Homesick: Choosing Mindfulness While My Kids are Little

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Hours before the autumn sunrise, my husband wakes. I stir, recalling the reason for his early departure. I close my eyes as he pads out of the room to set up booth 308 at a large juried craft festival in a nearby town.

An hour later, I wake again, still torn about whether to go to the festival. My kids are asleep, and I know better than to wake them. As I shower, I consider the effort required to get all of us there– the long drive, the parking, the required packing of diaper bags and coolers. I doubt my own physical stamina to keep up with three little boys who will require snacks, lunch, naps, potty breaks, and diaper changes. I picture myself trying to navigate a stroller alongside a five-year-old who stops often to pull up his socks and a seven-year-old who people-watches so intensely, he forgets to look where he’s walking. Throngs of people would be out enjoying the cooler temperatures today after weeks suspended in the 90s. I find myself longing for home and the support of family. Maybe it would be manageable if I could meet up with my family and do this together.

As much as I would have loved to visit my husband’s booth today, I finally accepted it would be too much by myself. Visiting all the different booths would require corralling three bulls through a china shop so I could inspect ceramics and delicate jewelry. I came up with a compromise for my torn thoughts. The boys built forts for most of the morning, and after lunch and naptime, I packed the stroller, but not for crowds. My kids grabbed their helmets, scooters, and water bottles. We drove to a nearby lake with no agenda other than to satisfy a craving for the outdoors, for pink cheeks and the smell of leaves burning in the distance, for the sensation of fallen sticks crunching under our sneakers and for conquering the forest with only the occasional passerby. 

I can’t always keep up with my friends these days. Their kids are getting older, and I’m still pausing for naps, nursing sessions, and diaper changes, still wrestling my two-year-old into his car seat. I feel defeated even as I embrace this season, longing for it to go on forever, for my kids to stay frozen at this magical age of childhood and wonder. They jump out of trees and run back to the stroller, “base,” for quick sips from Paw Patrol water bottles: one learning to read, one learning to tie his shoes, and one on the cusp of potty-training. I know I’ll miss it someday; everyone tells me: 

“Don’t blink, they’ll be off to college.” 

“One day you’ll miss this.”

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

“It goes by so fast.”

I wonder what my life would be like if I lived in my hometown, closer to family. Would I be more stressed, or less stressed? Would these early years of parenting have been more flexible? Would I be bored without the mountains I’ve come to love here, returning to streets I know like the back of my hand with memories saturating every place? What if my kids could have the childhood experiences I had, like working at Colonial Williamsburg? My mind slips into a complicated place as I imagine unraveling everything we’ve worked so hard for here to set up a life somewhere else. We’d need to find new schools, doctors, friends, church, jobs, and probably a hundred other things I’d only realize once we got there. 

Each day I work the carpool line at school, full of grandparents shouldering some of the burden. The extended family members who show up at school events or to bring cupcakes all live locally. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to live near family. The past seven years of juggling naps and diaper changes and snacks and lunches and strollers and nursing remind me of my own strength, even as I marvel at what I’ve learned so far during some of the most physically demanding years of parenting while living so far away from family. I’m that much more grateful for the times I have been able to lean on my family for help, especially when we travel or celebrate birthdays. I never take them for granted.

As I push the stroller over the gravel trail, I reflect on the milestones we’ve crossed three times now, one per child, and which milestones are still to come for my youngest. This time today in nature while my boys zoom ahead of me on their scooters is giving me the quiet backdrop I need to process my racing thoughts, from longing for things I’ll never have to experiences I’ll never have again. Will I ever be pregnant again? When was the last time I wore my baby carrier? Was it the last time, and I didn’t know it? Will I ever run another marathon, or even just a half? Which cloth diaper will be the last one I change?

A group of teenagers laughs in the gazebo up ahead, girls in Homecoming dresses taking selfies before heading over to their dance. I try not to let my mind wander to a dangerous place, a longing for a daughter, but the sting comes too quickly. My thoughts are conflicted between feeling maxed out with three children and still longing for a daughter, and suddenly both options feel impossible. If I didn’t feel capable of going to a craft show today with three kids, why am I even wondering what it would be like to have a baby girl?

I remember Jesus’ words in Matthew: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34, NIV).” My mind is like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, playing out all the different scenarios, before I am snapped back to the present. The boys are getting restless, throwing sticks and arguing about which way to go, my cue to switch up activities. We backtrack to the car and head over to the library, then top off our evening with ice cream before dinner and a stroll through the local thrift shop.

I recall a passage in Ecclesiastes, one that falls just before a passage I sewed onto a sampler when I was ten and working as a costumed interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil– this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3: 11-13, NIV).” 

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A healthy dose of mindfulness and contentment is helping me embrace the life we have spent years cultivating lately. Instead of browsing Zillow for new homes, we are pouring into the one we have, hanging framed pictures that have been sitting on the floor for over a year and rearranging our bedroom to make room for a new reading chair. We painted over the suffocating yellow walls in my son’s bedroom and switched out his yellow bedding for beautiful grays and whites. I’ve let up on my TBR list of self-development books and have been enjoying novels again. I let up on my side business and haven’t noticed any change in sales, even while replacing striving with peacefulness. 

Lately I’ve seen just how easily life can change on a dime, whole worlds turning upside down, and I am all the more grateful for what we have cultivated here in this place.

 

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:

 

Knowing How to Step Out in Faith

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When my husband and I were first interested in getting a Prius for our new family vehicle, suddenly, they were everywhere.

Every time I was pregnant, or wanted to be, or had just miscarried a precious life, it seemed like there were pregnant women everywhere.

With blinders on, with intense focus on something, we tend to notice it more.

Only two months into 2019, I see and hear the word “move” everywhere– in books, music, scripture, sermons, and podcasts. I know in part, it’s because it’s the word I’ve chosen to pray over and reflect upon this year. But I also know God placed this word on my heart in the same way that He has placed a calling in my heart and His Spirit in my soul to tend it, and He is continuing to encourage me by revealing a deeper study of what it means to really move toward Him.

My journal lately is starting to sound like a broken record as I continue to revisit the same tensions in my quiet time. I may not have my own expectations for exactly what “move” will mean for me this year, but I also know that my wonder and unknowing is what will stir me to lean on Him for direction.

In Restless: Because you were made for more, Jennie Allen writes about God moving to meet us, willing to meet us as far as we jump, multiplying what we give Him as He did with the loaves and fishes. (This also reminded me of a beautiful essay written by my dear friend Christina, “He Makes Much Out of Little.”)

How can I serve the community where I am right now? How can I stop trying to guard the security I’ve come to know in order to step out in faith?

Lord,

Thank you for the gift of time You provide for me to listen. Thank you for where I am right now and being willing to move to meet me, whether I stay or go, whether I give a little or give much. I know you will take what I can offer. Help me to see where I can serve right now. Help me to share my gifts in the places where you’ve intentionally placed me right now, instead of always questioning whether I’m in the right place. I can serve my community right here. Thank you for this renewed perspective and mindset shift. I can look at where I am though the lens of gratitude and service. Amen. 

If you ever feel guilty for just craving alone time to indulge in self-care and uninterrupted reflection on pursuing the next steps God is calling you toward, I’d be honored if you’d head over to Kindred Mom to read my essay published on Kindred Mom this week, Seeking Solitude in the Midst of Motherhood.

For more thoughts on my one word for 2019, “move,” you can find my recent essay one post back.

 

 

Being Mindful in Simple Family Moments

One day they_ll realize we intentionally carved out that time for each other and guarded it fiercely against our bulging calendars.

Captivated in a moment of complete mindfulness, I scanned my backyard on Saturday night at the imperfectly-perfect happenings all around me. My older boys were deep in imaginative play in their mud kitchen, scurrying around filling orders from fictional customers while singing something unintelligible.  My toddler, safely gated in on the back patio, was happily splashing away at the water table, seemingly-carefree despite his now-sopping play clothes. Just living his best life. The large ceramic water feature behind me, installed by previous owners, mimicked the sounds of a serene brook. As I flipped a glossy page of the large hardcover in my lap, my husband used a poker to put the screen on our family’s fire pit as we waited for the flames to diminish so that we could gather to make s’mores. It was 9:38 PM, long after my kids should have been in bed, but we were taking advantage of the dwindling daylight and the brief gap in storms to carry on a relatively-new tradition.

I took it all in — all of it — as I thought about this simple family tradition we committed to at the end of last summer. The sounds of crackling wood and trickling water, the smell of smoke and yet another impending storm, and the sight of my family all around me all made deposits toward my own self-care while drawing my family closer together.

The sounds of crackling wood and trickling water, the smell of campfire and yet another impending storm, and the sight of my family all around me all made deposits toward my own self-care while threading my family closer together.

Today, I’m so honored that Emily Sue Allen chose my essay to feature on her site, Kindred Mom. I hope that my family’s simple tradition will both inspire you to spend quality time with those closest to you while granting you the permission you need to make room for moments such as these.

You can read my essay here at Kindred Mom. If you are a new reader, welcome. Thank you for stopping by. I’ll hope you’ll find what you need.

Ashley