  In the midst of my nightly bedtime routine, I stop dead in my tracks and look around.  I take in the trinkets, the treasures, the brightly colored toys and the marks on the walls as if I am seeing it all for the first time.

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Lately, I’ve been listening.  Everyone tells me to enjoy this phase while it lasts because in the blink-of-an-eye, it will be gone and I will wonder where all of the time went.  It’s just so easy to get distracted in the day-to-day rush and to miss the gradual evolution of our children.  Board books become picture books then chapter books.  Doll babies become barbies and diapers become underwear.

I kneel down on the ground and look around the room from their perspective.  I can see inside the tiny oven but am in awe of how large the bed appears.  In a decade, surely they’ll feel it is too small for them.

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I want to freeze this moment.  I close my eyes and thank God for these children.  For the opportunity to be their mother, for this life I have been granted.  I am overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude for the tiny teacups, the stuffed animals, and for those God-forsaken barbie shoes I always seem to step on in my bare feet.

I will remind myself to do this more often.  To appreciate the perfect imperfections of our daily lives for the days may seem long now, but soon I will wish for them back.  And I don’t want to regret not taking a moment to pause and marvel at these miracles we’ve created.

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Giving From The Heart

Print“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.

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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 🙂

For more information about Project Night Night, click here: www.projectnightnight.org