Finding My Mission

Lent is almost over.

I mentioned before that one of my Lenten penances was to not spend money. I’ve experienced an unintended benefit of this in that, instead of going to Target on Wednesdays when I have a babysitter for a couple of hours, I go to Adoration. It’s been wonderful.

IMG_4330

This Lent I’ve also been listening to lots of lectures, in person and recorded, and reading and journaling a lot. One common theme I’ve been hearing/reading during Lent this year is, “Don’t miss out on what God is calling you to do!” and “What is God’s mission for you? Are you embracing it?” and “What is it that God wants you to do that you are resistant to?

This has all made me feel just a bit self-conscious, as though there’s some grander plan that God has for me and I’m somehow not grasping it. I’ve been wondering what it is.

I’ve always felt like I’m embracing my mission pretty well, actually. I have been pretty sure that my mission, my vocation, is to be a wife and mother and a teacher to my children. Sometimes I’m not very good at it. I yell at my kids, and I slack off on homeschooling stuff, and my house is a disaster. But I’ve still been pretty certain that this is my thing. That I’m doing just what God wants me to do.

BUT, during this Lent, I have repeatedly I felt like maybe I’m missing something. Every time I hear a priest or other speaker talk about making sure that we say “yes” to what God is calling us to do. . . I feel a bit of panic, like I’m not hearing or not heeding my call. I search my brain to try to figure out what I’m missing. “Am I following God’s plan? Am I obeying Him? Am I blocking out His call??? What if I’m missing the whole point of what He wants me to do?”

I’ve been praying a lot for God to help me know what He wants from me. Yesterday was the completion of my 33 Days to Morning Glory Marian consecration, and I’ve been asking Mary to pray for me to “get it” too. I’ve been praying to be a better wife and a better mother. I’ve resolved to not yell at my girls. I really want to do a better job of juggling homeschooling and housekeeping and preparing our house to sell (and I’m failing miserably at this, but that could probably be another whole blog post).

I’ve been praying and praying all this stuff, and though Lent has been nice, and centering, and productive in certain ways for me, it has seemed like I’ve still been waiting on. . . something.

Let’s circle back around to the first part of this post, where I mentioned that I have been going to Adoration every Wednesday. Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Annunciation and the day I completed my Marian consecration. I went to Mass in the morning. I went to Adoration in the afternoon. As I drove there I prayed the joyful mysteries of the Rosary. I thought about Mary’s “Yes” to God.

When I got there, I got down on the kneeler and began to pray as usual, and then I tried to just listen.

I got my answer – the answer to all of my prayers of “What and I missing? What do You want me to do?” In the stillness of my heart I felt/heard one word.

Joy.

That might seem very anticlimactic, but I swear in that moment, a smile lit up my face and I felt like I had been given the answer to everything.

I try really hard to be a good wife and mom. I focus on getting things done and the results of my labors.

“Do my kids have good manners?”

“Are they eating good food?”

“Do they know their letters and numbers?”

“Did I get my husband’s laundry done?”

Check. Check. Check. And so on.

This is what I do. But I have been missing a huge part of my job, and that is they joy in it. I get so caught up in all the things I need to get done, that I forget to have fun with my kids. When they complain about a school lesson, I put my head down and focus on getting it done instead of trying to find a way to make it fun. I often clean dishes and fold laundry instead of playing with my kids. When they whine or misbehave in small ways, I bring the hammer down instead of calmly correcting or redirecting. Not always, but these examples are more the rule than the exception.

Yesterday I got it. God doesn’t just want me to be a good mom. He doesn’t need me to be a perfect mom. He wants me to be a joyful mom.

Smith Vows-217

As I knelt there in Adoration, my mind was filled with so many ways I can make my mothering more joyful, in chores, and homeschooling, and even (especially?) discipline of my girls. Most of this was stuff I’ve thought of in passing before, but it suddenly seemed so clear and so obvious and so necessary.

For weeks, I have wondered about what God wants me to do. All of these big, crazy ideas have crossed my mind. “Does He want me to write a book? Look into adoption? Start something at our parish?” None of these seemed quite right, and in fact when I prayed specifically about some of them, I got a definitive answer of “No.”

Yesterday, I didn’t ask God specifically, “Do you want me to have more fun?” I just listened, and He told me.

Be joyful.

The Kindergarten Birthday Party Dilemma

Miss’s sixth birthday is in about two weeks. I’ve been thinking about what to do for her party for weeks. Okay, months.

There are so many different philosophies out there about how to handle kids’ birthdays and birthday parties. They range from family-only small gatherings with no presents to all-out huge bashes with party planners and dozens of guests (and gifts).

Of course, there’s not just one right way to do it. We’ve never really set a firm birthday policy in our house, but mostly just determined, with each birthday, what seems like the best thing to do. When Miss was little, since we always have a trip to Iowa planned on or around her birthday, we’d just do the family-only party, and she was always thrilled with that. In fact, last year, for her fifth birthday, was the first time we’d ever done anything beyond the family birthday party for her by having a gathering at our house. She had a Brave-themed drive-in movie party, and it was really fun.

I’ve discovered that I like putting together birthday parties for my girls. I enjoy getting into the theme and decorations when we have parties at our home. I like combing Pinterest for ideas and coming up with creative things myself. I know it’s not necessary for them, but I have fun doing it.

DSC_0606

As for the guests? For previous birthdays, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt the need to invite many other people to our parties. Until this year, our girls didn’t go to school, so there was never a question of inviting lots of kids. Except when we have parties in Iowa and invite all of my husband’s family, we never have more than two other families come to a birthday at our home. For Lass’s zoo party, only the Super Family could make it, and that was just fine.

IMG_3567

Since my girls didn’t attend school, I’ve never had to think too much about whom to invite, and my girls have never felt that their parties were anything but wonderful with the few close friends we included.

But now, with Miss having part-time-away-from-home kindergarten this year, things have changed. She has been invited to the birthday parties of at least five of her classmates so far. For all but one of them, all of the little girls in her class were invited (and one even had all the boys too!). I have mixed feelings about having a huge party, so I’ve spent far to much time debating what we should do for her birthday this year.

Do we invite all the girls in her class? This seems a nice way to go so that no one feels left out, but that’s a lot of kids. She has 11 other girls in her class, plus we will always of course invite the Super Family, along with the sisters of one of the little girls in her class whose family we are friends with. And she also wants to invite the little girl who lives across the street. Lots of kids = lots of presents, which I feel kind of weird about.

OR

Do we keep it small and only invite a few friends? If we did this, there would be a few more people invited than we’ve done in the past, because she does have some new friends from school, but it would still be considerably smaller than if we invited all the girls in her class.

I went back and forth about this in my mind for quite some time. Initially, I thought we’d just invite a few close friends. Then I thought it was important to teach her to be kind to all the other kids and invite them all. Then I thought it’s unrealistic to tell her she needs to invite all the girls if she doesn’t want to, since she’s not going to be close friends with all of them, and she might not have much in common with some. Then I thought we should really invite all the kids who have invited us to their parties, since it’s rude to not reciprocate. Then my husband pointed out that she shouldn’t feel pressured to invite anyone if it’s only for the reason of reciprocating an invitation. . .

I worried about having a lot of kids because that means a lot of presents. I’m cool with birthday presents, because we pretty much only get our kids new toys on their birthdays and Christmas, and a few things on Easter. But I’m uncomfortable with them getting a lot of presents. If all of the girls in her class came to the party, plus the Super Family and the family across the street, that would mean she’d get about 13 presents, not even including those from her family! Not only do I not want that many more things in my house, that just seems so excessive to me. We went to one party where I watched the little birthday girl open present after present, announcing the contents of the package, and then literally tossing the gift aside to move on to the next one. There were barely any “thank yous,” and none that involved eye contact and sincerity. I was cringing inside the whole time.

So what will we do?

Ultimately, what we decided was to ask Miss what she wanted. I was kind of hoping she’d choose to have her party here at our house, so I could really have some fun with decorations, crafts, and games. But she chose to have it at the gymnastics center where she takes lessons (and she’s attended two other birthday parties in the past month). She wanted to ask all of the kids in her class. I told her she could only invite the girls (I could not handle the idea of that many more presents if all the boys came too). She chose, no surprise, a “Frozen” theme for the party.

For this year, this first year of school experience, I’ve decided I’m okay with the big party. The gifts make me a bit uncomfortable, but I’ll just make sure we have a discussion about the importance of saying “thank you,” making eye contact with the gift-giver, for each present. And of course we’ll have her take the time to write thank-you notes afterwards as well.

I know this isn’t the one “right” way to do a party. But after much (over)analysis of the issue, it feels like the right way for us this time. We’ll probably change things again next year, but for this year, a big birthday party is fine.

I still remember the birthday party I had when I was in kindergarten. It felt like a big deal.

I also remember that after that one party in kindergarten, I didn’t have big parties anymore. I had outings with a few close friends or cousins, or sleep-overs when I got a little older. Maybe that’s how we’ll do things after this year. I’m sure I’ll start thinking about it around October, so I’ll let you know.

Thoughts on Community From an Introvert

I never used to put much thought into it, but I think always used to consider myself an extrovert. I like to be around people. I like to go to parties, and when I was younger I loved the bar scene. Each time I have moved to a new city, I’ve sought new friends, because I don’t like not having friends to hang out with.

As I’ve gotten older though, I have realized that I’m probably more of an introvert in many ways. I cannot do small talk. Truly. It’s painful. I need to sometimes have time by myself. I much prefer to have one good friend to having a large circle of friends.

I’ve always been this way. I’ve never been the “popular girl,” but more like the best friend of the popular girl. As I look back over my life, this has been true at pretty much every stage. In high school and college, I fondly nicknamed one of my best friends “The Social Butterfly.” She was friends with everyone, and if I remember correctly, she was voted “Friendliest” in our graduating class. My other best friend was the homecoming queen and voted “Most Popular” (I’m pretty sure… it was over 20 year ago!). It wasn’t that I wasn’t friendly toward people, but I didn’t have it in me to cultivate friendships with lots of people. I was voted the girl with “Most School Spirit.” I was okay with that. I’m pretty sure it still holds true today, and I’m still okay with it.

IMG_4241^^ Left to right, Homecoming Queen, Social Butterfly, and me ^^

When I moved here and had no friends and no job and was about to have my first baby, I search and searched for a group I could call my own. I joined various mom groups. I went to play dates. I joined the Newcomers Club in my town. I met some nice people and made a few casual friends. But in most play date groups I felt very uncomfortable. I tried MOPS. Awkward. Other than in book clubs (because I can talk about books!!), I never felt comfortable in large groups of people I didn’t know.

It took three years after moving here for me to meet Super Friend, and once I did, I stopped trying to cultivate friendships with other people. I mostly stopped scheduling play dates or coffee dates with other moms. I was perfectly happy to spend my social time primarily with Super Friend (if you knew her, you’d understand). That’s not to say I didn’t have any other friends, I just stopped putting much effort into developing those friendships with others. I’m not really sure why. Because I was lazy? Because I was comfortable (Super Friend!)? Because it doesn’t come easy to me? All of the above, I’m sure.

IMG_3333

^^ Me and my beloved Super Friend ^^

One thing I didn’t realize for the first few years of my friendship with Super Friend was that she had this sort of divided friend-life. There was me, the atheist friend, and then she had this whole other group of friends that she knew through church and her (now our) kids’ school, whom I barely knew. She is so much better at developing and nurturing relationships than me (yes, I’m still the “popular girl’s friend”!), and she had this whole community that I only vaguely knew anything about.

When I began my conversion, Super Friend invited me to attend a Catholic mom’s Bible study (you can read about my first time attending here, whoa). And of course, I started attending Mass weekly and going to RCIA eventually. Over time, my perspective on friends began to change. This change has really begun to crystalize in my mind over the past few months. I’ve realized that, in spite of my natural tendency to hunker down and be happy in my little world with my husband, children, family, and one fabulous friend (and her fabulous family), that is really not enough. I mean, it’s enough for me, but it’s not enough. Wait, what?

I need a community.

DSC_0176

I go to Bible study every other week with nine other moms and we talk about our study and we learn about the Bible. But we also talk about our kids, who all go to, or will go to, school together. We talk about our fears for raising Catholic kids in this world, and how can we protect them from all the stuff they need to be protected from, and teach them all the stuff they need to be taught, so that they will grow up to love Jesus and our Faith. And they will know why.

I realized that these women, these other moms, are the community with whom I will raise my girls. When my kids get bigger and they go to events, even if I’m not there, there’s a good chance one of these moms will be. And they will tell me if  something noteworthy happens or if my kids do something I need to know about. And my girls will know that these moms will tell me what they’re up to. They will know that there is a whole community that cares about what they do and what happens to them, beyond just their parents. And I’ll have spies everywhere…

Just kidding. Sort of.

IMG_4151

Even beyond the Bible study group, I have found other sources of community since beginning my conversion.

RCIA was such a wonderful experience the first time, I’ve returned for another year as a sponsor. Through RCIA I gained the lovely Godmother, who is such a source of support and wealth of knowledge, along with my other friends.

And our parish is a beautiful community too. My natural tendency is to go to Mass, shake hands with and smile at some people during the Sign of the Peace, say “Hi” to the Super Family and other friends who might be there after the service, and then go home. I don’t tend to reach out to others. I don’t speak to strangers. Remember, I don’t do small talk. But the Bible says:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” – Hebrews 10: 24-25

This past Sunday at Mass, not one, not two, but three strangers or near strangers came up and spoke to me. It was uncomfortable and wonderful at the same time. Two were women sitting near us who complimented me on my children and my mothering, and one was a woman I met in May at a Mother’s Day brunch, who came up and re-introduced herself and then proceeded to introduce her husband and children and start talking to my husband and children. I would never do that. But how great that she did.

Bible study, RCIA, Mass… A whole amazing community that I need to try to be more open to. I need to nurture my friendships more beyond my dear Super Friend. I need to reach out to strangers more. I should be the one complimenting a mom with little kids or reconnecting with someone I met a while ago at a parish function. I shouldn’t be averting my eyes and hoping that no one sees me, because I don’t know what to say.

It’s nice when life is happy and comfortable, but growth happens when I push myself beyond comfortable. I really love the little community that I’ve become a part of. I’m excited to watch it, and help it, grow.

What I Learned From a Drawing of Poop

Sometimes I get kind of caught up in the stuff of a day. The endless repetitive tasks that moms do. The routine. You know.

Make breakfast. Clean up breakfast. Get everyone dressed. Make beds. Do school for a while. Serve snack. Clean up snack. Do more school. Clean something. Make lunch. Clean up lunch. Get little girls down for naps. Do more school with big girl. . . And so forth. Every. Day.

I can get caught in the routine and overly focused on getting the job done. Or overly focused on making sure that my girls use their manners or learn XYZ lesson. I want to raise my kids to be thoughtful, generous, kind, grateful, faithful, well-spoken women. There’s a bit of pressure there, so sometimes I just put my head down and plod forward, toward achieving the goal.

But when I do it that way, it’s not always very fun.

“Please chew with your mouth closed.”

“We don’t use potty talk!”

“Please use your strong words if there is something you need.”

Over and over and over.

DSC_0132

Right before snapping the above photo, at the end of our field trip last Friday, I sounded like this while trying to wipe mud off the pumpkins so the girls could hold them to pose for a picture:

“Come here please. Stop dropping the pumpkins. Don’t climb in the wheelbarrow. Don’t touch that stem, I told you it has prickles on it. Get over here please. Okay, hold the pumpkins and look at me. Nevermind, that one’s too heavy. Just sit and face me. Turn this way. No. This way. Please. Just sit by your pumpkin and let me take your picture to show how. much. FUN. we’ve. had!!!”

We really did have a good time. Pony-riding, cow-milking, pig-petting. . .

Mulberry lane collage

Some of my favorite moments:

DSC_0079 DSC_0051 DSC_0124

And then there was the goose-chasing. Oh my goodness. The hilarity.

DSC_0099 DSC_0111 DSC_0093 DSC_0097

Miss wanted to try to sneak, but her sisters don’t have an ounce of stealth between them.

DSC_0085

DSC_0098

DSC_0109 DSC_0112

They screamed. They ran (the poor geese). We all laughed and laughed and laughed.

You know, when I remember to do it, that’s one of my favorite parts about being a mom. The laughing. My kids are really funny sometimes.

Last night was a good example of one of those moments when you just have to let the lesson pass you by, skip the moral of the story, and just laugh your head off with your kids.

Picture it. Last night. Bed time. We were all piled on Miss’s bed for prayers and stories. My husband picked up a “book” Miss had written and we caught a glimpse of the back cover of it, on which she had written, “Poop.”

Miss grabbed the book and slammed it down on the bed. She did not want us to see what it said. Neither my husband nor I were angry or scolding, but he asked her why she had written that randomly on the back of her book (which was not about poop). She stammered uncertainly for a second. Then my husband picked up the book again, and we got a good look at the back, writing, drawing, and all. I’m not one for bathroom humor, but I just lost it.

DSC_0003

Any thought of having a little teaching moment about using potty words gratuitously or whatever went right out the window.

All five of us sat on Miss’s bed and howled with laughter at her word and her drawing. The silliness. The absurdity. The drawing!

Teaching moment missed. Hilarious family bonding moment embraced. I say that’s a win.

And I was the one who learned a lesson.

7QT – Mary’s Birthday, a 20-Year-Old Photo, Soccer Cuteness, and More

This post started out as a “Quick Takes Friday” post last week. Except that I only got two takes done when I started it Friday morning. And then before I knew it, it was waaay past Friday, and the Quick Takes Ship had sailed. So, I changed it around, and it was going to be just a random catch up post. And then I felt like I just had to write yesterday’s post (it had been bouncing around in my brain for months), so the random post didn’t get done either. And now, well it’s Friday again! Woohoo! So a couple of these “Takes” are a bit old. But they’re still riveting, I assure you.

1.

My girls started soccer last week a couple of weeks ago. Holy cuteness.

DSC_0131 DSC_0149

Miss is very into it. Lass is not really decided yet.

DSC_0143 DSC_0146

It’s so fun to watch them and to visit with the other moms on the sideline. Wait. Am I a “soccer mom” now?! I think not yet.

2.

I mentioned that Miss is going to our local Catholic school one and a half days per week. On the way home after her first day, Miss asked if she could make a dessert for our family to eat after dinner. She said wanted to make it with graham crackers, chocolate chips, and an egg. I said “sure.”

We got home and there were no graham crackers, but she was willing to improvise. She ended up using five leftover lady fingers, which we crumbled up, two eggs, a splash of almond milk, the remains of a bag of chocolate chips, and two Tablespoons of water (initially she wanted to use a cup of water, but I convinced her to add it a little at a time).

DSC_0130 DSC_0132 DSC_0134

The end result was quite. . . interesting. It was a bit like a dessert frittata? She was pleased, and her sisters enjoyed it too. Pinterest-worthy for sure.

3.

Tonight is my 20-year high school reunion. Yeah. 20 years. I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to go, but since it’s scheduled on a Friday night and it’s in Michigan and I’m in Wisconsin, it wasn’t possible for me to go even if I had wanted to. But really, 20 years? I can’t possibly be old enough for that.

IMG_3699

Or maybe I can. I look so very young (and ridiculous) in this picture (second from the left is me).

4.

I’m really starting to get into the swing of celebrating feast days and such with my girls. We celebrated the one-year anniversary of their baptisms on Sunday by lighting their baptism candles, renouncing Satan, and zinging them with holy water. And having dessert of course.

Monday was Mary’s birthday, so we had a little birthday party for her. We had ten candles on the cake and did a decade of the rosary, lighting one candle with each Hail Mary. Then we sang Happy Birthday and blew out her candles.

DSC_0008

I’m not eating cake these days, so I just got a baby smash cake with blue and white frosting from the grocery store pre-made case (it was the perfect size for the girls to each have a piece). It worked out perfectly that the blue and white one was the one my girls wanted too. It originally had some plastic sea animals stuck to the top of it, but we took those off, and it went instantly from undersea-baby-cake to Marian-blue-birthday-rosary-cake. Mom win.

5.

I have discovered a major difference between my husband and me: The need for peace and quiet and relaxation when indulging in a treat of some sort. He needs none. I need all.

He comes home from work and cracks open a beer if he cares to have one. He grabs a sweet treat after dinner, either forgetting every.time. that the little-girl audience will descend on him faster than vultures on road kill, or not caring that they do (I still haven’t figured out which it is).

And then there’s me. If my kids are awake and I just must. have. chocolate., I hide in the laundry room to eat it. But the majority of the time, I wait until they are in bed to indulge in any sort of treat food or beverage. I might let them have ice cream after dinner once in a while, but if I have any myself, I wait until after they go to bed. If I’m going to imbibe, I never do it until they are in their rooms for the night. And it’s not because I’m worried that my parental judgement will be impaired. One drink (or even two) would probably only improve my motherly attitude once evening time rolls around.

IMG_3697

I just want to enjoy it. Savor it. In peace. I don’t want to have to share my ice cream or answer, “What is that? Can I try it?” about my wine. I’m even the same way about my coffee. I get up extra early before my kids so I can enjoy my coffee in peace (and finish it while it’s still warm).

Am I alone here?

6.

It’s already cold here. Highs in the 50s. Fall is my favorite season, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it yet. Sunday we went on a hayride with friends and were sweaty and sunburned and dehydrated by the time it was over.

IMG_3695

^^This picture makes it look like our kids were dangling precariously off the edge of a wagon stacked with hay. They weren’t. 

IMG_3692

In the past two days I have had to do an emergency Zappos order of new fleece jackets for my older girls since they now wear the same size and last year’s jackets don’t fit them (though Sis now has lots to choose from). Where did my summer go?

7.

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of this blog. Five years! I looked back at my very first post, and it just made me laugh. I still don’t know much about what the heck I’m doing, but I’ve come a long way from post, after post, after post about almost nothing but cloth diapers! Anyway, Happy Blogversary to me!

See more Quick Takes here.

So Big, and Yet So Small – The First Day of Kindergarten

Yesterday morning, when I went in to wake Miss up for her first full day of kindergarten away from home, I stood and gazed at her for a second before rousing her. I brushed her hair back from her sleeping face, and as I looked at her in profile, I saw her, right then, as a two-year-old. In sleep, her big-girl face took on the baby-like qualities from when she was smaller, and it almost took my breath.

DSC_0136

^ In the upper left-hand corner of that photo is Miss at about 18 months.

I almost didn’t want to wake her. I wanted to just stand and look at her. She looked so little and so big, at the same time.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about today. I knew it would be hard/weird to send her to somewhere else for a full day. I knew it would feel strange to know that my little girl is big enough for kindergarten, even though next week she’ll be back home with me, and we’ll be doing school at home most of the time. I knew I would be nervous and excited for her.

She was certainly excited.

DSC_0139 DSC_0141 DSC_0144

So, did I cry when I dropped her off?

IMG_3569

No. I didn’t. I felt the throat tightening, eyes burning feeling for just a moment when she first started to walk away with her class. But it passed pretty quickly.

However, it was certainly a strange, and in some ways difficult, day. I kept feeling like a part of me was missing. At lunch, sitting with just my two youngers, I noticed how odd it felt to not have Miss there. That was the hardest part. That’s when I almost cried.

Sis: (to Lass) “You be Pincess Pesto, and I be Affa Pig, and Mama, you be Supa Why!”

Me: “Okay! Too bad your sister isn’t here. She could be Wonder Red.”

Sis: (looking sadly at Miss’s seat) “We need to go get her!!”

That moment, that little-sister-missing-big-sister moment, is when I started laugh-crying, as I said something like, “We can’t yet. She’s at school.” I almost spiraled into all-out bawling, feeling acutely the void left by Miss’s absence right then. But I pulled it together and rallied with more Super Why! pretending. It helps when you know all the words. . .

For most of the day, I kept looking at the clock and wondering where Miss was and what she was doing right then. “11:07, I wonder if she’s having lunch yet?”  Super Friend kindly texted me a photo of her grinning from ear to ear on the playground at recess and let me know that she seemed fine at lunch.

IMG_1852

By 1pm I was checking my watch every five minutes or so, to see if it was time to go get her yet. I missed her.

At pick up, I realized how much fun she had had, and how grown up it made her feel to have had a full day at school, away from Mom and sisters.

IMG_3572

She and her sisters played with other kids on the playground for a bit after dismissal. Miss kept following Sis around, helping her on the relatively large play structure. She came to me and told me that I didn’t have to watch Sis, because she would take care of it.

The whole day, I was struck over and over by the juxtaposition of so grown up with so teeny tiny. She was acting so responsibly, and so big with her little sister. Yet the older kids careening around her dwarfed her.

Her uniform clothes were so grown up.

DSC_0137

But in them, she looked so teeny tiny.

DSC_0138

I guess that’s one of the tough things about the start of kindergarten. Our little ones are so big and so small at the same time. This makes it hard to let go. At least for me.

I must say, I am quite relieved she will be back at home with me next week. I think I’ll be able to handle this for one and a half days per week.

Sharing Crosses

Many years ago, I took a girlfriend to a psychic as a birthday present. It was a goofy thing to do, and we both took our “readings” with several grains of salt. I don’t remember much of anything that the psychic told me, except that at one point she gravely looked at me and told me that I am extremely fertile and should use caution (at the time I was not in a position of wanting to have kids) to avoid having a huge number of children. I chuckled, a little nervously at that, and thought, “Well, I don’t want kids now, but someday that will be awesome to have lots and lots, since I’m so fertile!” (lots and lots back then would have meant about four). And then I laughed and went back to real life.

The psychic’s words kind of stuck with me, though. I don’t think I ever really took her predictions to be true, but I remember thinking about that fertility comment a few times in the early years of my marriage, when my husband and I were getting pregnant almost as easily as we were breathing. We had our three girls closely together, by design, and I was feeling pretty smug in my hyper-fertility.

At one point I even offered to give all of my winter maternity clothes to Super Friend when she was pregnant with her fourth baby, thinking that, if I followed my typical pattern of having babies on an 18-months-apart schedule (and I had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t!) then I would not need winter maternity clothes again.

I would laugh at the absurdity of my over-confidence if it wasn’t so painful to look back on my stupidity.

Saturday I nervously clicked “publish” on a post that shared some of my no-longer-hyper-fertile struggles and attempted to shed some light on the “taboo-ness” of infertility. I have never liked to talk about infertility or miscarriage for two reasons. One is that I don’t want to make people feel bad or awkward. The other is that I feel bad to complain about infertility when I am blessed to have three beautiful children.

But the idea behind the post was to put forth some support for others who are quietly suffering from infertility or secondary infertility or sub fertility and similarly feel unable to talk about it. To give a virtual hug to other moms who have experienced miscarriages.

In the process of doing so, I mentioned that sometimes it is hard to be around pregnant women or those who have wonderful, big Catholic families. I mentioned that some might think me a jerk if I said, “It can be hard to be around pregnant ladies” to someone who has not experienced infertility or miscarriage.

It didn’t occur to me when writing that other post that some things might be hard for the pregnant ladies too. Or that other moms there, even if they haven’t directly experienced infertility or miscarriage may be very familiar with loss or other motherly struggles (as Bonnie kindly pointed out to me in the combox). I didn’t really think about the fact that it would be highly unlikely for anyone to think I was a jerk for feeling the way I felt, because every mother has her own crosses to bear, and in that place at least, for that time, I don’t think most of them were focused on judging the crosses of others.

And then Jenny commented about being on the opposite side of the fertility continuum. She mentioned having a bit of a hard time identifying with the pain of infertility, because for her (and others I’ve since seen comments from), what I would see as the blessing of strong fertility can at times feel like its own cross.

While I am sitting here wishing for what Jenny and so many other Catholic families have – lots and lots of kids – some of those families are at times feeling overwhelmed with their very blessings. I can think of women who struggle with health problems exacerbated by pregnancy, repeatedly getting pregnant. Or just those mamas in the trenches with lots of babies, in quick succession, struggling to keep it all together, and likewise feeling unable to speak of it for fear of seeming ungrateful.

We all have crosses to bear. And we all seem to be, at least sometimes, afraid to share our crosses with other moms because we don’t want to seem like ungrateful jerks. But as Jen said in her speech at Edel (I’m paraphrasing), “Can’t we all just admit that what we do is hard?” Because it is sometimes. And instead of pretending that it’s not, or trying to not ever mention a hardship because it could be worse, I think we ought to just all do our best to listen and help other moms with whatever in whatever way we are able.

IMG_3333Sharing our crosses with each other doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for our blessings. It just means we can have more hands to help us carry them.

Living on a Prayer

I overheard some interesting comments from my girls today while pushing my two youngers on the swings as Miss swung  by herself on the glider.

IMG_3257

Lass (to Miss): “You’re doing that all by yourself. You can teach me how to swing by myself too.”

Miss: “Yeah. I’ll teach you. I’m a good teacher. I can be your mommy.”

Lass: “Yeah! You can be my mommy!”

Me: “Hey, wait. I’m your mommy.”

Lass: “No, no, no. I mean after you die.”

Oh. Well, that makes me feel better.

IMG_3254

I have to admit though, I can’t blame them for fantasizing about another mommy a little bit. The past week or so I have been so tired and so crabby. I can’t even stand myself when I act like a jerk to my kids for much of the day, so I can understand if they might think an alternative would be enjoyable from time to time.

DSC_0158

I’m sure that being tired in itself has contributed to my yucky attitude, but it’s a bit more than that too, I think.

Usually I wake up at 5:30 in the morning and spend some time praying and reading the Bible. It’s a wonderful way to get my mind and my heart right for the rest of the day. But lately I’ve been so tired, I haven’t wanted to get up early and I’ve been missing out on my usual prayer time. I’ve been trying to squeeze it in at other times, but that is never quite as fulfilling, and some days I’ve even missed it all together. This is not a good thing.

I was so disgusted with myself last night after a few days of just being a grouch, that I vowed to get up early and start my day right. So I did. I didn’t quite make it out of bed at 5:30, but I was downstairs saying my prayers by a few minutes after 6. And it made all the difference. I got some good Jesus time to start my day, and then I had an awesome day with my kids. DSC_0155

DSC_0159 DSC_0161

An amazing thing I’ve learned in the past year and a half is that when I feel like a crappy mom, when I’m grumpy and acting like a jerk, when I’m impatient and snappish, I now have an incredible solution. I used to beat myself up and flounder through my difficulties and eventually give myself a pep talk and feel better. Now I know that I can just turn to prayer and pretty quickly get myself back on track. Seriously, it works.

When I’m drowning and feeling like I can’t do anything right, I turn my face to God and say, “Help me!” And He does.

When I’m having a wonderful day and feel like I’m Super Mom and all is going just right, I turn my face to God and say, “Thank you!”

IMG_3256

Today, I said, “Thank you!”

A Vacation that Actually Feels Like. . . A Vacation?

Going on vacation with small children has never felt like a vacation. Staying in places that aren’t baby/toddler-proofed, dealing with disrupted sleep schedules, and not being in my own space has always thrown my (mostly) finely-tuned routine for a loop and led me to feel like I’m doing more work than usual, rather than “vacationing.”

That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed our travels. I’ve just had to adjust my expectations so that I plan for fun on vacation and lots of learning and great times with my kids and family, but not rest or relaxation or leisure.

So imagine my surprise at finding out that, while traveling for two out of the past three weeks, it has actually, kind of, at times. . . felt like a vacation! Two weeks ago we were at my parents. This week we’re at the Farm visiting with my in-laws. Now that my girls are getting bigger, I’m actually feeling a bit leisurely.

Everything is simpler here.

IMG_3127

I’m not as caught up in cleaning and school prep and food prep and all the other random daily-grind things that come up when we’re home, so I get to play more with my girls.

IMG_3145

Exploring and made-up games are the big hits, as always, but somehow when we’re here it’s just a bit more special.

IMG_3129 IMG_3132 IMG_3133 DSC_0191

And now that Sis is getting bigger, it’s a little less stressful to travel with her. I’m no longer worried about her falling down the stairs where we don’t have a baby gate or choking on something small since not every toy has been completely sifted through with all choking hazards removed. I don’t have to constantly hover over her every second (I’m making myself sound totally neurotic, aren’t I?).

IMG_3141

I still get a little bit nervous with her around the water, but she’s done a pretty good job so far following our water rules. All the girls are enjoying the water and the fishing.

IMG_3154

DSC_0161 DSC_0167 DSC_0171 DSC_0186 DSC_0180

They’ve been catching lots of fish. Even Sis caught a few crappies, but she preferred fishing for minnows.

DSC_0184

DSC_0187

DSC_0183 DSC_0175

Slippery little suckers.

DSC_0177 DSC_0174 DSC_0172

As for me, when not exploring with the girls I’ve been reading and writing and taking naps every day and playing cards with my husband and my in-laws. We played Euchre a few nights ago, which is one of my favorites.

Last night they even convinced me to play Texas Hold ‘Em. I’ve never been a fan of playing poker, so I was reluctant. But I didn’t want to be a party pooper, so I agreed. I loved it! I even ended up the big winner of the evening after an intense hand with a huge winnings pot where the two others betting with me both had full-house hands, but I won with four of a kind!

Ah, vacation.

IMG_3157

So, don’t despair moms of little ones. Someday you will again be able to relax a bit on vacation. And it might be sooner than you think.

I love it here.

IMG_3126
Now it’s time for my nap.

Revisiting Allowance (Otherwise Known as Revising a Bad Parenting Decision)

You may remember that I posted almost a year ago about my kids (mostly Miss) constantly asking to save their allowance for things. At the time, I thought that they were mostly only asking to save their allowances for items as their way of expressing to me that they were interested in those things. I was sure I was right about this when the tendency to ask to save allowance for something seem to mostly fade away a few months after I wrote that post.

But then it came back. With a vengeance. Both of my older girls began asking to save their allowances for everything. And they really seemed to want the things. Not just to be “expressing interest.”

I thought I was going to lose my mind.

And I began to worry again about whether I was teaching them the right things by giving them allowance and allowing them to spend it on toys. Yes, they were putting a dollar each week into our giving jar. Yes, Miss was also putting a dollar of hers into her piggy bank for long-term savings. But I had wanted them to learn the concept of having to save for things they want, and instead they were buying cheap toys on a whim and then never playing with them, so the point was getting totally lost.

I started to stress out about the allowance policy that we had instituted with very good intentions, but which seemed to have gone terribly awry. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I couldn’t decide what to change. Then a few things happened that prompted me to take action.

I read this post written by a woman who took pretty much all of her kids’ toys away. I was fascinated by the idea of drastically reducing clutter and excess in order to increase creativity and gratitude. I started thinking about how we might implement something like this in our house, but I was hesitant to pull the trigger.

Then we started getting ready for our trip to my parents’ house in April. Often when we visit my parents we take the girls to the Nature Center where they can see and learn about lots of different animals. Each time they had been there before I had allowed them to go to the gift shop and pick out one small souvenir toy to purchase.

This time, when talking to Miss about our upcoming trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa and the possibility that we would go to the Nature Center again, she got super excited and begged me to call Grandma to make sure we could go there. I thought it was pretty great that she was so excited about it.

Then she revealed the reason for her excitement. She wanted to get a toy. She really wasn’t interested in looking at the animals. She just wanted to go to the gift shop and get a new toy.

She was totally skipping over the fun of the experience in her mind and going straight to “what am I going to get?” I was kind of horrified and so upset with myself for allowing the situation to get to this point.

When I instituted the allowance thing I thought I was teaching them the need to save for things they want. I had successfully eliminated any tendency my kids may have had to ask me to buy toys for them. But by giving them allowance and allowing them to spend it as I had, they had become even more focused on material possessions than they would have without the allowance.

I immediately placed a moratorium on spending the allowance and asking to save it for things. I explained to my girls that we can’t always have the things we want, and that they have more than enough toys already. I talked with them about the importance of being grateful for what we have instead of always wanting more. I told them that we could go to the Nature Center when we visited Grandma and Grandpa, but that we would not be buying a toy in the gift shop this time. They were a bit upset at first, but then they had a great time and didn’t push the issue.

IMG_3001 IMG_3009 IMG_3016

They looked at the toys in the gift shop, but did not make a fuss about not being able to get one.

IMG_3017

However, after getting home from our trip, we did have some push back for a week or two about not being able to spend their allowance anymore. I got through this partly by just not giving them their allowance for a few weeks while they got out of the habit of focusing on buying and asking for things. During this time I tried to figure out how to implement allowance in the future, and I started packing up boxes of toys to put in storage.

We packed up a lot of toys from our playroom. I decided not to take all the girls toys away, but rather to pack up many of them and put them in the basement, to be in a rotating system with the toys we kept out. I organized toys in big plastic bins by type.

DSC_0114We kept out a little bit of dress up, the small plastic dolls (mostly princesses, but many others as well), the magnetic building tiles, and the play food and dishes (and books, of course). The girls also have about three other bins or boxes they are allowed to have upstairs at any one time. Right now they have the stuffed animals, the plastic animals, and the baby dolls. If they want something from downstairs they have to make a trade of one full box for another.

This system has worked out so well for us. Clean up is easier and they seem to really enjoy and play with their toys more.

DSC_0109 DSC_0113As for the allowance issue, after much internal debate and discussion with my husband and Super Friend, I decided to begin giving the girls their allowance again. They still put money in our giving jar. Miss still puts some of her allowance in her piggy bank (which we never take money out of). And they understand that they are not allowed to buy toys with their allowance right now.

I intend to have them simply continue to save their money. If there is a situation in the future where I think it is appropriate to allow them to spend their money on something, I’m reserving the right to do so, but for now, no buying.

It’s amazing to me how seemingly innocuous decisions of parenting can sometimes lead to completely unintended consequences. I thought I was teaching my children financial responsibility, and it seems all I was really doing was fostering greed and materialism. My kids were just being kids, but I had unintentionally allowed a habit to develop that was not good for them.

As a mom I find this somewhat terrifying, seeing how something so well-intentioned could go so wrong. . . Fortunately, it’s usually fairly easy to change course when something isn’t working as long as I explain to my kids what we are doing and why (I like this post about How Parenting is Like Following a GPS). Who knows? I may need to change this system again in the future.

I’m sure I’ll need to change directions many, many times as a mom in trying to guide my children down the best path possible.