Life Events That Deserve a Party

Wedding season is upon us. The coronavirus has sadly changed many plans, but hopefully life will soon resume and weddings and showers will still get to happen. I know that wedding showers are meant to help soon-to-be married couples start their first home. While the sentiment is nice, as a child bride whose brain was not fully cooked the day I said, “I do,” I think we should rethink the whole thing.

Not do away with wedding showers. For sure, not. Young adults with loads of college debt need all the help they can get. And I am happy to oblige in exchange for rubbery chicken and the Cha Cha Slide.

But you know who else needs some help? A middle-aged woman who is still using said wedding gifts fifteen years and five kids later. Someone who now realizes that good pots and pans are more important than building a DVD collection that will unknowingly age faster than that young bride’s face. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have registered for good health insurance, probably a urinal, and the most expensive noise canceling headphones money could buy.

Unfortunately, my under-developed brain apparently thought that marriage was built on love and 47 picture frames. I barely knew how to make mac ‘n cheese from a box, so surely I would never need things such as a “blender” or “mixing bowls”? And I hadn’t lost enough sleep to yet know the value of good sheets.

I am not necessarily advocating for anniversary showers, mostly because I don’t have the energy to feign excitement over a toothbrush holder. But between graduations and showers, most of life’s celebrations happen before 30. When the times we really need to come together and party happen well after.

Because I love a good list, and I have too much time on my hands, I have compiled a helpful guide of life events that deserve a party (and gifts if you’re feeling generous):

  1. Potty training a toddler. I hate potty training more than anything. I would rather spend my entire paycheck on diapers than chase a naked two-year-old around the house, asking if he needs to potty. Put him on the potty, for him not to potty. Until he’s off the potty and pees all over the floor next to the potty. Have I said the word “potty” enough? Multiply that times a million, and you have day one of potty training. It’s the worst.

    Gift ideas include: professional carpet cleaning, air fresheners, and enough chocolate to eat your feelings

  2. Teaching a child to read. Just when you recover from the PTSD that is feeding M&Ms to a child in exchange for poopies, you must begin the second worst part of parenting: phonics and sight words. There is nothing more boring on the planet than listening to a child sound out “ca-ca-ca….DOG!” How we get from “ca” to “dog”, when it’s obviously “cat” (AND THERE IS EVEN A PICTURE OF A CAT), is something I will never comprehend. Literacy is important, of course, so we must forge ahead. The first time a child successfully reads a book, we should throw that mom a ticker tape parade (that she definitely does not have to clean up herself).

    Gift ideas include: copious amounts of coffee and a ceremonial burning of phonics flashcards

  3. The first time you find a gray hair (or a much too long facial hair). guide of life events that deserve a party Obviously #1 and #2 are to blame for this milestone that happened WAYYYYYY sooner than my child-bride-self expected. Hair dye covers the external evidence, but internally, this sends a woman spiraling. How is the universe so against us that we still get pimples while our hair grays and our preteens wonder aloud if we are really wearing that shirt out of the house?! It’s the perfect storm of self-esteem annihilation that honestly deserves a party more than ever.

    Gift ideas include: telling me I’m pretty and my shirt is totally cute; a magnifying mirror if you want to be X’ed out of my life forever

  4. The moment you realize you’re becoming your mother. Look, I have an awesome mom. There are worse things in life I could be. But sometimes my mother comes straight out of my mouth, and I am surprised I am now the woman my teenage self was embarrassed to exist on the same planet with. Sure, I inherited some great qualities from her; it’s just never not surprising that we’ve arrived at this place.

    Gift ideas include: a time machine, a JCPenney gift card because it’s inevitable, and cute shoes (because my mama knows how to spend money on good shoes)

  5. Surviving middle school. No, not as a middle schooler, but as a parent of a middle schooler. My oldest son just finished 8th grade, and that’s a day I wasn’t sure either of us would see. He is especially gifted at completing schoolwork but not turning it in, then being totally shocked when his teacher called me. I mean, he did the work. How did they not magically know this? I especially loved being asked 12 times a day if he could download Snapchat. Apparently, my overused phrase, “That’s been asked and answered” was taken as more of a challenge than a statement.

But I did it, you guys. And honestly my pride over this moment is the entire reason for this post. Middle school graduation is enough of a prize for this particular victory, but gift cards to a therapist are welcome. Especially when I remember I have to endure this four more times. Never mind the fact I still have to potty train my last toddler and teach her to read. Yikes.

Before this devolves into a cry for help (as if it hasn’t already), I will stop. There are dozens more events that definitely deserve a celebration. Too many to list here, honestly.

If my friends and family fulfilled my Target registry without knowing if this thing would even work out (and probably assumed it wouldn’t, given that Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights was listed when everyday dishes were nowhere to be found), then surely we can honor the mostly overlooked milestones that are fraught with more tears, prayers, and elation than a wedding will ever be.

Shower brides, of course. But when the china has collected dust and the silver has tarnished, celebrate the middle-aged women who have lived enough life to know good shoes are always worth it and life’s little milestones are what makes it all worth living.

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Hope For Your Weary Soul

I’ve been thinking a lot about Easter. The meaning of it and its timing.

As a collective whole, we’ve all been stripped of what we hold dear: relationships, jobs, freedom, control. So much of life has been taken for granted, and it’s been humbling to see what truly matters in life. And where we’ve placed too much value on unimportant things.

All week long, I’ve worked to reconcile Holy Week during one of the worst weeks in modern America. I’m rarely at a loss of words, but the words just wouldn’t come. Religious platitudes can feel hollow when the future feels so uncertain.

Late last night, I stumbled upon words my twelve-year-old daughter wrote. She mentioned starting a blog, but I didn’t know she actually had.

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I read her words that concluded with, “It will be okay if we have one year without people besides our family,” with the emphasis on ONE.

I am her mom, so, of course, anything she writes makes me beam with pride. But these words encouraged my weary heart as I read them. This week I emotionally hit a wall. The quarantine is wearing me down. I’m in the head space where this feels like it will never end. It all feels like too much, and I don’t think I am alone.

But the writings of my preteen girl speak of the greater truth: it’s just one Easter.

It won’t last forever.

If ever there were a way to reconcile Holy Week and the impact of social distancing, it’s the tender words of the One who breathed His last breath on this day thousands of years ago,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I don’t know if you’re an atheist, an occasional church goer, or a person of faith. Jesus isn’t concerned with your religious resume or lack thereof. His offer of rest and peace and hope is for you. And if your brain is opposing that with all of the reasons it’s untrue, you’re in luck. Jesus happens to really like people who don’t much like Him.

You may not believe in Jesus or typically care much for church or religious people, but you aren’t typically enduring a global pandemic either. If this moment in history finds you spiraling into anxiety and fear and shame as everything you value most is gone (at least for the moment), you are certainly not alone.

With no community egg hunts and no church service to routinely attend this holiday, in the words of my daughter, you can do fine without those. But when you lay awake at night wondering why this is all happening and thinking there has to be more to life than this, you can find rest for your weary soul.

The global pandemic and the economic fallout and the fear surrounding it all is heavy. I won’t pretend it’s not. In a way I cannot explain unless you experience it for yourself, Jesus is able to take the very worst things in life and exchange them for unexplainable peace and hope.

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You may not believe that you’re worthy because of what you’ve done or the choices you’ve made. Good Friday serves as the hope in what Jesus DID on the cross, not what you’ve done in your life. He exchanges your weary and burdened soul for His light and easy yoke.

If you are exhausted, burned out, disheartened, depressed, anxious, angry, sad, unsure, fearful, or just plain tired…Jesus’ invitation stands,

“Come to me.”  

You Can Do Nothing During A Pandemic

The people creating memes during the coronavirus are honestly doing their best work. As someone who avoids bad news like it’s my job, memes are practically my love language. Just when I think the internet can’t get any funnier, Joe Exotic enters the zeitgeist in the best and weirdest way possible.
 
The exception I take to the meme game is the one circulating about how Isaac Newton invented calculus during the Bubonic plague. I appreciate the sentiment that being at home for an extended period of time affords us the opportunity to do something magical.
 
But you know what it also affords us? The opportunity to do nothing.
 
Isaac Newton may have invented calculus during a plague. But maybe the woman who birthed him and raised him and sent him to college was doing the 17th century equivalent of locking herself in her bedroom to binge watch Tiger King on a Thursday afternoon.
 
There is absolutely nothing wrong with coming out of this quarantine a new person with newly acquired skills and perfectly organized drawers. And there is also nothing wrong with coming out of this quarantine exactly the same you went into it (save for finally being caught up on all of your favorite shows).
 
You are surviving a global pandemic, not taking a weekend spa retreat to the Bahamas.
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Perhaps spending 30 days in a row in your house without seeing friends while trying to homeschool your kids and work your job (or maybe you lost your job) with no breaks during a worldwide crisis isn’t the *best* time to become your best self.
 
I paint and clean and organize because that is how I successfully avoid bad news. It’s not because productivity is more valuable than rest. It’s how I survive the unknown.
 
There are many ways to survive a pandemic. Among them:
– consume an exorbitant amount of carbs
– watch allllllll the news
– read
– ignore responsibilities
– excessively post on social media
– create art
– delight in being an introvert
– panic if you’re an extrovert
– do literally nothing
 
None is nobler than the rest. Newton chose Calculus. I am suddenly interested in the underbelly of the Big Cat world. It might be all you can do to get out of bed in the morning. There is no shame in whatever you choose.
 
There is a weird amount of pressure to become amazing during this historical time of social distancing. Some people thrive in chaotic life circumstances. Some people can barely focus on anything. It’s okay to be whoever you need to be. That might even change day to day.
 
I think we forget that there is a lot of life to be lived post-pandemic. This time sort of feels like the weeks leading up to having a baby. You somehow convince yourself that baseboards must be cleaned right now because it feels like there will never be another time to do so. But the baby comes, and you realize none of those nesting chores were as urgent as they seemed.
 
The same is true of a global crisis. Life will eventually normalize. And you can become amazing in July or next year or in 2027.
 
Or maybe, just maybe, you can realize that you are known and loved and valuable just the way you are. Don’t allow your social media feed to cause you to believe otherwise.
 
• The parents acing the homeschool game likely thrive with structure and order.
• The artists creating are doing their part to make the world a brighter place.
• The ones with clean homes and freshly painted walls are letting their kids play way too much Fortnite (ask me how I know).
• The people hiking may feel like their walls on caving in, and the fresh air is the only thing keeping them sane.
• Those posting on social media are showing five awesome minutes of a day that might have ended with crying in the shower.
• And the guy inventing Calculus will be hated by every high school student for the rest of eternity. So maybe he isn’t so amazing after all, you know?!
 
I promised myself I wouldn’t write during this crisis because I didn’t want to add to the noise on social media. With little else to do, there are a lot of words being written and a lot of words being said. But they seem to heavily favor the idea of making this time as productive as possible (hello, the exhausting American way).
 
So I broke my own promise in order to write for those who are barely hanging on by a thread and fighting fear and wondering how this is all going to shake out.
 
Stop feeling guilty if this isn’t the most magical time for you and you seize in fear more than you seize the day. It’s a freaking global pandemic, which is literally the least magical thing to ever happen. Even if you don’t see it when scrolling through Instagram, this is really hard for everyone. And none of us have a clue about any of this. We are all in this together, doing the best we can. You can be whatever and whoever you need to be to survive.
 
And if that includes illegally buying a tiger to keep you company during this lonely time, I happen to know a guy.

5 Tips for the 4th Quarter Homeschool Mom

Last week, I wrote a lighthearted post about homeschooling when you never wanted to homeschool in the first place. That turned out to be a simpler time when it seemed like everyone was just getting a bonus week of Spring Break. The stakes were low, and the quality of advice even lower.

The reality of the situation has taken an unexpected turn, and many of you are scrambling to make sense of it all and figuring out how to educate your children at home when that has never been your plan (or even fits with your reality).

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The best gift I can give the world at the moment is keeping my little petri dishes at home, and I think the next best thing I can give is help for those trying to figure out this new normal.

On my best day, I am the most average homeschool mom. That’s important to know because if you searched Pinterest or Instagram in an effort to broaden your understanding of teaching your children at home, you likely encountered liars moms who are very gifted in this.

Starting there will set you up for failure, and I know this because that is how I lived for at least three years. It took me a very long time (as in, YEARS) to feel confident in homeschooling my children. If you are on day three of this adventure and feel like you’re drowning, you are definitely normal. It is likely you will feel that way for the entirety of your fourth quarter homeschool tenure. That’s okay! You will still do a great job.

Much of the advice in my original post stands, but more applicable ideas are probably helpful at this point.

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5 Tips for the Fourth Quarter Homeschool Mom:

1. The most important part of homeschooling your children is CONNECTION. This has never been truer than now. This crazy global pandemic offers a gift in the form of quality time with your family. Value your relationship above academics. This feels like a historic event that our children will remember for a lifetime, and how they felt during it matters more than their school work.

{If you struggle to connect with your child, Brene Brown has a wonderful teaching on this subject. It’s short and free on Hoopla. If your library is closed, Hoopla is an excellent resource to get free books, as long as you have a library card.}

Your relationships matter the most. If you have a personality conflict with a given child or are having a hard time figuring out how to homeschool, always put your relationship first. Bond over The Office or a walk around the block or (Lord, help us all) Tik Tok. Value connection with your children. When summer soon hits and their brains turn to mush anyway, you will be so glad you did.

2. But it’s not summer yet. And school work still matters. Legally, it has to be done, I think?! You do not have to replicate the school setting at home. It’s probably best not to, actually. A novel virus is a great opportunity for a novel school experience (you like what I did there??). Kids can do math right when they wake up. Or at 2 pm. Or after dinner. Some kids work best at a table. Others in their bed.

{If you’re all in on this fourth quarter homeschool mom thing, The Way They Learn is an excellent book about, well, the way children learn. I highly recommend it!}

My boys like to sit around our dining room table to annoy each other because a hard chair and people present helps them focus. My daughter prefers to work in her bed, alone in a comfortable spot. My toddler chooses to draw on herself with marker.

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One of my boys inevitably goes to the living room because his little introvert heart has reached its limit. Plus, he likes to kneel by the coffee table to work. Let your children live their best homeschool life by doing work where it feels right to them. It’s fascinating to discover their quirky learning styles.

{If you need to supplement your child’s education, Khan Academy is great resource. Outschool is another site that comes highly recommended by a friend.}

3. Even with kids spread out all over the house, starting in a central location is helpful. It doesn’t have to be fancy. We use our dining room. It is probably overkill to set up everything you need, but having most of the necessary supplies nearby will save your sanity: pencils, scissors, glue, markers, etc. (I have used this for many years, and it’s perfect to organize school supplies.) By now, your sanity is probably long gone, so as long as your child has a pencil, you’re good to go!

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4. Take a recess! Anytime! Physical activity is an absolute necessity. Play outside. Ride bikes. Jump on the trampoline. If the weather is bad, GoNoodle is super fun. Use the flexibility of homeschooling to your advantage and play as much as possible.

5. Be kind to yourself and your children. There will be A LOT of togetherness in the next several weeks. Too many people together for too long is, as you know, A LOT. Extend extra grace to everyone, including yourself. You will yell over something so stupid. Your children will cry over something even stupider. You will want to get divorced and give sole custody of your children to your spouse at least twice a week.

And that’s why it’s important to remember connection matters the most. Apologize when you blow it. Offer compassion when your children do. Netflix and chill with your man because it’s cheaper than divorce.

This unprecedented time feels overwhelming with so many unknowns. Homeschooling your children is likely not your first choice (nor is a global pandemic, for that matter), but YOU CAN DO IT! You are more than capable. It won’t be perfect. It won’t always be pretty. You have potty trained a two year old, and I promise that’s way harder than anything you will encounter in the next eight weeks.

But if it’s a total dumpster fire, your children will likely never complain about going to school again. And perhaps that is the best education you could ever give.

Homeschooling During The Coronavirus

Parents who may end up having to homeschool for a few weeks and are worried you don’t have the patience for that:

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve been homeschooling for nine years and still don’t have the patience for it 🤣🤣🤣🤣

But if you need guidance, I am happy to help. In hopefully just a few more weeks, your little cherubs will get back on the school bus. And you’ll be alone in the quiet, wondering how your homeschool friends afford all those snacks children suddenly require when it’s time to do math.

Until then, I have created a list for you to survive these trying times.

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Ten Ways To Survive Homeschooling Children (who you would be homeschooling all of the time if you actually wanted to homeschool them):

  1. Crank up the music. A dance party is good for the soul. When your classmates are your siblings, fights break out over things you never knew were possible to fight about. Dancing is the fastest way to restore peace because it’s a scientific fact that no one can resist a good beat (especially when the alternative is diagramming sentences.)
  2. When tensions get high, send your children outside. Abductions should be at an all-time low right now, so it’s the perfect time to not watch them while you enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
  3. If the weather is problematic (or your next-door neighbor sneezes towards your house without regard for the current social climate) and you must stay indoors, water solves nearly every problem. Put little kids in a bath. Make big kids take a shower. It’s amazing what water can do for a cranky child. Or a cranky mother. I have been known to take a bubble bath at two o’clock in the afternoon when I find myself fighting with a child about adverbs.
  4. This is the perfect time to Venmo your child’s teacher one million dollars when you realize that teaching one child multiplication tables is impossibly hard, and they have to teach twenty-five children all at once. Nothing like a national crisis to remind us all that we do not deserve the amazingness that is our teachers.

  5. A forced homeschooling situation is the perfect time to teach your children what their homeschool friends already do on a daily basis: bake bread from scratch, sew yourself a denim jumper, and learn to braid your hair. JUST KIDDING. This is the time to do what it takes to survive. And if that includes a little too much Fortnite, consider that their socialization.
  6. If you text your BFF on a near daily basis that you are considering selling your children in exchange for toilet paper, CONGRATS! You are officially a homeschool mom. Welcome to the club.

  7. The upside of homeschooling is the flexibility it allows. You can give a spelling test at 8 am or 10 pm. If patience is running low and yelling is running high, take a break. Lock yourself in your bedroom and binge Love Is Blind to remind yourself that you are capable of making good life decisions. And Jessica probably made straight A’s in school, so perhaps there’s more to life than acing that spelling test.
  8. This is the perfect opportunity to let you know that your college experience will be put to good use in the days to come. Not the education part. No, I am talking about all those hours you spent at the Pi Kappa Alpha house. Because your normally beautiful home is about to be transformed into a gross frat house. Children will wake up and go to bed at all times of the day and night. Your fridge will only have a bottle of mustard and one beer by the end of this thing. A mysterious layer of sticky will be on every surface. There will be pee in places you didn’t know pee could be. That student loan debt will feel justified when you realize you spent four years preparing for such a time as this.
  9. Have grace with yourself and grace for your children. This is weird and confusing and new for everyone. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest homeschool mom or anything even close. Do what you have to do to survive. Even though it feels like it, this won’t last forever. And no one is going to die if you skip a chapter of science.
  10. This is a sweet opportunity to embrace the forced slow down and enjoy your family in a way life does not often allow. I know it can be potentially scary financially and the unknowns are difficult to process, so I do not want to dismiss very real feelings. My hope is that this will serve as a resetting of sorts, where the best in humanity comes out and communities inexplicably grow closer during the social distancing.

 

“In the darkness, there is always light.
In the light, there is always hope.
In hope, there is always love.”
– Author Unknown

Let us be people of light, hope, and love.

And truly, if you need some help or encouragement, message me anytime. If anything, I know exactly how much a 4th grader sells for on eBay. Even with the discounted coronavirus rate, it’s enough to cover the cost of their snacks.

What Is Your Story?

My church hosted a baby dedication on Sunday where parents commit to raising their children to love and follow God. I love how my church honors and celebrates its youngest members.

The theme was, “What Is Your Story? What is the unique story God is writing for you and your family?”

I love this idea because it offers so much hope. For new parents, it’s the hopeful anticipation of the beautiful story that will unfold in the years to come. For seasoned parents and grandparents, it’s the hope that chapters are still being written, and it’s never too late to write a new story line.

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God writes a different story for every family, and I had the privilege to share part of mine at the dedication brunch.

I appreciate how God makes every child and every family unique. But I haven’t always liked parts of the story He was writing for my family.

When my oldest son was a toddler, he was the shyest little guy. As the most extrovert of extroverts, being home with my toddler was lonely for me, so I attended every moms group, playdate, and church event possible. My reserved son did not share my enthusiasm. He would cling to my leg, cry when I dropped him off, and took a long time to warm up in social situations.

I would stay awake at night, wondering how he was ever going to make it in life. How would he interview for a job? Would he ever be a contributing member of society? I was concerned for him, and I was embarrassed by what people thought of me. I wondered if his nerves were my fault. Did I fail to form a healthy attachment? Had I done something wrong? I just knew I was somehow to blame that he wasn’t outgoing like most boys his age.

Fast forward a couple of years and a couple of kids later.

Pinterest was invented and singlehandedly took parenting to a whole other ridiculous level. Birthday parties now required a bank loan, and I believed that I had to be a crafty mom to be a good mom. Following a tutorial from someone who is actually talented, I made my first DIY home décor. I hot glued some materials to a dollar store vase and filled it with candy. When my husband got home from work, he gently questioned the wisdom and quality of a dollar store glass vase filled with candy in a home where our three children were all under five years old. Sure enough, my kids plowed through the candy by bedtime, and the vase didn’t make it much longer.

Never deterred, I decided to impress my children with my newfound Pinterest knowledge. They enjoyed eating their boogers, so I figured they were an easy crowd to please. I made them the cutest lunch. I used cookie cutters for fun sandwiches and topped their peanut butter celery with raisins to create edible ants on the log.

My children sat down at the table and all ran off screaming, “THERE IS RAT POOP ON OUR FOOD!”

All of my Pinterest hopes and dreams were crushed.

Fast forward a few more years.

A dear friend, who I greatly admired, taught her kids the Bible in the coolest ways. Her family read it together, and she made the words come alive. I wanted my kids to love the Bible and thought how I would be an amazing mom if I accomplished that. So I gathered my supplies, sat my kids down, and told them that we are a Christian family who would now be reading the Bible together.

The best way to describe how this turned out is…well…have you ever watched WWE? This sweet devotional time turned into an episode of Monday Night Raw. Kids were wrestling. Things were thrown. There was screaming. Mostly from me.

In what could only be described as the ugliest of ugly cries, I sobbed to my husband that our kids would probably never follow the Lord if we couldn’t even read the Word of God without trying kill each other. Ever the voice of reason, he kindly suggested maybe I should stop being so hard on myself and trust God.

Over the next few years, that’s exactly what I did. As I gained more experience as a mom and matured (both in age and in my relationship with God), instead of trying to be someone I am not, I embraced the unique story He is writing for my family.

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The nervous and shy toddler that I was unsure could ever adjust to adulthood is the most awesome young man. He is outgoing and has lots of friends. He is so funny and has gotten in trouble for being the class clown. Who he was as a toddler was, in no way, indicative of the person he has become.

These days, my kids are content with a bag of chips and an orange for lunch. I gave up on DIY projects years ago, and they’ve grown up just fine in a home with factory made décor from Hobby Lobby. My daughter loves to craft (and destroy my house in the process). My complete inability in that area did not impede the creative girl God made her to be.

My children, whose spiritual lives seemed doomed before they began, all love the Lord with their varying levels of childlike faith. We’ve yet to have a precious devotional around the dinner table. However, sometimes when we are driving down the street and the car is unusually quiet, my little boy will pipe up from the back of the van, “Mom, why do boys have wieners and girls have front butts?”

This is not at all how I pictured their spiritual growth to happen, yet here we are. While buckled in their seats with nowhere to wrestle (legally), I have a captive audience to share with them the words of Psalm 139 that tell how God made each of them perfectly before they were ever born. He knows exactly how many hairs are on their head. He made them just the way He wants them: how they look, their personality, what they’re good at, what they’re not. As much as I love them, Jesus loves them infinitely more and is writing the most awesome story for each of them.

The same is true of you. Your story may be everything you dreamed of and more or it may look nothing like you imagined. Either way, God made you the perfect parent for your children. Your strengths help shape them into the people God has designed them to be. Where you fall short, His grace and goodness are more than enough to make up for your deficit.

Chapter by chapter, God is penning the most beautiful story.

The Emotional Load We Carry

There is no better way to end a cold, wintry day than to soak in a hot bubble bath. I had had a particularly long day, and I could not wait to unwind before bed. While trying to relax (an oxymoron every woman understands), I replayed the day in my mind. Just when the water reached that perfect level where my body is covered but my hair stays dry, I sat straight up.

“When I registered my car earlier, had I registered the one I no longer own?” I thought to myself. The timing of the renewal seemed weird, and I am not great with details. It’s very possible I had just paid for a two-year license plate for a car I don’t even own.

I couldn’t relax because I felt so dumb for not paying more attention. It wasn’t even that much money. It was the principle of the matter. Unable to think of anything else, I got out of the bath, dried off, and went downstairs.

To find out that I had not made a mistake. The car I paid to license is a car I actually own.

Whew. I was relieved.

But then I couldn’t fall asleep. Even though I was exhausted.

My brain conveniently chose then to think back over all of the times my inattention to detail has cost me. Then, of course, it spiraled from there. I can’t remember what I had for lunch today, but I can remember the time six years ago when I said something stupid to a stranger who has no memory of ever meeting me.

This exchange all transpired in, oh, about five minutes. The human brain is lovely.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I started thinking about the emotional load women carry. I am certainly not the first person to talk about this, and I do not have scientific data to prove it. But from experience, I think this is the source of most of my stress.

It’s a weird thing to talk about because most of what I do in a given day is what I want to be doing. I chose to have a big family. I want to homeschool my children. I enjoy working from home. I like hanging out with friends.

But that’s not where my stress originates. I genuinely adore my children, so it’s hard to reconcile why sometimes I explode in anger at them. It’s embarrassing to think of myself screaming at a seven-year-old and how I end some days in tears because the emotions ran high and the connection felt low.

Yes, children push buttons. They fight like it’s their day job. They complain about every meal I’ve ever made. But they aren’t the real problem.

The issue is that life is full of teeny tiny decisions and stressors and distractions and needs that collectively are overwhelming and hard to process.

Think about an ordinary day.

I wake up and get ready for the day. I notice I am low on socks and make a mental note to sort socks later. I brush my teeth and think about how I probably need to replace my toothbrush soon. The dentist always gives a free one, which reminds me I haven’t been to the dentist in a long time. So long that I will feel dumb when I go, so I probably shouldn’t bother. My son comes in, and I wonder if he’s brushing adequately enough. The answer is obvious. Ugh, I am the worst mom. Tonight, I will make sure everyone brushes their teeth for a full two minutes. At least I take them to the dentist every six months. But I keep forgetting to schedule an orthodontist appointment. I wish my kids could magically have straight teeth. How am I even going to afford braces for all five kids…

All of this after I have been awake for exactly twelve minutes. There are still 948 minutes left in the day for this thought process to continue.

No wonder I’m exhausted. It’s not the people or the circumstances. It’s the little things that feel too insignificant to matter but when compiled together, send me over the edge.

When I explode at my child for coming out of her room for the 47th time after she’s (supposedly) gone to bed, it’s not that I am unhappy to see her. It’s that I am just so done with life that I cannot parent for one more millisecond.

When she asks what we are doing tomorrow, I can’t offer a sane answer like, “Oh sweetie, we have school just like we do every Tuesday,” to satisfy her curiosity.

Instead my exhausted, overworked brain responds with, “I SAID GO TO BED. DO NOT COME DOWN HERE ONE MORE TIME. IT’S TUEDSAY. WE DO WHAT WE DO EVERY TUESDAY. SCHOOL. I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE THIRSTY. YOU CAN DRINK TOMORROW.”

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And I say to no one in particular, “Why does no one respect me? Just one night, I wish everyone would stay in their rooms and do what I say. All I am asking for is one night. But, no, that will never happen…”

You can fill in the rest of the story with your own experience, I imagine.

The emotional load we women carry is a lot. It’s too much. Even for someone like me, who has an involved husband and helpful kids.

I have learned that when I am at my worst, it’s my brain’s way of signaling that I need a break. From responsibility and my children and my house. There are few problems in life that a stroll through the mall with an iced coffee can’t help.

And I am learning to pay closer attention and take breaks long before I explode on the tiny humans I adore so much. For me, that’s more nights out with friends and more weekends away with my husband and more fountain Diet Cokes in a quiet car. For you, it might mean an afternoon with a good book or watching reruns of The Office for the millionth time or running a few miles through the woods.

When I take the time to recharge, my perspective always changes. Instead of focusing on the overwhelmingly hard things in life, I see the good in the people around me and in my circumstances. I remember how much I love my family. And how it is a privilege to be their mom. I am thankful for our inside jokes and how much fun we have and even for the mountain of laundry. Because all that laundry means there are a lot of people living a lot of life inside the walls of my home.

Quieting the thoughts that swirl in my head and handling the emotional stress that comes at me a million times a day…is what it takes to finally see all of the good.

And when I do, I can’t believe how good I have it.

Support Group For Moms Of Preteens

My son asked me what I would do if I was walking behind a blind man who dropped a million dollars. Would I keep it or return it?

The question seemed like such a great opportunity to talk about how important integrity is and how we always do the right thing, even when no one sees (no pun intended).

As I channeled my best Monica Aldama and began my life-changing speech, my preteen daughter interrupted and gave what could only be described as the most mocking of lectures. She sarcastically answered his question on my behalf, incorporating all of the words I repeat constantly.

You know, the things that no one ever responds to, so surely they must not be listening?! 

Oh, my friends, your children are listening. They are just waiting until the ripe age of twelve to regurgitate them in a way that is equally impressive and destroys your self esteem in one conversation. 

Honestly, I should have known this was coming. When I was twelve, I was being so disrespectful to my mom that my dad made me get out of the car on the side of a highway. As a personal injury lawyer, he made sure I knew that the most dangerous thing you can do is get out of your vehicle on the side of a highway. Yet, there I stood, my twelve year old self so unbearable that the danger was worth it.

You could say present day me is reaping what I sowed.

You could also say that it’s a miracle that any mother allows her child to live to see her 13th birthday. 

From what I can tell, I certainly won’t get there with an ounce of dignity left. 

Which brings me to my point. It’s time to start a Support Group For Moms Of Preteens. Each week, we will gather to tell each other that our athleisure wear is super cute. And our aging faces are flawless. That we are the BEST moms who honestly care too much about our kids. 

Some of these might be stretching the truth *a bit*, but it’s an important component to balancing out the barrage of horrid words we hear on the daily:

“You are actually going to wear that in public? Mmmmkay.”

“You know a little exercise would get rid of that double chin.” 

“WHY DO YOU HATE ME!! WHY ARE YOU YELLING AT ME!!”

(Note to the reader: this response comes as a result of asking the preteen to throw away her trash in a calm, normal voice.)

At home, your very presence is usually met eye rolling and loud sighs, but at SG4MOP, all are welcome and appreciated. We will eat yummy snacks without the threat of being told we chew too loudly. I don’t want to spoil everything, but let’s just say you will actually breathe without being yelled at. I know, I know. It sounds too good to be true. 

Meetings will be held weekly, as a way to build up our confidence as we navigate this treacherous time. 

You will return home with the assurance that your wardrobe isn’t quite so awful and your skin care routine is totally working. You will be greeted by your preteen who agrees that your outfit is actually kinda cute. And you will have the most fun conversation with her about a silly video she watched and what business she wants to start and what boy is cute and a friend who hurt her feelings and a friend who makes her laugh. She will practice a new hairstyle on you and will tell you sincerely how she is so happy to have a mom like you. 

Because when parenting a preteen isn’t the absolute worst, it’s the absolute best. 

And I suppose that is the reason she will live to see her 13th birthday. 

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This is a photo of me as a twelve year old, proof that preteens are idiots. I actually considered this outfit stylish the very year I mocked my mom’s fashion so aggressively that I nearly could have died.  

 

January 14

One year ago today, my dad experienced his greatest joy when he traded his failing body for eternity with Jesus. And I experienced the greatest loss I’ve ever known.

I’ve thought a lot about this day and how I would feel.
Would I focus on the heartbreak and loss of the last year?
Or would I mostly remember the awesome memories of the previous thirty-seven?

Grief is weird, and I should know better than to think I can plan how this day will go.

I made it through Christmas without many tears, but I could barely read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book because my dad would have loved it. And it sucks that I can’t talk to him about how defaulting to truth affects us all.

Florida State had such an abysmal year that he certainly didn’t miss anything there, but I hate that he won’t ever see my boys suit up in football pads. They love the game, and he would have loved to see them play.

I grieve for what will never be and would give almost anything for my dad to be alive and well.

Yet I rejoice in the hope of eternity and for the gift of having a dad I miss so much.

This year, I’ve learned it’s possible to hold both together. Joy and grief. Happiness and sorrow. Hope and loss.

Some days, my kids tell a funny story about my dad, and I smile remembering how he made us all laugh with his dark sense of humor and uncanny storytelling.

Other days, when I am having a hard time and know he would be the perfect person to talk to, I cry for the conversations I will never get to have.

It feels weird that life keeps moving right along without someone so important as a part of it.

As this day approached, I thought about the stories from my dad’s life that I could share to mark the anniversary of his passing. It’s impossible to sum up a well-lived life in a social media post, and there are so many stories to tell. The common thread woven among them all, however, is that my dad made people feel like they mattered.

From his grandchildren to servers at Cracker Barrel to strangers at the courthouse and everyone in between, my dad paid attention to people and their stories.

He made everyone feel incredibly valuable and worthy of his time.

As a teenager, he took me out for sushi nearly every Sunday night. He made sure boys were treating me right and talked me through the woes of high school. He also knew the servers by name and overtipped every time.

When I went to college, he called me every night on his way home from work to make sure I was okay. Once he knew I was doing just fine, he returned the calls of every client who was hoping to hear from him that day. Some inquired about their legal case, but many needed a listening ear. He gave them all just what they wanted.

After I got married, my dad would hilariously check in with me from time to time to make sure I was taking care of my man ifyouknowwhatimean. No matter how awkward this conversation was for me, he knew a happy marriage made for secure kids, and he cared about his grandchildren growing up in a home where they feel loved and safe.

As those grandchildren grew, he gave each of them a special nickname.
Caleb is “The Arrow” because he’s the first born who lives life on the straight and narrow.
Chloe is “Chihuahua” for reasons I can’t remember, but it makes her giggle.
Luke is “The Duke” because it rhymes and sounds powerful.
Levi is “Reubenstein” for reasons I cannot disclose on Facebook.
Sadly, Ellie wasn’t old enough to get a nickname, but she will grow up with the great stories her siblings will tell about the grandpa they loved so much. Each of my kids felt like his favorite because he was just that good.

My dad made everyone feel so important. Whoever he was talking to in that moment was the most important person in the world, and he did so in the most genuine way. He wasn’t trying to be well-liked or ask for a favor or anything like that. He truly cared about people. I love talking with my mom about the funny and sweet and dangerous and crazy ways he helped make people’s lives a little better each day.

It’s been a full year since my dad received his heavenly reward for the selfless life he lived so well. I’ve had a lot of thoughts and feelings about cancer and life and death and heaven. I’ve cried a lot of tears. I’ve said a lot of ugly things. I’ve wondered why so many times.

As the one year anniversary comes and goes and life goes on but also doesn’t, I still have grief and sadness. I wish it were different. I don’t understand many things.

One thing I do know, however, is that I mattered to my dad. He proved it with his time and his words and his money and his life.

The last year has been devastating and hard, but I am one lucky girl to have had that kind of dad for the previous thirty-seven.

I still don’t know exactly how this day will go. Or even the day after that. Grief is weird. And hits at the most unexpected times.

I do know that tonight I will celebrate his life with a delicious sushi dinner and overtip the server because he taught me well. We will tell funny stories about the dad I love so much and miss more than anything. I am sure there will be lots of tears. The happy kind and the sad kind. And, even in my deep grief, I will fall asleep peacefully tonight.

Because I am a girl who mattered to the man whose opinion mattered the most. Whatever death and cancer have done to me this year, they can never take that away.

And the hope of eternity that is beyond my wildest dreams is a promise I’ve never been more thankful to have.

I miss you, Dad. Thank you for being the very best.

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This photo is atop Blackcomb Mountain on a day so beautiful it looks fake. This is as close as I’ve come to heaven on earth, and I know it doesn’t even compare to the beauty my dad now sees.

A Christmas Memory

As a child, my parents lived life flying by the seat of their pants. My home was fun and spontaneous, but planning was not a strength.
 
This was never more true than with travel plans. My family went snow skiing every year for Christmas. Literally every year of my childhood. Yet, this seemed to catch my parents by surprise every single year.
 
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Photo: my family waiting to hit the slopes. I am in the amazing pink snowsuit. My little brother is inexplicably not in the picture. It was the 90’s, and no one cared about getting the perfect picture for social media.
The year I was about 10 years old, my siblings and I got home from school for Christmas break. My mom decided she should probably start thinking about our travel plans, since Christmas was, you know, five days away. She called to make reservations, and the only available flight was on Christmas Day.
 
My mom did not like the idea of people having to work on a holiday to accommodate people like us. But if we were going to go skiing that year, this was our only option, so she booked the flight. In addition to getting seven people ready for a big vacation and Christmas ready for seven people (which you know is no small feat), my mom took us shopping for Christmas gifts to give the flight crew. If we were going to be those people who flew on Christmas, we could, at least, be thoughtful.
 
Christmas Day comes. We are ready to board our flight. I am a middle child, and part of the gift of that is getting to do the jobs no one else wants to do. Naturally, I was chosen to give the flight attendants their gifts because no one else wanted to.
 
I was a shy kid. Without making eye contact, I passed out the gifts as quickly as I could and took my seat, relieved it was over.
 
The plane took off. We reached cruising altitude, and the flight attendant tapped me on the shoulder. “Miss, I need you to follow me,” she said.
 
This was the 90’s. No one thought this was weird.
 
I followed her all the way up to first class, where she sat me in an empty seat. The crew proceeded to pamper me with food and drinks for the entire flight. They even gave me ice cream. You guys, while my peasant family was enjoying their six peanuts in coach, I was living a life of luxury and eating ice cream!
 
I could not articulate it then, but I can see now how that experience, as well as many others throughout my life, taught me the importance of noticing people.
 
My parents always took notice of overlooked people. For years, my mom and her employees threw a birthday party every single month at a low income school, bringing pizza and gifts for every kid who had a birthday that month. She even included summer birthdays (a nod to those of you who are still in therapy about your summer birthday). When my dad’s clients didn’t have money to buy school clothes for their kids, they would take the families shopping and let them pick out whatever they wanted. They would overtip single moms serving at restaurants. I could tell story after story about how my parents noticed people and cared about them feeling seen. It was an ordinary part of growing up.
 
It doesn’t necessarily take much money to care. A few years ago, I was living in Florida and flying to Missouri to visit my family. We were flying near Halloween, and wanting to instill the same values in my own children, my kids and I made little trick-or-treat bags for the flight crew. Nothing fancy, just a little bit of candy in a cute bag.
 
I gave the last treat to a flight attendant who was a tall, well built man. His eyes well up with tears. He said to me and everyone else around, “I am 40 years old, and this is my first trick-or-treat. I grew up in poverty, and you just didn’t go asking for candy in my neighborhood. I’ve waited my whole life for this, and I finally got it.”
 
Twenty five years later, once again on an airplane, taking the time to notice someone mattered.
 
Christmas is about two weeks away. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But sometimes it’s not.
 
You probably already know that this will be my first Christmas without my dad. Throughout this year, I’ve thought a lot about his life. Having been so fortunate to have a really good dad, my memories are filled with him loving and serving others well. He paid attention to people, especially those who often had been overlooked by others. Since his passing, people have shared the best stories about my dad’s life.
 
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My mom serves as a greeter at her church. This past Easter, a family visited her church for the first time. My mom greeted them, and the man noticed her nametag. He asked if she was any relation to my dad. She told him he was her late husband.
 
Taken aback, this man responded, “You have no idea who I am, and I’ve never actually met your husband. As a kid, I grew up in foster care and lived in a group home as a teenager. Somehow your husband got my address and wrote me letters almost every week.” He went on to share how these letters encouraged him. My dad would write him things like: “You are going to break this cycle. You are going to be a great husband and dad one day. God has a purpose for your life…”
 
While raising five kids and working a demanding job, my dad took the time each week to write a kid. He never even told my mom he did this. Here the kid stood as a grown man with his wife and kids, having broken the cycle in his family. Probably for many reasons, but among them, a man who he didn’t even know taking the time every week to believe in him.
 
Life is really hard sometimes. The holiday season only serves to intensify that for many people.
 
A wonderful gift you can give is to take the time to notice someone who might feel overlooked or who might be having a tough time this year. Be wildly generous with your time, money, talents, listening ear, kind smile, and encouraging words.
Because when you give to someone who could never repay you, you show them the God who came down from heaven and gave us a gift we could never repay.
 
That, my friends, is the true hope of Christmas.