This Just In: 3 Out of 5 Children Are Excited to Be Back at School

Sep 3 2014

We’ve been back to school for two days, and we’re sort of drowning here. I mean, we’re not drowning drowning. Not like oh my gosh, we have a NEW BABY drowning. Just a little bit of back-to-school drowning. A little splashing around. A little gasping for breath. A little leg cramping and flailing and maybe-we-shouldn’t-have-gone-so-far-from-shoring. Minor drowning, you know? Like I need a lift back to the shore and a firm pat on the back and maybe a tiny bit of mouth-to-mouth from a hot lifeguard while I lie on the beach trying not to vomit.

I can tell you this for sure because I have my very own pool from which to draw accurate statistics: 3 out of 5 children are excited to be back at school this year.

Three out of five are eager.

Three out of five are happy.

Three out of five talk a mile a minute when they come home and set their alarms for EARLY because tomorrow can’t come too soon.

2 out of 5, though? Not so much. 

Two out of five hate this

Two out of five have been crying.

Two out of five are shaky and jittery and have an involuntary wrinkle between their eyebrows from feeling afraid.

And you’d think we’d be used to this.

You’d think we’d know it will pass.

You’d think.

But you’d be wrong.

Because even though we had 3 kids at 3 new schools last year, and 3 kids at 2 new schools the year before, and more kids at more new schools for infinity before that, this whole Stressed Out Children Attending New Schools thing just bites. 

Dear Internets,

What do you do in that time before your children make friends? When they’re sure they’ll never make them? And they know they’ll wander the halls, lost and alone forever?

Which is how all of us feel when we’re lonely. Like there’s no escape and we’re surely doomed.

‘Cause I’ve tried saying All the Hopeful Things to my kids over the years – all the Rah! Rah! Cheerleader Stuff – and I’ve tried Doing Things, too, and I still haven’t hit on a single thing that works. I’m starting to think that Saying the Words and Doing the Things doesn’t help as much as Being There to Listen, and Waiting in Their Sadness With Them, and Asking What They Need From Me. Which just SUCKS, you know? Like there’s no magic wand out there, and like I can’t force happiness upon them.

So what am I missing, Internets? What’s the magic thing to say or DO?

Please write back soon.

Love,
Me

I woke up late this morning. On my stomach. Face buried in pillow. Pillow with a tiny bit of adorable drool. Mine, though, so that was nice. And Greg asked if I was OK. 

“I’m fine,” I said, and, “I’ll be up in a minute.” Which we both knew was a lie and came out more muffled like, “Uhb eye. Ah be uh-i-na mihna.” I went back to sleep for 15 because I knew – I KNEW – as soon as I got up I’d have to deal. Deal with the children and their feelings and my feelings and ALL THE FEELINGS.

I don’t like feelings. Except when I eat them because then they taste delicious like cinnamon toast and potato chips and chocolate chip cookiesBut I’m trying not to eat my feelings right now, so instead they just taste like afraid and sad and helpless and overwhelmed.

Pffttt.

I tried being the Cheerleader all day today as the texts rolled in from one of the Wrinkled Brow kids. “It’ll be OK eventually,” I wrote, and, “Give it some time.” 

Look at me! FIXING things!

I pulled the I’m Older and Wiser Card next with, “I’ve been there, and even though you think I don’t understand what you’re going through, I do understand it. I do.

BRILLIANT!

I even donned the Authority Mantle: “You have to do this. You have to keep going until December. I don’t even want to consider anything else before you’ve really tried.”

BOOM! If that’s not encouragement, I don’t know what is!

But my kids, oddly, were less than enthusiastic at my fixing and my awesome parenting, and instead of snapping out of their fear and loneliness, they became more withdrawn and less interested in talking to me about how it was going.

It really bites when Being In Control isn’t compatible with We’re All on the Same Team. Just once I want those things to go together.

But today wasn’t that day, so I backed up and said, “I’m sorry; I’m trying to help, and I’m getting it wrong,” and, “I’m sad for you,” and, “I’m here for you,” and, “Let me know if there’s any way I can help.” 

Instead of solving anything, I spent the evening french braiding hair and sitting in bed with my kid and talking about what’s for dinner this week.

I said, in the end, lots of “I don’t knows” and “I love yous” and “We’re in this togethers.”

So, for tonight, 3 out of 5 children are excited to be back at school. And 2 out of 5 aren’t. And I don’t know how tomorrow will go, but I suspect I’ll try to fix less and be present more. Unless one of you can find that damn wand.

On All the Wins Nobody Sees: A Guest Post by Stephanie Gates

Aug 29 2014

On All the Wins Nobody Sees
by Stephanie Gates of A Wide Mercy

My name is Stephanie, and I didn’t eat any brownies last Thursday.Those brownies sat on my counter all day long, and I didn’t eat a single one when nobody was looking. Not eating them was the most productive thing I did all day. I fought those brownies – and I won.

And nobody ever even knew about it.

Food is not a daily struggle for me. I mean, I’m not exactly lean. Four babies later, I’m twenty pounds – and a whole lot of muscle – from my ideal weight. But I’m not usually an emotional eater. When I look in the mirror, twenty extra pounds do not measure my worth. In my day-to-day life, food is not the cross I carry.

But this summer, one of my kids had a run-in with death. Thanks be to God, my child is fine, yet the experience threw my subconscious mind into a sort of primal survival mode. Eat sugar! All of it! Prepare yourself to survive the impending doom!

Since then, I’ve been fighting food. Every single day, all day long.

But I’m fighting food. I’m not losing to food, I’m fighting it. Every day I walk past breads, cakes or ice cream – any sugar, really – and tell myself, you aren’t in danger. You don’t need sugar. Your brain is confused. Keep moving. Most of the time, I don’t pick them up.

To tell you the truth, I’m pretty proud of myself. I’m not losing weight right now, but I’m not gaining either. There is a very real battle in my head right now, and I’m in the lead.

But nobody around me knows I’m engaged in a fight. Nobody knows what I don’t eat in a day.

Nobody knows right now I have to make a conscious decision to be healthy, emotionally and physically, about every ten minutes. I fight – and win! – all the time, but I never share my victories with my husband or friends. I just collect them. I collect them all. Each tiny win reminds me I can do this. I can stare at death and move back into life. My unnoticed achievements are me putting one foot in front of the other. They each lead me a half inch closer to peace.

Then I wonder, what battles are you winning right now?

What are you fighting no one ever sees? I wonder who among us is slowly, deliberately healing. Who is engaging unhealthy thoughts right now, making tiny but important decisions toward peace. Who is waking up the next morning, and deciding to fight all over again. Is that your story?

If so, come sit by me. Tell me what threw your life into primal survival mode. Tell me how you’re climbing back into the sunlight. I want to hear it all. Tell me your story, and I’ll tell you mine.

Because our victories may be silent, but we are not alone. We’re both fighting, you and I, and we are both going to win. I may have seen death this summer, but I’m not giving in to it. I’m going to keep inching closer to peace.

We’ll begin right here. My name is Stephanie, and last Thursday I didn’t eat a single brownie.

……….

StephanieAWideMercyI am Stephanie – mom to four beautifully rambunctious little kids and wife to a guy who still makes me smile. Last spring I moved to Colorado, where I fell in love with the mountain air and the Anglican church. If you have ever abandoned religion in search of faith, ever had to leave your hometown to find your home, or ever climbed to the very tip-top of a jungle gym to rescue an overzealous toddler, come sit by me.  We’ll talk.


You can follow my story at A Wide Mercy or follow along on Facebook.  

……….

About Those Pinterest Moms…

Aug 27 2014

It’s officially one week ’til we’re back at school around here, and we’re in full tilt Preparation Mode, man.

School Supplies? Check.
Haircuts? Check.
New Shoes? Check.
Hole-less Jeans? Check.

Adorable First-Day-of-School Picture Signs? Of course!
Homework Stations Built? You bet!
Back-to-School Countdown Crafts? Have been ready for weeks!

Apple Plates on the table, Decoupaged Mason Jar Pencil Holders on the desk, and Ruler Wreath ready for the front door? I wouldn’t have it any other way!

And the list goes on and on and on…

… except nearly all of that’s a lie because I’ve only done one of those things. I ordered school supplies online in an oh-crap-the-stores-are-probably-sold-out-and-now-this-will-take-me-hours-and-days-to-hunt-it-all-down moment, and, to be clear, we got the plain pencils and the cheap paper, and the only thing – the only thing – I let my kids pick were the colors for their bottom-pocket folders. They were genuinely thrilled at folder-picking, though, which tells you something about how low we set expectations in these parts. 

Low.

Low, low.

Extremely low is where our expectations land.

Because, honestly? If my kids arrive at school dressed and semi-on-time, I consider it a win. Hair brushing happens occasionally on school mornings. Teeth brushing is a bedtime-only activity. Jam is usually present on 7-year-old faces as they walk into their classroom. And we often fudge on what, exactly, “semi-on-time” means. Five minutes late? Ten? Twenty but with a really good excuse? SEMI-ON-TIME! 

Right now, everyone in this house has shoes that are mostly OK and they’ve all got one pair of pants with no holes. I think. I don’t really know. Mostly, we’ve been wearing undies (not always) and jammy pants and swimsuits for months, but theoretically we’ve got holeless pants, and theory is all I need to justify not buying more. 

Back-to-school, in other words? Can bite me. I’ve done what I’m going to do, and I will do no more. 

But I’ve been troubled lately about a trend I see developing online, and I’m afraid sometimes I’m a contributor, so I wanted to take a minute to pause and talk about all those Pinterest Moms out there who are, undoubtedly, in full-on, adorable, back-to-school mode.

pinterestlogoYou know the ones, right? They’re mamas who make heart-shaped bacon for Valentine’s Day? The ones who tape balloons outside their kids’ bedrooms while the kids sleep so they’ll awaken to discover a Balloon Avalanche when they emerge on their birthdays? The ones who hand stamp thank you cards and actually send them with personal, hand-written notes, sometimes for no good reason at all except they’re grateful and say so with words? The ones who make every teeny, tiny holiday into a GIANT EVENT with banners and table scapes and party favors? The ones who, technically speaking, make the rest of us look like lazy slugs who don’t have our crap together?

Those moms?

Yeah, well. Here’s the thing about those moms: many of them are doing all that because… wait for it… it makes them happy.

Or in the case of my sister-in-law, who does every one of the things listed above, she does them because they bring emotional healing; my nephew, you see, is medically fragile and can’t leave the house without risking his life, and so each of those crafty projects right down to the heart-shaped bacon is a celebration of life. A way to express love. A choice to make being house-bound fun. And an example to her kids that there is joy to be found in the little things.

And I know what you’re thinking; it’s even worse than we thought! Because it turns out, those moms aren’t Pinteresting at us. They’re not doing it to be better than us. They’re not, in fact, thinking about us at all when they craft. They’re just doing what’s fun and silly and pretty and, in some cases, deeply meaningful and actually important for themselves and their families.

The jerks.

Or as my friend Meghan put it, “Pinterest is a fascinating example of how we project our own insecurities onto other people as their problem.” 

Which pffttt. And ugh. And blerg. And pffttt again. Because that is so true. And also not at all how I want to be… or the example I want to set for my kids.

I keep seeing articles online becoming more and more popular that put down, belittle or shame our fellow mamas for creating beautiful things. Some of the criticism is subtle, some of it’s not. The truth is, the Pinteresty ones among us are taking it in the teeth these days, momrades. Told they’re setting the bar too high. Told to stop it on behalf of the rest of us. Told they’re Pinteresting and crafting and creating at us. 

We can do better than that, though. We can be better than that. Part of stopping the Mommy Wars is to quit picking sides and to start celebrating each of us, not despite our differences, but because of them. To honor our diversity. To quit the field of comparison. To choose to be confident in the people we are and throw away our measuring sticks, because measuring sticks are liars. They never measure our worth correctly; not ever.

The truth is, I’m tired of playing the Us against Them game – just really, really tired of it – and I long for us to be All for One and One for All.

We are a community, after all. Or, as I like to think of us, a Come, Unity; in the act of bringing unity to each other, even if we’re not quite there yet. In process. On our way.

So, perhaps, as we get ready for this school year, we can lay down our weapons. Both the weapons we use against each other and, especially, the weapons we use against ourselves. Perhaps it’s time, this new school year, for a New Year’s resolution:

All for One and One for All.

And Momrades, Unite.

Sending you all love, even you crazy Pinteresty ones,
Beth

What It’s Like to Communicate With Family

Aug 24 2014

I know sometimes it’s hard to know how to talk to our families. Since some of you may be a little newer at this family gig than we are, I thought I’d share a few family communication tips based on the conversations I had today with my sweet ones. 

I was busy today doing all of my back-to-school shopping online.

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Scratching my head. Opening All the Tabs. Trying to find deals so my kids will arrive back at school with luxuries like pencils and paper.

Of course, my kids leave me alone to do this because they’re polite. Helpful. Respectful. And they know I’m working hard for them.

I might’ve had to yell down the stairs once or twice because they were fighting.

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But they assured me they were just play fighting. Which, you know, always goes well when the 14-year-old football player is play fighting his 7-year-old brother.

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So I reminded my 14-year-old, gently, of course, that THERE WAS A REASON I TOLD THEM TO STOP FIGHTING. 

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He took it well so we had a sweet follow-up chat, where I delivered profound, ancient mommy wisdom, and he thanked me for being so kind and wonderful.

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On my way back to my computer, I noticed through an open doorway that the other 7-year-old wasn’t doing his chore as asked.

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But he said he was. My bad.  

Which is when my teenage daughter came to spend time with me, ask me what I think about life, how my day was, and what she might do to help out around the house. You know, the usual.

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It was a special time.

Eventually, I wondered where my middlest child, whom I hadn’t seen for quite some time, might be.

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I figured it out.

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And I finally wrapped up all the school supplies shopping.

HOORAY!

I shared my good news with Greg,

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 … who told me what a good job I did.

It’s OK, though. It is. I didn’t overreact or anything. I just walked right past him. And then maybe turned around and said one more, tiny thing.

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In conclusion, I’m leaving my family. 

Today is an I’m Moving Out Day.

Tomorrow may be an I’ll Never Let Them Go Day. 

But TODAY is not tomorrow, and I’m leaving.

On a jet plane.

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Or on a boat.

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Or by scooter. 

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But this time, I’m not telling my family, ’cause last time I said I was moving to Mexico, my son just told me to bring him back a churro.

The End

 

P.S. I just spent the afternoon in my room, coloring. That’ll teach ‘em.

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P.P.S. And how was your day?

 

Let’s Play: Stupidest Things We Did This Week! I’ll Go First.

Aug 22 2014

There’s no point to this post at all. It’s everything that’s wrong with the internet. I mean, I don’t tell you what I had for lunch (a 6″ Subway turkey bacon club, no cheese, with spinach, olives, tomatoes, oil, salt and mayo on wheat), but otherwise, it’s really the epitome of nothing useful and far too much disclosure.

For example. I woke up this morning and wondered if I’d really, actually told you at 3am that I drove my car naked in my 20′s. Sure enough. I did. So… you’re welcome for that, Internets. I do what I can for those of us up in the middle of the night. We are a community, folks, and our middle-of-the-nights are like slumber parties! We’re all awake anyway, and there’s always someone at the party who’s willing to say something uncomfortable. That girl is me, friends. I give and I give.

It’s 1:30pm now, and already today is WAY better than yesterday, for 2 specific reasons.

  1. I didn’t take my sleeping medication by mistake this morning like I did yesterday morning. Instead, today I took the meds I’m SUPPOSED to take in the morning. So I’m, like, totally awake and stuff! And not shooting espresso shots like heroin. Which is a big change from yesterday. HUGE. 
  2. photo (87)My middle school daughter is no longer sitting on the couch inside a giant garbage can, which she’s been doing since Wednesday. Just a giant garbage can, pajamaed legs and a surly attitude. “How’s it going, Miss A?” I’d say, and “You doing OK in there?” She’d say, “I’m FINE. I already told you that.” So, you know; my bad. I mean, she’s probably onto something, because if I’m really honest, sitting inside a garbage can – maybe with a book light, a novel and some serious snacks – being ignored by everyone except an annoying mommy every few hours – sounds pretty great. Maybe when my mommy checks on me, I can get her to bring me a beer.

So. Lest I feel dumb alone, let’s play Stupidest Things We Did This Week. I know we’re supposed to be kind to ourselves and stop all this negative talk, but screw that. We do some stupid stuff, y’all; let’s just embrace it.

I showed you mine. What’ve you got?

In Support of Ironing Abstinence: THINK OF THE CHILDREN

Aug 20 2014

I’m not sure how to say this, exactly, so I’ll go with the blurt-it-out, say-it-like-it-is, blunt approach and just get it over with.

I ironed last week.

I ironed last week.

Me. And an ironing board. 

With an iron on it.

And I know, I know; believe me, I know. This isn’t like me. Not at all. You’re right to be confused right now. I am, after all, a staunch supporter of Ironing Abstinence, and everything I’ve previously written about housekeeping would lead you to that conclusion.

I mean, I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. I’ve read all the pamphlets. I’ve heard all the pro-ironing arguments. I’ve considered it from every angle, most of them very wrinkly, and I’ve become more and more convicted over time that Ironing Abstinence is Right for Me. 

But then, in a moment of weakness, I ironed anyway.

I’m not really sure how to justify my behavior, friends, except to say this: my cotton skirt was wrinkly. I mean, really, really wrinkly. Which I know is a poor excuse, but it’s all I’ve got. 

Yes, I know I could’ve worn something else.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t been able to even find the iron, given how well I’d hidden it behind the boxes and bags and outgrown clothes and a truly stunning amount of trash in the laundry room.

Yes, I know I should’ve given that skirt to Goodwill years ago instead of leaving it in my closet to lure me back to ironing.

And I’m torn, honestly, between congratulating myself for my many-years-long ironing abstinence and hanging my head in shame that I succumbed to the iron once again.

Here’s the worst part, though. 

My kid caught me doing it.

There I was, mid-stroke, and a 7-year-old burst through the door and stopped short, shocked to find me engaged in that activity. 

Cai’s eyes went wide, and he said, “What are you doing, Mom?”

What was I supposed to say? I’d never intended to be found out. I considered lying to spare him, but I was afraid it would be obvious and he’d know me to be both an ironer and a liar, and so, at a loss, I confessed, “I’m ironing, son.”

“For real?” he asked, bewildered.

“For real,” I said, ashamed.

“I didn’t even know we had one of those things,” he said.

“I’ve tried to shield you from that knowledge,” I replied.

And then he said, in awe, “It’s just like they do in the movies, Mom! That is so cool.”

Which is when I realized my ironing behavior does not affect just me.

No; my kid thought ironing was cool, you guys, which was a real wake-up call, I tell you.

I mean, what if my son grows up to be an ironer someday?

I’ll be all, “Where did you learn that? Why aren’t you just using the dryer on high with a wet towel and then putting on hot, wet, still wrinkly clothes at the last minute like the rest of us? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU??” And he will say, “I learned it from watching you, OK?! I learned it from watching you,” before turning away with wracking sobs while I stand shocked and convicted and sad music plays in the background.

Listen. I do realize some of you iron in your own homes. And some of you may even do it regularly in front of your children. But I’d like you to consider the fact that it only takes once, friends. It only takes your kids seeing you iron once before they begin to think that kind of thing is cool. 

Please don’t find out the way I did.

Abstain from ironing today.

Because I love you very much,
Beth

P.S. If you need a place to talk about ironing – both your stories of triumphing over it and the nefarious ways it seeks to regain a foothold in your life – the comments are open. I’m here for you, friends. And I understand. xo

In Which I Tell You My Weight… and Talk About Being Both Human and Loved

Aug 19 2014

I preached at a Quaker church on Sunday. Or, in Quaker speak, I brought a message to their meeting.

And here’s the thing: I had it all figured out ahead of time. Everything I’d say. It’s a message I’ve given before and one very close to my heart. My favorite thing to talk about, really, the idea that we exist in the mud and the mess and the muck… and that the magnificent is to be found in this crazy life. We are, all of us, so deeply human; horrible and heroic to our very bone. And we are, all of us, made in the image of God, whom I call Love when the God Concept is too much or too co-opted or too politicized for me to bear.

Made in the image of Love. In the image of the Divine. Imagine! 

So I had it all figured out, this Love message, and this Mess message (MESSage), and this Wild and Weird and Wonky and Wonderful message. 

And then I scrapped it.

All the perfect things I’d planned to say. 

All the nice phrases.

All the pretty bits.

Because I felt overwhelmed, on my drive to West Hills Friends on Sunday, with the conviction that the MESSage was hollow without more of my humanity.

I felt Love whisper, “Tell them who you really are. Tell them.”

And I remembered that part of who I am – the human part – got on the scale that morning for the first time in months and saw the number of my weight… and that I was kind and gentle to myself about it… and also ashamed.

So I thought back at Love, “OK. I’ll tell them part of who I am. I’ll tell them the part about how I couldn’t find the right sunglasses, so I said DAMN IT before getting in the car to come preach God’s Word. But I won’t tell them the part about my weight, because that’s too much. I can’t do it, Love.” 

And Love whispered, “Tell them. Tell them the actual number.”

Sometimes, Love’s a real dick, you guys. Just relentless in pursuit of us, as though Love believes we don’t have to be ashamed. As though Love believes we’re valuable. As though Love wants us to be free.

I cried.

Isn’t that silly? 

I cried in the car on my way to preach God’s Love to my friends.

I cried because I only want to share the parts of my humanity that are funny and cute and already resolved, and I want to hide the parts that are unhealthy until I’m better. Until I’m healed. Until I can say, “Once upon a time I struggled, but now I’m PERFECT.”

But that isn’t what Love is all about. Nor is Love about rejecting the gift that is our humanity, even though we find our flaws troubling.

And so I went to church. And I preached Love. Even to myself. 

If you’d like to hear the rest of the story, this is what I said: 

 

Today, friends, I want you to hear this:

The person you are is a gift. In all of your humanity. Muddy, messy, mucky, magnificent. Imperfect and exactly right. The person you are is a gift. Made in Love’s own image. Pursued relentlessly by Love. And deeply, deeply valuable, exactly as you are.