Friday, February 22, 2013

Student of You Badge

You know those moments when you've been thinking about something – processing, analyzing, chewing on it – but you don't know how to describe it, how to say it. It's not clear in your mind. You can't seem to say it just right.

So, you start babbling about it (for the hundredth time) and it's not coming out right (for the hundredth time). And then the kind and patient person listening to you share about it (for the hundredth time) sums up your thoughts so clearly, so flawlessly, you just can't help but gasp from the sudden burst of clarity, "Yes. That is it. That is exactly it."

I had one of those moments this week. Ahhhhh. I love those moments. They're like a breath of fresh air, aren't they? You feel so understood, so clear.

Here's how it happened for me.

I started going to a counselor a few months ago. I was craving a space to just be, a space where I could focus on me. I noticed earlier this Fall that I was feeling sad a lot. Everything in my life was going well, but I still just felt sad. That's always a sign to me that I need an intervention. That and the fact that my mom took me out to lunch and began our conversation with, "Honey, you know your dad and I love you. But, we think you might need some help."

I thought about going on medication, which has helped me in the past. But this time the sad feelings weren't as strong, so I decided I might try some other things first (diet, mood journal, exercise, counseling). I still eat pretty terribly. I just try to throw in an occasional green smoothie and keep my daily grape intake higher than my cheetoh count. The mood journal is helpful. Exercise, bleh. Trying. But give me an hour every couple of weeks where I just get to sit and talk. Um, hello! Counseling is a perfect fit for me! Anyway. All that to say, so far so good. One day at a time, folks.

Back to my moment.

I was verbally barfing on my counselor this week about how I never feel good enough. I'm never a good enough wife, a good enough mom, a good enough friend, a good enough anything. I'm overwhelmed. I look at books and magazines and Facebook and Pinterest and I watch my superstar mom friends and I am overwhelmed. Why can't I get my sh*t together? Sounds ridic, I know. But it's my thing. We all have our things, right?

After several minutes of, well, everything you just read, here's what she said. Are you ready? This is the moment, my moment.

"Lauren, it sounds to me like you spend so much time studying other people's lives. You've neglected to study yourself. You've become a student of other people instead of becoming a student of you."

A student of you.

I have to write it just one more time. A student of you.

She's so right. It's so true. I am a good student. At least once I got to college I was. When I decide to study something, I'm all in. I work hard at it. And I've been working really hard at studying other people and their lives. How can I/we help it? I log in to Facebook and I study my friends' lives. I study how others decorate and craft and eat and exercise on Pinterest. I study the daily lives and thoughts of bloggers. I study the lives of celebrities on TMZ or in magazines at the checkout aisle. I study my friends. I study moms at the library, the grocery store, the doctor's office.

I study, study, study. And then I compare, compare, compare. And then I never, ever, ever measure up.

I've spent so much time studying other people that I've started trying to make my life look like theirs, not mine. It seems like other people have it so much more together or they're so much cooler or their life is so much better. I try to do it their way. But I'm finding it just never works.

Yes, there is a mulititude of insight and wisdom and strength we can glean from others. That's what makes community so valuable, right? Not doing life alone, learning from the experience of others. But then there's a point where we have to recognize that their life is their life. It's not my life. My life is my life. My life is uniquely my life. My life is my gift. I am called to be a student of my life.

Some words of wisdom from Barbie. Who knew?
What is best for me? What is my purpose? What have I been especially made for?

What is best for my husband? What does being partners in marriage look like for us?

What is best for my family? How have I been uniquely designed to be a mom to Jack, Evelyn, Ella and Henry? A daughter to my parents? A sister?

What is best for my friends? How can I be a blessing to them? A gift? An encouragement?

What is best for my relationship with God? What is He calling me to? What gifts do I have to better this world?

That's what I want to spend my time thinking about, where I want to exert my energy.

I want to be an expert on my life.

A student of you. (There, the third and final time I'll say least in this post.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Want to be Like Kate Badge

You would think after birthing four kids that I should know better.

Jack, my first, he was a dream baby. He never cried. He ate whatever we gave him. He took a pacifier. All that dream baby stuff – he mastered it. He was master dream baby. And I attributed his master dream babyness to my master best mom in the worldness. "Of course, he's a good baby because I'm such a good mom." I never said that out loud, but I always thought it when we were around other non dream babies. "Oh, I'm sorry non dream baby. You have master dream baby potential, but your mom just doesn't know what I know." Because, well, let's be honest, it's all about me, right?

Then I had Evelyn. She ruined my master-ness. She was master rude baby. She was so off-putting to the nurses in the hospital that they actually snickered when we left and wished me "good luck with that one." What had I done? How had I gone wrong? Because, remember, it's all about me?

Evelyn used to toddle around during playdates with her mouth open. I guess it was more convenient that way so when she went in to take a bite out of someone, she just had to bear down instead of open and then close again. I was so embarrassed. How could my child have cannibalistic tendencies?

If Jack was a perfect reflection of my perfect parenting skills – because that's what I thought kids were – then what was Evelyn? Did she mean I was a bad mom? Did she mean I was doing something wrong?

For years I've fought this battle – how much of my kids' crazy do I take ownership of? And on the flip side, how much of the good stuff do I pat myself on the back for? It makes every move, every decision, every circumstance loaded with pressure.

I just spent the last four days in the Bahamas. I met some of the most amazing people on my trip, but one woman, one mama, stands out in particular. Her name is Kate. Kate is 46. She's British, which automatically makes everything she says a thousand times funnier, wittier and smarter. She's a wife to Curtis, a super cool ex-Marine turned U.S. Customs and Border Protection mission specialist guy (Jack Bauer stuff). She's a mama to CJ and Jack. And I'm sure she's a ton of other fabulous things. But I mostly saw her in the mom role. And I just had to find a way to write about her.

I met her son Jack, who is 8, before I met Kate. I didn't really meet him so much as I just watched him run around the pool laughing and smiling and shrieking and shaking rubber snakes. He was so energetic and loud and funny. But not in your average 8-year-old boy sort of way. Jack has Autism. So the way he plays and talks and loves is unique. Some people smiled, some stared, some whispered, some looked startled and some just turned away.

Now meet Kate.

Kate loooooooves Jack. Right away she started telling us about his autism and the funny ways it had been presenting on their trip – his obsession with the color orange and his excitement over the fact that they had found candy corn on the island; his daily, nonstop, minute by minute desire to go to Redmonds, their grocery store at home and get a cookie. "Mom, cookie, go to Redmonds, cookie, red cookie, blue cookie, cookie, Redmonds, go to Redmonds." (Reminder, she's telling us all this in a British accent. Way funnier.)

Kate doesn't work outside the home because she can't find a job that will be flexible enough to give her a day off when Jack is having a meltdown. Kate throws carnivals for hundreds of people in her backyard with ponies – like real, live ponies, people. She has raised $50,000 for Autism Speaks. CJ, Jack's older brother, adores Jack and is so playful and lovey (something I'm sure Kate had a part in fostering!). And when Jack says to her for the 50th time in 50 seconds, "Mom, go to the beach, beach, beach, Mom, go to the beach." She kisses his head, rubs his hair and pushes him away to go run around.

And what else is so great about Kate is that Jack totally gets on her nerves and she isn't afraid, self-conscious or embarrassed to show it or shout it (with a drink in her hand, might I add). "Go away, Jack." "Out of my face, Jack." "Quiet, Jack." "Enough, Jack." "Stop it now, Jack."

When Jack is screaming and people are staring, Kate doesn't seem to care (Not the kind of not caring where she just ignores his crazy, but the kind where she's not looking around to see what anyone else thinks of Jack's outburst). When Jack is standing too close to someone at the pool bar or almost whipping someone with his rubber snake or eating the food off his plate with his hands and subsequently dropping a bunch on the ground, Kate isn't cringing. It's like she's totally free of the "this kid is a reflection of me and if he doesn't act just right, it's all on me" thing.

I watched in awe, with envy, really. Kate wasn't tallying up what Jack did that was good or bad that day – what his decisions around the pool meant for his future, what they indicated about her parenting style or her personhood. She just enjoyed Jack and was annoyed by Jack and laughed at Jack in every new moment.

I'm not saying Kate never has minutes or days or weeks of second-guessing, doubting, crying, analyzing. But I would characterize her as free. Can you imagine? What if we were that free? Free from over-thinking? Free from second-guessing? Free from dissecting the whys of every action our children take? Free to just be in every new moment to love fully, laugh fully, be frustrated fully and then to move on freely and fully to the next new moment.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Not Doing Badge

She does crafts with her kids.
She does themed dinner nights.
She does homeschooling.
She does Shutterfly books ... every year (a feat of supernatural proportion, might I add).
She does the room parent thing.

She does.

Does, does, does...

Do, do, do...

Moms are almost exclusively praised for what they do. Mom blogs, mom books, mom clubs. This doing thing is what Pinterest-lovers live for. Highest accolades to the moms "doing" the coolest stuff, right?

Do you know what the definition of "do" is? Just to be clear, it means to perform a particular task, to work on something to bring it to completion, to solve, to work out.

Well, I've been thinking lately that maybe we've got it backward. Our focus is askew. Like what if the doing isn't as worthy of our attention as the not doing?

What if what I don't do as a mom is actually more significant, astounding and awe-inspiring than what I do do?

Case and point.

Evelyn slipped getting out of the bathtub last night. No big deal. Oh, wait. Yeah, she's 5. She's a girl. And, there's that little tidbit of her being my daughter (drama runs deep and strong). She howled like she'd been mauled by a vicious animal, all the while pushing bedtime back minute after precious minute.

Here's what I wanted to do people. I wanted to scream at her, "You LIAR. Suck it up, sister. I've seen you fall harder than that like 10 times today. Don't play me. Get up. Go. MMMMOOOOVVVVVEEEEE IT, before I (insert some sort of freakish inappropriate ninja move here)."

That's what I wanted to do.

Here's what I did. Or didn't do, I guess I should say. I didn't yell. I didn't ridicule. I didn't karate chop.

Way harder than the doing, peeps. Praiseworthy? Ummm, yes. Blog worthy? Uh, yeah. Book worthy? I'm hoping after someone reads this they'll think so!

Further proof to support my theory...

Jack didn't want to go to his Odyssey of the Mind meeting yesterday. He actually cried about it. In protest he decided to lock himself in the bathroom and take the longest poop ever. Gross, yes. But I think a necessary detail to set the scene.

What I wanted to do? Well, duh. I wanted to kick down that damn door, toss him over my shoulders and remind him (in a loud, scary drill sergeant voice), "Boys don't cry." I know, I know. A totally damaging thing to say. But I didn't say it, so it doesn't matter. No lectures needed on making a safe place for my little guy to share his emotions BECAUSE I DIDN'T DO IT.

Do you see what I'm saying? I'd take the doing any day. It's the not doing that's so much harder. Do you know how much of my day is spent not doing?

The old woman is counting her pennies out one by one by one in the grocery checkout lane while my kids pull candy off the shelves and point at Jessica Simpson's large breasts on the cover of Us Magazine. I want to jump over my cart, shove that woman aside, rip the wallet out of her hands and shout, "Get on with it, already." But I don't.

The man cutting across the parking lot in his large SUV almost runs into my van (More evidence to support my belief that men stink at driving near any and all shopping centers. That's a post for another day). I want to jump out of my car, slam my fists on the hood of his shiny Escalade and scream, "Slow the (insert something totally offensive here. Or something like 'heck' for my kind-hearted friends. 'Heck' is what I was going to say - promise!!) down." But I don't.

This not doing is not for the faint of heart, I'm telling you. And for an affirmation junky like myself, I have a hard time keeping on, or not keeping on. Not sure which one it is. If you knew how many things I didn't do just this morning, you'd be bowing in reverence!

So, pat yourself on the back today for everything you didn't do. Tell a friend, "You're the best didn't doer I know!"

(Thank you, Matt Gravelle, for being my not doing inspiration!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Baby Food Badge

I almost wrote on Facebook last week something like this, "Making baby food today. Two sweet potatoes, a butternut squash, a bag of peas and bananas – man, this kid can eat." But due to my unhealthy obsession with not making people feel bad – "What if a person who reads this doesn't have time to make their baby homemade food? What if that person, I don't know, doesn't have the capability to? No food processor, blender, fresh veggies, water? Or what if they're sick, their kid is sick or dying (yep, I live in crazy town), whatever!" – of course I didn't end up posting it. Irrational? Maybe. Hypersensitive, no ... or yes (according to Michael). I just call it thoughtfulness (and/or insecurity).

Anyway, back to baby food. Michael asked if we could cut Henry's six-jar-a-day habit. It was wreaking havoc on our grocery budget. I complied and spent all this time and put forth this incredible effort (chopping, pureeing, cleaning, storing) to feed my baby some fresh, less expensive food and well, he hates it. And the hatred runs deep. He sees it coming in the ice cube tray and he turns his tight-lipped mouth away from me and stares. It's showdown time. I stare back at him wide-eyed, willing him to blink first, because then his defeat in our staring contest would guarantee my dominance, his submission and subsequent healthy food eating, right? Isn't that how it goes? You blink, you lose, sucka. Seriously. Who does this? I hope you. I hope I'm not the only one.

Well, that's never how it goes here. I have staring contests with all of my kids and they almost always win.  And even when their bright blues can't keep their lids open for one moment longer, they still don't admit defeat and do what I command. Henry is just following suit, I guess. So, we've tried changing it up. They say 50 percent of eating is visual. I wouldn't want my dinner served from an ice cube tray. Now we sneak the food out of the fridge and pour it in a baby food jar. What's more attractive about a glass jar than the tray? I don't know. But even after our craftiness, he still knows. Can you believe it? He still knows the difference. How?

Here is where I'd like to take a moment to dedicate a song to my dear, sweet Henry.

Despite Henry's eery and frequent displays of omniscience, I'm still not convinced he's a deity (I don't think someone with superhuman powers would sit content with poop seeping up their back or snot dribbling into their mouth. They'd take care of business.).

So how does he know? Why does he prefer the jar? I'm wondering if I've stumbled on to something big here. I didn't know this was genetic. That perhaps I have a special gene that has now been passed on to him. A gift I have that will keep on giving for generations now. And what is that gift, gene, more likely? I don't know it's official name. But I'm thinking it's something like the "I crave processed food, lather me in high fructose corn syrup and shoot trans fat in my veins" gene. It can't be helped. It's genetic. I can't blame Henry. He's at the mercy of the gene pool. I was/am, too.

Spaghettios (Chef Boyardee)? Check. Mac and Cheese (Kraft, not Annie's). Yes, please. Twinkies? Mmmm. Donuts (Fresh or in Little Debbie bag) Whatev. Corned Beef Hash (Not the Real Food Cafe kind, IHOP kind.) For sure.

While I have had years to curb my outlandish – some say unhealthy, I'll say genetic – cravings and can now drink green smoothies without gagging (Thank you, Amanda), poor Henry has only been fighting this genome battle for a few months. (Did I mention he's also refusing the boob right now?) Formula it is. He takes his convictions (genes) seriously. He's all in. Except for the fact that his formula is organic. Take that, little man.

Today for lunch? Peas and carrots ... in the jar. But wait, they're organic, too. Mom 2, Henry 0.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Time Flying Badge

This is about minute 33 of the fit where she screams, "Stop taking pictures of me."
Usually I write during nap time. Today I'm changing things up. We are in minute 43 of my almost 3 year old's time out. You might be able to hear her at your house right now. It sounds like the Exorcist meets late-night neighborhood cat/rabbit fight. I keep asking her if she's ready to be all done. After I'm brutally rebuffed, she breaks into a violent fist-pumping rendition of the "Oompa Loompa" song.

Yes. This is for real. I couldn't in my wildest dreams make this up.

Last week I almost blogged about having the perfect day; about how for a brief moment I had been given a reprieve from crazy town. I wanted to write about it, but I just couldn't do it. One, because I knew some of my friends weren't having that kind of day. And two, because I knew it wasn't going to last.

With a few exceptions, if I am really happy or really sad or really angry or really anything, I can hold my breath and the moment has passed. There isn't a lot of time for basking. It seems that every moment, every experience is fleeting - at least in this season of my life. I feel like for the first time I believe, I understand, I live within the constraints of "time flying."

On our three-day road trip home from Maine a few weeks ago, I tried an experiment. Every time I started to have a buildup of angry emotions - like I wanted to shove Michael's iPad down his throat or drop my kids at the rest stop - I would look at the clock and tell myself if I still felt the same way in 15 minutes I would take action. I'm happy to report that Michael's iPad is still intact and all four kids made it home.

This time flying thing is good and bad, isn't it? It's good when I'm mad. Case and point - my husband and kids are safe and well. It's good when I'm feeling down. Today I'm in one of those "Do I have any friends?" funks. Do you have those? Bleh. But I've only been counting my friends and making the "reasons you are not alone list" in my head for about an hour. Already I'm starting to feel better. Time flying is good when I'm discouraged, stressed, lonely, sad. Time flying is good when my kids are naughty, when Michael is a butt or when a vacation is still a month away.

But there are days like last week when I want to reach out and grab time by the throat and tell it to slow the hell down. Maybe to stop all together. I know it's unrealistic and not possible. I know if I stopped time now I'd miss out on great things to come. I know every cliche thing you could tell me about time flying by. I've just been finding it difficult lately to give myself fully to the moment, to really let go and really enjoy and really feel when I know that in the blink of an eye - more like the poke of an eye in our family - it will be gone.

It kind of hurts.

In the middle of the most wonderful occasions I find myself - just for a brief moment, of course, because time is flying - feeling sad. When we're eating dinner with friends, relaxing on a date, chatting with neighbors, sharing our "happy and sads", singing in the car, enjoying our family, I hear a voice that reminds me that this won't last. At least not here.

It's in those gut-aching moments that I'm reminded and hold onto and am deeply thankful for a time coming that is everlasting. A time that is never ending. A time that is endless. A time where my joy is permanent. (A shout out to U2 for writing a song that reminds me of this.)

And as it always does, time has passed and Ella is finished fitting. My writing time is over.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I Don't Know Badge

I am in an endless state of "don't knowing."

What should the kids wear today? I don't know.
Jack just poked Evelyn in the eye. What do I do? I don't know.
It's raining. What should we do today? I don't know.
Evelyn just spit on the floor. What do I do? I don't know.
Can/should the kids have chocolate milk with breakfast/lunch/dinner? I don't know.
Ella won't go to sleep - ever. What do I do? I don't know.
Netflix for one, two, three hours per day? I don't know.
Henry is crying and crying and crying. What do I do? I don't know.


Not knowing is draining. Discouraging. Defeating. A few nights ago the kids were on a major sugar binge after a late-evening birthday celebration. Jack wouldn't go to bed. Every five minutes for about three hours he came out of his room to tell us he couldn't sleep. Five seconds after that Michael would stare at me with that "what the hell do we do" look. Do we let him cuddle in our bed? Do we let him sit up with us? Do we bribe? Do we threaten? I don't know.

This - mothering - is my full time job and most of the time I don't know what I'm doing. I would be fired if I were in any other line of work.

"Doctor, I broke my foot. Can you fix it?"
"Well, I don't know."

"Dentist, I have a cavity. Can you fill it?"
"Hmmm, I don't really know."

I read books on parenting and it seems like the authors know. I look around at other families and their kids are sweet and kind and thoughtful and I assume they know. I talk to my mom role models and they must know. Right?

But I still wonder - does any parent really know? Is it possible to know? Am I alone in my don't knowing? Can I become less don't-ing and more knowing? Will I someday answer questions like - "Should I let the baby cry it out?" "How many bites of food should the kids eat at dinner?" "Organic vs. non-organic" - with confidence and boldness and insight? Will I ever know what to do?

I just heard a really smart guy - Phil Strout - talk about wisdom. He said we don't parachute into wisdom. We step into it with our left foot, our right foot, our left foot, our right foot. It comes gradually, painstakingly and often shows up after the fact. Ugh. Just when I need it most. One husband, four kids and a crazy golden doodle - someone charter me a plane and grab me that chute.

But until that flight shows up, I guess I'm just going to put one foot in front of the other and pray that with each step forward, I'm going to know a little bit more than the one before.

Friday, February 24, 2012

It Is OK Badge

I am not a fun snow day mom. I'll just admit it straight up - I hate snow days. I like the structure, routine and sanity that school brings. I feel guilty admitting that. I think I mostly feel guilty about it because I have some friends that are snow day moms. They love it when their kids are home unexpectedly. And since I don't and I actually enjoy it when my kids are gone for the day, well, what kind of mom am I?

I'd brag about being a snow day mom if I were one. Let's be for real, Facebook is full of status updates from snow day moms! "Watching my little love bugs frolic in the snow while getting hot cocoa ready. Ahhhh. Life is good." But I feel like I have to hide the fact that I'm a "I want my kids at school and yes, a play date for the afternoon at your house mom." What would I, a non-snow day mom, post as a status update today? "Kids watched Netflix over breakfast while I laid in bed still fretting over the snow day. Played play doh for five minutes. Too overwhelmed by the mess. Kids are watching Netflix again." Seriously. No one posts that.

As I'm writing this I just got a text from a pregnant girlfriend that says, "Tell me it's OK that I feel like a MAC truck has hit me and I need a nap 23 out of 24 hours of the day. Oh, and that my kids have watched 2.5 hours of TV already today."

Is it OK? Hell yes it's OK.

Why is it OK? Because while I may not be a snow day mom, a Pinterest mom, a crafty mom, a farmer mom or sometimes even just your average friendly mom, there are a lot of things I am. Good things. Fabulous things that make me the most amazing mom to the four kids I've been given the privilege to raise. I would make a list, but I don't want to get too snow day mom status-updatish. :)

And just to be clear, I'm not bitter at the snow day moms. I do make fun of them (to their faces, not just publicly in my blog!). But I'm glad they're out there. My kids are really glad they're out there. They teach me things and inspire me and let me sit in their kitchen while they organize crafts and make the cocoa. And I think the feeling is mutual. They learn from me and what I'm good at.

So, cheers to the snow day mom! I see one out my window just this minute. And I'm perfectly OK with the fact that I'm not out there frolicking with her.