Yall. It’s everywhere. I feel guilty every time I take the big boys to the dentist, knowing that the toothpaste rarely got on their teeth as evidenced on the walls of our house. There isn’t a light switch that isn’t streaked blue. There isn’t a cabinet that isn’t sticky to the touch. And there isn’t a room in our house that doesn’t have a lost tooth brush floating around.
After a full day. You know the ones……my morning “plan” was bombarded by stubborn little boys just wanting to be at a park. So I pray towards lunch time because in the working world the lunch break used to pull me through…..open my head a little. But lunch is more like watching a slow train wreck on this particular kind of day. I relent to just suck slowly on chocolate chips. One, it keeps my mouth shut and any harsh words in the moment to slip out, and, two, it keeps my mind off the mess of the day. I work like a mad woman towards a refreshing nap period, to no avail. And all of that above just makes those witching hours, the b*%6ing hours, if I were to curse. Sorry.
We had one of those kind of days last week. Usually on these days all the boys are in the bathtub at 4:20pm because bed time is not long after. As I sat on the floor, the bottom of my jeans wet and clinging to my thighs, and my eyes burning seemingly just to remind me that it had been hard, I noticed the sticky blue in even more places than I had thought possible. Inside the empty bath room counter. In between the white tiles of the floor. Awesome. And then sliding down the trash can as if painted there on purpose. Maybe I should have been thinking, “these kids need a mamma who can actually show them how to brush their teeth and use tooth paste,” but as the Lord always does He gave me a moment that will stick to my soul endlessly.
I had this picture of me in maybe 20 years. I was in the same bathroom. I noticed the aging around my eyes in the mirror and the tone in my arms from carrying sandbags for children for so many years was barely noticeable. This 20 year older self was looking for the toothpaste to wipe up yet again. And then the me-forgotten-in-the-floor and the me-2-decades-later began to sob. There was so much in this picture that I was given. The desire to even make it to that day with even the slightest satisfaction that I did a job decently done. That I had made the most of the days in the bathroom where no one else sees us and hears our conversations. There was tiredness and heaviness thinking about all of the teeth brushing sessions that would need to occur to even make it to that lonely day. But mostly this was a picture of revolution. God has put a revolution in my heart over the last year to slow. it. down. And to literally not sweat the toothpaste that is everywhere. Or the fact that the toothpaste is on a 1950’s countertop, certainly not granite. This revolution in a culture of parenting that induces stress in my own experience, is freeing like nothing you have ever known.
Posts like these can seem ethereal. I read many like this one all the time….a pretty candid writer uses a seemingly small illustration to get on the same page with the reader and then ties it all up in a bow leaving me thinking, “Well, that’s nice.” That writer must have some weird gene that I just didn’t get having to do with patience and joy. She must have had a sweeter childhood or something. But I am here to tell you the genuine magic secret behind that authors apparent peace or aloofness, rather. I believe it’s three fold for our generation.
First, it is going against the grain of society. Many of yall are much smarter than me so thankfully you got this a long time ago but up until I became a mom I was a consumer of everything. I just did what everyone else seemed to do. I’m not talking about drinking in high school or those type of things but in the real world…..I was driven to achieve the next thing just like we all are. When we had a family we raced out and spent oodles of silly money on a nursery. There is nothing wrong with that but it really isnt me. And then before that baby could even stand in his crib I had him enrolled in preschool because that is what people do. Somewhere in the middle of it all I finally, like 3o years finally, realized I could be an active part in the outcome of my life. Crazy! Last night somehow my husband and I were watching a documentary about our food supply in the country and how it has changed so much from decades past. The documentary was totally disturbing and has me looking at the grass in my back yard as a great dinner for tonight but I heard something that will stick with me more. The author was talking about how as Americans we have become consumers of everything. We don’t realize that we can make choices for ourselves and that we have a voice.
Parenting was harder for me a few seasons ago. You wouldn't have known it on the outside but on the inside there was nasty inner turmoil over how well I was or was not doing especially in light of what the other moms around me were doing. I actually didn't worry so much as to how I was doing - I just wanted them to tell me what to do. Do you know what I mean? Would you please tell me when my child should be in school 2 days? 4 days? All day? Oh, hey. Will you tell me if my 3 year old son is going to lack confidence his whole life if he hasn't already started an organized sport? Will they ever swim if I don't pay a small mortgage to put them through swim lessons? Should we only be clean eating? Just tell me, someone. Oh, and when I am home alone and actually with my kids….could you tell me how to discipline them, love them, and enjoy them because I don't think I know how unless you tell me. Thank you very much. This is real, yall, and if most of us are honest, we spend so much of our precious awake time wondering about how everyone else is doing it and wanting someone to tell us what they did. Our mothers didn't have that. I often ask my mom if she knew what the other moms in our huge neighborhood were cooking for dinner. Did she know how many school choices they considered? And of course, she laughs. We have information being pushed to us and available at all hours. A month ago I felt quite stupid when it came to the situation in the Ukraine so I put the Foxnews App on my iphone. Well, goodness, I get up to potty between 2 and 3 every night and then I can’t go back to sleep from the images in my head after viewing the quick little push notification on my phone. We have so many choices and so much information that it has literally stifled our generation and caused what I think is harmful self-doubt. Where is the best answer for any of my questions anyway???
So the Lord and a dear student of the bible and precious teacher taught me how to sit before the Lord and ask Him for these answers from the only source. She says to sit in my chair and to not move until I have seen what the Lord wants to show me for that day. It could be a small thing. Recently we have been under the weight of a decision for our oldest son. One day last month, words jumped off the pages of the Psalms and I knew that is what she meant. There are no answers in even those around us that we adore. Only the Maker of our children, and my Creator, truly know me and my children and what He has in store for our family. Have yall experienced those moments too? The ones people talk about and we inherently think, “Oh, you don’t know me. The Lord doesn’t speak to me….” Those moments when something you are asking for about your children becomes so clear. And usually the answer is not as obvious as it looks. I have found that the answer is usually pretty counter cultural. As in…if everyone else is doing it or wearing it or getting one - usually the answer is the opposite. Don’t go on that trip. Don’t think that this seemingly small thing about my child is just that….small. Don’t buy the movie everyone else is singing to. Don't let this one pass. It’ll change us when we do just as He said, “ask…seek….knock.”
And number two. Turn off instagram. Just for two days to begin. I was a slave to social media all the while saying I never got on it. Its the same thing for me when I say that I am not a snacker but I just don't consider eating peanut butter cups while doing the dishes as snacking. So if social media hurts your heart even in the slightest. Turn it off. It doesn’t own you. You can decide what goes in your head. The first time I did this - I remember thinking how light my head felt. It felt so good to start to think the thoughts I used to think in the white space of the day. I wasn’t thinking about what so-and-so had for lunch or if that family was back from their cruise. And I wasn't bombarded with blogs just like this one telling me just one more thing to do or to consider. I was just doing those things and I was putting those things in to practice. But lets say "all or nothing" scares you - designate a time. For instance, from 1:30 - 2pm is my internet time. Today I used it writing. Tomorrow I may read something someone sent me. But it feels much more intentional if it isn't something just done all day, while in the car or on the toilet. It’s like my snacking….it doesn't seem real if I don't actually sit down with a plate and eat something. I’m working on this one…..as I just spit out my cashew!
And lastly, don't give in to the system. Don’t be a consumer. Baseball doesn't have to be 3 practices a week. Homework doesn’t have to consume YOUR day. Goldfish aren’t the only “healthy” snack. Most people (not in over privileged Atlanta) don't go on vacation every Spring Break. Once upon a time a child didn't have an ipad to entertain them every time they ate dinner. I can only write this because this is me. I am you. And many of the seemingly innocent choices we have made have held alot more at stake than just making the baseball team or enjoying a quiet dinner at a restaurant. The toothpaste doesn't just represent a hassle for me to clean. It represents a soul gifted to me to help shape, and ultimately, if you believe the bible, a soul entrusted tome to grow to be a light for God in a heavy world where most people don’t even know that light and freedom exist. Especially in parenting.
I’ve never been more terrified of something. Writing used to be therapy for me. It used to come easily. I didn’t even edit or reread what I wrote because that would have messed up the gig. But between the 8763rd diaper change (that’s actually an accurate calculation) and humming to myself for the whatever-eth time in the car to try to outdo the gut turning whining that had taken over - I lost it. I lost my wit. I lost my flavor and I certainly lost any relevancy to the real world. Oh and complete thoughts. I lost those about 2000 diapers ago. Im not just being humorous…it is a real thing this lack of anything of substance in my head. So now everyday I think “just go write this stuff down” because I know in a wink and a blink I will not remember any of the delicious or equally vile things that happen throughout these days of the little years and I know know that I know that I know there will be a mom like me – outnumbered and in over her head with too many little people to be legal and I will want to be able to recall the day my 3 year old dropped apple sauce on my toddlers penis while having a diaper changed in the middle of the park after my moms bible study.
Or the most memorable stage to date that my middle child went through that mostly reflects a child with an oepdipus complex (sp?). It started a month ago as I walked away from his classroom at my weekly bible study with moms. I was 4 steps to freedom and I hear a child wailing. I mean “whose child is that anyway” kinda wailing and I turn around to see my toe headed, vibrantly clad glasses boy bolting towards me with 4 nursery workers on his heels trying to catch him. I had never seen him exude such passion and determination before. It was a sweet and scary moment in front of every possible onlooker. He knocked me over and while sobbing over me exclaimed “You FORGOT TO KISS ME!” Rip heart out, stab it, spit on it, and throw it in the toilet. Why, of course I forgot to kiss you and until now I didn’t know it mattered but I am so glad it did. He was fine after that kiss but now even if I am leaving him with his daddy at night he looks me in the eye and kisses me smack on the lips with great fervor. Whew. He could eat me with a spoon while he is at it because this kind of affection and dependence feels so good. So so good. It makes me dig deep in my memory banks to remember what it felt like to be that dependent. That unsure but then sure all with the strength of a daddy's arm around my neck. On a funnier note he ran after Brad and I with the same exact zeal two weeks ago as we were pulling out of the drive way for a date night (IN OUR MINIVAN….a whole different story!). We were 6 feet from Van Morrison tunes and hand holding and talk about anything but the offspring this time when our little escape artist comes roaring up the driveway in hysterics. The babysitter was new that night (poor thing) and we had told her she could share my stash of secret chocolate with the boys if they ate everything that was on their plate (another post coming soon on when bribery is okay). The boys took note of this instruction and started to analyze it the moment it came out of my mouth. “How much chocolate, what kind? Who get’s more? What colors” Anyway….we are pulling our swagger wagon over the hump of the driveway, see the middle child, I open the door and he explodes “SHE CANT FIND THE CHOCOLATE!” And he had the alligator tears of all alligator tears. I thought she had dropped his baby brother in the trash or something or taken off her dress in the kitchen. It was mortifying and quite hysterical altogether. Don’t get in the way of our boy and his after dinner treats or his mommy kisses!
But today was good and I always want to write on the really good days because tomorrow will probably be a notch the other way and that’s okay, too, but it's nice to be able to read about the sweet times when all the strings are coming loose. My expectations have finally sunk back a little bit to a more realistic level and I am content with 3 out of 7 really good days and I have learned the really good ones give you hope on the “I can’t believe this is really happening” days. Today we were confronted earnestly by what I should just call an angel. We had made it out to the river, one of our favorite spots in the city for a pseudo jog and bike ride slash let's see how many bikes and scooters mom can hold-fun-run while pacifying the baby with food and coaching the newest bike rider not to ride in between two walkers of age 80! Side note – this is my next story. I NEVER want to forget what it feels like to watch your child triumph. My oldest picked up bike riding with no training wheels like he learned to eat chocolate…..without even a teency fall or look back. And the joy and pride and he has shown in the last month will make you want to go throw every challenge his way. This was truly a beautiful parent realization and a beautiful step in our oldest (and most easily over disciplined and over scrutinized childs life). I digress…Again, my expectations are really really low for this kind of spontaneous outing to a public venue. But today we were looking quite stellar if I am honest. The baby who isn’t a baby anymore was gnawing on an apple and not my usual sucker-pacifier. Organic at that. My blue rimmed blonde boy was singing in the double stroller as I held his bike and every other object we just had to have with us while my nearly 5 year old was perfecting his newest skill of bike riding. The boys had on their matching shirts as usual which many folks probably attribute to my awesome mom, she-has-it-together and probably sews, too, look but really it is so that I can keep tabs on three boys in public places. And that little tip is free of charge but let me tell you ….you NEVER want to be the mom of the three boys in green shirts that just knocked over the ENTIRE grocery cart in the checkout line of your local Publix with the baby in tow! NEVER! That is when you take your broken eggs and bruised pride and go home and change their shirts and turn on TLC! But on this day the vitamin D was working in our favor. My speech was seemingly beautiful and carefree to my little darlings…we talked about butterflies and the dogs that passed us by and why God made so many different kinds of trees. Are yall with me? This was just one of those hours – the kind that you once thought only made up motherhood? All the while a frazzled newer mom of one had crossed our paths on her bike pulling a bike trailer and an obviously demanding toddler. I really didn’t notice the woman much more than thinking – wow, good for her, she even has the bike rack and she looks like she does this a lot. Well, half way through the trek her toddler wanted to throw all her snacks out of her chariot. This was right where we were refreshing with our cucumber/mint water and reflecting on the blessings of the day…not quite but still, yall, we were looking magazine-ish without even trying. SO RARE. The sweet lady drags her daughter over to me and with more sincerity than ever and says quite desperately, ”Ma’am, I just have to ask you a question? You obviously have a lot of young children and I only have this one (who of course had her pants down and was hanging on her poor mamas leg) and it looks so easy? Do you have any tips you can give me?” And then she waited. Like she really wanted me to give her some answers.
Moms, don’t you agree? We have been waiting for this moment since we hiccupped and a baby came out. We are all just wanting someone to think we have done an okay job. We want someone to affirm us that the 1 or 2 hours of tv a day is just fine and that all of our countless, seemingly fruitless hours actually... bear fruit! My old, less experienced yet more weathered self may have had some typical remark like “oh, It just looks good but they drove me bonkers this morning” or the other take of “oh, me, this is nothing. Have you read the book on parenting by John Rosemond?” But thankfully, Ive been “her” a lot of times. Most of the time really. I’ve felt like my one child was going to break me while watching other women homeschool their 5 children all while ousting the internet and any tv in order to teach their kids how to be genuine volunteers or and make dinner for the family.” My heart deeply feels for her, for me, and for the moms I talk to everyday who are Just. Trying. To. Figure. It. Out. We are all trying to figure out this pretend game called house that used to be so dreamy and so....well, fun. Come on yall, we know the answer. Our story is only beautiful when it's our story. My story isn't so pretty when I try to wrap it and serve it and dress it and color it like you do yours. That's not how it works.
But how in the world as women do we even begin to be true to ourselves if we are so stinking dependent on how everyone else is doing it? Namely, we think, how can the internet tell me who I am and how to be the best mom? That’s a big part of it yall. You aren’t’ who your instagram image says you are. I'm not. I lose my temper. I say things that would make you cry to my little people. There is jelly on my kitchen island that has been there atleast since Christmas. Heck…there are still Christmas lights on our trees! And I may pin the best way to get little arms in five minutes but I promise you I am eating Cadbury mini eggs while doing so. We are all the same and if there has been something recently that has kept me up at night thinking it’s this…. and Ill go ahead and say it – I don’t think our instagram followers really know who we really are. It’s not the real thing, yall. It’s a cheap filler. It’s like the buttery bread before dinner. It's soooo good but it’s just not the real thing and it isn’t really helping anyone feel like they are “okay” just the way they really are behind the camera and the keyboard and the bright screen. End soapbox.
So I graciously thanked this woman and agreed that we looked pretty good…. this hour. I told her I was impressed with her too and when she pulled up in her Acura with her bike rack on the back I had some seriously generous thoughts about her as well. Fit mom, I thought. Fit mom with little arms and no Easter candy in sight. Working mom, too, with a glamorous travel budget. Must have a husband with a substantial income as well and a pool in her back yard. I thought about how sweet her ride with her one daughter must be and how much better of a mom she probably is because she gets to actually have a relationship with one child and real meaningful conversations. Meanwhile, my 3 are often clumped together and called eachothers names and never have me to themselves for even a bottom-wipe! (How are there always atleast two kids in the bathroom at one time?!?!?) Heck they are always dressed alike and referred to as “the boys!” They are certainly doomed and in need of therapy.....these thoughts definitely went through my head in those few brief seconds. But I still knew I was very much like her.
So then I told her not to be so hard on herself because she was out getting some vitamin D, enjoying some exercise and allowing her daughter to see God’s creation. In my book she was winning and the only tip I had for her was to love herself more. She went on her way and my middle one kept singing loudly, “Oh, how He loves us. Oh how He loves us…” because yall, He does. And the God of the whole universe sees me even when it all isn’t so rosy. He sees me in my mess and He sees me when I may be on the right track (for even just an hour) with my mothering or wifely roles and, ultimately, He has assured me that the matching outfits/singing praise music while on a jog and the applesauce on the penis days are ALL for His glory. He can use even me and even a messy me. Actually, a messy me is much more usable me than the Friend or Follower I am on the internet. And even at the river with my 3 barely grown babies during one of our few fine hours….. He can encourage me and He uses my story.