Monday, September 22, 2014

Stress in a NEW place! or Vacation With Kids

This summer was intense. Maybe that term is buzzwordy, but it's pretty polite yet strong. I could also say this summer was the 7th circle of hell, but that would be overstating it, and besides, I don't know my hell theology well enough to define the 7th circle literally, if I were pressed. I could answer metaphorically, for example:
You: What is the 7th circle of hell?
Me: Oh, that would be This Summer.

It was intense. Somewhere along the way here I have lost some of my supermom powers. I have grown weak and no longer want to take my children out of the house as a unit, because they are stronger than me now. Not physically- I could still take every one of them down if necessary- but in a metaphorical mom-is-so-tired-of-hearing-you-fight sense. In my defense, one of them is HIGH maintenance. Or four. But especially R2. He takes school breaks VERY personally, and tends to throw fits all summer long as a protest and petition to be put back on the school bus right NOW. And the Man of God was gone all summer doing teen camps, which is a real job with budgets and meetings and stress and details, but also bouncy houses and hot dogs and hijinks. Not that I'm bitter.

All that to say we needed a vacation. Lucky for us, we booked one last February for September. So we hit the road with the Clarklings and did some ministry and then launched into vacation-with-kids mode, which means exactly the same as normal life, except much more expensive and complicated and not in your house. Pretty sure they had the best week of their life, while we carried luggage and power-washed sand off them and broke up fights and dragged their kicking, screaming bodies out of the ocean at the end of the day. The MOG and I gradually developed wisdom about beach umbrellas and spray sunscreen (even though the internet said I would KILL them with spray sunscreen). We never figured out how to not get sand every dadgum where.

Now, lemme splain about Gulf Coast beaches. If you aren't from here, you don't want to come here, unless maybe you're from the Midwest and you've never been to a normal beach. We welcome you, Nebraskans. But the rest of you, we don't need you standing around looking superior, because this is our beach. Gulf Coast beaches don't have white sand, our sand is tan. Also our sand is not super-powdery, it is more liquid-cement like. It collects on your feet, and up your legs and into all your areas, and it solidifies and it stays with you forever, just like Jesus. It's a free souvenir for you to keep in your car and your hotel room and your shorts forever.

Also we have seaweed, unlimited amounts of seaweed, so quit being a snob about our beach and get jealous.

One of the beach days, we stumbled back to the van with our random sunburned patches aching, screaming kids in tow and the Man said, "I'm just figuring it out- these vacations are for them." Exactly, The kids had a vacation, and they will probably remember it the way I Instagrammed it, the moments of eye contact and hand-holding, the dinners out with us, and our attention, after a summer of surviving. I hope they'll remember it the way I remember my childhood, with the joy and the closeness- an awareness that things are not perfect, but things are good, together.

It was time for the grownup vacation. You're not gonna believe this, but we needed it.

To be continued...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Osteens, Jesus and the log in your eye

"You should have a reality show!" people tell me all the time. "Your family is so funny!" Every time, I think, "I am SO glad I don't have a reality show." I control the way we are presented, for the most part. I tell you the funny stories, the redemptive moments. I don't tell you how heavy it is to have a teenager with severe special needs, not really. I don't share the ugly moments, the bad advice I've given, so many selfish choices I make... I don't tell you when I really, really blow it. I am so thankful for the grace and forgiveness of God, because if I had a camera in my face, NO one would offer me that kind of grace. I suspect it's the same for you.

I watch these Christian "scandals" unfold, somebody says something stupid or they question the Bible in some way; right now the dogpile is on Victoria Osteen, weeks ago it was Michael Gungor. We, the hands and feet, the human arms of Jesus Christ, cannot wait to attack our fellow Christians. We grab onto a headline, an out-of-context quote (or in-context), a weak moment, and we rip our brothers apart. I cannot imagine the broken heart of the Father in these moments. Do we have a responsibility as Christians to hold each other accountable? Maybe we do. But I bet you when Jesus had to turn around to his beloved friend Peter and say, "Get behind me, Satan," I bet it hurt Him tremendously. I imagine Him saying it through His own tears, His own longing for Peter to be aligned with His heart, back in the safety of that place. I guarantee Jesus didn't feel proud of Himself for taking Peter down a notch.

The anonymity of the internet makes us all bullies. We can write an open letter, a scathing blog, and our friends will cheer for us and against our brothers, while the subject of our vitriol will probably never see our stunning, brilliant rebuke. What are you doing with your life? What is your time going to? Because there are some men and women of God out there, doing the work, asking the hard questions, making mistakes, sure- but making them in the pursuit of truth and the propagation of the Gospel- to glorify Jesus. We are ONE, guys. We're the SAME BODY, serving the SAME CHRIST. Our face to the world is a civil war, often an uncivil one. If I were an unbeliever, I guarantee I would have no interest in a faith that cackled with glee when one of their own stumbled.

What would it look like if we lost the anger and the fear and the bitterness? What if we blessed each other, prayed for each other? We need each other, we need all the facets that all the different voices and expressions bring.

 Let's not be so eager to wound and destroy each other.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Social media: Stepping out of the screen

Social media is a mixed bag. I recognize its hold on my thought patterns, my addiction to constantly being connected- at the same time it is such a valuable tool and connector. I'll write more about the 2 weeks we just spent in Texas and in the Caribbean, but I'll start with my early-morning-should-be-packing thoughts about social media, or more specifically, Facebook.

I'm crazy thankful for the connection. The MOG and I grew up in basically the same county, maybe even the same zip code, for our entire lives. 7 years ago we made the move across the country, to a new state and a drastically different way of life. In time, we've made friends and built a life in our new home- we had to bloom where we were planted because life never comes with a calendar, and the new thing could be the forever thing, so there's no point kicking and screaming for the "old normal", there is only learning to thrive in the "new normal". 

This trip "home", (to Texas), we happily stumbled into multiple situations where we were able to reconnect face-to-face with family and friends that we haven't seen in some time, for some, 10 years or so. The amazing thing was feeling like I was stepping into today, not trying to catch up on 10 years or 8 months or however long it had been. I've seen their struggles for sobriety, or their children being born. I've seen them fall in love and I've seen them meet Jesus on their own turf. I've watched family grow, caught glimpses of their new houses and their temporary pets and their laundry in the background. 

"It's the highlight reel," people say. "The food probably got cold while that picture was being taken," people say. "It's a glossy misrepresentation", people say. I watched, during this time and during the cruise, and I learned, it's not a lie. It's a snapshot, and nobody wants to memorialize the snot and the sweat and the fighting. We all have that and it is part of our shared humanity. I'm realizing that even if all I have is the highlight reel of a friend's life, it is a connection to what they love and who they long to be, and we share that. 

I'm thankful. The open window is a gift, an invitation to live our lives together, across the miles and the words we can't figure out how to say and our deepest fears about ourself. Bring on the selfies, I say, because I love to see how your face looks today. Take pictures of your food, my good friend, because I can't be there to share this meal with you. Post too many pictures of your baby, because babies grow up and you will never regret too many pictures. Let's live together, friends.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

building a man

It was the first Vacation Bible School of the summer, and their hopes were high. I signed them in while they chatted up the octogenarians, cutting to the chase on family secrets and video game cheats. They had been here before, so they could talk with casual confidence about the layout of the building and reminisce about last year. We hit a glitch when Toby's name tag wasn't pre-made. Brynn had hers, and being a deeply loyal and concerned sister, she bolted for the sanctuary and her group of first-grade best friends she had never met. 

Toby, bereft of his second half, suddenly got very nervous. 

"I don't wanna go," he whispered to me. "I don't want to go here, I want to go home." 
"Let's just go check it out," I answer, leading him reluctantly into the sanctuary.

We sit, side by side in the pew, watching the kids mill around and volunteers scrambling with last-minute details. I remind him how much fun he had last year, how he made friends and sang in the choir. 

"I just want to be with you," he answers, slipping his long-not-baby-fingers into my hand and rendering my heart to a quivering mass of love. Every one of my kids has the ability to bring me to my metaphorical knees, and this boy has a death grip on my heart. I prayed for him, begged for him, worked harder than I have ever worked to keep him alive. Everything in me ached to grip his little hand and just go, go back home and hold him forever. 

photo by Shelley Paulson
Something else in me, though, continually reminds me that these children, flesh of my heart, are not just extensions of me, just the rewards and the joys I have been given. They are people, small people-in-training, learning how to live and breathe and serve others, how to walk independently. Every time I drive away from them, my body aches like I'm missing a part of myself. Every time I pick them back up, they are new, braver, sweeter, still mine but increasingly their own. 

"I want you to stay," I lie. "I want you to go up to your group and make a friend and spend the day. If you hate it, you don't have to come back. But you have to try." He looks at me, with the same baby eyes that brought me to tears of thankfulness in those first months. I look back, transmitting confidence and strength, pushing back any desperate hope to keep him small and mine forever. That panic, that wish is for later, when I am alone in my van. Today, I am making one tiny stride to building a man. "Go," I say, "go! You're going to love it." 

And he did, and he went back and made friends, and then he came home and climbed in my chair, arms and legs and elbows and energy enveloping me in a painful, boisterous boy-hug. I take the hit, I will always take the hit, because he is my baby and I am his mama. Always. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

going postal

"I'll sell some stuff on Ebay," I think. "I'll sell some stuff and I'll just order a pickup from a postal worker and it's like RAINING MONEY." "Maybe I'm an optimist," I think.

Fast forward through 7 days of cackling "Dance, my minions, dance," as the bids came in. Now push play, hurry, you're too far if you're already at the part where I am crying at the post office, rewind STOP. I realize I can't do my normal digital postal approach because I have to have USPS boxes or something and I think, "I'll just take the kids to the post office. How bad could it be?"

Photo by Shelley Paulson
Listen, new moms and drunk moms and moms who forget a lot of things, it can be so bad. Don't take your kids places. Stay in your house. Anyway, I was all excited because I bought this rolling shopping bag thing and I was excited to use it and all of the children were excited as well, so they started punching each other and pulling the straps off the bag and also just deliberately crushing orange crackers in the rug, because that is an always thing. I took possession of the bag and made some threats and we were off. It took 8 minutes to get to the post office, during which time I answered 14,000 questions about the postal service, stamps, Ebay and the government and a couple of curve balls about Minecraft.

"Listen," I tell my offspring, "It might be crowded in here and we might have to stand in line so just stay with me and don't crash into people, look where you're going and don't climb on things and try to respect people's space and don't touch anything and don't pee in your pants and don't be loud."

I once read a study or maybe just a headline of a study or maybe it was on a sitcom, who knows, the point is that young children have a tendency to hear selectively and tend to filter out negatives, so instead of saying, "Cain, don't hit your brother in the head with a rock," you should say, "Cain, do you think you could throw that rock in the river? You're so strong, I bet with teamwork you and Abel could throw some rocks real far and then we'll have ice cream!" 

And that study might be on to something, because they did.all.the.things. While they were crashing into people and fighting and trying to get inside priority mail boxes and climbing into hazardous waste containers, I was trying to figure out which box I needed, and how the what you're supposed to do, and the line was in front of us and behind us, all just grown people who know how to ship things and not bring hellions into the post office. By the time we were second in line, my Michelle Duggar vibe was wearing off and I was handing out some pretty intense eye threats and also sweating a LOT. The lady behind me asked kindly, "Is your husband deployed?" In retrospect, I should have lied. "Yes," I should have said. "He's deployed, and boy are these kids wild. Army life, am I right?" But I didn't, I just told the truth and sweated a lot more.

We got to the counter just as Tristan almost successfully broke into the glass Breast Cancer Awareness display case. "Uh, you need to go over there and do blah blah blah," said the clerk, who had no pity for fools acting like this was the UPS store where they tape your boxes for you and smile and tell a poor fake Army wife what to do. I gave 10 seconds thought to making a run for it, but the fear of getting bad feedback on Ebay made me stay the course.

Out we went into the lobby, where I taped boxes and ignored small people committing federal offenses while Toby, in repeated attempts to be helpful, said things like "Man, this must be stressful," and "You're so sweaty..." and "So, Rhode Island is an island, huh? Interesting."

Finally I had it all packed and taped and made some pretty direct statements to my constituents about what would never happen again while we were in our second round of line waiting. Again, they did not listen. Or more specifically, the smaller ones did not listen. Toby tried some generic pep-talking and R2 just obsessively pointed at the Spiderman postage posters while the other two tried out their audition tape for Supernanny.

"Okay," says the lady, "This box costs about $1000 to ship because of blah blah blah" and I just handed her my card like, "Girl, please."

On the way out Toby offered to carry the cart and ended up bludgeoning me in the forehead pretty solidly. I stumbled to the car, sweaty bangs sticking to my bruised and possibly bleeding head, while Brynn excitedly requested either ice cream or toys as our next stop, on account of their good behavior. I would have laughed but it was too painful.

Friday, July 4, 2014

4th of Ju-ly

I love this nation so much. I'm not blind to our flaws. In fact, I participate heartily in many of her flaws, like, for example CORN DOGS. And also in her triumphs like CORN DOGS and DEMOCRACY because this is the greatest country in the world. Happy Birthday Merica.

Monday, June 16, 2014

stomach bug: how the mommy are fallen

I wake up nauseated. This is not morning sickness, I tell myself, because all of my friends have been puking, and not just the pregnant ones... so many pregnant friends. I think harder. No, this is not morning sickness, or food poisoning, or anything except the stomach bug that is going around and it has got me. Conveniently, this happens on the first day that the MOG is completely out of pocket due to teen camp duties.

Observation: I have been known to question the usefulness of men, but I cannot deny that stuff happens as soon as they are unavailable. It is SCIENCE. If the basement is going to flood, multiple children are going to vomit, a sniper takes out your back tire on the freeway, etc, these things will happen as soon as the male in your life is totally unavailable. They will happen as his plane leaves the ground or his phone battery dies. Feminism meets her match in those moments.

I make a goal. "I will not puke", I say. "I will do everything in my power to not puke." as God in heaven laughs. My children, who have been awake for hours, catch wind that I am ill. "Maaaaaaawwwwwwmmmmm," they scream, "can we eat cookies for breakfast?" I nod weakly, because no one is listening anyway. Tristan comes up with his cookie for a little snuggle time. "I'm sick," I groan, "I can't cuddle you, I'm sick." He takes it in stride and does jumping jacks on the bed, crumbs flying as I clutch my stomach and beg God for the sharp knife of a short life.

At one point, I make a mad dash for the bathroom, closing and locking the door as Tristan bangs on the door and howls at the heavens. I kneel on the floor and am suddenly made horribly aware of the state of my bathroom. "This is the grossest bathroom in the world," I think. "This is worse than that Quik-E Mart in El Paso. When I get better I am going to clean this bathroom." Time passes as I camp in this location. I give passing thought to taking a pity-selfie but decide against it, which is why this post will have no pictures. #regrets

I do notice, as I scroll through Instagram while laying on the floor, that my husband is making a rap video for teen camp. Because I am selfless and very near the end of my days, I forgive him.

Eventually, I hobble downstairs, because I am the only grownup and the government requires that children be fed. I make lunch for them and feebly request that no one eat it in the sunroom, or the living room, or anywhere. As I stop by the bathroom before attempting the stairs, I am sure I can hear the sound of macaroni bouncing on the tile floor of the sunroom. I carry on.

"When Cameron was in Egypt's land," I sing to myself from my deathbed, and then watch an excessive amount of television, which is all gross. Toby stops by, wise to his power. "Mom," he says from the doorway, "can we play Vampire Bikini Bordello Party?" or something like that. I raise my hand faintly in protest. "Thanks, mom!" he cries, running away.

The MOG stops by with crackers and Sprite. It has been hours, so I nibble cautiously. Various children stop by the sickroom. "WHAT?" they say, shocked, "Why didn't I get any crackers?" I let them take one, two, many crackers, which I know they will eat on the stairs, crumbs stretching like a Hansel and Gretel path for all of the ants, who will eventually find their way to my room.

The MOG comes home as the children are being desperately entreated to please, for the love, to go to bed. He takes over, using a Dad Voice, and they scatter and I go back upstairs to collapse in my cracker nest. The day is over, the stomach bug mostly conquered and life goes on. Next up: cleaning the bathroom. Tomorrow.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday Blog Tour: I'm with the band

I've never participated in a blog roundup before, but it sounds fairly Texan so I guess maybe I should. Last week Jolie from The Gray Matters invited me to be a part of a Monday Blog Tour, and I accepted. As far as I know, this is Monday, although it is summer and all of the days are a blur of all the things that all the other days are a blur of. I would be more specific, but I don't know what I do all day.

What are you working on? 
Currently I'm working on a lukewarm cup of chai tea and a Seinfeld marathon. Also I am doing a few part time jobs online, and in my spare time I parent. In my dreams, I'm writing a book, although it's just a skeleton of ideas, desperate hopes, lame jokes and duct tape. 

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Well, for one thing I would have a difficulty placing myself in a genre. I mean, I guess I'm a mommyblogger, a faith based mommyblogger, but when I hear genre I just think "Well, I'm definitely not Euro-pop-dance-metal."

One difference, I think, is my need to celebrate, not mediocrity, per se, but normalcy. I love telling the stories of the field trip fails, the cake fails, the stumbling drunken-monkey attempts at parenting. I wouldn't say I have an aversion to excellence, it's just I really want to avoid the glossy Instagram-filtered dreamscape that is prevalent. We're all doing slightly less than our best, and we need grace. There's joy in the imperfect, there's success in the failed attempts.

Why do I write what I do? 
I started blogging because I was on bedrest with a difficult pregnancy and I didn't want to talk on the phone. I mean, I never want to talk on the phone, ever. But specifically when the pastor or a great-aunt needed the deets about my cervix, the appeal of typing words to the world in general got super... appealing. 

Over the years, I have realized I write to make sense of life, or to make fun of life. When I write the story of the chaos and the crisis and I find a way to make you laugh at that, I end up laughing too. And then when it hits the fan over at your place, maybe you can think, "She lived through this, I can live through this." I want to make life relatable, the life and the world we all share. I rarely experience something that I don't think, "other people know how this feels, a lot of people". I have learned we are vastly different but so much the same. 

How does my writing process work? 
Somebody figure this out and get back to me. As far as I can tell, I just live my life, funny things happen, and I let my kids play video games and eat peanut butter off the floor so I can write it down. I have stronger than a sneaking suspicion that the process should involve effort and discipline, but that's maybe why there's no book yet. 

Who's next?
This is where this experiment starts feeling a little like a multi-level marketing deal where I hit up my pals for a great opportunity, but, shoot. I'd like to draw your attention to my online pal Katey over at Sweet Goings, who I have never met in real life but feel super bonded to through crisis pregnancies and genius children, and my new friend Sara at Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, because she is a poet-about-real-life and a visionary who I like so much, and also because she complimented me last night at a wedding, or at least I think she did, but the music was pretty loud. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Evan and Rees, ten years

My twins' birthday is today. They would be 10, and I miss them with an ache that has almost faded beyond pain. I miss them like I am missing a part of myself, and the wound has healed, but there is a wound, and a lack. I see them in the awkward lankiness of R2, in the blonde hair and quirky mannerisms of Toby... I see them in 10 year olds that ride past my house on their bicycles.

I'm thankful for the glimpses, thankful that they have not slipped into a not-really-there place for me. They are real, they are alive somewhere, and they are irrevocably mine. I am thankful. 

I wrote this for them last year: 

How many? they ask
and I hold you in my mind
like a dream, like a secret prize
In the shadows of my heart
you age
through a veil, through a glass
you are alive
my daydreams keep time
losing teeth, climbing trees, sweaty sleeping blonde heads
always with me
in the shadows of my heart
And I am so rich
with my arms overflowing
laughter all around me
laughter in me
but always 
the laughter beyond me

R2 is fifteen

This week we celebrated Richy's 15th birthday. Last year his celebration was joyous and beautiful, but almost in a whiplash-we-just-dodged-a-bullet-and-here's-a-party way. This year he was actively involved in the party planning. I had planned on having cake and pizza at home, until he specifically verbalized that his party was going to be at Chuck E Cheese. Oh, Chuck E Cheese, you overstimulating wonder. Still, the boy gets what he wants.

(if you're new here, R2 was born at 24 weeks, and last year he almost died but he DIDN'T <catch up links :D )

I have a FIFTEEN year old. I think that might make me super old. I met R1 when I was 15. Weird.

I made a Monsters, Inc. cake... well, I made a cake that was vaguely reminiscent of Sulley's fur. R2 can't see very well anyway, so I think he was very impressed. He ate 3 slices, so you tell me. The staff at CEC was super accommodating, maybe because we were there at a pretty chill time of day, or maybe because R2 was in such a celebratory mood. He stalked Chuck E around the restaurant and finally got his picture taken.

It was a joyful, busy, noisy birthday. I feel like the fog of his illness has lifted to the point that we can really enjoy him and his quirks. A friend texted me after the party to ask how it went and I called it "a perfect day". I meant it. If we have 5 years or 50 with Richy, this memory will stand as a day that he was truly happy and enjoyed.

Happy Birthday to my first baby!


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