Tuesday, December 9

Tis the Season




Tis the season!

For cookie making, late night shopping, tree picking, prepping and decorating, outdoor light hanging, party planning, schedule keeping, kids Christmas concerts and plays,  family visits, card mailing, extra post office visiting, letters and visits to and from Santa, advent readings and candle lightings, caroling, gift wrapping and everything else in between.

Are you ready?

Get set.

Go!!!!

Chances are you're probably already running the Christmas race, or so it feels sometimes.

Every year I find myself simultaneously not wanting it to feel like a crazy race, but realizing that there is so much we hope to fit into such a short period of time that how can we possibly expect it to feel any other way?

I also find myself wondering if Christmas is supposed to be a holiday intended to celebrate and remember something profoundly spiritual, how do we end up so busy that we have no time to be reflective, contemplative or prayerful-- the keys to digging deeper spiritually. 

I find myself desiring to be present, and wanting to meditate on Christ's coming-- the real reason for the celebration--but inevitably become distracted by all of the other hoopla.

Good hoopla. Fun hoopla. But hoopla nonetheless.

I feel like Im straddling two different worlds. The Christmas our culture has created and the Christmas that should be a reminder and celebration of Christ's coming to the world. 

So what do we do? How can we try to stay focused, be reflective and not get to the end of the month feeling tired and spiritually drained, but with hearts that are grateful and souls that feel nourished?

I think the answer is to stop. Stop some of the running. Stop some of the shopping. Stop some of the commitments outside of our homes to stay home and sing Christmas carols around the tree (something we wound up doing on a whim last year and that Ava has been asking to do again!).

We must stop running so that we can start being. Being still. Being silent. Being reflective. Just being with one another sometimes.

I'm not saying I'm good at this or that I even get it right all of the time. We have our fair share of kid commitments, church commitments and all sorts of other craziness in-between. But, in the midst of it all I'm trying to be intentional through advent readings (my own and as a family), journaling (I bought a red journal a couple of years ago that I jot thoughts and notes in as we move through the Christmas season), making time to read Nativity stories with the kids and even watch fun movies.

I'm trying again to stay focused in the midst of the business.

I'm trying not to go so fast through it all.

I'm trying to slow my pace and my heart.

I'm trying to not overcommit.

I'm trying to be very intentional about what I want to do with the kids when and where and how.

I'm trying to make much of the little- the little moments making garland at our kitchen table where the needle and thread become unexpectedly sticky and we all  laugh at what a mess it is to try to string popcorn, cranberries and gumdrops.


It looked so easy in the pictures!

I'm trying to make much of our conversations. The ones where we talk about the importance of giving to others.  I'm trying to teach them that sometimes giving a gift is even more fun than receiving one (or at least just as much fun in their young worlds!). I've helped them pick out some gifts for each other and gave them each a box to hide their special treasures in under their beds.

I will try to make much of the cookie making moments to come (as messy as they are sure to be!), and the gift wrapping extravaganzaas. I vow to wrap with a heart of gratitude for the abundant blessings that we have and say thank  you for the ability to buy each of the many gifts for friends and family members.

I'm trying to make much of the little moments that we try to include daily where we light a candle and read a portion of scripture and a reminder of Jesus' coming from one of several Bible storybooks that we have.

I'm trying to make much of the sweet little nativity set we picked up at Hobby Lobby. I wanted one that the girls could set up and that I would not be overly sad about if something got broke . I settled on this one for $29, and then splurged on the barn/stable piece for another $20.

I won't lie and say everything was silent night and joyfully bright as we set that up though!

The girls fought over who would put baby Jesus in the nativity scene until I had to take baby Jesus away.

"Mommy is putting baby Jesus in the nativity scene!" I  said sternly not knowing how else to end the argument as I tightly held onto baby Jesus lest a fight of epic proportions ensued.

(Yes, this is how Christmas goes in a real, kids-included, non-Pinterest picture, home)

But...when they're not fighting over the pieces, or who will get to lay the straw down ("Girls! There is enough  straw for everyone to put some in the manger! I swear!") I hope they take an extra moment to stare at the angel, and the baby in the manger and Mary's head bowed low in prayer. I hope that image is the one that remains in their minds and in their hearts for a long time to come.
I hope it reminds them, eventually, to take a moment to bow their own heads and thank Jesus for coming and for loving them.

We're trying to make much more of Jesus in our house than the guy in the big red suit-- the world makes enough noise about him that he is sure not to ever get lost in the celebrations.

But Jesus...I fear Jesus gets lost in the noise sometimes and that makes this momma sad. So we read lots of stories about the stable, and I try to be intentional about many of my decorations.

The girls still think Santa is real. Or so I think they do. And we even have a roaming Elf on the Shelf that was gifted to us several years ago. Yes, the girls think she flies back to Santa every night to report on life in the Littlewood household.  We leave cookies out and a couple of their presents will say "From  Santa".

Sometimes I feel a little conflicted about it all, but we're trying to have some fun with them while keeping the focus on the real reason for celebration. I never believed in Santa as a kid and while I understand where my parents where coming from I do think there is some innocent fun to be had with the whole thing. I was the one going up to the 5 and 6 year old kids telling them boldly, "Santa isn't real you idiot! Your parents bring all of the presents!"

Um, yeah. That was super, duper Christian of me wasn't it?!!

Sorry if you were one of those kids ): I wish I could take that back!

All that to say...I'm trying, in this busy season of parenting, in a culture that is always on the move, to find ways to be slower and more present. This morning while Aubrey is in play school for two hours I felt a restlessness and an urge to go run, run, run. There is wrapping paper to buy and dinner to make, and really good sales to hit up!

But instead I've grabbed my computer, my Bible, a great book on parenting, my journal and I'm sitting. Quietly. In the church foyer where I dropped Aubrey off. The only thing I can hear is the sound of the ventilation system and the lack of distraction feels very good for my soul.

I'm saying a prayer of thanks for the moment and asking God to help me be intentional as I move through the rest of the day and all that it holds (which is quite a lot!). I've prayed that these words would find their ways to the right hearts and that they would somehow be an encouragement to you. I'm praying that you and I would both have a fun and celebratory Christmas that is strengthened by some quiet moments and purposeful prayer. 

I hope to get around to blogging at least one more time before Christmas, but I'm not making any promises (;  I might be too busy singing Christmas carols with my kids or sitting in a quiet corner somewhere!


Monday, November 24

When Parenting Doesn't Go Exactly As Planned

Joining my friend Amelia over on her blog this week for a super cool project that she has been working on called Pray A-Z. Read more about the project and download the free A-Z prayer cards over on her site. Let's join her in praying for people in our communities in very specific ways.  

You can read the beginning of my honest post on parenting here...and then head on over to her site to read the rest (; 
Pray A to Z

A few nights ago, my husband and I stood in the kitchen tired and a feeling a little bit wrung out. It was 9:45 p.m., and we were still cleaning dishes and picking up toys. All we wanted to do was crash on the couch and read a book or watch a few minutes of television, but there would be no time for that. It had been a busy day in the way that days are busy with young children (you can have absolutely nothing planned and still feel like you ran a marathon by bedtime!).
“I never pictured it to be like this,” my husband said.
“I know babe, I’m tired too. It’s never-ending. It’s really hard. It’s a season. We’ll get through it,” was my response.
He knew that. I knew that. But we’ve hit a rough patch recently, a string of days and weeks that simply leave you tired and discouraged.
I had been pretty emotional earlier in the day because I was feeling disheartened by the sheer magnitude of it all and we ended up in a tense discussion about why, even after 18 months of being parents to three children, I was still feeling utterly overwhelmed almost every day.
While the answer to that question may be a whole other story all together, I share this moment with you because it is a picture of parenthood that is often not included in those books you read during pregnancy. It is the part of parenthood that you don’t expect—the relentless flurry of demands on your time, energy, and resources and how it can, in all of its normalcy, become hard and overwhelming at times.
If parenting (an experience begun with that first set of tiny blue lines) has taught me one thing it is that I need Jesus way more than I ever knew (and trust me, I knew I needed him deeply before becoming a mom!). I’ve come to the conclusion that parenting is actually an integral part of the cosmic plan for our own spiritual transformation and reconciliation.


Monday, November 17

Sleepless Nights and Thankfulness (But Not Always At the Same Time!)


I have written six blog posts in the last several weeks and have not posted one of them.

That's right...I've sat, and thought and spent upwards of six plus hours writing a combined total of more than 5,000 words and have not posted a single one of them on my blog. 

I just perused them all in my blog post manager tool in hopes that one of them might be fodder for  nice snowy November day like today.

Not so much.

Every time I read through one of them I think...Ugh...too dreary, too boring, too blah, blah, blah...

Maybe this is what they call writers block. Or maybe I'm not wanting to be completely transparent about all of the things that are making parenting life feel a little bit crazy right now.

The lack of sleep hasn't helped.

Did I mention I'm tired?

We've had coughs, and teething and bad dreams and runny noses. When one things seems to resolve itself the entire rotation starts all over agin. All night. For weeks on end.

I once heard a friend of a friend say that after they had their third child sleeping at night started to feel like a game of Whack A Mole (that silly arcade game where you use a mallet to keep bopping the mole heads back down into their little circle!).  I know it's a bit of an aggressive comparison, but hey...if the shoe fits...and oh it does...use the comparison!

It does feel a  little bit like a Whack A Mole game, if I'm honest. You hear one child cry, get up, settle them down (or give them cough medicine or assure them there will be no more bad dreams or that there are no monsters in the house) and just about the time you settle back into your bed and begin to doze off...POP! Someone else starts to cry.

You spend 15 minutes settling that little one down, tuck yourself back into bed under the heavy warmth of your down comforter with your even heavier eyelids closing quickly and then...POP!

You get the picture.

 I wish I were joking about how our nighttimes are going lately, but I'm not. At all.

Therefore, when I sit down to write a blog post these days this is what comes out...I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired. What are we having for dinner tonight? Shoot, that permission slip needs to be sent in and book orders are due tomorrow. I'm tired. I'm tired. No one has socks in their drawers. I guess that's better than no underwear. I'm tired.

I wish I were exaggerating...even a wee little bit.

So anyways, instead of lamenting the fact that I have writers blocks and am tired and that it's all building up into large amounts of  un-inspiration in regards to my blogging efforts I figured I'd at last share the titles of those six un posted, half drafted, tired sounding blog posts. After reading the titles myself I realized they will give you a enough insight into life lately without bogging you down with all of the daily details...

So, without further adieu...here are my unposted posts summarized by their titles:
1. It's Been Another Crazy Week in the Littlewood Household 
2. Wanting to Get It Right- The Mommy Thing 
3. Motherhood: The School of Hard Knocks 
4. Helping Your Hope to Fly 
5. Survival Mode Isn't for the Faint of Heart 
6. Working on my Long-Term view 
There you have it. My life in a nutshell of titles.


In other news...the more upbeat kind...I do love thanksgiving and the added opportunity to talk to the girls about being thankful and grateful for the many things that we have. We created our annual "Thanksgiving Tree" on Saturday. I almost purchased a pre-made one from Pottery Barn with some coupons I had, but then realized I love the community effort of making our own.

Plus, as we write our notes of thanks onto leaves and post them on the tree you wind up seeing all of the notes and are able to re-read them throughout the month- unlike some of the pre-made trees I've seen where you stick them inside a pocket and then don't have the benefit of seeing your collective wall of thanks.

Here is a photo of our handmade tree hanging next to the kitchen table on the sliding glass door...


And the girls first "thankfulness" leaves...



Yes, my sweet little Ava wrote down that she was thankful that Jesus had died on the cross...Yes, my dear, me too. And so thankful that that is one of the first things she would think to write down (; 


Blessings to you all from one tired, but thankful momma.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Here's to hoping my blogging inspiration returns with some much needed sleep in the weeks to come (;







Saturday, October 25

The Best Laid Plans of Moms with Kids



Friday night the girls were invited to a two hour birthday party at a local bounce house facility.

This meant two things:

1) They would have an opportunity to run, jump, eat cake and pizza, and then shake their sillies out  before settling down for the evening after a long week at school.

2) I would have an opportunity to run some desperately overdue errands, helping me to shake some of the momma sillies out of my head, which is what happens when too many overdue errands start to pile up in my mind (and in the back of my car!).

The party was for the daughter of a family who we know from church and really love and the mom had sent me a text saying, 'Feel free to stay or head out for a bit'.

A note like that is like a free hall pass that sends all sorts of images of sugarplums and freedom dancing through my head. What book could I read? What errands could be done? Where's my journal, the one with the dusty cover? Shall I sit quietly and write some scattered thoughts?

Oh, the opportunities were endless!

While I temporarily labored over whether to stay or leave, (because that's what we moms do-- spend all of our time on the lookout for a moment to take a deep breath or get a few things done and then when the moment presents itself we feel guilty about it) Ava asked if I was staying (Bah!).

I struck a deal with her since, by this time, I had concocted a plan to run some errands.

Hey babe- how about I'll go in with you girls, make sure you're settled and have someone to play with, stay about half an hour and then run out to the store for an hour.  I'll be back for the end of the party. 

For emphasis I added that I needed to run to Wal-Mart for Halloween candy and to look for the white hairspray she was hoping we could find before Friday so that she can spray her hair to match her Elsa costume.

A deal was struck.

Ok Mom. But only because you're going to get candy and hairspray. 

After school we had some snacks, signed the birthday card, wrapped the present, made sure we had our socks on (no bare feet!) and ponytails in (it gets hot in those places!).

Mom had the bag with Dad's too small shirt and my too small sweater to return to Marshalls, the chipped desk organizer to return to TJ Maxx, my coupon for JC Pennies where I needed to pick up a couple of fleece blankets (long story), and the list of things that I needed from Wal-Mart, which mostly consisted of candy and hairspray.

I also threw a book in my purse (because an hour feels like an exponential amount of time in mommy world and I envisioned myself getting all of that done, eating a quick and quiet dinner AND having time to read a page or two in my book!) and we were out the door, feeling completely prepared and ready to go.

I felt completely organized, on top of things and excited about the plan.

We arrived at the party, the girls settled in and connected with some friends and started to bounce away until they could have cared less if I was there or not. I said my goodbyes, checked in with the other mom to make sure it was still ok that I snuck out, and pranced along on my merry way ready to execute my plan.

Oh, the plan.

 I should SO know better by now.

As I drove out of the parking lot a very clear thought presented itself to me, "Your wallet is in the diaper bag that you took to the playdate with Aubrey earlier today. The diaper bag is hanging on a kitchen chair. At home."

Ugh.

I stopped on the side of the road and started fishing through my purse hoping I had been smarter than that.

Nope. Hadn't been smarter than that.

I had all of my returns, receipts, coupons and shopping lists but no wallet.

I sent my husband a text...

                  I left my wallet at home. 

He responded....

                  I feel so sad for you right now. Do you need a hug?

                  Yes. ): 

I did manage to find a very crumpled five dollar bill at the bottom of the purse that I did have. That and my library card and an old used Starbucks card. Neither of which was very helpful at the moment.

I drove to Arby's (the closest fast food restaurant) hoping to find something on their menu for $5 or less since I hadn't eaten dinner and purchased one of the most disgusting salads I had had in a l-o-n-g time.

I took the salad, drove to a parking lot across the street from the bounce house place, and figured since I had the time and had at least packed a book in my purse that I'd eat and read for 20 minutes and then go back into the party.

I turned off the car, but left the keys in the ignition and read a few pages of 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (a very interesting and convicting read, I might add), while finishing my gross Arby's salad.

I must have turned the car to the almost off position, and my husband forgot to tell me that the battery in the car was almost dead. So, when I went to turn the keys to start the car to head back to the party...

I.Got.Nothing.

I laughed out loud. The entire last hour had been so comical that there was nothing left to do but laugh.

I called Scott who was going to strap the baby into one of the girls big car seats and come to my rescue, but fortunately one of the dads at the party had jumper cables and I learned how to jump our truck (Score! I might need the information at some point in the future, right!).

I finally ran back into the party telling the girls that the car was outside and still running and that we better go before (with my luck) someone got in and drove it away!

My sweet friend Sarah (who was throwing the party) told me that maybe I should stop blogging because it is as if all of this ridiculousness keeps presenting itself on purpose as material for my blog posts.

I swear sometimes I wonder if she's right.

But, I probably won't stop blogging because what fun would that be? Foiled plans keep me on my toes and keep reminding me that motherhood is about adjusting, and readjusting and readjusting again.

We continually recalibrate our lives to love more, serve more and stretch ourselves in places we didn't even know we needed stretching...

It's as if God keeps dropping life lessons my way...

Need more patience? How about some lost library books, extra whining,  a burnt dinner and kids who have no desire to go to bed?

More stamina? A very busy day followed by a night with a teething toddler.

More grace? Spilled milk, crushed crackers and an gymnastics leotard that always seems to be MIA 15 minutes before we leave the house.

More flexibility? A night with plans to run errands foiled by a forgotten wallet and a dead car battery.

At the end of the day I realize these are such small problems given the scary state of affairs all over the world.   We are blessed beyond measure and have much to be grateful for.  I also know that  God is growing me into someone stronger, better and more able to cope with a greater capacity to live the life He intends me to live.  One day and one lesson at a time. 

So, in the meantime I will quote Robert Burns, "The best laid plans of mice and men aft (often) go awry" only I think it needs a slight alteration to suit this season of life...

The best laid plans of moms with kids always go awry!

That's the motto I'm learning to live by (: 







Wednesday, October 15

Having Fun With Fall

Tis the season for pumpkins, apples, cinnamon and cider, all of which have entered our house in unabashed surplus. We go through almost a gallon of cider a week (my husband is one of the biggest culprits), sprinkle extra cinnamon on our french toast and into our pancakes, and pumpkins big and small seem to be making an appearance all over the house.

     While the girls know Halloween is not one of my favorite days of the year, I can’t fault them for the growing anticipation over trick or treating. Their cousins come over, we order pizza and eat chili and usually layer jackets over carefully chosen costumes because the evening is often cold, windy or rainy in our neck of the woods.

  Autumn is a favorite season for most of us up here in the Northeast and I am no exception.
    
 A-u-t-u-m-n was one of Ava’s bonus spelling words last week. She nailed it, making momma proud.

We’ve been decorating and nature walking and making simple fall crafts (i.e. painting pictures of pumpkins, accessorizing orange and yellow foam leaves and painting paper plates to look like happy pumpkin faces).

There are a LOT of pumpkins, scarecrows, leaves and a few silly spiders around the house.  These are all on the list of “mommy acceptable fall/Halloween decorations and fit my rules, “If its happy it can be in our home—if it’s dreary or scary…forget about it!”

The weather has been cooperating thus far, and so we are still running around in flip-flops and sandals on some days, and haven’t had to dig the hats out of the basement yet (though I should probably get on that sooner rather than later).

Just yesterday the girls and I recreated one of their favorite fall crafts, leaf lanterns, as we’ll call them. I did this with them two years ago and Ava enjoyed it so much that she’s been asking to do it again. I’ll include the simple instructions below so that you can make your own at home. They are perfect tabletop decorations for this time of year. I even lit ours and set them on the counter before the girls came down for breakfast this morning and enjoyed watching their faces light up when they saw they handiwork at use (it’s always a bonus when the morning starts with a moment of unexpected joy, rather than the groggy tired nitpicking that can often pervade before breakfast).

So, without further adieu, a few of our fall photos from the last couple of weeks an easy craft idea for you to do with your kids. 


Apple picking shenanigans...



Our paper plate pumpkins...

An example of our foam leaf art... 




Easy Instructions for Leaf Lanterns

1. Save a couple of old glass jars (these were from roasted red peppers and salsa). Any clear glass jar you have around the house will do. 


2. Collect leaves from your backyard, or while you're out on a nature walk.

3. Flatten the leaves between papers (I then put the paper under a book) for a couple of hours, or over night if you have the time. It helps make the leaves easier to work with. 

4. We started with glue sticks (last time we used modge podge for the entire craft and it was incredibly messy!). We put glue on the back of the leaves and gently placed them on the glass jar, flattening them out as much as possible and moving them into position. 

5. Once you have them attached via glue from the glue stick then bring in the modge podge. Simply us an old paint brush and brush the modge podge right over the leaves. It can be goopy and thick (it will dry clear!)-- smooth it out with your finger if necessary.

6. Pop two votive candles into the jars after they dry and you have a beautiful centerpiece created by your kiddos. 








This has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with fall, but it was so hilarious I had to include it. Aubrey is a bit of a funny girl these days, experimenting with whatever is on hand. You'll notice she's stripped down to her diaper as she sits in her high chair- there is a very good reason for that!









Friday, October 10

My Love/Hate Relationship with Being a Woman



The Woes and Wows of Womanhood

“Ugh! I hate being a woman!” I declared boldly as I flung yet another ill-fitting shirt into the heap of clothing piled at the end of my bed.

            My husband sat by watching as I continued fingering through the hangers in my closet. I was meeting two girlfriends at a local restaurant in less than half an hour and had nothing to wear.

            “You know,” I continued on my rant, “men have it so much easier. Your hair is short, you never have to shave your legs and, if you had them, your clothes from high school would still fit!”

            Scott, my husband, nodded in agreement and laughed out loud, “I don’t know if it’s easier to be a man,” he quickly retorted. “We have to support our wives and that’s a hard job.”

            I cracked a smile in response to his aptly truthful statement. He always found a way to make me laugh.

            In all honestly there are many days when I believe it would be easier to be male than female. When it would be easier to not shave my legs, or paint my nails, or (gasp!) color my persistently graying hairs. Definitely days when I think it would be easier to not face the hormonal fluctuations that can wreak havoc on our moods.

            Then there is the issue of the closet. Mine is currently a testament to my persistently changing body over the last seven years while I have been pregnant, nursing and chasing after three children. Clothing ranging in sizes from 2 to 10 hang haphazardly and always ignite frustration when a date with my husband or an outing with friends requires more than jeans, t-shirts or sweats. Not only does it seem like nothing fits, but who has time to actually get to the mall to buy something that does?

            Quite frankly, all of this female powdering and prepping can often seem like a nuisance. One, that as the mother of three children, I do not have time for.
            And yet.

            God made me a woman and sometimes I have to remember to be thankful for that.

            “Babe, you’re beautiful,” Scott added gently and compassionately. “You always look great.”

            When I am not angry with my clothing and graying roots I will concede to try to believe him for a moment and then thank God for the gift of my husband’s kind words. Words that remind me that God created us purposefully different and then intentionally brought us together.

            Words that remind me that there is a beauty inherent in being a woman that I must work to appreciate and that I should find ways to be thankful for, regardless of how mysterious it feels even to me.

            I guess, if I’m honest, there are some things I rather enjoy about being a woman. I do like painting my toenails bubble gum pink in the summer and now my girls ask me to paint theirs as well. I’m a sucker for a cute pair of earrings, especially when needed to add interest to my boring jeans and solid color tees. I do actually enjoy shaving my legs, when I have the time and, if I must confess, visits to the salon do offer a chance to sit quietly and read a magazine. What momma doesn’t enjoy that?

            While many of these things seem superficial, they are a part of being the feminine me—the me that is also softer emotionally, more intuitive about some things and that allows a perspective on life that is very different and yet complementary to that of my husbands—a very good thing for our children indeed.

            I’m learning to embrace all of me, just the way God created me. Not only for myself, but because a healthy perspective on my part is necessary as I try to shape healthy perspectives in the minds of the three little women God has entrusted to my care. Being a woman and raising women adds a lot of extra color to my life, literally and figuratively, but I’m realizing that color, after all, is a very good thing.


Tuesday, September 30

Connecting in the Chaos, Part 2



      Last week I wrote a post about my struggle to connect with my girls, in a meaningful way, in the midst of what often feels like utter chaos around the house on weeknights. If you missed that first post you can click to read it here.

     For those of you who are in the middle of young family life, you know what I mean. The girls get off the bus around 4 p.m.  and the next 4 1/2 hours are filled with a non-stop string of  high-energy activities that include after school snacks, homework, dinner, ballet/gymnastics on the nights the girls have them, baths every 6-8 days, but only if the kids start to stink (I'm joking here...kind of! We usually try to squeeze a bath in every other day, but sometimes it doesn't always happen!) and then the bedtime routine.

     We try, try, TRY to squeeze something fun in there...a craft, a bike ride, some enjoyable reading, coloring or playtime outside, but it's really a challenge most nights.

     I'm guessing many of you can attest to a similar version of evening events, especially if you have multiple children. It's hard to connect, but so very important. I feel like we have to grab our kid's hearts now, while they still look up to us, so that later when they have so many distractions vying for their attention, we'll still be one of the first places they look for answers, support and encouragement.

     It is my deep hope that building bridges now is creating lasting gateways to their hearts for years to come.  

     But that is easier said than done on the fast-track of parenting life, which is why I really liked the quote above when I found it this week. Family time must be viewed as sacred and important.  In order to make it such we must be  super, duper INTENTIONAL about connecting with our kids on a regular basis, or life will just keep flying by one carpool, soccer game and rushed mealtime at a time, leaving us to feel like we're doing so much, but are we doing enough to connect?

      I decided to float the question out on Facebook to find out what other families are doing and promised I'd compile all of the answers into one blog post. Here is a round-up of the answers I received (Thank you all for your feedback!).



7 Ways To Connect in the Middle of the Weeknight Chaos

1. Dinner table conversation. 
Particularly the high/low game where every person at the table (parents included!) shares their favorite and least favorite parts of the day (Jennifer Seiler, Leslie Stewart)
We have tried this at our house and have enjoyed it. Scott prefers to avoid the "low" part and keep the conversation more upbeat (though I can see how this would have relevance as the girls get older). We have also purchased these cool little dinner conversation cards, which the girls have loved- each card has a question on it for everyone at the table to answer. On some nights we all answer the same question, and on others we will each blindly choose our own question to answer. It's a ton of fun!

2. Making an effort to listen, even when it's not convenient. And I mean REALLY listen. 
  
            "Listening. REALLY listening, even for just a couple minutes, or even when the talking is incessant and you just want a moment to yourself. It validates them as individuals and builds a trusting relationship. They'll know that they can talk to you about anything down the road"(Karyn O'Connor, mom to 4) 

            "Also, sometimes I want them to tell me about "life" or the day when it's convenient for my schedule. Sometimes they (especially my 3rd grade boy) are ready to talk when I'm busy with something else. That's the time I've got to stop and listen." (Karen Davis Jones, local mom and creator of the fantastic site Fun 4 Kids in Buffalo)


3. Making the Most of Bed Time.   
            How often are we tempted to rush through bedtime? I know I've been guilty because I'm so tired myself! That said, I appreciated these moms sharing how special bedtime can be when we make space for extra snuggles and offer our listening ear. 
           
            "Both of my girls beg to be taken up to bed early so we have extra time to snuggle and talk, one on one. It's very relaxed and great to hear about all the parts of their day that I missed."
 (Tina Keller Fronden, mom to 2, with one more on the way!)

            "Finally at bedtime is when he wants to divulge everything I've been dying to know from the second he gets off that bus. Lol!"  (Danielle Macaulay, mom to 2)

            "Yes to bed a little earlier so we can unwind and talk about their day. It's also a time for me to pray with them, encourage them and make sure they know how special they are to me - even if it was a day of frustrations and tears.
" (Amy Kinda, mom to 2)
           
            "Bedtime and dinnertime. Colby tends to tell me more when things are quiet, calm and less distractions (tv, phone, noise)." (Jess Fancher, mom to 2)


4. Making the Most of Homework Time

             "
When I do homework with the older two, I do it one at a time, make a special snack or tea/hot coco and we sit together and do it and have conversation then and it's individualized with no distraction (hopefully!)" (Erin Pankow, mom to 4)

            I love Erin's idea and definitely plan to try to implement this one at home. I would add our version of special homework time, which I started with Ava occasionally last year...

            Tim Horton's homework time!  Because the house always feels full of distractions, she and I would pack up her homework and whatever books she was currently reading (from home or the library) and go the the closest Tim Hortons (5 minutes away for us). She and I would order lemon tea, and usually split a muffin or a bagel. I would help her with her homework, read with her and sometimes we'd even both bring our journals and jot down some thoughts on a page or two! The few times we did this last year were some of my very favorite evening moments with her. I plan to start this again this year...now that I have two in school we might shoot for 1x per child one on one and then maybe another evening where either Scott or I take both girls and leave the baby at home. 
          
           
5. Making the Most of the Everyday Moments

Car rides, snack times, or finding the kids playing in their rooms. While it can be easy to shrug some of these times off as unimportant, these moms have found ways to maximize them for connecting potential! 
           
            "Mine is often in the car conversations or around the dinner table. Right off the bus with our after school snack "porch talk" or when they are in their rooms putting their clean laundry away I will sit and chat. When I'm fixing my daughters hair I can get one on one.( maybe I'm connecting more than I thought I was!)
" (LJ Anderson, mom to 4)
           
           "I find the kids are totally engaged when we spend time in "their world" , we often do this by hanging out in their room with them, doing things they enjoy. I find it helpful to be intentional about this time after discipline, it helps tie strings between our hearts to each other . We also enjoy baking together, and making little gifts for people together." (Laurie Gworek Henderson, mom to 2)
           
            
6. Extra Hugs and Kisses
           
            "Hugs. Even if I don't get to have heart to hearts, hugs throughout the day changes EVERYONE's attitudes (Brigitte Holbert, mom to 2)"


Thank you for the super fantastic reminder Brigitte! We do hug a lot in our house, but there are NEVER enough hugs. Never, ever, ever. Ever since I read Brigitte's comment last week I've been keeping this in the back of my mind and when things are feeling extra nutty, busy and chaotic, I go up to the girls and give them an extra big squeeze before I keep going on with the to-dos, or dinner, or whatever. 


7. Be Silly and Have Fun. Whatever that looks like for you!
Turn on music loud in family room after dinner ... dance, hug, snuggle... turns everybody into goodmoods!.... doesn't always allow for conversation but often leads to it.."  (Jennifer Jackson, mom to 3) 
Another fantastic reminder!! I so often get into "serious, get things done" mom mode. Sometimes it's hard to turn that off and just be silly, but it's incredibly important to the vitality of the house. It infuses the house with joy, and at the end of the day, isn't that the feeling we want our kids to grow up with when they think about their childhood years?!!!


Thank you all for your fantastic suggestions. What I found so encouraging about reading all of your answers was that connecting with our kids is sometimes as simple as making the most of the everyday moments. Bringing meaning to the stuff that is already going on; meal time, car rides, snack time, bedtime, etc.

What is so beautiful about this is that most of us don't have time to consistently add one more thing to our days, but we can all make the most of the moments and things that are already there.

So, here's to making meaning out of the sometimes mundane moments and creating memories that will last a lifetime for our children! 


Hope this was helpful!!

Tuesday, September 16

Connecting in the Chaos, Part 1



     Early Monday morning, in the middle of the 'get ready for school' shuffle, our oldest daughter grabbed me by the arms, pulled me close and said, "Mom, what did we do together this weekend?" 

     Oh honey, right now? Is what I thought. 

     "Oh, honey," I take a deep breath and  pause while I try to stop thinking about everything that needs to be done to get everyone out the door in seventeen minutes.  "Let me think about that for a second," I said. 

     She is very sensitive and is going through some pretty significant separation anxiety these days. With the start of a new grade at school and all that comes with that (new classroom, new teacher, unfamiliar students), as well as a change in classes at gymnastics and Sunday school as well (September is moving up month everywhere!), she seems particularly attuned to how often she is with me and how often she is not. She is a kid who, not unlike her mother, likes routine. She likes to know what's going to be happening where, when and how. 

     She begs me to stay at birthday parties, is verbal about letting me know that she doesn't like it when I'm not there for bedtime and several weeks ago when we picked her up in Sunday school at church, one of the childcare workers told my husband that she had been crying for a good part of the time and told them that, "My parents have a baby and we don't get to spend a lot of time together anymore, so I'm just sad." 

    Ugh. 

    If you're a parent you can imagine how sad, and maybe slightly embarrassing that conversation was. 

     She is a kid that needs to connect...frequently, and ideally one on one when where possible. 

    While Aubrey is less and less baby everyday, she's definitely still the baby of the family and one of our biggest challenges in having three children is trying to meet everyones needs on a regular basis. Try as we might sometimes it's incredibly hard to connect, in a meaningful way, in the middle of the chaos. 

    And chaos it is. A lot of the time. 

    Aubrey is a busy, busy, BUSY baby. A friend of mine and I were chatting last week about our one year olds-- hers who likes to snuggle and stay close by and mine who we categorized as a "runner". I like to think of her as one of those little silver balls in a pin ball game going boing, boing, boing, from surface, to surface to surface in a very hasty manner. 

    Just yesterday, after school I told Ava I would play a card game with her in an attempt to connect one on one for a few minutes. We tried to play a memory game until Aubrey came and upended all the cards and started throwing them around the floor. Then I tried to play a card game at the table until the baby climbed in my lap and tried ripping the cards out of my hand. I think we attempted to read a book afterwards and made it halfway through before the baby started pulling on my leg. Then it was time to to take Ava to gymnastics so we hurried into the car and shuffled off to the gym. 

    I felt so sad. I wanted to connect with Ava. I know she needs to connect with me. I made every attempt, but between school all day, and then homework, the baby, gymnastics and dinner...the entire night got away from us. 

    As for her Monday morning question-- it was legitimate to some degree. It had been a busy weekend. Scott's brother was in from out of town and we spent a lot of time with our extended family. She had fun baking cookies with her aunt, jumping on Grandpa's trampoline, riding scooters and playing with Aunt KK's  saved bins of American Girl doll stuff. 

    But, despite all of the fun, she seems to have a connection compass and is taking keen notes about her "connected" one on one time. 

   Knowing this to be the case I had been intentional about taking her home with me while the baby napped on Sunday afternoon. We did a craft together, chatted at the kitchen table and just hung out in the house alone ( I took a short nap while she watched Strawberry Shortcake). It was nice to connect with her and I know how much she appreciates this kind of one on one time. 

    I reminded her of that on Monday morning and she seemed to be appeased momentarily, though you could tell by the look in her eyes that she had been hoping for more. 

    Maybe this is an oldest child thing, or maybe she's more sensitive than others. I'm trying to be in tuned to her needs and proactive about connecting where I can, but sometimes it feels impossible to do as regularly as she would like, and even as much as I would like. Between homework, gymnastics, baths, meals and some general house upkeep-- not to mention a baby who gets her kicks by spilling rice, markers, noodles, and papers all over the floor-- oh and how about the poor middle sister who we find singing to herself as she colors in the corner-- what's a momma to do?! 

    So, I'm going to throw this out there as a question here and on Facebook-- I'd love to hear your answers!

    How, dear mommas, do you connect with your kids in the chaos of life with multiple children?! 

    I have a few things that we try to do on a regular basis, but I would love some new suggestions and ideas. 

    Because I know a lot of you would benefit from the ideas as well I will collect your feedback from here and Facebook and put it together with the few things we try to do and share it in my next blog post. 

    Hoping to hear from you soon! 

Thursday, September 11

Mommy Has Meltdowns Too


     I glanced into the rearview mirror expecting to see the baby smiling and staring out her window. She had gotten very quiet all of a sudden, which I found odd because she had been shrieking and arching her back just minutes before.

Her head was nodded, eyes were closed. She was sound asleep.

Shucks! 

She was supposed to stay awake for ten more minutes so that I could feed her lunch and then put her down for a 1 p.m. nap. Now I was carefully weighing my options, hoping this short catnap would not foil the 2 1/2-3 hour nap (aka: mommy's free time!) that she was supposed to take.

It did.

Hope was kept alive for a few short moments when we pulled in the driveway and I unbuckled her without her waking up. I picked her up, cradled her in my arms and carried her all the way upstairs with her eyes closed, and completely content.

Yes. We made it! I'll feed her lunch after her nap, I thought.

Within seconds of my laying her down that wispy head of strawberry blond hair popped up on the side of her crib grinning wildly like a jack in the box.

Ha! Gotcha! She seemed to say while smiling through her binky.

We moved on to plan B.

I carried her downstairs, fed her some lunch and decided I would attempt another nap time in 45 minutes or so.

She only slept for 10 minutes in the car, she's got to be tired soon, I reasoned.

I'm sure you can see where this story is going. That sweet face was not the least bit tired 45 minutes later. Nonetheless, I gave her her binky, pulled the shades down and left her in her room. She never cried, she simply spent the next 35 minutes jumping up and down, banging on the wall and rattling the side of her crib.

Because she was supposed to take a nap I had all sorts of good plans lined up. Clean the kitchen, go for a run (Scott was working from home),  sort through the massive pile of crafts, pictures, old mail, magazines and papers that were piled high in the dining room begging for attention since the middle of July (and growing taller with each passing day!).

After 35 minutes I relented, went in,  picked her up from her crib and went huffing and puffing my way down the stairs with her in my arms.

You are supposed to be sleeping! I reminded her sarcastically.

She is supposed to be sleeping! I reminded Scott as I furiously pulled clothes from the washing machine and launched them into the dryer, slamming the door for emphasis.

Bah! 

All sorts of grunts and groans seemed to bubble to the surface of my previously calm demeanor...So many so that Scott eventually told me to just go for my run and leave the baby with him, which I refused to do because I knew he had a lot of work to finish and would not get anything done with her at home.

I huffed and puffed and put the baby in the jogging stroller. I huffed and puffed and put my sneakers on. I huffed and puffed as I ran back in the house to get her binky.

And then I got tired of huffing and puffing and did what we women often do too well...especially during a PMS week...I sat down and cried and decided I wasn't going for a run after all because everything is extra-specially dramatic and emotional during a PMS week and I no longer felt like strong mom ready to run.

I was quite tempted to not share this post because I was afraid of what you might all think of me if you read it. She cries? That easily? Over something so silly?

As a matter of fact my blogging as of late has gotten inconsistent for two reasons...

1. I don't seem to have a whole lot of time to squeeze it in anymore
2. I started blogging because I wanted to be able to encourage other moms, especially if they were feeling as overwhelmed as I was from time to time...ok, most of the time.

I suppose I thought that somehow I'd be able to do that in sweet messages full of honest encouragement, but only if I felt I had it all together.  They would be posts that said, "Ah yes, parenting is so hard, but here are 5 handy tips for meal planning that will change your life!"

Or, "Are you struggling with time management or clutter in your home? Well then, you've come to the right place because my home is never cluttered for more than two days, I have a fantastic cleaning schedule and if you can just implement these 3 practices into your life you'll be well on your way to managing the 7,345 pieces of small plastic in your house too!"

I've read many of those articles online and somehow they have failed to change my life...I think it happens somewhere in the execution or failure to execute...maybe I'm reading the wrong articles!

In all honesty, I haven't figure out the niche of being encouraging without being totally transparent and transparent these days means tired, confused and disorganized much of the time.

The mommy meltdown was short lived. They usually are. As much as I can be prone to giving into my discouragement, and find myself in a slobbery heap of tears, I bounce back pretty quickly and was  on to rolling the ball with Aubrey five minutes later.

She didn't seem to notice my bad behavior and was happy to oblige with whatever silly games I came up with, so I folded socks and she flung the mismatched ones around the living room, we read 3 pages in a book (before I lost her attention) and played peek a boo with a helium balloon. She has a way of prompting enormous smiles from me--she's hilarious-- and I knew it ultimately wasn't her fault that she wasn't tired.

And so it goes on the roller coaster ride of stay-at-home or work from home motherhood. I do think some of this is unique to the experience of being at home everyday...a place where it's hard to set goals that will not be deterred, you are constantly needed and the whirl of meals and toys is never-ending.

I try not to have too many expectations on any given day, because plans are often quickly changed, but with the two big girls back in school I did start to have ideas about the things I might be able to get done with just one little one at home. One little one who is supposed to nap.

I did get out for that run eventually. Aubrey finally fell asleep around 3 p.m. and I was able to squeeze a run in and landed right back on my doorstep as the big girls bus pulled down the street.

However, the papers are still piled high in the dining room and I'm sure I've already forgotten to send a form back to school that needed to be signed (it's hiding somewhere in the pile of papers!).

I'm hoping, sometime during this school year to actually find a meal planning system and a house management system that works for me. When I do, I promise to share it! Hopefully it will change all of our lives for the better!

In the meantime, I'm incredibly thankful for the practice and discipline of running in my life and for the little spaces of time where I'm able to fit it in. I'm thankful for baby smiles and laughter. I'm thankful for the ability to laugh at myself when all is said and done.

In the midst of the craziness I will continue to practice thankfulness, because on some days its the only constant we've got and the only thing we have control over.


"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." 
1 Thessalonians 5:18




Friday, September 5

Back to School: The Happy, Sad Dance


Ah, the end of summer vacation. It comes with so many mixed emotions doesn't it?! 

I know some "I'm SOOO happy my kids are back in school...I couldn't take this ONE MORE MINUTE!" moms.

I'm not exactly one of them (or maybe feel too guilty to admit that sometimes I might feel that way just a little bit more than I expected to!)

There are also the "I'm SOOO sad that my kids are back in school" moms who seem to love every minute of summer vacation with a house full of crazy kiddos, and almost thrive on the chaos. 

I'm not one of those moms either. For sure. 

I'm a somewhere in the middle mom. I'm doing the happy and sad dance. Admittedly I'm enjoying some extra moments of quiet, but I'm also wondering how the time went quite so fast and how the girls got quite so big without my permission. 

I was walking around the house yesterday afternoon...a very quiet house...and this thought went through my head, "Whoa, it's a whole new world!"  and "Whoa, it feels weird to hear myself think again." 

The two big girls started school on Wednesday (kindergarten and 2nd grade) and it feels like a whole new world. Of course I still have little Miss Aubrey at home with me, which I am super thankful for because I'm not ready for a completely quiet house all day long. She naps for several hours and this is the first time that I've had just one child at home who takes a long nap, allowing me time to...gasp...find my thoughts and get some laundry put away.

You might think I'm joking about finding my thoughts, or if you know me well enough, you're laughing because you know I've lost them and have been searching high and low for their whereabouts. But I'm completely serious. At one point this summer I clearly thought to myself, (during a very brief moment that I had to think), "Whoa, so this is what people mean when they say they've lost their minds."

I used to just think that was a funny expression of speech.

Now I realize that it is a phrase most likely coined by a mom at the end of a summer vacation.

It comes out of nowhere, after several strings of weeks where you are going from morning to night trying to feed everyone, keep them from fighting, make them pick up after themselves and provide some low key activities to do out of the house, just for distraction sake.

It is then that a thought like this goes through your mind..."Goodness, gracious, I don't know where my keys are, what meal we just ate, where the bottom to Aubrey's or the top to Ava's bathing suits are, what day it is, or where that birthday card got off too that I had really good intentions of mailing to my good friend...Shoot, the Goodwill is still in the car from three weeks ago?! Did I really just pick up 17 things from the grocery store and forget to buy the milk and diapers that I actually went in for?! Wow, I've lost my mind."

And then someone starts screaming like they've been horribly wounded, only to find out that they stubbed their toe and the baby is on top of the patio table in the back yard.

And that's the end of that thought.

Ha...Such is life with kids.

I jokingly mentioned on Facebook on Tuesday night that I needed a t-shirt that says, "I Survived Summer Vacation!" to don once the girls got on the bus on Wednesday morning (I'm still thinking I should have one designed and printed for next year).

Nonetheless, it was a crazy, busy summer full of fun moments that required an exorbitant amount of energy on the part of the momma person. It was a 'drinking from the fire hose' (to coin a phrase I used in my last post, from a wiser older momma friend) kind of summer. For a while I thought maybe it was just me, still trying to figure out the pace of life with three, though it seems, from the friends I've  talked to, that many of you have had a similar experience.

So anyhow, the big kids are back in school and it leaves this momma with kind of a little bit happy/little bit sad sort of feeling. While a sense of relief comes with the reintroduction of order, there is a sadness that all of the summer fun is over. There is also some sadness because they've gotten so big, so fast. Big enough to be off to school and to have swiftly moved past stages (like princess dresses) that I thought would last forever.

But grateful for the chance to reorganize the house just a little bit and get some laundry done, before they're all home in the late afternoon. Grateful for the chance to write a blog post or two. Grateful for the chance to recover some of my scattered brain and catch my breath.

I jokingly told Scott on the night before school started that it felt like I had reached the end of a marathon and when I returned back to the house after the race, a hurricane had blown through and upended all of our belongings, scattering them here there and everywhere!

"Yup. That feels about right," he said.

Here's to reordering, taking a deep breath and finding my lost mind.

Here's to accepting the ages and stages, as furiously and quickly as they seem to come and go, and to being as present as possible to the new adventures, and moments for all that they are.