Friday, December 19, 2014

Can You Keep a Secret?

Shhh....

I'm baking up something extra special for the holidays this year. It's taking up a lot of my time (along with the general pre-Christmas workload), so I won't be able to post as often as I normally do.

But stay tuned.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT coming on NEW YEAR'S EVE!

In the meantime, have a Blessed Christmas! I'll see you back here bright and early on December 31st!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Laugh. Pray. Repeat.

I remember when we first told my mother-in-law we were expecting our third-born. She gave my husband and I this sly smile and said, "No more one-on-one. Now you've got to figure out zone defense."

I smiled, but inside, I was throw-back-my-head belly laughing! BWAHAHAHAHA!!! As a stay-at-home mom, I've been doing zone defense since Kid #2. And Kid #1 was no breeze, either.

Nowadays, when I'm out and about with my four-under-seven, I get wide-eyed looks from moms of one or two kids. Especially the expectant moms. "How do you do it?" they ask, and I recognize the note of pleading in their voices, because it used to be mine.

"I'm not really sure," I say. "You sort of figure it out as you go."

Trust me, First Time Mama in the Check-Out Line, I was just as overwhelmed with one child as you are.

It's not that it gets easier. It's just that you learn to accept the ropes. You get better at playing zone defense. You get better at knowing yourself, knowing your family, knowing what you all need to be your best selves - and what to do on those days when "best" is just not in the cards.

Like today.

I'll admit it: I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or not so much "woke up" as blearily admitted that I was still awake.

The baby hasn't been sleeping well. For about three weeks. And if it's not too rude, I'm going to request that everyone hold off on the advice for just a day or two because, to be honest, I am not in the right mental space to receive it. Just sympathy would be super. Sympathy is about all I can handle right now.

Unfortunately, under-sevens don't deal to much in sympathy.

So, I stumble upstairs. My awesome husband has already gotten the three "big" kids up and served them cereal (not a norm in our house because cereal for six is kind of pricey, but well, what are you going to do?) And my toddler comes toddling up to me just as I finally plop myself down with a bowl of LIFE.

"Want nanny!" she shouts.

"You can't have a banana until you finish your cereal." I shove a sweet spoonful in my mouth as if my life depended on it.

"I want a nanny!"

Sugar. I need sugar. And coffee. Where's my coffee? "No banana until you finish your cereal."

"WANT A NANNY!!!"

Her little pouty lip just about does me in. It's cute. And infuriating. And I just. want. her. to. stop. I want quiet. And, for the love of all that is holy, I want some coffee!!

Thus begins my day.

We finish breakfast. We read the Bible. We say our prayers, and my husband promises he'll be praying for me on his way into work. I barely hear him over the shrieking of the banana-less toddler, but I give him a kiss.

"Thanks."

It takes another half hour to get things organized enough to begin school. At which point, the toddler has finished her Cheerios and is now smugly happily masticating her banana. That's when I notice that one of the chocolate bars my husband brought home last night is missing from the bag on the counter.

I don't know where it is. But I'm 99.999999% sure I know who took it. I go eye-to-eye with the offending child, and silence is all the admission of guilt I need to be certain.

"Stay here," I'm told, and in another minute, the missing candy bar is restored - minus a bite or two.

Sneaking and taking what isn't yours is not tolerated in our house, but this particular child has a particularly hard time getting that. (I guess we all have our pet sins.) I feel like throwing in my lot with the toddler and pitching my own class act hissy fit, but I don't. I discipline. I hide the chocolate. I get ready for school.

Toddler tears pepper the rest of the morning. Her banana is already half gone and she wants a new one! Her baby doll is naked (because she took it's clothes off)! There is a booger in her nose!!!

"NO!!!! No, clean it!!!!!"

Sigh.

See? I'm no supermom.

School ramps up, winds down. I actually have a pleasant reading lesson with my kindergartener who's recently been inclined to refuse reading lessons. My second grader aces her math test. We all do a special project to help her prepare for her First Reconciliation (coming up this weekend!)

Sweet, I think. I made it through. And I never even got my coffee.

And then, I notice that it's gotten very quiet. Quiet is not a good thing in my house. I mean, it is... But it's not.

I look around. Kindergartener is building blocks. Second grader is coloring. Baby is in the exersaucer. Where's Abby?

Where's Abby?!?!

I call. I tell the big kids to take the upstairs while I take the down. I'm running frantically, shouting her name. There's no answer, and every time I open a door, I choke back panic, because now I'm worried that something has happened to her. That my baby girl is hurt. Last room on the floor: I run through my bedroom to the adjoining bath, and this is what I find.


Covered in my mascara. She was actually quite delighted until she realized she'd been caught.

My first thought is: Thank God she's alright. My second thought: At least that tube of mascara was already running out. My third thought: I've got to take a picture of this.

NOT what I would have thought with Kid #1. Okay, maybe the "Thank God she's alright." But thought number two? Definitely would have been: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO YOURSELF AND RUIN MY THINGS? NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE MALL THE GET MORE MASCARA. I HATE THE MALL. AND DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT NOW I HAVE TO CLEAN THIS UP? AND DOES MASCARA EVEN COME OUT OF CLOTHES?

So, this? This is how I do it, First Time Mama in the Check-out Line. I hear the desperation in your voice, and I'm telling you this, right now: LAUGH. Pray. And laugh.

Because, no matter how much you want to believe you can, no matter what anybody tells you, you're not in control. Zone defense, my butt! Honey, you're running all Hail Marys!

These little people? They are going to turn your world upside down. You can grit your teeth and bear it, you can cry into your Chardonnay, or you can try to wage a one-woman war on entropy, but there's a better way.

In the words of Queen Elsa: Let it go.

Not all of it. Do what you need to, and do what you can. But be ready to reevaluate what those words mean. You don't need to do half of what you think. You can't do it all. Some days, you have to choose between clean dishes and a smile. Some days, it's love...or nothing.

When I'd finally cleaned the mascara off the toddler, I came up to find the Kindergartener waiting for me.


That's a stuffed penguin. With a diaper on it's head. (Thankfully, a clean one.)

"Owl Pengy needs a diaper on his head, Mom, because he's going to be a robot for Halloween."

?!?!?!?!?!?!

Laugh. Pray. Repeat.

Sure there, are those things that are really dangerous. The toddler who won't hold your hand in the parking lot, the preschooler who insists on pilfering the kitchen shears for his "projects," the kid who believes the bottle of gummy vitamins is her personal stash of candy. I'm not saying to let those things slide. You've got to have standards. Hey, they call it parenting for a reason.

But, you're not supermom. And, seriously? Nobody expects you to be. You don't have to be in control all the time. That's why you pray. You pick your battles, and the more you live, the more you learn until you realize that most of the battles weren't really battles at all. That's when you learn to laugh.

Because it all goes so fast, and really you're going to remember it anyway. So, why not make it a good memory?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Santa {and Other Sins of the Imagination}

The morning of December 5th, there are no decorations in our halls. No wreaths, no holly, tinsel, or lights. It's Advent, and those sparkling jewels of yuletide are still the stuff of daydreams. But, on that fifth night of December, the first signs of Christmas grace our hearth.

The stockings all hung in a row...waiting, waiting to be filled...


In the morning, my three oldest rush for their treats. (The baby has yet to discover the allure of sugar. Shh...no one tell him.) Cheerful bulges in the toe, the corner of a ribbon peeping over the top: they know they have been good this year. Oh, so very good.

Eager hands reach deep, pulling out a candy cane or a bag of chocolate coins. A family of licorice penguins. Tickets to the ballet. And last of all, the note.

Dear Sophia, you are always such a good girl...

Dear James, you have grown so much in obedience this year...

Dear, sweet, Abby, may you grow in kindness this year and learn to share...

Encouragement, always encouragement first. Then a reminder to grow in virtue. Was it truthfulness this year or compassion? A helpful hand or a thankful heart? Impressionable young minds remember--because St. Nicholas said it.

I don't believe in lying, no. I have always told the children the absolute truth. The questions come early nowadays, wide eyes anxious for reassurance. Whispering, "Mama, is Santa real?"

I tell them of the Saint of Myra. The one who walked the streets of Christmas long, long past. He became a priest and then a bishop. The one who loved children. His generous heart was always seeking ways to brighten darkness, to lighten despair. I tell them the legend of the coins and of the ships. Yes, he was real.

"But does he really come to our house?"

Ah, there's the rub. I bend knees and look them eye-to-eye and tell it true as I know how.

"Santa is as real as we imagine him to be."

There will always be the temptation in Christian America to seize our Puritan roots in both hands. To gather our convictions like a cloak against the cold. But why? What do we have to fear by seeing through children's eyes?

Our children are not yet fluent in the language of cold fact. They still deal in dreams. They speak poetry. To them, magic is not a dark occult act. It is the sunlight on a spider's dewy web. It is a fantasy of what will one day be. The child who approaches with the question, "Are there snowmen on the moon?" is not looking for the logical and honest, "No."

"Snowmen are white like the moon," we say. That will suffice. Enough to set the dreamer once again on his path of play--the path that leads him onward and upward until he is ready to join us in our colder language of science. The terseness of our world is not for children's hearts.

Is it a sin to skip Santa? No. That is the logical, honest answer. But instead of cold logic, I offer you this food for thought: Is it a sin to imagine?


I do not want my children to know only the cold facts. They have never seen a fairy, true, but it is not the lack of seeing that makes the fairy fantasy. If they believe only what their eyes tell them, how will they ever know angels? How will they see God?

You see, they need to be looking everywhere.

In the dewy spider's web. In the snow-white moon. In open hands, full stomachs, in the eyes of each imago Dei, and yes, in the stories of the saints.

Legends of ships and dowries may be no truer than those of reindeer and chimneys, but they speak of something that is true. Generosity. The wonder of joy that cannot be conveyed by fact alone. That has to be felt in the magic of a moment that takes us utterly by surprise. The kind of surprise the Wise Men witnessed in a stable in Bethlehem.

Do we need Santa? No... but we do need wonder.

No, the man with the white beard is not really coming down our chimney. Nor will Jesus lift you up (literally) on eagle's wings. But, don't you see the metaphor of it? Have our hearts forgotten how to speak in dreams?

I submit that there is no sin in stuffing stockings. There is no need to fear a child's wonder. They will learn the facts soon enough. Trust me.

Hold your convictions close, by all means, but do not fear the cold. Do not be afraid--this season and always--to imagine.