Suck it up, Buttercup

 

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Photo Cred: HAIR, by John Barrett

She was crying as we pulled up to the school and she didn’t want to get out of the car. My daughter was having an “off” morning and I was trying to decide on the best course of action. Is there a worse way for a mom or dad to start the day than with a crying kid who doesn’t want to go to school? I was stuck in the frustrating in-between of wanting to push her out the door so I could get on with my day and wanting to crawl back in bed and snuggle her close, rub her back and shelter her from whatever was making her upset.

“Are you going? What are we doing here?”

“Do you think you can you suck it up and make it through your day? If I’m going to get a call from the nurse in 5 minutes, please just save me the trip back to school and we’ll turn around right now.”

” I know you don’t feel 100%– but you don’t have to feel 100% to make it through the day.” (Hell, I make it through all kinds of days hovering around 35% or so.)

Yeah. These are things I said. But if you’re a parent, I’m pretty sure you’ve said them too.

We circled the Drop-Off loop one more time while she was wiping the tears and checking her mascara in the visor mirror, all the while my heart complexly interwoven with impatience and heartbreak. I knew it was not her best day. I knew she was upset. And I knew she was upset with me, too. She thought I was being hard on her and that was making everything worse.

As we pulled up to the doors, my eyes were watching the clock. I knew in one more minute she’d be late and I’d have to cop a lame excuse note, but the tears were still coming.

Ticking clock. Cars behind me. Buses lined up to move. What do I do? Do I make my normally cheerful little freshman walk into school crying? Do I drive us back home? On any given day, I’ve done both.

Today? I made her get out.

“I love you. Take a deep breath. You can do this. I know it’s not your favorite thing right now. It’s not mine either. But in just a little bit, you’ll be distracted and moving on with your day. Go. So you’re not late. Hop out.”

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Many a day I’ve allowed less than sick kids stay home. Many a day I’ve coddled kids who didn’t feel up to doing whatever the day required of them. And the more time goes by, I’m not sure it was the right decision. In the moment, it was the easiest decision, but the easiest decision and the right decision are unfortunately not usually the same thing.

When you’re trying to raise up kids into strong-minded and responsible adults, it becomes more clear on the daily that you’re not doing them any favors when you allow them to lie down under the weight of their little world. It’s not reality. It’s not how life works. And it’s a mentality that won’t serve them well– or at all– in the Grown Up world.

A friend recently introduced me to the famous acronym, MTXE, coined and embraced by former Wichita State head coach Gene Smithson during his tenure from 1978-86, which stands for “Mental Toughness Extra Effort,” a mindset that helped the Shockers compile a 155-81 record with two Missouri Valley Conference titles and a trip to the Elite Eight over a span of eight years. I’ve started using it with my kids and there are days I want to write it on my own hand as a reminder.

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I think of my own life experiences, of things that have required Mental Toughness and Extra Effort in my own life (widowed at 26 with 2 small children, a tough marriage, a tough divorce, an accident resulting in a few broken bones and surgeries, to name a few);  Of the endless days I’ve lived through compartmentalizing personal pain, anxiety or fear so that I could fulfill obligations and responsibilities and be a dependable mother, employee, daughter, friend. I want to know I’m raising my kids with the mental toughness and fortitude that difficult life- or even just DAILY life- experiences require; That there is a way to be both aware of your feelings and in control enough of them as well, so you can face the day regardless.

I’ll be thinking of my daughter all day, aware that she’s struggling. And if the school calls and I need to pick her up, of course that’s okay. But I still won’t be sorry I made her get out of the car. And someday, even if it’s not today, neither will she.

 

 

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Taking the Long View

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One of my kids recently had to do something really hard. They had to go make something right that they had kind of screwed up. This is no easy feat, no matter how old you are. Making a mistake is so much easier than making amends. But making amends is so powerful. So much better. So freeing.

And so as my kid was going out the door to go do this thing– and just DREADING it, I looked them in the eye and said, “You are GOOD. YOU. Are. A good, good soul. You’ve got this.”

And then I cried at my desk. Tears of gratitude. Tears of compassion and humility and overwhelming love. Motherhood, personhood, is so raw and exhausting at times.

And what I’m learning right now is that it takes decades to build a person. Decades.

We expect so very much from ourselves and from our kids. And yes, it’s good to have standards and expectations; of course we should. But our character, our true selves, our best selves, our real selves…those things are built over a lifetime. An entire lifetime. And yet we expect things from each other that we just haven’t had the time and life experience to develop.

 

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Rialto’s Drift (USA) by Patrick Marson Ong

As a mom, this moves me deeply and challenges me to see my children in a different light. I expect so much of them. Self awareness and emotional intelligence are a high priority for me personally, but at 43, I’m just barely there. And it’s hard, conscious work all the time. I’m not sure how I can possibly expect the people in my house who have the distinct disadvantage of less time and less life experience (and let’s be honest- less therapy) to be even close to that.

So I’m learning to take the long view. Nobody needs to be perfect right now. Or tomorrow. Or next week. (Or quite frankly, next month or next year. Mercy.) Nobody needs to get it all right, right now. We need to keep stumbling forward. Making tiny strides and picking each other up with lots of empathy towards how hard it is to grow up and adult. Lots of forgiveness. Lots of grace. Lots of Love. Lots of acceptance. Lots of quiet conversations about who we are and who we want to be and if our actions today are helping us get there.  Lots of laughter at ourselves and with each other as we’re  trying to figure it all out. Over decades. Over a lifetime.

Because here’s the thing about the short view: It’s incomplete. It’s underdeveloped. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s unfair. It’s unforgiving. It’s unrealistic. It’s impossible. It’s an exercise in frustration– with ourselves and with each other. It’s harsh and uninformed.

It’s true the longview takes a long time– a lifetime– But since that’s all we’ve got, I’m going to stick around for it because I can see in the distance it’s going to be beautiful.

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Where There is Love, There is Life

06381cfd7315dff093c62bdf083ea2a3I am learning, learning, learning about love. Everyday. All the time. Not just romantic love, because, HELLOOO– Terrifying. But real love. All kinds of love. What it is. What it’s not. What feels like love. What decidedly does NOT feel like love. I even have a Pinterest board called, “Love or Something Like It” that I’ve been working on for a while now. 389 pins. But who’s counting? I know the name seems a little vague, but here’s the thing– We think OF COURSE we know what love is. But do we really? I don’t always know that I do. But I do know I want to get better at it. All of it. (So it’s almost like Pinterest is EDUCATIONAL. Smiling. I am totally smiling at this thought.)

And so recently, while I was ruminating about love, I unintentionally had identical conversations with two different people who land on two totally different paradigms of what is a very messy issue~

Conversation #1:

A friend and I are chatting casually about God, church, relationships and such. She talks about being raised in a deeply religious home, with extremely zealous parents, particularly her father. She refers to him as the type of guy who would stand on street corners downtown, handing out Christian literature and telling people Jesus loves them. (I know. Cringe worthy) But she went on to say that her dad is THE kindest person she knows. Super loving, super friendly. And then somehow, segues into telling me that her brother is gay.

“Ohhhh man. In such a religious family, how the heck did that go over? How did your parents handle that?” I asked in total wonder. (Sadly preparing for the worst.)

“They were actually okay about it. I mean, it was hard, but it’s their son. They love him and support him. What could they do about it? We’re all close. It’s fine. I mean, we love him.”


Conversation #2:

Another close friend and I are chatting. She is lamenting that she has not heard from her son, who also happens to be gay. She can’t understand why he doesn’t come to visit. Rarely calls. Doesn’t seem to make time for her. She misses him. She has, however, made it repeatedly clear that she does not accept that he is gay. Does not approve of his lifestyle. Cannot condone it. Refuses to try to understand. To try and…adjust. And no, he is not welcome to bring his partner when he visits. She will not have “that” in her home. ‘He needs to respect her beliefs and her wishes.’  And so there she sits. Alone. And sad. But by God, sticking to her principles.  And while I try to empathize with the seeming complexity of the issue, I’m so struck by the fact that she could make different choices that would lead to better outcomes– and yet how she would rather draw a hard-line, regardless of the cost and loss it has led to.

I get that this can be complicated. And messy. And gray. And I also get that very many of you will absolutely land squarely on one side or the other, with no doubt in your mind and actually tell me that it’s clearly black and white for you. I can’t answer tough theological questions about it. I can’t even say anything all that profound about it.  And it’s totally within the realm of the way I think to actually hold a few opposing thoughts about the whole thing. But I can tell you this: I know which one feels like love. And which one doesn’t.

Conversation #1 felt like love to me. It felt like Jesus-love to me, because I’m quite sure it was sacrificial love; As though this mom and dad had a love so big, and so wide, and so deep, they were able to lay down their “rights” as parents, their need for religion to reign, so that love could reign instead. It saved their family, but it also may have saved their son. I walked away feeling grateful. Grateful for generous love. Grateful for love that accepts, forgives, overlooks, embraces. For love that leads to life.

Conversation #2 was hard. It was frustrating. Stiff. Stubborn. It was sad. I couldn’t help but think about the years that are being wasted while they both miss out on so much because of my friend’s daily conscious choice to not love her son unconditionally. It has felt hopeless to try to expand her thinking in any way~

I get that you have your beliefs. I get that it makes you uncomfortable. But what I don’t get is your inability to set all of that aside for the sake of love. For the sake of your son. For the sake of wholeness in your family. And really, for your own sake. I know you– and I want to believe that you possess bigger love than that in the deepest places of your heart. After all, you love ME– and damn if I couldn’t give you a thousand reasons why I’m not entirely worthy of love either.

The lack of love here has led to death– the death of relationships, of family, of connection. And it’s being grieved daily. By both parties.

I think what makes me most sad is that my friend thinks she’s loving Jesus in her convictions. And so that’s why I try so very hard not to judge her. She.Thinks.She’s Loving.Jesus. By refusing to accept her son and his lifestyle. And it reminds me of all the times I thought I was loving Jesus by judging and correcting and refusing to accept. And I grieve that now. That misperception of love. That disullisionment.

I certainly could never claim to know exactly what Jesus is thinking. But everywhere I look in the Bible, love comes first. Always. Love above everything else. Because love leads to life. And if we’re still ever asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”, I can’t help but think it seems pretty clear. Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” And when it comes to love, all I know is, I want to do better.


If this is an issue you wrestle with and you’d like to read more, please read about one couple’s heartrending journey with their son over at Rage Against the Minivan. 

A Kindness Countdown to Christmas

Somehow I’m always a week or two late with this post– but not this year! Thanks to Snovember and all of those days we were trapped inside, The Kindness Countdown to Christmas is happening right on time! I asked my girls if they were up for this again and got a resounding YES! We hope you decide to join us for what ends up being a very fun and thoughtful way to count down the Christmas season.

Every year I have such mixed emotions about the holidays. Of course I want to enjoy them with my kids and family and friends, but sometimes there’s a sticky gap between expectation and experience. The busyness and exhaustion of the season and all that it requires gets all jumbled up with the ghosts of Christmas past, loss and grief (December was the month I lost my first husband…and then buried him on New Year’s Eve), stress over broken and tricky relationships…and the holidays can feel like The Hot Mess Express. Bleh. Skip to January. PLEASE?

And I regret this. I hate it, actually. Because in the deepest parts of my heart and soul,   Christmas is all about the birth of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Advent, the 25 days leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ, represents the darkening of winter and the whole world as it awaits a savior. A yearning. A recognizing of the ache for something more that what this life has to offer. And then He came. On a glorious star-filled night. And nothing would ever be the same. Including my life. Surely, this is a reason to celebrate, rather than dread.

So. A few years ago I stumbled upon a simple, fun and creative way to help nurture more happiness during December. I will forever wish I had thought of this myself, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… so it’s on! 25 Random Acts of Christmas Kindness. Yep. Everyday in December, the girls and I perform a random act of kindness accompanied by a card that says, “You’ve been RACK’ed”. The card has an explanation of what we are doing and why. The sentiments are small–so far they’ve included candy, fun trinkets (think Target dollar aisle) and $5 Tim Horton’s gift cards, paying for the car behind us in a drive-thru, doing little favors and chores for neighbors…But the return for us has been priceless. It feels good to give, but it feels even better to see how happy it makes the other person. Kindness. Just. Feels. Good.

In a season when children (and adults) spend a lot of time thinking about their own wish lists, intentionally planning a daily way to think of others is now a precious pause we take. I know there will be days we accidentally forget, but that means we get to do it twice the next day. And right from the start of this, my kids caught the concept: Kindness matters. Even teeny tiny acts of kindness matter. And what if the people we surprise decide to do it too?  Now we’re part of a kindness chain. And what if we do it every day, instead of just at Christmas time? Then what? Could we change our little part of the world with our little random acts of Christmas kindness? Well actually, I think we can.

And in reality, we ARE part of a kindness chain. It started with a baby born 2000 years ago. In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, may my exhaustion come from kindness. I will gladly work full-time to keep that spirit alive in my heart and in my family.

It’s perfect timing to participate! Click here to find the link for free printable cards.

A Bird in the Hand…Probably Would’ve Killed Me

Yesterday, a bird flew into my house. Apparently it had been hanging around in my garage and when I opened the garage to let the dog out, I scared it. The irony. Because then, it flew straight into my house, into my kitchen, and terrified me. Yep. I completely freaked out. It headed straight for my sliding glass door, thinking it had found a fast escape, only to bump and flap at the glass and cause me to scream. And shriek. In hindsight, it’s all a little humiliating but in the moment, I was completely hysterical. Really, only for one reason- my hubs had already left for work. Why do all the good things happen after he’s gone?
Had Allen had been there, I still would’ve been a little nervous, but instead of holding a Mets apron over my head for protection, I probably would’ve been just watching, jumping around saying things like,”Get it Baby!” and “Honey, you are so brave! How do you know how to do these things?” And then Allen would’ve gotten rid of the bird and I would’ve spent the rest of the day thinking about how great he is. Instead…I acted like a maniac, ran out the front door, talked myself down a little, ran back in, (grabbed said apron for protection) and called him. I might’ve cried for a second. I know. Epic. Failure.
All this was happening while my daughters were halfway upstairs, halfway downstairs. I’m not sure what was more frightening for them. Me or the bird. I’m such a role model. Me and all my fitness and workout quotes that inspire me-“I don’t run to be thin. I run to be fierce” and “Strong is what happens when you run out of weak.” Blah, blah, blah. Wow. Keep running, eh? My one daughter actually said,”Oh, it’s a bird? From the way you were acting I thought there was a masked man in the house!” Um, hello? Is anyone else out there remotely with me on this? The bird was now perched on top of my refrigerator while breakfast was about to burn on the stove. And of course I couldn’t turn the stove off because then I’d have to go near the bird. And it might do something crazy like- I don’t know- fly at me- or peck my head to a nub. Or get caught in my hair. (Caught in my hair feeling like the most likely scenario)
Thankfully, sweet and calm husband on the phone gave me some tips, such as open all the doors- which, to my credit, I had done. Then, after closing some other doors to the living room and dining room, the bird flew out the sliding glass door. I didn’t actually SEE this with my own eyes, so I had to ask my youngest daughter approximately 237 times if she was SURE the bird had flown out the door. And then, this same child looked me square in the face and said….wait for it…”You didn’t handle that very well.” Wow. Insult to injury. And then came the re-enactments of mom freaking out. The made up songs about birds in the house and a crazy mother. Sigh…it was not my finest hour.
BUT! My chance to save face came a little later in the day when that same sweet child had a fly in her room and called me for help. That’s right- a measly, teeny, tiny little fly. Puh-leeeze. Who would be scared of a fly? I ran in like a champ and let it out the window. And we didn’t even have to call Dad.

3 Kids Later…Still an Amateur…

Last night, the Tooth Fairy was supposed to come. But she didn’t. Until this morning. And even then, she had to send in a sub because she choked. It went something like this: Woke up. Saw the clock. Started to drift back to sleep. Sat up in terror and whisper screamed at husband, “THE TOOTH FAIRY NEVER CAME!” (While violently shaking his arm) I have no words for her. 3 kids and 20 years later, she still doesn’t have this routine down? Over the years, the excuses we have had to make for this chick are unreal- Apparently, she doesn’t work weekends, holidays, certain weeknights, Passover, Flag Day, in extreme weather conditions or on Oscar night. Seriously? 

Soooooo. When she went in there at 6:35 this morning, she knew the odds. They weren’t good. It was very possible that Cindy Lou Who was going to wake up. And she did. She woke up and LOOKED at me. Looked at me as if to say, “What are you doing in my room standing there just looking at me?” It was almost a little humiliating. And so like any good mother, I whispered, “Go back to sleep. I was just checking your window.” Yep. That’s what I said. Deer in headlights. Cash in hand. Tooth under pillow. I choked. That was it. I tiptoed right back out, deed undone.

That’s when I called in the back up. I begged. I pleaded. I might’ve promised rewards. I did casually mention she’s awake. And then I got back in bed. He had to. Now he had no choice. But he went in like a pro and got the job done. Phew.

I have been bamboozling these kids for 20 years. And I have to admit, I’m one of those moms who loves it. The lengths I have gone to over the years to maintain the charade of Santa and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and the Leprechaun…it’s a full time job. And I have loved it. Probably to the point where I have wondered if the kids are now just humoring me and don’t want to disappoint me by letting on that the gig is up. 

At one point, one of our kids had reached an age where, by all accounts, she should no longer think it possible for a teeny tiny fairy to flutter into the house and replace teeth with money. And in the interest of      fairness and her sanity, finally, when she asked me the truth about the tooth fairy, I was almost relieved. “Mom,” she tentatively said. “I just don’t see how it’s possible. The little fairy and all.” “You don’t?” I replied. “Alright then. Okay. Well, how do you think the money gets there? Who do you think does it?” Slowly, a smile spread across her face and she lifted a finger up and pointed to me. “You?” she whispered. “You’re the Tooth Fairy?” “That’s right!” I smiled. “It’s me.” But I could see her excitement and where this was headed. I had evidently been such an expert swindler that this child thought I was THE Tooth Fairy. Like FOR THE WHOLE WORLD. I was slightly flattered for a minute and even considered going with it…but alas…I let her down easy. “Not for everybody honey. Just for our house.” We both exhaled a sigh of relief. That really would be a lot I guess. (Especially considering I couldn’t manage one kid this morning.) 

All’s well that ends well. The little one has her money this morning and I’ve got another shot tomorrow morning with the Leprechaun. I’m ready with the Lucky Charms, the green crepe paper, the green food coloring. It doesn’t matter that we’re not Irish. We’ve got traps to set tonight and this just might be the year we get that little guy.

 

Real Life. It’s Messy.

I like my house the way I like my life. Neat. Tidy. Picked up. No loose ends. All my ducks in a row. I can even tolerate a little dirt here and there as long as it LOOKS and feels like it’s all put together. When things start to pile up and kids start leaving stuff around and everything feels a little too helter skelter, I can feel my skin start to crawl. I have even been guilty of being a bit of a kill joy if I come home to a messy house. The atmosphere suddenly shifts because I want order. No matter what else is going on or supposed to be happening, I suddenly have one main focus: clean up the house. Regroup.

But lately, I’ve tried to be better about all this because here’s the truth: Real life is messy. Real, true, passionately lived life is a mess. It’s not neat. It’s not tidy. And it will probably never look like the magazines that showcase my home front dreams. (Which, by the way, where’s their stuff? When you look at those pictures, you know, where’s their STUFF??) I want to learn to be okay with all this because I’ve come to realize that that’s when my family and I are truly living. Muddy jeans and wet socks for the umpteenth time last week meant that kids were playing in the creek trying to catch fish and frogs instead of playing video games or watching T.V. The Barbie mecca, complete with in ground pool, that was constructed in the living room and left for several days was like a field of dreams for a little girl. Size 13 sneakers by the door, empty milk cartons and cereal boxes left on the counter, the T.V. stuck on Sports Center means our son is home from college. Last weekend, stuff was everywhere. Dirty dog prints on the hard wood floor. Dishes. Papers. Clothes. We were too busy to bother though–we were out and about DOING and LIVING. Would I really want it any other way? Just so it all looks and feels perfect? I want people to matter first. The house to matter second well, wherever it lands on the list.

But I’m not just talking about the house, really. I’m talking about life and relationships. Like most people, I’ve always wanted those to be neat and tidy too. But that’s just not realistic. Real life is messy. As people, we are constantly trying to battle for our identity; to be true to ourselves while trying to be true to the people we love. Sometimes we get it right, but lots of times we don’t. We hurt each other. Kids growing into their own have jagged and uneven edges. A marriage that is committed to last  no matter what, no matter how, is not always pretty. Raising a family will definitely stain your carpet with blood, sweat and tears and Lord knows what else. That’s another blog: the beauty of leather furniture–it’s washable.

While having this epiphany recently (I’m sure I was drinking a perfect cup of coffee from my Keurig–see! I think it even helps me think better!) my mental train of thought ended up comparing it all to child-birth.  Because really, childbirth is the literal analogy of bringing forth life. Talk about a mess. Holy Smokes. Talk about “stuff” being everywhere. (Sorry, guys, for that mental image– if you need a little brain bleach, the Mets are 22 and 25 right now.) Talk about the pain of battling it out–during the birth of my last child, as I neared the end of labor,  tears leaked from the corner of my eyes and I whispered to my husband, “I’m not gonna make it.”

But you know what? I did. And that’s life for you. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s rarely perfect even when it looks like it is. But it’s washable. And fixable. And even when we think we’re not gonna make it, that we might not survive the mess, we do. And just like that baby, we wouldn’t give it back for the world.