Perfectly Imperfect Day

One of the perks of living in a world full of chaos and turmoil is that it causes one to evaluate what is really important in life.  Or maybe it's the sudden clarity, how I can look at things from a slightly different perspective - a sort of silver lining effect.

It's the reason I was okay with lazily slapping some thawed out Thanksgiving pumpkin roll from the depths of our freezer on the table and calling it breakfast.  "See, kids?  It's pumpkin cake.  What a treat!"

It's how, after completing a math lesson a piece with each of my girls (from last school year, mind you), we opted to just throw some of those stigmatic Lunchables and Lance crackers in a cooler and head for one last midday-weekday hurrah at the pool/splash pad before they move to weekend-only hours for the rest of the season.

As the day wore on, after swimming in the pool, splashing around, dining on "fancy" picnic tables in the hot, afternoon sunshine, we collected our things and traipsed back to the giant van where I realized that I'd only brought enough dry clothes for half of the family, but decided - It's cool.  We're only going to be strapped in carseats on the way to drop Ben at church for a quick youth event anyway.  No big deal!  This is not a real problem in the grand scheme of life.  We've got diapers for the little ones.  Dry clothes, be darned.  Two mostly-naked babies, one girl sitting on a towel in a wet bathing suit, two dried girls, and one completely-dressed near-teenager ought to get us to our ultimate destination.  We dropped the biggest kid at the very-short youth event during which I planned to make a happy hour Dunkin' coffee run.

Except, on the way to feeding my coffee addiction...the entire 24oz bottle of water consumed at the pool went straight through our chronic, habitual pee-er.  And with not-clothed babies and a mom wearing "dry clothes" (loosely interpreted as last night's pajamas now soaked through from the wet bathing suit underneath), stopping at a public restroom was not really an option.  As I weighed the possibilities ("Sit tight!  We can make it back to church.  They don't expect anything differently of us there.  They know we're a hot mess!"), the problem-solving child took matters into her own hands, procured the largest diaper in the diaper bag and relieved herself in the backseat of the van.

I almost died.

Of laughter.

This child has been potty trained for quite some time.  We're talking...years.

And yet, the problem was no longer a problem.  Well done?

That still left us with about 30 minutes to waste as we pulled back into the church parking lot.  It was about 2:30pm, and, I assure you, well beyond naptime.  We eyed the mostly-shaded playground and decided to go for it.  After combing my van for the third time hoping some spare clothes would magically appear, I came across a pair of shorts for Noah.

We filed out of the giant blue van with fully-dressed nine and seven year old girls, a four year old girl in a bathing suit and flip-flops, a two year old boy in just shorts, an infant in last night's pajamas, and me, also in last night's now-wet pajamas.  I put my sunglasses on to shield me from the glare of Noah's neon white belly.  I shrugged.  They played.  It was surprisingly lovely.  Even more surprising was how compliantly they filed back into the van at 2:57pm.  (Just kidding, I had to wrestle Noah into his seat.  There may have been karate chopping involved.)  We picked Ben up, got home, and I promptly put Hannah in her crib, and laid down next to a beyond-tired Noah for his way-late nap.

As is the custom at naptime, I read him a (very short) book.  Then I sang him the ABC's.  Immediately following the alphabet song, he screamed, quite belligerently, "JESUS!!!!"  That, of course, meant that he wanted me to sing Jesus Loves Me, and given his current state, using polite manners was not a battle I was picking at that particular moment.  It was also not lost on me the irony of how angrily he asked me to sing him such a sweet song about our Lord and Savior, but I obliged the request and he sweetly pretended to try to go to sleep while I sang it.

I tiptoed out of his room to take a much-needed shower.  When I emerged from the bathroom thirty minutes later, I discovered Noah.  Not sleeping at all.  Watching Leah play a Kindle underneath one of four very-elaborate blanket forts that sprang up in my living room yesterday.  And what's that sound?  Oh, it's Hannah.  Also not sleeping.  On the bright side, no naps means earlier bedtime.  See?  Silver lining.

Was it well-planned?  Perfectly executed?  Without flaw?  Manicured and coiffed?  Not even a little.  But it was enjoyable.  Hilarious.  Well-lived.  And most of all, not taken for granted.

Don't be sad. Be kind.

This world, man.

Things seem to be unraveling pretty quickly, am I right?  Of course my parents have been thinking that for years.  And their parents before them too.  As it turns out things have been pretty bad for a long time.  Well, actually, since practically the very beginning.  Of man.

So, while I'm here wringing my hands and staying awake at night solving all of the world's problems instead of drifting off to sleep, I have to remind myself that I cannot solve all of the world's problems.  I cannot.

Abortion, racial injustice, presidential candidates, poverty, parent-less children, terrorism, natural disasters, gun violence.

It's daunting.  It's depressing.

I can't fix it.

But you know what I can do?

I can hold the door for the person behind me.
I can write an encouraging note to a friend who's down in the dumps.
I can smile at the person holding up the line at the checkout instead of frowning.
I can call my server by name.
I can get to know a stranger.
I can send a text just to check in.
I can stop being afraid.
I can pray.  All day long.
I can learn as much as I can about as much as I can.
I can try to understand a different perspective.
I can high-five.
I can tell my representatives how I feel about it.
I can stop hoarding and share.
I can laugh with those who need to hear a joke.
I can listen to those who need an ear.
I can cry with those who have nothing left but tears.
I can withhold judgment and refrain from jumping to conclusions.
I can respond with grace instead of anger.
(And then...) I can apologize when I don't.
I can deliver a meal.  Or at the very least, chocolate chip cookies.
I can stop to help.  Or chat.  Or dance to the Smokey Joe's Cafe soundtrack in my living room.
I can stop looking at "the big picture" and bring it down to a personal level so that it's not just "an issue" anymore.  Instead it becomes the story of an individual, just like me, who is in the midst of very real, very serious, very unpleasant circumstances with some super hard choices.

I have a tendency to view situations as all or nothing.  If I can't be all in and I can't do it to completion with an A+ result, I'm out.  Forget it.  But real life isn't like that.  Sometimes you just have to dip your toes in.  Do the first thing before the next thing.  Intentions are great, but actually doing it is better.  I get so distracted by the big picture that I forget that details matter.  Small things can make a profound difference.  It's probably best to start there.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
~William Shakespeare, Merchant at Venice
Here's to being a candle.  However small.

"The eyes of the world are upon you."

Several years ago, I woke up in a haze just as Sam closed the garage door and headed to work. I confess it was earlier in the day than I preferred to wake up, especially in the summertime with nowhere to be. It wasn't the sound of him leaving that roused me, however. It was the sound of what I thought, in my just-woken stupor, was a lawnmower coming along the side of our yard into the back. My initial thought was, "Oh that is SO nice. One of our neighbors must have gotten sick of our knee-high backyard weeds and decided to mow for us." Then in just a few seconds the sound got louder. And louder. It was so loud that the house began to shake.  As I was now more lucid, I realized it was obviously not the early morning neighborly gesture of a backyard lawn-mowing.  I jumped out of bed, looked out my bedroom window and saw a helicopter hovering above the trees behind our playground.  Not only was a helicopter preparing to touch down, but half a dozen policemen with guns drawn were sprinting across the yard, trying to get into my shed, trying to open our back gate, looking under the kids back porch "fort" made out of a sheet thrown over a card table.  As someone unaccustomed to this kind of excitement, I panicked (code word for "started to cry").  I made sure all of the doors were locked, that the alarm system was armed, checked on each of my sleeping babies, and I called Sam (no answer).

Then I did what every self-respecting woman would do in that situation.  I called my dad - you know, the one who probably wasn't awake yet and lives 800 miles away.  I'm not exactly sure what I thought he could do, but I thought he might be able to talk me down from crisis mode.  Or, at least, be on the phone with me when the serial killer I presumed to be hiding in my house popped out from my kitchen pantry and murdered me.

Thankfully that didn't happen.  And my dad is a very calm soul who successfully navigated a 6:30am phone call with a crying crazy person.  He stayed on the phone until the helicopter was gone, the policemen had dispersed, and Sam returned my call.  It turns out, some men who robbed a nearby convenience store had fled on foot through our neighborhood.  They were apprehended a few doors down the street hiding by our drainage pond.

Local law enforcement doesn't play.  (Thanks, Men in Blue.)

I think about this day a lot.

I think about how fortunate I am to live under a blanket of safety every minute of every day.  I think about the fact that I really don't know what it is to fear.  I take for granted the protections of our local police, the state police, and on a much larger scale, our United States armed forces.  I think about what it must be like to live in war-torn nations today.  And to not know whether you will make it home alive from something as innocent as going to the market.  I think of what it must be like to know that a foreign power has invaded your homeland, and to not know the fate of your future.

And today, I think about the brave young men who landed on a beach in France 72 years ago, as part of a collective effort to preserve freedom. 

On June 6, 1944, across an ocean while most Americans were sleeping, 156,000 Allied troops resolved to fight evil and take back Normandy.  Ultimately, because of this invasion, the liberty of an entire continent and possibly, the entire world, was preserved.

We have no idea what that was like for them - the horrors of what they did, saw, lived through, and died from.  As time marches on, all we have is the memory of a generation of men and women who banded together as a country in big ways and small ways to ensure that the war was never fought on our turf, so that our safety on American soil was never threatened.

As we study history, I am regularly moved to tears by the convictions of those who came before us - how brave and resolute and brilliant they were.  I love this country.  And I'm so thankful to be a citizen of it.  I will never be able to thank enough, the men and women who sacrificed to give it to us.  May we never take our freedom for granted.
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”  – John Adams, in a letter to Abigail addressed July 1777
"They fight not for the lust of conquest.  They fight to end conquest.  They fight to liberate." ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt, radio address June 6, 1944
“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower, first presidential inaugural address, January 1953

“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” ~ Ronald Reagan, from his first inaugural speech as governor of California, January 5, 1967
The Greatest Generation is quickly dwindling.  I just pray we continue to honor their tenacity, valor, and grit long after they're gone.  May we pick up the baton and run like our freedom depends on it.

Mom Things Resurrected

100 (or in actual reality, eight) years ago when I started this humble blog, I used to do a regular post on Wednesdays called "How to Know You're a Mom."  If I had it all to do over again, I'd name it something more clever and less clunky than that, but if that's my biggest regret, I'm doing okay.

I remembered this list as a cute little diary of sorts a few days ago.  It started back in a time when I was working and blogging was something I did on my lunch break.  Now, I'm a stay-at-home mom with few spare moments to sit down a type, despite my endless "How to Know You're a Mom" material happening right before my very eyes every moment of the day.  Interesting how life works out sometimes.

I sat down to compile a list of these things this week, for old time's sake.  And as I did, it became abundantly clear that something has changed in those eight years.  Whether it's me or society, that's up for debate.  I've written about my insecurities of which I have plenty.  Add that to a culture that stands like a runner at the starting block ready to pounce on someone, anyone for the slightest perceived wrongdoing.  Yeah, that's right.  Perceived.  Some of these things we get up in arms about are simply preferences.  Some of these preferences are based on internet memes that haven't been researched in the slightest.  I know better than to blindly trust a self-declared expert on the internet.  And yet, they get in my head and plant seeds of doubt.  Of course, some of these things are legitimate things to be concerned about, but I'm evidently unable to separate the meaningful from the meaningless.  So that's my mental condition.  Apparently it's not getting any better.

It's prompted this list.  Whether it's once or the resurgence of an old habit, here are this week's Mom Things: 2016 Edition - on Friday (because really, I'm always late these days).

1.  You take an adorable picture of your child climbing on the dishwasher just like her brothers and sisters before her and you want to share it with the world - BUT (!!!), then "the world" (aka the people on your Friends List on Facebook) will know you use plastic plates and cups and, worse, put them in the dishwasher.  You post it anyway and brace yourself for inevitable secret judgments and possibly public chastisement because while most of those plastics are BPA-free, not all of them are.

2.  The Walk of Shame has taken on new meaning as what you do when you parade your kids down the church hallways to their Sunday School classes with pink noses and shoulders from too much fun in the sun on Saturday.  (Or wait, is that better than toxic sunscreen?)

3.  You live in fear of Protective Services coming to your home and taking your children because your five month old's arm got broken completely accidentally during a diaper change by her dear, sweet, and loving six year old sister.

4.  You hesitate to even take your two year old to the doctor for a collarbone fracture two months later, which he earned by trust-falling to no one off a kitchen bar stool in a fit of rage.

5.  Your nine month old cruises around the house in a 90's-era walker like an Olympic track star, but you're scared to document it on Facebook, because, well, you know, the Judgmental Judys.

6.  You pat yourself on the back for remembering to pack a snack for each of your children before their afternoon homeschool co-op.  At the end of the day, your nine year old daughter tells you that a classmate informed her that her Goldfish are going to give her cancer.  You aren't sure if you're angry or scared.  In your house, Goldfish are a food group.  Add that to the list of things you're supposed to consume within the privacy of your own four walls along with hot dogs, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Lunchables.

7.  You positively refuse to let anyone look in your vehicle and prohibit carseat photographs just in case one of the chest clips has slipped down or someone should happen to notice that your 12 year old is no longer rear-facing.

8.  You went to the drive-thru at McDonalds after an afternoon of exhausting errands with a bunch of sleepy kids.  While they slept you rewarded yourself to a 3-pack of chocolate chip cookies to prolong the nap.  What you didn't bank on was McDonalds having to bake the cookies from scratch while you and your giant, hard-to-miss van parked out front on display for the world to see.  There's no way you weren't spotted at the worst-of-all-bad fast food restaurants.

9.  You don't pay too close attention to the child climbing in and out of your shopping cart with the agility of an ape, because she's been literally scaling walls since she was 15 months old, until a well-meaning observer comments that she really ought to be careful.  You realize this is probably not acceptable behavior and for the benefit of the onlooker, tell her to stop.

10.  You hesitate to mention the times you lost your children at the St. Louis Zoo, Walt Disney World (just as an Electric Light Parade was about to start and you couldn't get down the road to even search), or the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan because that would indicate that you have taken your eyes off of your children for literally 15 seconds (the time it took to get separated in each case).  By the grace of God, they were all safely returned in minutes, and you're thankful no one caught any of those events on a cell phone camera for instantaneous upload on YouTube.

Many of you will probably read this and think "Wow, she needs to get her crap together."  Some of you will think, "Have a little confidence, lady."  Others might feel the same way as me.

All I can say is that I admit my shortcomings as a mother.  I'm not a perfect mom.  But here's a secret, none of us are.  Especially not the ones who think so.  Maybe some day I'll be more heavily convicted about food, carseats, plastics, whatever the issue du jour might be, but for now, I'm just doing the best I can.  I don't think there's any more our children can ask of us.

Let's remember that.

(If I do another one, I promise to be a little less cynical.  Maybe.)


But it's a GOOD hard. I mean it.

People sometimes wrongfully assume that because I have six kids I must be some sort of parenting expert.  Let me just clarify something for you right now.


I don't know what the heck I'm doing.  And I won't pretend for a moment I've got it all figured out.  If you ask me for advice, my answer will probably be just that - "I don't know."

Because here's the truth -

It's hard.

It's hard whether you have one or ten.

It's hard whether you work out of the house or don't.

It's hard whether you send your kids to public school or private school or homeschool.

It's hard whether your baby sleeps through the night or doesn't.

It's hard whether your child is compliant or strong-willed.

It's hard whether you have a struggling learner or your child is so smart they think they're smarter than you.

It's hard whether you are brand new at it or have thirteen years experience.


It's a good hard.  It's worth it.  Just like working out, you take the sore muscles with the exhilaration of a post-workout high and the promise that it will be worth it.  It's worth it.  It's so worth it.

It feels like we're inundated with all of this pressure to be perfect and we have the platforms to pretend like we are, but I say just ignore it.  Anyone who has an answer for everything in life is lying, either to you or to themselves.  No one has it all figured out.  And that's okay.

Having children was the best thing that ever happened to me because it helped me realize that things just aren't all about me.  Want to learn selflessness?  Perseverance?  Patience?  What it feels like to love someone else unconditionally?  A child can teach you those things.  And more.  (Edited to say:  I have obviously not learned these things in totality, but rather have been afforded many opportunities to learn them, thanks to these tiny people.  I'm very much a work in progress.)

I waver each day between trying to focus on the good things and being transparent about the bad.  My hesitation with sharing the real bits is that someone might mistake the negative aspects of parenting for cons on a list of reasons not to have kids.  Those negatives are just circumstantial.  They cause temporary unhappiness.  They don't steal the joy that is had by having kids.

After securing a very last minute Mother's Day substitute for our Sunday School class (to whom I'm most-definitely indebted), we set out for a spontaneous trip to the beach.  You might find it humorous that I use the word spontaneous when it took about 6 hours of furious texting, searching, and packing, but that's the closest it gets with a family of eight.  We embarked on the trip way-too-late, and arrived at the hotel after midnight with a crew of six kids that had slept part of the way.  We managed to get everyone back to sleep without any major crises by about 1am and determined to wake up and get going to maximize our time at the beach the next day.

At 2am, my sweetest-baby-ever, Hannah, woke up screaming.  It was the high-pitched, inconsolable kind of screaming the likes of which can wake up an entire hotel, not only the other guests in the very same room.  It was the kind of screaming I had to get under control just to walk her down the hallway outside, so I could, well, get her under control.  I'm still not sure why she was crying like that (other than the fact that she was a little off her schedule and out of sorts), but I do know she's the reason I ended up spending most of my night sleeping in the passenger seat of our van.  If you don't count the fact that I had an alarmingly real dream about a S.W.A.T. team canvassing the entire parking lot culminating with me sitting bolt upright as a cat plodded across the roof of our van and the slightly embarrassing encounter with a man packing up his vehicle next to me who probably surmised I was either a vagabond or involved in some sort of lovers quarrel, I actually had a pretty good night's rest.

Needless to say, Mother's Day morning didn't go exactly as I imagined it would.  But it began with a giant cup or seven of coffee.  (As all good days should.)

Later in the day, after the hours worth of sunblock application on eight people of varying sizes had certainly worn off and two tiny people were hours late for their naps, we decided to head back to the hotel for a little rest.  Unbeknownst to me, our nearly-potty-trained two-year-old, had left more than a small "present" for me in his swimming trunks, just as we arrived at our van from the beach.  A full pack of wipes later, and he was deemed "clean enough" to ride in his seat back to the hotel.

These are the things, in my rookie-mom-dom, that would have ruined my day.

"Figures.  Little twerps probably planned it.  Don't they know this is my ONE SPECIAL DAY!!? Classic - no sleep and a pooptastrophe."

What it's taken me 13 years to realize is that, these things are hardly real trials.  They're just life.  It's what they do.  It's what I do.  And it's what I did to my mom and what she did for me.  It's what every mom in the history of the world has dealt with.  These things are not new or planned or coordinated by tiny conspirators.  Sometimes, having kids is hard.  But at the same time, it's a good hard.  Know what I'll remember about that Mother's Day trip?

I'll remember a husband and father who made the trip possible.  A four year old who wasn't afraid.  A two year old who played so hard we couldn't wake him up for dinner.  A pair of sisters/best friends who must've ridden 500 waves on boogie boards.  A pair of brothers who swam together.  A baby who wouldn't stop smiling (you know except for that whole screaming incident).  

The good stuff.  I'll remember the good stuff.

It's a choice we all have.  We can wallow in the bad or we can choose to see the good.  In our postmodern world it's become trendy to believe that we're entitled to be pissed off.  I have lots of thoughts on what we're entitled to, but I'll just say that I don't think there's anything beneficial about living an angry life.  Don't do that to yourself.  I'm not going to let myself live that way either.

Relish the good.  I dare you. There's so very much of it.

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