Friday, February 1, 2019

Fragmented time


My life as a mom feels like a long succession of fragments, short lumps of time, choppily strung together until a full day has passed. The transitions aren’t always smooth. There are a lot of awkward gaps. It doesn’t look like the average American work day in terms of productivity and time management.

First, there is that odd block of 30 minutes on school mornings where breakfast has been eaten and cleared, routines have been done, and we are essentially just killing time until we need to head out the door (thanks to kids who wake early plus a ridiculously late school start time of nine freaking twenty-five AM). I never quite know what to do with this time. Do I start a chore? Do I assign the kids a chore since their after-school hours are so fleeting and I want them to be contributing? Or do I let them play freely, since they have so few hours to do so? Do I just whisper prayers of thanks for the time and go hide in my room and read? Or should I pay bills or somehow spend time with the kids?

In the brief two-hour period, post-elementary school drop off, I temporarily become a “mother of an only child.” It’s enough time to do something small, but not enough time to venture far from home before we have to get back for lunch before afternoon preschool. Do we do something fun together? Squeeze in a quick playdate? Run errands?

When it’s errands we choose, we face the annoying 40 minute gap between elementary school drop off and the opening of the public library and Costco, two places we seem to need to frequent often. Do we go back home, take off our shoes and throw a load of laundry in the wash before leaving again on our errands? Do we talk the long way home from school and squeeze in a quick bit of exercise? Or do we drive around aimlessly for a little while and then pass the last ten minutes in the parking lot of Costco, grooving to Kidz Bop, so we can “beat the crowds” and be the first ones in the building?

After lunch, three days a week, I have the too-short blip of time, where all three of my offspring are at their respective schools. I can choose to spend this time in one of two ways – either relaxing or focusing on being productive. No matter which option I choose, there never seems to be enough time, and the two hours whiz by, leaving me dissatisfied and feeling as though I squandered my time.  

Next comes the awkward 20-minute chunk between the moment we arrive home from preschool pick up and the moment when we need to begin walking to the elementary school to get the older two. It’s just enough time to run one quick errand (if you take the “run” part literally) or perhaps empty the dishwasher to make the dinner prep hour a little easier.

After school, it’s practically dinnertime, because school gets out so late. But of course, the kids are “starving” and, if they are going to eat a snack, I need them to do it RIGHT THEN so they don’t completely spoil their dinner. So, I force them to bypass any neighborhood kids out enjoying the last hour of daylight and send them bee-lining straight for the table to eat a quick bite.

Then it’s time for homework. The only thing consistent about elementary school homework is that it is assigned with pristine irregularity (when the teacher remembers to put it in the folder), making it nearly impossible to plan anything for these minute-long afternoons.

If all goes as planned, snacks get consumed, homework is checked off (or not), and then the kids inevitably get distracted with some activity and forget that they wanted to go outside, leaving me with about 15 unspoken for minutes before it’s time to start dinner. It’s just enough time to start a chapter, but not finish, begin a board game, but not complete it, fold some of the laundry but not all. It feels vital that I use this time well, yet I lack a good definition of what “well” really means to me.

When I switch gears and focus in on dinner preparation, the kids naturally remember my existence and suddenly require my assistance in accomplishing the three individual tasks each are in the middle of. But by now, my rings are on the window sill and my hands are deep into a bowl of ground beef, massaging dried herbs, garlic and spices into the meat and forming them into meatballs. I exhale loudly, wondering why they couldn’t have possibly needed me earlier, when I had those 15 minutes to spare.

After dinner, we move on to the tasks of washing dishes and making lunches. It’s typically a family affair which means the kitchen gets messier before it gets cleaner, bread crumbs scattering across surfaces and onto the floor, surplus peanut butter gluing only a small percentage of them to the counter. When we have finished, it’s time for the littlest to get ready for bed, but it’s too early for the older too. We didn’t realize how good we had it when they were all small and bedtime was bedtime. Full stop. Now the girls want the times staggered, as they seek out independence and privilege, throwing down their “I’m older than you” cards. I really can’t argue because I know their elementary-aged bodies aren’t as ready for sleep as early the five-year-old’s is. So, now we have this unused 20-30 minutes, where one kid is down, but two aren’t quite ready to go, and we aren’t quite sure what to do with it.

Beyond the intricacies of the average day-to-day, there are also all the variables that shift, depending on what is on the schedule. There is the time spent waiting in the drive-thru line at the pharmacy or the time that passes when one kid has a before-school activity but the other one doesn’t, so you make grooves in the pavement driving the same route to school and back twice, with only 25 minutes in-between. Then there are the hour-long sports practices so close to home, just long enough that it’s hard to sit there and kill an hour, but too short to go home because you’d only have 40 minutes before you had to turn around and drive back again. There’s also all the waiting that happens at appointments, arriving early for check in, as requested, but then winding up with 15 minutes to burn in the waiting room.

My life as a mom feels like one long series of fragments of time (anyone with me on this?!?) And I don’t really know what to do with all these fragments. They make me anxious. I have a deep longing to be present, to fully invest, to start AND to finish, to check things off. It’s hard for me to do any of those things when I only have a 15-minute window. And so rather than trying, I make half-hearted attempts and end up squandering a lot of time.  

I used to think that the answer was to carve out more extended chunks of consecutive time, and I do this when I can, but I’m realizing that my time only seems to be growing more fragmented as the children age. We move from one thing to the next, to the next, with awkward lumps of minutes in-between. This challenge ain’t going anywhere.

So, what does that look like for me to be present and/or make the best use of my time when my moments are so fragmented? How can I invest in the now when I’ve got two or 10 or 60 minutes until it’s time to transition to the next thing? If you read this whole post hoping for some magical, quick-fix answers, sorry! I should have warned you that this was more of a “wondering out loud” sort of essay. I don’t have the answer here but for sure I know I want to quit squandering (which quite possibly is synonymous with “scrolling” – that dang smart phone is going to be the death of me!!)

Most likely the “answer” will involve making amends with my dislike of starting and not finishing. Perhaps the best thing for me to do would be to read a couple sentences of a book and then put it down. Progress is progress, right? And at least I got a second to read! Maybe I should go on more walks around the block. Just because it’s broken up, doesn’t mean it doesn’t “count” as exercise. Or perhaps I should take up tic-tac-toe (it’s fast, I think). Or just spend more time snuggling with whomever in my family happens to be nearest. I really don’t know. I’m sure it looks different for everyone, but I would so love to do a little online groupthink and hear how other moms out there manage their fragmented days. Please and thank you!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The hardest best thing


There was a time in my life when weeks like this one would have slayed me. Riding the roller coaster of therapy is brutal. Author Glennan Doyle writes about life being “freaking brutiful,” an intertwining of brutal and beautiful. That’s about how I would describe wading through the process of therapy. It’s freaking brutiful.

I used to think those in therapy were the ones most broken. Now, with three consecutive years of the stuff securely under my belt (plus all the “bonus” sessions with my kids), I realize how incredibly wrong I was. Therapy may be for the broken, simply because brokenness is synonymous with being human, but I believe it's those who face their brokenness head on, they are the some of the world's strongest. They are the bravest, the ones with the grit and endurance, the ones not just longing for healing, but going after it. They are willing to get down into the thick of the mess and do the hard and dirty work, the work that is brutiful.

They are the ones who are unwilling to stay the way they are.

And that, my friends, is beautiful. 

To those of who have gone before, I commend you. You are the definition of hardcore. To those of you currently in the trenches, solidarity! Stay in it. I'm (pretty) sure the "other side" of all this tough business is worth the work of getting there (if you get there before me, please confirm). And for anyone wondering if perhaps maybe it's time to do some work with a counselor, the answer is almost undoubtedly yes. 

It’s no secret that our family has been forking over a huge portion of our income toward this business of “addressing our crap” (also known more eloquently by most as “going to therapy”). It’s been one of THE hardest best things I personally have ever done, third only to marriage and parenting...which are two of the reason I’m in therapy…but I digress. 

Perhaps you remember back in the fall when I wrote about the struggles we were facing with two of our offspring? And then I boldly (stupidly?) stated we were “just waiting for kid three to show his cards” and then we’d get him enrolled in whatever form of therapy he needed? Why do I open my Big. Fat. Mouth? 

So we are 5 for 5 over here when it comes to therapy needs now...which is a perfect score, if anyone is keeping track (where do I pick up my prize??) When our third kid received his diagnosis, our pediatrician kindly made an attempt at consoling me by highlighting the hereditary nature of the various players in our household (OCD, anxiety, ADHD). 

“They are just like eye color," she told me. "No one is to blame. These things are inherited in the genes, just like tall stature or brown hair.” 

Awesome. 

“Sorry kids,” are the only words of comfort I can offer the offspring. The genes be STRONG in this clan.

Though at times, addressing each of our specific needs has been challenging and overwhelming, I’m so grateful for the massive number of tools “doing our work” together has equipped our family with along the way. In fact, we now have so many tools, we had to trade in our tool belt for a full blown tool shed in which to store all these dang tools we-never-knew-we-needed-but-now-we-can’t-seem-to-live-without. And we are all the better for it. I'm super proud of us. I stand witness to some really amazing change and powerful areas of growth. 

Technically, as the mother and in-house transportation and sit-in supervisor for all the these appointments, I have been the “lucky recipient” of all sorts of extra, “free” kid-sized therapy sessions to supplement my own. Quite honestly, sometimes there are more take-home nuggets when they are presented at a grade school-aged cognitive level. We have a vast supply of amazing resources available to us that are helping our kids conquer their struggles at such young ages. What a gift that they get to obliterate their mental beasts when they are still tiny, before they grow and invade and take over their minds and tell them all sorts of lies, reinforced over decades. It makes me teary just to think that they might not have wrestle with their struggles to the degree their dad and I have. 

The kids' progress is easy for me to see since I'm one step removed as the observer. But my own progress? Though sometimes it's harder to identify, I know I am changing too. So, as this new year launches, it felt like a valuable exercise for me to take a minute and identify just a few of the many things this brutiful process has been teaching me. I also know that vulnerability can work as a powerful adhesive to bind us together. I am not alone in my struggles and so I'm calling them out aloud in case one of you whispers "me too." 

I will start first with the things that therapy has revealed that have been more painful, the things that perhaps, at first blush, I would rather not have known: 

I struggle with extreme rigidity.

I am a very black and white thinker. There is always a right and a wrong. Your side and my side. The blameless and the one at fault. (And for the record, usually he is the problem, not me, of course).

I continue to struggle with a list of OCD tendencies longer than my daughter’s (who has been in intense treatment for her OCD for 5 months and counting).

I have anxiety. Not a heart-racing, panic-attack or scared-of-heights form that we often think of. But more of the crippling thoughts kind where I am perpetually worried I’m not doing enough, saying enough, being enough. My mind often torments me.

Since I seem to be feeling particularly open, I’ll throw this one out there: I have a lot of sexual baggage. Like a lot a lot. To this day, I am still fighting against the sex-negative messaging of my past. This is originally why therapy was initiated. But, as I’m told is common in therapy, one thing led to another and we’ve had to peel back layer after layer after layer after layer to work on adjusting the faulty foundation before we’ve been able to do more focused work in this area. 

I struggle with anger. I identify wholeheartedly as a “Type One - Reformer” (and perfectionist!) on the Enneagram but it always made me frown a little to read that one of my bigger struggles as a “Type One” was anger. I’m not really a yeller, I thought. I don’t really feel like an angry person. Sure, sometimes I certainly lose it with the kids but I don’t rage like some people I hear about. Very recently, I have realized there are other forms of anger, not just the explosive, yelling variety most of us picture. There is also the slow boiler, the one who gradually and quietly comes to a simmer. She doesn’t even realize it has happened until she is so seeped in bitterness and resentment she could swim in it. This is the kind of anger I identify with. 

I keep tally. Of everything. Tit for tat. I’m gung ho about fairness and equality, when the scale isn’t tipping in my favor.

I do much better “coming to realize” my faults on my own than when someone else calls me out on them. When I am critiqued, I’m prone to deflection and blame-shifting.

I work with a distinct ceiling above me. I only take on what I know I am capable of (and typically only the things I know I will also be successful in). My husband has no such ceiling. The sky’s the limit! Rarely does he take on something within his current capabilities. He is ever game to phone a friend and call in for reinforcements when he wants something done and doesn’t know how to do it. This makes doing remodeling projects together impossible (so far). I always have to bow out because his process is so different from mine. But we are working on this! Let’s just take a moment of silence in honor of the fact that WE NOW AT LEAST ARE AWARE THAT THIS IS HAPPENING. This is big, y’all. Stay tuned...we might have a little endeavour coming down the pipes.



This is the just the short list of some pretty tough, hard-to-swallow realities that therapy has brought to my attention. But it most certainly hasn’t all been hard. There’s the beautiful too. 



My time in (all the) therapies has also revealed an entire host of things that I’m incredibly grateful for like that: 

I married a really amazing person. 

I am capable. 

I am resilient. 

People enjoy my company (I really want to delete this one because it feels conceited to say so aloud but after a lifetime of battling insecurities and wondering if I was accepted and desired anywhere, it feels significant to name. Perhaps my next step will be to name it sans disclaimer?)

I can do hard things. 

I can change. 

I am so much stronger than I ever realized.

I freaking don’t give up. 

I can sit in discomfort. And it gets easier the more times I do it. 

I am a good enough mom. 

My kids know I love them.

I deserve pleasure. 

It is OK for me to take breaks.

Self-care is not selfish. It is exactly as it reads - the act of caring for ourselves. I am a mess without it. 

I can have an area that I need to work on and it doesn’t make all of me a failure. (This one is still a challenge but I’m working on it).

Sometimes “doing the work” looks like sitting on the porch in the sunshine, reading a novel. Seriously!

I have a right to everything I feel.

I have a voice. And it matters. 

I think I might be a bit of a feminist - who knew?!

I have HOPE!!!!!


There is power in naming and recording, seeing where one once was, and how far one has come. Especially when things feel slow and arduous, and you can't tell if the needle is inching up the scale. Even when prone to despair, the exercise of making a list like this of “things learned” serves as a reminder of all the movement, no matter how subtle. 

This process, it's freaking brutiful.  

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Expectant Waiting


A couple years ago, we took on the massive task of trimming the tree and putting up Christmas decorations. It pains me to even speak that sentence, for fear of sounding so completely bah humbug that you all write me off as a total party pooper. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE having decorated for Christmas. The twinkling lights. The red and green. The smell of a fresh cut tree. But the actual process of decorating? It really isn't my thing. I struggle with change and perhaps could be accused of being “a little too practical,” so the idea of pulling tubs down from the garage rafter, changing out throw pillows and dishes, and re-doing the mantle for just a 4-week period every year sometimes feels not worth the effort.

In so many ways, I have loosened up over the years. Like for instance, this year I’m referring to, when I agreed to run off to McLendon's Hardware at 6:30 PM to select our Christmas tree under the cover of pitch darkness. We could see next to nothing beyond the height of the tree options before us and I honestly didn't have the energy to care. I think we took home the third tree we touched. Short, sweet and simple. Those three adjectives are rarely used together to describe my typical process of accomplishing things. More often, my perfectionist tendencies weave a gnarly web of high expectations and a desire for things to be just so. It makes me a tough cookie to live with, this I know. 

Going back to my story… by the time we got the tree home and in the stand, it was far too late in the evening to begin the process of decking it, so my husband suggested that we wait until the morning and have a "nice relaxing breakfast together" with tree decorating to follow. The only trouble with this plan was that we also had family pictures scheduled at 11 AM that, after our "relaxing" time trimming the tree, we would need to rush off to, all dressed and beautiful. I bet you can guess where there is going. As it turns out, I don't really do "nice and relaxing" followed by "dressed and beautiful" within the same 2-hour window. I summarized our morning at that time on social media as follows:

"Ok all you people with kids, let's keep this Christmas decorating thing real. Despite any beautiful pictures we might post of a glowing tree or lovely mantle, let's remember that, behind the scenes, decorations were flying out of boxes in all directions, ornaments were shattering, breakfast dishes were still on the table, only 1 of our strands of lights were 100% functional, and we ended up Scotch-taping our star to the top of the tree. And all the while, mom was standing by having a panic attack in the corner."

So yeah. This whole changing out seasonal decorations thing? It's not really my jam. But as I began to ponder it all, I realized so many things are not enjoyable in the process. I don't enjoy decorating, but I love having decorated. I don't always enjoy running but I love having run. Heaven knows I don't always enjoy parenting, but I love having parented. Are you catching my drift?

The process is typically messy and confusing and even painful. It can be tempting to throw our hands up and concede - to say darn it all to the tree this year, or to slow our run to a walk or to surrender to yelling at our kids instead of finding another way. The process. It's the nit and grit. It's the part that’s excruciating.

Last week, I was asked to share some words at my Bible study’s Christmas celebration.  My first thought was, I’ve never been one to win any awards for my positivity and I worried what I had to say might bring people down. Any regular readers know I tend to be a deep thinker and that I ponder hard things – just the message everyone wants to hear at Christmas! I considered asking for a different date, maybe sometime in the spring we aren’t assumed to be full of “holiday cheer.”

But as I began to pray through what the Lord might have for me to share, it was clear that this was exactly the time of year that He wanted me to speak. And that, during this season of Advent, where we remember and anticipate the arrival of our Savior into the world, I was to speak about the idea of expectant waiting.

I began thinking about how each one of us, no matter where we are in our lives right now, have an area of deep longing, a place where we are waiting for movement with bated breath. It’s that painful part of us that we like to pretend isn’t there. Perhaps we’ve shoved that longing into hiding in hopes that it will just go away. For others of us, we wear that longing like we do our very own skin. We couldn’t hide it, even if we tried because the havoc it has wreaked on our hearts is so blatant. These longings are uncomfortable, and they bring out our “ugly.” When we spend any length of time considering the void left by our longing, we often come away with more questions than answers. We begin to wonder if perhaps our God truly is as faithful and good as He claims to be.

So, I would pose the same question here that I asked last week during my talk - what is it that you are longing for today? Where are you filled with a sense of expectant waiting? Is it for a next step or calling, a clear sense of purpose? Is it for children? Has infertility been your gaping hole? For those who are single, is it a longing for a spouse? And for those married, is it a profound sense of loneliness despite the ring on your finger? Is there a part of you that feels broken? Are you longing for healing, for yourself or for others? Are you longing for connection, to finally feel like you are welcome and that you truly belong? 

Psalm 40:1-3 says “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

How can we possibly reconcile our areas of profound pain and hurt and longing with the goodness of our God?

God has had me on a journey in recent years that I would describe as a total unraveling. The image that comes to mind is that of a carefully-crocheted blanket. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, gorgeous color, an intricate pattern, and even stitching throughout. It seems perfectly fine from all outward appearances. Why would it require unraveling?

The trouble is this: it was stitched together on all the wrong premises – lies overtaking the truth, a belief that my worth is based on what I accomplish. I have valued image over authenticity, justice before grace, and focused on achievement, success, hard work, people-pleasing, and rule-following. The stitches were, to put it bluntly, far too tight.

All the lies I’ve internalized for so long have needed to be undone before God could begin the great work of re-stitching together my blanket, this time founded on truth. The process has been so painful. There are parts of my story that don’t make sense. At times it feels as if no part of my life has been left untouched – my marriage, my kids, my work, my family. I have had to face so many of my demons. Just when it seems like there couldn’t possibly be any more yarn left to unravel, I realize there is yet another row of stitching that needs to come undone.

In these moments of unraveling, when I am sitting in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a mess of tangled yarn, I have spent a lot of timing crying out “Why, God!? I followed the rules! I thought I was doing what you asked of me! Why is this the result? Why must I endure the heartache? THIS. ISN’T. FAIR.”

The reality, it seems, is that God wants to start anew in my life. He has a totally different pattern in mind for me. He desires to loosen the stitching a little. He is assigning me new attributes: loved, cherished, worthy, deserving. The resulting blanket will be softer, less stiff, imperfect yet wholly, undeniably accepted. Beloved. He has loving, healing work that he wants to do.

And do you know what else he is teaching me? My deep pain, my longing is FOR something. It is being used for good. Whether it is to encourage another or cause me to cling to God in times when I otherwise might be tempted to give him the cold shoulder, or whether it is to keep me fighting for healing, this process has a purpose.

Brene Brown writes, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Were it not for these hardships, I would never have had a reason to cling to Christ in the way I have in this most recent season. I had always been so self-sufficient; I was doing just fine on my own. Until I wasn’t.

Words like these became my sustenance: “He will cover you will his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4

So, while I wait expectantly and hold on to hope for continued healing in the broken areas of my life, will I choose to trust His hand?

Author Rebekah Lyons, in her book, You Are Free, writes, “Joy is not the absence of darkness. Joy is the confidence that the darkness will lift.”

I’ll be honest. There have been so many points in my own process where have been filled with doubt. I remember sitting in my therapist’s office one night, overwhelmed and undone, feeling hope slip through my fingers. It all felt too hard. I didn’t think healing would ever come. At that time, my therapist said something that has meant so much to me. She asked for permission to hold onto to hope for me, when I no longer felt I could, to be a buoy to help keep me afloat until I had the strength to continue swimming.

God’s answer to our longings, the things for which we are expectantly waiting, may never be one we have been dreaming of, the one we feel is best. But what I can say with full confidence is that he is with us in the waiting and he is using our circumstances to draw us nearer to himself.

Lyons writes, “You straddle promise and doubt, feebly holding onto the hope of promise. Keep holding on. You may not know the outcome, but you can rest in the tension of the waiting. It’s in the tension that the music is made.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Later she goes on to say, “There will come a moment in your waiting when God says, ‘It’s time.’ Waiting is a critical part of your anointing. It prepares you, strengthens you, equips and trains you to step up when the moment comes.”

The process often makes us question the endeavor but, it is worth it.  Romans 8:24 says, “But hope that is seen is not hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

So, in the same way that we wait for the coming of our Savior to earth at Christmas, may we also wait with great expectation for Christ, the Ultimate Buoy to meet each of us, right where we are at, even in our areas of deepest longing.




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Friday, December 14, 2018

The trip that actually felt like vacation



The trip seems to materialize on it’s own. The perfect combination of airline miles and drastic price cuts land us five tickets to the Los Angeles area. Graham has wanted this for some time. I feel less passionate about the idea but am content to go along for the ride. For their birthdays in late August, we gift the girls an envelope of letters, and instruct them that the gift is to be shared with the rest of us.

S. I. Y. A. D. D. N. L. N. E.

They spread the scrambled letters out before them.

“What does it spell?” we query, quietly coaxing them to put them in the correct order.

I’m surprised that it doesn’t take long; they rapidly solve the mysterious nature of their gift.

“D-I-S-N-E-Y-L-A-N-D. Disneyland!” they scream in unison. In the blink of an eye, a flash, a lasting memory has burrowed its way into their little brains. At least I hope it has. I am taking it on faith, along with a heavy dose of personal experience when my parents did something similar for me, that this will be a gift they remember into adulthood.

Their excitement. Oh, how I wish I could capture these moments in a bottle and cork them, so I could relive them in miniature releases throughout the years ahead when the going is tougher.

It’s a financial stretch for us to be here. Technically, this isn’t a trip we should really be taking right now, that is if we were living as we hope our kids will one day live, practicing what we preach. We would always, always advocate one should have the money before spending it, but in this case, we acted a bit impulsively. It’s one of those instances that we will cover with our kids with a glossy, “Do as we say, not as we do.” We jumped on the airfare and hoped the remaining funds would materialize as we went along.

And they did. Sort of. The belt is tighter right now than any of us would like as we head into Christmastime, but I would venture to say the memories we made back in October were well worth the expenditure. After slogging through an exhausting spring and a rather difficult summer with all sorts of therapies and diagnoses, our family needed to break away from the grind and just have some fun.

As I sift through the moments we shared together, I feel an undeniable urge to write them down. In a season where so much is hard and heavy, I went to remember the times that were laughable. I want to jot down the crazy idiosyncrasies of each of our tribe, to be able to look back on the times where we became “those parents,” or those moments when the joy on our kids’ faces was so explicit it could stop time.


I want to remember how exciting it is to fly in an airplane when you are a child. Free juice! Cookies! Unlimited shows! And all those tiny turquoise-blue squares you spy on the ground below? Those are swimming pools!

The kids are finally at an age where they can all carry or drag their own luggage, and they do so with great delight. We travel entirely STROLLER-FREE (such a milestone!) and the only “kid gear” we need are 2 booster seats. Booster seats! After a decade of bringing all the things, this feels like a miracle.


The kids are amazing on the plane. They exclaim over Mount Rainier and then they pass the rest of the flight looking at our phone screens. I read a book. Unbelievable!

We land in an LA suburb. It’s sunny and we rent a kind man’s personal BMW. We drive to meet Uncle Scott at his mid-century apartment complex in Pasadena. He makes us tiki drinks and we jump in his pool. I find myself holding a book again. While traveling with my 3 kids! I could get used to this.


He walks us down the hill, past a local hardware store, to a ramen joint and we enjoy our first ever ramen. We tell the kids its like pho, but not. Isla eats it willingly, declaring that she “enjoys pho more” but that it’s still good. The younger two eat less, but they are well behaved. I’ll take it!


We have a drive ahead of us, to get to our Anaheim hotel, so we part ways from Scott. The kids aren’t thrilled with their three-in-a-row set-up in the back of the BMW and I’m not thrilled with their squabbling. We pull over for gas and I sternly tell them to shape up and deal. We get to the hotel after 9 and we still need to grab groceries for our in-the-park picnics. Graham is the only one allowed to drive the rental so I make him a list and stay back with the trio, attempting to get their 3 tired bodies somehow settled and comfortable in one double bed plus a wedge of floor.

The next morning, we are out of bed early, catching our hotel shuttle to the parks. We burst through the gates of California Adventures and make a bee-line for the Radiator Springs Racers ride in Cars Land. Jack has reservations as we board our race car, and his concerns double after seeing a terrifying tractor combine come at us on the ride. Even though our car “wins” the race and he was obviously enjoying himself during moments of the ride, he pleads that we “not do it again” as soon as we get off. (Spoiler alert: we don't listen).


Our next move, in a strike of parenting “genius,” is to drag the kids onto Guardian of the Galaxy, the scariest ride in all of the Disneyland Parks “because the line is short.” As we wind our way through the display cases of entertainment leading up to the ride, the kids, showing off their perceptive natures, inquire incessantly whether this is perhaps a “scary ride.”

“Nevermind the darkness!” we titter. “Ignore all the animal skeletons in glass receptacles! All the masked and costumed characters that appear extremely angry – please disregard! Of course this ride isn’t scary! Kids, this is obviously very fun!”

I smile at Graham stiffly as I hiss through gritted teeth, “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

But we are beyond the point of no return! Retracing our steps now would mean taking a walk of shame out of the entrance, a move neither of us are willing to make. We are above this! Plus, which one of us would sit out? We both want to go on this ride. Surely our kids can handle it.

With anxiety building and tears forming in the eyes of the younger two, we continue our forward advance, cramming into an over-crowded elevator where we receive our “safely briefing.” We board the ride, strap ourselves into our seats, and hope for the best, having little idea what we are in for.

Imagine our surprise when we shoot upward with a start, only to freefall unexpectedly back down toward the ground before launching again toward the sky. With each vertical hurl and subsequent drop, we swallow the internal organs that have gathered in our throats and re-secure the backpacks that have levitated to face-level during freefall, released temporarily from gravity’s hold. Blood curdling screams fill our enclosure and it takes a moment for me to realize they are coming from our very own offspring.


A theme park enthusiast, I find the ride rather delightful. A brief check-in with each child determines that two thirds of them feel otherwise.

“It was terrible!” Emma slurs through tears.

“I hated it!” spits Jack, emphatically, his opinion about The Happiest Place on Earth now permanently soured.

“It was fun!” exclaims Isla. “As long as I can just squeeze my mom’s hand and close my eyes as tight as possible, it’s great!”

At least we have one thrill seeker among us! Alas, one willing ride participant is not enough to counterbalance the other two very opinionated offspring who are now struggling to trust their parents’ assurances about any and all rides moving forward. Sigh. Parenting. It’s at least one thousand percent easier when done in hindsight.

Eventually, Emma (mostly) comes around, though it takes some heavy convincing before she tries any new ride. But she ends up loving every ride we take her on. Well, except for Guardians of the Galaxy, Splash Mountain and the Indiana Jones ride, which literally breaks down RIGHT when we are the next to board and when one of us is already sobbing in fear. Cue wails of fear. This is wildly fun! It is even more fun when the ride restarts but stalls five times during our short jaunt through it. Of course it stops at THE LITERAL WORST times (like when the walls are crawling with spiders, when you are driving through pitch blackness, when the rock is coming at you etc). Sheesh. You never realize how deathly terrifying Disneyland is until you go there with kids. Which….leaves me with so many questions. Anyways, like I said, Emma loves everything we take her on. Except for the ones she doesn’t. Obviously. Had we not (mildly) traumatized her a few times over at the beginning, I suspect she could have been our most darest devil. Oh memories!


Jack doesn't fair quite as well. After our Guardians of the Galaxy ordeal, we have to drag him on every ride for the remainder of our two days in the parks. By the end of our second day, his stipulations are as follows: as long as it doesn't go fast, tilt sideways, go upside down, have water, involve getting wet in any way at all, have hills or drops, involve darkness, have frightening creatures, isn’t scary, AND has a roof, he is totally on board to ride. Which opens up a whole world of possibilities for us.

Like the good American family that we are, we find ourselves at moments thinking thoughts like “We paid a lot of money for this. We WILL go on these rides and we WILL have fun. GOSH DANG IT!!!”


It isn’t until we are in line to make Graham’s Family Splash Mountain Photo dreams come true and we have two screaming, BAWLING children that we realize our ridiculousness.

“I don’t think this is healthy,” I say to Graham, as I soothe-bounce one crying child on my hip and cup the other one in comfort under my arm. “I think I will just sit this one out with Jack,” who is obviously beyond the point of calming and coping.

Without even realizing it, we had become “those parents,” those crazed idealists who lose sight of the whole point of the time together “having fun.”

I watch Graham’s face fall in sheer disappointment, as he accepts the fact that we aren’t going to get the family photo op he had hoped for. But what had we been thinking, anyway? What already-anxious 5-year-old sees a log boat full of people careening down a freaking waterfall and thinks, “Hey, that looks fun! I want to do that!” None that I’ve met, that’s for sure.

After a brief pow-wow and exchange of words and possible options, Emma rallies and decides to stay with Dad and big sis and give the ride a go. Jack and I duck out of line and take a break on a bench where he rests while I stroke his hair and mentally regroup.


In the end, I would venture to say, despite my highlighting the things that perhaps didn’t go as well as we’d hoped in this post (those are always the most interesting for story-telling), the trip was quite possibly our best ever. No one was ruined permanently (that we can tell) by our moments of poorer parenting. Everyone looks back at our trip positively (ok, except for the Guardians of the Galaxy part) and begs to go back for a repeat.


Our family needed this time. After a more or less brutal spring (sleep and anxiety-wise) and then a really challenging summer (OCD-wise) with some rough trips where it felt like one of us spent more time crying than not, this trip felt like ointment on a sore. It was redemptive.

There were so many fun, lasting positive memories that will make me grin for years to come. Like hearing Isla scream in glee on Guardians of the Galaxy, after she asked to go on it with me for a second time. Or watching Emma exclaim over the simulated flight ride around the world in California Adventures. Or hearing Jack talk about “driving” the car on Autopia, and how Dad kept taking his foot off the pedal suddenly so that Scott and Emma would rear-end them (Gasp! Against the rules!) and then Isla and I after that.


But the memory of all memories for me will probably be the time I made Graham reach arm-pit deep into the Dumbo fountain to steal a quarter so that I could purchase feminine products from the park bathroom that I, in my poor planning, needed to make it through the day. I’m telling you, sometimes it pays to have a non-rule-following member in the tribe.


Other highlights of the trip included:

The kids' first video game experience (Mario Kart), which Mom was 100% OK with because it meant she could read, unbothered on the patio in the sunshine. 




A trip to the beach for a picnic where, even our water-fearing boy got in the ocean and returned to our towel to exclaim in surprise, "Mom! I'm having fun!" 





A visit to the observatory in Griffith Park.



And lastly a memorable stop (especially for the littlest) to see some old trains.


Though there were a handful of parenting faux pas on our trip, the good news is that it doesn't appear we ruined any of our kids in the long run. They are already asking when we can return to Disneyland. Our answer? Give it 5 years. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Undone-ness



I read the following words this morning:

“I’ve been a list maker since I was a kid; that’s when it started, I realize now. I never appreciated what I accomplished each day, I only felt frustrated by what was left undone. Undone of course being the perfect work for my mental state related to my list-making habit. I am constantly undone by being undone…Our lives – as a couple, as a family – have always been governed by my dissatisfaction implosions. The lists were simply an attempt to supply answers to my endless questions: Was this my life? What was my next move? Why is this house so small? Is this all there is?”

They were published in a random book I grabbed off the shelf at the library, entitled “Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words,” by Kimberly Harrington. At first it was the book’s aqua cover and picture of a cute pink contraption spewing hearts skyward that drew me. (My husband informs me the cute pink thing is a grenade; I thought it was a perfume bottle. Nevertheless.) But let’s be honest, it was the catchy title that made me toss the book in my bag. I’m feeling angsty in my mothering life of late and it seemed right to read the words of someone who, at least in title, wasn’t about to mince words.

I don’t know this author from Adam and so, the last thing I was expecting was for her words to crack me open this morning. Suddenly, it felt like someone had been spying on my life and taking notes and now I was reading back to me what they saw. I didn’t like her critical attitude. It hit too close to home. And her descriptive use of “dissatisfaction implosions” left an especially personal sting.

I am a Type One on the Enneagram and my hunch is that the author of this book is too. (PSA: Have you heard of the Enneagram? This is a brash oversimplification but it’s an ancient personality typing model of sorts - if you haven’t yet explored it, be prepared to fall into a wonderful black hole of information). Type Ones are also known as “Reformers” and, according to The Enneagram Institute (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com), they are “conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience.”

That’s a lot of words for saying I have constant eyes for how things could be improved – which can be both a rich blessing and extreme curse.

The site goes on to say that when Ones are at their healthiest, they are said to be capable of becoming “extraordinarily wise and discerning, inspiring, and hopeful. Their sense of responsibility, personal integrity, and of having a higher purpose often make them teachers and witnesses to the truth.” I would summarize that to say they are truth-tellers.

Beautiful!

When they are unhealthy, Ones are dissatisfied with reality, they become idealists, “feeling that it is up to them to improve everything. They become orderly and well-organized, but impersonal, puritanical, emotionally constricted, rigidly keeping their feelings and impulses in check. Highly critical both of self and others: picky, judgmental, perfectionistic. Impatient, never satisfied with anything unless it is done according to their prescriptions.”

Ouch! Hit home much? Dissatisfaction implosions.

There have been times recently when I have felt like I hit some of the healthier points of my personality potential. Like last week for instance. I was working on a talk I will be giving to my Bible study group in December about expectant waiting. My plan was to talk about our areas of deep longings and places of hurt, those places where we are waiting for Christ to move and provide healing and reconciliation and redemption. I was piecing together bits of my own journey through hard times and painful seasons and I felt inspired and excited and, wait for it, even hopeful, with what God gave me to share. I was going to teach! I was going to be a truth-teller!

My word for this year has been “hope.” There have been so many moments where I have felt “Hey. I think I might be getting somewhere. Maybe I’m healing!” After a long season of waiting, I was more than ready to box up some of my broken bits and catalog them on a shelf with a “no longer an issue” stamp across the front.

Yet inevitably, it seems, these hopeful moments are quickly followed by long stretches of discouragement and frustration. One week I am gripping the cheeks of my husband saying, “DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE FOR CHANGE,” and the next week I’m sob-praying as I run through the neighborhood, “I don’t think change is possible. I feel no difference. I’m getting nowhere. I give up!” Like the author of my book, I feel undone but the undone-ness.

On the tails of preparing my talk on waiting with hope, all I feel is slashed with discouragement, overwhelmed by my feelings of deep sadness. I’m back to screaming “WHERE ARE YOU GOD IN ALL THIS? Why am I still hurting? Why don’t I feel more hopeful?”

If I’m taking all my pills and exercising for endorphins, why am I still depressed?

If I’m working on viewing myself as fearfully and wonderfully made, why do I still loathe my body so?

If we’re doing all this hard work in our marriage, why do I still feel lonely?

If I’m working so hard on my thought life, why do I so often find myself at the bottom of a shame spiral?

Are my expectations too high? Is this just life? Is what I’m feeling yet another “dissatisfaction implosion”?

While I (obviously) don’t have the answer to all these hard and tender questions, I was made aware of one, blaring, gaping, painful hole in my faith life. Recently, when posed with the question, “When have you been especially aware of the love Christ has for you?” I came up empty. I literally could not identify a time where I felt completely, entirely, wholly accepted and loved by God. Though I would preach God’s incredible love to everyone around me until the cows come home, I haven’t been able to fully accept it for myself. I know my ugly. I see my mess. I track my failures. And I’m ashamed. And so, I have been disqualifying myself. I’ve erected a buffer around myself in self-protection. Because I fail to meet my own bar (perfection), I opt myself out of fully receiving the relentless, never-ending, totally-covering love God has for me.

Those are some tough words to type and even tougher words to swallow. But here is what I know: until I can truly accept Christ’s deep love for me, His grace for my ugly, complete healing cannot happen. And so, even in my undone-ness and pain, I am choosing to meditate on His unfailing love.

I will end with these beautiful words from Zephaniah 3:17:

“The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”