Preemptive Love

heart-love-romance-valentine
pre·emp·tive
prēˈemptiv/
adjective
serving or intended to preempt or forestall something, especially to prevent attack by disabling the enemy.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about what our world needs. It feels loud and harsh. It feels unfamiliar and remote. Mostly, it feels angry, unsafe, and more than a little broken. My natural response is to quietly retreat and insulate myself as much as possible. I’ll keep to my familiar routines, known and trusted faces, and a sliver of the world I can identify with.

It is dangerous out there, so let’s keep it safe in here.

My instincts are preserving the wrong thing.

My silence is comfortable, but it doesn’t make the world any quieter. And my distance will protect me, but maybe I’m not supposed to be protected. In fact, maybe it’s the opposite. Perhaps I’m supposed to risk myself in pursuit of love.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. Luke 10:25-28 NIV

Love. Not safety, not peace, not quiet. We are commanded to love. In the Bible, the man that Jesus is talking to tries to carve a way out, to make his command more palatable. He asks “But who is my neighbor?”

Bad news, fellow introverts. It’s not our physical neighbor. It’s not our friends or our family or even the people in our own community. Instead, Jesus answers his question with one of his most famous parables — the story of the Good Samaritan.

A Jewish man is robbed and beaten and left on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite (basically a priest’s right-hand man) both passed him by and did not offer help. Then came a Samaritan. A little Internet research tells me that Samaritans and Jews did not get along. In fact, their religious leaders actually commanded them not to intermingle. They were to have nothing to do with one another. They were the ultimate Us versus Them.

But the Samaritan was the one who stopped. He tended to the man’s wounds, took him to a place where he could be looked after and even provided the funds, should he need further medical care.

He was his neighbor, not because of proximity but because of compassion.

***

Our world can’t be healed by screaming the loudest or sharing the perfect meme or blog post on Facebook.

The healing starts more simply than that, but also much, much harder. It starts with love. Not a familiar love, but a preemptive one. One that has the power to stop the Enemy in its tracks.

Our enemy is not the Them. Our enemy is hate, it’s misunderstanding, it’s fear. When we love our neighbor, we shine a light on all of that darkness. Just as darkness ceases to exist in the light, so fear dissipates in the presence of love.

Darkness is merely the absence of light, and fear is merely the absence of love. If we want to be rid of fear, we cannot fight it but must replace it with love.” Marianne Williamson

We were created from love. We were given free will from love. We are saved by love.

Now let us be defined by our love.

P.S. Over at Coffee + Crumbs, my other Internet writing home, we’re collecting donations for Preemptive Love Coalition. Drop $5 in our online collection bucket, and we’ll send you a snazzy “Love Never Fails” downloadable print. Every penny will got to Preemptive Love to support their work in our world. Donate here.

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Lessons learned

tying-shoes“Mom, I HAVE to learn to tie my shoes!”

The car door had scarcely closed behind him before Nathan was simultaneously ditching his backpack, buckling his seatbelt and telling me everything about his school day. I know the day is not far off when my inquiries about his day will be met with a sullen “fine,” and absent any clarifying details, so I’m trying to embrace the flood of information while it lasts.

“Hold up buddy, slow down. What’s this about tying shoes?”

“The kindergarten teachers sent a letter home and everything. I HAVE to know how by Christmas. They won’t tie them for us anymore after that!”

“Okay bud, I’ll teach you how to tie your shoes in plenty of time. I promise.”

Yes, I promised that I would teach him.

Usually, Jon is the teacher in the family. I suppose it’s because of his patience —I can only endure so many slow or misguided attempts before I take over and do it myself. I am a taker-over. It’s not my most charming quality.

Jon has taught Nathan how to brush his teeth, climb trees, shoot basketball and button shirts. He taught him how to help take the trash out and clear the table after dinner. He teaches things that I don’t even think about teaching until after the fact. If you’re thinking it sounds like Jon would make a better stay-at-home parent than me, you’re not the first one with that thought.

But I was determined this time. I would be the one to teach Nathan how to tie his shoes. I showed him the time-honored “Loop, Swoop and Pull” method. He nailed the loop on his second attempt, but the swoop and pull were lost causes. Undeterred, every single morning we headed to the bonus room a full 10 minutes before we needed to leave for school so we could practice tying shoes. I didn’t want us to be rushed; my fledgling patience didn’t need any additional tests.

Loop, swoop, pull. Loop, swoop pull. Nathan, biting his bottom lip in concentration. Me, biting my lip and fisting my hands to keep from taking over.

After two weeks, he finally did it. I held my breath, lest his loosely formed knot fall apart but it held. His whole face lit up and his eyes met mine. My grin matched his.

“I did it, Mom! I tied my shoe!”

“Good job buddy! I knew you could do it!”

We high-fived and I quickly double-knotted the laces so we could head out the door.

Usually when Jon gets home in the evenings, the kids rush to him to tell him about their day. Not that night though. I was first in line, triumphant with my news.

“I did it, love! I taught him to tie his shoes!”

Jon smiled, amused at my phrasing.

“Good job love. I knew you could do it.”

Then he turned his praise to Nathan, and Nathan ran to grab his shoes and show off his newfound skill – the one I taught him.

Of course, I learned a lesson, too. Instead of letting Jon be the patient one, I dug deep and found that I can be, too. It doesn’t come as easily, but planning does — so I’ve learned to out-plan my impatience. I’ve built time into our routine for Nathan to tie his own shoes and for Ellie to climb into her carseat by herself. I’m taking over less and letting them take on more.

It’s not the first time that motherhood has made me the student, rather than the teacher. I think that’s the hardest part of this gig, really – having to learn on the job. Every single day pushes me to be better, to confront my weaknesses and find a way to parent around them. It is a refinement of the most complete kind, this role.

I fail often. I’ve learned to keep trying anyway.

Maybe that’s the biggest lesson of all.

 

The Scenic Route

When I was younger, my dad and I would take a ski trip for my birthday every year. It wasn’t anything fancy; just a Red Roof Inn and a couple of days on the modest slopes of Western Carolina. For all my awkwardness and lack of coordination, I’m actually a pretty decent skier; we always had a great time.

One year – my 13th birthday, if I remember – we decided to try out a new resort. We weren’t certain of the best way to get there, but my dad was confident we could find it without trouble. This was before there was GPS or Google Maps, mind you. Although, even if we’d had them, they likely wouldn’t have worked in the backwoods of North Carolina anyway.

Dad had taught me how to read a map though, and I sat shotgun, playing navigator, in his rear-wheel drive Lincoln town car. The directions indicated we needed to take Beech Mountain Road; Dad spotted a sign for Old Beech Mountain Road, and we assumed that’s what the map meant.

It wasn’t.

Before long, the paved road had given way to a gravel one, covered in ice and snow from a recent winter storm. Steep drop offs lined both sides, and more than once we took a wrong turn that lead us off the road entirely.

It should have been scary. We should’ve fretted about being lost forever in the woods of Boone, North Carolina, or at the very least we ought to have worried about sliding into a ditch we couldn’t get out of.  I can’t remember being afraid though. We laughed and joked as we slid around one corner and then another, eager to make our way off the mountain to an audience who would appreciate our tale of conquering Old Beech Mountain Road.

Eventually, we ended up at the ski resort, nearly two hours later than we had intended. As we checked in and got fitted for our gear, the guy adjusting the bearings for my boots to snap into the skis asked how our morning had been so far. I told him about Old Beech Mountain Road, and he laughed as he said, “Oh wow. Y’all really took the scenic route to get here, didn’t you?”

Dad and I took three or four of those ski trips before our little tradition petered out. Twenty years later, the only one I can remember in any detail though is the one with Old Beech Mountain Road, when we took a wrong turn, got a little lost, and ended up with one hell of a story.

***

I am not a New Year’s resolutioner. I don’t use a daily planner. I don’t set goals. I don’t make lists or plans for my accomplishments for the coming year. This is strange, I think, because I’m a pretty Type A person in every other regard. I mean, I organize my grocery list in order of the aisles at our local store (they’re actually building a brand new Kroger, and the thought of learning a new store layout and having my list be a hot mess for awhile is killing me).

I suspect there are a couple of reasons for my non-resoluting ways. The first is that I’m a contrarian. Frequently, the expectation that I would do something because it’s always done that way is all the motivation I need to never, ever do that thing. This is not my most attractive trait, but it is perhaps my most honest one. I am rarely motivated by external pressure; in fact there’s nothing that causes me to stiffen my back and jutt my jaw more. My get-up-and-go has to come from within.

The second reason is actually even less complimentary of me than the first: I’m scared. I’m afraid of putting my dreams down on paper. I’m uncomfortable declaring that “This is the Year That I Do X!” because what if it’s a year of nothing but Y? I’m terrified that if I sit down to make a list of all the things I wish to improve about myself, I’ll never stop writing.

I’m an endless fixer-upper, you see. And I never was very good with tools.

***

A friend once told me that, when it comes to answering prayers, God rarely takes the quickest and most direct route. He is not a genie granting wishes, but rather, a Father invested in growing the character and shaping the legacy of his children.

I’ve found this to be true. Whenever I have faithfully, deliberately, and trustingly prayed for something specific, the answer has never been a simple one. Sometimes a yes has looked a lot like a no, until the threads come together and I see the tapestry He’s been weaving all along. Sometimes a no has been a devastating blow, until he leads me out of the woods and around the corner to a sight more beautiful than any yes could have brought.

This has, unsurprisingly, left me skittish about praying. I am a poor meanderer. I like my beaten paths. I have a hard time slowing down. God’s way is frequently not my preferred way, and I have the arrogance to argue. I am efficient while God is omniscient, and I’m foolish enough to confuse the two.

***

My friend Erin lives on the island of Oahu; her husband is stationed at the Army base there. A few weeks ago, she was telling me about a drive she took up to the North Shore. She explained that the fastest way to get there is an inland highway, but there was also a second, longer route. That one hugged the rugged coastline and offered amazing, postcard-worthy views.

“When you have the time, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “You always take the prettier route, even though it’s longer. It costs you nothing but time.”

Her words have been rattling around in my brain ever since. I’ve thought about my need for speed, and how I rarely take the slower route anywhere. I like being efficient, and feel like slowing down to enjoy the view rarely fits that bill.

But who wants to look back at the end of her life and say, “Wow, I sure lived efficiently?” When my grandkids spare me a moment to listen to one of my stories, I’m not going to regale them with tales of met deadlines and moments that unfolded exactly according to plan. I’ll tell them about Old Beech Mountain Road, and how the scenic route always makes for the best stories.

Maybe I’ll never be a New Year planner. But perhaps this could be the year I learn how to pray. Really pray. Not like purchasing groceries from a list organized by aisle (I’ll take one successful career, two healthy kids and no unexpected expenses this year, please Lord. And no thanks, I can take my own cart out to the car.), but like I’m ready to trust the Navigator. 

Take me on the scenic route, Father. I’ve got the time, and I’m ready to enjoy the view.

After all, I always did love a good story.

A Weary World

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Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

                                            – O Holy Night

It’s been a hard week for my beloved Tennessee. Last week, a bus accident in Chattanooga took the lives of five children days before Thanksgiving. Two days ago, wildfires in the Smoky Mountains encroached on Gatlinburg, a tourist destination packed with people this time of year to see the mountains in all their fall splendor. Stories emerged of families trapped in hotel lobbies while firefighters beat back flames and friends speeding together down a mountainside, trying desperately to outrace the deadly inferno. Then last night, a tornado touched down in the southern part of the state, causing property damage and rattling nerves.

Yes, it’s been a hard week. It’s been a hard year. Turmoil and unrest seems to be the backdrop to every news segment. There is sorrow and suffering, around the globe and amongst our neighborhoods. We commiserate after a tough election season or yet another devastating headline, asking each other, “Has it ever been this bad?”

We are a weary world.

And yet, we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Just ask Israel. Two thousand years ago, they had endured slavery, famine, hardship, loss and a series of increasingly misguided kings. They’d watched their temple be destroyed, rebuilt it and watched it be destroyed again. They were a people who had wandered without a home for generations.

They knew darkness. They knew fear. They knew war. Far better than we do, if we’re honest.

Despite the suffering, a vein of hope ran through them. Their prophets said that a Savior was coming. A Messiah; the one who would rescue them. It was precisely when all seemed lost — a far-off empire levying taxes once more; a blood-thirsty ruler on the throne, that God smiled and said, “Now. We will send him now.”

And a baby was born amongst livestock, to a simple teenage girl and her carpenter fiance. A baby who would change everything. The waiting was over; the Savior had come.

Yes, it’s been a hard year. But it’s Advent now. It’s time to turn our eyes from what has been to what is coming. It is a season of preparation and anticipation, and not just of family togetherness and traditions with our children and gifts. The promise of Advent runs much deeper than that, and I for one am clinging to it more desperately than ever.

He didn’t come so we could continue to dwell in fear. He didn’t come so we could hold onto our hate and our mistrust and our stubborn opinions. He didn’t come so that we could shout each other down with our rightness.

He came to give us hope, peace, joy and love.

Hope.

Peace.

Joy.

Love.

There’s a glorious morning coming, my friends. Let your soul feel it and be lightened.

This is Advent.

Planting Seeds

seedling

photo courtesy of the USDA

In Nathan’s preschool class last year, there was a little boy named Aaron.* For reasons that were never explained, Aaron seemed to have a harder time than most settling in. At drop off and pick up, he was frequently seen bolting out of sight of his grandfather, who appeared to be his primary caregiver. Many of Nathan’s stories at the end of the day included an anecdote about how, “everyone got a sticker for being a good listener in music class … except Aaron,” and how, “Aaron pushed me down the slide on the playground today.”

One day, Nathan asked me why Aaron did those things. “Why doesn’t he make better choices?” he asked. “It makes me not want to be his friend.”

“Well buddy,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “Aaron seems to have a hard time controlling his words and his actions. It’s harder for him to make good choices about what to say and do, than it is for you. He probably gets frustrated, and that’s when problems happen. Do you know what you could do to help him?”

Big brown eyes met mine in the review mirror, and he shook his head slowly.

“You see, Aaron – and other boys and girls like him – need extra patience and kindness from you,” I explained. “I know it’s easy to get frustrated or mad at him, but it’s really important that you try your best to show him what making good choices looks like. And that includes being a good friend to him. If he sees you being kind, that might help him be kind, too.”

Nathan said nothing, and we soon switched to talking about stopping to play at the park on the way home, but I prayed my words planted a seed in his mind.

Weeks later, preschool had ended and he was headed to a week of Vacation Bible School (the struggle to keep an active kid occupied is real). Ever my social boy, he was mostly excited and looking forward to making new friends. On the way there the first morning, he jabbered on about what they might do and who he might know. Then he grew quiet for a moment and he asked, “Mom, what will I do if there’s someone like Aaron there?”

My eyebrows raised; we hadn’t talked about Aaron since that drive home two months prior. Keeping my voice even, I lobbed the question back to Nathan – “Well bud, what do you think you should do?”

I watched him glance out the window, his brow puckering in thought just like mine does. A small smile played on his lips and he said, “I’ll be extra kind and patient … right Mom? Because it’s not easy for everyone to do that, but when I’m doing extra it makes it easier for them.”

My heart felt like it would burst and my eyes filled with tears of pride, and I said, “that’s right, buddy. I’m really proud of you, you know?” He beamed and gave me his “no big deal” shrug.

It’s hard work, this mothering gig. So much of it feels thankless and fruitless: I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve given the exact same set of instructions over … and over … and over.

But every once in awhile, you get a gift. You plant the seed of an important lesson in their hearts and cover it with prayer in the hopes it will take root. At first, you eagerly check for progress every single day. You are dismayed when the landscape looks unchanged though; maybe you did something wrong. Maybe it was too early in the season, or you didn’t pick the best spot. Then one day, when you’ve finally quit looking for any signs of growth, you see it. It’s just one tentative little green shoot, but the evidence is there all the same.

Your seed found fertile soil and has sprung to life.

* name changed

big news

I have a pretty exciting announcement: I’ve been asked to join the writing team of Coffee + Crumbs!

I really am over the moon – I might’ve screamed a little in my kitchen when I got Ashlee’s (Gadd – founder of C+C)  invitation. C+C is a collaborative blog about motherhood, and these women are AMAZING writers (see this, this, this and this  … really, it’s all just fantastic). So of course, there’s that little voice inside my head that’s whispering I’m not good enough and  I don’t belong. And maybe I’m not and I don’t, but I’m here so I’m going to make the most of this opportunity! I’m going to write my little heart out and be as brave and vulnerable as I can be, so that maybe God can take my words and help someone else feel less alone by reading them.

Thanks for reading my words, for sharing them and for all the feedback and encouragement. It really does mean all of everything. I’ll keep on writing here, but I hope you’ll visit over at Coffee + Crumbs as well. I’ll be the super excited one trying to play it cool 😉

the reset button

shoesI only run on bad days.

I’ve tried to be a real runner in the past, but I’ve never gotten beyond eking out a couple of miserable miles at a time. It’s not just that I can’t really get into a groove; I viscerally hate it with every fiber of my being. I hear friends enthuse about “runner’s high,” but all I’ve ever managed are shin splits. In my head, I’m committed to regular exercise. In real life, chasing two kids is my cardio.

There’s only one thing that can send me to the closet to dig for my running shoes: one of Those Days. Those Days are ruled by Murphy’s Law. When you have two kids and everything that can go wrong does, that’s a LOT of wrongness. As the tiny disasters pile up, one after another, it starts to feel like they’re trying to bury me alive. Running away becomes the only option.

Today is one of Those Days. My daughter refused both her lunch and her nap, so that she is a surly bundle of neediness by 4 p.m. My son has somehow managed to spill every single beverage he touched today, while demanding much more attention than usual in general. In a fit of creative inspiration, someone took to the bonus room walls with crayons. The overfull trash bag ripped when I tried to remove it from the trashcan. We didn’t make it to the grocery store as planned, which means dinner is a free-for-all. I’ve lost my temper and raised my voice more times than I can count, and all three of us have shed tears on at least one occasion. By the time Jon walks in the door, I’m shoveling chocolate Teddy Grahams in my mouth as I hide in the pantry.

He’s been home less than five minutes when I tell him, “I think I’ll go for a run.” His eyebrows raise in surprise, but he must read the desperation in my eyes because there is no smart remark about how out of character this sudden desire for exercise is. I need to escape, but more than that, I need to release the resentment bubbling up inside of me. I ache for something physical to force the anger from my body. I lace up my shoes and head out.

Initially, it isn’t so bad. I set an easy pace and marvel at the silence around me. It’s the first moment of quiet in my day. I actually feel pretty good, and wonder why I don’t do this more often.

It’d be nice if it was a little less humid though, and a breeze wouldn’t hurt either. There’s a pain beginning to emanate from my right hip.

I glance over my shoulder; my front yard is still in sight. I’ve gone less than a quarter of a mile.

With a groan, I force myself onward. I realize I’ve picked the worst time of day for a run – it’s dusk, and the mosquitoes and gnats are out in full force. I feel them smacking my face, and their accuracy at landing directly in my eye is impressive. The pain in my hip spreads and becomes a full-fledged burning ache in my side. Simultaneously, my left ankle begins to throb. Gritting my teeth, I force my body forward with sheer willpower.

I can feel it working, though. As my anger toward running grows, my frustrations about the day seem to dissipate. I despise every single step my feet pound out on the pavement, and as a distraction I find myself anticipating my son’s smile when I come back through the door, and the way my daughter will snuggle up against me as I put her to bed.

It takes two full miles tonight before I’m so miserable that I long for the demands of motherhood once more. The pain in my hip and ankle reach a fever pitch as I mercifully slow to a walk in the driveway. Is it possible to limp on both sides? I’m not sure, but I’m giving it my best effort. My face burns and my breath comes in wheezing gasps. I walk through the door and sink into the coolness of the air-conditioned house.

“So, how was it?” Jon asks, with a knowing smile.

“Awful,” is my terse response as I head to the kitchen to fill a glass with water. And it was; every last second was pure agony. It served its purpose, though. I’m not angry at my kids anymore, and I’m not mad at myself either. It was a bad day. It’s not a bad life.

My reset button has been pressed. Thank goodness I hate running.

The Care and Keeping of Me

IMG_0672One whole shelf of our bookcase is dedicated to parenting books. There’s Babywise and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child – reminders of the sleepless first 10 months of my son’s life. Without fail he would wake up two, three, four times a night, despite my best efforts to keep him asleep. I read them frantically, devotedly, sure they held the key my sleep-starved body was longing for. (For the record, none of the tricks worked, but he’s now five and sleeps like a rock from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night. Solidarity, tired mommas.)

Next to the sleeping books that beget very little additional shuteye in our house, you’ll find the What to Expect set – a misnamed series if ever there was one. Most of pregnancy and the first year of motherhood were muttered oaths followed by why didn’t anyone WARN me?!?

Holding up the end of the shelf is a behemoth from the American Academy of Pediatrics that only gets consulted when a weird rash pops up at 2 a.m. (because that kind of thing never happens during office hours), plus a couple of “humorous” books received as gifts.

The books on that shelf purport to hold the answers to all of my parenting questions. If the books somehow fail me, there’s the whole wide world of Google. I can find out the right dose of Tylenol for a teething five month old and watch YouTube swaddling videos. There’s a seemingly endless fount of information on how to make, birth and care for a baby, right at my fingertips.

But what about me? Where are the books and the experts who can tell me how to take care of me?

Almost two years ago, I was staring down the last few days of a maternity leave that just wasn’t long enough. Ellie still wouldn’t nap anywhere other than on my chest. Her eating schedule was every hour and a half (two hours on a really good day) and she hated bottles, so it was all me, all the time. We’d also just found out she had dairy and soy allergies, which meant my diet was reduced to apples and water … or so it felt. Postpartum women are known for their dramatics.

Compounding the realities of life with a hard baby, I’d taken Ellie by my office that day for the obligatory meet and greet. After a conversation or two, I learned that literally nothing on my “please do while I’m out” list had actually been done. The number of projects, hugely overdue and awaiting my return, was daunting. Frustrated and overwhelmed, I cried the whole way home.

That night once Nathan was in bed, Jon and I had a deep, heartfelt marriage talk. Just kidding; we had a preschooler and a newborn. Deep and heartfelt weren’t exactly in our wheelhouse at the time. I believe the conversation actually went something like this:

Me: It was awful visiting work today. I don’t want to go back.
Jon: Well … then don’t.
Me: Seriously?
Jon: Seriously. Quit your job. We’ll make it work.

So I did. And we did. It wasn’t easy, especially those first few months. Not only were we a dual income household, we were a 50/50 income household – which meant we had just slashed our budget in half. The belt tightening felt more like a corset. We ate spaghetti every week for a couple of months and it was an extraordinarily lean Christmas, but we managed. By January, I’d landed some regular part-time work for a non-profit and Jon had gotten an unexpected raise, which built a little breathing room into our budget.

But what our budget gained, my sanity lost. Every morning I was up at 5:30 or 6 to feed Ellie, and the marathon was on. I pushed on through a full day of occupying an infant and a four year old; balancing feedings and fort building, trying to prove that I could do this stay at home mom thing. I managed to get both children’s naps overlapping for one hour of the day, and I used that hour to tackle the mountain of laundry or do a little cleaning. Then came the whirlwind of dinner, bath and bedtime, followed by working another few hours and finally crawling in bed at midnight. Between my highly-restricted diet and a daughter who nursed all the freaking time, the baby weight dropped off quickly. It kept dropping though, and within a few short months I was down nearly 30 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. I was the thinnest I’ve ever been, with everyone complimenting how “great” I looked. But I was also exhausted and lifeless. The tears came regularly and over the silliest of things, but what worried me more was the rage I would feel sometimes. It felt like I was hanging on by the thinnest of threads. I went to see my OB/GYN, but she insisted it wasn’t postpartum depression. In desperation, I reached out to a nutritional consultant. I was still losing at least two pounds a week, and with another six months of nursing on deck at a minimum, something had to be done.

The consultant was wonderful. She asked gentle questions about what I was eating and how much, and how frequently Ellie was nursing.

“It sounds like you’re not replacing everything that’s going out,” she told me. “You’re trying to operate from a place of depletion, and your body can’t keep up with that for very long.”

I knew she was talking about calories and proteins and healthy fats, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. Because she was talking about my life. I finished the conversation in a daze, promising to put avocado on everything and eat peanut butter and almond butter by the spoonful. She gave me a recipe for a protein shake with a calorie count that bordered on the ridiculous.

I thanked her profusely, and when we hung up, the tears came again … but without the rage. I knew what would eventually heal and restore my body would do the same for my soul. I realized that I needed to slow the blur of life a little. I started carving out time for coffee with a friend. I let the housework and laundry go and started working during naptimes so that I could get in bed at a decent time. I needed more sustenance, and I committed myself to finding it. Maybe I couldn’t change what was demanded of me, but I could work harder at pouring more into myself so I could meet the challenges without losing myself so completely.

Today, things are better. I’m not so skinny anymore, but that’s because I’m not starving. My house is only tidy on Thursdays, because that’s cleaning day. Once a week, I leave the bedtime routine to Jon, and I head out to dinner with friends or to Starbucks by myself for a few hours. I make time almost every day to do a devotional, to write, to read. I commit myself to reaching out once a week, via email or text, to a friend I haven’t talked to in awhile. We have the kids enrolled in a preschool program two days per week, so I have dedicated time for working. It sounds a little indulgent when I string it all together like that, but the truth is, it’s what I need. It fills me up and makes me whole, and my children deserve a healthy and whole momma.

There was no book or three-day method to guide me in figuring it out. There was just rock-bottom, and clawing my way back to a life that I could live in. I think that’s why new moms tug on my heartstrings so. When I drop off a meal or stop by for a chat, I whisper the words to them that I finally learned to say to myself:

Take care of you.

Numbering the days

DSC_0508We have a chalkboard decal in our kitchen. I bought it and put it up with the intention of changing it out weekly with Bible verses, notes of encouragement and silly sayings. Turns out, I’m not very good at keeping up with that kind of thing though. We mainly use it for countdowns: 12 days until Christmas, 10 days until Ellie’s birthday, and so on.

Right now, it’s counting down the days until Nathan starts kindergarten.

Six. That’s how many days are left. Nathan, per usual, is playing it all very cool. Oh, he shopped with enthusiasm (and a mind-numbing level of deliberation) for his new backpack and lunchbox. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told him we cannot yet open the new boxes of crayons or glue sticks that have been purchased. He gets a little quieter, though, when we talk about his new class, new teacher, new routine: all unknowns. The uncertainty of the unfamiliar balances the exhilarating newness, until he is neither excited nor nervous.

His 2 year old sister does not share his ambivalence. As we walked through the halls of his new school today to finish registration, I noticed her wide eyes taking in the bright posters and boisterous kids.

“This is Nathan’s new school,” I explained, trying to help her make sense of it all. “This is where he will go to kindergarten next week.”

“Yes, me too,” said Ellie, nodding confidently. All summer, she has been his shadow. Of course she would come too; she knew no other way. I tried to break the reality of the situation to her gently.

“No baby, this is just Nathan’s school. You won’t go here yet.”

“Ellie too?” A question, this time. Uncertain. She looked at me, brow furrowed. Like she was trying out this idea of a place where her big brother would go and she couldn’t follow, and it didn’t quite fit.

“No baby, not yet. You still need to stay home with mama for a little longer,” I said softly, squeezing her hand.

She didn’t answer, but her eyes studied her feet instead of the walls. Her eagerness was replaced with resignation. She understood; he was leaving her behind.

And me? I tell everyone who asks that I feel conflicted; excited for Nathan, but a little sad and nervous about such a big change. But that’s not entirely true. Or, at least, it’s not the entire truth. The reality is, I’m shell-shocked. How is it possible that we have only six days left? 

It’s as though we are perched at the top of a very tall roller coaster. We’ve been climbing and climbing for ages, like we’d never get here. Now we’re paused at the peak for the briefest of moments. In a split second, we’ll pitch forward and, with a speed I didn’t think possible, careen down the rails. Kindergarten changes everything. Our years will soon fall into a familiar pattern; dictated, even, by the district schedule. School starts in August, then there’s fall break and Christmas break. We’ll blink and it’ll be spring break, then summer, then the cycle starts all over again. Each year will flow seamlessly into the next.

There’s something about predictability that makes the days go by faster, it seems. Those early years, the ones with little ones, are so scattered and unsettled. I remember it was the days when the routines were off that seemed the longest. The baby didn’t nap or wanted to eat more often or the toddler wanted five snacks instead of three meals. The hands on the clock seemed unmoving on those days; the sun constant in its position in the sky. Maybe chaos eats up less time than order does. Now, our days will have rhythm and routine, and I know what that means.

They’ll blur by before I can scarcely catch my breath.

 ***

Tonight, after the dishes had been cleared, the baths had been taken and the books read, I lay in bed next to Nathan until he fell asleep. I don’t usually do that; our typical routine is a few minutes of snuggling, then hugs and kisses and I’m out the door. But tonight, when I went to pull my hand away, he grabbed it and clutched it to his chest. With eyes closed, he sleepily whispered, “Just one more minute, Mom?”

I don’t need a countdown in the kitchen to know these days are numbered now. Before long there won’t be a bedtime routine, and it won’t be too many years after that when I’m telling him goodnight and shuffling off to bed while he stays up. So tonight, I left my hand on his chest until the rise and fall became steady and even. I leaned my face into the top of his head and breathed in his still-little-boy smell. I even let a tear fall. Not because I’m grieving the passage of time, though. Children are meant to grow up, after all.

No, I think it was just the fullness of the moment. I stopped and savored, and my worn mama heart was filled right to the brim. A little spilled out, I suppose, and slipped down my cheek.

Perhaps that’s the secret, really. Wrapping my arms around the present, and holding still for what is happening, instead of planning for what is coming.

For the space of a few heartbeats anyway, I managed to stop time.

permission to be

My son isn’t a very graceful swimmer. Oh, he gets from point A to point B, but there are lots of flailing limbs and splashing water. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was drowning every time he pauses for a breath.

For awhile, his swimming embarrassed me. We’d paid good money for five rounds of swimming lessons, and I watched with my brow furrowed as the other children glided smoothly through the water, passing him with ease. I studied his form, comparing it to the others in his class, and figured out the problem – he doesn’t get his legs out behind him. He essentially swims vertically in the water, which means he uses up a whole lot of energy to not go very far.

There’s nothing I love more than a problem with a simple solution. I could fix this. I could fix him. After the lesson, I approached the teacher, airing my concerns. The teacher nodded and explained it was due to Nathan’s head position – if he looked down in the water, his legs would automatically raise up. Nathan swims looking forward, so his legs drop down, hanging perpendicular to the ground.

I nodded to show my understanding, already visualizing the drills we could do in the water to correct the problem: holding toys in my hands and making him look down and tell me what I’m holding; reminding him to look at my toes and not my nose. He’d be swimming just like the other kids in no time.

With my answer in hand,  I turned to go. I was ready to make my son faster, better, more like the others. But the teacher read the determination on my face, and gave a parting set of instructions that stopped me in my tracks.

“Keep in mind that you can’t rush him. His body is doing what feels natural right now. It’ll self-correct, and he may well be the fastest kid out there. But you’re just going to frustrate him if you try to push him along before he’s ready. Give it time. He’ll get there.”

Don’t rush him. Stop comparing. Let him be. 

***

I read an article the other day that I shouldn’t have. It talked about the economic impact of leaving the workplace to stay at home with children. When taking into account lost wages, retirement savings and future raises lost, the figure was something like half of a million dollars for staying home for three years — and that was only for a pre-kids salary of $50,000.

$500,000. I’m not a true SAHM, but my 12 hours a week for a non-profit and a little erratic freelancing don’t exactly bring home the bacon, either. Don’t mistake me – I know how fortunate I am that I was able to opt out in the first place. But now that I’m in my 30s, I’m watching my friends who are still leaning in climb the career ladder with great success. They’re landing heady titles and incomes to match; traveling the world, leading teams and steering projects.

My biggest accomplishment today was getting my 2 year old to correctly identify the color blue; a feat that was immediately undone when she called that blue block “yewwow” two minutes later. The only rhythm to our days in this season of life is the complete absence of one. There is no five year plan or strategic goal setting – at least, not beyond the basic “keep everyone alive while raising decent human beings.”

When Ellie was a baby, and I was in the throes of the madness that is spending your days with an infant and a toddler, it was easier. It took all of me to focus inwardly on my own little self and my own little family, and ignorance became bliss – or at least tolerance. Most of my days looked the same, so I didn’t always notice the pace of them.

Now the kids are 5 and 2, and a little less needy. It’s not exactly all cocktail hours and relaxing over here, but I do get to pause and catch my breath every once in awhile. Except sometimes I use my free time to glance in the other lanes. I see how smoothly everyone else seems to be moving — and how much more they seem to fit into each day. They are faster. Better. When I look back down at this one, precious life I’m holding, it suddenly seems like it’s not enough. Like I’m not enough. I’m doing it wrong, and if I could just do life like they’re doing it (whoever “they” are), then everything would be okay.

I need to be more.

Thankfully, Nathan is there to cut through the lies the world is feeding me and offer up his truth.

“Mom, how come you don’t go to work anymore? How come all your work is at home on the computer now?”

This isn’t an uncommon question, and once more I explain to him that Dad and I decided that I would spend more time with him and Ellie for awhile, so I found a job that takes less time and lets me work from home. Usually the conversation ends with Nathan, my social butterfly, musing about how much he misses daycare and how we could get him back there. But not today. Today he hands me a gift.

“I’m glad, Mom. I like that you’re always here for me.”

Just like that, my focus is shifted back where it belongs. It’s a sweet sentiment from my thoughtful boy, but it’s more than that. It’s permission to move more slowly, to be a little poorer and a little less-accomplished for this season of life. It’s permission to be, whatever that looks like (and believe me, it doesn’t look like much most days).

Don’t rush. Stop comparing. Let it be. 

All in the name of being here.

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