That Time I Didn’t Ruin My Daughter’s Soccer Career

Every time I think I’m starting to get motherhood figured out, some new situation or experience comes along to give me a nice beat down. Organized team sports, soccer to be specific, has been the latest. Here’s a little story to illustrate:

For the past two months, my older girls have been playing on a soccer team together. And as with most things, their vastly different personalities were very apparent when watching them on the soccer field.

Miss was a bit hesitant in her first game, but then something seemed to click for her and she was suddenly all over the place, scoring tons of goals and seemingly having a great time. She was confident and played hard whenever she was on the field.

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Lass complained every time they had to go to practice or a game. She rarely seemed to put a in lot of effort, and during each practice and game she complained of her “tummy hurting” any time she ran much at all. She seemed insecure, and didn’t like to do most of the games or drills they did at practice, because she didn’t like to lose or make a mistake. I gave her all the gentle encouragement I could, but also a bit of tough love with, “In our family, we don’t quit and we always give our best effort. So get going.” She actually perked up a little bit at that point, though she still seemed to dread soccer days.

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The season was going along well enough, but then I made a mistake that I thought was going to ruin the rest of the soccer season for my eldest child.

Miss was really on fire one night, scoring lots of goals and running all over the field. She kept yelling to her coach the tally of the number of goals she had scored (from that game and the previous one). It was something like this, “I’ve got seven! I’VE GOT SEVEN!” then “NOW I’VE GOT EIGHT!” The coach often didn’t hear her or was trying to give instructions to other kids, so she just kept yelling it over and over. I was thrilled that she was so excited, but thought to myself that perhaps we might need to have a little bit of a talk about humility at some point. . .

Later in the game she was running next to her teammate who was taking the ball to the goal and about to score. Miss took the ball from her teammate and scored the goal herself.

After the game, we congratulated her on a game well played and shared in her excitement about her successes. We praised Lass for an increase in energy and playing hard. As always, we tried to keep the post-game talks positive and encouraging of all efforts.

However, I wanted to say something to Miss about learning to display humility and also about being part of a team and supporting teammates without taking the ball away from them. I didn’t want to rain on her parade right after her exciting game, so I waited until the next day to talk to her about these things. We talked about how to be happy and excited about accomplishments without boasting. She seemed to easily understand the idea of not wanting to come across as bragging about the number of goals scored (we had recently studied humility in Little Flowers). Then we talked about playing on a team and not trying to take the ball away from her teammates. She seemed to get that just fine too, so I left it at that.

However, during her next game, she not only avoided taking the ball away from her teammates, she also barely kicked the ball at all. She held back so much that she didn’t even try to take the ball away from the other team!

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I was horrified. I tried to talk to her briefly during the game to clarify what I had meant about just not taking the ball from her teammate when she is actively kicking it, and I encourage her to go after the ball, but it didn’t help.

For the rest of that game, she was hesitant and seemed to have lost the confidence that she had displayed in previous games.

Afterwards I tried to talk to her even more about what I meant. I over-explained. I apologized for perhaps confusing her or causing her to think that I wanted her to hold back. I encouraged her to go after the ball and play hard.

None of it made any difference. For the next several weeks, she played tentatively. Her spark was gone.

Do I need to tell you how terribly I was beating myself up? How my stomach clenched every time I saw her let the ball go by?

I had thought I was doing a good thing. I had thought I wasn’t criticizing, just providing a gentle lesson about how to play on a team. I had thought I was doing my job of teaching and guiding her in the ways of things.

Instead, I ended up fearing that I had crushed her little spirit and ruined her soccer career forever.

I talked to my husband about it. I talked to my mom about it. I talked to Super Friend about it (who assured me that the same thing had happened with her son and it would be okay). I prayed about it. I reminded myself that she’s only six. Still, every time I watched her, I felt awful and feared what horrible thing I had done to her.

I didn’t really know what to do. I felt like I had talked the issue to death in trying to backtrack and clarify what I had meant. So I just tried to encourage both girls to play hard, have fun, and get after the ball at each practice and game.

For a while, this didn’t seem to be making any change in Miss, but Lass was starting to show quite an improvement. The girls’ coach was wonderful and really put extra effort into helping her to enjoy the game and to score a goal either at practice or at a game. She mostly stopped complaining that her tummy hurt. She started having more fun. She really wanted to be able to score a goal, and though we always told the girls that the number of goals they scored wasn’t the most important thing, I suspected she would find the game much more enjoyable if she could experience that taste of success.

Last weekend, my husband and I decided to spend a lot of extra time playing running and kicking games with the girls. We all played duck-duck-goose and kickball, he played sharks and minnows and kicked the soccer ball around with them.

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Thursday night was their last game. I prayed that they would both end their soccer season on a positive note. They were on the field together, and both started out playing hard.

And then, within a few minutes of getting into the game, Lass scored a goal!! Her first goal ever. I was standing up and cheering, and I actually started to cry, I was so happy to see her joy in her achievement. Her sister picked her up and hugged her fiercely. Lass ran back to her coach and said, “I love soccer!!” She looked over to us on the sideline with a beaming smile and said with two thumbs up, “I scored a goal!”

And her accomplishment seemed to finally light the fire in her sister again. Within minutes of her sister’s success, Miss scored three goals, one right after the other. I felt like my heart was going to burst with happiness for both of them. And with relief that I really hadn’t ruined my daughter forever.

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I’ve found this soccer mom thing to be kind of tricky. I want to encourage my girls and push them to do their best, but not push them in such a way that they feel that approval is contingent upon scoring goals or some other specific measure of performance. I want to help them learn about how to be a good sport and a good teammate, but not squash their enthusiasm or desire for individual achievement.

In this situation, I had such good intentions, and still I totally blew it. Even now, I get a little teary thinking about it. I want nothing more than to help my daughters be confident and joyful in all the things they do. I know I will continue to make mistakes, so I only hope that an abundance of love and prayer will help them to overcome all of my shortcomings in the future.

At least I know they will never be lacking in those two things.

On Becoming a Runner. Again.

My husband came to visit me once when I was in graduate school, in the very early days of our courtship. That was back when I used to smoke, and stay up until three or four every night, and hit the bar scene hard, and sleep until noon most days, and so forth. At one point during his visit to my apartment, he got himself dressed in exercise garb and said he was going for a run. I blinked a few times at him while I took in such a foreign notion, and then told him to have fun while waving and lighting up a cigarette from my spot on my couch.

A few years later, I went to DC with him and cheered him on while he ran his first marathon. It was such an exciting event, and I decided I wanted to run a marathon myself.

So I did. Twice.

We did the Grandma’s Marathon in the summer of 2007

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Standing in Lake Superior after the race made our feet and legs feel so good!

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It was really cold.

And we did the Disney World Marathon in January 2008.

I did not much enjoy the Disney World Marathon, so after doing it I decided to take a break from running for a while. I had no idea it would be for over seven years.

Within five months after the DWM, Ben and I got married, and then I got pregnant. I then ended up being pregnant and/or nursing for the next five years, and though my husband has continued to run various events, during that time running just wasn’t on my radar. I had zero interest in it. I was focusing more on survival than on going out for an “invigorating” run when someone was available to watch my kids for me.

After I weaned Sis, I started to toy with the idea of running again. But it was really hard to get back into shape after my third baby in so many years, and I just couldn’t seem to get myself in gear to do it.

I even made a specific goal for 2014 to run some sort of event. Even if it was just a 5K, I wanted to do something. And then I got pregnant. And then I lost that baby. I had gained a lot of weight during that brief pregnancy, and I just lost all motivation to think about races, and training, and running in general.

Actually, if I’m really honest, for the past two years I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a run but not going through with it  in part because of thinking, “But what if I get pregnant?” I’ve been avoiding signing up for any sort of race because of this possibility. Registering for such a long race is a bit of a commitment, and I kept thinking maybe and what if? and this could change things.

Well. A few months ago, my husband told me he wanted to run the Dam to Dam Half Marathon again in his home town area of Des Moines. He challenged all of his siblings to run the race with him, and he casually mentioned that perhaps I’d like to do it too.

I debated. I thought (again) about the what if? of potentially becoming pregnant. I told myself I wouldn’t have time to train because of the girls. I thought about the logistics of the race day and how it might be difficult to have someone take care of our girls and our dogs while we ran the race.

And then I decided to stop making excuses.

I realized that, if I did get pregnant, I would only be out fifty bucks or so for the entry fee. And that would not be a big deal.

I acknowledged that I wouldn’t be able to spend hours running every day like I used to. And then I decided that I could commit to doing enough. I knew that might not get in lots of long training runs (the longest I managed to do was seven miles), but I would still be able to train enough to finish the run.

I reminded myself that, of course my in laws would help with the girls and the dogs and it would be fine.

So I signed up for the run. And then I started running.

The majority of my runs were only about two or three miles, because that’s about as much as I could stand to do on my treadmill at one time. I did one four, one six, and one seven mile run (all outside). I did CrossFit to help strengthen my muscles and get my lungs in shape.

I knew I would be able to finish the race, though I would probably be slow and it would likely be painful.

And I did. And I was. And it was.

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It was hard and it was painful, but it was also fun and very, very rewarding, just like my first two marathons.

This time, I had a few new strategies for getting through. Throughout the two and a half hours I was running (yes, it took me that long to run 13.1 miles, I got passed by a speed walker at one point), I focused intently on the fun of the experience and the beauty of the run and the people around me. I laughed at the antics of some of the other runners. I said “Thank you!” to the spectators. I offered up every ache and pain that I could (the stitch in my side, the ache in my thighs because I did too much of a squat workout three days before the run, the blister forming on my left foot, the pebble in my shoe for six miles, etc.). And I thought every. step. of the way. about my girls waiting for me at the finish line.

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Maybe at some point, I can use my running as an example to them of how we can do hard things and have fun doing them. Or of how it’s okay to do something for the simple joy of accomplishment. Or how you can have fun doing something and not feel embarrassed even when you aren’t the best or fastest at doing it (did I mention I got passed by a speed walker??).

After I completed the run, they all asked me if they can run with me when they get bigger. And that’s the best motivation I could ever have.

Being a Mom. In a Nutshell.

Yesterday I took my girls to a Mother’s Day Tea at our church.

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After we ate lunch, the emcee of the event asked if anyone wanted to come up to say something about her mom. Lass, my talkative, never-met-a-stranger, middle child wanted to go right away. She walked to the front of the room, and when it was her turn to speak into the microphone, she clearly and sweetly said, “My mom gives good hugs.”

I started to cry a little. Obviously.

After a few more people went, Miss decided that she wanted to have a turn. This surprised me a little, because she is not much for speaking up in front of groups and she tends to be a bit more shy, especially with strangers. As she walked up to the front of the room, I sat there wondering what she was going to say. Not only is she my most reserved child, as a general rule she also isn’t as touchy-feely as her sisters.

She got the microphone and said, serious as can be, “My mom does the laundry.”

The whole room erupted in laughter, and she came back to the table giggling and feeling proud as punch that she had made a good joke, though she might not have been quite sure what it was.

This little situation served as a perfect example of the differences in my two older daughters. Their personalities were fully apparent in the comments they wanted to make about me as their Mom.

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Last night, I was thinking back on the moment and smiling a little bit (and drinking some wine), when I realized that their words were also pretty much representative of what it means, in a nutshell, to be a mom in general.

We give love.

We serve.

We tuck little ones into bed with kisses and special lullabies. We give words of praise and encouragement. We tell our children how much we love them. We kiss boo-boos and cheer victories. We give good hugs.

We wash dishes. We cook meals. We teach manners (And do it again. And do it again). We let them help with chores, even though it takes longer. We do laundry.

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These things are what make up the day to day of being a mom.

We give love and we serve in hundreds of different ways every day. In big ways and little ways. In obvious acts and those that no one ever notices. In ways that are easy and ways that sometimes feel so, so hard.

When I think about the moms I know, I see this so clearly.

To my Mom, my Grandma, my Mother-in-law, my Auntie, Super Friend, the Godmother, and all the rest of the moms, near and far, among my family and friends, I see you. I see how you love and serve your children, and families, and others. Thank you.

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Happy Mother’s Day. 

And Life Happens

I’m working on getting my house ready to sell. And meeting with our builder about all the little details of our new house. And homeschooling my kids. And life keeps on happening and somehow time keeps flying away from me so quickly.

I know I’m no more busy than anyone else, and yet I’m struggling a lot with keeping my mind and my life organized these days. Here are a few of our recent happenings:

My oldest daughter had a piano recital a week and a half ago. We got there, and I thought I was so on top of things because we were nice and early. Then I realized that I had forgotten her piano books! And we don’t live terribly close to our church, where the recital was held, so I had to frantically beg her piano teacher to move her back in the line up (she was scheduled to be one of the first to play) so I could race home to get her books.

It wasn’t a disaster, and everything turned out fine. But ugh. I just had that big yucky feeling of a super mom fail (and here super is modifying FAIL, not mom).

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She did a fantastic job anyway, of course.

Then Friday, she broke her arm by falling off a swing in our backyard.

I peeked out the window and saw her crying on the ground, holding her arm. I ran out there to check things out and thought she was probably fine, since her arm didn’t look broken (meaning it wasn’t bent in a way it wasn’t supposed to be bent). I brought her in the house and put some ice on her arm and was standing around trying to figure out if we had more of a problem than a bumped arm, when thankfully, my husband got home.

He looked at her arm, asked her a few questions, and told her to try to squeeze his fingers, which she couldn’t do. He said that she had probably broken it, so we took her to the ER. Of course, he was right. He is so wonderful to have around at times like those!

Miss started feeling much better once she got a splint on her arm, and she is quite happy now to have a regular, below-elbow (and green!) cast.

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On Saturday I got outside and went for a six mile run in the morning (again, very grateful for my husband!). I was so pleased with myself and felt energized and fabulous afterwards. Then I got in the house and realized that my phone, which I had tucked into my sports bra so I could listen to a Lighthouse talk hands free, had gotten drenched with sweat and was D.E.A.D.

Yes, you read that right. I ruined my cell phone with sweat. In my bra. Who does that?

So, homeschooling has been a big fat zero this week. I really try to make it a priority in my schedule, but with unplanned visits to the Verizon store and the orthopedic doctor, I haven’t done a very good job on my lesson plans.

I am starting to realize that I seem to be moving into a new season of mothering. A season in which I am feeling scatter-brained, not because of lack of sleep and many small people hanging on me and needing me to do things for them at all times (which used to be the case), but because of piano, and soccer, and choir, and homeschooling, and away-from-home school activities. Is this a real thing, or is it just me?

Life just keeps happening and suddenly I look up and realize that I am not a mom of lots of babies and toddlers anymore. I’m beyond the three-under-four stage, and I’m now a mom of little girls. Little girls who like to do lots of activities.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed by this new stage of activities and extracurriculars. I know this is only the beginning.

Easter-y, Mommy-ish Randomness

We are visiting my parents this week, and I don’t want to interrupt our family time to do a long, or even thoughtful post (you’re welcome?). But I do have a few cute Easter pics and some good ones of my girls having fun at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, so I’m going to get rambly and probably a bit photo crazy for a minute.

If you’re not my mom or my mother-in-law or my Auntie, you may want to just stop here. I won’t mind.

Here goes –

Last week, I had lots of fun Holy Week activities planned. Then Miss got strep throat and we ended up skipping a few of them, like the search for 30 pieces of “silver” (or quarters) on Wednesday and Holy Thursday Mass as a family (Miss was still contagious). Most of the things we did do I didn’t get photos of, like our “Last Supper” dinner (which Miss didn’t feel well enough to eat anyway) or the foot washing on Thursday night after my husband and I got home from Mass.

We did get to the Good Friday service at our church, and the girls did surprisingly well for it being such a long and late event.

Holy Saturday started with an RCIA retreat for me from 9:00 until about 1:00. Then I came home, boiled eggs for dying, put out Easter decorations with the two older girls, gave the dogs baths, and packed our stuff. After Sis got up from her nap, we dyed eggs and my husband and I got ready for the Easter Vigil Mass.

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She said the made ^^ that egg for Jesus.

The Vigil was beautiful, but I didn’t get a single photo from it this year. It was nice to experience it with a little less nervousness and adrenaline than I had last year. I realized that I hadn’t remembered much of the service from last year because of being so excited and anxious about being baptized and confirmed and receiving Communion for the first time (plus being interviewed in front of everyone). It was less exciting and emotional this time, but I probably was able to appreciate it more in some ways.

Sunday morning, we had our Easter egg hunt, I made resurrection rolls, we threw our things and our dogs and our kids in the car and hit the road for the drive to my parents’.

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I was determined to be on the road by 8:00 so we could get here by dinner time and have my family’s traditional Easter and Christmas breakfast of creamed eggs for dinner. We got going at about 8:20, and we made it.

My kids have been enjoying Grandma and Grandpa and the lovely weather and flowers and greenness here since.

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We have many lovely bouquets for Grandma of dandelions, or “Lellow Light-ups” as Sis calls them.

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IMG_4557Someone, who gave up coloring for Lent, is very happy to be able to do one of her favorite activities again.

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As a new Catholic, it amazes me how much Lent creates so much more appreciation of the Easter season and the celebration of spring, and life, and the Resurrection.

It’s Wednesday, but it’s still Easter. What joy. Happy Easter!

Embrace the Ordinary – Holy Week

Holy week is anything but ordinary. It is the most beautiful and powerful week of the year.

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“…there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.” St. Josemaria Escriva, Passionately Loving the World

I found myself trying to explain its magnitude to my children so many times, hoping that they are understanding at least a little bit of it. I think they do. We went to the Good Friday Mass last night for the first time, which was haunting and lovely. At the point of the Mass when we kneel and stand repeatedly during prayers for various people and groups, the deacon chanted “Let us kneel” for the third or fourth time, and Sis loudly said, “He keeps doing that!” I quickly shushed her while trying not to chuckle, and found myself smiling at this shot of ordinary mothering in the midst of an extraordinary ritual.

Then my girls all took off their shoes as we went up together to reverence the cross. Touching that cross and seeing their little hands on it. . . It was impossible to hold back all of the tears in those short moments and after we returned to our seats to wait and watch the rest of the parishioners do the same.

As we waited solemnly, my girls saw some of their friends coming up to reverence the cross themselves, and they started jumping up and down and waving and trying to update them on the news that Miss’s first tooth is loose (my husband told me later that Miss was attempting to solicit a dental consult from our oral surgeon friend). Again we shushed them, but I was reminded that they are small and they cannot possibly fully comprehend the significance of the service and the day.

They get it, but they are little. Loose teeth and fairy houses are important too. Those are the things that make up the ordinary amidst the extraordinary in these mothering days.

Ordinary moments in the middle of this amazing week.

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Today is Holy Saturday, the day of the Easter Vigil Mass. Naturally I am thinking back to last year, when I was baptized and confirmed, and received Holy Communion for the first time.

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I’m sponsoring another woman who is entering the Church tonight. I’m so excited for her and for all those who will do the same this evening.

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Today I’m focusing on waiting and on praying for all the new members of our Church.

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And on enjoying all the little moments with my family.

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I hope you all have a happy and blessed Easter.

Thanks to Gina for the opportunity to host this link up during Lent. This will be my last time hosting, and next week you can find the link up back on her blog.

Share your ordinary moments below!

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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.

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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 am 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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^^ 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.

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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.

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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.

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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. . .

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Some of my favorite moments:

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

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

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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.

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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.