Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Snapshots

Awhile back I blogged about how I see life in snapshots. Sometimes I am playing with the boys and its as if a camera goes off and the image is forever imprinted on my mind. I am thankful for those "snapshot" memories. Thankful that they are mostly all good. But it hit me the other day how judgmental people can be and how so often their judgements and opinions are based upon a moment in time...a snapshot of someone else's life. I guess I have always known this to be true, but it wasn't until I became a parent that it became so personal.
There was the time Landon was 3 years old and I was 7 months pregnant with Noah and my usually well behaved toddler decided to take off running through the children's clothing section of Younkers with his arms out. If you have ever been to Younkers you know that they have clothing from the floor up to adult eye level. So if a toddler were to run with his arms out (like mine did), his hands would hit the clothes at such an angle that they would literally fly up into the air as though the tasmanian devil were whirling under them. Since he ran from the front of the childrens section to the back and I was 7 months pregnant and unable to dodge the clothing racks to catch him quick enough, he literally left a trail of destruction behind him from the front to the back of the store. When I finally caught him at the back of the store I felt an anger I had rarely experienced before. The store clerk was standing smugly behind the desk giving me the dirtiest look. It was as if her eyes said, "You have no control of your child...failure, failure, failure!" And that look and that judgement is what fueled my anger. It wasn't what he did (although it was ridiculously naughty). It was that my insecurity was ripped wide open by the judgement of some woman whom I had never even spoken to. She simply got a snapshot of my life...and made a judgment.
Then there was the time that the UPS man dropped off a package and Everett was in the garage playing. THE GARAGE. When the UPS guy knocked, I didn't come to the door. I was pregnant and...let me just be frank...in the bathroom, unable to come to the door. Well this man decided that it was his civic duty to go discuss with my neighbors how neglectful of a parent I was for letting my child play in the garage unattended. Thankfully, one of those neighbors is one of my best friends and she stood up for me (the other one has wildly different parenting ideas than I do and fully agreed with the UPS man). But this man only saw snapshots. Snippets. He had no idea why I didn't come to the door. Perhaps he assumed I was taking a nap...or eating bon bons. But we all know what we do when we assume...right? (Hint: think about the spelling of the word).
And lastly...and this is the best example...recently, I took the boys to church by myself. Silas was asleep in the carseat, Noah and Landon beside me in the pew. The message was really good and I was very much into it. I have no idea how long I stared at our pastor before looking at the boys. It was a while because every parent knows that if your kids are being good and entertaining themselves, and you look at them...it ruins it every time. And they were being SO quiet...and not fighting...and it was just lovely. Until I looked at Landon. LANDON. My by the book...doesn't break rules or push the envelope kid. My kid who thinks way too much about what people think about him. Yes, I looked at that boy. He had taken a great big Jabba the Hut sticker out of Noah's sticker book and rolled it so that it looked like a joint. Not even a cigarette, but a joint...it was even slightly green (remember, Jabba). AND HE WAS SMOKING IT. In church. I looked at him and he took it out of his mouth (between his fingers like a real smoker) and gave me this awesome look that said, "Want one mom?" My mind raced, my face flushed...I didn't even know what to do. And then I remembered that I had conveniently chosen the seat in front of the 100 year old man who was a patriarch at the church...and he had a perfect view of Landon...of my kid who was pretending to smoke IN CHURCH. Probably one of the most conservative men in the church. Yep...he saw the whole thing, probably before I did. Snapshot.
Next time we are tempted to judge another mother for her parenting, or a kid for their ridiculous behavior, I encourage us to remember that we are seeing a snapshot. And judgements based on snapshots are not usually valid or correct. Contrary to what that store clerk said to me with her eyes...I am not a failure. And while that UPS driver believes I am a neglectful parent, I can assure you that I am not. And while it appears my oldest child has a fetish with smoking...I can pretty much stake my life on the fact that a real cigarette won't ever touch his lips (now Noah is a different story). What I am getting at is that we have to earn the right to speak into other people's lives. My mom can tell me I am doing something wrong in parenting my kids because she watches me and knows me and has earned that right. So have some of my friends. And my sisters. But so help me if that UPS driver were to report me to CPS based on that snapshot. That snippet of my life that he saw. But how many times have I judged? How many times have I written someone off in my mind rather than offered my hand to help? We judge, usually because it makes us feel better about the way we are choosing to do things. But I don't want to be that person. I want to be the person at the grocery store who smiles with knowing eyes at the mom whose child is screaming in the cart. Today at the restaurant my sister and I ate lunch, an older woman came up to our table. I was sure she was going to tell me my toddler was being too loud. He was playing with a toy snake at the table and his boy noises were a bit on the loud side and I kept trying to tell him to play quieter. But that woman...she didn't scold me or him. She told me how beautiful he was and how much she enjoyed watching him. I want to be like that woman. I want to extend grace. I want to leave a snapshot behind that stays with the people I come into contact with...and I want that snapshot to ease their burden and be like a balm to their soul.
Life is like a series of snapshots. What story are our pictures telling?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Changing Seasons


I notice it with each changing season...the tiring of one, the slow entrance of the other. And yet its amazing how fast it goes. I can hear it every August...the sounds of summer getting tired. One weekend I am packing the kids up to swim at Great Grandma's and eat hot dogs and cool whip desserts, and the very next weekend there is a coolness to the air, a scent in the breeze that is ushering out the old and bringing in the new, and the house is filled with the smell of pumpkin bread. Its hard to let go of what we had, and yet we can't experience the new if we hang on too tightly to what has passed.

Isn't it like that with our lives too? I often reference my college years as "the best years of my life." But that was the last season of my life before this ten year parenting era I am currently in. And it represented everything that I don't have now...complete freedom, time and energy to explore and learn and play with my friends all of the time, and a support system next door, and down the hall, and everywhere. My newly married season was so short I don't even remember it (thank you surprise pregnancy). And now I look back at having just one child with a sweet longing. Longing to go back to the simplicity of those days. But I forget how lonely I was back then. Thats the cool thing about the human brain...we tend to remember the good and forget the bad.

I have lived through enough transitional phases that I can feel them coming and going. And I have learned to try to embrace them for whatever they are because I know that whatever the season is...it will change. And most likely, I will long for that time back. One day I will be older and my kids will be on their own...I will browse Target guiltlessly for more than 3.5 minutes and I won't have to drive my shopping cart like a race car. I will go out to eat with my friends and we won't have to meet at Chuck E Cheese. My house will stay clean for more than 1.8 seconds. I won't have to cook every night for 6 people, or cut up fruit every single stinking day. I won't have to start a train of thought only to be interrupted 400 times in 2 seconds and completely forget what I was thinking about, let alone have a real conversation with anyone. My "guest bathroom"(aka the boys bathroom) won't always have a faint smell of urine to it (despite my multiple times a day effort), and sickness and fatigue won't constantly follow me and mine everywhere we go. One day. But on that day, when it comes, I am guessing I will miss, even long for, the days when my kids sat at the kitchen table and threw (I mean played) play doh. The day will come that I will sit on my neatly arranged couch and stare longingly at the floor remembering how each and every day, the couch cushions were strewn on that floor representing some action packed game the boys came up with. I doubt I will ever miss stepping on legos. But I will miss the imaginations that built ships and airplanes.

I am exhausted. I have one more week of maternity leave. I am already teaching my Cedarville class, and between that and life, I literally feel like each day is a marathon. It works until it doesn't. Then I get stressed and irritable and short. Then I feel like a failure. Then I think my kids hate me. Then someone posts a link on vaccines and I second guess and doubt myself and wish I had 2000 more hours to research all of the questions in my head, and I wish I could learn to grow my own food and make my own bread. Then someone else mentions how their 2 year old knows the entire alphabet and can count backwards from 100, and I wonder where I went wrong. Then someone else tells me about their hot yoga classes and the 579 mile marathon they trained for and I wonder how they squeezed that kind of time out of our allotted 24 hours in a day. And just when I am about to go crazy wondering how everyone else does "it," I realize that I do "it" too, and I start to settle back down into my normal...what works for us.
I can see it all changing...the seasons passing. Landon is inching ever so close to his tenth birthday. The conversations I have with that kid blow my mind. And demand so much emotional energy. And Noah is on his heals. I see it. I feel it. He IS a changing season. And Everett needs me to play garbage trucks and get down the play doh and take apart the vacuum for him. And then there is Silas. And I want to bottle him up. Because he is changing before my very eyes. And I get upset sometimes because I can't just sit and soak him up. I try to be purposeful about it and steal as many moments as I can...but the truth is, I want more time. And as much as I want this crazy, exhausting season of my life to ease into something a bit less demanding, I don't. Because one day I will look back with longing and wish for this very season. And it will be gone. Just like college is gone. I will never forget when Landon was 4, he pointed to a picture of himself as a baby and asked me, "Where has that baby gone?" The baby had grown into a preschooler, leaving only a trail of beautiful memories behind.

Every single choice, every day costs something. We choose one thing and let another go. I think that is why so many of us second guess so much. Doubting ourselves and comparing our normal with everyone else's does nothing but add guilt to our already over-filled plates. So the marathon mama...she chooses that at the cost of something else. And the natural mama...she chooses that at the cost of something else. And the mama who has a clean house...it comes at a price. And the mom who is involved in every single area of her kid's life...it too comes at a price. So does working outside of the home...so does being a stay at home mom. At the end of the day, the question we must ask is if we can live with the price of our choices. Many of us criticize people who choose differently because it makes us feel justified in our choices. That is insecurity. Confidence is the courage to do your thing, your way, aware of the price but ok with it. Because the season is fleeting, always fleeting. I had a friend stop and talk to me in a store parking lot this summer for 45 minutes. Her ice cream melted in her car because she chose me. It cost her something. But it earned her something intangible. Little choices, big choices...they make up our lives by flavoring and sometimes determining our seasons. The winds of change are ever blowing. Our normal is the sum of our choices.

When I look back, I want to know that I was there for the big things, and noticed the small ones. That I tried to make happy memories (although many times to be honest the fun things have bittersweet mixed in...arguing children, melt downs, bad attitudes).  But at the end of the day, no matter how many times my voice raised too many octaves or my words were poorly chosen, I want my children to know in their hearts that they were loved. And wanted. And cherished. But life is a balance and while I try to make choices that will stamp love on their little hearts, I also know that I cannot be everything to everyone, including my kids. So I cut myself some slack when I just can't do it all or when I fail miserably, and even when I sit in the back bedroom and cry because I never thought having a family would be this difficult. Then I wipe those tears away and go cut up some more fruit or change the 50th blow out diaper of the day...and try again...and again...and again. But at the end of the day, as much as I want to be for my kids, I can't do it all. And I thank God that I can continuously point their little hearts to Him, as the only source of perfect love. I am grateful I can ask for forgiveness and teach them to be humble. Its amazing all that I am learning about my own poor way of dealing with emotions as I am teaching them to properly sort through theirs. The other day I told Landon that if he kept perceiving a certain situation in the way that he was, that it would lead him to feel very sad and he would end up believing a lie. A short while later, he turned that around and said those same things to me...and he was absolutely right.

What am I getting at? The emotions you feel as a mom...the ones we never talk about. Yep...those. Your not alone. I feel them too. But just as summer is fading to fall, this season of our lives too shall pass. Sink into your normal today. As messy as it may be. Its ok to wish some of it away. Lets just be real...we really are not going to miss the pee smells in the bathroom or the legos digging holes into the bottoms of our feet. But get grounded in the beauty that is your season right now, find something and let it be your calm in the midst of the storm. Because they will stop saying those cute words, and they won't always need you, and for heaven's sake...one day they will cut their own fruit. You want to know you were present. Whether your season in life right now is good or bad, its your life, you need to be present. That is what I want to leave you with...be present. That means real...experiencing the highs and lows and all that lies in between. And if that terrifies you for any of a thousand reasons, then know you are not alone. If you can be present on the mountain tops, it will carry you through the valley. And if you are present in the valley, you will find the strength to hope and to travel to the mountain top. If you refuse to be present, you will miss it all. I will miss it all. And that would be a shame.