The Yin and Yang of My Life

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I’ve been wanting to pick up my metaphorical pen for some time now and put thoughts onto paper.  But I believe I’ve been slowing suffocating under the weight of parenting.  You know, that place just under the surface where you can see your personal goals and dreams shining above you in the sunlight, but the weight of a thousand burdens just keeps pulling you back under.

I’m not afraid to tell you this isn’t always my favorite place to be.  Yes, I keep having the children.  Yes, this is the life that I chose for myself.  And yes, maybe there will be more little people in my life for me to take care of.  For the love of all things sane, we just got our children a puppy.  Which means they spend 15 minutes a day with him and I do every single other possible thing that puppy needs.

When I start feeling like this life is just too much, that maybe I chose poorly, and that it is possible I actually may not survive it, I try to see my life in the context of the yin and yang.

Many think that yin and yang represent good and evil.  But that isn’t accurate at all.  They aren’t opposing forces, but rather complimentary.  And these two forces, they interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

Can you hear what I’m saying here?  When I close my eyes I can see all that parenting is for me within the yin and yang circle:  the light and the darkness, the fall and the spring, the dying and the rebirth, the white and the black, the loneliness and the closeness.  And that mental picture, that greater whole, is a complete beauty that makes my heart burst.  I can fall to my knees in gratitude for the full yin and yang of parenthood.

Yet the struggle is real, isn’t it?  Because we move back and forth, from one side of the circle to the other.  From the masculine to the feminine.  From the light to the dark.

There are days I just don’t want to do the work necessary to shepherd these loons into full functioning adults.  You underestimate my seriousness on this.  I literally have days (read weeks) where I could care less what they eat, if they do their homework, if they are kind, if they bathe.  I just don’t have it in me anymore.

But I push through.  We all do.  And that is what makes us amazing.  That right there is why I rock at motherhood.

Last week one of my children had a grammar lesson on gerund phrases.  Yep.  You read that right.  Gerund phrases.  People, I was a high school English teacher and I need to know that ridiculous nonsense as much as my three year old needs to do trigonometry.  I wanted more than anything to advise said child to burn that paper, take an F, and tell the teacher their mom said “This is as important as a fart.”  (Actually I did say all that, but my children are turning out better than me so they told me to get serious and help them study)

So I took a deep breath and dove in.  And yes, the gerund phrase is a waste of time.  But the time spent with my child wasn’t.  It’s about putting in the hard to get the easy on another day.

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  Makes people believe that there was only one side to the circle.  They choose to remember either just the yin or the yang.  I don’t want to be like that.  I want to recall that it took a full circle of emotions, joys, struggles, and difficult times to create the yin and yang of our family.  So that in time like this, when I feel just under the surface, I will be reminded that I’m sure to be in the sunshine again soon.

why i hate my bagless vacuum

 

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My mom just purchased me a new bagless vacuum.  It is my first.  My other one has the traditional white bag and a door that closes snuggly on that said bag.  I took my new vacuum on a test run and after I was done, I looked into that clear cylinder and saw a pile of dust and dog hair that made me a little grossed out.  And I realized, I don’t want to see the junk that this vacuum sucks up.

That stupid clear cylinder is just a picture into what I know is in my house, but what I’m not interested in seeing.  Which my friends, is my life story.  Some of my greatest conflict arises when I see in others what I wish not to see in myself.

Last month we did back to back vacations with the family.  My kids were good for the most part. They don’t really fight and there weren’t that many moments of complaining.  But 13 days in a condo, car, or hotel room can put all of us on edge.  And would you know who I was the most annoyed with?  My husband.  Every time he lost his patience with the kids I was upset.  But the honest truth is, it annoyed me because it’s the thing I like least about myself.  I’m always feeling like I’m in an internal battle to keep cool 100% of the time.  And I don’t know about you, but this is not, and never will be, a realistic goal.

I have the same conflict with my kids.  What bothers me most about my children is when the exhibit traits that I either did have, or I’m afraid I do.  I have some serious issues with thinking that I might be lazy.  So I work harder.  I will often give my husband a run down of all the things I did during the day.  It takes a week of massive To Do lists being checked off to allow myself to even watch TV.  It’s crazy.  So when my kids “appear” to be lazy while they binge watch The Office while sitting in their messy rooms, I am beside myself.  My children become that clear cylinder and I catch myself thinking They can not have inherited laziness from me!

People often think that parents have the most conflict with the kid that is most like them. For me, I have the most conflict with the kid that appears to be a clear cylinder that is filled up with all of MY junk.

I believe that people around us, including our children, are in our lives to teach us something.  There is always more focus on what we need to instill in our children or how to better express our needs to spouses so they can be better to us.  Sometimes we just need to look inside that clear cylinder and sort through all the junk that we know is in there but have so much trouble looking at.

We can not grow and change until our junk is out in the open and visible anyway.

I probably still won’t be using the bagless vacuum though.  Not just because I can see the junk, but also because it makes it really hard to hide all the legos I vacuum up.

 

Stuck in the Middle

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Also titled, Am I Raising Darth Vader?

When my  babies were little I would hear everyone say Don’t wish it away.  It will fly by.  It was good advice and I’m glad I took it.  When my oldest was one, I moved onto 70th Avenue and it was full of young kids and hilarious moms.  We raised our babies together and spent countless hours discussing parenting and even a few weekend hours discussing beer choices.  (Jon and I are way more sophisticated in this area)  In the summer we would disappear to Michigan, stuffing a few adults and a thousand kids into a tiny cabin and have a great time.

I joined a MOPS group at church and met some life long friends there.  I was encouraged and validated in my parenting choices.  It seemed like there were so many ways for an extrovert like me to get filled up.  It was a really great time.

Those days are over for me and sometimes I really miss them.  Mostly because, as many of you mammas know, the middle years can really stink.  Literally and figuratively.  My 4 middle and high school kids can’t all seem to remember to put on deodorant and brush their teeth EVERY day and showering is like an act of treason, so there is a lot of nasty smells around.  Couple that with the excessive amounts of hormones which makes at least one person around here moody at all times, and yes, it can definitely stink.

I found myself on a walk last week spending the entire time trying to figure out how long I could survive my current existence.  Ok, if I can hold on for two more years, how old will they be?  Emily will be a senior and driving.  She can help with the incessant car pooling.  Surely all of them will finally be able to do their homework themselves, right?  Brush their teeth?  Clean a toilet?  How about four years?  Can I survive at this pace for that long?

I just really thought they would have gotten down at least basic hygiene by now.  I sometimes feel like I am still parenting children and also nurturing mini adults at the same time.  It is seriously the WEIRDEST season of parenting I have yet to be in.

Last night my son said I refuse to do my homework alone.  I just won’t do it until you sit by me and cuddle.  

Super cute.  But he did NOT need my help.  He just wanted me to sit by him like a four year old.

Then this morning I said You don’t need to drink coffee every day before school.

His reply? Dad does.  I’m a getting older mom.  You need to just get a grip on that.  And he got out of the car without even saying goodbye.

I’m just so confused.  They are like young Jedi.  The force is strong within them, but you just don’t know if they will go to dark side or stay in the light.  Please young babies, stay in the light.  I’ve put a lot of time, love, and energy into you.  I would rather you not grow up into Darth Vader.  Sometimes I actually dream they do become Darth Vader.  But at night there is still a child or two that comes into my room to sleep on the floor, so it could just be all the additional breathing in there.

Here were my ultimate goals for my children when they were first born:

  1. Love Jesus  – Although the heart of another person is never for me to fully understand, I’m thinking 2 1/2 out of 5 are a guarantee for life right now.
  2. Be kind – This one is tough.  Some days I’m running at a 0.0%.  That’s failure my friends.  Other times they overwhelm me with their compassion and grace and love.  Perhaps this is because they are still on the balance between childhood, a time of utter selfishness, and adulthood, oh wait, another time of selfishness.  I got nothing.  I’ve started to write down the kind and nice things they do to remind myself that Darth is not the only outcome.  And I also focus more on what they do outside of my house, because I do think that most people would say they are nice kids when not confined to these 4 walls.  Maybe my house is like prison.  Go to jail innocent and leave a criminal.  Hmmm….
  3. Be a productive member of society – Still walking the fence on this one.  They are smart and do well in school.  In addition, they are discussing and planning careers and colleges. But they seem unable to carry their freaking plate from the table to the dishwasher.  Also, they literally act like they would starve to death if someone was not here to feed them.  I have tried to teach them to cook, but the boys have both said Nah.  I’ll just go from you cooking for me to my wife cooking for me.  Please forgive me future daughter in laws.  I did not condone this behavior in any way.

These middle years have just filled me with confusion and doubt.  Some days I feel like we’ve made it and other times I want to just throw in the towel.  Am I too old to just start over?

I’m guessing with all those hormones raging that they are just as confused as I am.  So if they have to endure, I suppose I will too.  My saving grace is that, when they are not fighting or complaining, they are just about the most hilarious 5 people I have ever had the privilege of doing time with.  Who knows, maybe Darth Vader had a secret sense of humor that was only shown to his most privileged storm troopers.

So mammas in the middle, hang in there with me and try not to wish it away, like I have been occasionally often known to do.  And while you’re at it, if you could help me through this season by telling me when you see my kids being awesome.  Oh, and also telling them their breath smells or they have B.O., so that maybe, just maybe, they can be adults without hygiene problems.

 

How I Manage the Last Week of Summer (or not)

I do not even know myself during the last week of summer.  I am literally a crazy women with so many personalities that even my dog can’t recognize me sometimes.

I am down to 10 days until school starts.  10.

How do I feel about that?  Well, it depends on the minute.

Every summer we make a list of all the stuff we want to do.  It’s called the Super Summer Challenge.  It’s actually really helpful for me.  Kids are bored?  Find something to check off on the super summer challenge.  Make a blanket fort, play pictionary, whatever.  It’s all in fun and we never accomplish the entire thing.

Makes me seem amazing, doesn't it?

Makes me seem amazing, doesn’t it?

However with only 10 days left I begin to wonder Did I do enough fun stuff?  On the other hand, with 10 days left, I’m out of cash.  So, like the crazy woman I am, I found a school playground with a zip line and we did it yesterday.  It was so small all my kids had to scrunch up their legs super high to make it work.

Check that off the list.  See kids, I freaking rock as a mother.  You went ZIP LINING this summer.  That’s right.  Last weekend the pool is open?  We are there.  And I actually get in the water for the first time all summer instead of read a book.

I am present.  Living in the moment.  Savoring Each. Last. Little. Bit. of time with my precious babies.

*Sigh*

With that being said, I can not stand these little life suckers.  I will NOT survive 10 more days.  It’s like the Walking Dead around here.  My skin is hanging off and if they make too much noise I might just run them down and eat their brains.  Or whatever it takes to SHUT THEM UP AND STOP THE COMPLAINING!

I was running errands this week.  Yes, tasks designed to keep them alive and happy, such as going to the grocery store and fixing my leaking tire.  Here are the texts I received.

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Oh cry eye – what in the world do I do with that but assume we are raising incompetent human beings?  Seriously.  All I could think was Well goodness gracious girl!  You just found yourself a legal way out of this parenting thing.  Just take a week-long road trip and they will apparently STARVE to death while in a house filled with food.

That text was from my oldest and nearly 16-year-old.  They don’t get all that smarter as you go down the line.

I”m a walking piece of insanity.  And doesn’t that just about sum up parenting?

So friends, this is my message.  It is ok to cry on the first day of school.  I will be right there with you thinking about how much I will miss them over the next 9 months and how our lovely family evenings will now be filled with homework, sports, and exhaustion.

It is also ok to make a celebratory lunch date with your girlfriends on the second day of school and drink wine by 11:30 am.  My plans are already on the calendar.  Then I will come home, take a nap, a savor the silence.

Well, at least until 3:20 when my precious babies return.

And clearly need me to feed them.

The Storyteller

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I am a storyteller.  As long as I can remember I’ve loved to tell the joke much more than to hear it.  I revel in the moment when a good tale begins and I know it’s going to end with laughter.  It may not come across in my writing, but I’m funny.  Really funny.  It’s one of my favorite things about me.  If I was on Deal or No Deal and instead of the million dollars, my suitcase held a fantastic sense of humor, I’d hold out to the end no matter what the banker offered me.

I won’t deny spending countless hours mentally crafting the perfect Facebook post to make people laugh.  Time well spent.

And I don’t just end with the jokes.  I am constantly writing stories, letters, dreams, all inside my head.  Living in the moment is often hard for me because I spend a lot of time crafting dreams and tales of the future.  Endless dates have been spent drawing out future places to travel and live.  I read adoption blogs like it is my own life changing right there on the computer screen.  I become way too invested in TV.  I still think about Hurley, Jack, Charlie, Sawyer, Freckles, and the rest.  It’s been 5 years friends.  I have a zombie apocalypse plan.  There is nothing I love better than a great story.

This obsession with a great story is what made me fall even deeper in love with God.  When I first fell for Jesus I spent all my time reading the new testament, thinking there was little of relevance in the old.  And then I turned back my bible to page one and discovered the most extraordinary, deeply complex, beautiful story of love and redemption that I’ve ever read.  Let me tell ya, that God, he’s a storyteller.

Yet on Jan. 2nd my child almost died.  It was two weeks before we knew if she would even make it and even then, we were unsure if she would recover to any extent that resembled my little girl.  Did my faith waiver?  Not really.  I still belived that God was all good, all love.  But I can not tell you how many times the words I could have written a better story than you ran through my mind.  Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but for me, it had a heavy impact.

Because that question wasn’t really about my faith wavering, it was about my hope.  I was losing it….and fast.

During that time someone posted this on Facebook: “I understand that Christians have hope in the fact that there is life after this one, but how do we find hope in the middle of our struggles right now?”

I wrestled with this question for days, intertwined with my thoughts that I was a better story teller than God.  What would I say to someone who asked me How can you have hope in Jesus when this has happened to your child?  When he is allowing this nightmare to continue?  When you are begging from the deepest recesses of your soul for Him to give you a miracle and He is silent?  

To know you have hope and to be able to understand why are two very different things.  I needed an answer, if only for myself, because I knew I would love Jesus regardless, but I wasn’t sure where myhope in today was going to come from.  It was wafer thin.

During this time I couldn’t pick up my Bible.  It made me feel too vulnerable in a time when I needed strength.  However the best thing about reading scripture is that in times when you can’t pick that book up, so much of it remains inside of you.  I could hear the word of God in my heart.

My favorite verse is Micah 6:8.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  I love it for so many reasons and God has led me in the direction of finding justice and mercy for those around me.  It is my life’s mission. Humility however, can be a hell of a thing to get a handle on.  Especially when your daughter is on a vent and you are busy screaming I COULD HAVE WRITTEN A BETTER STORY!

As I struggled, God placed that scripture on my heart.  But I didn’t know it was from him, since I have that verse hanging on my wall and it’s my next tattoo.  Yet I was only focusing on the mercy and justice part.  Jon and I’s New Year’s Resolution was to get our foster care license.  Come on God, I was thinking.  Why would you take us away from doing something so good?  Mercy and Justice.  Way easier than humility.

My thoughts moved to the idea of walking humbly with God and I realized that claiming to be a better story teller was a far cry from humility.  It’s arrogance.  And selfishness.  And such a lie.

I was sitting in a moment of the greatest story ever written – the story of humanity – and I hated it.  But here’s the thing.  I’m not the main character in the story.  God is.  And that’s actually what I’ve always loved about his story – he weaves a tapestry full of color and uniqueness that is all about love and allows me to be a part of it.

This revelation did not bring me great joy to be sitting through such a horrible thing.  I am still greatly disappointed and hurt by God allowing this situation.  But it did give me back my hope.

I have hope because the greatest story teller ever is doing something huge and original and magical with my crappy chapter.  That is beautiful.  Overwhelming.  Why he would include me, or any of us, is beyond my understanding.  But He does.  He wants to.  I will never understand the full impact that today, this moment, or my life has on the story of humanity until Jesus can tell me that himself.  Somehow that doesn’t really matter.  Because after reading God’s story of love and knowing that a love story is the ONLY story he would ever write, I can have hope that today will matter in the long run.  Today will bring about mercy and justice to someone, somewhere.  Today matters in the story of humanity.

Life Lessons from my Introverts

For those of you who know me, it will come as no surprise that I’m an extrovert.  People fill me up.  I love a crowd, a good party, talking to the stranger while waiting in line at Target, friends…..so many friends.  I have often thought about how there are just so many people who are worthy to know and spend time with – if only I had endless hours for personal one on one time.  Five kids are not overwhelming – they are life-giving to an extrovert.  Just last week I had been at home for 4 hours in silence.  I called my mom.  No answer.  Phoned my sister.  Same story.  Called my husband – whom I never call at work because, well, he’s NOT an extrovert – and told him that I had been in silence for just too long and he was going to have to give me 10 minutes of good conversation.  Within two minutes, mom rang on the other line and I clicked over immediately, because let’s be honest, sometimes one extrovert just really needs to talk to another.

Jon and I are a perfect team.  He can drag me to a cottage in Michigan for a week where I remember to soak up the silence.  Then he can bring me to all of his social work functions where I gladly work the room and introduce him to all of my new-found friends.

Here is where I run into a road block.  Two of my children are introverts.  I will repeat that one more time so you can understand my dramatic need for emphasis.  TWO of my children are INTROVERTS.

Fourteen years later I’m still wondering how this happened (obviously I blame Jon).  And fourteen years later I’m still trying to navigate the parenting of introverts.  It does not come natural to me.  But I would love to share with you what I’ve learned.

1.  It’s ok to be shy.

Emily is my first-born and when she was preschool age and wouldn’t talk to someone, I’d do the usual “Say Hi!”  Then I would feel stressed when she wouldn’t.  So stupid.  Or else I would pull this parenting classic out “She’s just really shy.” spoken with the undertones of shame.  Utter foolishness.  All children have the right to talk when they want to talk, and be quiet when they want as well.  There does become an age when I expect my kids to make eye contact and shake the hand of an adult I’m introducing them to.  But not when they’re three.

And now when we are at church or a gathering and I’m talking to everyone around while she’s three steps behind me hiding and attempting to just wait it out while this painful moment (for her) passes, I don’t try to bring her in on the conversation.  It’s just frustrating for both of us.  She joins in when she wants.  She’s ok with who she is, so I’m thinking I should be too.

2.  Some people actually feel stressed prior to a social event.

This one blows me away.  If you are reading this, have never met me, and might just be having a super fantastic party this weekend, invite me.  If I’m free, I’ll come.  And I will feel no stress.

However, I have learned that others do not enjoy such events.  My two little introverts actually have cried before a party.  In kindergarten Faye had been invited to a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese.  This was all the talk for the entire week before.  She was pumped.  The day of, we jumped in the car and two blocks before we got there, the booster seat behind me breaks out into tears.  I have no idea what is happening.  I’m ready to chat it up with the moms at said birthday event- I’m feeling like this actually might have even been a secret parent party – when the invitee is sobbing.  I pulled over.

“Why are you crying honey?”

“I don’t know!  I think I’m just nervous.  I need a minute.”

So we sat.  For a minute, maybe more.  Finally she pulled it all together and we went to Chuck’s.  The party was great.  But sometimes I need to just take a step back and think about all the things that cause me stress and what that feels like.  Then I need to acknowledge my little introvert’s stress and help them to understand it and deal with it as best possible.

3.  What I do feel stressed about isn’t real.

Two nights ago Faye and I were talking about her birthday and what she wanted to do for it as we got ready for bed.  We got to talking about friends and she said “Everyone is nice at school, but really only Kayla has conversations with me.  She waits for me too.  We’re good friends.”

What?  You have one good friend I pondered while lying in bed.  Guess which word I focused on?  Yep, the word one.  That night I hyper freaked out until all I could think was God, please rain Xanax down from heaven just like manna so I can sleep.

What Faye said was, “Lots of people like me and I have one GOOD friend.”  What I heard was “I only have ONE friend.”

Watching my children lead a non-extroverted life can cause me a great deal of stress.  Because that would make ME unhappy.  I need people to fill me up.  Both of my girls are so peopled out by the end of school they head straight to their rooms to be alone.  Sometimes for hours.  I stand in the kitchen and worry they are lonely.  Nope, just introverts.

The beautiful thing about parenting is that although we  tend to think of ourselves as our children’s teacher, they too are educators.  There is so much to be learned by the raising of another human being.  I actually like to be alone sometimes now.  It’s refreshing.  I can even do it without speaking my thoughts aloud all day.  That was learned, not innate.  Instead of raising kids to become whom I want them to be, I’m trying to let them teach me a little bit about who they actually are so that I can become someone new.

 

 

How to Find the Quintessential Moments in Life

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So here it is.  The greatest advice on how to find the quintessential moments in life:  Stop Looking.

They can not be created.

I used to think they could.  I planned epic holidays and perfect vacations.  I will never forget the first time we took Emily to Disney World.  She walked around the center fountain and stopped in her tracks.  “It’s right there, mom!  Cinderella’s castle!”  It was outstanding.  I cried.  It was a rare quintessential moment – for me.  She doesn’t even remember it.

About a year ago, Emily turned to Mesfin and asked “Have you ever been to Disney with us?” She couldn’t remember if our trips predated his adoption or not. I think it’s safe to say that if her memories don’t contain a clear focus of her brother, I’m probably not at the epicenter of her memories either.  She recalls rides, princesses, and food, but at any given Disney moment, I was not giving her the lifetime experiences that she needs to remember to live a full life.

Right now we have a foster kid staying with us.  Big D.  He’s 8 years old.  He doesn’t know how to roll dice people.  Or add 4 + 2.  Or pee into my toilet.  Or how to ride an escalator.  These are the things he would know, if there was someone to invest in the every day little tiny things of life.  When Big D arrived he started to wet the bed again.  Big D has no sense of security.  A trip to Disney will never solve that.

Every year at Christmas Will gets a little panicked because we only give them each 3 gifts and he’s concerned his particular needs won’t be met. (He is somewhat high maintenance) I simply respond with “Have you ever been disappointed at Christmas?” I don’t list all the stuff he has, or what we got him last year. I ask him to recall a feeling, a sense of security that we have been able to give him. I do this a lot with my kids. When Emily gets mad and says something like “You never listen to me!” I will later revisit that just to reminder her of what the truth is – I do listen, often.  I don’t tell my children everything that I do for them.  I remind my children of how their life feels.  We are there for them, and they know it.

When I was younger I had grandparents and then I had the other grandparents.  You know, the ones that lived far away and only came to visit once or twice a year.  My kids don’t have a set of “other” grandparents, even though my parents live 4 hours away.  That’s because they show up.  It may only be a weekend or they may come along on vacation with us.  It doesn’t matter the event, just that they do show up AND THEN they roll dice, go up and down escalators, read books, and just plain do life with us.

Those are really the quintessential moments.  The things that take no effort.  All 5 of my parents kids are showing up Nov. 1st for an Iowa football game.  It happened organically, with little planning.  They are beyond excited that everyone is together for the first time in years.  Maybe they’ll take a family picture.  At Christmas they might just have 3 of us.  They are beyond excited that 3 are willing to show up.  Because that’s what parents do.  Instead of waiting for the moment that is perfect for them, they open the door and say “Come as you are.  Bring your baggage,  your issues, your ten thousand children and even your stupid dogs.  I will accommodate you.  Because I want to do life with you.”  They don’t keep track of how many years it’s been since everyone was together or who called first on their anniversary.  (which is good because I don’t remember to call at all on anniversaries)

As a parent, you cannot wait for the perfect moment.  “Oh honey, won’t it be great in 2018 when we take all the kids on a cruise?”  Because that just might not happen.  Instead, tonight while doing 4 hours of homework, I’m going to take a picture.  Then when we sit down to dinner, I’m going to videotape that event, fights and all.  I will save these mementoes so that the next time I’m looking for a quintessential moment, I can remind myself exactly what a quintessential moment really looks like.