Tuesday, April 28

Blessed to Be Home...Sometimes I Just Need a Reminder

I waved to my neighbor from our driveway as I loaded Aubrey into her green plastic wagon. The neighbor's belly loomed round and ready in front of her. She was 39 weeks pregnant and ready to be done with the pregnancy, ready to introduce their sweet little girl to her brother, the one who was so handsomely sitting in their own wagon waiting for a ride.

We talked about the weather. I mean obviously, after the winter we just had, one always talks about the weather when they live in Buffalo.

We talked about our birth stories.

We talked about our ob/gyn (we see the same doctor), where to buy girl clothes, and how much fun that whole thing is.

We talked about her maternity leave, which had just started the day before.

She was relieved to not have to manage business phone calls that day, to not have to report somewhere at a designated time, to not have to put on the professional face, or the professional clothes. She was relieved to just have the time to walk her pregnant self down the street, pulling a wagon behind her with her almost two year old son in tow.

She was thrilled to be able to do things I do on many days. Things I can tend to take for granted after being home with my kids for so long.

"You're so lucky to be able to stay home with your girls," she said sweetly and sincerely.

I laughed. Out loud. Not a sarcastic or condescending laugh. More of a chuckle at the timing of her comment. A comment coming just hours after  I had been contemplating how much I missed the professional world, and a more structured sense of "work".

I wasn't sure what to say. A series of mental photographs flashed through my mind...

The one where I try to unload the dishwasher as Aubrey pulls every single piece of silverware out of the kitchen drawer and dumps it on the counter. I just want to finish one task. Just one, I think, as I clean it all up.

The one where I try to fill a sippy cup with juice and discover her with her tongue on the garbage can, her hands inside, pulling things out and distributing them like treasures onto the kitchen floor.

The one where I attempt to throw something in the crockpot, early in the day,  eagerly desiring to feel on top of something, while Aubrey manages to get the top off of the hamster cage and dump the sunflower mix all over the floor. In one, swift, fell swoop.

The one where I try to load groceries into the car and Aubrey throws a fit about being strapped into her car seat. I have to pull out some WWF moves to wrestle her into her seat while she screams and kicks her feet, making me feel like an incredibly inept mother.

The one of myself, crying over a container of blueberries that I spilled on the floor. I'm crying because I don't have the energy to pick up ONE MORE MESS...even if it is my own.

(Yes, it's been said, 'don't cry over spilled milk', but I'd like to venture a thought that it is justified to cry over spilled blueberries at 9:30 p.m. when you're finally getting around to putting them away.)

The one where I am still cleaning up the house at 10:00 p.m. because it looks like the aftermath of a frat party and I beat myself up wondering whether my children really just are this messy or my house management skills really are just that bad?!

Oh, stay at home motherhood...

I love you. I can't keep up with you. You are so very different than what I expected you to be.

I realize as I write these moments down that they, in and of themselves, seem ordinary, mundane and not that big of a deal. The challenge for me, as a stay at home mom, is that the domestics are my reality around the clock. Sometimes I feel like I could handle the blueberries if they hadn't been the 87th item that had spilled and needed to be picked up in just that day alone!

I'll be honest, there have been days when I've  thought (maybe naively) about sitting at a desk, with a task-list by my side, where I can tick things off without someone pulling my computer off of the counter, spilling my smoothie on my lap,  or screaming in my ear while I try to make a doctor's appointment.

I realize my "images" of what it looks like to 'get to go to work' are likely just as accurate as some of the ideas working moms have of what I do at home all day. The truth is that both realities have their own challenges, frustrations, and moments of satisfaction. Unless you are actually living the day-to-day of either one it's easy to dream that the other option looks way better at any given moment.

But this isn't a post about comparing one to another...it's merely a reflection of my thoughts and mostly a reminder to myself to be thankful for where I am at this stage of life.

After being home, mostly full-time, with my kids for the last eight years, I probably would enjoy and appreciate many aspects of showing up at a more structured, out of the house job...for a little while anyways.

And my neighbor, after juggling the working life with daycare drop offs and pick-ups, and all of the other challenges of balancing both, probably would enjoy the flexibility that comes with staying at home...for a little while...maybe a long while...I don't know.

She most definitely would enjoy being able to stay in her yoga pants until noon if she so chooses (;

And it is a treat to take your kids on a walk on any given day... to watch the world through their eyes, and share a juice box in the front yard without the pressure of needing to be somewhere.

Just the other day, as I was walking with Aubrey down the street and listening to her compose sentences about the world she was seeing around her; the birds, the trees, the street, the clouds...everything is new and wondrous to her...I looked back at her and thought, "There is no place I'd rather be."

In that moment that was the absolute truth. Suddenly all of my  discouragement that I was somehow missing out on something bigger and better because I'm not working "professionally" dissipated... for the time being anyway.

She and I moved on to collecting small pebbles at the end of the street. As we dug them out of the grit and dirt with our fingers we would hold our prized findings up for the other to see..."Look, Aubrey, look at the rock mommy found."

"Look momma! Look! Rock!" she would respond, proudly displaying her own.

Somehow those small rocks were all we needed to feel content that afternoon. We gathered them up into a pile and put them in a tall white container that had previously held cereal puffs. We put that container on the counter so that she could show her sisters what she had found and I stared at that container while she napped, grateful for the chance to collect rocks with my little girl earlier in the day.

The truth is that staying at home with your kids can feel tedious sometimes. The house gets trashed, you can feel like you never, ever,  ever leave the kitchen, and trying to do anything while simultaneously entertaining a toddler (or two, or three) is a venture in multi-tasking that takes the most extreme forms of patience (of which I am still attempting to develop).

But despite the fact that being a stay at home mom doesn't always feel like my natural inclination (some days I'd rather be "working" in the more professional sense), it is what I feel called to during this season of my life. While I feel ill equipped for the job on many days, and can even tend to take it for granted, God is teaching me things about myself-- namely who I am in His eyes-- one quiet rock collecting day at a time.

Sometimes I just need a reminder.

Thursday, April 16

Gray Hairs, Sleepless Nights, and Thoughts on Moving Past the Baby Stage

"Hi, my name is Lisa and I gave away my Boppy this week...

If I were an active participant in a live support group for mothers, this is how I would have introduced myself.

"...the pink one with the little purple and white flowers. The one I used to support all three children while I nursed them as infants...just days old. It feels like just yesterday."

"And my changing pad. And a stroller. The first stroller I ever owned. The one my husband painstakingly put together, with the manual by his side, in our first house in Whitinsville, Massachusetts,  months before our daughter was born. The green one with the paisley pattern that matched the pack-n-play that his mom bought for us. It also matched her car seat. The one we brought her home from the hospital in. We spent far too much money on it all. I gave it all away and I want it back. Is that ridiculous?"

Pause. Insert empathetic nods from knowing mommas.

"And clothes. Lots of clothes. I kept some, probably too many, but I've given a ton away. And her high chair. The high chair all three of our children ate all of their first solid food in. The one they whipped potatoes on the floor from. The one I have pictures of them eating their....(insert tears...sniffle...sniffle...wail)...first bite of birthday cake from!!!!"

"I really want to drive back to the crises pregnancy center and re-load it all in my truck. Do you think they would let me have it all back?"

Sympathetic eyes would connect with mine and nod empathetically in reaction to my distress.  

"I'm serious. Do you think they would give it back? I mean, maybe we could build a little baby shrine in our basement...like a hall of history to show the girls all of the stuff that formed and shaped the busy days of their first years?"

Oh mommas...

Letting go is hard to do. Isn't it?

Letting go of the baby stuff is hard because it means letting go of the baby days...and years. The ones that have ticked past us at the speed of light. The ones that painstakingly remind us that the child we bought that stroller for is almost as tall as her mother.  The ones that felt so very long, and somehow, like everyone said, wound up being so very short.

The ones we can scarcely believe may be coming to a very real end... yielding their way, of course, to a whole new chapter of homework, friendships, vacations and memories, but wait...wait...I'm not ready yet.

Fortunately, just about the time I find myself reminiscing enough to get me into trouble, we seem to have a night like we had earlier this week.

A night in which our youngest (who will be 2 in less than one month) kept us up for more than three hours wailing and crying simply because she didn't want to sleep. When I finally got her settled down at 5 a.m., the middle and oldest girls woke up telling me that they had had very bad dreams and wanted me to hang out in their room for a while.  Of course I was a little sad for everyone, but I was also too darned tired to be the nurturing type and told everyone they needed to go back to sleep because their father and I were really, really, REALLY tired and desperately NEEDED some stinkin' sleep (Sorry girls, the sympathy for the bad dreams is going to have to wait for a better night!!).

(I did apologize the next morning).

Usually after those nights I can confidently declare that I'm 120% sure that I'm done. Maybe 250% sure. After those night I'm really, really done. Like burnt toast done!

Done being pregnant. Done with the crazy sleep schedules. Done with the food flinging and nursing and tantrumming. Done with the wild messes of stuff that I can't keep up with, or even comprehend half the time. Let's move on to the greener pastures of more sleep (I like to naively believe that there is more sleep in those pastures, but I could be completely mistaken!),  and more rational forms of communication (though I hear the teenage years are a tough bit!), and less crushed cheerio dust in all corners of the house.

But then I walk into the baby's room in the morning and she is smiling at me from over the rail of her bed with a face that says, "Momma!" so big and wide that it competes with the span of the Golden Gate bridge and I melt. It's a face that says, "What's the problem mom? Why do you look so...tired?"

She's far too cute to be mad at, and the affirmative 120% part of me that says I'm done with the baby stage shrinks a little bit...to like 96%...

Just enough to nudge that door open a crack and leave me wondering if I made the right decision in giving all of my stuff away, even though I'm pretty sure that I did.

The girls are getting bigger day by day and time is a fast paced race horse that doesn't stop to smell the roses. We have to yank it by the reigns sometimes and force it to stop, just so that we can see more clearly...love more deeply...so that we can be in these fastly fading moments more fully.

It's a wild horse of ride, that's for sure, but I'm learning to manage my horse a little bit better these days and it seems to be understanding me.

Aubrey will be 2 very soon, and oh my heavens is she ever acting like it!

She's growing into bigger shoes, literally and figuratively, and learning by leaps and bounds.

Her contagiously happy big blue eyes are enough to stop us in our tracks everyday, and usually enough to make amends for the massive mess she has left in her wake.

Ava will be 8, which always reminds me of my age as a mom...I will be 8 years old as a mom this year, which always offers perspective on how far we've come and how much more we still have to learn--as parents, as a family, as individuals.

And, little miss Ella who turned 6 this year, just read me a story before bed last night...If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...one of our favorites.

"Ella, no one ever reads me bedtime stories. This is such a treat."

She just grins and reads the words as if the whole thing is no big deal, my big little girl who could hardly read a cereal box a year ago.

Scott has more gray hairs, and I'm experimenting with covering mine up. While I would never pay the price, I'm starting to see where a little botox could be appealing.

Our basement and our garage have been bursting at the seams and it was time for a good purge...out with the old, in with the new.

We don't have a need for a high-chair any longer, though after realizing how bittersweet it was to see it go I might have come up with a couple of really good reasons that we coulda, woulda, shoulda, kept it.

But I'm a writer and a reader, so I know that stories are full of chapters. Chapters that must begin, and then end to make way for new chapters. The story must progress, the characters must change and grow. Time, as they say, marches on.

I know that we are writing our family story and that is a beautiful thing.

I just wish it weren't so darned hard to give the Boppy and the high chair away.

Thursday, April 2

A Writing and Planning Kind of Day

The sun is shining!

Easter is this weekend!

And I'm holed up in a hotel room, all by myself, writing, reading and planning for a few hours this afternoon....and I'm completely giddy about it all!

I'm a thinker who feels most centered when I can find quiet places to contemplate and work through life on paper. As you know (either because you're a busy mom, or because you've heard me say it before!) finding "quiet" time can sometimes feel like looking for a watering hole in the middle of a dessert...you keep seeing water off in the distance, but as you get closer it just keeps disappearing. Until, eventually,  you find yourself really, really thirsty...at which point you usually just snuggle up to share a juice box with one of the wee ones along for the ride and call it a day.

All that to say, quiet time is in short supply so when I do have a few minutes, I treasure them deeply.

So here I am, in a hotel in Syracuse, New York, while my husband is running business meetings and my mother in law (who is a saint!!!) is hanging with the girlies this afternoon and evening.

As a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor I was invited to attend a regional event at Syracuse University this evening-- a panel discussion on non-fiction writing in general, and the mission behind the Chicken Soup brand, followed by a dinner with the Publisher and several other contributors from the region.  Since I don't know a soul I almost turned the invitation down, but then realized my hubby had business in Syracuse anyway, offering a chance for him and I to travel together and for me to meet some new, local, writing comrades.

I've brought books and notebooks, file folders and scraps of paper. I have my calendar, notepads, computers, and I-phone. I'm not completely sure where to start, or what to focus on...I'm hoping focus is something that comes out of this time.

Has that ever happened to you?! You have so much that you need to do, and even aspire to do, and then you finally have the house to yourself, or the babysitter shows up, or you find yourself all alone in a hotel room, and you just stand there dumbfounded? "What do I now?! I have no idea!"

I'm currently working on several projects...two separate "books"-- one a spiritual memoir, and one a collection of reflections on motherhood. I have a half dozen ideas for other books, and oodles of blog posts I'd  love to write if time allowed. Today I'm throwing many of those ideas down on paper to save for the future, when the time and season allow...but for today I'm just thankful for this quiet time.

I've found a lot of internal peace about my writing lately (the writing I am able to do, and more importantly the writing I am unable to do right now). There was a long season where I found myself frustrated by how seldom I was able to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard), and would get discouraged and irritable about it all...but lately...well, I guess God is doing work in my heart. Truly.

It's like King Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens."

In this season, I have been called to full-time stay at home motherhood, a job that requires a lot of time and energy...more than I could have ever imagined, actually. And so I find myself fully coming into myself as a mother, bit by bit and day by day, while still trying to integrate time for other parts of my life that I value.

It's the age old dilemma, right? How do we find balance, keep our priorities straight, and make the most of the pieces of our lives in a way that is honorable to ourselves, our families, but most importantly, in a way that is honorable to God? 

We put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, trusting that God will offer wisdom and that the path will become clear. As you get stronger, and learn a little bit more, you start to trot instead of walk, and than jog instead of trot...sooner or later you are running a race that you didn't know you had the stamina to run.

It feels good when you start running and you realize that you are capable of so much more than you thought you were when you first set out. When you realize that you can only do so much in your own strength, but the spiritual refining that happens as we journey through motherhood teaches us a very, very important lesson...we can do so much more and ALL things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

I am incredibly thankful for that truth and hope that you are finding the same to be true in your lives as well.

So, today I am thankful for the life I've been given (all things, people and circumstances included!), the blessing of my family, and a quiet space to think and write for even a short time. I'm hopeful for the future, and all of the adventure it holds. And I'm trusting, that in the right season and at the right time, God will take these scraps of a writing life that I've created and turn them into something meaningful.

Hope you all have a very happy and blessed Easter weekend!