Tuesday, July 31, 2012

To the Childless

This letter is not meant to be crass. It is not meant to be sarcastic. It is not meant to be unkind or unsympathetic. It is not meant to belittle your struggles and very real heartache. This... is just honest. 

I was seventeen when I first said I wanted a baby. I remember plopping down in my desk in senior lit class and announcing it. My teacher, Mrs. Anderson, lovely woman full of spunk, experience and sarcasm, well, I think her jaw hit the floor. She was, for that moment, speechless.

Many girls dream of finding a mate and starting a family, usually some time after high school/college. By age twenty-one I was ready. Sooooo ready. Only... not. Apparently God thought I could be more ready. To me, however, it seemed as though he was torturing me with abject loneliness and despair, as not only did I not have a "significant other," I neither had friends. Total suckville. For years, I watched as friends and acquaintances, all the young pups in my church and elsewhere, got married, some way way too young. Some started families, some took a bit longer. Some got divorced. During this horribly long stretch of singledom, I had rededicated my life to the Lord and began seeking my own personal relationship with God, I became active in my church (because really, what else was there for me to do), I went to bible studies, I reclaimed my virginity, and I waited. Very. very. impatiently. Many times I cried out, "what's wrong with me, God? Why not me? Why am I not worthy of getting this?" No answers were given, to which I grew more pissed off.

In this season, I surrounded myself with the women who were having babies (and sometimes marital problems to go along with that). I held babies, rocked them, listened to the mommies talk about breastfeeding and teething and everything mommy-related under the sun. I asked questions. I hung out. And mentally, I took notes.

Of coarse as the story goes, I met Kong and we got married and had babies too, lots and lots of babies, though that story has plenty of bumps along the way and didn't exactly happen overnight. But here I am today, one husband and five children richer. After a three year dating spell/engagement, I was not quite thirty when we married, and I was thirty and a half when I had my first baby. (Thirty-seven and a half when I had my fifth and final baby, in case you were wondering.) I have recognized that that time, those extra years I had, taking notes and maturing just a little bit more, were good in that I was just that much more capable of handling it all. More than my twenty-one year old self would have been. More than those nineteen and twenty year old counterparts were. So I can be thankful for it now, but the waiting really was a horribly low time for me.

I will be the first to tell you that I need to appreciate my family more. I need to spend more time reveling in what a blessing they all are. And I am doing that. I'm being more intentional. They are blessings, and I am humbled and honored to have been graced with this position. The flip side is that parenting is hard. Damned hard, and sometimes it's hard to be thankful for those "blessings." It's the most tiresome, unending, repetitive, frustrating, overwhelming, stretch you to the limits and beyond, self-sacrificing, thankless job you'll EVER have anywhere of anything. Which I say in full authority of coarse because I've been everywhere and done everything. Ok, so maybe not. But I'm pretty sure I'm right.

When you become a parent, your whole life, your sleep schedule, your body, your time, your everything - it is no longer your own. Your freedom is gone. Your "freedom" to be selfish is gone. Your ability to go somewhere on a moments notice without making major preparations (diaper bag, sitter, sleep schedule, travel time, company, food/bottles, carseats, etc) is gone. It's very easy to feel trapped, and there is even a period of mourning that loss. Your money, if you ever had any, is now spoken for. You may no longer sleep til noon. Or 8am. Or even alone. Or.. at all. You may not listen to loud music. You may not even get to listen to your music. Or watch your shows on television. What you eat changes. Where you eat changes. For some, where you live changes. You become concerned with things that were of no consequence before. Because now, everything has consequence.

You are responsible for another human being. For every minute that passes, ultimately you are responsible for their care, their livelihood, their well-being. It is your job to direct or shape their mind, their values and beliefs, their personality, their soul, their education, their goals, their future. Everything you do has an impact. Even if you manage to sneak away for an evening, a weekend, a whole blessed vacation sans children, you are still responsible for what happens to your child. No grandma, aunt, uncle, friend is more responsible for your child than you are. Ever.

My days are filled with things that frustrate the heck out of me. And... it's my job to change it. It's my job to teach them, by constant vigilance and repetition to the nth freaking degree, to put their shoes away, put their plate in the dishwasher, clothes in the hamper, to pick up toys, how to pick up toys, to look for cars, to ask before taking (anything and everything, god help me this may do me in some days), to eat what is put in front of them, to listen to complaining, to listen to whining, to stop the complaining and whining and fighting, to endure tantrums and sass and attitude. Teaching personal responsibility, personal hygiene, caring for property, manners, respect, kindness, math facts, not to cut your own hair, to ask before you hand out apples to the seven other children at the park, to not draw on walls, pee on the merry-go-round, or pull the paint off the walls - all this and more - is NEVERENDING. And when I say constant vigilance, I mean C O N S T A N T   V I G I L A N C E.

Have you ever heard that quote that says, 'Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.' ~Elizabeth Stone. It's true. You love this child (who drives you batty) so much, but a heart outside your body is unprotected. Still, most parents do everything in their power to protect their child, until they realize the frightening fact that there is a lot outside their control. Kids get sick. Kids get hurt. They encounter danger of many kinds. Sometimes they are born with physical/mental/developmental challenges. As a parent, you don't get a choice in those matters. It can make you sick to your stomach thinking of all the what if's, the things out of your control. You can never be prepared enough for that, whatever may come. 

If all that isn't tiring enough, the other thing parenting does is hold a big fat mirror up to your own inadequacies or faults. You see your mistakes repeated in your children's actions. You hear them repeat your voice - the one of criticism, pettiness, complaining, or that screechy one. You know the one. They repeat things you never should have said. They test your limits. They push you past your limits. They stomp all over your weaknesses. You find yourself filled with regret, or 'I wish I would have done that differently', or 'I wish I would have done that better.' You do or say things you never thought you would. You see where you made wrong choices, and how that impacted everyone. Being a parent is like standing in a fire. If you let it, it refines you, but it's a hot place to be, and it sure as heck isn't comfortable.

My oldest is only eight, and I have those thoughts of regret. For my one short foray into being a sorta mom to a teen I totally screwed up to degrees that still cause me great sorrow, even as I type this. I wonder daily - will that damage ever be undone, or rectified? My youngest sibling is thirty three and I hear my parents make remarks of regret all the time. And my parents were/are good parents.

All that to say... parenting is not what it seems. Not what you dream. The moments of snuggling and story reading and hand holding are crowded with much less pleasant realities.

I have several friends who have battled infertility. I have friends who are single mothers. I have friends who still have not found "the one." I have friends who have gone or are going through the long grueling adoption process. I have had a miscarriage. I have prayed many prayers for one friend who has miscarried, experienced infertility, and still hopes to adopt, though it appears as though it may never happen. (I still pray. I still have hope.) I am a regular reader of a few blogs by people who blog out their heart ache in regards to their body's inability to create or contain a child. None of this makes me an expert. None of this gives me the true understanding of your experience or heartbreak or pain. It only gives me a window, and a smidge of empathy. My heart truly aches for your longing.

I don't know why God has allowed you to go through this trial. But do not be mistaken, there is a reason. There is fruit to come. There are lessons to be learned that will, or should, come out of this time for you. Parenting (or marriage, for that matter) is not as romantic as we think it to be in our pre-child state. All my high school notions were just fantasy, not - not at ALL - reality. Once, a few years ago, I called my mom and asked, "So, tell me again why I wanted children?" Her response, "I don't know. Why did you?" Yes, there are blessings and rewards that come with being a parent, but it is a long, hard time in the making, sometimes taking years, or decades, to see. The "mama" you were once so excited to hear eventually becomes the thing you wish they would stop saying (because it's usually preceding a request, a demand, a complaint or just being said to annoy the heck out of you). I love you's become I hate you's. Hugs become slammed doors. Nothing about parenting is easy. Sometimes, not even the loving.

As they say, the grass is always greener. So take a moment, please, to consider your own lawn, and the tending that can be done there. There is good in your life right now. There are "benefits" you have that you take for granted, just as I often take for granted the five (+ hubby) blessings I have who take up my every waking minute. And just as I should find grace in the blessing of "getting" to do 14 loads of laundry a week, so should you take the opportunity - while you have it - to spend time on yourself, on your prayer life, or your marriage, your ability to travel, your freedom to help people, to go to counseling to deal with your 'issues,' to find mental health, or a career, to develop great friendships or a cure for cancer, or to sit around in your undies all day and eat chips without having to share. We all need to open our eyes wider to the opportunities, privileges and blessings that lay before us, that are already here, right here, right now.

And with that... This is what has come to mind.

May the Lord bless you and keep you,
May the Lord shine his face upon you and be gracious to you,
May the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.

Because truly, parent or not, we need all the blessings, grace, favor and peace He has to offer us in this life.

Monday, July 30, 2012

FriendConnect more like NEVER CONNECT

Ugh. Anyone else have any problems with Blogger and "managing your subscriptions?" I used to be able to just switch back over to the old interface and unsubscribe, because LORD KNOWS that FriendConnect is n.e.v.e.r.  a.b.l.e.  t.o.  c.o.n.n.e.c.t. At least not in my experience. So I have never managed to "manage" on the new interface. But now I can't even use the old interface. So I try in Google Reader - as per the lame instructions in Blogger. Well, it  s a y s I'm unsubscribing in Google Reader but the doggone things are still there. grumble grumble justwastedanhouronthiscrap mumble  grumble grr.

No offense to the people I'm trying to delete, y'all. Just trying to clean up ones I just don't have time to read. You're really lovely bloggers, it's just that your topic is probably not most suited to my current ear.

And, you know, the ones who haven't posted in like 2 yrs. Some of them, I'm really bummed to miss, though. Kim @Inadvertent Farmer and Mr DetzelPretzel - Pastor Ryan? Yeah, I's talkin' bout yous, buddy. What happened to your blogs? Poof. Thin air.

So Blogger... yeah, you mythicalmanintheweb. This is not a new problem. FIX IT, WILL YA! (and by not new, I mean, like since the dawn of time, or at least since the dawn of the new interface.

ok. stepping off soapbox.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


You know you've done it. Especially as a parent, given the non-stop talking. (What that's just my house? Oh, my bad.) I'm talking about Inactive Listening. This most sanity saving ineffective listening technique can be defined as hearing someone speak, but only half paying attention to what that someone is saying. You catch key words, phrases, the more important things, just not all the details. Yep. I'm guilty. Sometimes, when my kids talk to me, which is, like, all-doggone-day-long never, I sometimes am only sort of paying attention. My mind is busy thinking of the running to-do list that floats around my head, concentrating on not chopping my finger off (not that that's ever happened, ahem) or... a bazillion other things going on. For me, these someone's are usually short. Like monkeys. For you? Maybe your spouse, mother, mother-in-law? 

Consequently, this is also the same technique your children are applying when you are lecturing them for the umpteenth time about picking up their stinkin' (and in some cases that's literal) shoes. Or about manners, or making wise choices. Or.. You get the picture.

I do wonder, though, if this is how kids miss what is said that can lead to some funny versions of what they repeat.

Anyway, that is how this story was born.

This summer, we got Netflix. When the kids get to fighting, or fighting over what they want to watch, Mrs. Bananas (that's me) gets to choose. Instead of picking some show that lasts only 20 minutes, I pick a nice long movie, to prolong the break from fighting. One such day, my choice was not the best but I was busy trying not to chop off my finger and quickly prepare some sustenance for the hungry natives who needed a distraction. Which would be why I wasn't really monitoring what was on. My bad. There were questionable things. Hey, it was a movie about babies. Who thought talking babies would swear (mildly) and use innuendo???

Today, Koko was recounting one of the "funnier" parts of the story. As you might have guessed, I was applying the Inactive Listening technique. She was saying something about one of the babies kicking some man and another baby laughing and commenting about it.

This is when Koko quotes something about kicking Gomez.

"Gomez?" I asked. "What?" Clearly confused.

She giggled, pointed "down there" and said, "you know, his Gomez."

After I died laughing, I let her know that the "correct" term is 'gonads.'

At the lunch table, she then corrected her brother about this, and explained to him that Gomez is someone's last name. Gonad's are what's "down there."

Oh my.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Average Morning Adventures in the Car

George has Cub Scout Camp this week. (I wish it was longer than 2 days. For his sake, of coarse.)

I forgot to set my alarm. Fortunately, my kids have an inner excitement meter that conveniently acts as an internal alarm clock, and so I was awakened by my boy promptly at 7am wanting to know where his clothes were.

Upon rising I see that it is very clearly going to rain. (PRAISE THE LORD) This also means I need to find him rain gear of some sort. I know we have at least two rain ponchos we bought about ten years ago for a camping/fishing trip we took. Heck if I could find them. Naturally. The Kong was sure they'd have ponchos at our local Happy Dan's. They don't. "I know they carry them at Holiday," he said knowingly, since he goes there for work a lot. But of coarse there's only two Holiday's in town and neither of them are close or convenient. 

Clearly there was some running around in my future so I packed all the kids in the car and off we went to drop the boy off at camp before heading out to search for rain gear. I was trying to avoid a trip clear across town (really, about the farthest possible point from where we were) to Menards or Wally World. Kwik Trip doesn't carry them either, in case you're wondering, but they do carry delicious donuts which sounded like a "good" breakfast for the kids. I got chocolate milks for them to wash it down with, too. I knew I'd hear some "you're the best mom ever's" with this.

At least that's what you'd think. When I got to the car and began handing out the sweets, Boots was very upset that I didn't get him Bug Juice (which is just koolaid in a squirt top bottle). "Sorry, that's your treat with daddy. But I got you yummy donuts and chocolate milk." I handed it to him, he took it, reluctantly. As we're driving down the road, he continues to protest that I didn't get Bug Juice. I tell him to stop drinking the milk. He doesn't.

And please tell me where kids come up with stuff because this next bit is too funny.

He's still bemoaning the Bug Juice and complaining about milk and donuts when he says, "This stuff is going to make me barf. It's destroying my stomach."

Really? Destroying my stomach? Okay, pal. Then you just hand that right over to mommy. I'll happily let it destroy my stomach. Wouldn't want a boy to suffer, now, would we?

Among the complaints about his breakfast, he's also crying about missing his brother (which is quite endearing when you take out the whining part), and how this is so not fair that he can't go to camp. I apologize but I don't make the rules, and he can go to camp when he's six. Doesn't help. Koko, sweetie that she can be, pipes in with, "would it make you feel better if I farted my armpit?" Slight pause, followed by a quiet, "Yeah," he says.

lol. I'm baffled. Kids. Nothing like a little armpit farting to raise your spirits.

Even more astounding, she gave him a very detailed explanation about how to do it, in case he wanted to make his own armpit farts. I think this girl could be a teacher. It was seriously amazing.

I'm not sure if I should be proud of that, or mortified. 

Oh, and by the way, we did get a  poncho, but unfortunately, they were out of our favorite tortilla chips (Chi-chi's brand). Bummer.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Time Spent Well

I often lament my mothering (which sounds pathetic as I type it "out loud"). Is mommy guilt is innate? We all have dreams of what life will be like, how we will mother, the relationship we have with our kids. But the reality is, parenting is a lot of work. 

First of all, there's the actual parenting of little people who you may occasionally think exist just to try your patience. Dealing with tantrums, sass and sibling conflict. Then, there's the logistics in just plain living. The nuts and bolts. Laundry, dishes, meals, grocery shopping, vacuuming, endless picking up of toys, etc. Too often I get lost in that. So much to do that I don't enjoy life. I don't enjoy my kids.

I hate that. I'm ashamed of that.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this not enjoying my kids thing. Months being upset about it, having a bad attitude about it. Pouting. Crying, even. I want to love my kids. I want them to know that not only do I love them, but I love being with them.

Part of it is a mindset. If my attitude is different, the air around me is different. My kids' attitudes and behaviors are different. My spouse is different. Life is different.

My house is a disaster right now, and I'm getting bogged down with just the thought of it. Frustration mounts at the amount of tasks and not enough energy or time. I get mad at doing something over and over again, so that I don't even bother. Evidence: My kitchen floor looks like a casualty-filled war zone. It's truly gross. And I'm not being modest. The tot throws food on the floor when he's decided he's done eating, and 3 times a day? Not mopping three times a day. Not mopping three times a week. And if I'm really being honest here, I don't mop three times a month. I just get mad when it gets all messy again, which is dumb. PRIME EXAMPLE of where I need to change my mindset. Also, how many times a day can I clean muddy hand prints off the bathroom sink, or wipe the mirror? sigh. I should not complain. 

In every thing we do we have a choice. So, on the 4th, I made different choices. I sat on the couch and watched two episodes of Army Wives with my hubby, because that's what we like to do. The boys were gone to their cousins, but instead of cleaning the bathroom, I made the split second decision to put on my swimsuit and jumped in the pool with the girls who played with my hair, and sat on the floatie with me. I hung out with them for almost 2 hours. I didn't cook. I didn't clean. I enjoyed the people around me instead. Later, we went to a parade, and I beamed with pride watching my boys in firetrucks. I soaked-in their excitement, their kid-ness, their fun. We sweated together (100 degrees and tropical humidity). We raced for candy. We had snow cones and lit sparklers. We saw fireworks and ate popcorn.

While I often do fun stuff with my kids, I don't always have the best attitude. I take them somewhere so they can have fun, but not me. I don't have the attitude of enjoying them, of enjoying with them. More energy is spent trying to escape - the noise, the hassle, the interruption. I'm embarrassed by that. So yesterday, I dove in. I participated. Was it all fun? No. Was there the usual complaining, mischief and rivalry? Sure. But I didn't focus on that. 

It did my heart good to enjoy my children. To take notice and dote. They need that.  I  need that.

My house is still dirty today, though probably not noticeably dirtier. I still haven't made a meal, there's dishes to do, and mountains of stuff to be done. But I chose to braid the girls' hair. I hugged my boys. I let them eat candy. Hopefully my monkeys will remember that I was present in their day, that I was more than just another body in the room.

(and here is where I would insert a nice photo of the girls' braided hair but my camera battery is dead and I can't find the charger. grr. Story of my life.)

This was my facebook status last night, and I think it sums this up. 

"It was a good day. Time with my love, time with my girls, beamed with pride watching my boys ride in firetrucks, time with my wild man, pool, parade, pizza, popcorn and pyrotechnics. Nothing super spectacular, just a lot of little moments - good ones."

Are you taking time to enjoy the people in your life, or are you putting your focus on things that are less important? Take the time, challenge yourself. Set down the phone, the laundry basket, the book/paper/computer, and join in. You won't regret it.