Give It Up

Give It Up

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was tired of needing help from so many people. I was tired of relying on others to support my family, even though my husband and I were trying our best. I was tired of explaining our “situation” and feeling the need to justify our financial status to other people. Mostly I was just tired.

But as I shared these feelings with a friend recently, he said some wise words that made me think. I do not have permission to share them, but it was over Facebook and we all know that’s a gray area, so I’m sharing it anyway. I will keep him anonymous, unless you have something really good to bribe me with.

My friend said that, as Christians, none of our burdens are our own. Our financial difficulties do not just belong to ourselves. Our worries are not only ours to fret over. We are part of something larger, a body of believers that can share our troubles and each take a little piece, so that no one has to carry it all. My children are not just my children – they are part of a community of Christ-seeking individuals who have taken them in as their own.

What a relief. Just like that, a weight lifted off of me. Not just because of what my friend said, but because of the bigger truths it revealed to me.

There is no way for me to carry any of my burdens on my own. If I had a million dollars, if I ruled the world, if I had a magic lamp – none of it would work. Nothing would be able to take those burdens from me. They could certainly help, and they aren’t bad things. They just wouldn’t be the true answer.

So what is the true answer? What will take away our burdens, what will give us peace, what will guide us through a time of darkness where we dare not take another step?

Spoiler alert: It’s not a “what.” It’s a Who.

Jesus.

Jesus is who takes my burdens on Himself and carries them. Jesus is who gives me strength to lift my head when I am sure I cannot. Jesus is who died for my sins and your sins and gave us the ability to be part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than anything we can imagine. We can’t pay Him back; we can’t work off our debt. We just accept His grace and mercy, knowing we are undeserving, and grateful that He loves us anyway.

Jesus paid it all.

And so, knowing that there is no way I could ever really repay all my debts, no way I could really be the only one who provides for myself, no way I could ever truly be in a position to totally take care of my family…I am free.

I am free of the burden of my burdens. I am free of the guilt I feel over needing help from others. I am free from the worry over whether my kids will have enough. Jesus died for me and set me free.

I don’t know if we will ever be in a position to give to others financially the way people have given to us. And that’s okay, because now I think we are meant to give in another way. There are all kinds of burdens out there – some need financial support, some need a listening ear, some need advice from an expert. Not having much doesn’t mean I can’t give freely of what I do have. Prayer, compassion, understanding, grace – these are the most valuable gifts. I have all of those to give. And you do, too.

The holiday season is over, but for me, the giving season is just beginning. I want to make 2016 a year of giving my prayers, my time, my friendship to anyone in need. I want to make sure that I never forget the valuable lesson I have learned, and I want to share it with anyone who is struggling, in the hopes that maybe I can help ease their burdens. Mostly I want to make 2016 the year that I no longer regret the necessity to rely on someone besides myself for help – I want to celebrate that I have a Savior who invites me to rely on Him for everything.

Happy New Year, friends and family. May the next year be a generous one.

 

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The Maw

The Maw

It was a clear, cool Saturday. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and my kids were napping. Bliss. Until my husband turned to me and said these terrifying words: “Have you seen the keys?”

For you see…I had not seen the keys. I had not seen the keys since I had come home from work the day before. I might have possibly heard the keys as they were thrown around the room by one of my toddlers, but no visual contact had been made.

This is a common problem in my household – between two kids who like to steal keys and two adults who are too lazy to stop their kids from stealing keys, we often find ourselves dropping our important activities (read: Netflix) and searching the house for the keys. Inevitably, we find them underneath a toy, or in a drawer, or any other location that only tiny people would think of.

But this day…oh, this day. This day was different. This day, the keys were not in any of our usual places. They were, in fact, nowhere to be found. We asked our two-year-old, fresh from his nap, where Mommy’s keys were, and he giggled and said, “Poo-poo.”

I looked at my husband. He nodded. “It’s time,” he said. “We need to enter The Maw.”

And I swear scary music played from somewhere overhead.

You see, our couch, which looks comfy and fluffy from the outside, is actually home to a deadly monster: The Maw.

You know of The Maw, too, don’t you? The Maw lives in homes across the world. It is a giant, terrible hole, deep inside the couch, where all happiness and lost items go to die. Your kids feed it Cheerios. Your dog feeds it socks. Your in-laws offer to vacuum it out, but you know better. You know better. The Maw must never be empty. If you don’t lose enough things in a week, The Maw grows angry, and you are forced to throw Cheeze-Its at it in order to pacify its desire for more fodder. If a wandering child brings a toy to the couch that is not at least the size of a cinder block, you know it must be sacrificed, lest we all be consumed.

When The Maw is happy, we never speak of it. We never speak to it. And we certainly don’t stick our hands down it and search for things.

But, alas, on this day, we knew what we had to do: We had to enter The Maw.

I gathered the kids around me. “Be brave, children,” I whispered as my husband approached the couch in the same way someone would approach a sensitive bomb or Britney Spears. He looked back at us one last time. Then he moved the couch cushions, took a deep breath, and plunged his hand into the gaping hole in our couch.

At first, nothing seemed to happen. Then the full power of The Maw was known.

“Are these…chocolate Goldfish crackers?” my husband asked, a horrified look in his eyes, buried up to his elbow in the couch. “Or…is it…poop?”

We decided it was crackers.

More and more things came flying out of The Maw. Cheerios, shoes, seven single socks with no mates, dignity, and substances of unknown origin were all there, mocking us with our inability to defeat The Maw. My husband persevered, bravely hiding his fear to show his children that they, too, could be brave, when The Maw inevitably ate us and they were left to raise it alone. Tears were shed as so many hair ties were rescued. More tears were shed when the hair ties were removed from the room and put into a cabinet. School papers, old photographs, tags from a million different articles of new clothing, Legos (we don’t even own Legos) – The Maw had taken them all. With no remorse or sorrow The Maw had slowly sucked our entire lives into its tan, stretchy fabric.

Finally, after what seemed like days, the search ended. The Maw had not claimed our keys. Or perhaps the mysterious substances were some sort of digestive fluid that had dissolved our keys into nothingness.

Slowly, hauntingly, my husband covered up The Maw with the couch cushions. He fed The Maw some trash and old pizza crusts. Then he sat next to me and drew the children close to us, and we all sat together in silence, contemplating our place in the universe and how many more crackers The Maw would consume before the year was over. Nothing seemed the same. We weren’t the same. The Maw had changed us all. For better or for worse…well, that remains to be seen.

The car keys were in the kitchen, by the way. My bad.

Dear Target and Wal-mart: An Open Letter

Dear Target and Wal-mart: An Open Letter

Dear Target and Wal-mart: 

Hello, again. It’s me, Kristen. You both know me well enough by now, as I come to you both for such important things: Wal-mart, for your all-encompassing empire of every item I need, from groceries to home goods, at low, low prices; Target, for your almost supernatural ability to put me into a trance and to fill my cart with all sorts of crap I don’t need. We are all such good friends, aren’t we? 

However, lately I happened to notice that you were both lacking something that I very much need. I would even call it essential to my shopping experience. You have probably guessed it by now: Shopping carts with seats/space for more than one child. 

You see, I happen to have two children. And while one is technically capable of walking, he often finds himself unable to use his legs while he is lying facedown on the cold tile floor, sniffling pitifully after mourning the opportunity to throw his mother’s keys down for the eighth time. And so I find myself in need of a space for my second child. Well, actually, he is my first child, but he is the second one in the cart because I let him walk at first. See the previous sentences for further explanation. ANYway, this child needs a space, but, much like Jesus on Christmas Day, he finds himself with no room. So I allow him to sit in the larger part of the cart, where the groceries (also) go. While I am aware that this is highly frowned upon, as demonstrated by the creative stick figures drawn on the front of your carts, I don’t see a lot of other options. 

Except for one: Child-friendly carts. This is the kind of cart that allows you to secure your children far enough from the groceries as to not “accidentally” open every fruit squeeze they see, but close enough that you can see the children and the groceries and your purse and all is well. You have been slacking in the child-friendly cart department, Wal-mart and Target. 

Until recently. Recently I noticed that you both have joined America in celebrating multiple children and have employed carts that will allow two children to be strapped in at once! And while I want to be satisfied…well, I just can’t be until I point out a few minor design flaws. I know I sound picky, but let me explain: 

First of the all, look at the sheer size of this thing:

I have no idea what crystalandcomp dot com is. I just googled and found this picture. You’re welcome for the free plug, Crystal.

There are fully-grown sharks that are smaller than this. Turning this behemoth into an aisle would require a seven-point turn and a rearview mirror. And, if I did finally manage to turn it into an aisle, I imagine it would put me so close to the edge of the shelf that I, being without rocket-powered brakes, would find myself running full-force into a shelf of glassware (Wal-mart, you do have everything), which would then trigger a cartoon-like effect of all the shelves being knocked down in turn. 

If I do somehow manage to make it into a cart without reenacting a scene from The Mummy, I can only guess how long it would take me to reach the end of the cart to get the item I needed and get back to the front to rejoin my kids. What were left as two toddlers, waving goodbye as their mother disappears into the mist on a search for Diet Coke and pretzels, would likely be in middle school by the time I was able to finish my miles-long trek back to where my journey began. 

And while we’re on the subject, let’s discuss the size of the space between the children’s seats and the shopping cart itself. I’m no mathematician, but I would estimate that distance to be exactly the length required for an emergency room visit if a child fell out of the seat and towards the cart. “But we have seat belts attached,” you say. Oh, Wal-mart. Oh, Target. You dear, dear little lambs. Do you really think a mere seat belt can contain my children? My daughter, who I once caught gnawing ferociously on an empty rib bone, impeded by fabric? My son, who has used only the steely glare from his eyes and sheer force of his will to bring down grandmas and grandpas around the world, stopped by shoulder straps? Oh, no, no, Target. Think again, Wal-mart. My children specialize in escaping confinement. My son is so skinny he can fit underneath a door. My daughter’s fine motor skills are unparalleled in the tri-state area. They will escape. And when they do, they will get the pleasure of either smacking their little heads on the plastic bar of the cart, or, a fan favorite, the comfy metal grating of the cart. 

Sure, sure, I should be watching them. But I’m still on the Never-Ending Journey down the aisle, remember? I won’t be back for years. 

My final complaint is this: Lack of entertainment. Right, I know –  kids these days with their entertainment and their lack of ability to sit and think about stuff. And there is no way in my right mind I would give my kids a phone or tablet to play with while I shop (not because I am against it… it’s because I can’t afford to replace a phone or tablet every time I shop). However, at other stores with kid-friendly carts, the carts are a bit more, shall we say, whimsical. My kids can be police car drivers, or firefighters, or hot pink taxi car…I’m not totally sure what that one is, but you get my point. They turn the fake wheels and honk the fake horns and everyone leaves with a smile on his or her face. 

Without these things, my kids have only one thing left to turn on: Each other. (DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN) I might get to about the third item on my list before the hand-slapping begins. Item seven will bring pterodactyl screeches and “NO, BABY. BE NICE.” Soon, shortly before item 15, they will each begin to emit a low whine that will rise steadily in pitch until only dogs can hear them. And me. Somehow I can always hear them. 

So you see, Target and Wal-mart, some elements of your new carts require some modifications, just as soon as you’re feeling up to it. But, speaking as the mother who is trying to convince her two-year-old that the big part of the cart is “totally super cool,”…please hurry. 

XOXO, 

Kristen “I SAID SIT DOWN OR NO ICE CREAM” Eleveld

The Time I Went Emo. Not To Be Confused With Elmo.

The Time I Went Emo. Not To Be Confused With Elmo.

I have always found people fascinating. I love to watch how people interact with each other, how people handle different types of stress or excitement, how people relate to one another. It’s a never-ending source of wonderment for me to observe all the millions of tiny ways people differ. These observations have (I hope) allowed to me to read people, and understand their point of view. It has made me less angry when asked a rude a question because I can easily see it from the asker’s side. It has made moments of someone’s joy even more exciting when I know so many of the underlying emotions they have experienced up to this point. It has, in effect, allowed me to get into people’s heads, kind of a like a psychic stalker, but a really friendly one.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not like a superhero. I can’t read minds, and I don’t always interpret people’s emotions and reactions correctly. But I make a concerted effort to understand people and their background and why and how they became who they are.

The more I developed this sense of empathy, for lack of a better word, the more I used it. And I have used it so often that it has, at times, become somewhat of an obligation. If someone tells me something that should make me angry, I feel like, because I can more easily understand their point of view, I have less of a right to be angry, because I know why they said what they said. I know that they are having a bad day, or were just honestly curious, or misinterpreted the situation. So I let my anger (or whatever emotion is appropriate at the time) dissipate, until it fades away into nothing. And then I move on.

At least, that is what I thought I have been doing. The thing about having a kid like Joshua, who is not totally typical, is that you get a lot of questions. A. Lot. Nosy questions, nice questions, rude questions, friendly questions; all of it. And I used to do pretty well with answering them. After a while the sheer volume became overwhelming (or what felt like volume – I freely admit that it could be that my tolerance for questions has lowered considerably in the last 2.5 years), but I still did my best not to react emotionally to those questions. Thanks to my superpower, I could see that everyone meant well. I could listen to their question and hear the real question they wanted to ask, and I could sympathize with them over being nervous to ask me or ashamed of their lack of knowledge.

The truth is, I was reacting emotionally. I didn’t realize it, because I kept it hidden. I refused to acknowledge it. Denial is not just a river in Egypt, y’all. I told myself that there was no need to still be so emotional about Josh when I should only be grateful.

But emotions, like so many other things, have a funny way of creeping up on you, and soon enough I could see their impact even while trying to deny they existed. I could see myself changing, transforming into someone I didn’t recognize. Someone who was lost. Someone who used to have absolute confidence in God’s plan but now wasn’t sure of anything. Someone who was growing increasingly bitter over having a child who needed special attention. Someone who used to be able to find genuine joy in the accomplishments of others but who now goes out of her way to avoid others just so she won’t have to pretend to be happy for them. Whether I let them show or not, my reactions and feelings were changing me. It was like a slow drip, a slow break, a slow crack that, at first, only showed to the closest observers. But as the crack grew longer and wider, it became more and more obvious.

What’s funny is that it isn’t just the rude comments or nosy questions that bother me. It’s every comment, every statement about Joshua and his delays, or even seeing a child Josh’s age who was so far ahead, that slowly, slowly gave way to those cracks.

Josh is doing really well for all he has overcome!

Crack. 

Joshua isn’t so far behind now!

Crack.

How old is he? But he’s so small!

Crack.

We can put Josh with his real age group, but he might do better with the babies.

Crack. 

He probably needs a feeding tube.

Crack. 

He needs another specialist.

Crack. 

He likes to watch the other kids run around on the playground!

Crack. 

Did it take him this long to get inside the building?

Crack. 

And I do know that none of these comments, or other comments made, are meant as anything but encouraging or informative. They aren’t attacks on me or Josh; they aren’t commentary on my parenting abilities; they aren’t meant to provide anything but helpful advice.

I’ll be honest with you and say that I am just tired of questions and comments. I am tired of people telling me that Josh accomplished something and how awesome it is because of how far behind he was. I am tired of people asking me his age and then looking confused as they try to figure out why a 2.5 year old looks like he is just starting to walk. I am tired of medical advice from random people at the grocery store. I am tired of being congratulated on how well he is doing every time he walks down a hallway. Because while I am so very proud of him and all that he does, I don’t see any other kids being congratulated for walking down a hallway.

I know Josh is not the only atypical kid in the world, and it’s not that I don’t think other kids are struggling.

It’s more that some days, I just want to be a parent of a two-year-old. Not a parent of a miracle baby, or a toddler who just started to walk, or a parent who already knows what an IFSP and an IEP are. I just want to pretend that Josh is typical and that everyone is like him, instead of him being the odd man out. I want to commiserate with other parents on how my silly boy is running through the aisles of Target while I try to catch him. I want to stop planning my weeks around specialists that are only available in the middle of weekdays and are located 7048230 miles away.

And, because there is always one person who says this to me – I know how far Josh has come. I am not trying to take away from his hard work. He is doing so well. He talks a ton; he is responding well to therapy; he is charming and super cute, if I do say so myself. I know all of these things because I have been there from the word go. 

But to have a kid like Joshua can be overwhelming at times. It can be so isolating. I don’t know any other parents with a kid like Josh. I know a lot of parents of preemies, but Joshua seems to be an atypical preemie, too. For whatever reason, he is taking his own little path, and that’s cool. I get it. He is who he is. But I’m not who I was. And I don’t know how to be this new person, who is bitter, and unsure of herself, and lives in fear that at the next routine check-up they will find something terrible. It doesn’t suit me. And I don’t like it.

So I am trying to get back to the person I used to be: confident, and cheerful, and content. I can be those things. I don’t think things will ever be exactly the same as they were before Josh, but what mother isn’t changed by her child? I want to focus on the blessings in my life, and use my powers for good to remember that Joshua is so loved by so many people, (and for this I am truly grateful) and that questions or comments only hold power over me if I let them. I don’t know exactly how to go about this, but I think acknowledging it is a good start.

This is another one of those posts where I don’t have an ending. I do have a unicorn:

tumblr_static_fat_unicorn

With/Out Kids

With/Out Kids

What’s the difference between a life without kids and life with kids? See for yourself…

Going to Target

Without kids:

Decide to go to Target. Go to Target.

With kids:

Realize you need something from Target. Immediately seek out the perfect half hour in which you can get to and from Target without messing up nap time, snack time, or any other Special Time that your kids require. Miss that half hour by fifteen minutes. Cry into your hands. Schlep kids and kid accessories into minivan. Drive to Target while listening to the soundtrack from Frozen for 3472014871302 time. Circle parking lot until you find the perfect spot – you don’t care how close you are to the front of the store, as long as you are near a cart return. Park and load children into cart while praying your toddler does not suddenly develop the desire to run into traffic and simultaneously cursing Target for not having special kid carts. Push cart full of children into Target while threatening your oldest that if he stands up in the cart again you will not get him a treat. It’s an empty threat. You know it. He knows it. He doesn’t play by society’s rules. Pick up the keys your baby dropped. Pick up the wallet your baby dropped. Pick up the toy your baby dropped. Pick up the keys your baby dropped. Stop giving your baby things. Paste a smile on your face and ignore strangers who are now glancing at your screaming baby who is reaching desperately for your keys. Explain that it’s “past someone’s nap time” as you push the cart by. Do not explain that the person who actually needs the nap is you. Find all the items you need in record time. Keep smiling as the cashier offers you to sign up for the special credit card six times in a row. Feel your eye start to twitch as the toddler begins to whine, “I’m huuuuuuuuuuuuungeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” for seven and a half minutes without ceasing. Pay for your items. Wonder how you spent so much at Target. Load kids and Target acquisitions into the minivan. Drive home while listening to the Frozen soundtrack again, now at top volume so you can drown out the chorus of “I’m huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuungeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, I wanna eaaaaaaaaaaaaat” playing in the back seat. Arrive home. Unload children. Leave Target items in car and promise yourself you will come back for them after you get the kids in. Understand that what you really mean is you will ask your husband to unload them when he gets home from work. Put the baby to bed. Feed the toddler. Drink a Diet Coke. Realize you forgot to get something while at Target. Cry again.

Brushing your teeth

Without kids:

Put toothpaste on toothbrush. Brush teeth. Admire your pearly whites in the mirror.

With kids:

Put toothpaste on toothbrush. Watch it slide onto the floor as your toddler tries to yank the toothbrush from your hands. Convince toddler to go watch cartoons. Reapply toothpaste. Remember to shut the bathroom door this time. Immediately begin watching myriad objects appear under the door, courtesy of the toddler: Legos, markers, puzzle pieces, Army men, and socks all make their way across the floor as you try to ignore them and start brushing. Yell “IN JUST A MINUTE” over and over as your toddler keeps asking you when you will come back over and over. Rinse and spit and notice you now have a toothpaste stain in the middle of your shirt. Leave bathroom to change shirts. Step on Legos. Say bad words in your head.

Eating dinner at home

Without kids:

Make dinner. Congratulate yourself on being awesome. Eat dinner. Contemplate how delicious dinner was while you decide on dessert.

With kids:

Start the oven. Threaten your toddler with no Mickey Mouse ever again if he goes anywhere near it. Comfort toddler after he gets sad about the thought of living in a Mickey-less world. Realize oven is now heated. Throw casserole ingredients into a pan while trying to ignore the fact that the baby and the toddler are growling at each other. Put casserole into oven just in time to stop the baby from stabbing the toddler in the eye with a straw. Collect all straws. Put baby and toddler in high chairs and give them a pre-dinner snack. Watch them throw the snack on the floor as they ask for “real” dinner. Tell them to wait. Turn on Mickey Mouse. Realize you have no principles anymore. Start cleaning up the living room while you wait for casserole to cook. Allow yourself to get distracted and find yourself knee-deep in baby clothes that you are sorting to see if they still fit when you suddenly realize the sound you’ve been hearing for the last ten minutes is not the TV, but the oven, signaling that your casserole is ready. Or it was ten minutes ago. Throw all clothes onto floor, undoing the work you’ve done for the last thirty minutes, and rescue casserole from oven. Comfort crying children and tell them the noise was just for fun and the smoke is nothing to worry about. Cut away burned edges of casserole. Give children casserole. Watch them throw the casserole on the floor and cry for crackers. Vow to never cook again.

And those are just the first three I could think of.