Yesterday, my family picked up our yard from the weekend’s events. We hosted a neighborhood party and were putting away the remains from it: folding tables, balls, ride on toys, etc.
While cleaning, I found four spoons in the yard. Four of my good spoons, that is. These were not from the party. Rather, my kids take a spoon outside anytime they need to dig. And you’d be surprised how many opportunities they find to dig dirt.
Yesterday also marked six months since my dad passed away. Six long months without one of my most favorite people on this earth.
Which is why finding spoons in the yard on this particular day was such a sweet gift.
When I was a kid, my siblings and I also found many opportunities that required taking all of our spoons outside. There were holes to be dug and flowers to be watered and brothers to be hit. And spoons were the utensil of choice for it all.
Which became problematic because we never brought the spoons back inside.
My dad got so tired of us never having spoons when we actually needed them for things like, you know, eating. When a restaurant in our area shut down, he purchased all of their spoons. I am talking hundreds of spoons.
We never ran out of spoons again.
Then, a few years later, we all grew up and exchanged playing in the dirt for sporting events and dates with boys and hanging out with friends.
And my parents still had hundreds of spoons.
It became a family joke that anytime friends would come over, my dad would offer them a box of spoons.
Which is why finding spoons in the yard on a hard day made me smile.
Because I know how quickly the day will come when my spoon drawer is full and my yard remains intact. And this will all be a distant memory.
I’ve thought a lot this year about the memories my kids will carry into adulthood. And the memories that will sustain them when I’m gone. They certainly will remember the time I killed an aquarium full of fish. And my attempt at homemade ice cream that exploded into every crevice in my kitchen. And how they call me Mrs. Hannigan when it’s time to do chores.
And I think of how I will look back on this time in their lives. The kind of mom I was to my young kids.
It seems like the modern day mom’s goal in raising kids is perfection. Straight A’s. The varsity team. Impeccable fashion. Nutritious meals.
And I wonder if raising kids feels so hard because we are so obsessed with getting it right that we miss the memories being made.
Your kids never asked you to be perfect.
Let me say that again: Your kids do not care if you’re perfect.
They want to be loved and accepted and cherished. And given the freedom to make mistakes and given grace when they do.
You love your kids even when they totally blow it. You still adore them when they’re horrible. (Maybe not in that moment, but eventually.) They’re still your favorite even when they fail a test or don’t make the team or fall off their bike.
And maybe, just maybe, they feel the same way about you.
You’re so hard on yourself. Constantly feeling like a failure. Never measuring up to the imaginary (but very real) standard of perfection you have in your mind.
But your kids don’t see you that way. The see you as the mom who smiles through the gymnastics routine (even though you’ve seen it 67 times), the mom who fills their bellies (whether it’s with boxed mac n cheese or a meal made from scratch), the mom who drives to Timbuktu and back (and back again) so they can have fun with their friends, and the mom who delights in their very existence.
You don’t have to be the perfect mom to be a really great mom.
And from my experience, my kids’ favorite memories are the times when I was anything but perfect. And my favorite memories of them are the same. The most treasured family picture I have is my middle son unknowingly giving the middle finger. My kids’ clothes weren’t matching. Their hair was messy. And my son flipped me off with gusto. And that picture went viral and landed me on a radio show. Years later, people still laugh about it.
Because life is best lived with all its messy and unexpected parts.
Life is so short. And childhood is even shorter. The day will come when I no longer find spoons in the yard. And when I look back on these years, I won’t care what I served for dinner or if my kids made A’s or C’s or if they wore the same shirt five days in a row.
I will care if the leave my home knowing they are loved and valued and cherished.
And if that’s the goal, I can let them (and myself) off the hook when life is a lot messier than I expected. And when we all blow it in ways we regret.
Love covers a multitude of sins. And in a family of seven, our sins are many. So I hold to the truth that love is always better than perfection. And loving my kids is a whole lot easier than getting it all right all of the time. So today I choose love and grace and kindness and forgiveness. Even in the messiest parts of life.
Today’s mess is tomorrow’s memory. And losing my dad has shown me that the sweetest memories are often born from life’s most imperfect moments.
Choose love. Not perfection.
And when the spoons are no longer spread across the yard, you will have chosen the better thing.
I am ride or die for Adam Sandler. It’s not necessarily because I particularly love his brand of comedy. Or because we used to practically be neighbors (ok, we lived like two miles apart but STILL!).
I mostly love how much he values his friends. The way he casts them in all of his movies, even when they aren’t the most talented, really inspires me.
And don’t even get me started on the tribute song he wrote to honor Chris Farley. I’ve watched that thing ten times and still cry every single time.
Adam’s (first name basis because, hello, we’re old neighbors) loyalty to his friends feels like a rare commodity these days.
Which is why I think I am so drawn to his work.
Because in a world where we have thousands of friends in the palm of our hands, we don’t have the Sandler/Spade/Schneider connection we all truly desire.
I am surprised how I can be happily married…be surrounded by five children all day long…access my best friend from Kindergarten in ten seconds…
…and still feel lonely.
And I don’t think I’m alone.
Because this is the thing: I have friends. I have really great friends, actually. And yet, I feel lonely more often than I care to admit.
I’ve moved halfway across the country four different times in my adulthood, so I’ve ranged from having absolutely no friends to having too many friends to balance well. The number of friends doesn’t seem like the issue.
When I first married in 2005 and moved from my college town in Florida to Kansas City, I really only knew my husband. But I rarely felt lonely. In no time, I had neighbors knocking on my door and inviting me to hang out.
Over the next few years, I brought home three babies to that house. And those years were spent with incredible friendships. We would spend hours and hours in each other’s homes…eating chicken nuggets and raising our kids together. My village was strong, and I don’t ever remember feeling lonely.
Not so coincidentally, at that time, social media was barely a thing. My Facebook memories remind me of how very exciting it was back then…with status updates like, “is hoping to watch TV tonight.” (YIKES!)
Fast forward to today. Social media is obviously a thing (and I am a huge fan of it, so this won’t be me throwing shade). But when I compare my early days of mothering to now, the difference is hard not to notice…
The more connected we are, the lonelier we feel.
I am sure there are lots of scientific studies on the complexities of this. But what I am here to tell you is that we all feel lonelier than ever. I talk to woman after woman who admits just how alone they feel in this world.
Honestly, I think we just know too much.
How many times have I found myself looking at a photo of a girl I knew in 10th grade out with her friends. Before I even realize it, I am thinking about how no one has invited me out to dinner in awhile and how much fun they must have had while I was refereeing the 42nd fight of the day. “It must be nice…,” my mind starts to race.
All about a group of women I don’t even know.
How many times has someone else’s husband sent her flowers at work just to say he is thinking of her…when all of a sudden, I remember my husband (who I was perfectly content with 60 seconds ago) hasn’t sent me flowers since our 12th anniversary. Does he even love me anymore? Why isn’t HE thinking of ME today? After all I do for this family…
All because one person got flowers today. While my husband made breakfast, worked hard to provide for our family, texted me a funny meme, threw the football with our boys, snuggled our baby, talked with our daughter about her day, ate cereal for dinner without complaining…but golly, he didn’t send me flowers today. Now our marriage is doomed.
It’s almost embarrassing when I write it down. But this is how my brain interacts with social media.
Of course, I am a normal sane person and also love to see kids being cute, couples excitedly announcing their engagement, my friend Randi’s adventures around the world, and memes so hilarious I am glad to be alive in 2019.
But the dark side is that we can easily create a world where everyone else is living their best life…while we are buried in diapers and tantrums and piling bills and unfulfilled dreams.
Hear me when I say: we ALL feel lonely. And we’ve ALL convinced ourselves that we’re alone in that. That’s not the story Instagram tells, but it’s the truth.
To tell a story from my own life…
My most recent cross country move was a couple of years ago, back to my hometown. I had left as a bright-eyed college-bound girl in 2000 and returned as a married mother of four in 2017. I unexpectedly became pregnant with my 5th child shortly after settling in.
That pregnancy announcement had 692 likes and several hundred comments just on Facebook…all the while, I spent many nights of that year crying to my husband about how lonely I felt. It’s not that I didn’t have any friends. The people I had met when I moved home were warm and kind. I just didn’t have the depth in friendships I craved. The type of friend I could text at 10 am to see if she knew anyone looking to buy some unruly children on the black market.
If I had to guess, most people would never have looked at my social media presence and thought, “I bet she doesn’t have many real life friends.” But that was the reality.
It’s true: the more connected we are, the lonelier we feel. Because social media isn’t real connection.
The antidote to this loneliness epidemic is face-to-face friendships. No amount of Instagram likes will ever replace genuine, in-person conversations.
Text a friend today. Nail down a time to get together this week. Skip baseball practice if you have to.
Most every woman you know feels lonelier than she will ever admit, and initiating an actual time to hang out will do wonders for her weary soul (and yours).
No matter the story our social media feeds tell, I promise you are not alone in how lonely you feel in our “connected” world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.