Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why Frozen Makes Me Melt

Dick Clark once said, "Music is the soundtrack of our lives." For me, I know this to be true. A song, a few lyrics, or even the first few chords can take me back to a long lost memory; good or bad or somewhere in between. As a writer, I've always been sensitive to music and the implications of the lyrics. I liked story telling in a song, but I could also be mesmerized by something fantastically unique or a great beat.

Music stays with you. I can't even remember all the Presidents anymore, at least not in order, I have difficulty remembering very key historical facts and dates, and I often forget what was so great about that last book I just loved. Don't get me wrong. I'm no ditz. I was a great student, but I'm a memorizer, a crammer, a forgetter of all things I just needed to ace that exam the moment the test is done.

However, if everything I ever learned in school, had been put into song, I never would have forgotten a thing, and I'd be a stinkin' genius.

Alas, the soundtrack of my youth is not so much filled with history lessons, as it is overflowing with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and...The Little Mermaid.

To this day, I can sing every single lyric to every single song in The Little Mermaid. In fact, I can recite the entire movie line by line. But the songs were most important. If I even hear a hint of Ariel's voice, or a chord from Under the Sea or Part of Your World, I am instantly transformed into the little blonde girl with green hair from chlorine, swimming through the pool with my ankles held tightly together, certain that everyone saw me as I felt right then, a beautiful mermaid with a perfectly groomed head of hair flowing around me, beneath the water (ahhh the imagination of Disney).

I can picture the happy faces of my parents, like they are sharing an inside joke.

Only now, when I find myself in these reminiscing moments, I understand the looks their faces capture. The look of a parent basking in the moment, hoping to remember it forever; hoping against all hope that their little mermaid stays little forever.

Sometimes these old songs and old memories trigger emotions I don't fully understand; tears I'm not sure are happy or sad, and a longing for the slowing of the clock.

Today we took the kids to the roller skating rink nearby. Jelani skated with Elijah and Chastity, while I chased our toddler, who was causing skating accidents at every turn. At one point, with Isaac on my hip, I watched as Elijah and Chastity skated so slowly and delicately, scared of what might happen if they really tried. The song Let it Go came booming over the speakers and I watched kids (of all ages) begin belting out the lyrics. Little girls were stopping in mid skate to swing their arms open like Elsa in the movie Frozen, and a really strange thing happened to my eyes. Tears began to well up, completely unprovoked, seemingly brought on by a song that holds no really significant meaning or memory for me. We watched the movie once with the kids a couple of weeks ago, and that was it.

But what occurred to me as I forced back these tears which were bound and determined to embarrass me, is that I was listening to the soundtrack of my present; the soundtrack of my children's childhood. These were the songs my children would never forget, Let it Go, and Happy in particular will forever remind us of that moment, or silly dancing in the living room. For the first time in a series of busy days, in a bunch of busy weeks, on a string of busy months, I found myself frozen in a moment, realizing my husband and I are now our parents, sharing the inside jokes, and basking in the joy of our children...

...and I don't ever want to let that go.

Friday, January 31, 2014

What Does Your Favorite Bible Story Say About You?

My two oldest children usually get along very well. They play well together, and they prefer to be together rather than apart. Elijah (age 6) and Chastity (age 4) play better together than any mommy could ever hope. They are not perfect. They still sometimes argue, but it never gets out of hand.

One of the factors in this, I believe, is that they are very different. They often times will be playing the same thing together, but they will be doing it differently. It's quite amazing to watch.

Elijah, my first born, is cautious and careful. He is very deliberate about all that he does. He's mindful of his actions, and remembers to pray for things even when I do not. He feels strength in numbers and comfort in having someone with him at all times. He still takes his sister with him to the bathroom even, where they will talk about books or movies while he's stinking up the house.

Chastity is independent. She doesn't mind company, but doesn't always require it. She is my little girl who likes to do big things, always behaving in ways much older than her age. She does not like to be told to be careful, or that she's too young or little to do something. Her response is almost always, "I can do it." or "I won't get hurt." She will pray, and she loves Jesus, but she doesn't like to be told when to do so. She's more about action, less about thought.

Today, I was doing some research for Easter basket gifts. I am trying to have an all handmade Easter this year, so I'm placing orders early and even working out craft trades with fellow crafty ladies who make things I cannot. I stumbled across a woman who makes hand painted, wooden peg dolls HERE, and she is so talented! I thought a fun and engaging way to teach Bible lessons with the kids would be to have some of these wooden figures painted is biblical characters, but I was really torn as to which ones to order...first, because I can't afford them all at once. ;-) Instead of stressing about it myself, I asked each child, separately, "What is your favorite Bible story?"

They answered without hesitation.

Elijah: Daniel and the lions!
Chastity: David and Goliath!


My quiet, mindful, prayerful son, who desires to be obedient, and who finds comfort in knowing God is with him, loves how Daniel was protected in the lion's den just for being obedient to the Lord.

My independent, adventurous daughter, who loves to take action rather than sit and wait, and who wants to do and be used for big things, loves how little David took action and was protected from a giant.

So I took a minute to think about my all time favorite story in the Bible. It was tough to decide, but I narrowed it down to two: Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, and Jonah and the whale. In one story people Joseph loved and trusted sold him out of jealousy, BUT God protected him and used it for his and even his brother's ultimate good, saving them from starvation. In the other, Jonah refused to listen to God and thought he could run away. Once tossed from the ship, and expecting to die, God allowed a horrible thing (being swallowed by a whale) to happen to Jonah, to prevent certain drowning, but spared his life and had the whale spit him back out on dry land to continue doing what God had asked him to do in the first place.

In both stories there is the hope for second chances. Joseph didn't do anything wrong, but his horrible circumstances led him and his family to a better life. God not only saw him through it, but brought them all out of it stronger and brought the family back together in forgiveness which only comes from the Lord. Jonah was disobedient, and rebelliously decided he wasn't going to listen to God. It was a mistake, and God still saved his life, and allowed him to repent.

I have always been a firm believer in second chances. I believe some things have happened to me because I was being disobedient, and others because, though they were difficult at the time, they were and still are, leading me to something better. These stories give me hope, just as Daniel and David give Elijah and Chastity each hope.

Maybe their favorites will change still, and maybe mine will too, but I am enjoying watching them grow, and growing along with them in the Word of our Lord.

What Bible story or character gives you hope? If your kids are old enough, have this conversation with them as well. I think they understand things better than we realize.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Making 14 Better Than 13

13 is my favorite number, and I always just assumed 2013 was going to be my favorite year. It wasn't, and mostly I only have myself to blame for that, so I have been collecting (in my brain) ways to make 2014 better than 2013, and thought, maybe my list could even help my readers!

1. Play with my kids MORE - I sometimes have to really motivate myself to get in the right frame of mind to play with my kids. I am with them all the time, but most days, I find I am only doing the necessary things, so really, I'm only keeping them alive and educated. Playing with them takes energy and patience and many things I run short on, but I have never regretted neglecting the cleaning to play with them, not ever. I have, on the other hand, regretted ignoring them to troll the internet, clean, crochet, or cook, but never have I ever regretted a moment spent on the floor, covered with toys, cuddles, and giggles. More of this is a requirement.

2. Spend less time on social media - There are many reasons for this. The above resolution being the most important, but also, I've discovered something. The internet wants us all to hate each other. I have read countless articles about what not to say to whom when they're going through any struggle from being a stay at home vs working mom, to miscarriages and infertility to single vs married friends, and it seems that every list out there really, desperately wants us to be offended by everything anyone says to us about anything...ever. Listen, as if we need any help at all misinterpreting someone's typed out words with no inflection or facial expressions with which to gauge them by, the internet is coaching us on how to be offended by everything they say! Seriously, there are very few, very few people out there who are actually seeking to offend, and I imagine most of us don't have friends like that in our circles, so no one is out to get us. And this brings me to...

3. Stop worrying about others' opinions - I actually don't get offended very easily and I enjoy hearing differing opinions, but I do tend to allow these opinions to consume my thoughts and take over my day from time to time. It's not just that someone's opinions differ from mine. That doesn't bother me. What bothers me and takes up space in my brain is how my differing opinion could have/might have/probably did offend them in some way. I am a chronic apologize-r. I tell people I'm sorry even when they were the ones who hurt me in some way. But I've learned a few things.
     a. I cannot control how my opinions or beliefs make someone else feel, no matter how diplomatic, kind, or loving I express them.
     b. I can, however, control how I allow them to make me feel. I don't have to be sorry all the time. I can be ok with being myself and stop worrying about those who are not ok with that (even if social media dictates that everything I've ever said to them should be viewed as offensive).

4. Angry less = Happy more - Contrary to popular belief. This can be controlled. If I stop allowing #s 2 and 3 to bother me and do more of #1, it stands to reason that # 4 is completely and utterly achievable. I find my children much less irritating when I am playing with them than when I am trying desperately and unsuccessfully to get some things done. Those things can almost always wait. Areas of my house were a disaster when we had guests over here for New Year's Day, and though they may have gone home and talked about my mess after leaving, everyone here still had a good time and ate some good food. And thanks to #3, I do not have to worry about their possible opinions on my cleanliness. :)

5. Take better care of myself - Aside from #s 1-4 helping in this department, I also need to spend more time in God's Word, and not just to get it done. I need to find time to exercise, even if it means getting up before the sun and finding the money to pay for decent running shoes. I need to make doctor's appointments for myself; see everyone from the family practitioner to the dentist regularly. And last, but certainly not least, I need to allow for time and money for regular hair cuts. I like long hair, but it's been nearly 2 years since I've seen a trim, and I get a little crazy and want to chop it myself when that happens, so this must get taken care of...soon!

Last but not at all least!!!!
6. Spend more REAL time with my husband - We get caught up in the exhaustion and have days when the only time we spend together is in front of the TV, and me with crochet hook in hand. That is nice and relaxing, but shouldn't be our daily norm, and it has been. The days when we've had guests, and had to clean up together after the kids go to bed are the most treasured times we've had all year, because the TV isn't on, and we're both in the kitchen, washing and drying and wiping things down. And we we haven't talked in months (probably because we really haven't, at least not about anything important). And in spite of the fact that we're cleaning, and our hopes and dreams now revolve around our children, it feels like we're dating again. Most days we do not clean together, because most days the mess isn't that big, so this happens rarely, and usually only before and after a party, but I hope to do much more cleaning with my husband in 2014. ;-) After all, he is never more attractive than when he is cleaning something. Seriously, he took it upon himself to clean and organize our small storage closet on New Year's Day, and I just couldn't take my eyes off of him the rest of the day! Mmm! You know I'm right, ladies! 

I hope I've given you some things to think about, and maybe you even have some you can add that would be beneficial to me as well! Thanks for listening. Thanks for being my metaphorical ear to bend, and I hope you'll stick around for more of my future writings. Happy New Year!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Night an Onion Made me Cry

Onions don't usually make me cry. I discovered a long time ago that as long as I have my contacts in, I am protected from their evil potency.

I had my contacts in tonight, and the smell of the onion wasn't bothering me, but I was crying like a baby because it was 6 pm, and I hadn't showered or even put on a bra. It wasn't for lack of time though. It was a survival tactic + I just didn't want to, because if I spend any of my only alone time, while the kids are napping, doing anything other than crocheting, I want to send them right back upstairs 5 minutes after their nap has ended. While many people consider a shower...and maybe even a bra, great things to do for yourself, those things do not relax me. Crocheting in my living room, all alone, and ignoring all of the must-get-dones, is my happy place.

My one year old, Isaac, is going through this thing where he screams at me if he's not being fed or entertained. Most of my friends would never believe that. He's a pretty content baby when we are elsewhere or when others are here. Ya know why? Because he's being entertained. But when it's just us, here at home, and Elijah and Chastity are trying to do their school lessons, and I am desperately trying to teach them, Isaac is upset about everything. Today was no exception, so I decided that we wouldn't do any lessons at all while he was awake. In the meantime, he pooped in every diaper I put him in, leaving a red and bleeding behind for the wiping (which gave him another reason to scream). So the kids had an hour long bath/play time, so he could air out his sore little tush. And it was the only time, all day, that Isaac was happy.

During his nap we got a couple of lessons in, but not enough to call it a productive day. He woke up screaming, screamed throughout his diaper change, screamed because I had to put him down to wash my hands post-diaper change, and screamed because I didn't feed him quickly enough. I don't have anything in this house I can shove in his mouth quickly enough, except Cheerios...and he's getting really sick of Cheerios. And so he screams at those too and flails his arms all over his table until he has successfully fed the dog.

And I want to scream too. I am angry almost all the time. I wake up in the morning looking forward to naps; naps which my oldest is most definitely growing out of at the age of 6, naps I could use for cleaning or even for teaching my oldest lessons we didn't have time to do during Isaac's first nap, but I force the issue anyway, because I don't want to clean. I don't want to teach. I want to sit, by myself, and watch stupid TV shows that are so stupid I can spend the whole show with my face in a lap full of yarn, and not miss a single thing.

I should stop here and say, I love my children, and they know that. I hug them, even when I'm angry. I smile at them even when I'm annoyed, and I tell them "Of course I want to see that," every single time they ask me, "Mommy? Wanna see this?" And while I watch them jump in the air, and twitch their hands while shaking their heads, for the 100th time, I know, that that is the most fun I will have with them all day. Because I am the teacher, the chef, the maid, the do-all-the-things-yet-get-nothing-done Mommy. I am home with my kids all day every day, and we have no time for fun, because keeping them fed and educated (between screaming) and saving them from drowning in piles of laundry is a full time job. In fact, just keeping Isaac from getting hungry takes up most of my day. So no fun for us, or at least me, because the brief moments they all play peacefully and contentedly together are the only moments I have to keep my head above water. And so I feel like I'm losing myself. I feel like I'm drowning in a sea of chores that will never get done, and just when I get my head above water, just when I finally fold the laundry in the dryer and on top of the dryer, I'm pushed under again by the next wave of clothes, and dishes.

And this probably isn't the time or place to mention this, but...well, why not? I was once made to feel shame over a blog I wrote which I ended up deleting, because I had shared "too much information," but you know what, sometimes people need some of that TMI to know that they aren't alone in their struggles and to even find help. If women lived in fear of talking about their concerns or struggles, breast cancer would always win because God forbid we talk about our boobies. So I'm going to talk about this. Bam!

A little over a month ago, I lost a baby I didn't know I was pregnant with. Yeah, my story just took an uncomfortable turn, but let's push through. I have not dealt with it well. I haven't wanted to talk about it. I have suppressed it because I feel guilty for even being upset about it. I have three beautiful and healthy children, and it's not fair of me to feel sadness over a child I didn't know I had. So instead of sadness I walk around PISSED OFF (sorry Mom and Dad). I'm mad at everything. I yell sarcastically at the dog as if she understands sarcasm. I talk trash about every driver on the road, out loud, to myself. I find myself in a room alone and something as small as dropping the peanut butter knife on the floor will send me into a fit of  flailing limbs hysterically, silently cussing out everything from the ceiling to the floor. The worst of it is when it effects our school day. Every now and then (about every other day it seems) Elijah seems completely dumb-founded by a concept he just understood the day before. I will so much as give him the answer and he will stare me in the face and still give me the wrong answer. And all I can do to hide my crazy is throw up the white flag and call it a day, and wonder when I should just call it on the whole homeschooling idea.

See, Jelani and I weren't sure we were going to have a 4th child anyway. We (me) weren't really ready for a permanent solution for that problem though, so we prayed that if it was God's will, and He so saw fit, that He would override any precautions we took. The majority of our precautions involved abstinence, however. Not on purpose, mind you, but because I am one of the lucky 1-3% of women who can't have intercourse (does that word make you slightly less uncomfortable?) during pregnancy or...OR while breastfeeding. Well, ladies and gents, that's flippin' 18+ months. My hormones make it very painful for me, and so Jelani and I are the best at...cuddling...that is until our backs start to bother us. Anyway, so Isaac was starting to ween, and things were starting to get a little bit better down there, but the month I would have conceived we made love (that one any better?) ONCE, and it was with protection. Now, I'm not a silly teenage girl. I get that these things happen. That's why there are so many unwanted pregnancies in the world. But the pure irony of it under these circumstances was just plain cruel. If I'm being honest (am I allowed to be honest?), my first completely uninhibited, human, horrible-Christian reaction was, "Wow. God was totally just out to prove something, like 'look what I can do. I giveth and I taketh away.'" I played the part of angry victim quite well, and most definitely failed the "Job test." I don't feel that way anymore, but I'm still having a hard time letting go of the anger.

I lost something I didn't know I had, but the moment it was gone I knew how much I loved it. I can look into the eyes of my other three children and know exactly what I lost and exactly how much love will be missing from our house without it.

And so I'm angry.

And as I stood over that onion at 6 pm without a shower, or a bra, nothing to show for my day and no fun stories to think about, and having left everything in the house less than half done, I chopped that onion angrily, recklessly and ferociously. I imagined, just for a second, chopping my fingers, not intentionally of course, but just, what if? And the thought didn't bother me at all. Me, who can't make it through a surgery scene in Grey's Anatomy, and can't watch my own children puke. The thought of accidentally chopping off a few fingers didn't bother me at all, because then I'd be forced to feel something other than anger or drowning OR I'd really have something to be angry about. But then as quickly as that thought came, I thought, "No! I wouldn't be able to crochet!"

My very first thought after imagining accidentally chopping my fingers while dicing a stupid onion was not about quality of life, or my children, or how traumatizing that might be for them, or even my husband, but about missing crochet, the hobby that replaced basketball after that career ended, and the hobby that I never tire of doing; a hobby that sometimes makes me wish my children would nap a little (a few hours) longer.

And that is why I cried over that stupid onion; because I have been so angry about losing a child I obviously don't deserve to have.

And while I've been busy being angry and  hating myself, and hating myself for hating myself, my children have found sensitive ways to show me they love me. As Chastity watched me change the other morning, I self-consciously asked her, "Why are you looking at me?" She simply responded with, "Because I love you. And you're beautiful." And I know that for her, that is truth, and I wouldn't want to do anything, ever, to destroy that truth.

So I share this today for all the moms who have lost a pregnancy, at any stage, and felt as though they couldn't talk about it.

The moms who have felt crazy with guilt and selfishness over what any "rational" person would think ludicrous.

The moms who have been unable to have sex (oooooo, I said it!) because of pain, or depression, or illness, or various other complications, but are too afraid to talk about it.

The moms who have felt alone and need to hear that not everything you feel is crazy, even if it sounds crazy written down (clears throat uncomfortably) :-/

The moms who feel like they can't be honest about their emotions for fear of judgment.

And the moms who don't always feel like they like their children, but always, always love them not in spite of the children, but in spite of themselves.

Tomorrow will be better. Maybe I will shower, and maybe, just maybe throw on a bra.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Form of Payment; Food Stamps With a Side of Guilt

Am I the only person who has literally never seen anyone have a kind word to say about someone using food stamps or other grocery assistance? I witness rude people behind them in the check out line talking very loudly about how horrible it is that people take advantage of the system. I see Facebook friends blast the latest atrocity they witnessed at WalMart on the first of the month with their cart loaded up, cell phone in hand and nails and hair done.

What are you going to do about it?

You aren't going to catch a "poor" bug if you talk nicely to them. Poor is not contagious. If you put as much energy into helping to feed the poor and the needy, as you do whining and crying about the government allowing "scumbags" to take advantage of the system, maybe the government wouldn't have to step in at all. See, before government supported the poor, people used to. Human beings with hearts to take care of others volunteered their food, their money, their time, and even their homes when necessary. Sure, that still happens occasionally, but mostly, it just plain doesn't.

Why am I telling you this?

I have been that girl. I have been the mom holding up the grocery line because the food stamps card isn't working in the machine, or the cashier doesn't know how to process the WIC checks. I have been that mom paying for snack items for my kids, ice cream for a birthday, M&Ms for potty training, or other items you've judged me for. I have been that mom receiving dirty looks from fellow customers, overhearing them talk about all the other ways I must be spending my money. I have been that friend on Facebook who has to read about how awful it is that a woman checking out with food stamps has a cell phone of all things. I have even been that mom swiping the food stamps card with freshly manicured nails. And I have had to block out every ounce of guilt I felt about it every time I heard the whispers, saw the looks, or came home to read all the nasty Facebook status updates about it. I have kept my silence on this topic for a very long time, mostly because of shame or fear of disgusted reactions friends might have, and also because it's really no one's business. But I want to set a few things straight.

My husband works hard...always. When he didn't have an income, he worked hard in school, and at being a great father. Whenever he could, he did work, sometimes working all day in the heat only to come home, grab a quick shower and sandwich, and then head out the door for evening classes. We did things honestly. We reported our income whenever it came in. We also had rent to pay, gas to put in a vehicle, debts to pay off due to expenses coming up during difficult times. We had (still have) cell phones, a computer (complete with internet), and a roof over our heads.

Does having those things mean we shouldn't qualify for food stamps?

That girl in the check out line paying with food stamps while talking on her cell phone probably has the internet too. I bet she even drove to the store in her very own vehicle. Do you think that should be taken from her as well? Why don't we go ahead and remove all of her resources before we're willing to provide some assistance so that then, she's so incapable, she can never get back on her feet at all, or the government has to pay out even more to help her.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Come on people! By helping with the necessities before it's too late, that family has the opportunity to put their money into other things, other resources so that they can educate themselves or find work. And what makes you think they just purchased that nice item while on food stamps? Oh, they have a great camera. They must be taking advantage of the system! Oh, look what they drive! They must be lying about income!  No, no. Not everyone who has fallen on hard times has been falling for so long that they have lost everything. Believe it or not, some people had nice things before they lost their jobs.

To give you a little perspective:

Two of the family vehicles we have owned over the past 4 years have been hand-me-down vehicles from our parents. I was bouncing around in a Lincoln Navigator while paying for some of my groceries with WIC. Our parents have helped us in whatever ways they could, and that was one of them.
I learned how to coupon while on food stamps. And I learned how to make just about anything we wanted from scratch. That ice cream or those candies you saw in my cart, cost the government close to nothing. And that flour and sugar made a cake, bread, and a couple pizzas. Those $1.50 tortilla chips happen to go nicely with the $5 meal I had cooking in the crock pot which would likely feed us for two days. I have children, and while I couldn't give them everything I wanted, I could, at least, make them food.
My cell phone allowed my family to reach me if needed, and allowed me to call 911 if necessary, for goodness sake. We didn't (nor do we now) pay a bill for a home phone, so this is all we have.
We had a computer and internet to pay bills and for Jelani's school work.
The great clothes my kids were wearing were bought by their grandparents or they were awesome hand-me-downs from friends. Their toys were paid for by modeling gigs, and a small Christmas allowance we had. (Seriously, would you begrudge a person putting away a whopping $10 a month for Christmas?)
The nails I had done were dress code for a wedding for which I was a bridesmaid. Not something I do on a regular basis, but so what? Maybe that girl you saw with her hair and nails done was trying to clean up for a job interview, her sister's wedding, or maybe it was a spa day gift from someone who loves her and felt she deserved an afternoon of pampering. I'll bet your sour looks for her form of payment sure put a damper on her day out, looking and feeling, for once, like she wasn't a leper, only to receive your glares.

People, my point is this; not everything is black and white. Not everyone's circumstances are exactly what you think they are or should be. There's already a loaded amount of guilt piled onto a family resorting to food stamps without your judgmental accusations. I had to swallow my pride and guilt every time I purchased something other than a canned good thanks to a Facebook rant from a friend who believed food stamps shouldn't cover anything else. That's not fair.

So, I don't explain myself because I owe anyone an explanation or because I have anything to feel guilty about. I explain for the mom who recently lost her job, after purchasing the new iPhone and 2-year contract it came with. I explain for the mom whose friend just took her to get her hair and nails done so she could forget her problems, if only for a moment. I explain myself for the sake of all the moms out there who are doing the best they can to keep it together during crisis while having to smile at your smug face and pretend it doesn't bother them.

Do some people lie and take advantage of the system? Yes. But not everyone on food stamps or any other kind of assistance for that matter has to have just gotten off the bus, dressed in rags, and in need of a shower. The hope in food stamps, is that they will never get to that point of crisis. So calm down, love them, smile at them with genuine patience and understanding, and maybe, instead of judging that mom who's holding up the line because she went over her food stamps budget and has to put some items back, offer to pay for what she can't matter what it may be. I promise you, it will feel a lot better than ranting online hours later about what an awful waste of space you think that person might be, and it is a much more productive use of the space God has given you to reside.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

31 Flavors (and Then Some)

When I turned 30 there was so much changing in my life, that nothing slowed down long enough for me to really think about it. Sure, I was no longer in my 20s, but being 9 months pregnant on my 30th birthday, there wasn't much else I could focus on besides getting that child out of me.

Less than one month later my first born was beginning school for the first time. We were embracing home schooling for the first time with a newborn under the roof, and life was so happily chaotic that I spent most of the year not even remembering I was 30.

But then my 31st birthday was suddenly around the corner, and I was forced to remember that I am no longer a 20-something.

We had a really busy family reunion weekend over this past weekend. I didn't even have time to think about my upcoming birthday. I came home yesterday evening to empty cupboards, a cluttered house, errands that couldn't be put off, and, of course, the dreaded chore of unpacking a car full of bags stuffed haphazardly. Then it also occurred to me that my license expired today. Woops. I had tried to renew it online, but they needed proof of an eye exam, so I couldn't. Then our busy weekend came up quickly, and I didn't get the chance to go in.

I had been looking forward to this license renewal for 4 years. That awful picture had been taken when I was 9 months pregnant with Chastity. My face literally looks swollen, my eyes just little slits barely able to open from the fatness of my cheeks. I was glad for the renewal, but 15 years after the only birthday where going to the DMV is exciting sort of put a damper on my mood.

So today, on my 31st birthday, I woke up and got around to run errands. In anticipation of the dreaded license photo, I even did my hair and make up. I raided my jewelry box and found several pieces I hadn't worn in years, just like brand new! Happy Birthday to me! I strolled into a moderately busy DMV and waited in line. When it was my turn, I handed them my ID and renewal papers, and said, "My license expires today, but I was unable to renew online." They streamlined me right through the process. No complaints there. But in NY state, licenses expire on your birthday. TWO different women looked directly at my ID, aware that it expires on this day, my birthday, and neither one wished me a happy birthday. I went on with my day with a 30 minute drive out to Lockport to pay for the pavilion we're renting for Isaac's 1st birthday coming up. That had to be done or they'd give it to someone else this week. Then I went out for groceries which had to be done, or we'd have to survive on cereal all week.

I had left the house in the morning before Isaac woke up, and returned just after he'd gone down for his nap. Elijah and Chastity were also about to go down for their naps. My birthday was half over, and all I had to show for it were some groceries.

I started to hit a wall and spin into a funk. So this is 31. Running errands, cleaning, taking care of everyone else. My birthdays are no longer about me. They are just about getting older.

To uplift my spirits, I began to think about one of my favorite things; ice cream. (Doesn't everyone do that?) The old Baskin Robbins slogan, boasting 31 flavors, hit me. I am 31 flavors (and then some). I am not just a wife and mother, or picker-upper-of-things. But my birthdays aren't supposed to be about me. They are about the life God has blessed me with, the person he's molded me into being, the husband he's joined me with always and forever, and the little people he's entrusted to me to help shape and mold. I am goofy, fun, sensitive, loving, kind, and helpful. I can be loud or quiet at times. I am athletic, active and energized, but marked with life's changes. I can be controversial and opinionated. I am creative and focused. I can be both disciplined or flaky; sloppy or trendy; brutally honest or quietly kind; clean and organized or a messy Marvin. I am confident in some things; insecure in others. I'm not afraid of hard work, dirt, and sweat, or a sexy little dress. I am prayerful, faithful, hopeful, and above all else; full of love for the Lord. The list goes on and on, and it's difficult for me to talk about myself like this, but I think it's emotionally mandatory. My boobs, my butt, my hips, my thighs will never be the same but those are not the things which make me.  I know who I am. I am so many different flavors, but not everyone's taste, and that's ok.

So this is 31; beautifully, chaotically, lovingly blessed with little and big people who know all my 31 flavors, prefer some over others, but ultimately love me wholly and unconditionally.

Today, in spite of the errands, the chores, and the unobservant DMV clerks, I am blessed. I am wrapped in love from Jelani's famous (really, it's famous!), homemade Buffalo chicken pizza, to the drawings from my littles to my very first phone call being from my very first, childhood friend. Your 31 flavors may look differently, but for me, this is 31.

I can smell the pizza in the oven, and my babies are waking from their naps. The journey must go on, and perhaps it will land us in the living room gathered around a Disney movie, but really, is that any different from any other distant year? Some things never change. :-)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Firsts, Falls, and Fruition

We celebrated a first for our children last weekend. It was kind of a big deal, and this mom forgot the camera (not my mother's daughter). We were invited to a birthday party at a local roller skating rink. The kids have seen our roller blades and often played with them, so when we told them that morning where we were going, they bounced off the walls, declaring their excitement for hours before we actually left for the party.

I was nervous though. I knew it wasn't going to be as easy as they thought, and that they didn't fully understand the hard work it would involve. I was afraid they would be frustrated and wouldn't actually have any fun.

They got there, put the skates on, and attempted to stand. Chastity's legs would have fallen right out from under her if I didn't already have a good grip on her arms. I walked out to the rink with her and helped her for a while, holding her wrists tightly and getting an amazing bicep workout in the process, while her legs flailed about, independent from her body.

After Elijah was able to gather his balance and he learned to use the wall to help, Jelani took over for me so I could relieve our friend from baby duty. She, of course, wouldn't allow me to take Isaac back, and told me to put on my own skates. While Jelani was still trying to keep Chastity upright, I joined Elijah's slow progress around the rink.

After watching him fall a handful of times, I wanted to hold his hand so badly, but we quickly learned that it made it even more difficult because he would rely on me too much and lose control a little bit. So I let go. As I let go, and watched him fall, repeatedly, I learned one of my most difficult parenting lessons to date. I learned that I sometimes have to watch my children fall.

I was watching him fall over and over and over, on his butt, on his hands, on his knees, on his elbows, and doing splits. Not once did he even wince. His face was so serious and so determined, I  became concerned that he wasn't having any fun, so I would repeatedly ask him, "Elijah, are you having fun?"


"Do you want to take a break and sit down for a bit?"


He was always very clear in his responses. I continued to skate next to him, watching him fall from only an arms length away, knowing there was nothing I could do. And it hit me.

This is parenting. This is life. My concerns were unfounded. He was having a blast, but it was breaking my heart. It was the first time something fun for my children was not fun for me. I had to retire from the rink to take care of Isaac and I was relieved to have the baby to distract me. Elijah had to learn to stand on his own two feet. He had to fall. He had to learn how to catch himself. And he would eventually grow stronger and be better.

Similarly, when God watches us fall, I believe it breaks His heart. But He can't do everything for us. He can't force us to stay upright. He gave us the gift of free will, and He wants us to learn and grow through our challenges. But He is there if and when we call on Him, walking right next to us.

We do our children a disservice by trying to hold their hands through everything when what they really need is for us to just be there to support, love, and encourage them. Right then, Elijah didn't need, or want, me to hold his hand. He just wanted to know I was there...watching.

This week, the kids learned to skate, Elijah learned to ride his bike without training wheels, and Chastity learned to finger knit. Mommy and Daddy learned how to let go just a little; just enough to watch them stumble, pick themselves back up, and ultimately succeed.