The Alarm Clock Mutiny & Other Kid-Inspired Sleep Disorders

What I learned this morning is that have far too many renegade alarm clocks in our house. We bought them. They owe their loyalty to us. But at the hands of one adorable and precocious little boy who touches and dismantles everything … Continue reading

My Guest Blog Post: Merry Christmas Expectations!

My Guest Blog Post: Merry Christmas Expectations!

I am a guest blogger today on Leslie Kelly’s blog, His Garden of Grace! I met Leslie as part of a group who enjoys Bible Journaling, which is about exploring scripture through creative imagery and artwork. Leslie’s personal testimony and mission … Continue reading

The Cathedral and the Kitchen Sink

A few weeks ago, I was in the kitchen humming a familiar tune I hadn’t heard in a long time. Ever had that happen? And suddenly I burst into song, remembering words that had been tucked away for years. “Praise God … Continue reading

Great Reminders for Moms

If you are a mommy of little ones, these MOPs articles offer great thoughts on motherhood and the holidays! Adjusting expectations is a powerful tool and one I am still trying to master. I imagine it will take my whole life. :/ Such good reminders, and I need a lot of them this busy holiday season. Hope you find them helpful too!

Help a Sister Out!

 

Yes, I realize it’s not yet December, and I’m writing about Christmas. But let’s be honest. If you’re a woman who celebrates Christmas, you’ve been thinking about it for a while now. Gearing up. Clipping coupons. Making lists. Trying to remember what you gave people last year. Scheduling photos for Christmas cards. And bracing yourself for the hurricane THAT IS the festive holiday season.

It’s like there is an imaginary gun somewhere, held in the air (or at our heads), while we crouch at the starter’s block. POW! The gun goes off – the race is on! Even those of us that try to pace ourselves in the beginning sprint at the end. And it’s not pretty.

While discussing the impending holiday stress with my mother today, she planted a seed of wisdom that isn’t new or even profound. It’s quite simple, really. Yet, we find it SO hard to do. She said, “Women need to help each other out by not adding to one another’s stress at Christmas time.”

In the words of my father (in his famous “women make so much work for themselves at Christmas” speech), “You [women] make ALL that work for yourselves, and then you get ALL stressed out because you’ve got ALL that work to do. *waving hands in the air for emphasis* Does that make ANY sense?” And then, despite our heavy sighs, eye rolls and verbal protests, he goes on to describe how most men are happy to sit around in their underwear, watching a game or doing nothing, eating cereal and pulling gifts (bought the night before) out of store bags. While this is a generality, it may NOT be inaccurate or exaggerated. (I have seen men behave this way without female intervention. Unfortunately. I have.)

Yep. Most of what “must happen” at Christmas is a supply/demand phenomenon where both the suppliers AND the demanders are often one in the same – WOMEN. Now, I know there are exceptions. And I know that this feels unfair. But it’s kinda’ true.

Many, if not all, of the Christmas parties, gifts, meals, traditions, cookie swaps and other holiday festivities in which myself and my family participate…are generated and organized by women. I don’t see a ton of men, of their own accord, dressing in their holiday finest to exchange gifts, sans wives. Rather, their involvement in grand holiday festivities tends to occur at the sharp behest of girlfriends or wives. (Perhaps the gun-to-the-head  hyperbole works here as well.)

This means that, if “we” [women] are going to simplify the season, we [women] need to start with each other. Because we [women] are the ones in charge hereSo for Christmas this year, I am begging you to help a sister out.

At a time when gifts beget gifts and baked goods more baked goods, the best way to let ourselves off the hook is to let others off the hook, too. You might consider saying to your friends, “Let’s not worry about exchanging gifts this year. We’ve got enough to do.” Or scheduling a get-together in January or February instead cramming everything into December. Or toning down the number of gifts Santa brings and instead do something with your kids for someone in need.

I began the 2013 Holiday Season with the simple decision to forgo cookie exchanges. Some women love them. But for me, baking is not fun. And I don’t need the calories. So why do it?

You may pick something totally different to forgo. Good.

Christmas might not have all the same bells and whistles if we let some things go. But Christmas was NEVER meant to be about the bells and whistles. Or guns. So before that starter gun fires (and I think it already has): Help a sister out. Find ways to simplify. Make time to breathe. And help others do the same. We’re in this together.

 

The Sky’s the Limit

Now I know why my parents stayed up all hours of the night making killer Halloween costumes. This was before so many varieties of ready-made costumes were available at “reasonable” prices. But even reasonably priced costumes total a pretty penny for a family of four kids (both then and now). Besides, I think my Dad, in particular, liked the challenge of making a much-beloved character out of humdrum household items. Thus my parents rallied all their creative energies, sometimes pulling all-nighters, to produce priceless gems–like my to-die-for Rainbow Bright costume complete with bright yellow yarn wig or the Rocketeer costume for my brother that was nothing short of a-MAAAZ-ing.

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A bright-eyed Dusty Crophopper

Fast-forward twenty plus years later…my initial idea for a Mickey Mouse costume this year became quickly overshadowed by my son’s growing fondness for Dusty Crophopper and all things aviation. *This was after seeing the movie Planes three times (thank you, Daddy).*

Yes, there were Dusty costumes available at reasonable prices. But I decided instead to gather poster board, milk jugs, soda bottles and paint, and like my parents before me, make Halloween magic. In the process, I discovered the real reason my parents poured their hearts into our costumes all those years before.

Because when your kid wants to be something, you move heaven and earth to make it happen.

Imagining the delighted expression on Buddy’s face when I showed him the finished Dusty costume — well, the sheer thought of it almost made my heart burst. This, in turn, made engineering rotating propellers from recycled soda bottles slightly less agonizing and allowed painting cardboard wings to reawaken some childlike excitement in me.

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Dusty on a mission.

I never thought much of airplanes before. Those enormous, miraculous, gravity-defying machines flew over me every day for years, and I didn’t notice or care. That was UNTIL my son’s small voice and wide eyes pointed my attention to the sky. Now, we watch. We listen. We identify by the sound of the engine or the propellers. And we cheer!

You’d think we won the lottery.

And that is exactly what my parents did for me. They loved what we loved, and they used those things to engage our imaginations and our passion. Now, I get to do it. And it is pure bliss and so easy, because you already love your kid SO much – it just flows out of you.

Right now, Dusty is all the rage. So I, too, have a fondness for the crop dusting plane who dreamt of racing bigger and faster planes. Though everyone told him he wasn’t strong or fast enough, Dusty went on to (*SPOILER alert) win the race! But it is HOW Dusty won that is most important – he made friends, treated others with respect and ignored snarky criticism. He didn’t put his ambition above his integrity. In fact, it was his integrity that led him to victory. Is it a simplified version of life? Maybe. But as long as my son wants to be Dusty, he will admire the things that make Dusty great. His originality, boldness, tenacity, positive attitude, honesty and grace under pressure–all ideals worth personifying in real, everyday life.

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Mommy and her favorite little airplane!

You don’t need to MAKE the costume. And it doesn’t have to be Halloween. Our kids can dream big any day of the year. We simply need to love what they love, and help them discover and be what they so admire. It is one of the greatest privileges and JOYS of parenthood. But we can miss opportunities if we’re not paying attention.

Some day, it won’t be so cool to wear a costume handcrafted by Mommy. But I hope my son will always know, from these early years on, that next to God, his Daddy and I are his biggest fans.

So catch those tailwinds, Dusty! The sky’s the limit, Darling.

Downsizing My Life: J-E-LL-O?

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I don’t even really like Jello. And I mean no offense to Bill Cosby or those little kids who shake their Jello shapes for the camera. (I haven’t seen a recent commercial for Jello, so I realize I’m going back a few years.) 

 
I also don’t make Jello for my son, although I could. But, really, what is the nutritional value of it? Anyone? Bueller? 

 
So why in the world do I have nineteen boxes of jello and/or pudding in my possession??
 
(Pause for effect)
 
NINETEEN!?!?
 
Am I a Jello hoarder?!
 
Last week, I decided to purge my house of unnecessary stuff, beginning with the kitchen. That was, Thursday, maybe? It’s Monday, and my kitchen is still in disarray. In my defense, this is no easy process. I have combed through cupboards, drawers, the pantry, the fridge and the freezer to rid myself of excess…cleaning meticulously as I go. Guilt-cleaning, as I like to call it.
 
The wasted food is always a tough pill to swallow – particularly when there are people in the world who starve while I throw out stuff that expired in ’08 (or ’02). Of course, acknowledging this really only serves to assuage my guilt and does absolutely nothing for those people who are actually starving. Because, let’s face it, most of us throw food out all the time, and our biggest concern is our own wallets.
 
Minimizing doesn’t solve all the world’s ills. And it doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility to do more than just feel sorry for unused boxes of Hamburger Helper. It can, however, teach a power lesson about excess – quite simply put, I don’t NEED everything I want. I don’t DESERVE it either. There are so many things I can live without. 
 
Like Jello, for example. 
 
And cheese cutters. Why do I have so many cheese cutters? 
 
Also, how often was I eating mushrooms when I just HAD to have a mushroom slicer? Did I not somehow realize I could buy them already sliced??
 
And what about coffee mugs!? My Kuerig allows me to brew one delicious cup of coffee at a time, and I rotate between probably three coffee mugs. So why exactly do I have two dozen other mugs sitting on my shelves? How terribly resentful they must feel after years of neglect and rejection. They were born to carry coffee, not collect dust.
 
Another important question – why do I keep things that are broken or missing parts? Am I expecting the tops to various tupperware containers to knock on my door one day and apologize for their long absence? If it hasn’t happened with my socks, chances are it won’t happen for my Tupperware.
 
And, finally, one more time – why do I have NINETEEN boxes of Jello? Was I worried Bill Cosby would unexpectedly pay me a visit, and I would have nothing to feed him? Was I planning to build a bridge or tower made entirely of Jello boxes? Was I concerned a natural disaster or Zombie invasion would not permit routine grocery store visits, but “Don’t worry, we have enough Jello reserves to keep us until we can raid a Jello truck or kidnap Bill Cosby and demand Jello ransom. That’s a relief!”
 
Yeh, I’m pretty sure no one NEEDS that much Jello. Not even Bill.

Mom and Jesus

I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day, but I am also not cynical (or selfless) enough to expect nothing from it. That’s right, I want my big Hallmark holiday, and I want it in a BIG way. But like Valentine’s Day, the day dedicated to acknowledging motherly devotion  is completely ill-conceived from the beginning. And I will tell you why.

As liberated as we like to think we are, just who is it that spearheads nearly all holiday festivities? Women, more specifically, mothers. So Mother’s Day is like expecting a great Christmas after telling Santa and all his elves to go home, kick off their shoes and relax. IT SIMPLY DOESN’T WORK.

My mother still makes me feel loved on special days, but now that I’m a mother – a shift has occurred. I am setting the tone for my own family’s holidays. I am the one without the days off.  It can be, if not exhausting, then completely terrifying, especially considering all my mother has been to me over the years. I have some pretty big shoes to fill.

I remember, in a middle school essay, praising her for being selfless “all the time.” One peer edit in incredulous purple ink questioned, “Really, ALL the time?!?” Indignation rose within me, but I forced myself to acknowledge the reality – no one is selfless ALL the time. Most people aren’t selfless MOST of the time.

But, my mother isn’t like most people. She is pretty darn selfless.

Could I be as selfless as her? I certainly wasn’t feeling selfless on Mother’s Day. I was thinking, This is MY day. Make is special, or die trying! I mean, if I am honest, I want to be recognized and appreciated. I desire validation…and regularly.

But the thing about motherhood is we are not here to be recognized or be lifted on shoulders and carried through the streets with cheers. We are here to serve and be worn to the bone. Mothers do things so many things so many times over that go largely unnoticed. It’s the part of motherhood that scares me the most – the constant giving and serving – without applause and sometimes without a break.

Before my son’s second birthday party, my mom washed my floors on her hands and knees. How many times had my mother washed floors over the years, and I never noticed…even on Mother’s Day? But that day, I noticed. Because I was pouring myself out in the same way for my son – cleaning the house, decorating, wrapping gifts, making party favors, baking the cake. I was pouring myself out as my mother did for me. It is the truest devotion, isn’t it? The willingness to be poured out again and again until you are gone.

I realize people caution, Make time for yourself. Take care of you. There is truth to that. But when you are a parent, you realize a perfect balance is impossible. And while you are unprepared for the challenge ahead, you are equally unprepared for the desire within you to give of yourself OR the joy that comes from loving your child like Christ loved (still does love) you.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” (John 15:13) Or wash their floors. Or make their food every day, three times a day. Or wipe their bottoms. Or kiss their boo-boos. Or read them the same book a thousand times. Or wake with them at night. Or hold them when they’re sick or sad. Or listen to them talk when you’d rather have quiet. There’s more than one way to lay down your life. As a mother, there are probably a million ways.

Like my mother before me, I am walking the road Jesus did. I am placing one foot in front of the other. And I am surrendering a little more, every day, my need for applause.

The Loneliness of Motherhood

Motherhood can be singularly isolating. Sure, there are play groups, play dates, church, preschool and gymnastic classes. But conversation with other mothers is so often reduced to whatever chatter prevails over the noisy din of children at play – and that ain’t much. So much of what we say or want to say gets interrupted, paused, forgotten – as we pretend to joyously partake of plastic vegetables, sip air out of cracked tea cups, facilitate snack time and encourage sharing, then stuff cranky children in car seats, exchanging hasty plans for our next get-together as we pull away. I’ve yelled more things out a car window these days than I care to admit.

Gone are the days of long, penetrating conversations while slowly sipping lattes. Gone are the questions like “What is my purpose in this world?” “What is going on in your life?” “How are you…really?” I miss it…some days I miss it desperately.

Today, much of my deeper dialogue with friends must occur over the phone, because we can clean or prep dinner while we talk. Multitasking diminishes some of the guilt brought on by trying to fill one’s own relational needs. Yet, phone conversations are still wrought with frequent interruptions as we take turns responding to needy children (made instantly needier by the mere fact we are on the phone).

I enjoy all the opportunities to mix and mingle motherhood provides. And I am thankful for this season of my life. The community of moms is vast, varied, interesting and held together by the strand of procreation and the act of raising children into responsible adults (an altogether complex undertaking made up of a million simpler, sometimes nearly mind-numbing, tasks).

There are days, in the center of some conversation about meal preparation or sleep schedules, I’ve suddenly had enough. I don’t want to discuss the best sippy cups on the market or what Johnny had for lunch that gave him loose stool. I want an uninterrupted exchange of ideas and thoughts and feelings that has absolutely NOTHING to do with breastfeeding, potty training or how to make gluten-free granola. Other days, we are stuck at home due to weather or illness. I am pouring over dishes when I’d rather be pouring my heart out over that latte…with no time limit and no other things on my to-do list. I feel lonelier than usual.

But relationships are not simply about what we get out of them. Relationships are what we give. The mommy dialogue, the one where we exchange recipes and ideas, is necessary and helpful. I would be foolish in overlooking the benefits of community with such amazing and incredibly diverse women. It’s good to talk about finger foods and pregnant celebrities. It’s also good to build and nurture relationships that feed deeper parts of ourselves that still exist, despite the repetitive nature of our present everyday lives. We honor this need by first acknowledging it and then by fostering close, authentic relationships with other women — not just with women we’ve always known, but with new friends. We cultivate these friendships by looking past the busy, self-sufficient veneer and asking the harder questions…and by setting the example through our own authenticity. I can be the first to offer the truth about myself – that I don’t have it all together, that I sometimes miss the things I used to do. Or I can share what I am passionate about beyond the four corners of my child’s universe.

Prayer helps. When we lift our hearts to God, we surrender our loneliness and embrace communion with our Creator. And we can pray for friends who will challenge us in new ways. Several times now, I’ve had a chance-meeting with another mother who I liked so much that I yearned for her friendship. But I wasn’t sure I would ever see her again. Then, within a day or two, I did see her again in the most unexpected place. Whenever this happens, God’s love for me overwhelms my heart. He knows my intense need for special friendships, because He created me. This small act of “coincidence” is His love letter to me. “Jessica, I know you. I love you. I’m on it.”

Reading His Word also helps to provide spiritual and intellectual food when we feel starved for deeper meaning. Scripture reminds me of the bigger picture and emboldens me to reach outside my comfort zone. Chances are, there are other mothers who feel like I do. Maybe I can minister to them in their loneliness. Every person we meet, after all, is an opportunity to see God at a different angle. When we begin to see everyone this way, there is no opportunity, no conversation too small. And our focus is no longer on our own loneliness anymore.

In this season of busy chaos, we will sometimes still feel alone. But God knows. He cares. And He’s on it. In the meantime, keep having interrupted conversations over the din of noisy children. Some day, we will miss that too.

“Is It Worth It?”

Another great show yesterday at the Om Pregnancy Holiday Handmade Fair! Thank you to everyone who came out, especially my J. Laurel fans, and my mother who took wonderful care of my darling boy!

Shows require tremendous preparation as well as extra support from family and friends, who cheer me on while I run my typical week-long pre-show marathon. After several late nights of last minute preparations and sewing until my brain is numb, I rise in plenty of time the morning of the show to get ready before Jude wakes.Then, I spend time with him getting breakfast or cuddling before I leave. And if Sam isn’t home that day, I have created two lists – one with final show “to do’s” and one I leave with instructions for Jude – meals, naptimes, little things I want Mimi or Grandma to know.

I  make a bank stop to get cash, then a coffee stop to make change. I arrive at my show in a whirlwind, unloading my tables and chairs and rolling suitcases…like a champ, I might add.

Set-up is brutal. I try not to break a sweat, though it is hard to remain ladylike when you are fiddling with table locks that require the weight of your entire body and at least four hands. (sigh – why God gave women two arms and Octopus eight, I will never know) Finally, I run to the bathroom (who knows when I will get the chance to go again). I do a last-minute primping session – the one where I slap on some lip gloss, smooth my hair, and check for mascara smudges, eye boogies or anything else that is distracting or just plain embarrassing. (My standards are mucBeginning Christmas and Om Show 042h lower than they used to be!)

Yesterday, as I finally sank into the chair behind my table, I breathed a sigh of relief when I overheard one of the other vendors admit she had forgotten to pack a sandwich for lunch. (So had I.) Sometimes, I don’t have time to interact with fellow vendors (or they aren’t particularly chatty). But at this show, we sat in close proximity.  Another woman said, “Yeh, I just told my husband I’m gonna’ be reeeeaally hungry when he comes to pick me up.” I like these ladies already, I thought. They’re honest.

Between customers, we discussed the challenges of generating enough inventory for each show, filling orders, filing taxes, working during nap-time and bedtime, finding time for promoting and social networking…and we shared tips and ideas. There they sat all around me, women with incredible talent and entrepreneurial spirits, who were…in one word…exhausted..and often left wondering, just like me, “Is it worth it?”

Weeks like this one have me straddled between two worlds, each so precariously reliant on the other. I am spinning the plates – my family, my work, my house, my plans, my dreams, my obligations, my unexpected disasters. I remind myself that I can’t drop the plates. Must use them to serve dinner. Then must wash them and put them away.

My work as a writer, seamstress, marketer and business owner takes a distinct backseat to my efforts as wife, mom, housekeeper, personal assistant, social coordinator, cook, nurse, resident artist and the like. It all requires time, boundless energy, valuable and invaluable resources. The business grows a little. My to-do list grows a lot. And my toddler, well, he grows far too quickly.

One time (of many) I lamented to my mother, “How did you do this, Mom? How did you raise (four!!) children and work part-time jobs at night to make ends meet?” My mother’s simple, no frills response, “You just do.” Then, I asked for advice on how to find more time for my work. Really, her answer could be summed up in two words, “Work more. Work later.”

That’s my mom – the warrior. Am I made of the same mettle?

In truth, none of us know what we are made of until we test ourselves or what we can do until we try. There is no instruction booklet. No dog-eared recipe. No mathematical equation. “You just do.” You make it work. And when you feel like giving up, you bite your lip, lean in and push through it.

I am thankful for the tough women in my life – my mother, for one. But also the women I meet at shows who, for a brief afternoon of shared experience, express and honor the same feelings, questions and challenges. Who push themselves anyway. Women who “just do.”

At the end of a show, my body aches with tiredness. “Is it worth it?”

Well, if I make a little extra money for my family, exercise a part of myself and my skill set that I don’t readily use at home and share my passion and enthusiasm with other women who can feel encouraged too – then I think it is. When I come home to a spirited toddler and hold him close and feel tremendous satisfaction that I gave of myself to him and to others to the point I might break, but I don’t – then I think it is. I want him to know his mother as a strong woman who gives her best to everything in her life and doesn’t let a little tiredness or a lot of fear get in the way of making an impact, however small.

I want to show him what it means to live a life full of passion and purpose in EVERYTHING I do. So, my answer to “Is it worth it?” – Sure, it is, Jessica. Stop doubting yourself and just do it.