Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Year of Availability

Birthdays get me thinking. It's not like turning 34 warrants a mid-life crisis. But maybe it is a good time to have a pre-mid-life, practice crisis.

For some reason, this year turning another year older strikes a certain chord. A certain need for reflection, for regrouping. I realize that in 10 years, in 15 years, the choices that I make during this time, this incredibly abundant, fruitful, busy, in-the-weeds, don't-have-time-for-reflection time...will begin to bear fruit. Or not. The decisions I make now about how I spend my time will begin to show and flower and be something beautiful, like the bluebells we have here in Virginia that burst into magnificent bloom so unexpectedly each Spring. Or, like many of my real-life gardening efforts, those seeds could bud just a little, bit and we'll wonder if I maybe should have watered more.

So this year, with these reflections, I’m calling it My Year of Availability.

We're making some big changes around here that will literally require my availability. But even more I mean that, as I look out my kitchen window and see the little people who once were part of me and still are very much a part of me, that when they come to me I won’t turn them away. No matter. No matter if I’m doing dishes, or laundry, or writing that Very Important Report. No matter if I feel that I cannot let go of what I am doing because in the end, they are the point. If I do not give to them, I do not give at all. I must plant these seeds now, while the soil is so ready, so primed. If I do not give them the time and measure of me that they need of me, what can I expect to see in the Springtime?

So, I'm reflecting. I'm reflecting on how these little pieces of me that are flit-floating through the green grass and soaring through the sky on the monkey-bars and rope swings are little seeds brimming with beauty, and the potential to become so much more. They are all red shirts and purple rain boots and plaid skirts soaring through the blue sky. A stick becomes a sword, no matter its length, no matter their age. The boys become pirates, and the girl -- not a damsel in distress, by any measure -- but the Captain of the Ship.

These years of play, of make-believe, of Pirates and Fairies and Capes, of skinned knees and bonked shins, and falling over and making friends... these days with their long, long hours are passing by so fast.

The little seeds are growing up. Getting physically, mentally, emotionally bigger. They are saying things that are so profound they make me pause over my breakfast. “What did you just say?” And they pause, blankly. Um, pass the toast? They know not the wisdom in those little hearts, the crystal gems that beat for God because they do not yet know that they could choose something else. I love them -- I love them so much it hurts. I love them when they punch me in the gut and say they are leaving and are So. Mad. Because I would not let them have cookies for dinner or play ponies in the rain when it is 20 degrees. Or because we did not get in to the Butterfly Exhibit at the Natural History Museum and the vendor only sells hot dogs for lunch and the backup plan of looking at the dinosaurs with three thousand other children was just so, so off....


So, why “Available?” Why this word? Because more than ever, I feel the strain. I feel the temptation to be Anywhere but Here because “Here” is hard. Being with them when they are Crazy and Mad and Hitting Each Other and Yelling at Me is pushing-me-over-the-edge maddening. The siren call of Anything Else wails clearly. Sometimes, I give in.

Sometimes, I’ve turned instead to the “anything else.” True confessions here.

But there is precedent to follow. I find it first in Mary, Mother. Mary, who is barely mentioned during Jesus’ ministry, who appears so little in the Gospel accounts of His life. She is Mother – she is there. But she is in the behind. Am I willing to be in behind? To be “unmentioned?” This is not a  one-time choice, but  a daily decision to recede, to fall back, to be available in the ebb and flow of what is in the background. Even when it seems I’m in the foreground, this means to be the support, the lean-to. It is to be the one the camera cuts in half because they are standing just slightly left of center.... to be the one with the watering can, gently nurturing, gently sowing, gently pruning.
Available. So that in this season, in this crazy, busy, running in every direction and pulled so tight I cave to "Super Why" and "Curious George" just so I can think about why I'm in the kitchen and why there is smoke coming from the oven... this is the time, to make the time, to start to dig deep. 
 To plant. To water. To love.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

On Giving Up Time

“You look anxious,” a friend said to me recently.

“I have four children,” I responded.
(ba-dum tsssh)

So say no more, say no more. But there was an element of truth. I have four children 6 and under. I work full-time from home. I spend at least two hours a day in the minivan, driving people to school, lessons, swimming, doctors. I try to keep the house spotless sanitary safe. And in between all these motions is the constant chatter of the little ones, needing, wanting, begging, laughing, playing, crying, eating, shouting, singing, loving. And at 5 pm every day...we all go a little berserk.
The thing is, I know plenty of other women with more children than I have - who have an inner peace, who don’t qualify every statement by lamenting that their children once again lack matching socks.

Things have had to change to awhile now. My husband gently (again) recommended, as I sat looking at my schedule and parsing out when I could get it all done, that I spend more time in prayer. Once, I loved to pray. Now, I feel tired. “I’m too tired to pray,” I said to myself, secretly, because I knew the response if I said it out loud. I’m too tired.

In tithing, we are told to bring out one-tenth of what we possess. “Test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

It occurs to me that part of what I possess…is my time. My self. My energy. My day.

So, if I wake up every day at 5 am and I go to sleep at 10, can I give God 1 hour, 20 minutes of my day? Can I give Him even more?

I’m not sure. The enthusiastic part of me says, yeah! The part of me that trudges in and out of every day is not so sure. I started to do a little reading on burnout. I started to do a lot of reading on Mother Teresa. Turns out she knew burnout, too. And yet, Mother Teresa steadfastly walked, day in and day out in service to the poorest of the poor around her in devotion to the God she loved. I dug deeper. She had a pattern, a rhythm, an order to her life that revolved around God and about living out her vocation. I’m not a consecrated religious sister, and as the mother of small children I have certain limitations. But… could I venture to abide by a Rule, too? (And one not logged as billable hours?)

It turns out I’m not the only one who’s tried this. Then I remembered I owned a book on the very same subject.

It also occurs to me that the times in my life when I’ve felt most peaceful, most content, have been the times I’ve existed in a very discernible rhythm. My life right now is the antithesis of rhythm. Sure, we get to school at the same time each day, get picked up each day, eat and go to sleep around the same time each day, but the inner peace is sorely lacking. I feel like I am always behind. I might be on time for afternoon pickup, but there were those other two projects I needed to wrap up for work before I jumped into the car. We had a nice outing at the park, but inside I dread returning to the breakfast dishes still in the sink. (Okay, likely still on the table. At 4pm.). I’m always running, always moving, and everything always feels like a Very. Big. Task.  My children talk to me, or at me, while I’m working, and I try to give them at least one ear and half an eye, and I even implemented a rule where I’m required to shut my computer so I can touch and embrace them every time they interrupt me, but I’m still thinking, mind whirling, about what needs to get done.

But then the 3 year-old looks into my eyes, when I’m berating myself about the dishes and says:

“Mommy, you are the best mommy we have. In this house, anyway.”

I love this kid.

So I’m making a Rule. For Lent. For 40 days and hopefully the rest of my life, but for a near-term goal I’m sticking with a window I think I can achieve. 40 days. I realize that if I truly want to give God my life, my life has to be…my day.

Mother Teresa’s Rule (Adapted to fit the life of this mom with young kids.)

Daily Schedule for the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta
Daily Schedule for the Missionary to Little People Who Are Always All Around Me All the Time
4:30-5:00 Rise and get cleaned up
4:30-5:30 – Rise and get cleaned up. This will include a morning run, which helps me “clean up.”
5:00-6:30 Prayers and Mass
5:30-6:30 – Devotions
6:30-8:00 Breakfast and cleanup
6:30 – 8:00 Breakfast chaos (lovingly, lovingly)
8:00-12:30 Work for the poor
8:30 – 9:30 – Mass
9:30 – 12:30 – Work for my vocation
12:30-2:30 Lunch and rest
12:30 – 2:30 Naps/Quiet time (for kids), Lunch (for me), and contract work (If it is quiet in the house, trust me, this is “rest.”)
2:30-3:00 Spiritual reading and meditation
2:30 – 3:00 Listening to a Spiritual DVD in the minivan while I drive to afternoon pickup
3:00-3:15 Tea break
3:00-3:15 – Tea break (Hmm… in the minivan (?), while I drive home (?))
3:15-4:30 Adoration
3:15 – 4:00 – Okay, I’m stumped here. This is the time of day when we have lessons / appointments. So I’m going to head on over to for the Office of the Readings.
4:30-7:30 Work for the poor
4:30 – 7:30 – Work for my vocation.
These are the Really Tricky Hours.
7:30-9:00 Dinner and clean up
7:30 – Clean up and put kids to bed
9:00-9:45 Night prayers
9:00 – 9:45 – Night prayers, time with husband
9:45 Bedtime
9:45 – Bedtime


If I abide by this schedule, it strikes me that I am getting close to 7 hours of sleep a night. This is about 3 hours more than the current average. It also strikes me that I am working more intentionally, and spending those hours in the middle of the day focused on my chores and time with the children as a part of my vocation. Not just work for work’s sake. Not just sweeping to keep the cobwebs out. We’re talking play-dough. Monopoly. Math, Phonics. Hikes and nature adventures. Visits to Church. Cleaning because I love my family, not because it’s drudgery. There are 8 hours written here called “work for my vocation.” A different kind of work from the Sisters in Calcutta, but still.

I’m determined to do this.

I’m going to post reflections on this endeavor throughout Lent, which starts tomorrow, if more no other reason than to keep me accountable.

It’s Lent. There will be fasting; there will be prayers; there will be alms. And there will be this schedule. My hope is that on Easter morning I will rise with the sun and look back on a time of challenge and refinement, of truths that rose to the surface, of the extras that needed to be strained out. I hope I’ll have learned more about simplicity, about the joys of the loving the people entrusted to my care, about the hunger for sustenance and the hunger for love.

“Mommy,” my 6-year-old said to me the other day, “Don’t forget to smile.”

She’s another one I love.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

On Mothers...All the Time

Oh, how I love mothers. Every day, of every second, I love mothers. I love the mother in the checkout line with the toddler screaming; the mother in church collecting flailing toddler limbs and struggling to stay serene; the mother with teenage daughters at the mall haggling over an item of clothing; the grandmother patiently awaiting the arrival of children and children’s children back home.  I love them all. Everybody has a mother; everybody loves their mother. And on this day, I particularly love my own mother; my mother-in-law; my grandmother. The women who have loved, cuddled, collected, controlled, haggled, struggled, forgiven, enlivened, encouraged, and nourished me. It has taken me far too long to say so.

An older mom friend told me recently that she can “wait 20 years for the thank you” from her teenage daughter; for now, said, she’s the mom. For now, her mission is teaching, training, diapering, bickering, nigh-waking, cuddling, loving, and moving through all the ups and downs of pouring oneself out. I’ll wait, she said, smiling.

Twenty years. That’s a long time. I’m sorry to say it has taken me even longer. Now that I’m doing it myself, I suddenly look back and think – wow, these women were good at this! How did they enforce the green beans like that? Make bedtime so fun? Now that I’m in the midst of engaging in battles over bathtime, the cover has been lifted. Oh, I think, looking back. I guess I shouldn’t have done…all that.

Now that I am a mother, I am repentant. I realize: I should not have put my clean, folded laundry back in the dirty laundry. I should not have stuffed my vitamins in good hiding places all over the house. I should not have tried to climb out my window with a jump rope. Twice. My mom used to say to me (in warning?), “someday you will have a little girl just like you!” And it’s true: I see myself all before me now in a bundle of blond ponytails and flashing brown eyes as my own daughter flies down the stairs in her pajamas and a princess cape, telling me she’s ready for school.

“How was your day,” my mom would ask when I returned home, her eyes on the paper, appearing uninterested, but now I know that she was OH SO INTERESTED but playing it cool, because looking eager for information is something the Mother must not do.


And that’s all she’d get until bedtime. And I’m pretty sorry for it, because now I look in the rearview mirror at my little ones and listen to their “good” and I want to pull the car over and extract every memory of every moment of our time apart out of their beautiful little heads. But what did you DO? What did you THINK? What did you SAY? Now I wish I had told my mom everything. But she would make me a snack. And I would not say thank you.

I think about this in hindsight, and I hope it gives me foresight.

My mother is now a beautiful Grandmother, doting dutifully on her quiver of adoring grandchildren, spoiling them with treats and gifts and time spent reading on her lap. I watch my mother now, and I have to think hard, because I don’t want another thirty years to pass by before I once again look back and think – oh no, I missed it again. I missed her again. Her presence. Her advice. Her listening ear, her commiserating look, her laughter.  I don’t want to forget to say thank you for the ways she is my mother now, even that I’m grown. I’m not sure, but I think I’m still a handful.

We can take our mothers for granted, because unlike the rest of the world, the mothers will always care.  Children will always scream in all the wrong places. They will always whine about combing their hair. They will wheedle and beg and sometimes make scenes in the checkout lines. But even as I fume inside as I haul my little balls of fury to the car, to time out, to the Potty Chair AGAIN with soiled clothes… if I give it five minutes and a dimpled smile, all wrongs are gone. Cleared. Wiped Clean. I love them; they are mine.

So I look this Mother’s Day at my mother, and at my mother-in-law, and my grandmother. These remarkable women who have never stopped caring, stopped giving, stopped wanting the best for their own. Sometimes it is hard to stop and see the person who is always standing there in front of you, who is there -- all the time. Sometimes we mean to say thank you, but we’re pulling the groceries out of the car with one hand and holding the phone with the other while grabbing for the baby teetering off the hip. Sometimes we think that people know how we feel, so we don’t say it. But now that I’m a mother, I think this is wrong. Yes, I can wait 20 years to hear it from my daughter. (It’s only fair, after all.) But I can’t wait another 20 to say those oh-so-important words now.
To the Mothers in my life:  I love you. I appreciate you.
Thank you.
And for that thing I did when I backed the Jeep into the Minivan - I really hope I don't relive that.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dangerous (but Blessed) Business Going Out The Front Door

Woody Allen once said that 90 percent of life is just showing up. Many - or most - days, that feels like all I've got: I drag my body out the door. I do so -- with one kid over each arm...(and each leg); with one foot in front of the other; with lunch bags, diaper bags, grocery bags; with Elmo on one side of my brain and work spreadsheets on the other; with dinner time, bath time, bed time; and then -  repeat. I know every drive-through Starbucks within a 30 mile radius.

In the midst of such movement, such constant nurturing and loving and sheltering and can feel impossible to have a thought or conversation outside of the minivan.

A few weeks ago I had one of those weeks. I was working on two deadlines for two different contracts; the house was absolute chaos; and I had somehow volunteered to have a group of women from our new church to tea. This would have been delightful had I been inviting people over to someone else's house, which would clean, and organized, and not smell at all like burnt popcorn.

But they were coming, and I was hosting, and I had not yet convinced the toddler to change out of his pajamas. I glanced at the clock on our wall. One hour. I unwisely checked my work e-mail. More edits to the previous draft I had submitted, and "could I take care of this now?" I could feel my blood pressure rising.

And then, a remarkable thing happened. Nothing got done. I decided instead to open the door and engage with my children. It was cold and snowy outside. We baked.  Nothing else got done. The house was vacuumed but that was it. The writing was left until the afternoon, and I stopped trying to squeeze the two year old out of his elephant footies. I poured a cup of coffee (wisely), sat down with the lincoln logs and toddler, and the smell of baking bagels, and waited. And the ladies came, and we talked, and it was wonderful.

Coincidentally, we talked about the feeding of the 5,000. Now, in hindsight, and in the light of these frenetic activities, I have been considering all those people -- those random, un-named "5,000 plus women and children" people who traipsed themselves out of bed one day, children in tow, across a lake, up a hill... to listen to Jesus and see what would happen next. These people hit the baseline denominator -- they were there -- and still, these people were fed. They were not next to Jesus, as Susana or Joanna were; they were not carrying the baskets of bread or witnessing the miracle; they might not even have known how it came about that they were fed. But that's just the point: regardless, they were fed. Many days I feel that this is also where I'm at: I am on the outskirts of the crowd, wanting to seek Jesus, hoping to press in, wanting to love my children and engage with them and play and meet their needs, but at the same time I'm tired, and distracted, and chasing little footsteps and listening to who hit whom and thinking about what type of toast we need and wondering WHERE we have put all the matching socks. It feels impossible to get up close, to do ministry like the apostles, or like the other women who are Right There. And yet, I see that this is okay, or even appropriate for this season of life. When I have left my own wants and needs behind to love someone else, I am following Him. I am making the attempt to cross the sea with the children, to leave my comfort behind, to not think about all the practical excuses not to do so, and to follow Him up the hillside. And there, admist all my other duties and requirements, it is when I am in His Presence -- even if I am in His presence with sippy cups, granola bars, and half a focused brain -- He feeds me. He gives me exactly what I need, even if I don't know it.

And so I resolve to keep showing up. One foot in front of the other, out the door, even it if it is just out the door of myself. And this week, I resolve that these some of these steps during the daytime will lead me into the Sanctuary. Yes, by myself, with the toddler, with the baby, maybe even with the Kindergardener and Pre-schooler, just to be there. I'll sit in a pew, it will be noisy, and I will say Thank You. And then I'll pick Thomas the Train Engine off the church floor, and carry on.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I desire mercy

These days, I am all about Mercy. Pretty much mostly for me.

The laundry needs folding, the dishes are piling, the toddler is wandering around without underwear holding his potty chair to "show me" what he did...accidentally tipping it over in the process. "Lord, have mercy," I say out loud.

It's not always chaos here; I hate to paint the wrong impression. We do have days moments where everyone is at absolute peace, myself included. But there are definitely those times, usually involving a diaper or lack thereof, when I know I'm need of some serious help.

As I was thinking about these things the other morning, and reflecting on my need to embrace the sacrifice of each moment, no matter how loud, or heavy, or stinky it is, I was struck by a particular verse in the Gospel of Matthew. ""Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'"

Really, Lord? 

Thomas à Kempis writes in the Imitation of Christ, "One does not live in love without suffering, and this is confirmed by daily experience." 

Bingo, Mr. à Kempis! That pretty much sums my daily experience, anyway. But do Jesus' words mean that all sacrifice and mortification are useless and that we only need to love to set everything right? 

I'm guessing not. Here's one thought. Perhaps these words refer instead to God.  Perhaps the love that is spoken of is not that which God expects from man, but the love God has for man. Perhaps “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” means: God wants to be merciful, not to condemn. As is in Ezekiel: “I do not want the death of the sinner, but that he convert and live.” God does not want to “sacrifice” his creature but to save him through his repentance.

How revealing... and convicting. Do I ask for mercy for myself, and ask for sacrifice from others toward me? Or do I offer mercy toward everyone around me, and sacrifice myself?

Do I bend my children's wills toward mine because the dishes just MUST BE PUT THIS WAY IN THE SINK; because no, mommy is too tired to clean up pudding paint AGAIN; because it's a nice day but mommy is allergic to every plant in this state? Do I think -- well, you got yourself into that pickle, now not get yourself out! And all the while I plead, Lord have mercy on me.

It's quiet in the house now. The kids are now all asleep; a cool Fall breeze floats through the windows. It's easier to sacrifice now, with no one yelling that I'm doing it wrong. It's good time to begin again. The stinky is still in the bathroomm, waiting. And so, with a silenced, humbled heart, I turn around.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Perfectionism...Woe to the Imperfect

People often say that parenting brings out the best and the worst of the virtues and vices within. The little bundle of joy nestled so snug in the soft cotton blanket is still cuddly at 2 am, 3 am, 4 am…, but by 5 am the patience is somehow clouded by the blurry cotton balls that have lodged themselves between the eyelids. Frantic, we panic. Help! We think. This child is not sleeping! There is something wrong! A new blanket! A new crib! Something that vibrates, or hums, or whirrs…..yes! This must be the trick!  And so we race to the store the next day and stock up on something, anything that will result in a night of sleep. We have spent a boatload of money on each of our three children when we reach the two-week sleep deprivation stage. (Side note: this is the time to offer babysitting services to new families. One hour of sleep in the afternoon could save them $200 in impulse buys at Babies R Us the next day.)

I never considered myself a perfectionist. To me, perfectionists were people whose lives were perfect. These were my friends with perfectly ordered lockers in Middle School, with binders always impeccably arranged, with bedrooms always tidy, makeup always flawless, clothes never out of style, hair exactly the way it was supposed to stand up or curl or hang.  But having children has revealed that, Hello, I am…a Perfectionist. But even worse, I am a perfectionist who is woefully, absolutely, never ever perfect. Ever. I exist in a state of constant panic and frenzy, trying to create a perfect organic, loving, music-laden, natural-toy (but not too many toy) family environment amidst three budding, growing, exploring children; trying to create a perfect home to entertain family and friends that gives the illusion of order and serenity; trying to create a perfect veggie-laden, homemade, chemical-free lifestyle to nurture my family while adhering to a tight budget…. and for my efforts I reward myself with an inward grade of “FAIL” by the day, hour, minute. And so I run faster, sweeping, baking, wiping noses. Exhausting myself and bewildering my husband, who cannot understand why I burst into tears when the toddler spills his milk on my newly cleaned floors (shouldn’t it be the toddler who is crying?)
Just sit down and rest, he commands, and so I do, thinking inwardly about how while he’s bathing the children for me I’m going to “quickly” tidy up the living room, wash the dishes, throw in a load of laundry, fold some towels, and then hop back on the couch to exude a picture of peace and calm when the children return. I’m so tired, I say, and I am. Perfectionism for a perfect person must be hard. Perfectionism for an imperfect, striving mother or three small children… is going to lead me straight to loonyville.
So…what to do? I crave order. I read parenting books that tell me that my children crave order. AAAAAGGGH! What do I want for Christmas? Some order. Some consistency. Less running, less yelling, less pounding up and and down the stairs. Is this reasonable? Feasible? I read blogs by women with 10 children who insist that oh, yes, it is so feasible. I bake, I sew, I clean, and on the side I self-teach my children who are all on the verge of winning Nobel prizes for their absolute brilliance. Piece of cake! Just make a list or two.
In the meantime, for those of us who are mere mortals, I have decided on a few basic necessities that will, I hope, keep me from being admitted somewhere. First, I need quiet time. And more than five minutes. I need at least one hour a day of uninterrupted quiet. To make this work I coordinate naps to occur all at the same time, every day. And for those who insist they are too big for naps, they sit on their beds and read. And during this hour I’m implementing a new rule for myself: no cleaning, no cooking, no frantic running. Just…being. Writing, or reading, or sipping tea. STOP MOVING. (We’ll see how this works.)
Next, I need a place for everything, and everything in its little place. And then I need the little people around me to also do it. It sounds so much easier than it is. But we’re working on it.
Finally, I need grace. Grace for myself, grace for my children, grace for the women out there who really are perfect. (You are amazing!) I need to learn to exist in a house that might be slightly out of order, a kitchen that might still have breakfast dishes in the sink, and a day that might require boxed macaroni and cheese for lunch instead of a homemade hot dish every day at noon.
I don’t want to be a perfectionist, just a little more perfect. I want to be calmer; I want more order; I want organic, grass-fed beef dinners and natural play toys for my perpendicularly arranged living room. And I will achieve these things by surrendering the need for these things. Baby steps. Baby steps.
There is a reason that Grandparents laugh so much, I am convinced.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A special post for Grandpa

Dear Grandpa Lanier, Happy (belated) birthday!
We LOVE celebrating birthdays, especially yours! You asked for cookies, right?
Cookies it is! Actually, Grandpa, we LOVE cookies, so we were really glad you asked for them. We set out to make you the best cookies we could manage, all by ourselves (mostly).
And while we baked, we learned.

About math....

And science....

And teamwork.

We were really focused for a record amount of time.

The best part, of course, was adding the chocolate chips.

We might have tasted a few white chocolate chips -- just to make sure they were good for you, Grandpa.

 Yep, they're good.

So we entered the final stages of our multi-step cookie project, thinking about how much we wished we could be there to see you taste one.

But we'll have to wait for that. And in the meantime, we'll keep baking. Because we can. And because, really, we think we're good bakers.

We even helped clean up.

You can expect your goodies coming soon.

Love, a few of your biggest fans.