An Open Letter to My Children

An Open Letter to My Children

Kids…I love you. I think you know that. And I think you also know that I often seem to express my love in odd ways – like fussing at you for moving too slowly in the mornings or getting on to you for spilling your juice. I want to do better. I want to show my love in better ways. I always start out with the best intentions.

Every morning, I pray for you. I pray for your safety, for the little things I know you struggle with, for you to have a great day. I pray to have patience and to let the little things go. I pray for reminders that you are only this little for a short while, and that I should cherish these moments. I pray that today is the day I manage my frustration with no – okay, maybe just a few – mistakes.

And every night, I pray for forgiveness of my failure to achieve all of these things. Or, just as often, my failure to achieve any of these things.

If you want the truth, I’ll go ahead and give it to you: Parenting you is hard. Not because you’re bad kids and not because I don’t love you.

If I could let you take a brief tour of my mind, you might understand. It’s like a bag of cats in there – neglected household chores competing for attention with overdue bills are swirling around, usually surrounded by a revolving schedule of school activities, work commitments, therapy goals, and doctor’s appointments. Sprinkled around you’ll find anxiety over my own stuff – money and work and marriage; worry that I am forgetting something important; fear that today is the day I say something to you that ruins your life forever. Look left and right while you’re in there and you’ll see two of me arguing with each other – one convinced that tough love was the right call; the other certain that a gentler approach would have yielded more understanding.

And that’s just the first layer.

Keep digging, and you’ll see doubt. So much doubt. It claims its own special section of my mind, plaguing me with the fear that I have messed up one too many times. I yelled too much, I didn’t forgive quickly enough, I didn’t give you the attention you so desperately needed. And then, of course, there’s the doubt that I was too soft and now you won’t understand consequences, that I forgave you instantly and you didn’t learn from it, and that so much attention has caused you to totally rely on me for validation.

There are about 12 more layers to go after that.

I don’t present this to you as an excuse, as the saying goes, but an explanation. An explanation of why you throwing one more ball at me when I am already juggling 17 is just enough to send me over the edge. An explanation of why I love to hear you sing, but at this moment, hearing one more sound is the absolute last thing I need. An explanation of how I can love you so much and want to be alone for just a few minutes.

But if I am asking you to understand my mind, then it’s only fair that I work to understand yours. Your anxieties and fears and joys and excitement might be a little less defined, but are no less valid. I know that your need to sit right next to me, thigh to thigh, at all times is not borne from a desire to annoy, but a desire for closeness. Your continued requests for another snack are likely not a cleverly designed plot to keep me from working, but a need that you cannot meet for yourself and therefore have found the one person who can help you in that moment. And when I do not respond, you can only assume I am not paying attention, or can’t hear you. And so you ask again. And again. You know I will get frustrated, but you can’t help yourself.

Should you learn to be patient? Yes. Should I learn to be patient? Yes.

So, kids, we have to decide – whose needs are greater? Who wins?

The answer is neither of us. Neither of us wins, because neither of us is perfect. You know better than to push your sibling. I know better than to expect two preschool-aged children to get along like adults. We both know better, but we don’t do better.

And, so, today, like many other days, I have prayed for patience. And, today, like many other days, God has given me multiple opportunities to practice. But I think tomorrow I will pray for something else. I will pray for the ability to get out of the way and let God work through me, to erase my imperfections and give you the mom you need. I will pray for each of you to practice the kindness and love that we have so often talked about – and I will pray you find an example of those things through me.

In short, dear kiddos, I will try my hardest. I am a fallen person in a fallen world, and my best will be full of mistakes. I will ask you to try your hardest, which will also be full of mistakes. I will yell at you again. You will make eye contact with me as you deliberately crumble a fistful of Goldfish crackers into the couch. We are human, you and I, and that means perfection is not in our future.

No, not perfection. But if we both agree to focus less on ourselves and more on what God has called each of us to do, I think we can achieve grace for each other’s flaws, forgiveness of each other’s wrongs, and enough love to cover every inevitable mistake.

I will offer to read this to you, and you will say okay. I will get frustrated at your inability to sit still. You will get bored of listening to your mother read her own blog to you. We will argue.

And then we will make up.

Love you always,

Mommy

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Snacking in Front of Your Children: A How-to

Snacking in Front of Your Children: A How-to

There is a phenomenon in the universe known as Toddler Ear (known in some regions as Child Ear or I SAID COME HERE Ear). This a seemingly universal condition in which your child appears to be unable to hear directions or requests, such as, “Don’t lick each other,” “Let’s hurry and get ready for school,” “Put these toys away,” and anything whispered in what I call the Church Voice.

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Princess Kate knows what I’m talking about.

But the other unique aspect to this phenomenon is that while your children remain unable to hear your continued pleas to put on some clothes, they can hear the rustle of a chip bag or candy bar wrapper, sometimes from two floors away. Scientists aren’t sure of all the mechanisms of this condition. But they do know it’s spreading rapidly among children ages one to 17.

There is no cure. But through careful study, several trial experiments, and a persistent desire for chocolate, I believe I have found a way to manage the condition to a degree where some of your food might actually enter your mouth. It won’t be easy. But we are #SnackStrong.

Step One: Prepare

You think you are quiet enough with that package of m&ms. You think your kids can’t possibly hear you from your room. You are wrong. Step One involves more planning than it took to buy your first house. You will need the following: One (1) snack of your choice (or several; I don’t judge); one (1) decoy bag (grocery bag, empty box of tampons); one (1) child’s TV show for background noise and distraction; and one (1) decoy snack – celery, carrot sticks, and quinoa are all great ideas to start (This item is optional but highly recommended). The last thing you need is a burning desire to succeed.

Step Two: Set the Scene

Choose your snacking place well. You want a place that isn’t too well-lit, near-ish the TV, but not so close you get sucked into the plot of My Little Pony and fail to guard your precious cargo. You don’t want to be too far from the kids, because as soon as they notice your absence, they will seek you – and they will find you. Before you set up, place your snack into your decoy bag. Then, once you’re sure you’re ready, walk nonchalantly to your chosen spot. Do not – do not – remove your snack from the decoy bag. Place it casually beside you, behind a pillow or your decoy snack.

Step Three: Take the Plunge

Begin to eat your snack quietly. Only take a few chips/Skittles/brownie pieces at a time – snacking when your kids are awake means sacrifice, so soldier up and restrain yourself. If your kids look around to identify the sound of rustling paper or plastic, do not move. Leave your hands where they are. Maintain eye contact with your child and do not speak unless you are spoken to. If they ask what you are eating, hold up your decoy bag and say vitamins, kale, or dirt. If they don’t buy it and ask to see the contents, ABORT THE MISSION. Tell them you just remembered the oven is on and you have to check on it. Walk away and try again another day.

If, however, they do not pursue the line of snack questioning, you are free to resume your snacking after a few moments of silence have passed. Eat as much you desire, while being mindful that the silence will only last for so long.

Step Four: Cover Your Tracks

All of your carefully crafted plans will be for nothing if your kids catch you throwing away the wrapper or placing the rest of your Doritos back in the cabinet behind the fancy plates you never use. If your snack bag is empty, keep the wrapper inside the decoy bag and throw it all away in the trash. If your decoy bag is reusable, take it to the trash can and dump your snack bag into the trash, and immediately cover it with other trash.

If you’re saving the rest of your snack for a rainy day, leave the snack inside the decoy bag and put it away swiftly in the hiding place of your choosing. Do not look back; do not stop to answer questions. Move quickly if you want your snack to survive.

Other tips: 

*Fill your husband in on the plan so he doesn’t come home and ask you where the Muffin Bites are.

*Change out your decoy bag after every few uses so your offspring will not become suspicious.

*Don’t be afraid to offer your kids their own snack before you start eating to add another layer of crunching to cover your own.

You have your orders. Good luck, and may your snacks taste like an Oreo while containing the calories of an ice chip.

Three Years Of You

Three Years Of You

Dear, sweet Jenna Paige:

Happy third birthday! Or, in your words, happy day of your number turning three! It’s so exciting that you’re an official big girl now!

As I thought about what I wanted to write for this post, I realized the issue wasn’t what to include about you. It was about what I could possibly leave out of your vivacious, big personality. So this might be a long one :)

You don’t do anything halfway. You are committed to your joy, tears, and everything in between. You love to love people, and you love to let them know how they have crossed you. And you have to do everything yourself. I mean, everything. Every. thing. Honestly, that used to frustrate me. But as I watch you become more and more determined to finish a task by yourself, I am so proud of your independence and courage. You will try anything once, and you almost always finish it, too.

Your independence is fierce. You do not back down from an idea or a challenge. You don’t care what people think or what they say. You are always ready to do your own thing and take no prisoners as you do it. This amazing attitude and strong will are going to help you do great things, little girl.

I love the way you crack yourself up with your own jokes. I love the way you play with your princesses, putting them in your little pink castle and giving them all different voices and stories. I love the way you are almost always dressed up as something else: a princess – or, as you say, a Disney “pincess” – Doc McStuffins, or sometimes a creation you thought of on your own. You are always ready to head off on an adventure in your high heel Little Mermaid shoes and your clip-on earrings. Everything about you glitters pretty much everywhere you go.

It’s been so fun to listen to you learn to talk in long sentences and tell me about your day! You love to give me lists of things you’ve seen or done, and you love to tell me all the facts you’ve learned about a new subject. You chatter away about your favorite dolls and your princess bed and your sparkle shoes and your teachers and your friends and church and everything under the sun. I love to hear your little voice. I love that you still haven’t mastered some of your Rs and Ls. I love it when I ask you a question, and you look to your left and your right, put your hands in the air, and say, “I don’t know!”

I love the way you still cuddle with me, and how you’re always willing to give me a kiss or a hug. I love how you are always determined to sleep in my bed, on my pillow, with my blanket. I love how devoted you are to your own special blanket, appropriately named Purple Blanket. I love how you lovingly choose a baby (or two or twelve) to put in bed with you at night, and kiss it good night, and tell it you will take care of it because you’re the mommy.

You are so unique, Jenna. In the same thirty seconds I can see you in a princess dress, twirling around, and also eating dirt. You aren’t afraid of bugs or any of the things that make Mommy scream. You ask us to dance and shake our hands and tell us “Nice to meet you!” You say your Ns as Ms so you tell me that you “meed help” or ask to watch “Finding Memo.” You have the littlest lisps on your Ss and two dimples that I can never resist. You love to choose your outfits, paint your nails, paint MY nails, and decorate your room with drawings (and the occasional stamp).

Jenna, I just love you so much. In one way I am sad that you’re growing up, because I still remember my last little baby and how small you used to be. But I also love each new phase of your tiny little life, and to see you grow and learn every day. Even though you recently announced that you will “never EVER grow,” I know you will. And it will be amazing.

You will grow up to be an incredible, strong, independent, fashion-savvy person. But for now, I can’t wait to see what year three brings us.

I love you, I love you, I love you, my Jenna girl, my Jenna Bear, my Neener, my Jen, my baby girl, my little love, my sweet, precious baby. Happy third birthday!

Love always,

Mommy

The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

I married my husband, Daniel, on a warm spring day in 2011. Actually, since we were married March 19th, it was still technically winter. But a Georgia winter, meaning it was 65 degrees and sunny.

It was a beautiful day. My father-in-law performed the ceremony, and that day still goes down as one of the most fun of my life. We danced to all the wedding cliches, had enough candy to feed a medium-sized village, and even broke out into a flash mob at one point. It was perfect.

And then real life began. Ours, like so many young couples’, began with a joy all newlyweds have: The joy of lying. Not big lies. Not like you forgot to tell them you’re wanted in five states. But little, easy lies, like, “This dinner is delicious!” or “I definitely like this painting.” I used to sneak out of bed in the morning and brush my teeth before Daniel woke up so he would think my morning breath was naturally minty-fresh. You’re welcome for that free tip, humanity. We wanted to make each other happy, so we were willing to overlook towels on the floor or accidentally-destroyed projects (I’m still really sorry, Daniel). We made the extra effort because it was worth it.

We had been married for a year-and-a-half when we found out we were expecting our first baby. We were thrilled! As you probably know, our firstborn arrived a bit less traditionally than the average bear.

And that’s when our marriage ended the first time.

Gone were the days where our biggest worries were over whether to order pizza or go out for dinner instead. I didn’t get enough sleep to even think about waking up early to brush my teeth and sneak back into bed. Towels on the floor became just one more nuisance on a never-ending list I kept tabs on in my head.

Joshua needed our constant attention. After four months in the NICU, he came home to therapies, specialists, oxygen tubes, apnea monitors, and more. As time went on, the needs changed, but the stress of having a special-needs child didn’t.

You want to know one of the truths about having a kid with special needs? It kills your marriage. Kills it. We were both still there, still married, but the marriage we had known was gone forever. In its place was something almost unrecognizable. And it was getting worse every day.

I’ve said before that having a child like Josh changed me. In so many ways, it changed me for the better. It made me more compassionate, and more understanding of the struggles of others, and opened my eyes to an entirely new world.

In some ways, though, the changes weren’t as great. These were the changes that were the hardest to resist. I was so angry at God for allowing Joshua to have so many issues. I was angry at myself for not realizing something was wrong sooner in my pregnancy. I was angry at everyone around me. And while throughout the day, I made an effort to at least smile at other people, by the time I got home from the hospital or new specialist or therapy session, I decided I had given all I could. I couldn’t possibly deal with one more thing. And I took it out on Daniel.

Every forgotten task, every misunderstood conversation, every dish I washed alone – I kept track of it all. I knew how many times I had done the laundry and how many times Daniel hadn’t. Sure, he was working all day, but I was busy with the baby. It wasn’t fair. That’s what I kept repeating to myself. It wasn’t fair. I was a stay-at-home mom, but not by choice. I had never asked for this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it for a long time. But then it arrived and was so much harder than I expected. And I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge. And not being up to the challenge made me defensive. And being defensive made me resentful. And being resentful made me bitter. And all of that culminated in my marriage slowly dissolving into two bickering parents who didn’t know how to stop arguing.

No one is ever 100% innocent in these kinds of things. But I will be honest and tell you that a lot of this was on me. Daniel tried his best to help me, but I didn’t want his help. And then I got angry at him for not helping me. And then he tried to help me again, and obviously that meant he thought I wasn’t doing a good enough job, and then I was angry again. And then he didn’t help, and how dare he not help me? It was a vicious cycle.

We went on like this for a few years. We had our daughter, Jenna, just 15 months after Josh was born. Daniel worked full-time, and I worked part-time for a while, eventually moving to a full-time position where I worked from home. We had two kids under the age of two, hectic jobs, financial struggles, and so many appointments to go to. Life was busy. Too busy. Jenna was a fussy newborn. Josh didn’t walk until Jenna was almost a year old. There was no rest, no time for our marriage anymore. Even if we had wanted to work on it, there was simply no time.

Same people. Different marriage.

And then one day, Daniel and I had a big argument. (I’m not trying to air our dirty laundry or anything, and I asked Daniel if he was okay with me writing this. Just want to put full disclosure out there.) It was bad. I was so angry and so tired. Josh had started an intense feeding therapy program. Daniel was dealing with some (thankfully resolved!) health issues. It was stressful. And we argued, and then I shouted that I wanted a divorce.

It wasn’t true. I didn’t want a divorce. I was so tired, so angry and bitter, and I just decided to say it, to goad my husband into arguing with me. But he didn’t argue. Instead, we sat in silence for a while. I knew I should apologize. But I wouldn’t. I didn’t.

I thought that I was already so broken that nothing could touch me anymore. But I was wrong. The look on Daniel’s face when I said those words to him made me feel like I had shattered all over again, like the day Josh was born, and all the days after when we heard more bad news. And so I made a choice.

I decided to try to let the little things go.

It was hard at first, and is still a struggle for me, if I’m being perfectly honest. But my goal was to stop looking for ways to blame Daniel, and instead look at the ways he loved me and showed me his love every day. I decided to think about his intent – did he not take the garbage out just to make my day harder? Probably not. Probably he had just come home from a really hard day at work and it slipped his mind while he was helping me with the dishes or feeding the kids. Probably I could just remind him, or even do it myself. And then we wouldn’t have to fight. Things didn’t have to turn into an argument every time one of us made a little mistake.

My other goal was to get to back to reading my Bible every day. That isn’t meant to sound self-righteous; I just knew I needed to hear what God had to say instead of screaming my own words at Him. As we say in this house, it was no longer my turn.

So I started working on my goals. And I’ve messed up so many times. But it’s been getting easier and easier.

And that’s how my marriage ended the second time.

Same people. Different marriage.

Slowly but surely, the arguments grew to be less frequent. We sought ways to work together instead of ways to blame each other for the stresses in our life. Our other situations didn’t change. Josh still had a lot of needs and was a lot of work. We still had two very little kids and very little time for ourselves and our marriage. Those things wouldn’t change. But we could. We did.

When I first decided to write about this, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to paint Daniel in a bad light, because he is a wonderful, godly man, who married a slightly crazy, super short woman. I didn’t want people to judge us. I didn’t want to come across as having so many struggles.

But I don’t think we’re alone in these struggles. Even if you don’t have a kid with special needs, your marriage has likely hit a rough patch. If it hasn’t, please submit yourself for testing at the nearest health facility, because you might be a robot.

And if you do have a kid with special needs, and your marriage is struggling, and you’re not sure how you will possibly make it through one more day of therapy, and leg braces, and helmets, and practicing stairs, and giving choices, and being a constant cheerleader and advocate for your child so they never have to feel different – it’s going to be okay. Things might not change. But you can.

Same people. Three different marriages. And we would never change a day.

D and K

On Your Fourth Birthday

On Your Fourth Birthday

Dear Joshua,

Happy birthday, big boy! Four is a legit big boy age. I know you’re about 78 on the inside, but four seems pretty old, too!

This year has been huge for you, dude. You have accomplished so much. You can walk on your tippy toes now, and you are rocking the scissor crafts! Bumpy slides, climbing stairs, and riding the therapy peanut have been no match for you as you master them all!

Of course, I think we can all agree that one of the biggest skills you’ve developed is your speech. Joshua, I love you. And you are the chattiest person I know. You ask me what we’re doing, where we’re going, who we’ll see when we get there, and if I remember how much fun we had the last time we were there. I might not remember, but you do. You remember everything. You call a doorbell a “dingbell” and you have a little lisp, so when you say things like “Thanksgiving,” it sounds more like “Skanksgiving.” You’ll probably grow up thinking Thanksgiving is a holiday to celebrate giggling since I laugh every time you say it.

I love to hear the stories you make up. They usually involve Marshall from Paw Patrol and Batman or Captain America, always fighting bad guys. And they always win. You like to tell me which Bible stories you like the best, and even though you still insist Jesus will return to Earth on a rocket ship, I love to hear what you’ve learned about the Bible.

Josh, I just love to see your personality develop. You like to be silly but you do not stand for shenanigans. You like The Rules and you make sure everyone is aware of them. We all know that you’re pretty much raising Jenna at this point, and I do appreciate it. You remember every detail of every conversation we have, and you love to answer questions!

There is a possibility that you’re a tad stubborn, too. In fact, I think you get more stubborn every year. But you know, Joshua, for every moment I am frustrated with you digging your heels in, there is also a moment of admiration for you and the way you fight. You’ve been a fighter from literally the first seconds of your life. You had to be. And while we can butt heads sometimes, I would never change that about you. It’s made you who you are. It’s what kept you with us four years ago.

I know some things are more of a struggle for you. I’m sorry, because I know it isn’t fair. But you don’t let anything get you down. You don’t worry about what other people think of you. You just go out there and do your thing and if someone wants to follow, they can. And they do. Your smile is ridiculously contagious. Sometimes I know you’re up to no good and then you look over and grin at me, and I have to smile back.

Remember when you broke your arm? We didn’t even know it was broken for two weeks. Because you’re half human, half superhero. And you rocked that neon green cast.

Joshua, I want you to know how much I love you. And how much I admire you. You have accomplished more in your four years than some grown people ever will. You’ve had to work harder for every little victory, and you’ve had to struggle over the small things. Part of me is sad about that. But part of me know that it has shaped you into an incredible person who never stops trying. Your work ethic is better than mine, kid. And you have compassion for so many people in different situations. You’ve learned about different disabilities and struggles, and it’s made your heart even bigger. You love to love people.

Happy, happy, happy, happy birthday to my big little man, who always has a smile and a reminder about using our indoor voices. I hope this next year is just as great.

Love always,

Mommy