You’re (NOT) gonna miss this.

It’s something that well-meaning strangers and relatives say to make you feel better about the fact that motherhood just stinks sometimes. It has never, ever made me feel better. I will even go out on a limb and say that it might be an amnesia-induced lie. I’ve noticed that when people grow older, they sometimes forget about the more painful experiences in life, and reminisce about the joyful, positive ones. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I look forward to it in my own life. I’m just not drinking that kind of Kool-Aid yet.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I love my children, and I love being their mother. We have wonderful, loving, and tender moments often, and I do my best to relish the joy in all of that. It’s just that it’s not lollipops, butterfly kisses, and homemade valentines all of the time. I give myself permission to admit that to myself and anyone who reads this post.

Once upon a life, I enjoyed an identity that was not preceded by a possessive noun or pronoun (so-and-so’s mom). I hope to return to that version of me after the tornado passes, without regret that the time I spent over the last three-and-a-half decades of my life raising six other humans is over. While I am SURE I will have tender memories of these times, there are many, many things about motherhood that I am certain I will NOT miss. I’ve listed a few below:

I will not miss having an audience when I use the toilet. It’s been nearly 18 years since I have enjoyed the solitude of the lieux d’ aisances, and I have several left to go. And don’t suggest that I lock the door. Anyone with kids knows they will just beat on it, yell through it, wiggle the handle until it unlocks, and shove things under it until you come out.

I will not miss several crises or immediate demands for my attention the second I get on the phone. It’s like a universal signal, a quietly and secretly transmitted frequency among offspring, to raise hell.

I will not miss smooshed lipstick tips and chapstick all up in the lid. I might even buy really nice ones again someday.

I will not miss Cheetos. Or Cheeto fingers, and the orange anthrax they leave behind.

I will not miss missing jewelry or items of clothing or make-up that somehow migrate to my daughters’ rooms/backpacks/car/friend’s house/outer space.

I will not miss being kicked in the head all night by a toddler, because I am too old and tired to return him to the bed we bought him, which was, apparently, a waste of money.

I will not miss 2 a.m. vomit clean up. (no disrespect to Trace Adkins, but I will not want this back. Ever.)

I will not miss parent teacher conferences, or open-house night. I’ve been to roughly 38 of each so far, and I’ve heard the spiel enough to know it never changes. I will send Kleenex and hand sanitizer regardless of my attendance, and I promise I love and support my children in their quest for knowledge and extra credit.

I will not miss the twilight zone experience of arguing with 3 teenagers while simultaneously begging a 2-year-old to poo in the potty. I just won’t.

And lastly, in honor of the movie Groundhog Day, I will not miss doing all of this over and over and over for a combined 108 years of getting 6 kids to adulthood, with the hopes that if I just get it right I can move on. We all know I will never get it right, because there is no such thing as “right.”

I’m a good GREAT mother all the same.

This happened in one afternoon. Enjoy:

Think Outside The Box

My six-year-old told me a joke last week.

“Mom, imagine you are in a steel box and there’s no way out. What do you do?”

“Hmmm…no way out huh…gee, I don’t know. Scream for help, I guess. What would you do?”

“Stop imagining I’m in the box.”

In this little riddle lies the key to solving most, if not all, of life’s problems, and it was delivered to me by a first-grader. So simple, and yet so profound a message: the solution lies not in what you do, but in what and how you think.

We often view circumstances in life, whether self-created or imposed by others, as a steel box we cannot get out of. Our problems become larger than they should be and seem unsolvable because we are not willing or able to change the way we think about them. Sometimes we sit in our box, convinced that there is no way out, and scream for help, or assign blame for our predicament to someone else. We accept helplessness as if we are victim to whatever perceived force put us in the box in the first place. The riddle of the box suggests that maybe we imagine things as problematic when they really aren’t. Maybe the only thing we actually fall victim to is our own propensity to think ourselves into a steel box.

I spend my time professionally helping people get out of boxes by changing their limiting or negative thinking patterns. The doing naturally follows. You’d think that because of this I would never find myself in a similar situation, but sometimes even I need a little help with this too. In an intensive I attended last weekend, I worked an exercise that lifted the lid of a box I thought I was in, showed me the light at the end of this tunnel, and, quite frankly, made me feel like an idiot for getting in that imaginary box in the first place. I began writing this post before this experience, and now, I know why I needed it.

Glinda was right. I’ve always had the power, and I always will.

Opposition creates an opportunity for choice. I choose to think outside of the box.

A word on faith…

We often say we have faith in people, in God, in ourselves. It sounds so benign and somewhat cliche to say, “I have faith that everything will work out.” When I sent my daughter overseas, I had “faith” she would be safe, that God would watch out for her and protect her; she would behave well, perform well, and have an amazing experience.

Two days into the trip, she became sick. Really sick. Unexplainable symptoms came suddenly, rendering her helpless and afraid and completely dependent upon those around her. The midnight phone call that every parent dreads came.  “There is an emergency with your daughter. We don’t know what to do. We are going to take her to the hospital in Beijing.”

This began my three day conversation with God. “Faith” seems too simple a word to describe my complete dependance on Him for those few days. Nothing could be explained, competent medical care could not be obtained, she could not leave and I could not join her. This was a problem that I could not solve, and I was painfully aware of it. God was in charge, He had the answers, and I knew He would  help my husband and I make decisions and help those who were with her make decisions to restore her to health and bring her home safely.

Sometimes the experiences we expect and have faith in don’t quite materialize…sometimes they become what we need instead. I can’t really say my faith was tested, because it never occurred to me to give up faith or hope or my expectation that God would take care of her. On the contrary, when things became difficult my expectations became greater and my requests more insistent. I called upon my family, friends, and even acquaintances to pray for her, connect me with translators, doctors, and information. I sat up at night by the phone waiting for updates. I called upon the powers of Heaven to hear our cries and make my daughter well.

Our cries were heard, and she became well and enjoyed the rest of her trip. As I write this she lay upstairs, sleeping off the jet-lag, strange beds, weird food, toxic pollution, and exhausing schedule. Her faith, without a doubt, has been strengthened. She has recognized her own strength, felt the love of those around her, and most of all, acknowledged the power of God in her life.

What if she hadn’t returned home safely? Would I still have faith? I’d like to think that I would.  I hope I never find out. C.S. Lewis said,

“The work of devils and of darkness is never more certain to be defeated than when men or women, not finding it easy or pleasant but still determined to do the Father’s will, look out upon their lives from which it may seem every trace of God has vanished, and asking why they have been so forsaken, still bow their heads and obey.”

There is something personally powerful about continuing in faith even when we question the necessity of certain circumstances in our lives. I’ve seen many examples of people in my life who have done this and emerged strong despite dissappointment and difficulty. Yes, I believe that God is omniscient, and therefore I believe that he really knows what experiences we must have to grow, even if those experiences are painful and deny us our expectations. Faith in God as an omniscient and loving Father helps us align our expectations with Him. Understanding that trial is a part of the process that brings us closer to Heaven. We only see a pixel at a time in our lives, but God sees it all, and he sees what we can become if we follow him and continue to have faith no matter what. Becca’s trip may not have been what we expected, but in the larger scheme I couldn’t have asked for a better experience spiritually for her. I’m grateful she’s home and safe, and I look forward to being an anxious spectator to more of her amazing experiences.

Parent for Hire

Someone asked me the other day if she could hire someone to parent her daughter, or at least take her somewhere and have it done. Here’s the kicker: she was serious.

In jest, I told her I would do it for her, but she probably couldn’t afford me. The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that I hire out the parenting of my children often. In fact, I work part-time to cover the cost of having other people train my children, and I make no apology for it.  I have six children, and it is physically impossible for me to meet all of their needs all of the time, not to mention the emotional strain of it all. My solution is to hire it out. Here’s a breakdown of the costs:

Preschool: $30.o0 a month (a screamin’ deal!)

Piano lessons: $100.00 a month (another screamin’ deal)

Violin lessons: $45 a lesson, about $180-$225 monthly, depending on the month

Cello lessons: $75 a lesson, about $300-$375 monthly, depending on the month

Soccer: $200 a season, plus equipment

Cub Scouts: nominal

Boy Scouts: a few hundred a year, including trips

Church youth groups: free

In the past, we have also had the kids enrolled in swimming lessons, tae kwon do, flag football, basketball, cheerleading and dance. We have sent them to church camps, and this year we are sending our oldest daughter to China with her youth orchestra. This set us back about $3900. Ican’t even BEGIN to estimate the cost of the gas and tires I have burned through to get the kids to all of these activities. We aren’t wealthy, but I have the opportunity to earn the money to cover these costs, and at times we have had the kids help pay for their activities through fund raisers.

What we get for the investment:

The kids learn to play a musical instrument. Research states that the study of music will help sharpen math skills. I’m not sure if it works that way for my kids, but I do know that it sharpens other skills that may be even more useful in their lives. They are required to spend time every day to practice these instruments. They are expected to progress and produce results and to respect the knowledge and authority of their teachers. Through music lessons, my children expand their brains and creativity and learn to keep going, and they learn that quitting is not an option when things get difficult. This is money well spent.

The kids learn the skills and rules associated with several sports. They gain an appreciation for physical fitness and what their bodies are capable of. Sports teach them to work with others, be part of a team, and to follow rules. The kids learn to respect their coach, follow directions, and they begin to understand their responsibility to others socially. They learn to show up, even when they’re tired or don’t feel like it. They learn how to win gracefully, and they learn how to lose, again and again, and still have their dignity and self-respect.

The scouting program is incredibly valuable in raising boys! My boys have learned skills that will come in handy in their lives, but more importantly, they learn what it means to be a boy and eventually a man.  The Boy Scout Promise states,

“On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.”

Furthermore, they are taught that a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Why wouldn’t I rush my boys to the front row of an organization that teaches these values and character traits?

Through our church youth organization, my children make associations with other kids who share their values and beliefs, and gain support in living these values and beliefs. They build a social network of people who are trying to do the right thing.

I’m not naiive enough to think my methods are fool-proof; I know my children are individuals and that they may not choose to follow the path I’d like them to. But, when I look outside my front door at the kids hanging out on my street until all hours of the night, bragging about their multiple suspensions from school and their latest escapades of disrespect, I’m grateful that I have hired out a little bit of my parenting to give MY kids something better to do. I’m spending a little money to increase my chances of producing six amazing people who will make a beneficial contribution to society as a whole. I think I’m getting a GREAT deal!

I dream of…

I’ve been having some unusually vivid, slightly bizarre dreams lately. I am not pregnant. Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about my dreams.

Monday night I dreamt that I was with a friend of mine from college. As a bit of background, she and I have a very interesting connection. We can go years without seeing one another and months without talking to one another, but when one of us has a crisis, the other one just knows something isn’t right and calls to investigate. And both of us would be willing to hop on a plane at a moments notice should things go terribly, unmanageably awry. This has happened.

Back to the dream. So, Kace and I are together, somewhere, and I am showing her how my new haircut is short like hers and wondering if I can go three days without washing it, because I really don’t want to deal with washing it today. I’m also wondering why I’m back at college or why Kace is even there. She tells me no, I cannot go three days without washing my hair because my hair is too gross and greasy. Then I laugh, agree with her, and wash my hair. End of dream. I sent Kace a text about  my dream, and she told me she was driving through Nevada on Monday. Well, then.

Last night’s dream was a little more of a nightmare. I dreamt that I was in a house with several other adults and my children. Three men and one woman enter the house and begin to take us hostage. It is never clear in my dream why or what they want. For some reason, our captors leave us unattended for a while. We run around the house locking the doors to keep them out. However, I did not consider the back door, which had been damaged in the initial break-in, rendering the lock useless. The captors come back in and laugh at our failed attempt to outsmart them. End of dream.

Now I need therapy. If dreams are the subconscious’ way of working out problems or worries, I’ve got some doosies I’m not even aware of. (read more about this here) I usually don’t dream often or in much detail, or remember much about my dreams. My theory is that my dreams are related to my feelings of worry and helplessness over the current crisis in Japan. I’m hoping I can figure out, maybe through my dreams, a way I can personally be of help to the people there. In the meantime, I’m both a little afraid and a little excited to fall asleep tonight.

A High School Science Experiment

High School is an intriguing study of human behavior. If middle school were a giant petri dish, it would grow large quantities of insecurity that high school feeds on.  (It would also grow numerous other germs and ewie-gooies, but I’ll save those for another post.) At the very least, this period of life and human development is wrought with behavior that provides evidence that Social Darwinism exists in small social systems as well as larger ones.

I suppose it’s naturally and physically disposed to be such, what with all the identity development and hormones going on.  Amy Bellows, Phd., states that, “Teens often can be intolerant in their exclusion of their peers. They try to strengthen their own identities by excluding those who are not like themselves.” While this explains the ‘clique’ culture in most high schools, I think there’s another powerful culture, hiding underground, that affects all types of kids, even ones in ‘cliques’. I call it Leveling-strengthening one’s own identity by preventing the success of others. 

Leveling goes something like this: “If you succeed at something, it makes you stronger, more popular, more powerful. If you become stronger, more popular, more powerful, then I feel weaker, less popular, less powerful. I really need to maintain my position here, so I’m going to do what I can to ‘level’ you and make sure you stay right where you are socially.” It’s identity preservation through the halting of someone else’s progress. I’ve seen it accomplished with demeaning comments, teasing, sabotaged class elections, refusing help or support, rumors and lies, and even violence. I believe leveling is the heart of bullying, but it is a bit more stealth in its destruction of souls.

 The need to self-preserve is powerful, and can create behavior we would never believe we are capable of. Television reality shows gain viewers based on this concept alone by pitting people from all walks of life against one another in physically depriving situations to see what lengths they will go to in the name of survival. It’s fascinating and the ratings prove it. To many teenagers, their social status is as important as any other neccesity to survive.

Does “leveling” apply to boys as well as girls? That would be an interesting study, wouldn’t it? Socially and historically, boys and men are expected to succeed; to be strong and powerful and accomplished. And, socially and historically, there have been many examples of men “leveling” women, but again, a topic for another post I suppose. What I do observe in my daughter’s high school experience is that girls tend to panic a little more than boys when their social status is threatened.

So, what’s the solution, the antitode to the infection? Here’s what I’m experimenting with:

1. Teach your child/self to seek approval from themselves and their God or higher power. It’s a tall order at this age, I know. But practice makes perfect and each social disappointment can be measured against a set of values and not against ridiculous social rules based on the destruction of someone else’s soul. I love that my daughter talks to me about who said what to her, because it gives me the opportunity to reinforce this idea again and again.

2. Teach self-assesment and reflection. I’m a mother bear, and I love to defend my children no matter what. But I also realize that taking an honest look at oneself in a conflict can bring growth and sometimes needed change. “Do you think you did the right thing? Could you have been kinder/more sensitive? Are you proud of this accomplishment? Are you happy with how you handled it? What effect did your behavior have on others? What could you have done differently?” This is the beginning of empathy and unselfishness.

3. Teach social discernment. This is a partner to number one, listed above. Sometimes we give a person authority when they really don’t qualify or deserve it. Then, we base our self-worth on this false authority, giving us (you guessed it) a false sense of self-worth. “Is that person really a good source of information? What was that person’s motive in saying/doing that to you? Is this person a good friend? Does he/she want the best for you and do they champion your success, or do they act annoyed or jealous? Are they still your friend, even when you screw up, or even when you succeed?” Learning to see people for who they really are and what they intend allows us to realize who we want to surround ourselves with, regardless of station in life.

4. Teach that supporting someone else and sharing happiness in their success does not diminish your value, standing, or success, but instead adds to it because you are building a network of success around you. It’s such a compliment when mean people try to tear you down, because that means you’re up. Focus on bringing others up with you and everybody wins. My husband’s grandmother was known for saying, “pretty is as pretty does.” I interpret that to mean that when we treat others with respect and kindness, we grow more attractive to them and they want to be around us. It’s the law of attraction.

5. Give options. When things don’t work out the way we want or the way we planned, its great to have a Plan B. I like to tell my kids, “well, on to the next big thing.” If they don’t make the team, get elected, asked to prom, invited to a party, accepted by their peers, etc.,  its empowering to know that there are other great things and goals to focus on. I also believe that most things happen for reasons we don’t yet know or understand. Have you ever suffered a disappoinment, only to realize later you were better off by missing out? Very few experiences in life are devastating beyond repair. The more focused we are on moving forward, the further we will go.

More than anything, I just want my kids to develop a healthy sense of self that includes a knowledge and understanding of their own capacity and ability to succeed. I’m hoping this healthy sense of self will be something of an innoculation against the bacteria of negativity that is constantly around them in the petri dish. I’ve noticed that some are more immune than others, a trait that seems to come with their personality at birth. But they all will have to pass through the experience of growing up and becoming socialized in an uncivilized environment, and I hope I’m on the right track with my own experiment. I’d love to see a new growth in the petri dish, one that allows others success without insecurity.