For me, to live.

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Sometimes I feel as if I am just barely keeping my head above the water.

I feel as if I am completely unequipped to handle my life.

Two kids – and here I am feeling all guilty because I really don’t know if I can ever have anymore and make it while also feeling like a terrible person for being almost completely unwilling to be pregnant again. All the while feeling completely overwhelmed with the life that having even two kids creates. The health issues, the growing four year old attitude, the exhausting fiery personalities, the speech delays, the discipline, the schedules, the laundry, the cooking, the trying-to-go-grocery shopping…the baths, the potty-training, the constantly applying Nantucket Spider Bug Spray.

The decisions- what to do, and when to do it and why to do it. And are you sure that you should do it? But what if this happens instead, what do you do then? And where and why and how all over again. Then the doubt. Oh doubt…

There are so many things. Relationships. Career choices. Friendships. Family. Life.

Life.

Maybe it’s just that I am home for the summer. I sometimes wonder if I am just a better person all together when I am working. But then the guilt sets in and I feel like a terrible mother for even thinking that.

I feel like I am in an endless cycle of waking up, Mr. Aksel waking up ten seconds later and screaching “Mummmmmmaaaaaaaaa”, fighting with my four year old about what to have for breakfast while my two year old is repetitively whining “can-cakes, ‘ausage” and proceeding to scream when I tell him we are having raisin toast.

And I just wonder.

Am I doing something wrong? Am I the only one who wakes up and winds up arguing with my children, even though I began the day with such resolve to be a calm, patient mother who blinks and magically calms her children and bends their will to hers.

It’s just exhausting, you know?

Proceed to finish breakfast when the children run off with sticky hands, drifting them all over your walls and kitchen cabinets as they gleefully run away from you. And before you know it you are wrestling trains and Elsa Barbies from their hands and half carrying them half dragging them up the stairs to brush their teeth and twist some clean clothes on – all the while hoping that you didn’t put someone’s pants on backwards.

And you spend the rest of the morning coaxing them to drink their water.

And there is no joy.

Because as soon as you collect your thoughts and resolve yet again to be a happy, calm person, you hear a fight break out.

And suddenly your life becomes some sort of raging tumult that resembles both screaming fans at a country concert and the crashing and banging of cars at a demolition derby.

So instead of enjoying playing with the trains, you are swiftly plucking them from sticky-again hands before they become catapult ammunition.

And I just wonder.

Why? Why me? Why can’t I have easy going kids? Or is it me? Did I make them like this?

So on a whim in an effort to calm the screaming-demolition-craziness you half begging half bribe them to go outside with you and play. Which is all happy and jolly until someone gets sand stuck between their toes, and the chickens start clucking and the four year old causes the two year old to believe that impending doom is near because the chicken are doing their scared cluck…so Armageddon is near! And everyone is running screaming and crying or semi-evily laughing back into the house and you are just standing there with weeds in your hand wondering….will I ever get anything accomplished EVER in my life?

Before you know it lunch is upon you. And you must know how this goes. It’s like a portal to another dimension – the window of opportunity for lunch time only lasts for a specific amount of time. Miss it – your toast. Try it too soon – you’re still toast.

So you end up bribing little Miss with a penny if she just sits down and eats her Annie’s Shells & Cheddar. And Mr. Aksel ends up sitting on you, spilling his milk down your shorts because  you bumped elbows as you were trying to shovel  your own food into your own mouth while simultaneously giving him a bite of his macaroni. I mean, he’s not going to insist upon sitting with me when he it ten, right? And by insist I mean scream and shout and throw his food and flat out refuse to eat. I can’t wait to tell his girlfriend about his childhood…

And finally, FINALLY rest time is here!

A half an hour, maybe longer if you’re lucky.

But instead of taking a nap or reading a book, there I am. At the computer. Working away on grad-school assignments in record time. I love school. But I’m not going to pretend…it’s downright hard when you have kids. Sometimes I look at other people, and I wish my life was like theirs. Two kids is hard.Two kids and grad-school is like climbing Mt. Everest. I guess we all have things we are called to do, and God allowed grad-school to call my name. So homework during rest time it it.

On a good day, Mr. Aksel wakes up happy as a lark.

Those days are few and far between.

Like maybe once in a blue moon (do we even have those?)

Most of the time when he wakes up from a nap he resembles a mummy emerging from a stasis-pod that he has been in for 20 million years.

If I could, I’d be on Mars.

But I can’t, because I’m his mother, and someone has to help the grumpy mummy.

The short end of the straw.

So then we enter the post-nap phase which is comprised of fussing and whining and trying to crawl inside my skin because I just love mom so much and want her to take away all of my post-nap woes. And I want a cookie, but I don’t want a cookie, and I want a banana, but not that banana…on and on and on.

Until suddenly a switch flips.

Was it something I said? Something that I did?

Am I the only one with kids like this?!

And off he goes, running with his excavator in one hand and green blanket in another to join his sister.

But little Miss is NOT okay with this, because she has happily been playing peacefully without him and really, if you were her would you want some clumsy two year old brother stumbling into the playroom and knocking over your train bridge?

Nope. Not me.

Take another nap, Bud.

So that screaming concert demolition derby thing starts happening all over again.

Sometimes I just get so tired of being a referee that I just stop.

Barely keeping my head above the water.

On top of all the other demands of life. On top of all the stresses that life brings. On top of all the things that need doing…sometimes it just all seems like too much. Too much.

And I just can’t help but wonder…why? Why me?

There I am again. Fighting through dinner time. Because Mr. Aksel is going through this phase where we won’t eat unless he is sitting with me.

And that alone brings so much stress. Am I doing this wrong? Should I just not let him sit with me? But then he won’t eat? People must think I am an awful parent – letting my two year old win the battle.They must think that I’ve allowed him to be like this, that somehow, it is all my fault.

But he’s not going to sit with me forever. So for now, let’s just get through dinner.

After dinner is probably the best part of the day. For some reason every one is generally very calm.

Maybe they just got tired from the drama of the day.

Until bed time. And I literally have to say to myself over and over…be patient, be patient, be patient.

The trying to brush teeth and floss but he just spit his toothpaste out on my face! And she took my blanket and put it on her bed. And I don’t want my diaper but I don’t want to use the toilet, and not those pajamas I really just have to have the ones that are in the washing machine!

And the thousand and one kisses that I love to give but really, who has energy for a thousand kisses? Mr. Aksel, that’s who. Because mommy, I just want to be awake with you forever.

And little Miss who likes to relive the entire day just as you are about the walk out her bedroom door. And yes, it’s just easier to pretend to listen as you rattle off the post-bedtime to do list in you head.

Just keeping my head above the water.

Or can my feet really actually touch the bottom?

Maybe I’ve had it wrong this whole time.

Perhaps instead of floating along struggling to keep my head up, the bottom has been there all along.

Yet I’ve allowed my perspective to overwhelm me and failed to see the truth that all I needed to to was stretch out my legs and sink my feet into the sandy bottom of water that is actually calm, but became rough when I began to struggle in my effort to survive.

 

Wilt the seeds of wanting more
Rippin’ pride out by the roots
And if I’m still, let me hear You speak
Not the tone of my transgressions,
But the song of the Redeemed

Because perspective can make or break life. And wanting more than the life you have is a dangerous path to travel. Sometimes you just need to be still, and in those moments allow your spirit to be refreshed by the simple fact that no matter how awful your day was, not matter how much you struggled as a mother, the song that is your life is one of redemption.

My great desire is to be with You
But this is the place you chose for me
This is the place you chose for me
To lift my cross and give everything
This is the time you gave to me
This is the time you gave to me

Because let’s face it, heaven would be amazing. I don’t think it is possible for my kids to fight with each other there. But there is a time for everything. And now is my time to be a mother. And even when I feel completely unequipped and unworthy…this is place He chose for me. No matter how exhausting, how messy, how stressful and overwhelming.

This is the time He gave to me.

I’ll never be the same, I’ll never be the same
For me to live is Christ, to die is gain

So let my dreams of perfect parenting die as I strive to pour my heart and soul into the life that He designed for me and the time He has given me to live.

Yep, that’s me.

I just stuck out my legs and my feet hit bottom.

I’m not struggling to keep my head above water.

I’m living.

 

 

For By Grace

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Your grace, let it surround me,
Let faith change the atmosphere. – Remember, The Passion

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

2 Corinthians 12:9

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Some days I find myself counting time relative to Kreade outgrowing his colic. Today I know so much more about why that first year of his life was so hard. More than a physical ailment, infant colic is often linked to temperament. Do I think that he suffered from tummy aches and discomfort for 11 months? Maybe. Do I think that his inherent personality contributed to his symptoms? For sure. Because most days even now Kreade can be difficult to live with.

Those days of waking up every 2-3 hours to nurse him  morning and night for eleven months straight seem so long ago. But I can never forget them. Those days of crying and bouncing and attempting to soothe will always stay with me. When Kreade cries now, at two years of age, all of the memories come flooding back.

And he is still so passionate in everything he does. Instead of tantruming because he wants to nurse, he tantrums in the grocery store when he has to sit in the shopping cart. Instead of crying because he couldn’t communicate what he needed or wanted as an infant, he still cries because language has been slow to come for him and we still don’t know what he needs or wants.

Honestly, I still wonder if he will ever make it one whole day without crying. It’s almost like his preferred method of communication. Like his emotions are just so overwhelming for things big and things that I perceive as small he just handles them by crying. He is all in or all out. Either screaming “Bye! Love you!” at the top of his lungs and being heard two miles away, or screaming “Nooooooooooo!” because he doesn’t want to leave and being heard four miles away.

It’s either Kreade’s way or no way. I wish that I could describe to you the volume, passion, and intensity of his tantrums. Which happen probably at least every hour that he is awake. And then there are his snuggles and hugs and kisses. He hugs with such effort and passion – you never want him to stop. He is the best hugger I know (except maybe for his Pa, could be that’s where he gets it from).

Some days he won’t eat because, well, because he doesn’t want to. Or because you gave him the wrong fork, not his Lightning McQueen fork. And he is so totally thrown off by this poor choice on your end he can’t calm down enough to even realize you quickly washed the Lightning fork and put it in his hand. Instead, he just keeps screaming and you skip straight to nap time and save lunch for when he wakes up.

I’ve never met a child like Kreade. And I have met a lot of children. I don’t think that there are many children out there like him. And he is already so misunderstood. I’ve gotten some nasty stares in the grocery store. And I’m sure that there are family and friends that think we are “spoiling” him. After all, he is two and really shouldn’t be crying so much all of the time. And while I’m sure that there are some things we could do better with him, I’d invite anyone who thinks we have created a naughty kid to spend a day with him. It’s not always that he means to be troublesome (although sometimes his intent is clear), he just is so different. Again, I wish that I could explain it. But those of you who have children who are passionate, spirited, and high-needs know exactly what I am talking about. Normal kids function on 100% and spirited kids function on 500%. No kidding.

And I refuse to completely break that spirit, because someday it is going to be such a good trait. He’ll go far, that boy, and do great things. Because he doesn’t take no for an answer and has the passion of probably a thousand suns, literally pouring his heart into everything he does. If you stop for a minute and block out the screams and tears and difficulty of the situation, your heart will realize the beauty of spirited children.

I wish that I was better at realizing the beauty in it all. But most days I still feel like I’m hanging on by a thread.

Parenting any child is hard and tiring. Parenting a spirited child is exhausting. EXHAUSTING! Exhausting!

Yesterday was a particularly rough day. it was rainy, and I was busy, and Kreade was extra loud and passionate (as in, running around with the slats I was trying to paint for his toddler bed hitting his sister on the head and laughing like he was at a Broadway show). I yelled and threatened and was so frustrated with him I almost cried.

Somedays, Kreade leaves me feeling like I’ll never be good enough.

I’ve been reading this book that my father in law let me borrow. I personally think that everyone should read it. I’ve been in tears through most of it. The stories of redemption and being saved from drug and other addictions by the love of Jesus are nothing short of a miracle. And they are beautiful, beautiful stories. The work that Teen Challenge does is amazing. I became interested in the subject of addiction after learning in one of my secular psychology classes that religious based addiction programs are significantly more effective than any other secular programs. Since then, this topic has really been on my heart.

And I love the stories.

These people have led hard lives. Lives fraught with doubt, anger, hardship, hopelessness, fear, regret… But it’s the hopelessness that stands out to me. And yet, one by one they finish their stories with voices that exude hope. As a reader, you can’t help but wonder how such an adverse life experience can end with a life full of hope.

It’s because of grace.

Grace: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their sanctification :  a virtue coming from God :  a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine grace : approval, favor, mercy, pardon.

I often wish that I had more of a ‘story’ to narrate my own life. It’s not that I am jealous of the hardship and heartbreak that these recovered addicts experienced. But I have often wished that I really knew just what I was saved from.

I don’t believe there is any greater way to understand and comprehend grace and forgiveness than to recover from addiction because of Jesus. Reading their stories causes me to look at Him with such awe for the exceptional act that grace in their lives is.

Approved of. Favored by. Extended mercy. Pardoned by God.

And while I do not have the experiences of an addict, I think that parenting might be the runner up when it comes to understanding and comprehending grace.

Not only do we, as Christian parents, have the privilege to extend grace to our children, we do so knowing that we ourselves have been covered in His grace.

Tried really hard but still had a bad day? Ended up yelling at your kids? Feeling exhausted and unworthy to be a parent? Feeling overwhelmed? Want to give up? Feeling bad that a choice or action or something you should have done but forgot to do is going to result in something catastrophic happening to your child as in maybe he will get chicken pox because I scheduled his immunization a month after the recommended time-frame or maybe she is going to catch a cold because I didn’t use the shopping cart cover in the grocery store and I really just feel like I suck at this whole parenting thing.

Grace.

No matter how much we mess up. No matter how much of a failure we think we are. No matter how inadequate we view ourselves as.

Grace.

Because He knows we are doing the best that we can.

You are favored by Him. You are approved of by Him. Mercy is extended to you by Him.

Even when your spirited two year old is screaming in the grocery store because you didn’t get to the race car shopping cart fast enough.

You are pardoned by Him.

All because of Grace.

So let’s remember that His grace is sufficient for us tired and weary parents. And that His strength is made perfect in our weakest moments – the ones where we just want to throw in the towel (or leave the grocery store crying along with our tantruming child).

And let’s remember that the POWER of Christs rests upon us.

And we can do this parenting thing!

Romans 5:19-21 NKJV

19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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A Little More

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Oh, my dear, I’ll wait for you

And grace tonight will pull us through
Oh, my dear, I’ll wait for you
And grace tonight will pull us through
Until the tears have left your eyes
Until the fears can sleep at night
Until the demons that you’re scared of disappear inside
Until this guilt begins to crack
And the weight falls from your back
Oh, my dear, I’ll keep you in my arms tonight.

~ Tenth Avenue North

We are going on month four of Kreade’s metamorphosis from cranky, colicky baby to happyish, well-adjusted toddler. Honestly, those days of terror are starting to fade in the wake of new, happier memories. But before I completely forget those dark months, there is one thing that I want to remember: Ellie.

Because colic isn’t just hard for Mommy. And while it’s definitely hard on Daddy too, it’s also hard for the siblings that are forced into the whole dreadful experience by no fault of their own.

And they really just become sort of lost.

Their whole world was just turned upside down, and after two years and three months of being the ONLY sparkle in Mom and Dad’s eye, now there is this baby to contend with. And when that baby turns out to cry more often than he doesn’t cry (I won’t even say smile, because that’s totally unrealistic), that poor little two year old gets lost.

Lost in a life that she never asked for, never knew existed, and doesn’t really understand. How could she understand that most babies don’t cry this much? How could she understand why mom was so stressed out all the time? How could she know that it was okay to love this little bundle of fury?

Because colic wasn’t just hard on me. It was hard on Ellie too. And only now, coming out of it, can I look back and see just how likely traumatic of an experience that was for her. We lost ourselves. We lost so much in an effort to cope and just get through it all.

Positive guidance gave way to bribes and “whatever means necessary to prevent both these twerps…er children-who-i-love from crying at the same time”. Cuddles and stories became sit on one knee while mom bounces the still-crying-Kreade on the other and reading over his screams. No kidding. Can you imagine? We loved books together. And here came this awful, crying baby who ruined it all.

Gentle instruction on social interaction and sharing has basically come to a halt. I mean, really. How COULD I ask her to share with him? He already was taking up so much of our time…so much of our time, some of which should have been hers.

Quiet and peaceful bedtime routines instantly changed to “tiptoe and whisper so Kreade doesn’t wake up”.

Playing outside and exploring and having adventures was put on hold because, well it would just be rude to make the neighbors have to hear Kreade crying.

We lost ourselves. I lost my patience. And I’m only now beginning to get it back…and realize just how much we lost.

But while it is certain that we lost so much, it is also certain that we have so much to gain.

And while those days were definitely oh so hard on Ellie. But there is much to gain.

We are all starting to get to know Kreade, Ellie included.

She is starting to talk about the old Kreade. I guess even three year olds can recognize such a dramatic change. While before her usual complaint was “why is he crying?!” now she complains that he isn’t big enough to do all the things she wants to do with him.

Now they play together. Now Ellie talks with him and is starting to gently guide him. She is starting to learn that it’s okay to love him. That he can be loved. That is is more than just tears and cries and very difficult.

Every time I see them interacting with each other, my heart stops just for a moment.

And now I realize just how hard it all was for her. I feel so bad.

But what can we do? Reality is, life isn’t happy all of the time. Life is hard. Life is really hard. People are hard. People are really hard.

Some of us experience this when we are much older, and some of us experience this when we are two.

And Ellie, I never want you to forget. Because people are hard. People are difficult. Some more than others. But God in His infinite grace calls us to love them nevertheless; waiting for Him to turn their ashes into beauty. And all the while we wait, to hold them in our arms. Though you may feel lost, trust that He will pull you through. And pull them through. Because people are hard. But they’re worth waiting for.

And Kreade, never forget that your sister loves you. She learned to love you through all of your crankiness and tears. And through his grace the tears have left your eyes, and now you literally can sleep at night. Ellie asked me “when is he gonna be god enough like me?” The truth is, you will never be just like her, and you will probably always require a bit more patience and love than she does.

But like I told Ellie, that’s the point.

Some people need a little more love, and a little more grace. But people are always worth it.

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It’s Your Turn To Smell the Baby’s Butt: On Parenting and Committment

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“Mothers can forgive anything! Tell me all, and be sure that I will never let you go, though the whole world should turn from you.”
Louisa May Alcott, Jo’s Boys

“No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nature and education.”
Plato

Children. To those who don’t have them they are serene, perfect little faces on a Christmas card or Picture People portrait. And while children might have perfect moment, like us, they really are far from perfect.

And their imperfection allows for some interesting adventures that a mother or father would rather not embark upon.

Yet we do it anyways. We bring our children into the world and raise them through all of its uncertainty and chaos. Here’s a high-five or pat-on-the-back to all the parents who are doing their best to love and teach their children…because really, who has time to raise their glass in any sort of toast, ’cause when you’re holding the baby in one arm there is a good chance that they might grab your glass of wine and try to drink from it themselves. A high-five is definitely the safer route.

And for all of those who do not have children…well, you’re honestly missing out.

Yes, parenting is sure an adventure. Perhaps it is the most exciting, thrilling, exhilarating,important, interesting, terrifying, and fulfilling adventure you may ever embark upon in your lifetime. And what a responsibility parents have! Plato really hit the nail on the head when he references the commitment that parenting is.

It’s being committed to finding which of your children is emitting that awful smell from their body. No, that was definitly NOT a fart. The stench is lingering way too long. So off you go picking up the baby and smelling his cute little bum, ’cause when you are a parent, little bums are cute. It’s not him so you begin to freak out that you potty-trained child might have had an accident..no maybe it was a fart. So you cautiously peak down her backside only to stick your thumb into ACTUAL POOP only to quickly withdraw it and start demanding the march of -oh-my-word-you-just-pooped…anti-biotics-nasty-poop- and-its-all-over-your-butt-get-to-the-bathroom-now up the stairs and to the bathroom where your almost three year old is freaking out because she pooped, not on the toilet, and you STILL have it on your thumb. Yes, parenting is a commitment. It’s being committed to taking care of your children and wiping poop off your potty-trained children’s bums even though you are missing the latest episode of The Voice.

It’s being committed to making sure that everyone gets fed and actually eats. Which often likely appears like a circus to anyone who happens to be watching you. The baby starts off in the highchair…you take a bite of your food, give him a bite, repeat like twenty-five times. At the same time, you are talking to your husband while also bribing your almost three year old to eat her food if she wants any snacks. The baby starts screaming. You put him on your lab while continuing to finish your food, which is now a good foot away from you so that the baby cannot reach it. Hopefully it’s not soup. But somehow that little angel grabs your plate, sticks his fingers into whatever-it-is-you-managed-to-cook and proceeds to splatter it all over him and you. Your other child thinks this is funny and proceeds to imitate the baby and also ends up with food splattered and spread all over her head.

Looks like everyone needs a bath. Yes, being a parent means committing to never eating a normal meal again until, well I’m guessing until those little dears grow up and move out. Of course, then normal might feel abnormal…so will it ever really be normal again?

Being a parent is walking around your house and noticing the stickers that your child loving has placed because she is “decorating”. Or walking into a store with said stickers on your butt because she decided to decorate you, and you don’t notice until you go to bed at night and find them on your pants. Well, I probably made someone at the story laugh anyways.

Being a parent is being committed to watching anything with a somewhat interesting rating or title until at least after 8 PM. And that’s only if bedtime goes as planned. Which never happens. So really it’s like 9 PM, so you only have time for a short show instead of a movie  because you also have to  be in bed and sleeping by ten since your children wake  up all night long and you have to be awake enough tor drive to work in the morning. Oh the sacrifices. At least there is coffee. Unless you’re also breastfeeding and your baby is sensitive to caffeine.

Being a parent is knowing all of the songs that Sofia the First sings. It is also driving down the road without your children and finding yourself singing along to these songs for a good ten minutes before you realize that you don’t have your kids and could be listening to grown-up songs. Eh, who cares…Frozen songs are pretty fun to sing even when your kids aren’t with you.

Commitment to parenting means being peed on, pooped on, a walking-talking tissue for your boogery children, never saying anything that remotely resembles a bad word. It’s getting your kids bathed and dressed and running out of time to do the same for  yourself. It’s reading stories and playing games instead of going out with your friends. It’s never being alone again, or if you are it’s thinking about your kids most of the time you’re not with them; which really is like never being alone. It’s working hard to live as an example. To provide love and support. To forgive them when they need forgiveness. To teach them, guide them, pray for them. Commitment to parenting means doing these things all of the time.

Parenting is hard. Parenting is an ongoing sacrifice. But you’ll never regret it.

Parenting is also sitting back on the couch with your husband and looking…just looking (while also simultaneously listening to MasterChef) at your beautiful children now that everyone is clean an poop free. And they’re really just the most beautiful thing in the world. And they notice you staring at them and just smile at you…and you know they love you.

Parenting is the joy you feel when your oldest wants to pray before you start eating. I’m doing it right…they’re catching on. All the hard work is paying off…in that one simple prayer. “Thank you Jesus for our food, and monkey and blankey. Amen”

Parenting is watching your children splash each other in the tub. And being thankful that you have a tub and clean water to bathe them in.

Parenting is seeing those stickers all over your house and smiling inside because the intent to help “decorate” was so innocent and sweet.

Parenting is looking at your sleeping child and thinking of the day that really isn’t far off when they will be old and too big to really hold in your arms.

Like the book Love You Forever. Now that I have children I finally understand this book. And whenever I read it, even to my students at school, I get tears in my eyes. Those little beings join you in this world and often turn in upside down. You spend so much time cleaning up their messes and working to ensure that they turn into a somewhat normal person. But its also those times that you spend rocking them and holding them, telling them that you’ll love them forever…no matter what. And knowing that someday they might be the ones rocking you, and whispering how much they love you in your ear.

No, you will never regret being a parent.

And so Ellie and Kreade. I want to thank you for being the reason for the greatest and best adventures of my life. And through all of these adventures please remember…I’ll love  you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my babies you’ll be.

Enter: Age Two

Ellie turned two in January. We welcomed this next year of life with a Minnie Mouse Birthday party, complete with pink and purple tutu. It’s funny how much children change in such a short amount of time. From age one to age two not only do they experience physical growth and change, but cognitive and emotional growth as well. They go from being crawlers or toddlers still reliant on mom and dad to walking talking two-and-a-half-feet of budding independence.

And oh…that independence…

I am a firm believer in raising able, independent children. I also believe that this starts young. I don’t want to raise a child who is dependent on me for everything. And you know what they say…old habits die hard. So, it’s gotta start young or it likely won’t start at all. Seriously though, who wants to spend five years, ten years, twenty years doing everything for their child. It’s exhausting. It’s unrealistic. When we grow up and have to face the rest of our lives, there isn’t going to be someone there to do all the hard stuff for us. I think the key here is support. But what a fine line between the two…

From a developmental perspective, this is the perfect time to begin to foster that sense of independence. Children are ready now. They are waiting for their caregiver to set some boundaries and enable them to fully take their part in this world. According to Erik Erickson, one of my favorite developmental theorists, experiences at this age can results in a child developing autonomy or they can result in shame and doubt. I don’t ever want Ellie to doubt herself. Not now. Not ever. So I’ll say it again, it starts young. It’s not harsh, it’s really just part of life and part of natural development.

Erickson states that it is critical that children be given the opportunity to explore their abilities within a supportive, encouraging environment that is supportive of failure. When we do everything for out children, we take away from important experiences that result in learning. If we never allow them to fail, we also never allow them to succeed. Do we adults succeed at everything that we attempt and try? Certainly not! So why should we set our children up to believe that they will always succeed. Fact is; they won’t. And if we never allow them to explore their limits and abilities they might never learn how to effectively and positively deal with failure and disappointment. They might also never experience the complete joy and satisfaction that is gained when we fail, problem solve and try again, and succeed! This is also a great time to encourage children to ask for help…let them try something, but give them the option to ask for help. After all, we all need a helping hand now and then.

Again, I reference Erickson: the aim of this age of two is self control without a loss of self-esteem; success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will.

If we encourage and support growing independence during this stage of life, children will grown in confidence and feel secure in their ability to make their way in the world. Likewise, if children are overly controlled or never given the opportunity to assert themselves they will likely feel inadequate about their ability to make their way in the world and may also become overly dependent on others, lack self-esteem, and doubt their own abilities. Yes, it does start young.

So how exactly do we go about fostering independence and setting our children up to be confident in their future?

1. Give Children Choices

It doesn’t have to be anything big. Give children simple choices. I ask Ellie every time I get her dressed, “Do you want to wear pants, or a dress?” “Do you want to wear the purple dress or the red dress?” Even simple choices encourage independence and give children a sense of control over their young lives. If they are given freedom to make simple choices now they will be all the more prepared for when they have to make life-changing choices in their future. You could also mix it up a bit and make the choices more complex: “It’s raining out. Should we wear our sneakers or our rain boots. ” At this point you have two choices if they choose the sneakers…let them experience why the rain boots would have been a better choice when their feet get soaking wet, or explain why the rain boots are the best option. I usually start with option two, she doesn’t want to hear my explanation, so I roll with option one…then when she cries because her feet are wet she is more than willing to put the rain boots on. But just take a second and think about all the things children learn in this simple experience. 

2. Encourage Responsibility

This is simple cause and effect. If you throw your food on the floor, you are responsible to help pick it up and clean up the mess. Sure, sometimes you have to help them along. But mostly, I find that Ellie is eager to participate in sweeping up those Cheerios or wiping up the juice she spit all over the counter. The key here is to encourage. “Oh, remember, juice is not for spitting. We swallow our juice. Can you help me wipe it up now please?” Not only is this a great life lesson, but it also helps children to develop independence and feel that they have a role and place in this world.

3. Provide Opportunities to Help

Children aren’t helpless. They are actually quite able, and usually very willing to help. Ellie has “chores” that she helps me do. For example, she loads the rinsed silverware into the dishwasher basket. She also empties it and sorts it into the silverware tray (great math skill also!). When it’s time to do laundry, she helps me carry piles to the washing machine and put them in. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything huge. Picking up toys is also great. But don’t expect your two year old to put away the entire floor full of toys in their proper places. Remember to support. Ask your child to pick up all of the books and put them on the bookshelf while you pick up all of the puzzles: be specific in your requests. The smallest “chores” encourage independence, help children to feel involved and needed, and help build confidence. Here are some great ideas for “chores”.

While it is not always easy, and it’s usually much faster to just do things for your child. Take a step back and think about all the things they can learn, and all of the ways they will benefit from the opportunity to test their limits and abilities. Let them experience the world, and begin to find their place. After all, it does start young.

And Ellie, don’t ever doubt yourself. You are capable of doing so many things; great and small. I can’t wait to watch you find your way.

 

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Ellie Helping Sweep The Garage (Bruins hat and all)…I LOVE child sized things 🙂                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Doing The Dishes 🙂

 

The Beauty of Experience

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
― Eleanor Roosevelt
Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced. – John Keats

While I find my energy and patience, which sadly depend upon each other, growing thin these days I try to remember the important things in life. Namely, my daughter. Afterall, it’s not her fault that my energy is low and my patience nearly non existent. Even though it takes a great effort to do things with my sweet little girl, usually when I do them I gain a bit of energy; the enjoyment gained through these activities is worth my last ounces of energy and my time. While I often am tempted to say that not only am I tired,  but I have far more important things that I should be spending my time on. But do I really? Is  there anything more important than spending quality time with and providing enriching experience for your child. Nope. The laundry can wait. And so, I try to embark upon little adventures with my Ellie girl at least a few times a week.

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One of the adventures we have journeyed through together was baking cookies. Ellie is to the age now that she can ask for things she wants to eat, hence the chocolate chip and M&M cookies. I know that the thought of baking with a not-quite-two-year-old might be, well, frightening.  It can also be a time for learning and experience. I explained to Ellie the process of reading the recipe and measuring. She carefully emptied cups of flower into the mixing  bowl. Then she used the wooden spoon to stir the dry ingredients together. She was fascinated as she watched me place the cookies on the cookie sheet and nicely reminded me that the oven is “hot” wheni put the sheets in to bake. What better way to learn about where things to eat come from than to experience the process yourself?

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Daddy helped us out with our next mini adventure. We gave in and finally bought mums and pumpkins for our porch. We always transfer them into our own decorative pots, this time our walking, talking Ellie was right there to help. She was absolutely fascinated with the whole process. She got her garden tools from the garage and plopped right down to help Daddy. She helped fill the pot  with dirt, and then filled another happily exclaiming “dirt daddy! Look!” Is there anything more “fall” than planting mums?! Being invloved in the things that your parents do not only helps you feel important, but your parents realize that you have something to offer: even if it is something as small as placing tiny handfuls of dirt in a flower pot. If you teach your child the process there is likely something that they can contribute, no matter how small. What a confidence builder!

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Paint. This may be the most feared substance among parents. I just so happen to love it. Stick them in some play clothes,  put an art smock over them, and tell them not to eat it. Easy. Ellie loved painting. So much so that we tried two new types of paint: watercolors and tempera. Of course I went over the “rules” about twenty times while she painted: we don’t paint our bodies, we don’t paint the counter, it’s not for eating, turn the brush around,  not in your hair… The process of watercolors was even more complicated. Water, then paint, then paper… And while it may seem unlikely that a toddler could “get” the process of watercolor painting, it is possible. What a fun experience this was. And so many things were gained through it: the experience of processes (the watercolor won’t work if you don’t use water first), learning persistence and not giving up, following rules and boundaries, experimenting with mixing color, cause and effect…the list goes on.

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It isn’t fall in New England if you don’t take a trip to the apple orchard. Besides, all the applesauce and apple pie that you get from those apples makes the whole experience better. Ellie already went apple picking this fall with her Mam (grandma) and aunties. When we told her we were going apple picking again she was so excited. We got to ride the tractor hay ride to the orchard, which Ellie thought was a train. She experienced one of those earlier this summer. Outin the orchard Ellie tried the process of twisting and pulling the apples. She tried so hard! After filling our bag we rode the hay ride back and made our way to say “hi” to the goats and pigs. Ellie loves animals. She loved them even more up close and studiously observed what the pigs were eating: “dirt?” Even this traditional fall experience held room not only for quality family time, but for learning as well. There was the whole process of twisting and pulling, the lesson of keep trying, the observation of animals and how they live. She even learned that pumpkins were too heavy for her to pick up!

Experience. Life is for living, for experiencing. Being able to see a child take part in happy adventures is a beautiful thing. I hope that these early experiences set the foundation for Ellie’s future response and approach to experience. Martha Washington once said “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstance”. Even as a small child Ellie is learning from her experiences. I hope that she learns early that her approach to the variety of experiences that life brings her way makes all the difference. I hope and pray tha she never loses that happy eagerness to try new things, to help other people, to learn new processes; for eagerness and joy through all experiences make all the difference.

Travels With Ellie

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
― Ernest Hemingway

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust

Recently, our little family traveled from one coast of the country to the other. Of course, the closest airport that will fly you to Washington for a reasonable amount of money is Boston; this means you have to leave at 4 AM. Not so fun, especially when you have an 18 month old. It also doesn’t help that I despise air travel and typically get sick. I have learned to depend on Dramamine to prevent unpleasant flights (although it never seems to help when we land for a layover in Chicago). So into our packed up car we went before the sun had risen, shipping down to Boston. I thought that Ellie would have slept on the way down in the car, and I thought that I might have too since I basically hadn’t slept that night. Of course, she started dozing when we were only minutes from the airport; isn’t that the way it always goes? Ellie have her Mam ( my mom) a hug and kiss before we set off our our journey; it’s always great to have someone drop  you off. And off we went. 6:30 in the morning at the airport is not my favorite place to be. Thank goodness our bags were under 50 pounds…those fees are outrageous! And then came the part that I dread. Well, really I dread all of it. I hate flying. My anxious nature doesn’t help, nor does my vivid imagination in which I can see at least 10 different scenarios of something going wrong. But we weren’t there yet. We were only to the security line (I have a vivid imagination when it comes to this part of traveling also…what would they do if you didn’t have your I.D? If your child took it out of your wallet and threw it down a drain right as you were entering the airport? Who knows…). Luckily the security line was moving fast; and luckily we both had our I.D.’s. My husband and I joked that it must be a requirement of Logan International Security Officers to be completely grumpy, impatient, short and relatively scary. I mean, if you hate your job that much please get a new one; I don’t need your attitude at 6:30 AM. Now it was time to have our belongings and selves checked…good thing my husband insists in traveling light and we didn’t have to deal with the whole stroller/car seat thing. It takes enough time to make it through without these cumbersome items. Ellie was all but devastated when she had to let go “danky” (blanket) and “hoo hoo haa haa” (monkey). Then she frantically started signing and asking for “tursty” (water) as the security people were screening the exemption. It’s amazing how much having a child has relaxed me. Last time we did this whole traveling thing Ellie was 8 months old…it took us a long time to make it through security because I had so many exemptions for her; I didn’t want to be caught unprepared, so I over compensated and wound up over prepared. By a lot. Oh well, you live and learn. I was far more relaxed this time around, with only her sippee cup (instead of a grocery bag full of baby food, drinks, etc. Literally, it was a grocery bag). Ellie looked at us with wonder as we put our shoes back on, and we set off to find out gate. I’m always afraid that I’m going to be that parent with the screaming child waiting at the gate, only to have to get on to an enclosed plane with the same screaming child. However, my fears were never realized. We enjoyed our last visit to Dunkin’s for some time (there simply are not any out West, I swear), and waited for our plane to start boarding. Ellie loved this part, much more than I could have ever imagined. Ever time she saw a plan take off out of the over-sized windows she would shout “loooook! pwane!!!! Hi!!! Hi pwane!!! Byyeeeee!” Seriously, it was every time. And a lot of planes took off that morning. I just love that untamed excitement that children have. They make even the most mundane things so much more exciting.

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Before we knew it we were into out seats. Ellie insisted on buckling me. Again, it’s amazing how much this little girl has relaxed me. The last time we traveled with her I had the Clorox wipes in hand scrubbing down everything in our little space on the plane (not that this is a bad thing…it’s just a little obsessed). Now to stay calm for take off. Ellie loved watching the airport staff loading the plane with luggage, driving the vehicles around, and watching more planes take off. She was definitely the most awake and excited person on that entire plane. Really, the things that children find exciting; they are usually the things we see as boring. And yet, through their little eyes the interaction of the world is a wondrous sight. Ellie looked out the window in awe as the plan raced down the runway, she seemed a bit confused when we lifted off. I tried to explain to her that she was in the sky now, to which she answered “tweet, tweet, cawwww, caawwww”. She was mesmerized by the sight out that window until the plane rolled to the side to turn and she tilted quickly, suddenly looking down and the world beneath us. It must have occurred to her then that she was somehow above those trees. At this point she jumped out of my arms and quickly into her Daddy’s. She clung to him so unsure of what was going on for quite sometime. This might have been the cutest thing she has ever done.

The remainder of the flight, layover included, was uneventful. Ellie enjoyed the snacks the flight attendants gave her. As the anxious and nervous one I imagined scenarios of a screaming Ellie who would not fall asleep on the plane. This might be due to the one time that there was a screaming infant on a plane; I remember the father walking up and down the aisle trying to calm that poor little baby down. And I remember feeling so bad; and hoping and praying that someday that would never be me. Well, to date, this hasn’t been me. Ellie ate her snack, snuggled up with monkey, put her head of my shoulder, closed her pretty eyes and was out cold. She seemed to sleep comfortably; I wished I had been able to sleep, or even  be comfortable. But those seats were not designed for the comfort of mother and sleeping baby. At least she slept. My worries were for nothing; she slept, was happy, and the flight was uneventful. Perhaps next time I’ll be even more relaxed. Ellie always surprises me. I get all uptight and freaked out about things and she basically behaves in a way that says “psshhhh mom, chill out.”

Our vacation was busy and fun.  We attended a family reunion, visited all of our favorite restaurants, spent time with friends and family, went hiking, and sightseeing…it was a great trip. 20130703_172957

I faced my fears on many occasions. First, by driving a large F250 on very narrow roads surrounded by drop offs (the tops of the trees were nearly level with the road, not the trunks), and apparently the state of Washington doesn’t believe in guardrails. It was a gorgeous drive though. Wish I would see this every day on my way to work. Maybe someday.

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Fourth of July was fun. Ellie is just like her Daddy. She loved the sparklers…what is it about fire? She loved it so much that she ended up burning a hole in his brand new fleece. The joys of being a father?

2013 036We hiked Beacon Rock. Perhaps the most dangerous, scary, insane, impractical, exhilarating, and challenging thing I have ever done. Ellie laughed at me several times as I almost crawled up and down, clinging to the rock wall, trying hard not to look down, or out, or up. It was worth it at the top though. God made a beautiful thing when he created the Columbia River and the landscape around it.

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We visited Multnomah Falls. Is there anything more enchanting and mesmerizing than waterfalls? Ellie loves to  hike; she was so cute when she put her head on her Daddy and fell asleep.

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Mount St. Helen’s has been on my list of places to visit for quite some time now. It was such an adventure! Ellie enjoyed the car ride, the sightseeing, the museum, and picnic that we had. We were glad to have been able to share this adventure with some great friends!! Adventure always loves company. I know that Ellie will not likely remember this adventure, but no matter how young, experience shapes us. Seeing the world, and experiencing its beauty first hand is an experience that is sure to shape wonder, excitement, and  awe for the beautiful world that God has created. Not matter how young children are, they deserve to experience the world and its adventures too.

Yes, it was a wonderful trip. Ellie got to have tea parties, take care of baby dolls, play in the sandbox, and go swimming with her cousin Nevaeh; and enjoy time with her older cousins too. She got to go to breakfast, and walk hand-in-hand to go shopping with her friend Myah. We were able to go garage saling; which Ellie was unusually unhappy about. Before I had her, crying used to bother me a lot. Now I know that it’s sometimes just a part of life. Kid’s cry; so you can either stay home and listen to them cry, or get out and just deal with their crying. You rule them, or they rule you. Besides, most people are very understanding if your child is crying; so don’t let it stop you from going out places!

Traveling with a toddler is not a scary as some people might tell you. I have found that the key is to be flexible, be calm, and just relax. It’s probably not going to be as hard or as bad as  you think it is. Enjoy the experience together; enjoying seeing the world through the eyes of your child. Traveling has much to offer; not only will you see new places, but you might even learn something new about yourself. For me; sometimes it’s worth it to face the fear of highest heights, and sometimes you need to relax and calm your anxious heart. No matter where you go, or what you see remember, the where is not as important as the how you got there and what you learned along the way. And so Ellie, I hope that this experience leads to another equally as exciting and adventurous. I hope you learn from your travels as your set forth upon the road that God has planned for your life. I hope your eyes are open to see the world around you; and to appreciate the beauty that is everywhere. I hope you never lose that excitement and wonder for what you see, and always hold on to that heart full of joy for all that life has to offer.