Wednesday, July 23

Great Expectations: Summer Vacation





Hello All...

It's been a while.

How is your summer going?

Our is...well...going...

     Wink. Wink. Smile. Smile. Says the mom trying to create some semblance of structure and sanity around very unstructured days with a 14 mo. old who is a walking pickpocket, cup tipper, dishwasher climber, tissue box destroyer, cabinet emptier, shoe flinger and general disassembler of all things in all parts of the house + two older children who look at me with yearning eyes that say "Ok mom...you're the activity director, right? Whatta we doin' today? And please, please, pretty puhleeaze don't say organize the playroom or clean our bedrooms AGAIN!"

in case you needed proof

     Ah yes. Summer vacation. In all of it's splendid gloriousness. In all of its crazy chaoticness.

     I love summer. I love the warmth and the sun and taking runs at dusk. I love grilled chicken and vegetables, corn on the cob, berry picking, and beaches (though I must confess, I haven't been brave enough to take all three children yet!).  I love watching the girls ride their bikes and how their hair turns lighter with each day. I love their tanned skin and band-aided knees. I love eating  ice cream with them, the longer days, buying cherries at the farmers market and  wearing nothing on our feet but flip flops (and let me tell you, when you become a family of five there are flip flops EVERYWHERE! There are so  many that it becomes a seek and rescue mission to find two that match sometimes!).

     I LOVE not having to bundle everyone in layers, and jackets and boots!

     Summer always makes...I can't even say it...that season that starts with the letter "w" (shhhh! don't say it aloud!)...seem so very far away and maybe...just maybe bearable one more time....if we must... but let's not talk about that right now.

     However, for all of the things I LOVE about summer I must confess, summer as a mom of small children is...hmmm...how does one say this...a tad hairy at times (:

     I recently had a discussion with a very wise mom whose own children are college aged now. "Ah yes, summer vacation," she aptly said, "is like drinking water from a fire hose."

     That just might have been the best description I have heard to date to describe the daily goings on at our house.

     And yet, in the midst of the fire hose drinking marathon there is a great paradox-- As a mom I can start to feel like for as much as I'm trying to do, I'm not doing enough.  That they are not getting to do enough.

    What's up with that?

     The kids can seem bored and it feels like my fault.

     When we don't have a jam packed schedule of activities, I feel like I'm doing something wrong.

     Because I haven't managed to schedule the playdates I wanted to, or do one of the crafts I had hoped to do, or because taking them all to the beach feels like a feat of such gargantuan proportions that I have decided not to,  I start to feel like I'm disappointing them somehow.

     Because some days it feels like all I can manage is to stay home, feed everyone three meals and clean up in the wake of their towels, sand, clothing and bathing suit changes, and then pick up the array of socks, underwear, shoes and game pieces that seem to find themselves scattered about the house, I feel like the kids are 'missing out'.

    On what? I'm not totally sure.

    We seem to be a culture seeking a constant activity buzz and even though I don't really want the buzz, I  want my children to enjoy their summer. I want them to have great memories of long hot joyful, fun-filled days. Somehow a subliminal message has weaseled its way into my mommy mind that if we are not on the activity buzz rocket ship I'm letting everyone down.

    Off to outer space is what I would like to say to that rocket ship whose name is mommy guilt.

    Does anyone else ever feel this way?

     Really, what do kids need? They need to feel loved. They need a tin of water balloons and a spicket. They need someone to help them apply their sunscreen and make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.  They want you to read them a book and watch an episode of their favorite cartoon on the couch with them.

     And while I know all of that, kids tend to have needs and wants, and as a parent it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of wanting to meet as many of their wants as possibly...even if it happens unconsciously.

     Some kids are thrill seekers. I must say, Ava would hold a ticket to a different theme park every day of the week for the entire summer if she could. I'm totally not kidding about that...as much as I can say all she needs is for me to read a book to her, she asks me EVERY day when we are going to Darien Lake and Canada's Wonderland. She would also like to know if she grows another half inch by the end of the summer (and she probably will) if can we drive back to Ohio to go on all of the rides at Cedar Pointe that she didn't get to ride when we were there two weeks ago.

     I think she wishes I could take them swimming more, that we could go to Darien Lake weekly, that we could install a pool in our very tiny backyard and that life were a little more festive than it actual is because...well...there is a baby in the house that needs a lot and naps a lot, who requires constant attention and who isn't quite big enough to ride anything at Darien Lake.

     And so even though she is only seven,  I realize that I actually may be disappointing my sweet girl on some level with what I am and am not capable of. I'm realizing that as a mom of three I have limitations and that those limitations are very real and have very real implications for what we can and cannot do on many of our summer days.

     Life in our house, some days, IS plain boring.

     Even for me.

     Yes we have taken the same bike ride 16 times. Yes, we are going to the same park again. Yes, it is ham sandwiches and go-gurt for lunch, again.  No, we cannot go to Adventure Land right this moment, and probably not even by the end of this week. Though I will try to make it happen (despite the fact that theme parks make me cringe) by the end of the summer.

     I'm realizing that even though this makes me a little bit sad...the fact that I'm likely disappointing my daughter on some level...it's part of maturing (or growing up, so to speak) as a mom and it's part of growing up as a kid with siblings.

     So, while summer  often comes wrought with great expectations, I'm learning that we we have to consider and reconsider, over and over again,  what it is that makes our days...our lives...great.

     Is it big exciting, activity packed days at Adventure Land. Or is is small adventures in one's own backyard...feeding ducks and watching a momma bird sit on her eggs in another bird's nest in our shed?

    Is it go, go, go...to new, new, new places...or is it finding new things to see as we frequent the same old places?

     Is it squeezing the most activity out of every day or is it learning to be ok with doing less?

     I know the answers to my questions.

     (Sometimes knowing is the easy part, it is living the answers that is often much harder.)

      The answer is (as far as I can see) that there must be a balance somewhere in-between. That new adventures are fun, but familiar places are refreshing and offer a different kind of fullness.

     That being busy is not always a bad thing, but that being still is not so bad either.

     That kids will always be kids who will have far more energy than you do and that some "boredom" is a requirement for a summer vacation well lived (how many times do you remember saying "I'm bored!" to your own parents!).

     That being content with less requires just as much energy as attempting to plan more.

     I will close with the words of one of my favorite motherhood authors Katrina Kenison in her book "Mitten Strings for God" (the book I always reference when I'm feeling guilty for not doing more). In this chapter titled "Play" she describes how good, old-fashioned, unplanned days are quite good for us after all.

     "I grew up in a typical New England town, where it didn't occur to anyone to plan their children's days or even to keep too close an eye on them when they weren't in school. My childhood seemed--to me then and for many years afterward-- completely uneventful. But now, raising children of my own, I consider my childhood rich indeed, for I still hold within me those feelings of freedom and self-reliance, and memories of summer days strung together like beads on a string, all of them mine."

     Here's to hoping my sweet girls feel the same way about their own summer days many years from now.














Thursday, June 26

Lost Keys, Bathroom Escapades and an Unforgettable Trip to the Library



     My brother in law is a police officer and on any given day, if you can catch him for five or ten minutes, boy oh boy does he have some stories to tell.

     I am a mom and on any given day, if you catch me for five minutes without kids, I might have a story to tell too, but we'll get to that later.

     There is one story my brother in law told me a while back that has stuck with me. It was about a couple of young kids that they picked up in a local park-- we're talking little kids, like a 5 and an 8 year old ( I don't remember the exact details, but they were little).  The kids were climbing on some rocks close to a smallish, but still dangerous waterfall in this particular park. When the police officers finally showed up the kids explained to the officers that their mother had left them there while she 'just ran over to the airport' to pick someone up.

     Say what?!!! These stories always prompt my eyes to widen and my jaw to drop. Though, I will confess, they also have the effect of making me feel like not such a bad mother after all.

    I clearly recall thinking, upon hearing the conclusion of the story,  "Well, as much of a mess of a mom as I often feel I would never do that!"

    (Please know I do think the whole thing is actually quite sad! I'm really glad those kids were ok and I thank God for police officers who come to the rescue in situations like that.)

     Except that, every so often I have a moment, like...ahem...yesterday, that has me just waiting for the police to show up, reprimand my ridiculousness and save my poor kids from their crazy, too often disorganized mother.

     Yesterday was the first full day of summer vacation for Ava, which meant that I had all three girls home. I was feeling quite under the weather (it's been a somewhat hectic and stressful month for some personal and logistical reasons, which apparently left me prone to a bit of a summer bug) and I had a DVD that was due back to the library...7 days ago! (This particular DVD somehow dodged my library DVD clean out 8 days ago when I did return what I thought was ALL of the DVD's we had out of the library...just sayin').

     I packed all three girls up in the car and headed to the library, knowing that with Aubrey now fully mobile that the entire experience promised to be...interesting.

     As soon as we pulled into the parking lot at the library Ava reported that she had to pee. (Seriously? Hadn't we just left the house where peeing could much more conveniently be done in our own bathroom where I didn't have to wrestle a baby to keep her from touching the toilet or putting her hand on the floor). 

     "Ok honey, but you're going to have to go on your own," I say.

     "Mooooommmmm!!!! I don't want to go by myself!"

     "Well, then you can take Ella with you. I'll help you get in, but I'm not taking the baby in there!"

     As soon as we get into the library we march over to put our DVD and several books into the book drop and grab the bathroom key which is connected to a large piece of wood with a sign that says "Women". The girls know right where this key contraption is because every time we go to the library someone must pee...I've decided that it must be like dogs and fire hydrants, this library bathroom need to pee thing...it happens EVERY time.

     While the girls are in the bathroom Aubrey and I hung out in the hallway, where there is much more, less yucky, room for her to walk freely (I had left the stroller at home because this was supposed to be a "quick" trip and she is not a big stroller fan these days!) until I hear the girls struggling to open the bathroom door and go over to let them out.

     After returning the large key I tell the girls they have about 10 minutes to each pick out 1 DVD and 2 books. During that time I keep Aubrey from pulling books off of shelves and eventually steer her towards the play area, where we happen to meet a little boy about her age with a very snotty nose. I spend the rest of the time trying to keep her away from the toys that they kid with the snotty nose is playing with except she, of course, only wants to play with what he is playing with.

     About this time Ella comes to find me to tell me she has to go to the bathroom.

     I am not making this up. I swear. My life often feels like a reality television show that isn't being filmed, but is FULL of hilarious reality.

    "Now? Right now?" I ask, just to make sure I heard her correctly. There is no way she just told me she needed to go to the bathroom.

    "Uh huh."

     "Ok," I sigh and as sweetly as possible say,  "Honey, you know where the key is."

     She and Ava go to the bathroom again, and then I tell them it is time to check out.

     Which should be easy, except that my card is blocked because of the DVD which amusingly decided to hide itself in my television cabinet and now I have over $10 in fees on my card.

     While I'm trying to pay fines with my credit card in the middle of the library I start to hear Aubrey cry...they are still in the children's section where Ava is watching her.

     "What's going on babe?" I ask Ava.

     "Aubrey is mad because I pulled her off the bookshelf!"

     As I go to pick up Aubrey I realize not only is she mad and crying...she stinks like poop. Stinky, stinky poop!

     And my wipes are in the car.

     "Ok honey. Can you and Ella come and stand by me while I finish this up. I'll change her in the car."

     We finally finish checking out our books and I walk the kids out to the car with a very jumbled and throbbing brain.

     I decide it would be easiest to just change Aubrey at home, so I strap her into her car seat stinky and all, make sure everyone else is buckled and hop into the drivers seat and rummage through my bag for the keys.

     The keys. The keys. Shoot, where are the keys?! 

     "Girls, does anyone see the keys?!"

    They do not.

     Oh gosh. Do I take everyone back into the library or just run back in, lightening speed, by myself? 

     I make a decision that immediately brings my brother in laws mom in the park story back to mind...

     I tell the girls I'm running in super duper quickly and I'll be right back!

     I literally sprint back into the library, ask the folks at the desk for my keys and receive scrupulous stares from several people whom I know just saw me, disheveled with three children...one squirmy, screamy, and stinky! The lady with the snotty nosed little boy gives me the most sympathetic look of the bunch.

     They do not have my keys.

     I do a quick run through the library, check the shelves we were near, look on the floor near the toys and near the bathroom and then sprint back out the car, without keys,  because I feel so guilty for leaving my kids there. I swear I was gone for three minutes tops!

     I hop back into the driver seat and see Ava sobbing.

     Oh gosh.

     "Oh honey!!! What's wrong?!"

     She is my very sensitive girl. She was afraid that I would get hurt in the three minutes I was gone and not come back.

     My heart was crushed. My brain was tired. I had no keys and the baby stunk.

     What's a momma to do?

     After consoling Ava, and listening to Ella telling me how she was trying to tell Ava that there was nothing to worry about (Ella is my tough cookie!), I take a deep breath, text Scott that I have no keys and say a quick prayer.

     "Lord,  puuuulllleaaaase help my find my keys."

    That very instant a thought came to my mind that I may have set the keys in the cup holder in the backseat car door while I was trying to strap Aubrey in as she arched her back and balked and being buckled in.

     I get out of the car, open the back door, reach down....

     And there are my keys.

     I simply hold them up in the air.

     Ella starts laughing out loud.

     Ava gives me a look that says, "Mom are YOU serious right now? Don't EVER do that to me again."

     Aubrey starts to laugh at me as I laugh at Ella who is laughing at me.

    The whole thing was quite...entertaining.

    And so the summer begins in all of it's craziness and hopefully some fun.

     If you're ever having one of those days where you're thinking "Wow, this life with kids thing is really crazy and I really don't feel like I have my act together..."

     You can think of my day at the library and either be reassured that you're not the only one or encouraged when you think, "Well, my life isn't that crazy."

    Either way, hopefully you'll feel better!

    Cheers to summer vacation (:





Saturday, June 7

S-L-O-W...Children at Play

 

  "Momma, you run fast!" Ella yelled from the sidewalk where she was riding her blue Cinderella bike in a pink dance leotard with its gauzy pink skirt billowing up in the wind as she rode. Her long brown hair fell in strands from beneath the clunky purple bike helmet and the sun shone brightly on her cheeks as she squinted to holler her assessment of my "run".

     I almost choked on my saliva as I  laughed aloud and smiled back at her from the street where I was pushing the jogging stroller with the baby belted in, squawking because she wanted to get out. My plodding trot as I pushed the bulky stroller didn't feel much like the "running" I liked to picture myself doing.

     "Thanks babe!" I replied enthusiastically.

     This particular morning was beautiful, sunny and springy. The last several weeks had been so hectic with preschool graduations, gymnastics, Scott's work schedule, family commitments, church commitments, social commitments and school stuff that fitting in even a 1/2 hour run had becoming increasingly challenging.

      Exercise has always been an important  part of my life. It helps to maintain my sanity (there is actual medical proof to support this!) and even in the wake of having one, and then two children I've always been able to fit it in at least three times a week because I've made it a priority.

    Lately, priorities seem a little hazy. Or at least covered in crushed cereal puffs, diapers, apple sauce mashers and figuring out where those darned bins of shorts are that I put away seven months ago, in a nice safe place, to be pulled out for the children when the time was finally right.

        Fortunately the weather has improved in Buffalo and I can get outside to run, but it's usually at 7:30 at night when I'm very, very tired and feel twice my age as I plod heavily down the street.

     So on this particular morning I thought, Well, Ella is perfectly capable of riding her bike and Aubrey is old enough to fit into the jogging stroller, let's give this a try. 

    I'll be honest. Even though I love our BOB jogging stroller I don't love to jog with it.

     Kind of funny, huh.

     It's a great walking stroller. It's great for the zoo. We've utilized it for family runs in the past where Scott will jog with it and I'll jog besides him...hands free!

    But me, I like to use my arms when I run. I like to wear headphones. And honestly, running is usually some of the only kid-free time that I have to process my thoughts or listen to loud music.

    So, if you see me out running with the jogging stroller you will know that I've either turned over a new leaf and am trying to add some resistance training to my schedule (not likely!) OR that life has finally gotten so hectic that it is this or nothing.

    On that sunny Tuesday morning I chose "this" with Ella in her dance leotard and the squawking baby in the stroller.

    As we plodded along I  initially wondered if I was crazy. Aubrey just learned to walk and HATES to be buckled into anything for long periods of time and Ella is hit or miss on how far she's willing to ride on her bike.

     I also started peppering myself with a long internal battering about whether or not this actually counted as "real" exercise given that I had to stop so many times to hand the baby a piece of her teething biscuit, adjust the visor so that the sun wasn't in her eyes, and then help Ella over the cracks in the sidewalk.

    I finally convinced myself that "this"...this slow and lovely run with my two sweet girls...did count as exercise and that I was being far too hard on myself to think anything else at this season of life. I realized that "this" is my life right now and that there is something beautiful about that.

    Eventually we all settled in and though it was slow, it was a sweet run. We were going slow enough that I could actually admire the neighbors landscaping, Ella and I exchanged "wows" as we spotted pink trees and "wish" flowers (white feathery dandelions) and Aubrey even settled down for a period of time.

    I realized that I was being far too hard on myself to expect anything else at this season of life.

    THIS season of life.

    The season in which I am with children, in some capacity, almost all day long.

    THIS season of life.

    The season when my littles need me. Want me. Most of the time. And as much as I love that, and will likely miss it in just a few short years, it can get complicated, tiresome and challenging at times, if I'm honest.

    THIS season of life.

    The season when there is not a whole lot of downtime. When the house is always a mess. When I forget my own social security number when prompted at the doctor's office.

    THIS is a very busy season of life with small children.

It is also a very sweet and beautiful season of life if you allow yourself to embrace the chaos, be in the moments of discovery through your children's eyes and S...L...O....W   down your own pace.

     Grocery shopping with children is...slow.

    Doing laundry with children next to you is....slow.

    Making a meal with children in the kitchen is...slow and sometimes a tad tedious.

     Running with children is...haha...quite slow.

     But, if you can allow yourself to embrace the slow and fight against your own desire to always be productive (and fast!) you will find that sometimes slow is ok.

    That when you jog, slowly, with a stroller and a 5 year old on a bike with training wheels that you actually see the flowers, and the birds fluttering about. That you can breathe deeply and hear the
breeze whiz by.

     I've often seen those signs on the street, "SLOW. Children at Play." I need to hang that sign on my heart. Or more practically, on my refrigerator where I am forced to see it 47 times a day as I open the door. 
   
    When you see that sign on the street you do what it says, you respect and value the children and their safety and you s-l-o-w down.

    Slowing down means you will cover less space in the time you have. It means you will not get quite as far. Or that you will, but not as quickly. 

    Can we accept that? Can we be ok with that?  Can we actually do that?

   If you've read any of my posts in the last year (which have been few and far between for all of the reasons I've listed here) you know that that has been my journey, my struggle, my goal and desire. To not keep quickly plowing through the to-dos...but be more intentional, more present, more at peace with the undone.
 
   To slow down...at this season...because there are children at play. And to try to embrace the joy of it all.

    One awkward run with the jogging stroller at time.



   



Tuesday, May 27

Book Review: Tiny Blue Lines

I recently finished reading Tiny Blue Lines written by this sweet momma from Michigan.

I met Chaunie at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI two years ago. She was the cutest pregnant momma, expecting her third child at the time and we had some great chats about writing, children and the best things to do in Disney World (a likely combination of conversation topics for two mothers who like to read and write, but also spend a great portion of our time watching princess movies and donning tiaras for our girls).

At the time Chaunie had recently met with a publisher and was hoping her book would make its way onto their published book list.

Two years later I'm so thrilled for her and the fact that she can add published book author to her list of writing credentials! Her dream for that first book finally came to fruition and she is a gal who is all about encouraging people to pursue their dreams...even when life doesn't go exactly has planned.

Which is kind of what her sweet book is all about.

Her book, Tiny Blue Lines, is about her first pregnancy which was unplanned. Its about the questions, challenges and struggles that she faced in the process of navigating this new territory in her life.  It talks about the fears that arise when she has to tell her parents, the struggles of finishing her degree while being pregnant (she was pregnant for the majority of her senior year of college), and navigating life as a student and a soon to be mom who quickly discovers that options for help, childcare and even health insurance are complicated and lacking at best.

As she says in the book, "I was twenty-one, unmarried, a student in my senior year of college, and still taking my laundry home to my parents every weekend. The question of 'What if I'm pregnant?' quickly became 'What the heck am I going to do now?'"

In Chapter 9, aptly titled "Is There a Syllabus for Parenthood? Being a Student and a Mom", Chaunie
says:
Having experienced life both as a pregnant student and life as a student parent, I have to say that for me, one of the hardest parts about being a pregnant students wasn't in the physical challenge of keeping my breakfast down during class, navigating an icy campus with a giant belly, or staying awake long enough to do my homework; it was feeling so completely alone. 

In addition to sharing her experience about being a pregnant student, Chuanie also candidly talks about the guilt and shame that threatened to creep in, as an unwed mom.

I wasn't prepared for all of the ways that my unplanned pregnancy would try to slowly intertwine its way into my life. I didn't realize how guilt, shame and the belief that I was irresponsible would threaten to pervade every aspect of my thinking. I've struggled with everything from fighting down waves of jealousy at "normal" baby showers and weddings to rude comments and questions if any of my children were "planned." 
 I've let my unplanned pregnancy threaten to rob me of my identity. It taunted me-- telling me I would never be more than my bare ring finger or that I wouldn't succeed, that people would always look at me as "that girl who got pregnant." 


While I have not walked in Chaunie's shoes as an expectant mom in an unplanned pregnancy, I found her story relatable and her voice to be engaging, fresh, and honest.  I enjoyed reading her journey as a mother and how she strives to make sense of balancing parenthood with her professional goals as a nurse and writer.

I think Tiny Blue Lines is an important story that needs to be included in the repertoire of books on pregnancy and motherhood.  Her story opened my eyes to the challenges of women who find themselves in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy, particularly young girls who are still in school and trying to figure out what direction their lives are heading.  I was personally surprised by some of the presumptions people made of her as a young mom and how she seems to have navigated  many of those situations with grace and persistence.

Chaunie was sweet enough to send along a copy of her book for me to giveaway here!

Thanks Chaunie!

If you would be interested in reading Tiny Blue Lines, or know someone who happens to be currently be in a position to need the encouragement of  Tiny Blue Lines (perhaps they are currently facing the challenges of unplanned pregnancy or even navigating life afterwards) leave a comment below! I'll leave the giveaway open for a week and select a winner next Tuesday.

If you want to read a bit more about Chaunie's book you can check it out here on Amazon.

You can also read this very interesting Q & A with Chaunie on the catholic news site Zenit.org.

She also has a great blog that you can check out over at tinybluelines.com