Monday, April 30, 2012

I Gave My Son a Box of Beans for His Birthday

I'm officially the mother of a two-year-old boy.  Something about this fact has made me an emotional mess.  On the actual day of his birthday, I was fine.  It didn't even phase me that much the night before when my husband, who put the kids to bed while I was out, mentioned, "I said goodnight to our one-year-old for the last time."  The comment made me think, "Hmm.  Maybe I should be getting all sappy about his birthday too."  So I went to tuck my children in, and as I gazed at their sleeping faces all I could think of was, "Do we have anything good to eat in the fridge?"

We had a grand time the day of his birthday.  He was adorably excited about his birthday cake, shouting out over and over again the names of all the sports on it, "Beeball!  Bootball!  Babeeball!"  The soccer ball didn't turn out so well, so I threw that one out and made another basketball.  My husband, not a soccer fan, was totally fine with that. 

We ate in the "train" at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and watched the trains chug by the window.  The children were reasonably behaved, no embarrassing screaming meltdowns (see the parenting low of last week), so we considered the big night out a smashing success. 


Then the highlight of the day, present time.  We gave our two year old,...drum roll please...a box of beans!  Yes, it's true.  And no, this is not the part where I'm a crazy mess (I haven't gotten there yet).  This is the part where I'm a genius.  My husband was a bit skeptical, but wisely responded to my idea with a "Sure, babe, if that's what you want to give him." 

You see, apartment living means no yard and no yard means there is no sending the kids out to play.  Sigh.  However we do have a decent sized porch.  I was determined to find a happy porch activity for the kids.  A sandbox would be dastardly.  A rice box would be a similar disaster.  But a bean box seemed doable. 

The squeals of delight (from both kids) upon the bean box unwrapping were reward enough for the quizzical looks I got at the store with my cart full of beans.  The screaming tantrums of the evening came when we had to pull the both of them out of it when it was way past bed time.  The bean box has provide literally hours of entertainment these last few days.  My husband is a full believer now.  And yes, I do have to sweep up more beans than any pregnant woman should have to.  And yes, I have found some beans in some...ahem, unusual places (beans can and do make their way into panties and diapers).  And yes, the next renters will find beans wedged into the cracks and crevices of the porch.  BUT, the kids are having a ball with the box of beans.

I sat on the porch with them Saturday afternoon, the sun peering through tree leaves to make golden spots on their blond hair.  Ellie was announcing a circus through the kitchen funnel/"megaphone."  Aiden happily busted out some moves when it was time for the Aiden dance show at the circus.  We laughed good hearty belly laughs together. I let the pile of laundry sit and the dishes in the sink get crusty, and I just soaked in the magic of my kids.  They meandered from bean box to kiddie pool (the other birthday present), and did what little kids do, pouring and stirring and splashing and chattering.  The extraordinary ordinariness of it all made me want to freeze it, to frame it forever in my heart.   

It's moments like these that make the weariness fade.  These are not easy days with the husband's long library hours, the pinching of pennies, and the three little humans sucking the energy out of me.  But these are also good, good days.  I want to bottle up their chatter, maybe even their cries and save it for the quiet days when they are gone.  While the hours stretch long as I count down the minutes until bedtime, I know the years will fly, and all too soon they won't be my little ones anymore.

So I was feeling all these things all deep in my heart, and then we watched a movie with a sappy scene where a grown son comes home to his mother.  And that sent me over the edge.  I went to bed all sniffly and snotty, carrying on in the dark to my half asleep husband about how the mere thought of my toddler boy becoming my man son made me all achy.  "It will happen all too fast," I whispered. 

Then the very next morning in our Sunday school class, someone shared about how he heard a father of grown children say that he would pay $10,000 to go back and have a weekend with his kids when they were young.  I looked at Aaron, my eyes all big and my throat swallowing hard.  Knowing he was seconds away from having a weepy pregnant lady making a scene, he shook his head and said quietly, "Just think about baseball."       

I chuckled and managed to choke back my raging hormones.  Yes, I'm a crazy emotional mess, but it's good.  Good to feel, good to hurt, good to cherish.  These kids of mine have done this to me.  My son has messed up my world since the day he was almost born in the back of a Beijing taxi.  And I adore him for it.  Happy 2nd Birthday, Son.  Please don't turn 20 too quickly, okay??             


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Coconut Mango Muffins, Stuff I'm Into, and Parenting Moments of the Week

I've seen other bloggers do monthly posts about what they are currently into.  I always love these, but feared doing my own because it would reveal my utter lameness.  If you don't know me, I'm the last person to go to for what's new and hip.  If you know me, you...already know that.  So it may not be new or hip, but it is nevertheless what I'm into this month.  Here you have it.      

In My Kitchen... I've been sick with a nasty cold, so there's been precious little going on in my kitchen.  But I'm on the upswing, and this taunting recipe for coconut mango oat muffins was enough to get me out of my self-imposed cooking boycott.  And oh man, am I glad I did.

I couldn't find whole vanilla beans where I shop at, you know, that oh-so-gourmet grocery store called Wal-Mart.  And I know that vanilla beans are wicked expensive, so I just substituted 2 tsp. of vanilla extract, and they came out fab.  And oat flour = oats buzzed in the blender.  It says you can substitute canola oil ( minus 1 tbs) for the coconut oil.  I used coconut oil though, so no promises.  I went sweetened coconut the whole way, and I price matched mangos for $0.33 each!  Booya.

Confession: I ate my muffin fresh from the oven with vanilla icecream and nearly fainted from bliss.  Oh, and it was my lunch, so I had another.

In My Ears...   I am sooo out of it when it comes to the music scene, it's laughable.  Really.  So this may be the one and only music recommendation that you EVER receive from me.  My parents (yes, that's how cool I am, I get my music from my parents) went to a J.J. Heller concert, got their CDs and brought Deeper for me to listen to when they came for a visit.  Then they accidentally left it.  And I've fallen in love with it.  So I'm probably not giving it back.

On My Screen... The last movie we watched was Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Or I guess I should say this was the last movie my husband watched.  I watched it from behind my eyelids.  There is no way a movie that requires that much brain power and that moves that slowly is going to keep this prego mama awake.  But Aaron really liked it, so that's saying something. About him or the movie, I'm not sure.     

We watch next to no T.V. what with my falling asleep habits and my husband's homework, but somehow we remain hopelessly devoted to the Office. Not sure why anymore.  Tradition I guess.  Just can't imagine life without the Office.  And as stupid as it is, Community makes us both laugh out loud everytime, so that's our other regular.  ("You're the opposite of Batman!"  "You don't even know what that means!")                

On My Blog Roll... Grab yourself a cup o' somethin' and cozy up for some truly wonderful writing.  My favorite posts lately:

I Write a Letter to You, Mama

Top Time Management Secrets to Know

The 5 Biggest Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Field

A Mother Letter for the Mamas

On My Night Stand... Just finished the third Hunger Games.  Yes, a bit late to the party.  Not one for the bandwagon, but after so many people that I trust raved about it, I couldn't resist.  If you're of the more delicate sensitivities to violence, then don't read it, but I have to confess I loved it.  The first was my favorite.  It had been so long since I got lost in a novel, I devoured it.  So original.  The third was my least favorite.  It went a little too sci-fi for me.  But all in all, definitely worth reading.  Now to see the movie...I think I'll stay awake for that one.

Up next on my reading list is the newly released ebook "Mother Letters."  So excited for this one.  I love where this came from.  I love that it is mothers banning together in authenticity to feed one another's souls with real life encouragement.  It was exactly what I needed to come home to after my parenting low of the week. 

Parenting Low of the Week... 

The other day both of my children completely embarrassed and undid me with their public meltdowns. First Ellie then Aiden.  The raised eyebrows and dumb remarks of observers topped it off: “Isn't he cute?” And “He's cranky, huh?” No, this screaming toddler tyrant with snot and marker smeared across his sweaty face is NOT at this moment cute. And hello captain let's state the whoppingly obvious. Yes, he is cranky.

Everything in me was having it's own silent screaming meltdown, shouting lies at myself about what a wretched mother I am that neither one of my children know how to behave, and I obviously don't have a clue what I am doing so who am I to be having a third?

Then another observer spoke up, interrupting my inner monologue. I almost ignored her after the other comments of the day. “You're doing great” she said. I almost choked. And then I wanted to hug her and weep on her complete stranger shoulder. Her words were soothing balm. If you ever wondered what to say to the parent of the tantrum child on the plane or in the grocery store, THAT is what you say. And then say a prayer that the child will de-arch his back while his mother tries to wrestle him into his car seat. 

Parenting High of the Week...

The week was redeemed when yesterday I ran swim suit clad into the kids room as they were awaking from their naps and shouted, "Let's go swimming!"  It was our first swim of the season.  Yes, it is April.  (I heart So Cal.)  There's just something magical about twirling through water with my wet babies in arms.   


So what are YOU into this month?  Any parenting moments to share?


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Daring to Share My Marriage on the Internet

Writing about marriage love on the internet can be dangerous. You get mixed reactions. There are those that roll their eyes with a “Gag me, please. Keep it between the two of you.” And there are those that read of beautiful love and churn with envy. They long for a partner they do not have, or they look at the one they do have and cry, “Why aren't you like this?”

I've done some internet reading on marriage love myself, and I've done a bit of both the gagging and the envying. But here's what has also happened. When someone moves beyond the shiny veneer we like to show people and actually cracks open their marriage door to allow the rest of us to peer in at the beauty that the mess of marriage can bring, I am awed and encouraged. Awed at the power of God to take two broken vessels and make them better than one. Encouraged to grow past my selfishness that is so large and be the honoring, serving, life-giving spouse that I long to be.

Up till now, the dangers have made me hold back from sharing much about marriage. But today is special. Today I dare to crack open the marriage door and let you see what marriage has done to me. But really, this is not for you. It's for my husband. I share only in hopes that you might be awed at God and encouraged to be the person my husband is to me. So peer in and see. Here's a letter to my husband.

My Love,

On your birthday I want to give you that gift, the perfect one that touches you deep and warms you right through. But you know how utterly awful I am at actually doing that. Once or twice I've hit the home run and found just the right thing. But this year as usual, try as I might, I just can't think of what it would be. But here's what I can think of: all that you are to me.  So here's my gift of crafted words for you.

You are to me...

You are to me wisdom. When life is all foggy and my heart all in knots, it's wisdom I long for, and it's to you that turn. I've never known one that sees like you see, clear to the core. You root through the muck and get to the truth. You see clearly, know truly. Our wealth may stack small in the eyes of some, but your God-given wisdom reaps wages better than gold. You are wisdom.

You are to me grace. I remember sitting in a parked car in college, sobbing on your shoulder. Rivers of grace swirled around me, overwhelmed me. I was knowing grace anew. And I was knowing it through you. I didn't know then that for all my days you would be grace to me. I don't know how you do it. How can words of criticism for me not pass your lips? You know every broken part of me, and yet you never try to fix me. You let our Father do the mending. And you let him do it in his own so very slow and gradual way. And if there are parts that never see repair this side of eternity, I think you're even still content, for you love me wholly, accept me without condition. You are grace.

You are to me art. It was you who first called out the artist in me. Before I would never describe myself as creative or artistic. Then I saw how you made art with your life. Always creating, always expressing. And you gently nudged me to find my heart's art. You knew it was there, even though I did not. You knew it needed to break out and find itself. You gave me time to find it and you helped it grow. And now my heart sings. In the sculpting of words, the stirring of spices, the kneading of dough, my soul has found its space. You've even let me into your art of photography, allowing it to become our art. The artist in me is alive, and she turns to you in gratitude. You are art.

You are to me faith. I like to think myself the daring one. But we both know that when it comes to life's most daring leaps, you are the one that dares. You are the one that jumps. Then you turn to quivering me and offer your steady hand. Your faith is neither blind nor naive, but grounded in wisdom, in who you know God to be. And I love you for this. I love the life it's causing us to live, and I love that when this life overwhelms me, your faith holds me fast. You are faith.

This is what marriage to you has done to me. The line that marks where you end and I begin has grown beautifully bleary these last seven and a half years. And oh, that in the decades to come it would blur ever more. Today I celebrate all that you are, that I am yours and you are mine, that each night I fall asleep with your hand on my side.

Happiest of Birthdays to you, My Love.

All yours,


Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Through the Eyes of a Wife and Mother

Good Friday

Through the Eyes of a Wife

We know Jesus refers to us as his bride. But did you know that in the 1st century, (you know, the days when Jesus walked) when a young Jewish couple would get married, the groom would take a cup of wine, offer it to his bride and say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which I offer to you.”

And if she took it, if she drank of it, she accepted his life and offered him hers, and the two were betrothed, love sealed by a cup to the lips.” --Ann Voskamp

The Upper Room was really a marriage ceremony, with words familiar to the disciples ears. As if he said, “Do you ___________, take me, this man to be your husband, to have and to hold from this day forward?” And with the ring passing over the knuckle, with the lips pressing to the cup, life is forever changed. With this vow, this covenant a new identity is born.

And like many newly weds, the disciples stumbled from the Upper Room not knowing what it all meant, unprepared for the twists and heartache to come. But oh, the glory of the oneness that was to come. The death and dying, the every day dying that would meld the hearts to one.

Through the Eyes of a Mother

Four days. Four days is a really long time to a child. I know this especially now, as my daughter not so patiently awaits Easter and the coming of grandparents. I also know a child can form a heart connection in an instant. Ellie walked away from one play date with a girl she was meeting for the very first time with a contented declaration that, “Kimberly is my best friend forever.”

That's why this year when I read about Passover, my mother's heart felt it real and raw. The family was to take the lamb away from the other sheep and care for it for four days, which is plenty of time for not just a child, but grown ups too, to form a bond.

I have band any form of pet from our home. Partly because I don't need one more little body to feed or clean up after or keep alive. And partly because we don't want our children to go through the heartache of separation when we up and move across the world again. So I've never seen my children bond with a cute and cuddly someone, but oh, I can imagine.

Pinned Image

What I can't fathom is intentionally having my children bond with a furry little lamb only to have them four days later watch the knife slit it's little throat. The blood would drain out amidst their screaming and tears.

But here's what my mothering has taught me. Children learn by watching, touching, doing, not by being told. No lecture teaches what experience does. Nothing could brand the reality of blood spilled for them more than that little dying lamb. Death passes over them. Now they can live, really live, because of the blood of the Lamb.

And then there is where this wife and mother's heart can hardly go.  To the cross.  To where the Groom, the Son hangs upon a tree.  I cannot let myself fully feel the pain of the disciples who watched their husband crying out in agony.  Nor of Mary who must have caressed her child's limp and lifeless body brought down from the cross.  The thought is too much.  But today I dare.  To embrace that which my Beloved did for me.  

Blessed Good Friday, Friends.     

Monday, April 2, 2012

Not Ashamed to Admit We're Getting Therapy

 About a month ago, I sat around a table with the lovely ladies of my weekly prayer group, all of us sipping our tea.  It was my turn to share my requests.  Casting aside my vain concerns to "keep up appearances" I said something like this,

"I'm tired of feeling like a terrible mother.  Every day is a battlefield.  I'm worn out.  My patience is paper thin.  Something has got to change, but I'm at a loss as to what to do."

There.  I said it.  It was my first step.  My cry for help.  Honestly I didn't expect much.  Just the usual, "This too shall pass."  "Hang in there. Motherhood is hard but worth it."  That's really not what I what I wanted to hear.  That's what I'd been telling myself, and... it wasn't helping. 

(This face is for real.)

I wanted help.  I wanted someone to say, "It doesn't have to be this way, and here's how..."  But that seemed like too much to hope for, so I didn't let myself hope.  

But then, then, a woman two chairs to my right spoke up.  "You know, we've been seeing a family therapist, and it has made a world of difference in our home.  He's been helping us with our 3 year-old son, and honestly, it's been like learning to fly."

Yes.  This is what I want.  This is what we need.  And my heart began to hope.

So we began our journey into family therapy.  I was so hungry for change, for real tools that would make a difference that is was hard to wade through the initial steps: consultation, diagnosis, observation.  But I trusted that it was necessary, so I waited.

We talked about goals.  What do I want to see change?  I want peace in our home.  I want for each direction I give my daughter to not be met with defiance.  I want to feel like our disciple measures are effective.  I want to make it through a day without screaming tantrums from both kids. 

The therapist wisely helped us formulate measurable, attainable goals: 
(The therapist says we'll focus on Ellie and then apply the principles to Aiden as he grows.)
-  Reduce temper tantrums by 80%
-  Increase compliance by 80%
-  Decrease acts of aggression towards her brother by 80%

Someone is telling me these goals can become reality, and he's going to show us how!  Hope flamed alive.

Finally the day came when the therapists "puts our tool belt on."  We get practically taught how this will happen.  It's called P.C.I.T, Parent Child Interaction Therapy.  He shows us a video about it.  It's based around an acronym. 

This is where I inwardly shout, "Seriously??"  I dislike...ahem, despise acronyms.  Apologies to those of you who love them, but there's just something about them that makes my brain want to turn off.  But I forced my brain to stay on.  It goes like this:

Praise- give both specific and general praise for your child.
Reflect- say back the appropriate talk your child is saying. 
Imitate- do what your child does (the appropriate play). 
Describe- talk through what you and your child are doing.
Enthusiasm -  kids love it.

The therapists then tells us that we're going to spend weekly sessions for at least the next month working on these skills, and after that we'll get to discipline.  This is where I want to walk out.  A month before we get to discipline??  Maybe he misunderstood, but that's why we're here.  I know how to praise my kids.

But I stay quiet and listen.  He talks of the importance of strengthening the parent child relationship, so that the child doesn't see you primarily as an authoritarian figure, but as someone who is meeting her emotional needs.  Her desire to please me will then grow immensely and her defiance fade.  By the time we get to disciple, many of the issues will already be resolved, he says.

I think I have a good relationship with my daughter.  We both know that our love for each other is deep and strong.  But I do have to admit that on a daily basis, our hearts feel pitted against one another in an on-going battle.  Despite my undying love for her, she does drive me crazy.  And despite her bond with me, maybe I'm not meeting her emotional needs like I think I am.

So we resolve to give this a try.  I go in with Ellie for our first session of "special play time."  The therapist sits outside the room behind a one-way mirror speaking to me through an ear piece, keeping track of what I'm saying to her.  Ellie's to follow the rules, sit in her chair and play nicely.  I'm to fill her up with praise, reflection and description and to refrain from giving any commands or asking questions.  He says commands and questions are obviously a necessary part of daily life, but for special play time we avoid these.  The goal is for her to lead this time, to freely be her, and for me to be fully engaged in her.       

It's hardest to avoid questions.  But I think hard about my every word as we play.  We have fun, and it goes well.  The therapist says it's one of the best first sessions he's ever seen, and I think, "Yeah, praise is very encouraging and motivating." 

And my daughter is glowing.  I feel the tension between us drained out.  I think, "This is good."

So goes our journey with therapy.  We still have a ways to go, our goals still to be met.  We're implementing some discipline strategies the therapists suggested (a bit early because we begged), and it's helping.  But mostly, I'm thinking hard about my words, and we're doing daily special play time at home.

Peace and joy are seeping into our home.  My patience is miraculously growing thicker.  I have the help I longed for but didn't know was possible.  I have hope.