Tuesday, June 25, 2013

It's Okay to Need a Break...

The house is quiet.  I am grateful.

My older boys are away this week and we are missing them already.  The little ones are reading and while I can hear lawn mowers outdoors and the clicking of my keys as I type, there is otherwise no sound to take up the space in my brain.

Yes, grateful.

The summer months have a way of filling up and getting loud and demanding attention and activity.  But sometimes, I need to sit and be still and breathe deeply in a calm and quiet space.

You, too?

It's okay, you know, to take a minute and step outside and let the chaos continue away from you while you soak up the silence that can refresh your self.  It's okay to need it and okay to seek it and okay to know that your day is better if you can just find a break.

You are not the only momma who has locked the bathroom door, who has sat in the van while parked in the driveway, who has put on the TV and then walked away.  You are not the only momma who looks at the calendar filled with 80+ summer days and wondered what to do with all that time.  You are not the only one.

So, if it is getting kinda loud and your nerves are fried and you are finding yourself answering in a terse, tight tone, give yourself a minute and find a quiet space and take some intentional deep breaths.  Watch the leaves on the trees dance in the breeze and let yourself unwind just a little, tiny bit.  Or better yet, open that same door and send the kids outside and make a quick cup of coffee to sip while you sit still in the house doing absolutely, positively nothing at all.

Because sometimes you need a break.

We all do.

And, it's okay.

Blessings on your day.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Who Gets to Choose?

:::A blog post about Mommas that could be about Daddy's too:::

Cookies or chicken for dinner?

Play video games all night or rest well?

Play outside or in?

Study or not?

Stretch your comfort zone or stay settled?

Which would your kids choose?

This parenting gig is tricky.  Sixteen and a half years ago, my first born was placed in my arms and my husband and I began this walk together.  Some days, we have chosen paths for them (and for us) that are easy and agreeable.  But, some days the choices are cloudy and we rely heavily on our limited wisdom and experience to decide what is needful for our children and what truly matters to our family and try as we might, the "right-ness" of those decisions can be a little less sure than we hope.

It is hard to know what is best...

But, of this I am sure:  my children are not the best judges of what is best for them.  Left to their own devices, they would choose as children choose and I think I am glad for this because it does, in fact, prove that my sweet babies are blessed with a lives that allow them to be children.  Not everyone has been offered this privilege.  But, given that they are young and their view is limited and their goals for themselves are sometimes smaller than need be, the choices made on their behalf can sometimes be met with resistance.

What's a momma to do?

What's a momma to do when she knows that piano lessons are truly a gift and the child doesn't feel like practicing?  What's a momma to do when she knows the value of fruits and veggies and unprocessed foods and the child is sure that a bag of chips and a cookie provides more than enough protein to get by?  What's a momma to do when she knows that being present with those you are present with means more than texting the person who is elsewhere and the child is sure that being in contact electronically with many matters more than seeing the face of the one nearby?  What's a momma to do when she knows that camp experiences matter, that growth and laughter come out of relationship and community and that kids learn much about themselves when they step out in faith and the child is sure that it matters most to be still and home and without plan or structure?

What's a momma to do?

It is all so hard.

But today, I am reminding myself that on that day when I first held my son, I had to learn a new reliance on God.  Because, left to my own devices, my choices can be much like those of my children.  Today, I am reminding myself, that these four children have been entrusted to me.  Not given to me.  And for the very few years that I get to share with them, it is my job to seek wisdom and to act on it.  And there is nothing easy about that.  But the truth is that I did not just get the title of  "Mom", I got the job itself.  And within that endless job description, we will find points like these:

~The Mom will deeply know each child.  She will learn about their God-given strengths and weaknesses.

~The Mom will find ways to enforce said strengths and build up such weaknesses.

~The Mom will find opportunities for her children to learn and grow in ways that are needful and ways that are fun.

~The Mom will provide a home that serves as a launching pad, preparing her children for the necessary life lessons and experiences that her children will encounter.

~The Mom will provide a home that serves as a landing pad, welcoming home from experiences and enfolding her children back into family life again and again and again.

~The Mom will pray and dream for her children.

~The Mom will listen to the words and hearts of her children.

~The Mom will stand firm in what she feels is right and needful, even in the face of childhood adversity.

~The Mom will teach her children to choose well by allowing them to practice but will never give a choice where a choice is not given.

There is no end to this list.  No end.

The truth is we have to actually be the Mom.  And what that means is that I will act out of love on behalf of my kids.  When they like it.  And when they don't.

Which is hard.

So yes, they will eat their veggies, practice piano, volunteer their time, turn off the TV, stretch their comfort zones, do their homework and be held accountable to the whole of it.  Not because I am mean but because I love them dearly and because every day God allows me a little glimpse into who they might become.  And some days they can see that, too.  But some days they cannot.  So, while we are here together, I am going to try to focus on the big picture and stand up for what is needful and pray and pray and pray for them even when they fuss about what we choose.  Even when it is hard and I am weary and we do not all agree.

Because, I am their Mom.  And because he is their Dad.  And the job is big and difficult and beautiful and today, I choose to do it.  Out of the big-ness of this love, I choose to do it.

Blessings on your day.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Planning for Summer: Details #3

The other night, we were burning old sticks and other yard waste in our fire pit out back.  The fire has a way of mesmerizing us and slowly each member of our little family came to stand around the growing flame.  The yard fell quiet and we watched.

After a few minutes, Noah said, "Dad, if I started to fall in... could you still run to catch me like you did when I was little?"

Wistful smiles lit all our faces.

We have this story that we tell from a camping trip we took when Noah was very little.  He was, in fact, so little that his feet did not reach the ground when seated in a tiny folding (bag) chair.  On the day of the occurrence, we were sitting around a campfire with our family and friends while Mark stepped away to grab more wood from a nearby pile.  Noah decided to get off his tiny chair and because he had shifted his weight, the whole chair began to fall toward the fire. Mark looked up just in the nick of time and, dropping the wood he was carrying, jumped forward and caught Noah before he fell hands and face into the fire!  It was a scary moment for all and a moment I am still left grateful for my husband's quick reflexes.

But, over the years the story has grown...

"And dad, who was way on the other side of our campsite, jumped over everything to save your life..."

"And dad, who was walking back from the camp store, sensed danger and ran to you just in time to save your life..."

"And dad, who was driving back from the next county, ditched the car and FLEW to your side to save your life..."

"And dad, who was in Australia, seeing the Sydney Opera House, challenged the bounds of time and space and used his amazing intuition to know he was needed at the campsite and came to your just in time to save your life..."

For 14 of Noah's 16 years, we have told and retold that story.  Always around a fire.  Always when we are together.  Always a little different, a little bigger than the time before.

But, we never tell it in the car.  Or at a game.  Or at a school event.  Or while doing chores, or homework, or projects.  The stuff of family lore grows up out of slow times, out of down times, out of TIME that is spent  and time that we have...

This is stuff of summer.

We have been given this gift of time. And while it may be overwhelming now that our toes are in the tide of it, there is wonder to be found if we can keep far from the risk of drowning in the very thing we seek.

But how?

1.  Do not over-plan.  After a school year of busy nights and days, we need to allow for some time to sit.  We need to allow for time to hang in the backyard and sit still and be together.  Society has pushed an ideal that we must always be DOING SOMETHING.  Oh, what a lie this is!  Sometimes, we need to pull a chair into the driveway, throw out some sidewalk chalk and sit with our kids nearby.  Sometimes, we need to lay a blanket on the grass and watch the lightning bugs fly.  Sometimes, we need to build a fire and sit together and watch the flames lick down the logs.  We need to tell stories and be quiet.  We need to remember and build memories.  And we need to know that all memories do not come from events... some grow beautifully in the nothingness of a warm summer evening.

2.  Be flexible!  Last weekend, I had a planned a grilled dinner for Father's Day followed by a campfire and s'mores in the backyard.  Mark and all the kids were coming home from a soccer tournament that Noah played in all weekend.  They were tired.  They were hot.  And after we ate that wonderful meal, not one of them wanted to sit next to a roaring fire and do anything.  So, we didn't.  Instead, the little ones had long, cool showers and we watched a favorite program and we relaxed together inside.  Sometimes our visions for what that together time should look like will be more cumbersome than we hope.  Relax.  Be together.  If that is the goal, let the details fall where they will.

3.  Remember that little things count.  As families across the nation plan elaborate vacations and expensive outings, it is easy to feel like this is what summer should resemble.  Whenever I am tempted to fall prey to that mindset, I remember a conversation I had with Noah a few years back.  It was the end of an uneventful spring break and I was standing by the barbecue talking with my boy.  We had not gone on vacation and I was feeling a bit disappointed about not DOING more with my kids.  Out of the blue, Noah began to talk about how he loves when we are home for spring break.  Shocked, I asked him to tell me more.  He explained that what he wanted was time... down time.  He wanted to be with his family at home.  And when we rush around all the time, he misses that.  I call that conversation to mind from time to time in an effort to remind myself that little things count.  In fact, sometimes the little things are actually the big things.  Look for them... allow for them.... Take a walk together.  Sit together and read.  Ride bikes.  BE.  If you have 15 minutes and a bit of energy left at the end of the day, you can spend a bit of time with your family sharing a summer night.

A few years ago, we were driving home from visiting friends and stopped at a beach to let the kids stretch their legs and put their toes in the water.  We had our dog, Lexie, with us.  She had never been in Lake Michigan before.  For about an hour and a half, my kids splashed in the lake.  They laughed out loud at Lexie's swimming ability.  Toes in the water became shoulders in the water and they loaded back into the van, wrapped in towels, tired and happy.  To hear them talk about that experience, you would think we were gone for a week.  That brief stop at the beach has become a vacation to them and it cost us not a thing.  But, it was a gift of time.  It was a gift of yes in the midst of a long car ride.  It was just us together and they LOVED it.

There is a time and a place for vacations and get-aways.  Yes, they matter too.  But these three months of summer offer us something bigger than trips and experiences.  It offers us the space we need to sit still, to look--really look--into the faces of our kids and see them anew.  There is no homework to be done, no pressing project, just bits of time in which we can choose to be together in ways that the rest of the year makes tricky.

And it is not hard.

And it is not expensive.

But it matters to them... and to us.

Blessings on your day.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Updated Blog Rewind: The Last Day of School

With the last day of school coming quickly, I wanted to take a brief break from the Getting Ready for Summer Series I have been writing and share with you what we do on the last day of school.  I wrote most of this several years ago but our routines remain.  Read on for some ideas about how to make the most of the last day of school!  

Years ago, when I was working at Trinity, I learned huge lessons about the importance of closure from a resident assistant who was working with me at the time. Katie was especially gifted at nurturing relationships and in her professional and private life, she always made sure to make both beginnings and endings in special ways. While I had known, in my head, how crucial it is to find ways to offer closure at appropriate times, Katie taught me how that LOOKED as she lived it out before me. This has had an impact on my life as a parent that I did not expect.

Our children attend a nearby Christian school and they adore the time they spend there. Every year, they learn so much and show such enthusiasm for these new bits of knowledge. The teachers are passionate about their work and exceedingly loving in how they treat their students. The school overall does a phenomenal job of building community and connecting students K-8 in ways that brings out the best in each child. It is exactly the educational experience I had envisioned for my children and I am so grateful that they are able to attend this school. But, the end of the year is always bittersweet. While they eagerly anticipate the free and relaxing days of summer, knowing that they will walk out of their classrooms and away from their beloved teachers for the last time brings on a sadness that is saved specifically for year-end. Yes, less time with friends is a part of this equation but it is the loss of a year well-spent that makes my children sad.

So, seeing this trend from the beginning of their school years, we have established traditions that help to take the edge off the end. Year after year, we conclude our classes with carefully chosen activities that offer to them (and me) Katie's closure.

Weeks before the school year ends, we begin to talk about making the most of our final days. We talk about ending well, working and playing hard. We try to be extra aware of academic issues, spending more time studying for tests and completing projects. In our house, the end of the year is so full, so busy, that it would be easy to let all of this slide. And sometimes we do.  But, paying extra attention helps a lot as the final grades are recorded and the days wind down.

The night before the school year ends, I sit with each of my kids and we talk about what they are thankful for in school. We recall the amazing experiences they shared with classmates and the special gifts that each of their teachers offered to them. And then, with all this fresh in their heads, we write thank you letters. I encourage them to do this on their own. The words and memories are theirs and, for us, it has proven to be an important experience to take a minute to not only be grateful but to express that gratitude to someone with whom they have shared this year. (And...this is top secret... after my sweet babies have all gone to bed, Mark scans these precious words into our computer leaving us with a legacy of thankfulness that is heartwarming to review.)

On the last day of school, my kids wear the same outfit they wore on the first day of school.  We take pictures of them in front of the house standing and sitting right where they were in August... it is amazing how much they grow and change each year!

Our four kiddos, first day of school last year! 

Same four kids, nine months later!  
Then, after we pray together and they head into school, I begin a lot of behind-the-scenes running and errands to help that day be all that it needs to be.  First, I run to buy flowers. It is our tradition to give each teacher a bouquet of flowers or a hanging basket as part of our thank you to them. Sometimes, we have also prepared baked goods to give them as well. (This year, I have already begun baking mini banana breads for all the teachers.) It is my goal to be at school, flowers in tow, by 10:00 for the first recess of the day. With the thank you notes from the children, the baked goods and the flowers, I go from classroom to classroom giving these to the boys to give to their teachers. While I am there, I take a picture of each child with their teacher and then leave them to finish their day.

Once this is done, I run out to buy lunch for the kids. I pack this into the van and then head back to school. I get back in time to talk with other mommas as we wait for the kids to come out.  This year, Josiah asked if we could also decorate the van with window markers for the last day of school.  :)  When everyone comes out, I hug my sad kids and they say good-bye to what will always be an important time in their young lives. With teachers waving from the sidewalk and parking lot and many young arms waving from buses and windows, it all comes to an end. The tears do not belong to the children alone. These amazing teachers who have loved their students so well are often misty, too. It is a bittersweet moment for all... reluctantly turning from the blessing of the school year to face full-on summer coming.

With everyone in the van we head off to the ultimate distraction from all things sad, a trip to the park to have lunch with friends from school!

By now, the lunches bought much earlier have grown a little cold but in the last 8 years, I have yet to have one complaint. Arriving at the park, the kids run off to sit at picnic tables with those to whom they have just said good-bye. Eating quickly, they then run and scream and laugh and play at a park we reserve just for this. The moms sit together and dream of days with later starts and worry a bit about filling seemingly-endless weeks with meaningful experiences.

After a couple of hours, everyone exhausted, we pack it up to head home and relax. The intensity of emotion has waned by then and the kids are drained but content. Traditions behind us, summer begins. And it is full and it is good and we are ready.

Blessings on your day!