when life doesn't look like the pictures

Saturday, June 29, 2013

baby #4, his first day home
I need to tell you something.

I have birthed four beautiful, healthy babies.   I have rested four minutes-old infants against my chest, marveled at their minute fingers wrapped around mine, kissed their tiny fuzzy heads.  I am so thankful for my tiny newborns, and the chance to mother each of them.

But I don't love babies.

I mean, I love my children deeply, but I don't love the baby days.  I look at the Anne Geddes style newborn portraits that are popular right now, and I think, how long did it take that mom to soothe her newborn to sleep before very tenderly placing him in a little gauze nest, and how many shots did the photographer snap before the baby screamed again?  Because those peaceful, adorably decorated newborns?  Only exist in frames.

Real babies are hard.

7 stories from my week

Thursday, June 27, 2013

It's time again for 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary.  You can follow along here.  

- 1 - 

On Wednesday, my husband rode his bike again for the first time since his accident.  

One of the few clear conversations we had while he was in the hospital was about fear.  In those first days, we heard several comments (half-joking, but intended) like, "Well I guess you won't be doing that again."  But in our family we value risk.  Worse than failing, worse than injury or ruin, is the idea that you would forfeit an important opportunity out of fear.  When making decisions, we often say to one another, "I would rather fall flat on my face running forward, than fall on my butt backing up."   We both felt strongly that riding again (while following medical advice and safety precautions - risk does not equate to recklessness) was important for him, and important for our children to witness.  I was proud to be out at the bike park with him on Wednesday, and to see my son and him riding together again.  It was a good, good day.  

- 2 - 

My in-laws have been with us this past week.  They were here for my second son's birthday and my baby boy's baptism last weekend, and have spent the week thoroughly spoiling us all with big kid beds for the kids, dinners out, and new toys.  We have had a great time.  However, now that I am looking ahead to our schedule past their visit, I see on my horizon a pretty serious Special Treat Hangover for  my kids.  After a week of irregular naps, gifts every day, and free-flowing bubble gum, nobody is going to like expectations and routine again (or me, as I will be the bearer of them).   If you have any tips on handling your children's fall-out, send them to me.  I will need all the help I can get in the next few days.

- 3 - 

In addition to having his parents in town, riding his bike again, building bunk beds, and all of the other weekly festivities, yesterday my husband was offered a job!

We moved 1500 miles, from the Deep South to Denver, Colorado, in March.  We made the decision to move two years ago, and my husband spent the twenty months in between applying for jobs in Denver.  However, because of his specific field, he could not be seriously considered as a candidate until he was a resident (we later found out that in general Coloradans take this approach, because so many people want to live here).  So we cashed out our assets and moved without jobs.  Two months after we arrived, he was seriously injured and unable to work until, well, now.  And now ... he has a job!  I'm excited he will be able to continue in his field, and that he will have a sense of focus and purpose again.  Hooray!

- 4 - 

When you are googling "bedtime battle two years old" at 10 p.m., your child screeching on the other side of the door, you know that you are in trouble.  My little girl has chosen bedtime as the hill she is willing to die on.  And honestly?  She is winning.  

Do you have any good advice for getting toddlers to stay in their beds?  And please don't tell me to be consistent.  I know how important consistency is for two-year-olds, but with the addition of each child, it is harder and harder to pull off.  More accurately, many times I have to decide with whom I will be consistent.  When the baby is wailing to be nursed, the middle son is jumping from bed to bed, the oldest is yelling at everyone to be quiet, the toddler is doing headstands over her headboard, and it's all happening in the same room ... where do you even begin?

Obviously I need some help.  

- 5 -  

I had the funniest experience recently.  Last week I looked in several stores for a new skirt, with a specific style and color in mind, but never found it.  Yesterday, I opened a box of pre-pregnancy clothes and discovered I already owned that exact skirt.  I have no idea how it got there.  I don't remember buying it, and I don't remember any of my friends passing it along to me.  The box was packed last summer, when I was too pregnant to wear most of my summer clothes.  If anyone reading this gave me a black skirt last summer, thank you!  You have good taste.  

- 6 - 

My father-in-law brought home this cup a few days ago:

Yes, it's true.  With a donut in each hand anything is possible - for about 30 minutes.  After that, you will be so drained and lethargic you will question your ability to go on.  But for those thirty minutes, watch out.  You'll be on fire.

- 7 - 

We don't get many family pictures.  This is mostly because I am a lazy memory preserver, and prefer to let the children free range during special events, rather than trying to pin them all down and get them to look at the camera simultaneously.  But with grandparents here, we did manage one good shot while hiking last weekend.  I love this picture.  Two out of four isn't bad, eh?

What about you?  Ever find the outfit you wanted to buy already in your possession?  Got any realistic tips for toddlers and bedtime in large families?  Any advice on how to survive the fall-out?  Based on my children's behavior since I started writing this, I'm seriously going to need it.  

when you cut off a conversation with good advice

Monday, June 24, 2013

Playground Rings by cryptic_starThis weekend I had a moment to connect with my son, and I blew it.

On Saturdays, John, a little boy about my oldest's age, shows up on our street.  It seems that he spends the day with his grandfather, who lives a few houses down.  My oldest son is completely enamored with him.  For eight hours every Saturday they ride up and down the street, calling "dude!" back and forth, listening for the ice cream truck, and pretending to blow things up.  The rest of the week, my oldest son talks about how cool his best friend John is.  On Saturdays, he eats and dresses quickly.  By 8 a.m. he is outside, waiting for his buddy to show up in his front yard.  As a mother, the whole thing is terribly endearing.

But for about eight hours every Saturday, his younger brother is the odd man out.  And there's nothing cute about that.

only human

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My energetic, fun-loving, compassionate, fierce, spontaneous, good-natured little boy turned five this week.

He is not my oldest or my youngest, but his birth marks the beginning of life as I know it.   Since my older two are only eighteen months apart (and there was a miscarriage between them) I hardly remember only having one child.  When I think of the early days of my life as a mother, I think of this little one's pregnancy and birth.

I learned so much from that first year (which was really hard - between reflux, allergies, and chronic ear infections, I spent that year with a very fussy baby and his very busy toddling brother).  In honor of his birthday, I thought I would repost one of the lessons I learned from his babyhood.

I'm human.

That's the second thing I've learned in the past year: I'm only a person. Only one person, finite in my ability to produce formula/chopped food/ sippee cups/ clean diapers/ entertainment on demand. And only one person, requiring the same things everyone else needs to function. I require food, and water, and sleep, and coffee, and occasional emotional/spiritual nourishment, or I wither into a demanding, short-tempered, over-caffeinated ball of mush. I'm only human.

Because my son didn't start sleeping through the night until he was 10 months old, I didn't start sleeping through the night until he was 10 months old, either. I also stopped sleeping when I was six weeks pregnant with him, which means I did not get a full night's sleep for about eighteen months. When I am tired, life is harder - I have less energy and am more focused on doing only the things that are necessary to sustain life (like producing formula, chopped food, and/or sippee cups on demand). When I am tired, I am cranky. When I am tired, I am not the ideal friend, wife, or mother. Last year, I was tired a lot.

So I would have the same conversation over and over - "I don't know what's wrong with me," I would say, genuinely puzzled. I have just been so tired lately. Maybe I need more protein." (Or water, or sunshine - I'm not unlike a plant, really. Just water me and turn me towards the sun ...) And then whatever dear friend was enduring this conversation again would say something like, "Well, maybe when he starts sleeping through the night you'll feel better," and I would remember - OH YEAH. I HAVEN'T SLEPT FOR SIX CONSECUTIVE HOURS IN THE PAST YEAR. 

I was constantly surprised and disappointed in myself, that I couldn't somehow rise above the sleep deprivation and take up new and interesting hobbies (like completing a sentence). I was constantly comparing my life to others, who were able to both get dressed, go to the grocery store, and have a conversation with their spouse, all in the same day. I was constantly asking, "What's wrong with me that I can't get it together?" Well, I was tired - no, I was exhausted. And it would seem that motherhood does not come with a cape and superpowers, though I can't imagine why not. Lord knows you need them.

And then when my baby was four or five months old, my mom changed my perspective. I was lamenting once again how tired I was and how neglected the house was and how groceries just refused to spontaneously appear on my shelves, and how I had other friends who had newborns and were teaching yoga, leading Bible studies, growing their own food, and opening businesses, all at the same time. My mom's response was, "Well give her a gold star."


There are no bonus points in life. I don't get extra credit for neatness or spelling. If my house is clean or messy may effect my mood, but it does not earn me anything - not one single damn thing in the whole wide world, except whatever personal value I have put on having a clean house. The things I was worrying about? Did. Not. Count.  I wasn't making a bad grade in life, which is how I felt - nobody even cared but me! There are no gold stars past the second grade.

Who knew.

From then on, I began to ask God for the grace to live the day He had given me - not the day He had given someone else, but me. And I was free from the perception of expectations of others, or the personal demands I putting on myself to be, well, perfect. To be more than human. I was still tired, my house was still a mess, but I began to think about what do I actually, really care about in my day? What is important to God? What is success and failure in my job? And are the markers I have created for myself accurate? Is a vaccuumed floor always sign of order in a home? Can't it also be sign of an imbalanced need for order placed above a child's need to explore and play? Is a day with no tantrums and clean dishes really success? Or do I care more about building relationships with my sons, teaching them how to learn and explore, and providing opportunities for curiosity and fun to grow? And isn't curiosity sometimes messy? Can't a messy house sometimes be a sign that we had a good day, too?

It changed my thinking, my mom's statement and the prayer that resulted from it. There are no more gold stars, and as long as perfection is my goal, I will constantly be frustrated. But when relationships are my goal, then there is room for tiredness, for crumbs and dog hair on the floor. Sippee cups, chopped food, and formula are all necessary to sustain life, but so are curiosity, love, and rest. When I began to see the larger picture, I had more patience for myself and my children. I had more patience for my fatigue, and could accept that this was just not going to be my year to learn yoga or start my own business. This was going to be my year to have my baby boys - tired as I was, tiring as they were, it was my only year to have them as two babies, and to enjoy the moment for what it was, and not just for what it could be.

After all, I'm only human.

Thanks be to God.

but don't expect me to make my own shampoo.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I am almost 35 years old, and for the first summer of my life, I am living without air conditioning.

And I kind of love it.

Colorado summers are gorgeous.  All of the summer cliches - outdoor weddings, dinners in the backyard, long afternoons on the porch - make sense in Colorado.  The mornings and evenings are cool, there is practically no humidity, and there is almost always a breeze.   The sun is more intense here, which means that the shade is significantly cooler.  Sitting under a tree on even the hottest day is still comfortable.  Plus there are no mosquitos or cockroaches, and that in itself was worth the fifteen hundred mile drive.  Summers here are lovely.

Summers in the Deep South are to be endured.  The humidity, the insects, the heat.  All of the Southern  cliches - oppressive heat, air that can be cut with a knife - apply there as well.  The Deep South is pleasant in other seasons (while the West is still stomping slush from its boots, the Deep South is enjoying a glorious spring), but summers are miserable.  Swimming is the only relief from the heat, and even that comfort is often hampered by swarming mosquitos.  There, air conditioning feels like a human right.

So when we realized our house had no air conditioning, I thought it would be manageable.  We were moving to a cooler climate.  We can make it work.  I never imagined I would actually enjoy it.  It never occurred to me that, for a number of reasons, I would begin to prefer life without it.

six weeks later

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Yesterday marked six weeks.

Six weeks since a stranger called late in the afternoon to say my husband had been in a bike accident an hour away from home.  My six-year-old, who had gone riding with him, gave the man my name and number.  I told him I lived in another town, and it would take me a little while to get there.  He said he would wait with my husband and son until the paramedics arrived.  I never got his name.

perfectionism, summer life, and sleep deprivation ... just a regular week.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Lately that proverb is playing out in my life as I try to write more often and more consistently. A few days a week, I wake up early and sneak out about 5 a.m. to a coffee shop to write and think before beginning my day.  Twice this week, the baby woke up to nurse just as I was walking out of the door.  I have four different incomplete posts waiting on me to pick them up again.  I haven't had uninterrupted chunks of time, the few quiet minutes I do have in a day don't seem like enough, and I never finish a thought.  Perfection has become the enemy of good.

I need to relax my expectations.  I have four children under six years old.  If I am waiting for the perfect moment to write, the sentence that perfectly captures a thought, a perfectly clean house before I work on other endeavors, I will never finish anything again.  It's just not going to happen.

So, in the spirit of good enough, can I just share a few things from my week?

1.  Choosing a homeschooling curriculum is one of the most intimidating things I have ever done.  Picking a college and buying houses have both been easier than wading into the ocean of the homeschooling world.  I have chosen the approach that seems like the best fit, and now I am weighing co-ops (the approach we are using meets one morning a week, with parents present).  Do I go where my friends are, and the toddler program is, even though it's twenty plus miles away?  Do I go with the program close to my house, with no toddler class?  Do I go with the brand new program located between the two?  I don't know.

2.  My baby boy slept ten hours last night.  Another night earlier this week, I believe he would have done the same if I hadn't inadvertently stirred him.  Could it be possible?  Is he really moving out of his newborn-like sleep patterns (seven months later) and starting to sleep through the night?

You would think I would feel great today; instead, I have that swimmy-headed feeling of sleep deprivation.  Ever sat down to dinner without much thought of food, taken your first bite, and realized how hungry you actually were?  Last night was my first bite of real sleep in months.  I am just beginning to realize how tired I've actually been all of this time.  

3. With my husband still out of work and recovering from his accident (though by now he is mostly well), we have very few parameters around our days.  We also have few standing appointments within our week, a baby who needs a nap each morning, and the sun rises here about 5:30 a.m. and sets about 9 p.m. which makes early bedtimes almost impossible.  That is a lot of time to fill each day.  In many ways it was easier to do school than it is to have so much time off. I am working on establishing a weekly routine, which historically has made a difference for us.  Do you have any great summertime ideas?

4.  A few nights ago my six-year-old read a science book that mentioned the skull of a three-year-old boy who was killed by wild animals.  That night, he couldn't sleep.  He was afraid a bear or leopard was hiding in his room.  He wanted me to lie down with him, but I was nursing the baby in my room, so he settled for sleeping on the floor near me.  He wedged himself between the far wall and my bed, curled up on a pile of pillows, and fell asleep quickly.  The innocence of his fear moved me.  Sweet little boy, afraid of things that will never happen (in our country anyway), completely unaware of the things that parents actually fear for their children.  And he was so easily comforted - a lamp, the presence of his mom in the room, and he felt safe again.  It was a sweet moment.

I promise I will pick up those half-written posts.  There are a few things in the hopper worth talking about, but that can only happen when I accept that good - however brief or incomplete - is enough.  How do you let go of perfectionism?  How are you spending your summer days?  How has your week been?

the three best blog posts ever

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Internet is full of swill.

Family dysfunction played out over Facebook, Christians mocking one another.  Ugly cakes.  Gassy zoo animals.  People falling down or feigning a heist.  The Internet is full of the ridiculous and hideous and hilarious.  We stare into our phones or computers and fully embrace our morbid fascination.  Our appetite for conflict is never satisfied.

The Internet is also an amazing place to learn.  My sons watch an older boy build with Legos, then go create what they have just observed.  I can share with them scenes from the Beijing circus, explain how suspension bridges work, watch a volcano explode.  There are no limits to what you can learn online.  A hundred years ago this kind of information was unimaginable.

But we don't stay online for the Beijing circus or even the relational disasters on Facebook.  We turn on our devices morning after morning because the Internet connects us to one another.  In this way, it is no different from any other form of art.  I listen to the same song over and over because it captures an emotion I recognize, but could never articulate.  I also click on the blogs in my reader not purely to gain information, but because I see myself - or, more often, a person I want to be - in their writings.  I feel a kinship in their words.

The following posts are the best in my mind not because of their brilliance but because they have articulated a deep emotion or experience that resonated with me.  With all three posts, I stared at the screen and said aloud, "Me too!!"

1.  Rachel Evans' Huck Finn Hell
"In hindsight, it all seems so foolish, such an obvious abuse of Scripture. 

...But at the time? 

Sometimes true faithfulness requires something of a betrayal."
I grew up as a good kid in the Bible Belt.  It was not until I was in my mid-twenties - out of college, married, and working - that I realized gay people actually existed - not among heathens, but in my own faith community.  It was a shock to realize that some of the people I loved best and respected most were gay (and had been!  I was so naive).  The answer seems so obvious now, I'm ashamed I ever needed to ask the question.  But at the time I had to decide between religious tradition and love for my friends, who already loved me back.  I will never forget the moment in a friend's apartment when I realized if I was going to be wrong, I was going to err in love.  "Alright then, I'll go to Hell," Huck Finn said.  I did, too.

"You're crazy, you know? Oh my gah. You're so crazy. I can barely handle two. You have four and you want MORE? Oh my gah. You're crazy!"

(Reading over this post again, it really is just an average-for-Missy post, which underlines my point).

I read this post while in the hospital after the birth of my third child.  I remember clearly sitting in the hospital bed, my daughter curled against my chest.  I stared at my laptop while tears streamed down my face.  I have a thing for orphans too.  It haunts me, it keeps me up at night.  I have spent time both with children in foster care and children who should have been, and I can't un-know that experience.  I am no longer sure how this fits into my life, but nothing stirs me up the same way.

Me too, Missy.

3.  Conversion Diary's Getting my Life Back
"... the carrot stick disappeared; that siren song of the self-focused glory days to come when I no longer had children in diapers was silenced, the tension gone. My life as a mom of little ones was no longer in such sharp contrast to my future life without young children: either way, I’d be serving others. I found that this was the meaning of life, the secret to lasting happiness, the hidden key that unlocked the mysteries of the spiritual realm that I’d spent my whole life trying to find."

I spent three years in a Catholic women's small group.  At the time I had just had two children within eighteen months, a difficult recovery from birth, and was dealing with a sick and very fussy infant.  In other words, I was miserable.  My Catholic friends taught me how to embrace that difficulty as a worthy - even valuable - part of life.  In her post Jen Fulweiler articulates beautifully the same lesson I learned during that time.  It helped me to accept the demands of motherhood, and to find beauty and meaning in my daily life.

What about you?  What online art has resonated most deeply with you?  What posts would you include in your "best ever" list?

in the middle of a marriage

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

This morning I am over at Middle Places, talking about the realities of marriage and faith.  

"I remember when relationships could be easily explained with a diagram and stick figures.

The perfect triangle and its geometrical common sense.  The closer we move toward God, the closer we will be to one another.  If only God were so easily attained, relationships so easily plotted ..."

You can read the rest here.  

7 quick takes

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jen Fulweiler's Conversion Diary is one of my favorite blogs.  She is humble, funny, and insightful, and she somehow manages to complete a thought while birthing and raising lots of children.  She also hosts 7 Quick Takes.  They are little thoughts or pieces of life that are too small to be their own post, but are still worth sharing.  I don't know if I'll join in every week, but this week it sounded like fun.

- 1 -

Did you read Jen Hatmaker's post on The Worst End of School Year Mom Ever?  I laugh every time I think about it.  My favorite lines are, "Then Ben tells me Tuesday that he needs a Ben Franklin costume for the Living History Museum today, and I’m like what fresh hell is this??" and "'Mom, I should've picked a black character.  Like Abraham Lincoln.'  Bless it.

- 2 - 

One of my dearest friends has been in her local news recently.  She organized a time of prayer for the inclusion of gay and lesbian believers during the North Alabama UMC Annual Conference (where she is a pastor).  You can see part of the press coverage here.   I love this story because I have known her since we were toddlers, and all of her life, she has been speaking against injustice.  I keep picturing her in the fourth grade, hand on her hip, setting someone straight.  Her life's work seems to include righting wrongs, and I love seeing her carry that out.

- 3 - 

My baby is seven months old, which means I have recently needed in-between jeans.  Unwilling to pay real money for clothes I will only wear a few months, I found a pair at a thrift store shortly after we moved.  Recently, I discovered this:

The previous owners left notes on the inside pocket.  I love it.  This picture embodies what I love about Colorado.  There's a kind of embracing of all of life, regardless of how ordinary or even uncomfortable something is.  In other areas, people may have not have relished buying secondhand jeans.  Here, it's celebrated.  "Hey, these are great jeans.  You're going to look good in them."  I love this place.

- 4 -   

On Facebook and Instagram, I always see pictures of my friends' children on an outing, all sitting calmly and smiling at the camera.  Whenever I try to get a picture of my kids on an outing, inevitably it turns out like this:

Buzz Lightyear's rear-end sticking out of the top of the stroller really captures the moment, don't you think?

- 5 - 

As most of you know, we recently moved from the Deep South to the greater Denver area.  Surprisingly, my tastes in food, among other things, have changed since moving here.  Lately I love raspberries.  My children typically enjoy almost any fruit, but only the toddler has picked up my raspberry habit.  My four-year-old said, "They smell like candy, and they taste like dirt."  Fair enough.

- 6 - 

Last week I did something I have never done before.  I got a tattoo!

Love is always a risk, and a choice.  In several different areas of my life, I have recently had to decide if it was a risk I was willing to take.  The tattoo marks my decision.  Regardless of the outcome, love is always work the risk.  

- 7 - 

My experience of getting a tattoo was not the same as it would have been if I was in a different stage in life.  My best friend and I went together, in the middle of a Monday afternoon.  I researched the best local artist, made an appointment, and asked for price quotes up front.  While making the appointment I was careful to ask how long it would take, because my childcare would run out and my friend had a business meeting later that afternoon.  My biggest concern was not about the pain, but about spending money.  This is how thirty-somethings get tattoos, friends.  

Seven Quick Takes are usually posted on Fridays.  I'm putting mine together Monday evening.  For me, that's pretty much on time.

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