Summer Routines with Kids After Vacation

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Photo credit: The Joyful Life Magazine

We are home for the first time this month after a wonderful vacation to Ireland, where we rented a car and drove clockwise around almost the entire country. My husband adjusted to driving manual on the left side of the road (on the right side of the car) through harrowing narrow lanes, 2-lane roundabouts, and one-way city streets.

Bringing my oldest son along at the last minute was the best decision we could have made. I loved getting to know him so much better one-on-one and seeing a foreign country through his eyes. He asked thoughtful questions and noticed every quirky difference (like paying coins to use public bathrooms!) and even made a few friends. Of course everyone thought he was a local.

I cannot thank my parents enough for keeping our youngest 2 entertained with several trips to Busch Gardens and playtime with cousins and aunts and uncles and filling their home with boys and noise for 16 days. I still remember getting to do this with my grandparents when I was little while my parents traveled. It was truly a win-win for everyone.

Part of the reason I wanted this trip was to see places in Ireland I didn’t see during my last visit, but the main reason was because I just needed a physical break. I have been pregnant/nursing/miscarrying babies (many times, 2 of these at once) for 8 straight years without a one single day’s break, and I wanted to feel like myself again. This trip gave me a clear head and an open mind and a chance to just feel like myself again. I pumped milk the entire trip and joined a few Irish mums groups to donate it while traveling (sadly with no luck), but having a clear head to be grounded and mindful and experience another country with all 5 senses was such a gift. I’m still pinching myself that we made it happen.

Coming back to the States has been a little culture-shock, not only for the subtle differences in everyday life between the two cultures and the 5-hour time difference, but also because I’m back to juggling all 3 boys again for the summer. It was amazing to have undivided time with my oldest without the sibling rivalry, the stopping for naptime, or the constant begging for snacks. For 16 days, I didn’t feel like I was herding cats and failing at staying a step ahead of my kids. We could go seamlessly from one activity to another for an entire day without stopping for naps or to change diapers and clean up messes. Just now, for example, I cleaned a yellow substance dripping down my 2-year-old’s legs and it took several minutes to realize that it wasn’t from his diaper but in fact from PEANUT BUTTER HE HAD BLOWN INTO A BALLOON AND THEN DRIPPED OUT IN LIQUID FORM ALL OVER HIMSELF AND THE CARPET. I had almost forgotten how much they keep me on my toes, so it’s an adjustment for all of us to get back into our normal routines. I am so grateful for all of these little and big moments, but it’s still an adjustment nevertheless.

Back in January when I was planning our Ireland trip, I was also writing some suggestions to myself (and other moms) about ideas for device-free summer activities for kids. I am taking my own advice now that it’s out in print in the June 2019 Surrender issue of The Joyful Life Magazine. I am so grateful that I wrote this list because I am using it now to stay one step ahead of my kids this summer with creative ideas and activities (and plenty of room for down time and imagination).

Have you ordered your copy of The Joyful Life Magazine’s June 2019 Surrender issue yet?

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Photo credit: The Joyful Life Magazine

I’d be honored if you check it out — this issue is gorgeous!

 

Vulnerability on Mother’s Day

vulnerability on mother's day

May 8, 2016 – It was Mothers Day, and I was in tears. For the fourth year in a row, I found myself in a vulnerable place. I texted five mom friends that night and realized we all found ourselves in difficult places on what was supposed to be our holiday.

These sorts of holidays set a standard of expectation that seem to bring to light some of our greatest insecurities, the ones we especially try to squelch on these special days, the same way in which Valentines Day often and brutally singles out singles.

I was desperate for alone time.

In my wallowing, I began to doubt myself: How does my husband put up with me? Am I worthy of God’s love? Do the terrible twos reflect my worth as a mom?  

As mothers, we may feel as if we fall short in all areas of life, despite our best efforts. We feel invisible, insignificant. We want to regain control even as we’re spread thinner and thinner across our roles. When I am barely scraping by on two hours of sleep, I fear the place of irritability and irrational thoughts  my doubts carry me. Why do I maintain a facade of confidence as if I have any inkling of what I’m doing trying to wrangle a few toddlers?

I dread asking for help and get frustrated when I’m misunderstood. I’m not even striving for perfection; I would just like to function on all cylinders like I did before having kids, when my bar was set much higher because it could be.

Where am I? What is missing? What might God be using to reveal to me?

In “Making a World of Difference Right Where We Are,” Deidra Riggs wrote, “The seeds of our gifts were planted in us as young children…I can use them to grow into my ministry.” Writing is my best form of worship. It is God’s gift for me to steward, and He also wants me to give it back to Him in my own quiet times. Writing has always focused my attention on God as I pray–it’s much harder to be distracted if I am writing my prayers. Although not everything has to be formally published, I have become more confident in sharing my words, especially since granting myself permission to call myself a writer. I have slowly and intentionally learned each “next right thing,” as Emily P. Freeman calls it, by allowing myself permission to admit to not knowing, but commit to finding out each new step of the writing process as it began to unfold. It wasn’t not long after that I became pregnant with my third son. That pregnancy would lead me on a 19-month journey that eventually brought me right back to this statement again.

If I knew what all I still have left to learn in my calling, I’d be drowning, discouraged at the work before me. But God’s glorious fog hides all of that, leading us forward to see only the very next steps, encouraging us to follow Him, to see the next step, and the next, and the next. That in-and-of-itself is a gift. Curiosity drives me forward each time, until I learn that step and move onto the next. And in the meantime, I’m learning to practice mindfulness and gratitude to be content right where I am.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV). 

Practicing Mindfulness and Gratitude

Practicing mindfulness and gratitude

Mindlessly, I flip through my most-frequented apps. I check to see what new kids’ clothes I’ve sold on Kidizen. I pop between my Zillow and Trulia real estate apps just for fun — are any good properties for sale in our town? We’d love to downsize and simplify a few things. I check my monthly sales total on my Teachers Pay Teachers app and calculate my goal progress for the month, right on track to surpass my April goals. I open Instagram to whichever of my accounts is logged in and then toggle between the three of them. Without thinking, I open TpT again, only to realize that I just checked that app a minute before. I set my phone down and exhale. My toddler picks it up and hands it back to me, as if it should be a permanent extension of my left hand. He’s so accustomed to seeing it there. I place my phone under the cushion of the outdoor patio furniture behind me and reach for the other things I brought outside with me on this gorgeous spring day — my leather-bound journal, my Bible, and a book, “Not the Boss of Us.”

I read a few paragraphs from Kay Wills Wyma’s newest book and look up, pausing to really take in my own backyard. We’ve lived here two years now and are reaping the benefits of the landscaping put in by the prior owners. The first thing I noticed was the wide-open sky. It reminded me of my honeymoon in Montana, aptly-named “Big Sky Country.”

I’m praying about a lot of things these days. God has been placed a calling on my heart that I can’t quite comprehend without having to unravel a lot of other things. I’m not sure what to do. I want to be obedient, and I’ve been praying for over a year now. It’s hard to not wonder, worry, and try to take control.  I take a break from my futile attempts to play out every possible scenario in my head.

I look around my backyard, practicing a mindfulness exercise I teach my elementary students regularly: Notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

It’s an exercise in grounding oneself when thoughts are racing, whether from anxiety or the general overwhelm life so often seems to spiral within us.

I record a few of my observations in my notebook. Later, I’d transfer them to Instagram to steward my words in case they can bless someone else.

  • I see: my toddler eating a lollipop and playing with his fairy garden, my breastmilk ring and all that it symbolizes to me, my neighbor’s dogwood tree, and tall grasses waving in the wind way up on the hill behind my house.
  • I hear: songbirds, trees rustling, far-off train, wind chimes.
  • I smell: familiar scents of springtime and new mulch that remind me of childhood and home.

I also note what I would have missed by staying inside today, on this gorgeous 70-degree spring day: my new neighbor painting a canvas on her patio, wind chimes, the baby figuring out the swing, the way our trees throw twinkling shadows on freshly-cut grass.

My gratitude list:
1. The baby all to myself this weekend while the big kids are camping with daddy
2. Pink dogwood in bloom
3. A fragrant backyard
4. Gentle breeze
5. Everything we need
6. Vacation one month away
7. Chorus of birds outside
8. Good friends
9. Summer within reach

Recently I spent several nights away from home, traveling solo to a conference. I knew, going into it, I would have a chance to meet one of the most famous authors in my profession and ask her my questions about the next steps in publishing my first children’s book. I didn’t know, though, that her keynote would resonate so much with me that I’d spend the next several weeks contemplating hope and its role in combating anxiety and depression. I wondered how I could use the information to help my families at school.

During her keynote, we watched this powerful video by Nature Valley. I’m glad I grew up in a generation when playing outside and interacting with the world around me was natural and expected. Now it seems like going outside has to be intentional. Meanwhile, our fixation with technology seems to be stripping us of hope.

I watch my toddler playing in the fairy garden. “Fade-ees! Fade-ees!” he squeals in delight as he moves the small plastic fairies around the miniature garden we made last summer in a large ceramic planter on our deck. Without his brothers here, he has his pick of any fairy he wants, and he clutches all of them in his tiny fists. He drops one, and it rolls under the woven ottoman. He points up to the playground we built up on our hill and asks, in his words, to go play in the mud kitchen.

“You can go up there,” I encourage him, easing back onto the couch and reaching for my Bible and notebook.

“No. Mommy come,” he demands. I put my books down, thinking longingly of the quiet time I’m so desperate for, but I follow him up the hill and watch as giddily he transfers measuring cups’ full of muddy water back and forth from the 99-cent Goodwill cupcake pans to the matching pans in the sink. A little mulch drips down the front of his striped romper and he is concerned for just a moment, then returns his attention to the cakes he is making me. I notice the blue handprint painted near the sink, the pink dogwood blossoms near the swings and peer through the lilac bush, its blossoms already dropping in the short-lived Virginia spring. If it hadn’t come up here, I might have missed them entirely. I watch my neighbor mow her lawn, amazed at the checkerboard pattern she seems to so effortlessly create every single time. I appreciate whoever hung wind chimes far enough away that I can enjoy them without interrupting sleep over them.

These grounding exercises lead me to a conversation with our Creator that only He can orchestrate. The feels of the breeze against my face slows my own racing thoughts of what I could be doing right now to prepare for the workweek ahead and the rest of my family’s return from their camping trip. The scent of lilac brings me back to the present moment. God has called me to notice this very scene before me. “Truth,” Wyma writes, “Truth that tomorrow’s worries and yesterday’s happenings don’t get to overinform or steal from today.” My two-year-old has not a care in the world as he enjoys his red lollipop and sloshes water around the mud kitchen we fashioned from a yard sale kitchen sink, old wooden pallets, some extra boards, and a corrugated steel roof. It is their favorite activity, and all three of my boys still fit side-by-side in front of the sink. Just as spring will segue silently into summer, there will come a time when they won’t be able to all fit across, forming and serving mud cakes together. And so I’ll soak it up now, instead of looking ahead to the next thing, the next house, the big picture. God is calling me to see this very moment before me before my littlest toddles back inside the house to snuggle against me for a nap. Laundry and packing lunches and Friday folders from school can wait a little longer.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV).

Great references for getting outside with kids:

  • “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather” by Linda Akeson McQurk
  • “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy
  • “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv 

More of my thoughts on mindfulness:

 

Trading Gridlock for Slow and Steady Rhythms

IMG_8206Driving back to my hotel after a day spent just outside Washington, D.C. at a work conference, I needed to get on the Beltway and go South. I had been dreading this particular stretch all day, knowing I’d be up against the D.C. commuters returning home in rush hour on a Friday, a Friday which, for many, was also the start of spring break. Not even on the Beltway yet, I could see its ripple effects on the on-ramps and even spilling up onto the highway where I was, cars already at a standstill.

Ignoring Siri’s insistence to get into the right lane to begin merging, I believed there must be another way. A slower way. I glanced at my anticipated arrival time.

6:09 pm.

I continued on the slow, steady highway, and sure enough, Siri rerouted — this time, to a toll road. Again, I held out for a slower way, and she recalculated, making small adjustments to keep my commute moving forward.

Suddenly and without warning, my lane became a right-turn-only lane, and I was forced to ease off of the highway onto a side street. My steady road had ended, and without knowing my way, I planned to make a U-turn, but Siri had other plans. She recognized another route, and I continued forward.

This newest route wound through sleepy neighborhoods, a mixture of older homes and McMansions, the off-street parking so tight, the roads appeared one-way. Still, I was grateful for this quieter unplanned route, and I continued to weave through the stop signs and quiet streets. Eventually, the road spit me back onto the main highway leading to my hotel, with only a stop sign against a steady stream of traffic in both directions, and with an additional two-way cross-street between me and the stop sign to the main thoroughfare.

Finally, my opportunity came, and I darted into the first available lane and then watched for opportunities to get over. I persisted and was soon swinging into one of the last parking spots in front of the hotel. I breathed a sigh of relief, my car finally in park, and glanced at the clock.

6:07 pm. Earlier even, than the Beltway would have delivered me.

The route I took had its own unique obstacles, but it was another way, albeit the uncommon way. And in this case, uncommon meant less-congested. When I felt gridlocked in traffic, I sought a new direction, a slower, quieter route.

I’ve been practicing this in my life for several years now as well, and I know this season with three little ones, working a full-time job, and now publishing my first children’s book will not last forever. I’m learning as I go, stepping out in faith. My responsibilities, while all good, do not leave wiggle room for much else, and that is both frustrating and stressful.

Tonight I finished Emily P. Freeman’s “Discern and Decide” course, one of her pre-order bonuses accompanying her latest book, “The Next Right Thing,” a national bestseller just days after launch. I loved diving deep into exploring the rhythms I’ve established in this season, reflecting on what is and isn’t working. I love the suggestions Emily gave for how to reflect on the past season. An avid writer, I didn’t think I needed this extra direction, but her practical suggestions encouraged me to reflect on things I might otherwise have missed. Breaking down my personal and communal practices, I was able to highlight rhythms to ingrain and rhythms to abandon. Instead of feeling guilt over the places where I’ve said “no” lately, I felt affirmed. My decisions lately have aligned with what I value most.

I fought for the space to have time of reflection this weekend. Here I am, at a hotel, sans kiddos for the first time in years. When I first asked if I could go on this work trip, I was met with resistance. My admin said there was no money. I decided to pay for it myself, and in the meantime, found funding another way. My husband, of course, was supportive of my going, but it meant a lot of sacrifices on both of our parts. I’d miss my oldest son’s school recital and my middle son’s soccer game, and I’d have to pump milk for the days spent away from my youngest. It also meant several hours of writing lesson plans for my substitute. Meanwhile, my husband was doing 100% of the things.

But I persisted, knowing I needed the time to slow down, and so here I am, relishing the white space I carved for myself. I’ve had time for uninterrupted thought, uninterrupted writing, and mostly-uninterrupted quiet. (There was that charter bus of middle schoolers just outside my door that pulled in and unloaded at 11:45 last night…)

Today I went to a huge shopping center and perused slowly — another luxury I’ve never had. At my conference today, I talked to an author I’ve followed for 13 years now. (Check out @counselorstation on Instagram today to see who she is!) I tried a new face mask. I moved slowly and finished entire thoughts. For once, I didn’t have to leave unfinished projects scattered around. I savored my coffee and strawberry crepes in a quaint little French cafe.

The small adjustments Siri made so that I didn’t have to join the gridlock on the Beltway are not unlike the small adjustments I make in my life to stay balanced, avoiding a gridlocked schedule but also recognizing that a kid-free retreat will not always be realistic. I learned from my “How Things Work” college physics professor that a bicycle can stay balanced on its own if it’s pedaled (he was making the point that it’s not all that impressive when people ride a bike without touching the handlebars). I like to think that pedaling with these tiny, almost unnoticeable adjustments helps keep it balanced. Right now I’m pedaling between these two extremes, the gridlock and the quiet. And I’m finding where I can dip into each, covering my responsibilities and saying no as needed, while also taking time for self-care. But if I lean too far into either one, I become unbalanced and something major gets neglected.

The steady rhythm of moving forward, listening for cues from the Lord, being open to consider unexpected opportunities, and seeking out those uncommon paths help keep me from falling. I’m grateful for it all.

Navigating the Messy Middle

this tension -- wanting to pursue my calling, but having to surrender something else in order to do so.

Do you ever feel restless to move?

Is it to a new home? A new job? A new city or town? Do you need a mindset shift? A new perspective? A new workout routine?

Who is moving? Is it you who needs to move, or is time to finally acknowledge that God is moving in your life, making big changes and offering to shoulder your insecurities and self-doubts?

Perhaps my word “move” for the year is drawing me from my own sense of security and allowing Him to move within me.

God,

You filled me with awe in worship this week. I want to surrender to your call, but I fear losing the security I’ve worked for. Some people earn degrees and never fully use them in the field they intended; I fear stopping too early. I know I can use my education moving forward, regardless of what I do, my knowledge and experiences will alway be a part of me. God, why am I put in this tension — wanting to pursue my calling, but having to surrender something else in order to do so. It feels like I have to let go of one thing to switch to another, letting go of one trapeze and trusting that I’ll catch the next — and I’m afraid of flying. I want to serve more fully with the gifts you’ve laid upon me. I am in the mess of this tension every day and I do feel anxious and restless about it. I don’t have time to myself to devote long stretches to what I love doing. I can’t even schedule time and guard it — I have three small boys and a full-time job! I have to accept time where it comes organically, and that unpredictability is stressful for me. I can’t be creative on a schedule, anyway. When the mood strikes, I might be nursing a tiny human on my lap or teaching a class at school. I may wake up early, and my kids wake up minutes later. I know you will make a way because it is your will for me, I’ve seen you do it over the past year as you’ve opened many doors for me (and closed even more), and I am so thankful for all of it. Amen.

Right now I feel like I’ve found a “partial solution,” as Tsh Oxenreider calls it, but I also feel like I can only commit partially, even though I want to give my all–thus the tension I’m constantly mulling over in the back of my mind. My pastor recently encouraged us to ask ourselves how we can lean on our church to pursue God’s call.

This is probably one of the hardest parts for me. It isn’t that I intentionally put walls up. It’s just my personality makes it difficult for me to process things out loud with others — I process quietly –internally– and usually through writing. Inviting someone into my mess means attempting to sort through jumbled thoughts before I’ve had a chance to make any sort sense of them. As my uncle says, I’ve always held my cards very close to my chest, and I’ll admit to this. It has always made it harder for me to ask for help and it makes people assume things come easily for me, which drives me crazy because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Usually by the time I share something, I’ve had quite a bit of time to pray over it and wrestle with it, and I’d rather just share things with a few close friends, anyway.

Jennie Allen writes, “Because he didn’t call us to something alone. He carries the yoke for us, so we can run with power” (Restless, p. 147). When I am not ready to invite others in to the mess (even though I know I need to, that vulnerability fosters connections and relationships), I know that I can count on God to meet me, already knowing the details of my mess, reassuring me that He also knows how it will all unfold.

So for now, I’ll continue to pray through this messy middle and try to encourage others to join me in this tension.

For more reflections on my one word for 2019, “move,” check out my two previous posts:

My One Word for 2019: Move

Knowing How to Step Out in Faith

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