A Heartwarming Holiday Tale

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Today is officially one week until Christmas!! I did a grocery run today and picked up Scotch tape, so I can avoid doing all my wrapping with packing tape. I decided to hold off on the paper and see how far my stash from last year lasts. I may or may not regret that – we’ll see. I’m mostly ready except I still have a few straggler items to sew for a few assorted gift recipients on my list. I’m getting there!

It is said that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I hear stories in passing about random acts of kindness that happen around December like people picking up the coffee tab for the people behind them or someone paying for all the layaway orders at a store, but I’ve never experienced it myself. (Where are these magical grocery-paying-for people??!) I was raised in a fairly closed community, and there was a lot of fear around outsiders. My own life experience has effectively deprogrammed that to the point where I think that type of thinking is complete and utter hogwash. Still, you don’t expect strangers to really go out of their way for you. But, they do. They did. So, today, I get to share my own heartwarming holiday story.

My husband was out of town for most of last week. After a quiet, leisurely weekend with our kids, my youngest daughter wheedled him into taking them to the store because we were out of butter (which, in a popcorn-loving family, is akin to an emergency) and they wanted treats. It’s about a 20-minute drive to get to our closest Walmart. Upon arrival, my husband and three youngest kids proceeded to grab the butter and add some other odds and end to their cart – lunch, some mandarins, cheese and crackers, Sunny D and a box of cookies. As they made their way to the checkout, my husband realized that he didn’t have his wallet in the pants he was wearing. He ran to the car for his checkbook, only to have the teller remind him that they couldn’t take the check without ID – the ID that was also, yep, in his wallet. With his cartful of goodies for our kids, he was going to have to walk out empty handed and drive the 20 minutes home to get what he needed or go without. He would have been annoyed, my kids would have been disappointed, and it would have been an all-around bummer for nothing more than an oversight in planning.

But, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, a man behind him saw his conundrum, wished him “Merry Christmas” and handed him a $50 bill to cover the purchases, insisting that my husband take it. Instead of a grouchy, disappointed family, my husband walked in with smiling children, bags of snacks and butter! All because there are good people in the world. While we could have paid for those groceries with a bit of extra time and hassle, somebody saw a problem and stepped in to fix it.

When you watch the news or hear Internet chatter, it pays to remember that things are reported when they are out of the ordinary. It can seem that the world is a mess and that there is no community or kindness left, but I don’t believe that at all. While most good people go about their business quietly and without fanfare, the truth is that most people are good. I truly hope that I can find the opportunity at some point to pay it forward and pass on the Good Samaritan spirit myself.

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The Gift of Identity

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Sometimes when I’m preparing my blog posts, I have a lot on my mind or have had a recent experience that I’ve really been ruminating on. Other times, however, the deadline is looming, and I’m chugging along in my daily life trying to figure out what in the heck I should write about. What is this blog about? What do I have to say? And, then it hits me, isn’t that just life? Who am I? What do I have to say? Who do I want to be? How does the world see me?

Even though I have an independent streak a mile wide, I’ve spent a good part of my life picking identities off the shelf. While it’s said the youth brings with it all possibilities, the fact is that it is tempered by the pressures to be the vision that others have for you. There is a lot of fear around making the “wrong choices” or letting people down. I think this carries quite a ways into adulthood, and most people push and pull against it well into their 20s and 30s – sometimes their entire life.

While I don’t want to draw lines on the basis of gender or anything (heaven forbid!), I tend to notice this being more of a thing for women. We give so much to our husbands, to our kids, to our communities. I am my husband’s wife. For decades, I’ve basically introduced myself to people as his wife, and people say, “Ah!” and there is a place for me in their head. This year has changed that dynamic a bit because I have a reputation of my own (for better or worse), and my husband has found himself, for the first time ever, introducing himself as, well, my husband.

I am my kids’ mom. I have spent 22 years largely focused on the health, growth and progress of the seven humans that I grew in my uterus. I homeschool them and don’t work outside our home, and most of my daily energy goes into their lives. In my headspace, though, my life does not revolve around my children. I don’t think I’ve ever said that I’m “just a mom.” Because I’m not.

When women (again, more our thing) lament aging and getting older, I kind of don’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to still have the flat stomach of my 20s, but I take it pretty much as the tradeoff for the better gift of life experience. I turned 40 in 2017 and posted this on my Facebook page:

“Turning 40 last month has made me super thoughtful. This has been a year of huge changes for me. I’ve struggled in my personal space over the last five years, and this has been a year of resolution and finding peace, but not necessarily in the way I was “supposed to.” There have been really hard parts and days I just wasn’t sure it was going to work out. But, it mostly is, and I feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin every day. Mostly, I just love my life so much. I have a strong and resilient relationship and healthy and thriving kids whom I just adore. I’m embracing and feeling confident in building a career that I fully believe will eventually be a huge boon to our family. I know who I am deep down where all the layers are stripped away, and I’ve really come to love that strong, beautiful and passionate woman. Life is good!”

So, if this blog seems to go in a bunch of different directions, it’s because it’s a reflection of my real life. I don’t always know what direction I’m going. I don’t always know what it is that I want to say. I’m at a point where I feel like I can be and do and say what is actually a reflection of who I am. I AM my husband’s wife. I AM my kids’ mom. I’m also a woman, a friend, a writer, an advocate. I’m less afraid to say things as I see them. I’m more comfortable taking up space in the world. I don’t always know exactly what my identity is, but I do know that it is mine to determine. This, more than anything, has been the gift of this year.

 

 

Sometimes You Just Have to Wear the Snow Boots

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As a rule, my girls aren’t particularly dramatic. My older daughters are the best kinds of girls – the friends to everyone that just avoid all the peripheral drama in their social group. My youngest daughter, however, is only seven, and it happens sometimes. My kids also naturally don’t really like change, so this was the perfect storm and made for a S.U.P.E.R. fun morning!

We’ve had snow here. It went from being pretty dry to looking like a winter wonderland in about a week. The day before this event, my little girl had thrown her shoes on and went outside to hang out with her daddy, so I knew that she had them just hours before. However, when we got up on Tuesday morning with places to go, she couldn’t locate them. Seeing as they are the only shoes she has right now, this was a problem. After digging through mountains of unused/too small/where do these belong? shoes, we found a pair of green and black snow boots that looked like they would do the job. BOY snow boots. GREEN and BLACK. Nope. R.E.J.E.C.T.E.D.

Except, we had places to go. And, we were late. So, of course, a 20-minute, full-on battle of wills ensued about whether or not my little girl was going to be caught dead in those boots. Her vote, of course, was h#!! to the no, and I went for the practical approach – wear it or stay home! I have to go! There was a tiny bit of negotiation (No, you can’t wear the heeled church shoes that are too big for you in the snow) before I finally got them on her feet on threat of being left. She wasn’t happy at all and there was stamping and crying and general disgust at being forced to wear boy shoes.

And, then she got over it. She wore them into class and nobody noticed or said anything, really. When she got home she put them on voluntarily so she could go outside. We still haven’t found her shoes, and she’s been wearing them now for days like it’s just no big deal.

My kids aren’t divas or stuck up or pretentious, really. (They live with me. Ha ha!) They don’t, however, take to sudden changes in expectations well. (Again, my kids!) I always try to remind them that things are rarely as bad at they imagine, and it’s sometimes necessary to just roll with things. I give them the option to choose in as many situations as I can (she could have stayed home), but there are times when I can’t stop and explain or convince, and we just have to wear the green boots anyway.

I really hope that she didn’t leave her shoes outside to get subsequently snowed on. If that’s the case, we won’t see them until spring, and they’ll probably be ruined for good. Luckily, there will be a new pair of boots under the Christmas tree in just a few weeks. I promise they’re not boy boots.

 

An Eye For an Eye, Bro!

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I really think I should have just been a girl mom. Except, then I would be completely insufferable to everyone around me. I mean, what’s your problem?? Kids are EASY! Just kidding. I couldn’t pass up the photo for today because that’s seriously what parenting boys feels like. You have to just laugh, or you’ll cry.

I took my daughter in for dental surgery yesterday morning. She got the short end of the gene pool with her teeth, and this is the at least the third time she’s had sedated dental work. (I always love trying to convince dentists that she actually does brush and that we aren’t completely negligent in her oral care. I’m never sure that they actually believe it though she’s honestly my best brusher.) Yesterday, it was a root canal on a permanent but immature tooth, so we had to go to a specialist and spend more than twice our entire Christmas budget for a family of nine so that she wasn’t down a permanent molar at age seven. Whee!

I got home in the early afternoon and tucked her in bed to sleep it off. After a bit, there was a scuffle with my 11-year-old and 15-year-old. Apparently, when I was gone, my older son was hogging the computer so that my younger son couldn’t use it to complete his math lesson. Said younger son got angry, went up to their room and threw all his brother’s stuff all over which was an undeniably jerk move. When I sent my younger son upstairs to make amends and help clean up the mess, he was instead upset because my older son decided to break all his brothers things as well. So, the 11-year-old slammed the bathroom door and, in the process, broke the light cover in the adjoining hallway. Yay.

Luckily, that was the end of the altercation. I sent my older son to the bedroom to clean up the room on his own while my younger son had to get a broom and sweep up all the glass from his angry outburst. The 15-year-old then got a lecture about taking things into this own hands and not allowing me to take care of my own kids with an emphasis on how disrespecting other people’s things doesn’t teach them to be more respectful of yours. Instead, it just teaches them that you can break people’s crap as long as you’re bigger than them. Bad life lesson.

So, fun day, all around. I counted it as a success, though, because 1. I effectively worked through it without escalating everything, 2. I threw a life lesson in there that sunk in, and 3. I didn’t lose my shit in the process. Win – win – win! See, when you’ve been momming for a long time, that’s pretty much all it takes to count it a good day. Maybe they won’t hate me when they grow up after all.

Parenting is Blind Man’s Bluff

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Please, for the love of all that’s holy, tell me I’m not the only one that has a consistently difficult child. I suppose I should feel grateful that I have this little thing called parenting perspective, so I’m not a jerk to other moms, but the truth is that I just mostly feel like crap about it. We’re supposed to shower our kids with love and care, not count the days until they move out. This is the sentiment that started this blog and it is definitively #notpinterestworthy. :/

I’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with my challenging, 6-foot-tall teen, and I still just mostly want to stab my eyeballs with an ice pick most days. I honestly don’t see a lot of options beyond riding out raising him and hoping for the best. Parenting is this really (sometimes) crappy conundrum where you’re solely responsible for the actions of another person when the truth is that you have zero control over their choices. I can lecture myself hoarse, and he will still, ultimately, do what he wants.

This is crap for me. Torture, really. I am probably one of the most reasonable people you could ever meet, but it makes zero difference when you’re a mom. If I had a “real job” as a manager, I would never be expected to sit and smile and be constantly patient while the people around me treated my attempts to accomplish things with all the respect of a talking Charlie Brown head spouting utter nonsense. The logical part of me knows that parenting really is an other-worldly environment full of unrealistic expectations. There is no other place in the world that an adult interacts in that is held to a higher standard, and I live in this space all. the. time. I don’t have a “day job.” I don’t send my kids off to school for most of the day. I’m with them, 24-7.

I’ve always been told that we’re all the “perfect parent for our kids – just what they need,” and I truly hope this is the truth. In reality, I wonder every single day if it is. Did I coddle him too much as a toddler? (He was the baby of the family for almost five years before his brother was born.) Did I not hug him enough? Is he difficult because I have come to expect it from him, and he just lives up to that? Would he be insufferable if I didn’t try so hard to teach him respect for others, boundaries, responsibility? I have no clue. I have no way of knowing, but I still torture myself with the questions and sometimes feel utterly sunk in self hatred of my inability to be the Perfect Mom for him.

I think the hardest part of this is that I know he’s a good person. There is so much potential there, and I can just taste how amazing that would be if he would point things in a more healthy direction. I have no way of seeing the future. I have no way of knowing if any of my minute adjustments to my approach or my creative attempts to reach him will hit the mark. I won’t know until he’s grown and gone and it’s much too late to fix any of it. This fact is so, so hard.

If you know anything about me, it’s that I like to be good at what I do to probably a ridiculous extent. It took my therapist about three sessions to peg this as an inherent quality of mine. This is probably the number one reason I’m crafty. I can’t throw in the towel and “change hobbies” when it comes to what I actually spend the majority of my day doing. Parenting is a labor of love, and it twists my heart and turns me inside out with the sheer hard work of it. So, when you see me pouring gallons of soap or sewing new wardrobes in a month, it’s not because I’m superhuman. It’s because I need to feel a sense of accomplishment. I need something in my life where there is a method and a process and a consistency that I can count on. In this long-term game of blind man’s bluff, little successes along the way remind me that I may, just maybe, have what it takes.

It’s Been a Swimming-Through-Jello Day

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Today is a bit nuts. I have a million balls in the air. I had to send (and resend) a few invoices for our family business, there is some loan paperwork that I need to upload (we’re refinancing), my kids are all on homeschooling protest today, and I can’t figure out how to get some tech stuff for both the blog and my Facebook business page to work properly. (Check me out at The Essay Assistant on Facebook! I’ll make your writing sing, too!) Truthfully, I’m doing way too many things right now, and it’s all just frustrating me.

I’m not even going to lie. I like instant gratification. Raising kids and building businesses is anything but. Some days everything that flows from my fingers is gold, and sometimes I painstakingly wrench the words from my keyboard. I remember being sick as a kid and drifting in and out of feverish, twilight sleep. My brain would register the experience like I was swimming through jello. I could see and hear and remember everything, but it was sluggish and in slow motion. To be fair, I think I had a vivid imagination as a child because I also remember jerking awake from the brink of sleep and having it scare me – I somehow convinced myself that the devil was touching me. (This may be a sign that you’ve been raised in extremism. Just maybe.) While I have outgrown the latter feeling that was largely a product of superstition, I still have days where I recognize the sensation of swimming through jello.

Having kids is one of the most surreal experiences in life. I guess it’s all I know, so I can’t say how it would be different it were, well, different. I can imagine, however. When my day goes south, it’s like I’m mommy Edward Scissorhands – don’t get too close because I’m likely to accidentally-on-purpose (figuratively – calm down) cut you on my sharp edges. It’s disconcerting when this happens, but it’s also motivating. I’m not perfect. Some days I’m not even close to adequate, but I have a built-in motivation to get up, dust off and try harder.

I am well past the boot camp years of parenting, as one of my friends describes those endless, long years where your kids really don’t pull any weight themselves. I’m lucky to have older kids, even a few adults. This is amazing not only because I get a break and some freedom and some help (and access to their cars because mine is iffy), but because I get to see the product of my many long years of work. All my adult kids, well, like me. I like them. They’re good, responsible people and don’t hate me. They see the bigger picture now and can grant me grace for days where I was barely keeping my head up. I think (I really hope) that they even admire me and want to be like me in my best ways. (Please just get rid of the less admirable stuff. Ha!) They know ALL my weaknesses (do they ever!) and still love me. This is one of the most amazing gifts of motherhood, but it doesn’t come from picture-perfect moments that make good Instagram and Pinterest posts. It comes from swimming-through-jello days.

I just put my youngest kids to bed, and the words are flowing a bit easier than they did earlier. My husband is home which usually means the kids are magically angels, and I’m about to close my computer, relax for probably the first time today and snuggle under a warm blanket. This day is already fading into a memory, and I am so relieved. Tomorrow will better because days that hit bottom can, after all, only go up. That may well be the greatest gift of a bad day.

 

I Forgot My Kids Yesterday

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Don’t go throwing tomatoes at me or anything, but that title is, admittedly, clickbait. I didn’t ACTUALLY forgot my kids. Not that I haven’t done that before. Once. It happened one time. We drove to church in two vehicles, and both my husband and myself thought my youngest daughter had gone home with the other. We realized when we got home that neither of us had her, and were on our way back to get her when she got dropped off at home by a friend from church. We live all of a block and a half away, and she was only mildly traumatized. That’s the only time!

Yesterday, I knew where my kids were. They were at home. With me. My husband was out of town the day before, and I’d gotten up to make my kids some breakfast, then lazily climbed back into bed with a cup of coffee and my Facebook feed. (It’s been drizzly, grey, rainy, fall weather here. It’s kind of a cross between full-on fall and lingering Indian summer considering that my tomato plants are still alive! What the hey?!) Until my sister-in-law texted me, “Are your kids coming today?” Crap! It’s 9:05 on Wednesday! They’re supposed to be at their reading class. Gah! So, I frantically instructed them to get dressed, get their shoes on, find their coats and I did the world’s fastest (worst) hair brush on my daughter before we ran to the car and dropped them off 20 minutes late. (She also lives just two blocks away.)

THIS has happened before. More than once. Heh. Luckily, I work with other moms who also have real lives and understand that some days just go off. To be fair, I don’t have a set schedule that is the same for all my kids on every day of the week. I’m not getting all my kids up every morning and getting them on the bus before I get on with my day. (Though, I have longingly realized more than once this year that ALL my kids would be in school at this point if that was our life.) We go in all different directions with a different schedule all through the week. Normally, I keep track of the littles pretty well, and my older kids just manage themselves. But, when what I can only loosely call a routine gets thrown off, I drop balls. There was probably a time that I would have been bothered by that, but it’s kind of par for the course now.

One of the points of this blog, I think, is to communicate that you’re not alone. Life is complicated. At the risk of being cliche, we compare our own outtakes to other people’s highlights, and that’s not real life. While Pinterest-worthy moments look warm and fuzzy on social media, my life is really full of flubs, mess-ups and dropped balls. I’m more likely to forgot to bring my kids to class than to painstakingly document our afternoon baking adventure. (Just kidding. At best, my kids would be watching my daughters make something. Ha ha!) The good news is that when my children grow up, they will also likely live real, imperfect lives. At least they’ll be prepared. There’s that.