"Why has this winter been so bad?" Reese asks as she kicks at the ground with her foot while we wait for the school bus.
Based on the first few words out of my mouth, it's so evident that I'm filtering her question through the lens of adulthood, not the lens of a first grader.
Bad? What's been bad about this winter? Despite a few notably cold stretches, it's been relatively mild. There have been no snow days to make up. We've never needed to run the snow blower. Why, I've hardly had to shovel.
I know that my friend's statement is true, but I'm hesitant to do so. You see, she's recommending a book about motherhood.
I'm writing a book about motherhood. I've been a mother for almost seven years, and during those years I've nursed a constant desire to write about my experiences. In fact, I did write about my experiences: in my journal, in long emails to friends, in Word documents that no one read other than me, and then finally, in this blog.
The idea of writing a book seemed beyond me, though. Books are written by other people -- smarter people, more talented people. And the idea of writing a book on motherhood seemed like overkill. The field is saturated. What else needs to be said on the matter? How could I possible add anything to the discussion?
It took me years to believe -- truly believe in my core -- that not only could I write a book, but also that I could write a book that adds value. When other people, like my publishers, confirmed that belief with a book contract, it was icing on the cake.
Even so, the idea of reading yet another book about motherhood while I'm still in the throes of finishing my own was a nervewracking prospect. What if this author has beaten me to the punch by saying everything that I'm saying? What if her writing is markedly better than mine?
I read her book over the course of two workouts on the StairMaster. It's good. It really is.
But do you know what? There's still room for mine.
There is room for our gifts. Don't think that there isn't room. Our generation faces more information -- more websites, more books, more blogs, more songs, more Pinterist ideas, more recipe concepts -- than history ever has seen, and they're at our fingertips daily. It's easy to buckle under the copiousness of it all. It's easy to wonder if you have anything to add.
You do. So, write that story. Create that recipe. Market that business idea. Take that picture. Compose that song, that poem, that play, or that YouTube video idea that you think could go viral. You have value to add. Don't deprive the world of your contributions because you doubt their significance.
A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before great men. (Proverbs 18:16)
I become a classier person when I shop at Wegmans. I don't know how it happens, but it happens. When I carry a list and a fistful of unorganized coupons into a regular grocery store, shopping is simply a duty. But shopping at Wegmans is an experience -- like a walk in an artificially lit park where the ground is tiled and the paths are lined with aisles full of obscure items like wasabi peas and pickled watermelon rinds and fellow park-dwellers sip lattes and select produce like kale and snacks like gourmet organic chips. That kind of park.
But since I'm not actually classy in this sense, the best thing about Wegmans for me is the bulk candy section. Last night I yanked a plastic bag off the dispenser and scooped a generous helping of chocolate covered pretzels.
Joel rounded the corner while I twisted the bag closed and moved closer to the scale to print the price tag. Without even looking at the chocolate covered pretzel bin he announced the PLU code. "It's 79706."
He has this memorized? Known by heart? I looked at him warily.
"What?" he grinned. "I'm good with numbers."
That is an entirely valid excuse; he is quite good with numbers.
I'm still not buying it, though.
For the record, I'm not making up the pickled watermelon rinds. That's legit -- at least at our Wegmans. If you're impressed, why don't you show your love by voting for me today. Thanks!
Normally, I don't get worked up about things like this, but as I'm standing in line to drop off my daughter's preschool application I have a brief moment of unease. We're not part of the "preferred" waiting list since she wasn't enrolled in the preschool this year. I count fourteen people in front of me. What if she doesn't get into the three-mornings-a-week class that we hope for? What if there are only fourteen available slots for "unpreferred" people and they stamp the fifteenth application -- ours -- with a big, fat rejected?
I look at the parents and children in line. One mother opens a book and begins discussing it with her son, who I've gleaned is still two years old and will be enrolled in the three-year-old class next year. As they look at the book, I realize that it's no ordinary book. It's a workbook. "Yes, you're right! That is the number 73." Her voice carries throughout the room.
I feel a smidge worse.
Her two-year-old can identify the number 73? Really? Is this normal?
We're really not intensive workbook people here. We educate more by experiment and experience. We grab stacks of books and see how many we can read before I start tickling everyone or until someone requests a glass of juice or a bathroom break. We attempt elaborate architectural feats with couch cushions, clothespins, and bedsheets. We carry brown papers bag outside as we search for interesting leaves and rocks that are shaped like hearts or perfect squares or a banana.
We make sure that our children are up to snuff on their emotional intelligence -- able to discern between two distinct expressions: mad face and happy face.
Brooke's got it down cold, don't you think? And did you listen to the chaos in the background when her little sister yelled? Did you notice how she wasn't even flustered? Did you note how she persevered in the face of distraction? How she stayed the course and stayed in character?
No workbook can teach that. That's sophisticated education in action.
One click places a vote for Pink Dryer Lint. Thanks!
This sentiment characterized my thoughts as I watched videos that we've taken of our daughters. The moments captured on film had seemed so normal as I lived them, but now -- just a few years or months removed -- they already usher me into such nostalgia that I keep watching clip after clip at the computer hours after I reasonably should have gone to bed.
Did Reese really sound like that when she was three?
How could I have forgotten that Brooke used to army crawl across the floor, reaching one arm out and dragging her body behind?
Is it possible that Kerrington didn't always have that mop of wispy curls that I love running my fingers through now?
Have I preserved enough of these memories?
It's impossible to preserve it all. You can't fill your present only by recalling your past. I know this. Yet, I want to remember exactly how it feels when my daughters slip their hands into mine as we walk together in a chain through a parking lot. I want to remember the sweetly sticky smell of their hair when I bend over to kiss them on their heads. I want to remember the thumping sound of their padded feet running down the hallway.
Unwillingly, I resign to the fact that I will not remember it all.
It might be one of the impetuses that propels me to write this blog.
But that afternoon when the baby pooped in the bathtub, was carried into the other bathtub, and then pooped there, too? That is an afternoon that I could forget. And the evening when I left my cart full of groceries in aisle five so I could carry a screaming, flailing toddler out of the store? I could forget that one, too.
Then again, these moments might be exactly why I write this blog.
He approaches me from the back of the bus and motions to the bag on my shoulder, the tripod in my left hand, and the hefty camera case in my right. "Please, let me carry that for you."
We're headed in the same direction -- the same classroom, to be exact. This particular student of mine extends a polite greeting each morning and offers a thank you, professor at the conclusion of every class -- even the boring ones -- without fail. His college experience will be split in half this summer when he returns to his home country to fulfill a two-year mandatory military service, and then he'll return to complete his credits and graduate.
I'm so accustomed to doing things myself that I almost decline his offer, but I get my wits about me, accept, and gratefully hand over the bulky tripod. As we walk to class together I'm aware of how much lighter my load is when another person carries a portion of it for me.
Too often I shirk opportunities to let people help me, falling into my default responses. No, you don't need to bring anything.It's okay, I'll take care of it. Don't worry, I've got this covered.
It's much more graceful to accept help when help is needed.
My youngest daughter, Kerrington, is twenty-one months old. Even at such a tender age, she already has hundreds of words in her verbal toolbox. The only catch is that we don't understand the vast majority of them.
She doesn't seem to mind as she happily babbles from the back seat. I imagine that she's telling everyone in the van about what she'd like for lunch, how much she loves her Brown Bear, why she enjoys afternoon naps, and how she wishes we had a puppy, even though all we hear is oooh-ghee baaaa-ha ma-ma-puppy-da-ughahaaa-da-heeee!
I have no accurate translation for the language of Kerrington.
Maybe it's not necessary. Because in the middle of her long-winded stories, I can simply look at her, smile, and interject, "And I love you too, baby."
Because I'm pretty sure that oooh-ghee baaaa-ha ma-ma-puppy-da-ughahaaa-da-heeee also means "Mommy, there's really no one quite like you, and I love seeing your face every time I wake up."
No, the language of Kerrington needs no translation.
Today I wore my favorite red sweater. I sat with Reese as she showed me each Valentine that she received at school. I witnessed Brooke accidentally pour an entire Pixie Stick onto the kitchen table, and then I swept the powder into my hand and let her lick the sugar from my open palm. I kept Kerrington in her footie pajamas -- the ones with hearts on them -- for the entire day.
Sometimes I struggle to fall asleep. I toss and turn, aware of my ill-timed alertness only when I notice that my eyes are staring into the darkness with peculiar intensity. I wonder how my arms, which normally are such useful and unobtrusive appendages during the day, can get in my own way as I attempt to find a comfortable position.
But it's my thoughts that undo me. In the silence, I spiral in my own head. I revisit a singular thought again and again, facing it head-on repeatedly without making any progress. Previously-buried thoughts resurface. Reminders of things I need to do punctuate the night with alarm -- bring those papers, send that email, sign that permission slip, finish writing that chapter, call that person -- and then they hover in my thoughts so tenuously that I fear I'll have no recollection of them in the morning.
During these nights, I rarely see issues with clarity or come to useful resolutions.
Yet, the spiral continues, growing increasingly non-sensible as my tiredness mounts.
How can you sleep, I wonder as I listen to my husband inhale and exhale beside me, when my thoughts are so loud?
Really, how am I not waking everyone?
We are told to take every thought captive to make it obedience to Christ (1 Corinthians10:5). Every thought. I keep a notebook by my bedside so I can jot down legitimate reminders and writing ideas without losing them to the night's lagging mental acuity. Once on paper, they're free to leave my mind.
As for those thoughts that tie me up in knots -- those nighttime thoughts that bypass the logical mind and sting the heart, thoughts that magnify mistakes and niggle at my sense of competence -- I know I must take them captive. Handcuff them, in essence. I disengage from them not by clearing my mind, but rather by filling my mind with something more productive: a reminder of God's goodness.
This is when I can close my weary eyes and sleep. That is, once I find a good place for those arms of mine.
Why I questioned my daughter's identity in 100 of fewer words:
"After dinner, I think that I should take you girls out for ice cream."
My six-year-old thinks about my statement for a moment, gestures outside toward the wintery conditions, and comments, "I'm not sure if it's a good day for ice cream because it's so cold and snowy. Maybe you could just give us cookies."
Too cold for ice cream? That thought never has crossed my mind. Not once.
This marked the only time in my child's nearly 2,500 days of life that I questioned whether we were related.
You could warm my heart with just one click. Go on, warm my heart. (It's cold out there.)
The bus approaches my stop as an alarmed voice from another driver comes across the radio. "I just stopped at McDonald's over my break, and when I came out... " The voice pauses momentarily. "When I came out, my bus was gone."
Gone? His bus was gone?
I wish that I could continue riding until the next stop and listen to the reactions of the other bus drivers as they chime in over their radios and learn the official response from the base.
As I dismount and walk back to my car, I imagine the driver holding his coffee, scratching his head, and staring at the empty space in the parking lot where he last had parked his bus, just like a cowboy would kick at the dirt if he arrived at his hitching post and noticed that his horse no longer was tethered there, or just like when I walk in circles if I exit a grocery store and can't find my car.
A missing bus? Who in the world steals a bus? This doesn't happen every day in the public transportation world.
Recently Bob Brody contacted me to write a guest post for Letters to My Kids about how I met my husband.
Know this: I'm a person who entertained herself during childhood by composing an annual letter to myself, putting it in my stocking, and opening it the following Christmas. In essence, this was like writing to a prescient version of myself -- almost a backwards version of Future Dwight sending faxes to his past self in The Office.
But I digress.
The point is that writing a letter to my daughters about meeting their father sounded like a terrific idea, and I'd like to thank Bob for the opportunity to contribute a guest post to his site. Here it goes:
Occasionally a movie becomes more than a movie. It becomes an entity unto itself, a metaphor for life. This is the case for me with the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Perhaps they're not my favorite films of all time, but I did enjoy each a great deal. Perhaps I wouldn't select them for a relaxing evening at home now, but that's because who really has 557 minutes to spare?
What I like about these movies is that they're highly quotable. And they're sticky, meaning that the characters and moments have lodged themselves in my brain, allowing me to frequently draw analogies between the movies and the experiences in my own life.
Because obviously I'm living an epic adventure.
For instance, whenever my children ask for two snacks between breakfast and lunch -- which is daily -- I suspect that they're hobbits. I hear Pippin in my head, "What about second breakfast? What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?"
Whenever I'm weary, I remember Biblo's description of being spread thin, like butter scraped over too much bread.
And when I call attention to myself in an undesirable fashion, I imagine the Eye, lidless and wreathed in flame, peering down on me.
Ah, man, I brought the Eye toward me again! Drat.
So, while I recently was going about my business in the kitchen (code for sweeping up crumbs and noticing how often my socks stuck to the floor), I paused when I saw this:
And then I really paused when I saw this:
My daughter reported that she simply had been making turkey vultures by tracing her hand. (She's advanced beyond mere turkeys. We're onto vultures.)
But when I studied the cut-out of her hand, I didn't see a turkey vulture. I saw my daughter claiming all objects as her own -- starting with this riding toy -- by marking them with her hand print.
I saw the hand of Saruman.
I saw this:
And I'm not sure what this reveals about me.
LOTR Images compliments of mormondiscussion.com and myecdysis.com
I love mydaughters. I love them enough to die for them. In fact, on some days I do die for them -- these unnoticed and miniscule deaths-to-self when I place their needs and interests before my own, when I respond with patience while I'd rather snap, when I give them the last bite of the chocolate cake that I wanted to eat, when I drag my weary body out of my warm bed to comfort them when they wake in the middle of the night.
Because this is what mothers do.
We love our children.
We love them so much that our hearts would tell us to pour everything into them at all times.
While this might seem selfless and noble, perhaps it's not always best. You see, I'm learning to love my children enough to say no. To not respond to every beck and call of come play with me or fix this for me. To let them struggle in a safe environment so they can learn the valuable -- but often untaught -- skills of solving their own problems and entertaining themselves. It's crazy, I know, but I want my children to enjoy their own company.
Moms, let yourselves know this: you are not your children's monkey. You are not their entertainer. You are not their sole source of amusement. You are their mother, and as mothers, we need to raise kids who know how to occupy themselves pleasantly. We need to raise kids who don't think that the world revolves around them. We need to raise kids who will be able to brainstorm solutions to problems and enact those solutions, even if they must try and try again.
Your children will not appreciate this immediately. They will pull on you and plead with you. They're kids; it's what they do. And when they do, it would be easier to yield. It's easier to swoop in to solve their problems than it is to train them how to struggle through challenges on their own.
But they will thank you later. They'll thank you when they're the only one on their dorm floor who knows how to do laundry and when they wisely can balance a checkbook when others their age are unwisely racking up credit card debt. They'll especially thank you when they have children of their own.
This will be a long time for now. In the meantime, you can tell them, "Dear child, I am thanking myself on your behalf for the excellent mothering that I am providing you."
Right after you encourage them to play by themselves for twenty minutes and enjoy their own sweet company.