Why I have gray hair – reason no. 30

I heard it before I saw it and knew at that moment I’d made a mistake letting my 4-year old jump from the couch to the metal barstool we’d never actually used at a bar since we didn’t have one. I saw her hanging over the bottom rungs of the chair, now on its’ side, like a limp rag doll, and yelled for my son to help because I figured that in his youth he could move faster. He wasn’t there, though, and by the time I got to her she had lifted herself up and was standing with her hair in her face and her mouth open while she tried to scream, but no sound would come out.

A bright red river of blood was streaming a path from her nose to her mouth and I wasn’t sure if she had ripped her nose or her lip open.

Always cool under pressure, I started to scream “Help me! Help me!” over and over, yelling for my son to call his dad at work. He, having been upstairs for what he’d hoped to be a relaxing visit to the bathroom, was a frazzled mess and stumbled to find one of our phones.

“Grace. Face bleeding.” He shouted into the phone and hung up.

Somehow I had mentally slapped myself out of my hysteria and asked for a box of tissues, snatched one and held it against my daughter’s nose, noting I had smeared blood above her eyebrow as I’d pulled her close for a hug and examination.

knew that in order for her to calm down that I had to calm down and suddenly I went into robot mode. Wipe face. Hold nose, ask what hurt and what she had hit. She said her nose and her ear so I examined both appendages and saw blood caked along the edge of the nose and the tip of it swelled some, but otherwise it seemed fine. The ear didn’t have the gash I worried I would see. 

My husband burst through the door a few minutes later and we checked her out together while she cried. A popsicle and a cartoon helped her calm down.

A half an hour later she was in the kitchen twirling in circles next to the counter, an inch from smashing her face in again.

“Excuse me. We’ve already had one bloody nose. Are you trying to get another one?” I asked.

And that’s when I felt it – another gray hair pop up on top of my head.

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Mama guilt is real and ridiculous

I find myself sitting alone in the kitchen after I give the kids their dinner some nights, eating alone and listening to a podcast, and it fills me with guilt.

How dare I sit and not be with my children? Don’t I love them? Don’t I want to be with them all the time? If I don’t is something wrong with me?

Of course, I know I love my children. And I know I don’t have to be with them all the time to show it. I know there isn’t anything wrong with needing a break from my children throughout the day but something deep within in me says my little breaks are selfish and wrong.

Where does this guilt come from? I have no idea. No one has ever told me I should play with my children constantly or entertain them non-stop or sacrifice quiet moments to myself because I gave birth to tiny humans.

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My husband works a second shift, leaving me home with the kids during two of the busiest, sometimes most stressful, times of day – supper and bedtime. I don’t resent being a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I wanted to be at a stay-at-home mom for years. I worried about putting financial stress on our family but I felt being home with our son, to raise him, was the right step to take. By the time he was in school, I considered going back to work to lift some of the financial burdens but by the time I made up my mind about that I was pregnant again. A situation at my son’s school led to a decision to homeschool him at the end of last school year. Going back to work wasn’t an option at that point.

Seven years ago, after working for 14 years, I was home with my son,  overwhelmed with the thought that I was now doing something I never imagined doing. When I was a teenager and in college, I knew I was going to be a writer or a photojournalist who traveled the world, not a mom. And if I was a mom, that baby would be in a carrier, on my back, not in my lap or in my floor while I did the things stay-at-home moms did. I didn’t know what they did, but to me stay-at-home moms were boring and frumpy and covered in spit-up, yet also super organized and played with their children and did crafts and arts with them and cooked home meals and stood in the kitchen in their aprons and waited for their husbands to come home from work and – and – the mere thought of being that mom sent me into sheer panic mode.

But then I was holding him and he was looking at me. He was funny and intelligent and I forgot about the boogers and spit up on me. The late nights were hard and I was a walking zombie. Pregnancy and breastfeeding kicked my tail and soon I was on thyroid medication and supplements and anything I could consume to keep me functioning. But he was worth it all.

And today both he and his sister are worth it all.DSC_0540

DSC_0535What’s happened to me, though, is what happens to many stay-at-home moms: I run the danger of pouring so much of me into them there is very little left for anyone else and there is definitely nothing left for me to relax and refresh my inner self.

I remember being so obsessed with caring for my son, feeling his care was my sole responsibility, that I found myself consumed by guilt if I even took a few moments to myself to take a shower or a bath or run to the store to grocery shop on my own.

My mom did everything for us growing up. My dad worked and she cooked, cleaned, cared for us and was there for us when we fell off our bikes or came down with a cold or woke up with a nightmare. She was amazing and I think when I became a mom I subconsciously compared myself to her and thought I had to do as much as she did and had to sacrifice the way she did, or at least the way I thought she did.

One thing I don’t remember my mom doing is playing with me. She colored with me some, but as for playing, she’d been raised that children needed to entertain themselves and learn on their own to teach them independence. She didn’t ignore me or shout at me to leave her alone, but she gently directed me toward my toys or my sketchbooks or outside to find something to do.

I truly have no idea what my mom did to relax, except she read. A lot. She escaped in a book and she took time for herself when she cooked. Did she feel guilty that she wasn’t spending her every waking moment with me or my brother? I don’t know but I have a feeling she knew we were okay on our own and she didn’t need to be with us every second. She also wasn’t bombarded with messages from magazines and social media and tv about our failings as parents.

Is being a mother harder now because of the many voices we have telling us how to be one? I don’t know, but what I do know is we don’t have to listen to all those voices.

Maybe we can take one or two, think about what they are saying and apply their advice, but then we can ignore the others and listen to the only voice that really matters: the voice inside us that tells us when we’ve stretched ourselves thin enough and it’s OK to set the kids up with a game, a book or even – gasp! – a cartoon and take a little time for ourselves.

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Frank. And only Frank. Thanks, Kid. I’m now sick of Frank.

Every night and every nap for the last two years my daughter has had to listen to Frank Sinatra’s “In The Wee Small Hours” album while she’s falling asleep.

I’ve tried to change the music without her knowing but as young as two she would look at me and say “no. I want frank.” In the beginning she called him “Frank Satra,” but as she grew she knew how to pronounce his name clearly and she let me know no one else would do – no Nat King Cole or Diana Krall or even a different album by Frank.

I finally slipped in some Dean Martin from his “Sleep Warm” album, skipping over the slightly faster songs thrown in the middle of the more gentle and melodic tunes, and she accepted it.

Last night I decided to try some Sarah Vaughn, who I’ve never actually listened to that much, but we only got two songs in before I heard an exasperated sigh in the dark.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, hoping to God she did not ask me for the snack she’d tried to tell me she needed a few moments earlier, even though it was way past her bedtime.

“It’s the music,” she said with exasperation dripping off each word. “It’s just not working.”

Now it was my turn for a sigh. I switched the Apple Music on my phone to the playlist of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

She relaxed in the darkness, obviously content, and in less than five minutes she was fast asleep to the smooth, soothing baritone of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Someday we’ll find another artist who lulls her into a state of pure relaxation but for now Dean and Frank remain our close and repetitive friends.

Three going on fifteen or why my new name is “mooooooom”

Little Miss, 3, 1/2 is back to calling me “mom” instead of “Mama” and saying it like an annoyed and spoiled teenager. “Oh Moooom.”

“Mooooom, watch me.”

“No, I don’t want that for dinner, Moooom.”

It’s seriously like she’s 3 1/2 going on 15 some days. And boy does she have my moodiness tendencies, much to my disappointment. One day last week she made a mess with water by pouring it all over the living room floor in what she said was an attempt to pour it on Zooma the Wonder Dog to stop her from pulling on her clothes.

I asked her to clean up said mess and she informed me, first, “No. I won’t. That’s not my job.”

Trust me, that little comment did not go over well with me.

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Her second excuse was: “I just got comfortable” as she lounged on the couch watching a cartoon.

I promptly turned off the cartoon and this resulted in long sighs as if she’d been mentally transported into the future as her 15-year old self. Somehow my demands that she clean up the mess she made by herself became a completely overblown toddler crisis and she ended up hiding behind our couch, in a small area near our front door where we keep our shoes.

She had thrown all the shoes out, was crying and in between sobs was saying “but it’s not my joooob! I don’t want to do it! I just want to be lazy and not clean it up!”

I know exactly where her demands to be lazy are coming from and when my 11-year old son got back from camp we had a serious talk about the days he declares “I don’t want to do anything today! It’s lazy… (insert whichever day of the week it is). Eventually the entire drama came down to her saying she would have cleaned up the water if only I had used the word, “please.”

She said all this while still nestled in the space behind the couch and when I added the “magic word” of please to the request a slightly muffled voice informed me: “Well, I can’t do it while I’m crying and I can’t stop crying!”

Eventually, the water did get cleaned up and the drama was abated with a cartoon and cuddle but the attitude bordering on full-blown teenage angst continued off and on throughout the day, with most of her responses coming at me in irritated and impatient tones.

I liked my mom’s suggestion when I told her this story, which was that if she says again “it’s not my job” I turn the tables on her by refusing to do various tasks she would like done and saying flippantly “Sorry. It’s not my job.” Mom and I were fairly certain this effort will one day backfire on me, however, since I am a mom and it actually is my “job” to take care of my kids and Little Miss will most likely inform me of that. one day.

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Mama guilt and afternoon rest

She woke up this morning, looked at me and said “pretend you’re mama puppy.”

That meant she was baby puppy and barked and whimpered at me while I was mama puppy and had to bark all my answers at her.  It was a bit too early in my day to be barking morning greetings to my child but she asked and she’s cute and I would rather be greeted that way then with the morning news or an angry text message so I obliged her.

We started out as puppies but then we became tigers and she wanted to wake up and tell daddy she was a tiger. He was at his part time job so I had to text him her new identity  instead.

There are two days a week we wake up and it’s just her and me hanging out together until the afternoon. Her dad is at work and her brother is at school so we cuddle in bed and she talks about her favorite subjects, puppies and Doc Mcstuffin and this week PJ masks. I treasure those days but they can also be hectic and exhausting because I spend that time bouncing between waiting on and playing with her and trying to check off my to-do list at the same time.

Most days I keep my patience but some days, like today, my patience wanes and I snap “just give me five minutes to finish one thing!” When really I need like 50 minutes.

For about four months, probably longer, she’s been refusing early naps, instead only wanting to nap after I’ve picked her brother up from school and need to start dinner. This wouldn’t be a problem if one, she didn’t want me to hold her the entire time and two, she didn’t try to sleep for two hours and effectively push her bedtime off to an hour not fit for this 40-year old let alone a 3-year old.

When she said, shortly before 1 pm, that she wanted a nap I grumpily told her I didn’t believe her and didn’t want to leave my computer work just to have her once again refuse quiet time or a nap once we got upstairs to her room . She burst into tears and I carried her upstairs to her bed, to a place she has been refusing to rest in for almost six months. She cuddled against me, pulled the covers around her, asked to nurse and fell asleep. Boom. Just like that. I don’t think she has fallen asleep before 3 p.m. since sometime in the spring.

And now here I sit filled with mother guilt and praying she isn’t coming down with an illness or that the head bump she took yesterday afternoon when she slipped while chasing her brother with a plastic sword didn’t cause some kind of damage we were unaware of.

This quiet time, curled up under this comforter in the darkened bedroom is a gift, a moment of respite, a chance to regroup and refresh and I should be thankful, not suspicious, not aggravated or resentful.

It is a gift and I want to accept it and treasure it and hold it close in case it is a fleeting one. Her naps may interrupt the flow of my day but those moments, much like unexpected detours in our life, are needed interruptions to force me to slow down, focus on the present and take time to physically and mentally rest.

Author Emily P. Freeman talked about being present in the moment and taking time for rest in the latest episode of her podcast “The Next Right Thing.”

“When it’s time to be still, do so without an agenda so that when it’s time to move, you can do so from a place of love,” she said. “Part of remembering our soul’s center is engaging in practices that help to make space for God to move.  One of those practices for me is the practice of being still. If you feel scattered without a center, like you’re flying out in all directions, let these few moments be a speed bump in your busy day. . . . Say the day in your mind – the date, the month, the year. This is where you are, this moment is what you have. You can only be one place at a time. So be here now.”

So during my little girl’s nap time, with her asleep on my arm, effectively pinning me to the bed with her, I said to myself the date and the time and breathed in that moment – that gift of being present in the moment and in a period of needed rest but also in a period of being alone with her.

Don’t let someone else tell you what God is calling you to be

When you search the internet for the word “calling” one of the definitions is “a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career; a vocation.”

In the Christian definition we often use the word to describe God’s plan for our life and we often believe God lays one calling on us and we are to do nothing but that ONE thing. This idea is further perpetuated by some in the Church who feel it is their job to suggest to others what their calling in life is.

When a well meaning friend or family member or church member says God called you to whatever it is that person believes you have been called to you can take what they say and think about it, but there is nothing that says you need to claim it. Remember that person  is human like you and not God and their definition of what your calling is not necessarily God’s definition

Today I heard an interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes and Pastor Steven Furtick. In it Jakes warns to not let what others say your calling is limit what God can do in you and through you. As someone who has not been limited by one title, Bishop Jakes has recently written a book, “Soar: Build Your Vision From the Ground Up”, about learning what God’s plan is for your life.

“I never knew the way people described you would become a prison until they did it,” he said. “When I met me I was not a preacher so I didn’t know they would incarcerate me with the title. You are at your best when you are authentic to your core and you have to be what you are, not what they call you. You understand what I’m saying? Some people will call you a name and you will start living up to that name and it limits you from what else God wants to do in your life. . . . What happens in life as we evolve as a person is we can not allow ourself to be incarcerated by anything people would describe us as because we limit what the Holy Spirit can do in our life.”

There are many women who are writers, mothers, artists and business people all in one.  There are many men who are fathers, entrepreneurs, employees and men of God preaching on Sunday.

There is not always one thing you were meant to do and now you’re not allowed to be anything else. Being a mother is the highest calling there is but I know mothers who harbor guilt because they want to be a mother and an artist, a mother and a business person, a mother and a writer but someone has told them, well meaning or not, that their calling is to be a mother and only a mother.

This guilt and unrealistic expectation is especially true in the Christian community where women are often told “your calling is to be a mother and that’s where God wants you in this season of your life.” Oddly I’ve never heard the same thing said to a man about being a father. Have you? Wouldn’t it be odd in our society to hear someone tell a man, “God wants you at home with your children and to pursue no other calling until they are old enough to go to college and live on their own.”?

Though I understand the premise behind such comments toward woman and while I believe God desires women to be the caretaker of children and engrained this maternal instinct in our sex, directives that a woman should desire nothing more than to be a mother and wide often heaps guilt on women already prone  to guilt biologically.

Some women believe that they must pour everything they are into motherhood and if they fall or fail (failure based on their own standards I might add) they failed at the only calling God ever gave them.

Yes, God called women to be mothers but no, He does not call all women to never pursue other passions, interests or callings in addition to being a mother. He never told Esther he couldn’t use her because she was a woman and meant to be a mother only. He never told Abigal, wife or Nabal, that she couldn’t  be a peacemaker between her husband and the warrior David (1 Samual 25:1-38) because she possessed a womb and desired to be a mother.

Therefore I don’t believe He has told other mothers their only calling is to care for their children. Yes, there are women whose main calling is to raise her children, but it doesn’t have to be her only calling.

So often we think we only have one calling and we need to find that one calling. If we don’t find that one calling we have failed in life, we have failed God. I have held on to this one calling lie for the majority of my adulthood, searching it out like one might search for the lost grail, waiting for it to be shown to me with a bright light from heaven. Unfortunately, that just isn’t going to happen and I have begun to accept that my “calling” may go beyond one vocation or role.

Hearing Pastor Jakes remind me not to be limited to what others have called me to be. Hopefully we can all remember to not limit God and to encourage others, especially mothers, to join us in taking the chains off God. Let’s take God out of the box we have put him in and let him show us a path of limitless opportunities,  possibilities and callings.

 

Thank you Doc Mcstuffins for making my toddler a paranoid germaphobe

We were picking my son up from an overnight camping trip with his school when my 3-year old tripped and fell. My son’s friend helped her up and told me she was saying there were worms on her hands and she couldn’t get them off.

“Worms! Worms!” she told me holding her hands out to me, palms up.

All I could see were a couple specks of dirt. I brushed her palms off, kissed her hand, put her on my hip and walked to get my son’s sleeping bag for the ride home. Before we got to our car, though, she was crying again with her palms up toward me.

“Worms! I can’t get them off!” she said. “They everywhere!!”

Now I was starting to worry my daughter was sick, having a fever induced hallucination. I assured her there were no worms, but asked if she wanted me to wash her hands just to be sure. For all I knew she had fallen on squished worms earlier and now imagined she had worm guts on her hands.

As I poured water over her hands from my water bottle I asked if that was better.

“It still on my thumb” she told me, inspecting her hands and trying to shove her one thumb in the water bottle.

That’s when my son said “are you saying germs?”

It was a light bulb moment.

My daughter has developed a somewhat annoying obsession lately with Doc McStuffins; to the point she asks to watch it every day and pretends to “treat” her stuffed animals. We even bought her a little toy Doc Mcstuffins bag and medical kit for her birthday last week. Now she asks for me to play the check up song on my phone while she gives check ups to her stuffed pets.

Incidentally she requires me to pretend I’m the toy patient and usually tells me I have to pretend I’m scared so she can comfort them like Doc Mcstuffins does her toy patients. Of course, as someone who is moving away from the constant care of doctors because they often seem more interested in pushing than pills than helping patients, it does bother me that this show has given my daughter the impression that doctors are infallible and God-like but that’s another post for another day.

Apparently I should have been watching the episodes a little closer when she watched them (I’m usually sitting next to her editing photos and vaguely paying attention, I won’t lie) because I’m guessing the good ole’ Doc told her viewers on a recent episode thatthey needed to clean their hands because of germs.

Unfortunately my toddler has the same vivid imagination her brother has always had so she apparently imagined the germs everywhere on her hands.

“Did you say germs?” I asked her.

“Yes!” She sniffed her little cheeks streaked with dirt and tears.

“Honey, it’s ok. Even if the germs are there, not all germs are bad. Some germs help build up our immunity so it’s not a bad thing to have some germs on your skin.”

She accepted this explanation quickly but then sniffed a little and said she didn’t want to sit in her car seat to go home. She whimpered against my shoulder until I told her I could pick her up some fries on the way home.

Her head snapped up off my shoulder and she looked at me.

There was no hint of the sadness from before when she said “fries? Did you say fries?”

Stuffed animals need hugs too

“Mama, wanna play with me? You wanna play with me?”

Her pleas sounded more like a demand than a request and I knew if I said ‘no’ she would keep asking, demanding and continue to look heartbroken and crestfallen.

Each day she follows me around with the same demand – I mean request – so I know the drill now and most days I’m thrilled she wants me to play with her.  What an honor to be the main person she wants to play and interact with in this season of her life.

On this day she had dragged her stuffed animal entourage onto the front steps and sidewalk. She set them up in a circle and sat in the middle of them and instructed me to do the same. Then I was directed to “‘tend you Mama bear,” which is the stuffed white Christmas themed bear that was given to me by my husband.

 

I pretended I was Mama Bear and asked the other animals how they were and Little Miss about her day.

I hugged the fluffy white Christmas bear against me and buried my face in its’ white fur.

Sitting there on the sidewalk in front of our house I felt nostalgic thinking about how my daughter was doing what I had once done.

As a child I would drag all my stuffed animals outside in our side yard in the country and set them up on a blanket and cuddle with them and care for them by covering them with blankets.

Even in our youth we women seem to have that mother instinct already ingrained in us it seems. We cradle and rock babies and whisper to them it’s all going to be okay even if we aren’t sure what okay means.

“What are you doing?” a small, slightly indignant voice brought me from rural memories back to the reality of the concrete surface of town life.

“I’m hugging the bears,” I answered, sure she would agree with my reason. “They need a hug right?”

Her expression was a mix of disgust and pity.

“Mama, they don’t need hugs,” she said and I swear I saw her tiny toddler eyes roll up just like a teenager. “They’re just toys.”

And just like that she burst my sentimental bubble of imagination and shattered it in a million pieces on the ground with her cruel dose of reality.

I shrugged.

Then I hugged the fluffy white bear and sniffled a little in its’ fluffy fur.

That’s okay. Someday she’d be old enough to understand that stuffed animals need hugs too.

Don’t stop asking if you can hug me

There we were driving over the back roads to the small Christian school my son attends and just like that summer was over.

Sure we had one more day before school officially began but on that humid summer night I felt a tight feeling in my chest and knew it was because the carefree days when I could hug him on a whim anytime throughout the day had come to an end for another year.

Here we were – his fifth grade year.

Fifth grade.

 

I felt a catch in my spirit. I mentally reached out for an imaginary lever to slow it all down but like usual the lever wouldn’t work.

I was sure it had only been a few weeks since I’d walked him into that school for the first time, him frightened and crying because he didn’t want me to leave. I cried too, all the way home, and at home.

At the end of each day I picked him up and he ran fast to me across the gym with his arms wide open and the widest, most excited smile on his face.

His hair was soft against my cheek and I loved the way he leaned into me, his comfort at the end of a long day.

On this night, a parents night to learn more about the new year and meet new staff, he ran away from me to see what was new. He’s independent now, excited for a new year and in some ways he doesn’t need Mom anymore.

But then there are those nights I hear him at my bedroom door and he tiptoes into the darkness and I ask what’s wrong.

“Can I have a hug?” he’ll ask, like he often does throughout the day, no matter where we are.

 “I just need a hug,” he says, and I know he wants to sleep next to me for the rest of the night.

I give him the hug and let him sleep next to me because I know one day he won’t want me to hug him or hold him, at least not very often .

I kiss his head on those nights and I feel his hair soft against my cheek and I close my eyes.

I breathe it all in because for these few moments, maybe a few hours, he needs me to be his comfort again.