Tag Archives: family

Mommy’s Superpower

hero signThe ability to fly.

That’s my answer. To that classic nerd conversation starter: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Invisibility? Super Speed? Visions of the Future?

I can see how each one would enhance my parenting. Invisible Mom knows exactly who started it, and her children would be motivated to behave even when they are “alone.” Super Speed Homemaker gets more done in a few minutes than the rest of us in an entire day, and still has time to watch her favourite Food Network show. Psychic Mama can prevent the tantrum/fight/locking-keys-in-the-van/decorating-the-walls-with-sharpies BEFORE it even happens.

Sadly, none of these are my actual superpower.

That’s right. I have a special strength that allows me to perform beyond normal human parameters. It empowers the whole household to run smoothly (okay, smooth-er). It helps me endure when my strength is almost gone. It carries the weight of our whole family without breaking a sweat.

Routine is my superpower.

It’s not the sexiest, most exciting one out there. And it doesn’t require a cape or comic book inspired costume (though I’m not ruling that out). But I promise you, it packs a wallop!

I brush my teeth every morning. I don’t think about it. I don’t have to plan. I simply do the same thing, at the same time, every day. My lack of morning breath and significantly fewer cavities may not count as “saving a damsel in distress,” but a similar process also allows me to take daily medication and feed my children and keep my house (relatively) tidy and get our crazy family out the door each day. All these add up to a pretty heroic feat.

No matter what your age or stage or particular brand of dysfunction, you too can harness the power of routine! If you happen to have children, it can be a lifesaver. If you happen to have children with special needs, it’s an absolute necessity. Here’s why:

Routine frees up valuable time and energy.

Remember science class when you learned about levers and fulcrums and how they allow you to lift a heavy load with less effort? Routine is like that. As you shift behaviour from “intentional” into “something we do without even thinking about it,” you are able to do more, with less effort.

Get out the door in the morning. Keep the household mess from coming to life and eating us whole. Make bedtime and sleep time mean the same thing (we’re getting there).

I don’t know about you, but I need all the time and energy I can get my hands on. Trying to remember every little thing that needs doing, reacting to behavioural problems, and doing everything myself gets exhausting. Routines simplify life, prevent problems and empower children (and spouses, let’s be honest) to keep things going.

Routine makes life feel safe.

Secure children (and adults, FYI) know what to expect from their world. The stress of wondering what will happen next, and if I will-like-it/be-able-to-handle-it/am-entitled-to-watch-more-tv-right-now-instead, makes for grumpier children and parents. All children, even young toddlers, flourish when they can predict a first/then schedule and simple cause/effect.

For instance, when you get home from school you must sit on the potty, THEN you can have a snack. First comes pajamas, THEN music, rocking, cuddle and finally bed. If you throw your plate on the floor, THEN you lose it. If you do a cute dance and smile really big, THEN you get attention. If you do all your chores without complaining, THEN you can go out and play. If you do all the dishes and clean the kitchen, THEN your wife will be much more likely to give you a massage.

We’ve used pictures and symbols to reinforce routines with our children. B had a long strip of velcro on the wall; she had a picture of each morning task stuck up there (thank you Boardmaker software and Aunt Emily), and each time she finished a task she would put it in the “Finished” box at the bottom. We put new ones up for the afternoon and then a batch for before bed. She no longer needs such a detailed routine aid, but at the time, it gave her the sense of control she needed and made necessary transitions productive and less like a scene from the WWE.

Routine is inevitable.

Systems and structure aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are some weirdos people who prefer to wing it, to live reactively spontaneously. That may work for you in most areas, but everyone has some routines, whether we choose to or not. The unintentional, destructive ones often go by the name: bad habits.

I have just as many negative routines as positive. Sleeping until the last possible second, even though I know it’ll make our whole day much more rushed. The fight with C about proper outerwear on every rainy/cold/day-that-ends-in-y day. Eating a snack before bedtime, so it will be converted directly into fat. There is a dark side to every superpower: we are our own arch enemies.

The best way to conquer bad habits is to replace them. If you can figure out a positive routine which will supplant the destructive one, you are halfway there (you’ll have to read an article about willpower somewhere else, since it is NOT my superpower).

Routine is a servant, not a master.

This is where routine can get a bad rap. Especially from people who either a) don’t understand it or b) have an unnatural fear of change. When you are learning to cook you need to follow the recipe closely, but once you get the hang of it you can be creative, change things up, all while staying true to the spirit of the dish. In the same way, routines are not set in stone. Once they are established, they can be stretched, tweaked, negotiated and even temporarily suspended until they work for you.

Routines are a tool, not a destination. Make a plan. Try it out. Give it time to sink in. If it doesn’t make life easier, scrap it and start again.

So here’s me, saving the world one chore chart at a time!


A Year in the Life

2012A year in the life of our

wonderful,

usually crazy,

often funny,

sometimes lazy,

never dull,

family.

Januaryhands2

When I was 16…

Twenty years ago today, the boy I had a huge crush on took me on my very first date. Turns out, it was my only ‘first date’. Because sometimes one is all you need…

Februaryatlas

Mom Shrugged

… I’d like to be everything to everyone. So I feed myself a steady diet of comparison and perfectionism (and chocolate; there’s always chocolate)…

Read More.

Marchtimeshare

Modern Day Torture (aka Timeshare Presentation)

… Strongly implied is the fact that non-timeshare holders will lead lives of sad desperation. There will never be time or money for a real holiday. The best we can hope for is quiet days spent huddled in a dank basement, braiding armpit hair into a scarf…

Read More.

Aprilhourglass

How Do You Find The Time?

… Whether you wing it from one moment to the next, or plan your day down to the minute, we are all subject to the same limitations.

86,400 seconds – 1,440 minutes – 24 hours

Each day, everyday, it’s all we’ve got. In this day and age, we can do almost anything, but we can’t do everything!..

Read More.

Maypaint

Painting the Pink Room Green

Dear Little Brother,

Your sisters painted the pink room green today.They looked at every single paint chip in Home Depot and picked this colour especially for you. They painted your room themselves. There were a few spills. There are more than a few touch-ups needed. And it doesn’t look exactly perfect.

Except it is. Because they did it for you. They were so careful. And they worked hard all day long. Your big sisters love you already and they can’t wait to show you your new room!..

Read More.

Junekey

Test Driving a Person

… There were several moments today that felt utterly surreal. We have been frustrated with the long wait periods, the endless streams of paperwork and the strange bureaucratic rituals we must complete. But suddenly they seem like so little, considering what’s at stake here. They are giving us a human being. And we get to keep him forever. How weird is that?..

Read More.

July

Birthday Cupcakes specially decorated by the Big Sisters

Birthday Letters for The Boy

… You’ve officially been part of our family for 1 month. Our lives have been turned upside down, but no one’s more than you. It hasn’t been an easy month, but it has been a very good one. Your Daddy and sisters have discovered that you are the best thing they never knew they always wanted. I wanted you all along, but even I am blown away by how important you are to us all. We are enjoying you so much. You are so much fun: so much mischief-making, full-tilt, maniacal laughing, enthusiastic fun. I’m so glad you are part of our family!..

Read More.

Augustunderwear

The Underwear Crisis

… Attempting to harness the power of peer pressure, we celebrate the universality of underwear. Mommy wears panties, L wears panties, C wears panties, EVEN Daddy wears panties. Manly, manly panties to be sure, but as far as B is concerned, EVERYONE wears panties. If we’ve ever met you, chances are we have assured B that you also wear panties…

Read More.

Septemberinbox

Breaking Up With Normal

… I’m ready to just be. Rough edges, awkward pauses and comfortable pants… the me who isn’t trying so hard…

Read More.

Octobersorry

What Do You Say?

… I’ve been absolutely certain that actions trumped words. Wasn’t that the point? Not what we said or how we said it, but what we DID. Sure, I had been a little bit wrong, but he was wrong-er.

So there…

Read More.

Novemberjam

No Such Thing as a Perfect Day

… I made one of the most crucial parenting mistakes: I took it personally. In my head, it wasn’t bedtime or sleeping or being alone that he was fighting – it was ME. My success. My plans. My time to myself.

So I made the situation worse. Turns out harsh whispers of: “Just. Go. To. Sleep.” are not as helpful as you might think…

Read More.

Decembermine

Staking a Claim

The greatest surprise of this adoption (apart from my pitiful stamina in the going-without-sleep-marathon) is how insecure I feel. In my mind I know that things are going well; that attachment is a process and although messy and overwhelmed much of the time, our family is thriving. But my heart is not so confident…

Read More.

So here’s us, in 2012.


The Language of Belonging

It’s called “claiming behavior.” It’s a big part of adoption, especially with an older child. Intentional actions to physically demonstrate belonging, not just for the child, but for our whole family.

We put pictures of him on the wall, alongside our other children.

We made sure his room was ready for him.

We put his old toys from foster family alongside his new toys on the shelf.

We talk about “our family” a lot and include him in all our traditions.

We got him a health card with his new name on it.

We insisted that the hospital change the name on his file, even if they weren’t willing to change the number “until it is final.”

Last week, I bought him a stocking that matches all the rest.

Nothing tentative. Nothing temporary. This is home and he’s here to stay. Of course, he’s only 2, so I’m not sure how much of that translates. But his sisters heard it loud and clear. And we did too.

The first six months of an adoption placement are viewed by some as a trial period; a see-how-it-goes-and-if-this-thing-takes time. But we’re not wired that way. You can’t practice commitment. And parenting requires commitment.

You never know what you are going to get (not with adoptive or birth children), but parents weather the storm. And even when things take a turn for the worst, even if you can’t be everything they need, even if they have to live elsewhere or are out of your control or screw everything up in the scariest ways… you don’t bail. You scramble and fumble and give tough love and soft love and why-isn’t-this-enough-to-fix-you love, until the end. The parents I see in the most painful situations with the most at risk kids are ones I admire most. Not because they are perfect or do everything right, but because they are there. Parenting requires commitment.

This is the part where it would be so easy for me to devolve into a rant about adoption dissolution. Remember the mother who put her young son on a plane to Russia, returning him to his country of origin like he was a malfunctioning toaster? I was gratified to hear she was charged with child neglect and abandonment. This type of thing is a sadly common story, and that is probably the reason for six months of custody before finalization of an adoption.

Heaping trauma onto an already hurting child seems unconscionable, no matter how difficult they may be. Yet, I can’t sit here, with my happily-ever-after story, and judge these overwhelmed parents. I don’t know what it is like for them or why their families fell apart. I just know it’s devastating all around.

When we brought our boy home, we brought him home for good. I’ve had my moments of paranoia and anxiety: that unhappy birth family may contest the placement, that social workers may decide they’ve found a better match, that aliens would steal our bodies and replace our consciousness with their own… None of them likely scenarios. Still, it is haunting when we have made an absolute commitment to parenting, but aren’t legally his parents yet.

Right now, we share custody with the ministry. Officially, he is a ward of the state. We are required to inform them of any major changes in situation or health problems. They have to sign off on significant paperwork. We do not have a birth certificate or identification for him. Obviously, they hold this lightly; they WANT us to step up and parent and leave them out of it all.

But I will breathe easier when we are officially the sole guardians of our son. It’s more than just a piece of paper. It will give us all the rights and responsibilities of any parent, exactly the same as our other children. And it is on the way.

Today it is six months since we brought our son home. Today our social worker is applying to finalize (which usually takes 2-3 months). Today we begin the last leg of our journey, and when it is over we are going to have a HUGE party! Today we celebrate 183 days of rough and tumble, snuggly and sweet, loud and crazy!

What better way than with this modern-day ritual – another claiming behaviour for all the world to see.

stickfam

So here’s us, in cheesy stick family format on the back of our mini van.


There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Day

Monday was a good day.

Let me rephrase. Monday was a GREAT day!

The sun was out for a change. I dropped my happy children off at school and took an impromptu detour to the zoo. Just the boy and I with 14 squirrel monkeys, 1 kangaroo, 2 pythons, 4 ducks and a dozen baby bunnies. Only a handful of words two months ago, but today he was talking my ear off. So exciting, and his attempts at the word “duck” were particularily funny (but I’m just immature like that).

When we got home he “helped” me vacuum the whole house AND mop the kitchen floor (apparently it IS still white under there); we did laundry, cleaned the kitchen and sang songs together. By “we” I mean he came behind me and undid everything I was doing, spilled a bowl of Cheerios on the kitchen floor and danced to my off-tune rendition of “This is the way we clean our house…” During nap I read a chapter of an actual book, worked out, and wrote a blog. After school I read to my children, prepared a delicious edible meal – and if this all isn’t amazing enough for you – I MADE JAM!

NOTE – the making of jam is approached with much stress and trepidation since the Great Jam Debacle of 2005 (a long story involving broken shelves, a video camera, and a pile of shattered jars of blackberry jam), and also the Tragic Jam Overflow of 2008 (which filled the stove top, stained the counter/floor/cupboard below and destroyed every cookbook I owned at the time). I would stop doing it altogether, but in his most pathetic voice, my husband tells me that he can only eat MY jam, because it’s just so much better than anything else. Let me tell you, flattery works.

Suffice it to say, I was flush with my unprecedented success. I surveyed my domain with a sense of deep satisfaction. Eat your heart out Proverbs 31 woman!

Once I got the boy to sleep, I could head out to coffee group with my girlfriends. FINALLY, I was going to show up (I have cancelled more often than not lately) AND I was going to be in a good mood. Wearing make-up and jewelry and a clean shirt. With GOOD news: I think I’m finally getting the hang of this!

In 23 minutes, I went from Overcomer, Valiant Keeper of My Home and Queen of my Universe, to a bawling, frustrated hot mess.

Just like that.

There’s something about a screaming toddler. The sound is designed to jangle our nerves and disrupt our calm. And he was MAD that night. And his teeth hurt. And he didn’t want me to leave him. Or rush his bedtime routine. Or lay him down in his bed. Or let go of his hand. And Glen was busy with B, so I was on my own.

Most nights, this wouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s not that unusual. After a bit of a snuggle, some rocking in the rocking chair and rubbing his forehead, he usually calms down.

But tonight I could feel my temperature rising.

I had PLANS. The is THE DAY. The day when I got it all figured out and things worked like clockwork and I reign supreme. How dare he defy me?

I made one of the most crucial parenting mistakes: I took it personally. In my head, it wasn’t bedtime or sleeping or being alone that he was fighting – it was ME. My success. My plans. My time to myself.

So I made the situation worse. Soon I was too frustrated to snuggle or rock him. Turns out harsh whispers of: “Just. Go. To. Sleep.” are not as helpful as you might think. Even though we aren’t supposed to let him cry it out with our adoption so new, I had to leave the room to collect myself.

After an hour, I ended up leaving the house. He had chewed through two soothers that day, so I ran to the store to buy some more. By the time I got back he was finally quiet and Glen was ready with a hug for me.

Sigh of relief.

Then, from the next room, B started wailing for Mommy. Somehow, I ended up in bed, wearing flannel pajamas, blubbering something like, “I’m done. I’m just done.”

So here’s me, and I missed coffee group that night. But I watched a show with my husband and the boy slept through the night and my jam… is delicious.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. What do you think?


Cutting the Adoption Strings

I left the boy in Sunday School for the first time this week.

He was fine. He gave me a kiss goodbye and was immediately distracted by cars and friends and buckets of toys to be dumped out. He played with trains and babbled happily to the teacher. He put stickers on a page and sat in the circle for story time.

I should have been happy. It was the first service I sat through in months. A rare chance for Glen and I to be WITHOUT the littles: holding hands, sitting with the grownups, listening without distraction, without drama or tantrums or grabby, sticky hands on my face.

But I cried at the door. I lingered behind all the other parents. I felt sick going down the stairs. And I choked on the songs we sang.

Doesn’t he need me? What if he does need me and I’m not there? Is it too soon? Am I compromising attachment? Have I been hovering too much? Will they really call at the first sign of sadness? What is wrong with me?

I don’t stress about my other kids this way. Not even B with her special needs and behavioural issues and one-on-one helper and pull-ups at age 8. I know them. I know what they can handle; what to expect from them and for them. I trust my instincts.

But the boy is new. I love him every bit as much as my other kids. But I don’t know him the way I know his sisters. The four months we’ve had together have made a huge difference. But I haven’t been raising him these past two years. And the instincts just aren’t there.

Or maybe they are there, but I question too much to hear what they have to say. I wonder about the traumas he’s been through, the adoption itself, his medical issues, his temperament and personality, and what his version of “normal” is supposed to be. When things go wrong, I panic. When things go well, I doubt.

The rule of thumb for adoption is: however long you were apart from your child, that is how long it will take to feel that seamless sense of belonging. That means almost two years of adjustment – for me! So much of our focus has been on making HIM feel safe and loved and truly at home with us. But it cuts both ways.

Those first weeks felt like a really long babysitting job. I had to keep reminding myself that I am the Mom. As wonderful and magical and God-ordained as adoption is, it is not a natural situation. My boy is not home-grown, and transplants take time.

We are adjusting and growing together every day: sleepy morning cuddles, dancing to Jukebox oldies in the living room, ‘helping’ me clean the floor… He fits. This IS where he belongs. And someday I won’t even remember life without him.

Until then, parenting isn’t quite the same. My emotions run high and my confidence is low and my big 2-year-old boy gets treated like a baby sometimes.

So here’s me, having a little trouble cutting the apron strings.

Linking up to The Parent Hood for the first time!


What Do You Say?

Last month I sat around a table with 1/2 a dozen sticky faced toddlers. Each one clutching a mangled dixie cup of cheerios in their hot little hands. Upon reaching the bottom of the cup they lift hopeful eyes in my direction. The more assertive personalities hold up their cup beseechingly.

“What do you say?”

Each one, in turn, squeaks out an adorable “pa-wease.” Even S rubs his tummy to sign the word.

After that, it’s smiles all around, flush with the success of snack acquisition and the effusive praise that comes with having “SUCH good manners.”

This is what we do. We teach our children what to say.

Say “Hi” to Grandma. Wave “Bye-bye.” Tell your brother “No thank you! I don’t like it when you throw sand in my eye/take my toy/hug me until I fall to the ground/bite me on the shoulder.”

We give our children words to foster relationships, stand up for themselves and express their feelings. We teach them how to treat others, and ourselves, with respect. Words are the sticks and stones brick and mortar of relationship development.

At the end of a meal our big kids are expected to clear their plate and say to whomever prepared the meal, “Excuse me, thank you for my dinner.” It’s a pretty habit we admired in the respectful, well-behaved children of other families we know. We do the same in the hopes that one day our children will morph into something similar.

I’m not so deluded as to believe it is always the honest expression of heartfelt gratitude. Some nights is sounds more like “excusemethankyouformydinner, it’s MY turn with the iPad, put it DOWN, it’s NOT FAIR, where’s MY ice cream, DON’T touch me, MOOOOOOO-OOOOOOM.”

Other nights we get the sullen, slumped shoulders version which sounds like the exact opposite of gratitude “Ex-cuuuuse me. Thanks for my ‘dinner.'” And we launch immediately into a lively post-dinner discussion about attitude and tone of voice, which is always fun. “What do you mean? That’s my normal voice. I always talk like that.” This actually does have a ring of truth, since sullen-pre-teen-cool is becoming our new normal. Sigh.

But we plug away. Every time they say the words, they go through the motions of Grateful. If nothing else, it is a reminder that meals do not magically appear on the table; they are a gift of time and effort, and hopefully (most nights) some small amount of skill.

Manners are a big deal in our house. I went toe to toe with the speech therapist who insisted that the sign for “want” was the strong verb B needed to use most in her communication. I insist on “please” when she needs something. It may seem like a small thing, but when words are few, they should be the right ones.

And hopefully attitude will follow action.

The easy part is writing all of this about my children; yet another parenting technique we subscribe to. The hard part is applying it to myself.

Glen and I had one of those rare lingering disagreements this weekend (we usually have heated/hurt feelings/cry/make up/I-can’t-really-remember-what-the-big-deal-was-anyway/quick fights). We are tired and overwhelmed and in this life stage, with head colds all around, it’s probably inevitable. But the lingering is worrisome. And unhealthy. And I haven’t been ready to let it go.

I won’t go into the details (mostly because they are pretty stupid and petty), but we both felt disrespected and devalued. Me, by his actions and he, by my words.

I’ve been absolutely certain that actions trumped words. Wasn’t that the point? Not what we said or how we said it, but what we DID. Sure, I had been a little bit wrong, but he was wrong-er.

So there.

Then this morning I dusted off this blog post that I had started weeks ago: pontificating about the importance of words. Gah. I suck.

I thank the doctor for his time. I say ‘please’ to the waiter who brings me a drink. I excuse myself from a meeting rather than abruptly walking out. I would never demand or yell or belittle someone I had just met. Doesn’t my family, and especially my husband, DESERVE respectful words even more than the strangers and acquaintances I practice my manners on all day long?

I know they do. And when I am feeling entitled and ungrateful and irritated, I can only hope that saying the right words will help adjust MY attitude too.

So here’s me, thanking my husband for all he does. He speaks to me with respect and that means a lot. I’m sorry.


Lies I Tell Myself

Sleep is for the weak.

I’ll just have ONE bite.

This is the best I can do.

I don’t know how this happened.

It’s not like she’s going to wear diapers forever.

That’ll wash right out.

I’m sure it’s just a phase.

There’s probably some nutritional value in it.

These pants must have shrunk in the wash. Again.

I’m just resting my eyes.

It’s not my fault.

And the TRUTHS that make all the difference:

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Sex burns calories and releases positive endorphins.

I AM doing the best I can.

We’re in this together.

They’re worth it.

God made me special and He loves me very much.

So here’s me, preaching the gospel according to Bob and Larry. I think Preschool Theology is highly underrated.

Note: I do realize that “doing the best I can” made both sides of the list. I shuffled it back and forth several times. Figuring out if it is a lie to let myself off the hook OR a truth to accept about myself is the real trick right now. Well, that and naps. I’m pretty sure a nap will help too.


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Never has a hand-me-down been so happily recieved by a little sister.
B wore the sparkly backpack all day and screamed for joy when we wrote her name inside it!

The commercials show jubilant parents skipping down the aisle caressing the Back-to-School supplies as they go. Petulant children trudge behind looking depressed. It’s an office supply store’s dream come true.

Mine too.

I often feel a bit guilty to number myself among those excited parents, thrilled to see September on the top of the calander. I have friends who lament the end of summer days with their beloved children. And I wonder, do I enjoy my children less?

But, I felt this way back in the days of homeschooling, when the end of summer “holiday” meant not less, but more time and interaction with my offspring.

It’s NOT that I don’t like spending time with my kids. Though, in all honesty, every moment of hands on parenting is not blissfull and life affirming. Admittedly, I relish the idea of a quieter house and days where I don’t have to extend my bathroom breaks to protect my solitude-craving soul. But, I miss them too. And I hate not having the inside track on all the goings on. Despite my daily bribes, “you must tell me 3 things about your day before you get an after school snack”, I don’t hear about everything they are doing (or not doing… yes, I’m talking about that spelling homework, C).

I felt this way as a school kid myself. I loved the crisp white pages of an untouched notebook. I loved neatly lining up all of my supplies. I even loved packing that very first bag lunch of the year. What can I say, I’m a total nerd.

It’s NOT that I don’t enjoy the freedom of summer. Lazy mornings, trips to the beach, family holidays, letting Glen cook dinner for a change (sorry honey, I don’t know which button to push on this thing and you are SO good at barbecuing)… Every week brings some new adventures and the kids have time for uninterrupted play (the thing I miss most about homeschooling). This used to be elaborate forts and pretend games, but lately it’s been building sets and designing costumes for their latest movie.

The truth is, I miss normal. I miss routine. I miss predictable. I miss knowing what each day is going to hold. And I know my kids do too, though they claim loudly that the only good thing about it is seeing all their friends. They thrive when things go according to plan. Even my free spirit sleeps better and gets her chores done with minimal drama when things are back to normal.

We line up the pictures on B’s weekly calander and she can see which days are school and when she gets to go horseback riding or have speech therapy or swimming. She knows what happens next and she is so much better behaved. Just like her mom.

So, today as I snap the requisite “first-day-of-school” photo at the front door, it’s not the new backpacks and carefully considered outfits that put that hopeful smile on their faces (and mine). It is a giant sigh of Back-to-Normal relief!

So here’s me, definitely in need of a brand new notebook. It’s unnatural to be this jealous of a 7th grader.


Nothing Hurts Like Family

Writing is a funny thing. There are times when it bubbles up pure and fresh, almost effortless. It feels like magic, and the blank page fills with words. A gift, not for readers, but for myself.

There are other times when I squeeze it out, a few recycled words. Predictable. Mundane. And I dress them up with a garnish and a little paper umbrella, pretending that no one was really thirsty after all.

I sat down to write about our family holiday. Something sweet and palatable about lazy beach days and toasting s’mores in the flickering firelight. We had a wonderful vacation! Idyllic moments punctuated by the exhaustion and chaos of our newly expanded family. The past few weeks we have connected with cousins and siblings and parents. We have laughed and reminisced and made several more “remember when” stories for the dinner table.

But no amount of garnish can dress up the bad writing I’ve produced on the topic. I can’t make it work. It’s a cheesy tourism brochure.

The truth is, I am consumed by the turmoil of family politics. Somehow it seems to overshadow all of the Norman Rockwell we’ve experienced. Like the fog that rolled in on our last day at the beach house, obscuring the spectacular view we had already begun to take for granted.

So this post is not what I intended. It is messy and vague and somewhat depressing. But honest.

Nothing hurts like family.

I write this with the sad comfort that I am not singling out any family member or particular conflict. On every side of both our families is a complex web of hurt feelings and disrespect and misunderstanding. I’m beginning to think it is normal, though it feels very unnatural. Most of the time we sit on the periphery and try our best to play peace-maker. But we’ve played a few rounds ourselves lately.

You don’t need the details to know the story. Over and over again in a thousand little ways and in the big ones too: nothing hurts like family.

Normally, I prefer the irritation and necessary pain of honest interaction. My advice to others almost always involves gentle confrontation. It’s not fair to be angry with someone and not tell them. Words. Words. Words.

Yet in reality they aren’t the magic fix I imagine. Some things are more complicated than diplomacy and amateur psychology can address. And let’s face it, the walking wounded make terrible diplomats. In my own life it is absurdly easy to settle for a thin veneer of civility atop a bubbling cesspool of resentment. I hate to admit that. It makes me a terrible hypocrite.

My husband reminds me to let things go, to be kind and forgiving, to do good, even when others don’t. Even when others don’t notice, which is the most annoying of all. For him, the relationship is more important than the fight. He is the master of conflict avoidance. But sometimes this peace feels like a lumpy rug. Eventually we’re bound to trip on all that skillfully concealed debris.

So we vacillate between conflict and cover-up. And I don’t know which is better. And I don’t have any more answers. And I don’t know what to do next.

But I love my family. All of them. Even the ones who hurt me. Even the ones whom I’ve hurt.

I don’t have a great insight about this subject, not yet. No pithy conclusion. No 10 simple steps to fix what ails us. Just a prayer for wisdom and hope that my words, and actions, and inactions will make things better, not worse.

So here’s me, trying to figure out how we imperfect jerks can love each better.


From Precipice to Poopy Diapers

A life hangs in the balance. Literally.

Stretched to the limit atop a precipice, men form a human chain, intent on saving the one who has fallen over the edge. Their strength begins to wane. They are slipping closer and closer to gruesome death. Dangling over the edge, the last man realizes what is at stake. With a sigh of resignation and a look of absolution, he lets go; plunging to his death, rather than risk the lives of his comrades.

“NOOOOOO!” Cut to primal scream of the main character.

I can think of half a dozen movies with this scene. Change a few details, rearrange the sequence, tweak the wardrobe… it’s a classic bit.

Sometimes it’s a bullet. Sometimes it’s a bomb. Sometimes it’s a grizzly bear. Sometimes it’s a burning building.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)

We replay it in the media over and over again, because it resonates. These hero stories appeal to us. Like Christ, who sacrificed himself to save us all. We want to believe that sacrifice like this happens. We want to believe that WE would do the same thing.

When push comes to shove comes to the edge of a precipice… I like to believe I would. Especially for my family or my friends, but even for a stranger. In my daydreams, these Messiah moments are bold and dramatic, with a stirring soundtrack playing in the background.

But it’s not a likely scenario. The closest I’ve ever come is the time I fell down the stairs with baby in arms and turned to take the brunt of it on my back while holding her out of harm’s way. That was maternal instinct, and over in a split second.

The really great love, the kind our world needs more of, is not as glamorous and sexy as those cinematic scenes. It is giving up myself to help someone else in a thousand small, everyday ways. It doesn’t feel heroic, but it is.

Not running into a burning building, but listening to that elderly relative tell the same story for the third time in one phone call.

Not fighting off a rabid grizzly, but scrubbing the bathroom, doing the laundry and making dinner.

Not throwing my body on a grenade, but mopping up vomit, changing the sheets and putting on a sympathetic face.

Not throwing myself in front of a bullet, but calmly handling one more screaming tantrum, knock-em-down-drag-em-out fight or weepy confession.

Not sacrificing my life, but sacrificing my time, my energy, my comfort, my sleep, and maybe even my chocolate (gasp!).

In some ways, it’s a lot harder than the big dramatic exploits. I’m pretty sure I could make the impressive gesture, if given the opportunity. But the daily grind kind of sacrifice… mine is not an Oscar worthy performance EVERY time.

I whine. I get frustrated. I am consumed by my own performance. I overlook all the heroes around me. I resent.

But sometimes I love. Sacrificially. Heroically. Not anything they’ll make a movie about. Not anything people will notice or applaud or hand out awards for. But that’s kind of the point of sacrificial love, isn’t it?

Scroll down to the comments section. How many acts of sacrificial love, that will never make a movie trailer, can we think of?

So here’s me, wondering if diaper changes would feel more heroic with the right soundtrack in the background. Next time I’ll play this song:


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