It Takes Time To Build A Castle

My husband and I invest in our marriage by lovingly snarking on each other’s television preferences. I mock his sci-fi thrillers, and he rolls his eyes at my reality TV. Our tastes rarely overlap. And that’s fine because we are raising like 42 kids and rarely have time to watch a show together anyway.

Summer does afford us a bit more quality time, so I suggested watching The Bachelorette together. I believe, “NO!” was my husband’s answer. I couldn’t exactly hear through his laughter at the thought of it.

I’m not even offended because I would probably have to return the favor by watching some stupid show about the drug trade in a Chilean factory. Or whatever similar plot line Netflix comes up with next.

Plus, I’m too old to defend my decision to watch Hannah B. date 30 men at once when the man I adore and love the most in the world is entertained by alien babies and motorcycle gangs.

(I don’t know actually what I am talking about, you guys. I am just assuming that’s the weird stuff he watches.)

We are happily married, so this is not a cry for help. I am just explaining why I was watching The Bachelorette alone last night.

(Taking 15 minutes to get my point is another integral part of our marital success…but I digress…)

The contestants were on a date, and to be honest, I have the attention span of a gnat, so I cannot remember the exact context. (Which is why it would be helpful if my husband watched with me because he actually pays attention.)

All I know is that they were trying to say something in Gaelic, and it translated to, “It takes time to build a castle.”

I am sure they somehow related it back to their blooming love story, which is super normal to do with someone you’ve known for four days.

But the words continued to echo in my mind.

It takes time to build a castle.

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Anything of value in life takes time to cultivate. Planting a garden. Getting a college degree. Learning a trade. Building a business. Marriage. Raising children. It all takes time.

The problem is I want immediate success.

I want to eat kale once and lose ten pounds.
I want to just know how to play a guitar.
I want speak Spanish fluently by tomorrow.
And I want my kids to listen the first time I say something.

Except that will never happen.

Because building a castle takes time.

And building a castle is hard.

Ancient castles have stood for centuries because their builders took their time and did it well.

No one brick seemed that important. No one stone was all that special.

But brick by brick, stone by stone…they built magnificent castles.

The daily grind of raising kids doesn’t feel all together that important.

No one part of your day is necessarily special.

Until you envision the castle you are building.

Smiling at your baby when you get her out of the crib. You lay a brick.
Putting a band-aid on an imaginary boo boo. Another brick.
Making lunch. Singing in the car. Laughing at his joke. Brick. Brick. Brick.
Assuring your teenager it’ll all work out. You lay a stone.
Hugging her when her feelings get hurt. Another stone.
Brushing teeth. Bedtime songs. Scratching his back. Stone. Stone. Stone.

The individual bricks may not feel like much. The stones may not look like much.

But added together over a lifetime, create a magnificent human being.

It takes time to a build a castle, dear friends.

Your children will not always listen to you. Some days you’ll have patience. Some days you’ll explode.

They will learn mercy when you’re patient and forgiveness when you explode.

Both are necessary to their castles.

Your children will embarrass you. Sometimes you will laugh and sometimes you will cry.

They will develop a sense a humor when you laugh and learn empathy when you cry.

Both are necessary to their castles.

You love your children more than you ever thought you possible, and they drive you crazier than you ever thought they could.

They will learn you are their safest place but you’re also human.

Both are necessary to their castles.

Ancient castles are fraught with imperfect bricks and jagged stones. Imperfections here and there do not compromise the integrity of the structure.

And your imperfections don’t either. They actually add to the beauty of it all.

Don’t underestimate the value of the small things you do everyday.

And be gracious with yourself, as you’re doing the hardest thing on the earth.

Brick by brick. Stone by stone.

It won’t look impressive today. It won’t seem important today. It won’t even feel like you’ve made any progress.

But keep laying those bricks.

One day you will look up and see a magnificent castle.

And each brick will have been well worth it. The fun days. The terrible moments. The sleepless nights. The exciting times. The frustrating lectures. The deep conversations. The laughter. The tears. And every moment in between.

You are building castles.

And castles take time.

 

 

 

 

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The Circle Game

The summer after sixth grade, I went to a camp in Colorado for five weeks. A friend had invited me, and true to form, I said yes without inquiring much about it. The camp specialized in horse back riding and camping. As in, sleeping outside when there’s a perfectly comfortable bed inside and riding animals I am slightly terrified of. For FIVE weeks.

Fortunately, I somehow finagled my way into mostly sleeping indoors and signing up for any and every activity that did not involve my equine nemesis…including emceeing a talent show where I bombed so hard…but it kept me off a horse, so I stand by my decision. And I actually ended up having a great experience.

My favorite part was Sunday vespers. We would hike up the mountainside and sing camp songs as the sun set. Even though I am very much indoorsy, I feel closest to God in nature. (It’s an irony I cannot explain.) And, as a kid, I loved this time.

After all these years, the only song I can remember singing is “The Circle Game”…

🎶🎶 And the seasons they go round and round…
And the painted ponies go up and down…
We’re captive on the carousel of time…🎶🎶

This song pops into my head more than any other from my childhood. Which is weird because I’ve only ever heard it sung by my fellow campers in the wilderness of Colorado.

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But it makes me think a lot about seasons of life. The rhythms of it all. How every trip around the sun is marked by highs, lows, and lots of ordinary middles.

My oldest child only has five more years at home. His eventual departure has me thinking a lot about seasons. My son has become the most hilarious and awesome (and if I am honest, sometimes annoying) teenager. He gets in trouble for being the class clown, which is quite the change from the super shy toddler he once was.

When he was one and four and six, if I could have only had a glimpse of the young man he would become, I would have been so much kinder to myself and enjoyed him so much more.

Instead of worrying if he would ever sleep through the night, I would have rocked that cute baby a little longer.

Instead of worrying why it was taking him so long to learn to read, I would soon see a kid who devours long novels in a few days.

Instead of worrying if he would ever brush his teeth on his own, I would have known good hygiene happened the moment he realized girls are pretty.

Investing in your children is so important and pays huge dividends. I will not argue that.

But most of the things that once kept me awake at night, that convinced me that I was a total failure of a mom, eventually worked themselves out. Because kids grow up and seasons change.

It turns out I am a pretty decent mom, and it’s the impossible to potty train three years olds that are the problem.

Kids will always act like kids. And if there is a drum I will forever beat it’s that your child’s behavior does not get to decide your success as a mom.

(Which is something I have to remind myself daily when my teen and preteen hate me for existing on their planet.)
(And then love me so much five minutes later. Because hormones are weird.)

If your child is acting in a way that keeps you awake at night…or makes you crash hard from how exhausting they are…can I encourage you today that seasons always change?!

The weary behaviors of today will eventually become the sweetest memories and funniest stories.

I was humiliated when I hugged a stranger at Target and cried on her shoulder a decade ago, but I now chuckle every time I think of how incredibly awkward that must have been for her. I don’t quite think that’s what she was expecting when she asked if I needed help.

Every time I drive past the Waffle House where my son puked in my lap, to my great embarrassment, I perfectly envision the horrified look on the server’s face…and assure myself that it wasn’t the grossest thing that’s ever happened at the Waffle House in Key Largo.

The things that made me cry now make me laugh. Life truly is a circle game.

You are a really great mom raising really great kids. It may take a few years before you see evidence of that. But just you wait…the day will come when you stand eye to eye with your incredible child and you won’t believe how much you adore the big people they’ve become.

Seasons always change. I hope you’ll exchange your weariness and worried soul for the joy of the ride. There will always be ups. There will always be downs. Most things will work themselves out. No matter what, it’s a good, good life.

Keep up the important work of raising your awesome little humans! You are doing a much better job than you think.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Maybe your kids made you breakfast in bed. Maybe they barely acknowledged you.
Maybe your husband bought a thoughtful gift. Maybe you don’t have a husband who remembered or even a husband at all.
Maybe your kids gave you the space to relax. Maybe they fought all day.
(Editor’s note: of course they fought all day.)
Maybe this is the year you felt special. Maybe you cried in the closet.

Mother’s Day. It’s a precarious one.

Because how can the value of a mom be adequately acknowledged in a single day?

No amount of flowers, burnt toast, or alone time could ever truly honor your importance.

If I am being honest…the more kids I have and the older my kids get…the deeper my desire grows to be noticed for all I do.

Isn’t that the deepest truth of Mother’s Day? We just want one day where the people we love most acknowledge our value in their lives.

Can I whisper to your soul today…no matter what your family did or didn’t do for you, YOU ARE OF INFINITE VALUE to your family and to this world.

No matter how much bribery it required to get your kids to smile for that beautiful picture…

No matter if brunch was a total disaster…

No matter if your day was perfectly awesome or a pile of unmet expectations…

Your worth and your importance could never be reduced down to a single day.

Because how can you even begin to measure the worth of a mom?

You teach them to tie their shoes and ride a bike.
You make dinner even though you know they’ll complain.
You stay up way too late prepping for their birthday.
You wake up way too early to get ready for school.
You stand your ground on saying no to things you know are unwise.
You give grace when they blow it.
You hug them when they’re sad. And hug them when they’re mad.
You pay for their activities and figure out how to make the budget work.
You smile from the stands and give them a thumbs up when they look for your approval.

And when your exhausted head hits the pillow, you beat yourself up for all of things you didn’t do. Which is why I think Mother’s Day holds so much expectation.

Because more than anything, we just want to know we are doing a good job at the thing that matters most.

So I am telling you today…

YOU ARE DOING A REALLY GOOD JOB.

YOU ARE A REALLY GREAT MOM.

You show up. You love well. You smile the biggest.

You are the one who does it all for your family, most of which goes seemingly unnoticed.

But deep in their soul, I promise they notice.

When their exhausted heads hit the pillow, your kids rest well knowing they are happy, loved, safe, and secure.

Like I said…no amount of flowers, burnt toast, or alone time will ever be enough to measure the worth of a mom.

Because, Mama, you are of infinite value. You matter so much. So much more than you even realize.

Your kids are so fortunate to have you as their mom. They have no idea how lucky they are.

Happy Mother’s Day to the most amazing women I know.

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

Yesterday would have been my dad’s 67th birthday.

On his 66th birthday, he told me the most devastating news of my life: that this would likely be his last birthday on earth.

Last year, I mourned. I cried more tears than I thought were humanly possible.

This year, I grieve but I celebrate. Grieve that he isn’t here to deflect the attention his birthday would bring (as was his way). Grieve that he isn’t here to enjoy his favorite pound cake. Grieve for the conversations we can’t have. And missing the laughter he brought to the party.

But I also celebrate. Celebrate that he is enjoying his birthday where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Celebrate the man who squeezed the most out of the days he was given. Celebrate the 66 years I got to spend with the best dad.

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Most birthdays are spent looking forward to the year ahead, but for a man who has passed away, birthdays are spent reminiscing the joy he once brought us all.

And what surprises me most is how ordinary the most important memories are. We place high value on big trips and huge events and major accomplishments. But when a life is over, those things pale in comparison to the ordinary, seemingly mundane memories.

Life is so monotonous. Every day my kids complain about math and what I made for dinner. Every day I brush my teeth and make my bed. Every day I load the dishwasher and wipe the counters. Life is so daily.

But only if I choose to see it that way.

Because in the midst of the mundane is a life I am not promised. And it is a life better than I ever dreamed possible…a fact I’ve lost sight of in recent years when life had felt unkind in many ways. My dad’s death reoriented me in the best way possible. What I had written off as ordinary, even annoying, parts of life have become what I value the most.

Singing the same song every night to each of my kids (because they claim they’re unable to sleep until I do) can get tiring…until I step back and see they each have a song that will comfort them through the dark nights life is sure to bring.

Washing yet another load of laundry feels like a waste of a life…except it’s proof that there is a lot of living happening. The messier the clothes, the more fun we’ve had. How fortunate I am to be a part of it.

Making a dinner that everyone will complain about is beyond frustrating…but it is a gift to nourish bodies and souls that cannot yet comprehend the importance. One day, they’ll come back from college and chocolate chip cake will let them know they’re safely home. (Obviously no one complains about chocolate chip cake. But I have yet to make a meal in 13 years that all five children will one day love and treasure. However, we can all agree on cake.)

I actually made it through my dad’s birthday without much sadness. But when I was eating at Flame last month and the server brought out remoulade sauce, I cried and cried. The many times my dad served fried fish with his favorite remoulade, he could have never known it would forever remind me of him. He was just making dinner.

Or so he thought.

When I was a kid and my dad would take me to school, he and I would always “fight communism.” I would roll my eyes as he shined his bright lights at the enemy (oncoming cars) and said, “Hey!” to The Boys (five dogs that would sit on the same hill every day). As a teenager, I was mostly embarrassed by the game, but when one of my sons once told me he and Grandpa fought communism, it brought back the sweetest memories. My dad was just passing the time on the way to school.

Or so he thought.

You aren’t just making dinner. You aren’t just driving them to practice. You aren’t just sitting through another recital.

You are investing daily into the lives of the most important people. The smallest acts. The most mundane chores. The most ordinary days. They may not feel like much. But they have a unique way of adding up to a lifetime of awesome memories. Memories and experiences that your children will hold dear when life feels unkind and a love that will sustain them during their darkest days.

Memories that you will all laugh about at Christmas when they bring home their girlfriend for the first time. Memories that they will pass on to their kids. Memories that will bring them the greatest joy.

A life well lived may include fun vacations and getting the promotion and buying your dream home. It may. But I can assure you those aren’t the things that actually matter.

A life well lived today probably includes tying shoes, making the appointment, sitting in carline, listening to Baby Shark, and sweeping the floor. The smallest acts of love and sacrifice matter. And in a way I can’t explain, hold the power to turn the most ordinary moments into an extraordinary life.

Now That I Have Some Perspective…

You guys, I did it again. I successfully made it to my toddler’s bedtime and lived to tell about it! It was touch and go there for a moment. You wouldn’t believe the exorbitant amount of poop I had to clean up today.

Well, actually you would. That is, if you’ve ever had a one year old that was stopped up a few days before exploding the entire contents of their digestive system into a diaper incapable of holding such magnitude. I don’t even understand how a teeny body can do so much damage. But, alas, that was my day.

Parenting is so glamorous, isn’t it? No wonder it pays so well.

Having a bonus baby has allowed me to relive stages of life I thought I was past…but with some perspective and experience. It’s actually quite fun, and I highly recommend it. I am absolutely clueless what to do with my teenager (OH MY GOSH, YOU GUYS, I HAVE A TEENAGER. I have not managed to accept this reality, so let’s move on…).

Like I was saying, I haven’t a clue about teenagers. But toddlers? I am basically a professional by now.

And some things never change. I still do a little celebration dance every night when my daughter is successfully asleep. Like most toddlers, she spends the day testing out how many different ways she can destroy the house and injure herself in the process. It’s hard work keeping a one year old alive.

And then like an hour after she’s asleep, my husband and I can’t stop talking about how she’s the cutest child on the planet. Because when they’re not busy planning their demise, toddlers are literally the cutest humans on earth. The sweet giggles. The pure joy of experiencing everything that is new and amazing. I cannot get enough.

However, some things have changed this time around, as I raise my 5th and final child. I like to believe I enjoyed all of my children at this age, but the fact is I was so terrified of screwing them up that it overshadowed my enjoyment the first couple of go rounds.

But you know what? I do screw up a lot of days. I am not doing it all perfectly. Or anywhere close to perfect. And it turns out that that’s okay.

Miraculously, the toddlers I worried so much about are becoming pretty awesome people, despite my glaring inadequacies as a mom.

So with Ellie, I am not so hard on myself. On days where I blow it, I know tomorrow is new day. On days where I rock it, I pray those are the memories she keeps. On the days that are just pretty average, I am thankful for the gift of getting to raise children.

I think I am most grateful for those ordinary days.

I know kids don’t want to be rocked forever, so I rock my baby a little longer.

I know toddlers become capable teenagers, so I don’t worry about teaching her everything right this moment. There is time.

I know things like sleeping and potty training and annoying behaviors eventually work themselves out. I am sure I will hate potty training just as much as before, but I have proof every kid eventually learns. (I promise.)

I know I won’t always spend my time cleaning abhorrent amounts of poop like I did today.

But even today, when my one year old whined all day and pooped when she wasn’t whining, I am thankful for the opportunity for one more chance to experience it all again.

Because with the perspective life has afforded me, I know this is the greatest gift in life. To love a child well and raise little people who eventually become big people…that are more incredible than you could ever dream possible.

Moms and Dads, what you are doing matters. Matters so much more than it seems when you’re in the weeds of it all. But those sweet toddlers and preschoolers who are impossibly hard and giving you a run for your money every single day…I promise they will grow up into amazing people who bring you so much joy. These nights where you have rightfully earned the right to celebrate another day of keeping them alive will eventually turn into nights where they ask you important life questions and really care about what you have to say.

I know the days can feel so long. I know how easy it is to beat yourself up about all of the things you’re not. But as you celebrate making it through another day, be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job with those little people. A really, really great job.

 

 

 

 

 

You guys, I did it again. I successfully made it to my toddler’s bedtime and lived to tell about it! It was touch and go there for a moment. You wouldn’t believe the exorbitant amount of poop I had to clean up today.

Well, actually you would. That is, if you’ve ever had a one year old that was stopped up a few days before exploding the entire contents of their digestive system into a diaper incapable of holding such magnitude. I don’t even understand how a teeny body can do so much damage. But, alas, that was my day.

Parenting is so glamorous, isn’t it? No wonder it pays so well.

Having a bonus baby has allowed me to relive stages of life I thought I was past…but with some perspective and experience. It’s actually quite fun, and I highly recommend it. I am absolutely clueless what to do with my teenager (OH MY GOSH, YOU GUYS, I HAVE A TEENAGER. I have not managed to accept this reality, so let’s move on…).

Like I was saying, I haven’t a clue about teenagers. But toddlers? I am basically a professional by now.

And some things never change. I still do a little celebration dance every night when my daughter is successfully asleep. Like most toddlers, she spends the day testing out how many different ways she can destroy the house and injure herself in the process. It’s hard work keeping a one year old alive.

And then like an hour after she’s asleep, my husband and I can’t stop talking about how she’s the cutest child on the planet. Because when they’re not busy planning their demise, toddlers are literally the cutest humans on earth. The sweet giggles. The pure joy of experiencing everything that is new and amazing. I cannot get enough.

However, some things have changed this time around, as I raise my 5th and final child. I like to believe I enjoyed all of my children at this age, but the fact is I was so terrified of screwing them up that it overshadowed my enjoyment the first couple of go rounds.

But you know what? I do screw up a lot of days. I am not doing it all perfectly. Or anywhere close to perfect. And it turns out that that’s okay.

Miraculously, the toddlers I worried so much about are becoming pretty awesome people, despite my glaring inadequacies as a mom.

So with Ellie, I am not so hard on myself. On days where I blow it, I know tomorrow is new day. On days where I rock it, I pray those are the memories she keeps. On the days that are just pretty average, I am thankful for the gift of getting to raise children.

I think I am most grateful for those ordinary days.

I know kids don’t want to be rocked forever, so I rock my baby a little longer.

I know toddlers become capable teenagers, so I don’t worry about teaching her everything right this moment. There is time.

I know things like sleeping and potty training and annoying behaviors eventually work themselves out. I am sure I will hate potty training just as much as before, but I have proof every kid eventually learns. (I promise.)

I know I won’t always spend my time cleaning abhorrent amounts of poop like I did today.

But even today, when my one year old whined all day and pooped when she wasn’t whining, I am thankful for the opportunity for one more chance to experience it all again.

Because with the perspective life has afforded me, I know this is the greatest gift in life. To love a child well and raise little people who eventually become big people…that are more incredible than you could ever dream possible.

Moms and Dads, what you are doing matters. Matters so much more than it seems when you’re in the weeds of it all. But those sweet toddlers and preschoolers who are impossibly hard and giving you a run for your money every single day…I promise they will grow up into amazing people who bring you so much joy. These nights where you have rightfully earned the right to celebrate another day of keeping them alive will eventually turn into nights where they ask you important life questions and really care about what you have to say.

I know the days can feel so long. I know how easy it is to beat yourself up about all of the things you’re not. But as you celebrate making it through another day, be kind to yourself. You are doing a great job with those little people. A really, really great job.

 

 

 

 

 

All Moms Lose Their Crap Sometimes.

“I lose my crap on my kids sometimes. I love them more than anything, but some days I just lose it.”

This was the most common response when I recently asked parents to share their biggest struggles in raising kids.

(Thank you to all who responded. Life happened and I haven’t replied yet…but I took good notes! The “project” I was referring to was the possibility of writing another ebook, and I wanted to collect ideas from parents in the thick of raising kids. I have taken an honest assessment of my life and don’t think that’s in my near future. Instead of an entire book, I will complete my project in a series of social media posts.)

Can I offer some hope to you today?

All parents lose their crap sometimes. All of them. Seriously, every last one of them.

We are flawed humans raising miniature flawed humans. I am not a mathematician, but I know enough to know that 1 flawed human + 1 flawed human = a lot of imperfect moments.

Life is messy. People can be annoying, demanding, moody, selfish…and that’s just me on an ordinary Thursday. Kids wake up cranky, wanting their way, and doing whatever it takes to get it. The mixing of several humans under one roof naturally breeds conflict. And sometimes conflict makes us act in a way we’re not proud of.

Losing your crap on little people is normal. Not the best part of life, to be sure, but a natural part of the human experience.

Yet you feel immense guilt when you blow it. Which makes you feel ashamed. And you are an American, so you pretend everything is fine. Which makes you think no one else is struggling. Because no one talks about it. So you feel more shame. And you keep it to yourself. Because you think you’re the only one.

And I get it. It’s hard for me to post this because even though I know that I know every parent blows a gasket on occasion, I am still nervous to write it on Facebook.

But it’s true. Everyone loses their crap sometimes. Humans will forever and always act like the imperfect and flawed humans they are.

When you act like a fool and yell at a six year old, stop letting guilt and shame eat you alive. It does you no good. Apologize to your kids. Forgive yourself. Humility and forgiveness are some of life’s greatest gifts. Use them abundantly and often. 

Children are the most amazing people on earth. They bring immense joy and fun. I absolutely love being a mom. But I am not immune to screwing up sometimes. And neither are you.

Give yourself some grace. Take a deep breath. You’re a great mom doing the best you can. And, my friend, that is more than enough.