School Supplies

Just got the automated voicemail message from our public school principal… and apparently I have 14 forms I need to fill out and 37 school supply items I need to purchase so my daughter can continue her formal education.

BRB.

(JK.)

Debating whether to delete the message, throw on my comfies and watch a couple episodes of “The Crown.” (Queen Elizabeth doesn’t do these ignoble tasks; why should I?) The thought of filling out all those forms… and then braving the back-to-school aisle…

Please pass the Excedrin Migraine.

Every year, I endure the frenzied dash and mad grab for backpacks and their contents: pencil pouches, pocket folders, page protectors, spiral notebooks, index cards, glue sticks, scissors, rulers, graph paper, Post-It notes, and 12 types of writing utensils: No. 2 pencils, colored pencils, crayons, red/blue/black pens, highlighters, dry erase markers, fine-line and wide-tip Sharpies, gel pens, charcoal pencils, styluses… and scented markers. (Brilliant. Let’s provide both a distraction and a gateway to huffing at the same time.)

And I think… Do these kids really need all that stuff?

I’ve been buying school supplies for a quarter century now. So I consider myself a back-to-school veteran of sorts. I’ve done multiple tours: preschool, elementary, middle school, high school and college. And I’ve suffered flesh wounds in the Battle of Dollar General.

And you know what I’ve come to realize?

My daughter needs me to supply her with far more than index cards and safety scissors.

Along with a handful of highlighters, she needs me to highlight and celebrate all the ways she’s learning and growing. Not just academically and intellectually. But relationally and spiritually. In discernment, compassion, grit, grace.

Along with a ruler, she needs me to measure her against herself, not compare her to her classmates, teammates or siblings.

Along with pink erasers, she needs me to teach her to learn from her mistakes… but leave her failures where they belong: in the past.

Along with fine-line markers, she needs me to teach her the fine line between humility and insecurity… And the verrrrryyy fine line between confidence and arrogance.

Along with Post-Its, she needs me to guide and keep an eye on her social media posts… and help her avoid the pitfalls of constant comparison and FOMO. And the Insta-filtered-and-fueled onslaught of self-objectification… self-doubt… and self-pity. (#triplethreat)

Along with a PE uniform, she needs me to provide an example of physical fitness, emotional wellness and spiritual strength. (And given the escalation of gun violence across the country, I’m inclined to provide body armor too. But that’s another blog for another day.)

The supplies my daughter needs most can’t be rung up at a register at Target.

We can’t just give our kids all the “stuff” and sign them up for all the “things” (while we remain distracted/stressed/emotionally unavailable)… and think they’re gonna turn out ok.

They won’t.

(The latest mental health statistics prove it.)

Kids – even high school kids – need this critical trio of “supplies” from their folks:

A sense of security. Which requires a fair amount of structure… and a whole lot of comfort, counsel, and clear – reasonable – expectations.

A safety net. Something to hold onto – and help them up – when they stumble or fall. A deep faith. A close-knit family. A supportive team. A circle of real, true-blue, faithful friends… not fakers/takers/heartbreakers. A passion for art, music, theater, ____________. Or all of the above.

And (here’s the biggie)…

The gift of time.

Twenty years ago (when we were young, relatively clueless parents), our pastor bestowed this pearl of wisdom:

Kids spell love T-I-M-E.

Though many would deny this (especially 13 – 17-year-old boys, in my experience) it’s the gift they want most. Our precious time.

Face time. Yes, this does in fact mean face-to-face, phones down, no distractions. I’ve come to realize that my full and undivided attention is a gift I give far too infrequently. I… we… must do better. Our kids deserve it.

Game time. True confessions: I’m not the “fun” parent around here. I’m the taskmaster and the bad cop. But I’m learning to let loose a little more… and I’m realizing that being silly and playing games and goofing around is pretty much every kid’s love language.

Down time. Kids need a break sometimes. Often, actually. Just like us, they need to unwind/rest/breathe/be still. (And contrary to popular belief, boredom can be a blessing.)

Hang time. If they want to invite friends over, count yourself blessed… and say YES.

(Just do it.)

Crunch time. Life is tough. Kids are pretty resilient but they have to learn how to meet challenges, fight through adversity… and face consequences. Consequences are good teachers. Parents who do an end run on behalf of their kids aren’t doing them any favors. They’re only delaying the inevitable setback… or suffering. Every once in a while, we all need some hard truth and tough love – pruning – so we can grow and bloom and flourish.

Quiet time. Actual silence. No Spotify or Netflix or YouTube videos. No earbuds or airpods or wireless speakers. No noise whatsoever. Because quiet invites…

Peace.

And that’s something you can’t buy in the back-to-school aisle either.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, fully-supplied school year!

Wendy

P.S. If you – like me – find yourself feeling under-stocked and ill-equipped to supply your kiddos with everything they need, I encourage you to go straight to the Distributor:

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Survivor: Summer Break Edition

It’s officially, finally, happily SUMMERTIME! (Except on the East Coast where they prefer to keep children holed up in stuffy classrooms until nearly – literally – Independence Day. May God help those wild-eyed, desperate… teachers.)

Now I know it isn’t actually summer summer. It’s the tail end of spring. But school’s out, pools/parks/playgrounds are packed, grills are fired up and the ice cream truck is making its rounds.

I’ll take a raspberry Sno-Cone, please. I know, I know… artificial colors and corn syrup.

(That crunchy ice, though.)

Despite the fact that the same kids who’ve been whining and fussing and moaning and complaining about school have finally been released from the routines and rigors of formal education, it’ll likely only be about 10 days – give or take – before they start whining and fussing and moaning and complaining again.

Just days after the kids have emptied their cubbies/lockers/desks and ditched their backpacks/lunch sacks/socks/alarm clocks, parents will hear that dreaded refrain:

I’m bored.

‘Tis the season.

The wearisome, exasperating, sweltering season of sunblock, bug spray, Band Aids, and… inexplicable boredom.

Mornings seem to last seventeen hours… and afternoons stretch for days. By dinnertime, Quiet, Calm, Kind and Compliant have vacated the premises. And their wicked cousins Whiny, Messy, Loud and Unruly have settled in for the evening.

If not for babysitters, central air and Advil, very few parents would survive until TFDOS. (The First Day of School… cue the Hallelujah Chorus.)

Don’t get me wrong. Boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can spark creativity, increase focus, forge friendships… and give parents good reason to assign extra chores. And while I always maintained that it wasn’t my job to be a summer camp counselor/cruise director/party planner, I didn’t want to be a total killjoy either.

Once upon a summertime, I made a list (both because I’m a compulsive list-maker and because summer always seemed to suck the creative/playful/fun right out of me) of indoor and outdoor boredom-busters. Essentially a “bucket list” of activities, adventures and outings for the preschool/primary set. When the natives got restless, I’d turn to my strategic summer survival guide for ideas – and relief. Here’s a sampling:

Backyard picnic. (Basically – lunch outside on a blanket). Amazing how a change of scenery magically distracts and delights. Bonus: no spills or crumbs on the kitchen floor.

Coloring or drawing contest… or a painting party (for those who like to live on the edge).

Wash the car, water the flowers or clean the bikes. (Who cares if the plants get watered or the car/bikes get cleaned?) Keep a stack of towels by the door.

Make your own pizza. Got mozzarella and tomato sauce? I used to buy pre-made crusts, but if you’ve got flour, olive oil and such, let little fingers knead dough for a homemade pie.

Catch fireflies. Give the kids a clear glass mayo/mason jar and send them on an early evening expedition in the backyard. 

Snail mail. Write a letter or send original artwork to the grandparents or the troops.

Dance party. Create a playlist of favorites… and let ’em dress up and wear themselves out!

Lemonade stand. Proceeds to a children’s charity. (Let your kids deliver their donation.)

Photo contest. Hand over the iPhone, choose a theme (colors, nature, shapes, favorite things) and let them take 10 photos. Print and display the best photos on the frig.

Sugar cookie decorating. (Not for the faint of heart, but a tablecloth or tarp makes the frosting and sprinkles cleanup a little less daunting.) 

Blanket fort or bedsheet teepee. (Climb inside and read some books by flashlight.)

Leaf prints and flower pressing. Easy, artsy, frame-worthy fun.

Ice cream-for-lunch day. (Make sure it’s a nice day, so they can “detox” from the sugar buzz outside.)

DIY project: homemade play-dough, slime, suncatchers or birdfeeders.

Busy bags. Filled with sidewalk chalk, bubbles, stickers, puzzles, glow sticks and bath toys.

Plenty of (free or inexpensive) places to go too:

Library (story time). Nature trail. Outdoor concert or theater performance. Factory tour. Farmer’s market. Fire station visit. Free movie or museum days. 

Pool or water park. Pack up those floaties, sunscreen, beach towels, pool toys (including those unwieldy giant noodles), ear plugs, nose plugs, swim diapers (for heaven’s and health inspectors’ sake, please do not forget these), snacks and water bottles, swim shoes, change of clothes… Never mind. Just stay home and turn on the hose. Everyone will still get wet. And hopefully wiped out, so… naps for all. Including the parent(s).

I wryly (and somewhat wistfully) refer to 1990-2005 as the nap-and-tuck years.

Partly because I felt like I was constantly counting the minutes ’til nap time… or wishing for bedtime tuck-in. And God-willing, a little peace. (And quiet.) But also because…

Is there anything sweeter than watching your little one sleep?

Honestly, back in those rough-and-tumble, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, feeding/ folding/sighing/crying, cleaning-up and carting-around, daunting and desperate days, I soaked up every single sweet, snuggly, blissful and lovely moment to be had… and stored them in my heart for safekeeping. (Those little graces helped me soldier on.)

But the real game-changer/life-saver/sanity-preserver of the nap-and-tuck years was this:

Putting MYSELF on time-out.

Not. Even. Kidding.

When my strength was sapped, morale low, bedtime still hours away… and I found myself utterly emptied of kindness, compassion, patience, gentleness and anything resembling self-restraint, I’d drag myself into our closet… and lock myself in… until my agitation and aggravation subsided. (Yes, I was sometimes on mommy-time-out for an hour. And only twice did a minor catastrophe take place in my absence.)

I remember the kids staring wide-eyed the first time I informed them I was giving myself a time-out. They were stunned into relative tranquility… or maybe they were terrified? Either way, it got eerily quiet all through the house and I made a break for the stairs.

Sometimes, you just need to step away… exhale (or cry)… pray… and regroup.

And remember that (in the words of my dear mother and other sages):

“This too shall pass.”

Those really hard days will fade into distant memory. The endless summers will be a blur. And believe it or not, you’ll fondly reminisce about this. All of it. (Even the sticky fingerprints.)

You know why?

Togetherness.

Because someday those little people are gonna grow up.

And leave you.

(Oh sure, they’ll probably come back from time-to-time – for holidays, home-cooking or a much-needed hug. And, trust me, your heart will soar when they do.)

But they will lead increasingly separate lives. Just as they should.

Just as you raised them to.

Yes, dear parents of littles, the days are excruciatingly long… but the years fly by.

And someday… you will miss this.

More than you can imagine.

Wendy

P.S. If your kiddos are lucky enough to have devoted grandparents, godparents, aunts or uncles who are nearby/helpful/involved, thank the good LORD… and them. Often.

 

Especially Needed

IMG_2739

This one is for every momma and daddy chosen by God for special assignment.

The parents of the kids who live/learn/look different than most. (You know, the ones the playground bullies call misfits or freaks… or worse.)

The parents of students too often perceived as slow or stupid, deemed “unable” or “disabled” and marginalized in many of the fine arts, athletic and extracurricular opportunities afforded most kids. (Which makes them feel – nearly every day – less than.)

The parents of the ones targeted by verbal abusers, who hear the “R” word on the regular, who grow accustomed to sitting alone, staying quiet, staring at their shoes. The kids trying to survive school (days… years), sometimes without a single true friend.

This is for every mom who’s had to leave a public place mid-errand because her daughter – diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder – had a full-scale meltdown due to impulse control problems, sensory overload or debilitating anxiety.

Every dad who spends hours shooting hoops with his son – diagnosed with an emotional and behavioral disorder – because none of the neighbor kids invite him to play. Ever.

Every mom who makes three different meals for her kids because they have different diagnoses – oral-motor difficulties and sensory processing disorder – and their tastes, texture responses and chew/swallow capabilities vary widely.

Every dad who spends hours each week helping his adult son – diagnosed with dyspraxia – shave his face because fine motor problems make that task nearly impossible. (Or a bloody mess.)

Every set of parents who has spent countless hours caring/comforting/correcting/ protecting/advocating/intervening/teaching/researching/scheduling and meeting with doctors, therapists, psychologists, special educators, social workers and tutors so their child can know his worth, find his way and reach his potential… or “just keep swimming” upstream in the mainstream.

This one’s for you, weary momma. (You too, sleep-deprived daddy.)

I see you. I get it. I’ve been there. Right where you’re standing. Or kneeling.

(Or curling up in a fetal position.)

On hard, holy ground.

And here’s what I want you to know, love.

You’re not alone.

And neither is your kid.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up… Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)

Thank God. Help is (on) the Way.

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. And here’s what all of us parents of autistic and developmentally-disabled kids wish everyone else knew:

Every kid has special needs. Our kids’ needs aren’t more or worse. They’re just different.

Our kiddos get hurt when your kiddos whisper, point, stare and/or steer clear of them. Encourage your kids to get to know ours. (Start here: Smile. Say hi. Sit nearby.)

Just because our kiddos struggle with social cues doesn’t mean they don’t want friends.  And it also doesn’t mean they’re oblivious to teasing, taunting and other mistreatment. No one should ever be called a “retard” or a “reject.”

Ever.

Our kids may not be able to do what your kids can do. But they are extraordinary too… and able. Able to connect. And care. Able to feel. And fill a place in this great big world that no one else ever could. Able to learn and laugh and love (BIG). Able to find joy in the simplest things. Able to reflect beauty and bravery with stunning clarity.

The bottom line is this:

A diagnosis or disability shouldn’t define a person.

Labels are for clothes, containers and canning jars… not people.

People are God’s masterpieces, that’s why.

For we are His workmanship [His own master work, a work of art], created in Christ Jesus [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, ready to be used] for good works, which God prepared [for us] beforehand [taking paths which He set], so that we would walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us]. ~ Ephesians 2:10 (AMP)

Exquisitely created by God. Made for good works… and meant for the good life.

All of us.

Not just those who sit still or speak clearly or happen to perform well on standardized tests.

Every body.

Our incredibly special kiddos want to be seen, not stared at. Heard, not hushed. Treasured, not tolerated.

If we want to be more like Jesus, we need to celebrate every kind of diversity. Developmental, intellectual, chromosomal, and cognitive too.

Because wonder comes in all kinds of packages.

(And God doesn’t make mistakes.)

“Learning differences” doesn’t simply mean hidden strengths or undervalued abilities. It means unique perspectives, priorities, vision, and passion.

A fresh outlook. Invaluable insight. Infinite worth.

Because God said so.

And just like He does, we ought to cherish our children. Celebrate the best in them (and bear the worst). Embrace the possibilities. Affirm all the divinely-appointed potential.

Let’s keep encouraging, uplifting, applauding.

Let’s give blessings and big hugs and high fives.

Let’s savor every step and stride. (Each one is a tiny-but-mighty miracle.)

Let’s treasure every triumph… and honor every tear. Like our Father does.

You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book. ~ Psalm 56:8 (TLB)

Our God sees, knows, cares… comforts.

My son has a laundry list of diagnoses, but none of them mean anything to him. Or us. Zack is funny and fiercely loyal. Passionate and particular. Humble and kind.

Zack is adamant about fairness… but he’s also the first to forgive when he gets shafted or shorted. Zack is strong and healthy… but he cares deeply about the weak, the sick, the suffering. Zack knows the power of words. He feels (deeply) every blessing. And curse.

He’s a big fan of college sports, country music, cheeseburgers and naps. And he’s good at putting things together.

When he was little, it was 100-piece Thomas the Tank Engine puzzles. And now it’s electrical and industrial pre-fab assemblies. He’s good at this stuff. Really good. Come to think of it, he’s a lot like the LORD that way. Taking things in pieces… or falling apart… and putting them back together. (Like Father, like son.)

But you know what Zack really wants?

He wants his life to count. Wants to contribute and connect. With God and other people.

Despite his learning disabilities, Zack is a gifted teacher. He taught me how to be a mom. He guided me away from controlling tendencies and conditional love and toward faith and compassion. He tutored me in persistence and patience. (And yes, he tested it too.) Honestly… Zack has taught me more about mercy and goodness and good humor than any professor, pastor, teacher or counselor I’ve ever had.

To me, Zack isn’t “special needs.”

He’s especially needed.

In our family.

And in the world.

Z ~ I love you all the way up to heaven and back a million zillion times.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Momma

P.S. If you or someone you love is a young adult who lives with the label “autistic” or “developmentally disabled” and wants to lose the label – and find an awesome community of friends and mentors, let me know. To learn more about our nonprofit, Seeds of Hope (which provides mentoring, vocational training and jobs for young adults like Zack), please visit our website.

Confessions of an Impatient, Imperfect, Nit-Picking Parent

(This one’s for all the mommas who reached the end of their patience before the end of the summer.)

Anyone who’s been a parent for more than 72 hours knows this…

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

You’ve got to be tough and tender, flexible and firm, instantly responsive and exceedingly patient. And that’s just for starters.

Last week was one of the worst in my parenting career. And I’ve had some doozies, believe me. After 28 and a half years on the job, I still haven’t mastered it. Not even close. (To be fair, though, the job description has changed… weekly.)

Recently – regrettably – I stooped to a new low. I did the underhanded interrogator/ overbearing drill sergeant/uppity church lady routine. And my 20-something was having none of it. So I let it go.

(In my dreams.)

No, the truth is… I didn’t let it go. I dug in deeper. I scoffed, scowled, and scolded. Meddled, muddled, manipulated, and just generally made a mess of things. Thankfully, my kid is the forgiving type. (If he were a grudge-holder, I’d be toast.)

The devil didn’t make me do it. It was all me.

Yeah, sometimes you just fall flat on your face… and suck mud.

I sucked.

I’ve always wanted to be the mom who’s willing to play the game, read the story, stack the blocks again (for the eleventh time in a row). The one who starts the ticklefest, the water war, the pillow fight. The one who throws impromptu cupcake/fingerpaint/Play-Doh parties for the littles and French press/film fest/Fortnite parties for the bigs. The mom who’s attentive and affectionate, wise and witty, playful and prayerful, faithful and FUN. I want to be the welcoming committee, sounding board, prayer team, and biggest fan.

And on my best days, I am.

But…

I can be lazy, short-sighted, selfish, impatient, presumptuous and downright b!#<%y too. (If not for coffee and Jesus, there’d be no survivors.)

When I feel stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed, I get irritable, inflexible, unreasonable. And the more I say, the more I sin.

I overstate, exaggerate, manipulate. I assume, accuse, cajole and – (wince) – judge.

Thank God for this:

Love covers a multitude of sins.

(Can I get a “Hallelujah” from all the other humans with offspring?)

A mom friend once said to me: Little kids, little problems. Big kids, bigger problems. At the time, I remember thinking, Have you ever tried to extract a Polly Pocket playset piece from the itsy bitsy teeny tiny nasal cavity of a writhing, hysterical toddler? That’s a very small, VERY BIG problem.

But now I get it.

Instead of spilled milk, mysterious rashes and choking hazards… it’s speeding tickets, sexting and cyber bullies.

(It’s excruciating… waiting for the whole “cause and effect” concept to take hold.)

Lord, have mercy.

I do think it’s pretty great that God chose to make newborns stationary. You plop them down someplace and – miraculously – they stay right where you left them. I believe He did this to give new parents a chance to acclimate to having a very small, very needy human being in close proximity, one who’s incessantly hungry/thirsty/sleepy/poopy. At least they stay put. But not for long. Soon, they get rolling… and “sit, stay” rarely happens again. Their inclination is to scooch, crawl, walk, or ride their bikes as far from us as possible. Next thing you know, they’re 16, 17, 18, 19… and they’re asking for the keys so they can drive away. Far, far away. Into the big city. Or the mountains. (In Colorado.)

From the time they take their first steps, we encourage our kids to seek and savor independence. But what we don’t realize is that the more independent they become, the less control we have. And the more terrifying it is. And, well…

Desperate mommas do desperate things.

When it comes right down to it, most of my parenting failures are a direct result of my own anxiety and insecurities. Though it pains me to admit it, I often parent from a place of fear, pride, or a pretty anemic notion of love.

Let’s face it: parental fears are persistent… and plentiful. Injury, illness, insect bites and infestations. (If you’ve never had to wield a fine-toothed nit comb and lice-killing cream rinse, you should drop to your knees right now and give thanks with a grateful heart.)

The world is a perilous place to grow up. Not only do we have to worry about mean girls, bad boys, bullies and predators; we now need to issue urgent warnings about opiods, active shooters and texting/driving fatalities.

Worse yet, even when my kids manage to steer clear of the danger zone, I turn and fall headlong into another “parent trap.”

Pride.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made is parenting by popular opinion. (It’s a minefield, littered with high horses, haughtiness, blame and shame. Don’t go there.)

Another biggie was openly (and smugly) stating all the things I’d never do if my son _______________ or when my daughter ________________.

Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.

Yep.

Invariably, that very thing you swore you’d never do… you’ll do it. And discover you’ve tumbled headfirst into the pit of despair (with all the other demoralized, defeated, derelict parents). You’re facedown, eating crow. And there’s only one thing to do.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

(He’s got strong arms.)

But the thing I most regret in all my years of parenting is this:

Conditional love.

I love you if you…

I love you when you…

I love you… but…

Not only am I guilty. I’m a repeat offender.

I dole out love in meager doses… or with a laundry list of prerequisites.

Why can’t I just love him freely and fully just the way he is? Why don’t I love her lavishly even when/if/though… Why can’t I just pour out love like there’s unlimited free refills? Splash it all around? Drench my kids in kindness and mercy and grace?

Maybe because I haven’t steeped long enough in Love and Living Water myself. Maybe because I don’t often enough go to my Father for advice. Maybe because I’m inclined to keep wandering far, far away. Which is pretty foolish… because I’m lost without Him.

The only perfect parent is the One enthroned above. His love never fails.

He’s a good, good Father.

And His mercies are new every morning… Before the alarm goes off and the lunches are made and the backpacks are loaded. (Even before the coffee is done brewing.)

What a relief!

Wendy

P.S. One last confession: I was not (and never have been) the momma who shed a few tears on the first day of school. I was the one doing the happy dance all the way home from the bus stop.

What Mom Really Wants

My dear reader,

This is a public service announcement to everyone who has a mom on the planet. Or a step-, foster- or fairy godmother. Or a female guardian/grandma/den mother/team mom/mother-from-another-brother… or momager. (Kylie and Kendall, I’m talking to you.)

Mother’s Day will be upon us in less than 48 hours. Stay woke.

I realize some of you may secretly rankle at the thought of paying homage to your mom, year after year after year. Maybe you think Mother’s Day is overhyped… or undeserved.

Think again, dear heart. (<Withholding judgment, making no mention of cluelessness, self-absorption or ingratitude on the part of those who don’t observe this holiday.)

Mothering is the toughest and most tricky/trying/tiring (and occasionally terrifying) job around. It’s also the most tender/terrific/transcendent (and occasionally triumphant) job around. Which is why Homo sapiens aren’t extinct.

Do you have any idea how much strength, skill, faith and fortitude it takes to suction nasal passages, administer oral medication, and remove a wad of earwax from a writhing, hysterical toddler? And then immediately thereafter wash and sort 37 pairs of socks (in sizes/colors/brands/designs ranging from 2T to C3PO, team colors to white-turned-dull-grey, Adidas to assorted dinosaurs), change 3 diapers, read 6 board books (or read the same board book 6 times), provide engineering consultation for a Lego fortress, apply teething gel, load a crockpot, extract a splinter, teach a math lesson using blueberries, tie a bib/shoe/superhero cape, craft a carefully-worded email to an overzealous T-ball coach, bathe a dog and a handful of grimy action figures, kiss/clean/bandage 2 boo boos, make organic applesauce (after chaperoning the preschool orchard field trip yesterday), unclog a toilet, research skin rashes and night terrors, play Mario Kart/Candyland/Connect 4, find a pacifier, a pair of glasses, the remote control, a sippy cup, a stuffed elephant and 3 overdue library books, fix a broken zipper, create a template for a princess crown from a paper plate, schedule a dentist appointment, battle grass and ketchup stains, arrange a playdate, dispense nutritional/behavioral/hygiene advice and unload the dishwasher all before 8:30 am? (But for Christ and coffee, none could prevail.)

And this is just the apprenticeship program, folks. Eventually these moms of preschoolers will be required to brave the wild frontier of kindergarten, run the gauntlet of the primary grades which includes the raging inferno of 3rd grade homework-hell as well as the dreaded 5th grade science fair project, only to then suffer the crucible of adolescence. Godspeed to all the moms with kids in junior high. (I mean that.)

The reward for mothers who survive to this point?

High school. Which is not nearly as perfectly pitched and well-choreographed as the Disney musical.

Yep, we get to revisit those four years of angst and acne and awkward once again. And watch our kids do all the stupid things we did. And cringe/pace/pray as they pull out of the driveway for the first time… and try to find their way in this crazy world.

We mother them, try not to smother them, and then send them off to a place filled with other inexperienced, immature, impulsive teenagers, knowing full well the potential for heartache and havoc wreaked by bad boys, mean girls, fakers, takers, drama queens, bullies, posers, pushers… and…

Snapchat.

(Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.)

I’ve been a mom since 1990. Which means I’ve been “celebrated” on 28 Mother’s Days. And I’ve decided it’s high time I let you in on a little secret.

Here’s what moms really want:

A little gratitude.

Even after kindergarten, “thanks” is still a magic word. Especially when it is accompanied by real-life, heartfelt specifics. As in, thank you for feeding me every dang day for 18+ years. That’s 6570 dinners and 2405 sack lunches, give or take. (Breakfast is self-serve around here. Cheerios, anyone?)

I know, I know. Your mom’s not perfect. You’ve got a gripe or two. Or maybe you have hundreds. And they’re all legit. If so, I’m sorry. I truly am. And I pray you find peace. In a perfect world, everyone should get an incredible momma. But isn’t there something – anything – you can thank yours for? How about your life? She did give you free room and board for about nine months before you were born. (And she could have legally put an end to you earlier, if she chose. So there’s that.) If you can muster up a little mercy for your less-than-perfect mom…

Give thanks. And do so sweetly, sincerely, specifically. (Preferably in person.)

A text – even a lengthy one with blowing kisses and a colorful string of heart emojis – doesn’t really cut it. (Fear not, far-flung millenials, there’s always FaceTime.) Even if you’ve been a stinkbomb lately, your mom wants to hear your voice. And your apology, if it’s ready… and doesn’t contain the word “but.” Any and all words of genuine gratitude, affection, affirmation, and love are always welcome.

Always.

You know what else Mom wants?

A helping hand. (Do dishes. Fold laundry. Wash windows. Sweep the garage. Vacuum her car. STRAIGHTEN YOUR ROOM!) Can’t afford a Mother’s Day gift? Clean the bathrooms. (That includes tubs and toilets, rookie.) You will be her Mother’s Day hero(ine). A pristine bathroom is right up there with pearls… and Hamilton tickets.

A token of affection. Preferably a lasting one. Put a little thought – and heart – into it. That means just. say. no. to the paltry bouquet near the checkout at Kroger. And the big box of assorted chocolates strategically located there too. (Especially if she’s trying to eat Paleo. Pay attention, people.) Don’t get me wrong, chocolate is essential in the trenches of motherhood, both for consolation and celebration. But a pre-wrapped package of Fannie May Meltaways requires no effort or creativity whatsoever. Think outside the box. What are her favorite places and pasttimes? What does she like to wear/read/eat/enjoy? Choose something meaningful and wrap it with heartstrings. (Framed photos, original artwork, homemade treats, and tickets/reservations/itineraries for a special outing/adventure together earn bonus points.)

And then there’s the always-coveted and rarely-bestowed holy grail of Mother’s Day bounty for all the weary mommas who are on duty 24/7/365:

A day off.

A blessed, blissful… break. A “Get Out of Cooking/Cleaning/Caregiving Free” card. An afternoon all to herself. Time to read/rest/relax. Or run/spin/kickbox, if that’s her thing. A few hours to wander a park, meander a mall, hike a trail, or simply stroll… without the stroller. After the shock wears off (and before the offer is rescinded), most moms will be racing for the door, feeling positively giddy. Or putting on PJs and climbing back into bed. (Every mom on the planet knows that sleep deprivation turns ugly… quick. We fight back with everything in our arsenal: catnaps, chamomile tea, lavender oil, and liquid therapy. Meaning whatever’s on sale at Total Wine.)

But what about the moms whose babies have already – and all too soon – grown and flown? The ones who sigh wistfully when they see mommas with littles in the grocery store, pushing piled-high carts and sorting coupons and corralling offspring. They (we) remember the kiddie chaos, the sheer exhaustion, the desperate prayers. And we reflect on the hard, humbling, holy work that is mothering.

All we want this Mother’s Day is…

You.

The gift of your presence. The welcome sight of your smiling face. The warmth of that big bear hug. The wonder in those twinkling eyes. That unmistakable laugh. The inside jokes.

The precious gift of togetherness.

(Those of us who have buried our mommas, we know now… how precious it really is.)

So, go on now.

Honor/hug/humor/help your mother this weekend. Say “thank you” for something specific. Bless her… and give her a break. (Or a nap.)

“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:2-3)

Looking for the good life?

Bless your momma.

Wendy

P.S. Happy Mother’s Day – and CONGRATULATIONS – to the winner of my little Spring Fling Reader Contest, Charlene M of Illinois! Your DIY garden gift package is on its way!

Tantrums & Time-Outs

My dear reader,

First, let’s take a moment to celebrate the fact that we somehow managed to survive the month of January. (Insert party popper emojis here!) No small feat when you consider the somewhat tense transfer-of-power, the political polarization of our populace, the unavoidable problems/pressures/pains of daily life, and the rather pitiful forecast – both civilly and meteorologically-speaking.

CONGRATS!!!!!!!

And kudos for continuing onward, you fierce, fab Feb-fighter!

You and me, we’ve deftly maneuvered through the greys and the grind of January… and now we must forge ahead through this dismal stretch otherwise known as February. There’s that desk (sink) piled high with paperwork (pots and pans), the stinky laundry and that sticky situation, the screaming baby (boss) we can’t ignore, a worrisome text or two (or ten), and that blasted, broken fuel pump/furnace/family. Who’s going to repair that?

If life is a highway, there sure are a lot of potholes, detours and blowouts along the way. (And more than a few impaired drivers, if you ask me.)

I remember when the boys were little… Well, actually, I don’t remember much of anything from back then. The kids’ medical records are what I like to call “historical fiction.” They are based on real events, but the dates/breaks/ sicknesses/surgeries are mostly my best guesstimates. (Stitches?  Yep, pretty sure he had a few. Circa 1996. Ish.)

The”nap and tuck” years – as I like to call them – were a blur. All fourteen of them. Breastfeeding, board books, baby wipes and booster seats, pacifiers and Play-Doh and pillow fights, Cheerios and Goldfish and swim lessons and speech therapy, diapers, Duplos and Disney merchandise, broken zippers, lost toys and spilled milk/juice/Pedialyte. An entire decade (the 90s) went by, and I’m not sure if I showered, sat, or slept more than 3 minutes in a row at any point, except on special occasions and Sundays.

*** At this time, I’d like to take a quick moment to acknowledge and bless our beloved babysitters, all the church nursery volunteers, my hardworking hairstylist who massaged a massive buildup of dry shampoo out of my hair every six weeks, the inventor of the Huggies Pull-Up (basically a “big boy” diaper that vaguely resembles underwear and makes it acceptable to send a not-quite-completely-toilet-trained two-year-old to preschool) my girlfriends who valiantly stood the ground alongside me in the trenches of toddlerhood, and my handsome, helpful husband, all of whom helped preserve my sanity during said decade. (For the most part, anyway.)  ***

The toughest thing about those years? It wasn’t really the sleep deprivation or choking hazards or ear infections or Pinkeye or head lice (I may have some mild post-traumatic stress symptoms lingering. Is it itchy in here?  Or is it just me?) or teething or training or tonsillectomies.  It was the tantrums, hands down. (And as I recall, tummy and toes were down too.  Hands and feet pounding the floor, head flailing, tears streaming, cheeks flushed, and vocal chords activated… full force.) Ah, the misty water-colored memories of the way we were. Pretty sure a couple of these gems are captured on the security camera videos at the Target on Route 59. For posterity.

Post-tantrum, the poor soul was left sweaty, sulky, and spent. Completely downcast, utterly demoralized… and invariably doomed for an early bedtime.

Point of clarification: I mean me.

Tantrums happen when we don’t get what we want. Glow-in-the-dark Nerf footballs, for instance. Or Skittles. Or a raise. Or a ring. Or some respect. (In case anybody asks, I’d like a Range Rover… and some R & R in the Riviera.)

Whether it’s candy, comfort, cooperation, or commendation, we want it. And we want it now.

(Chop, chop.)

Spoiled rotten, raging control freaks. Every last one of us. If you don’t think you are, just ask your parent/partner/precious offspring. They’ll set you straight.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way. (James 4:1-3, The Message)

Nearly every day, we encounter trials, tribulation, toil and trouble. And most of it involves some sort of power struggle. Parent vs. toddler… or teen. Boss vs. employee. Student vs. teacher. Wife vs. husband. Neighbor vs. neighbor. We face frenemies and passive-aggressors. Alpha dog-fights and catty co-workers. Manipulators, posers, and predators.  And the inevitable response kicks in:

FIGHT OR FLIGHT.

We get mad… or run scared. We cling and claw and clamor for the upper hand. We judge, justify, jab and juke. We spite, spit, and spew. Or we… Simply. Shut. Down. We – I – unleash my razor-sharp tongue and go for the jugular. Or I clench my fists, grit my teeth, and silently seethe.  And maybe slam a few cabinets shut, just for effect.

Either way, what I really need is a time-out.

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

I need to take a step back and take a deep breath… and let God in. Let His grace and goodness wash over me. Soak in His peace and patience and kindness and gentleness.

Otherwise I can do some pretty colossal damage pretty darn quick.

I have a vivid memory of one particularly vexing day. My lively, lovely, bouncing bundles of boy became… stark raving lunatics. They were loud, rowdy, downright beastly. As soon as this one-woman cleanup crew would clear an area of kiddie debris, I would stumble upon another cataclysmic disaster zone. It was February (cabin fever raging), and it was the bewitching hour (that post-nap, pre-dinner period of peril). And the subzero wind chill had prevented me from locking them outside all day. Drat. So I just kept picking up, picking my battles, and issuing emphatic reprimands for disorderly conduct. (Translation: I spent the entire day yelling at the whole lot of ’em.)

And then it happened.

One of the boys (to this day, they all maintain their innocence) took approximately 72 Hallmark gold crown seals and firmly affixed them to our freshly-painted living room wall while I was upstairs trying to sort through all those tiny little pieces from the Game of Life. (Ironic, I know.) By the time I caught sight of our new wall decor, the adhesive was seriously, irreversibly stuck. I gasped, gaped, and gave the boys my most menacing glare. They could tell I was about to blow… and braced for impact.

And then something stopped me cold. And quick. (I’m sure it was the Good LORD Himself. Swooping in at exactly the right moment to make the rescue and save the little wretches. Amazing grace, to be sure.)

Right before I morphed into a Mad, Maniacal Momster whose shrill screams could be heard all the way down at the Department of Child and Family Services, I stopped… and turned the tables on them. Well, not literally. No children were crushed beneath kitchen furniture that day, although there was a time when Mitch tugged the chains inside our grandfather clock and pulled the entire thing right down on top of himself. Somehow in a terrifying, odds-defying happenstance, his little toddler body fit perfectly inside the compartment where the clock chimes were housed. And despite the unhinged door and shattered glass – and the sheer weight of the thing – miraculously, he emerged without a cut, bruise or broken bone. Not a single scratch on the little stinker. (Another astounding rescue! Wow, Jesus, You’re good at this stuff.)

Well, after a valiant attempt at scraping the gold seals off the wall with a fingernail, a spatula, and a paint scraper – to no avail – I calmly made an announcement that rendered my boys still and silent for nearly six seconds (a record that still holds):

“Boys, I’m giving myself a time-out.”

They stared at me, all shocked and awestruck. I walked slowly up the stairs and into my bedroom, closed the door, and then went into the master bath, and sat down on the edge of the tub. And sobbed.

I sobbed about my naughty little boys and my gold-sealed wall and my desperate lack of patience (and apparently, effective parenting skills). I wept and prayed and poured out my heart to my Father in heaven. I told Him I needed help with this monumental task of raising boys to become fine, strong, gentle (or at least slightly less destructive) men. I told Him I needed wisdom and strength. And a whole heap of patience. And a little glimmer of hope. And I know He heard me because next thing I knew there was a knight in shining Under Armour kneeling next to me on the bathroom floor and stroking my hair and handing me tissue and telling me everything would be ok.

“Listen, babe, there’s this great stuff called DIF that’ll lift those sticky seals right off the wall, lickety split. And the boys will have to help. So, no worries.”

Did I mention that my man is the best one I know?

Truly, he is.

And then Steve asked me the $64,000 question (well, actually I think it was around twenty bucks, including tax, tip, and delivery. I had a coupon.)

“Wanna order pizza tonight?”

We did (have pizza) and he did (get the stickers off the wall), and I did (get that tile grout clean) and God did (help me – and the boys – survive those nap-and-tuck years).

Our boys are 18, 20, 23, and 26 now. And, by God’s grace, they’ve grown up pretty good.

Chloe, however, has suddenly become a teenager. (Excuse me, but when and how did this happen?!?!) And she’s currently in the process of “individuating,” a term derived from medieval Latin and defined as “forming into a distinct entity.” According to Carl Jung it is the central process of human development. (According to me, it means “pushing back and/or talking back.”) Individuating is occasionally infuriating.

So every once in a while, I still give myself a time-out.

And God always meets me there.

Gratefully,

Wendy

P.S. Toddler moms, first let me say this: GOD BLESS YOU, BRAVE SOUL.  I know you had no idea what you were getting into during those trimesters you filled searching nursery decorating ideas on Pinterest and online shopping at BurtsBeesBaby.com. I know because I was once pregnant and clueless too. (Pretty sure it’s a universal occurrence amongst first-timers.)  Just hang in there, weary mama… eventually something freeing and revitalizing and revolutionary will happen. It’s called kindergarten. (If you’re planning to homeschool, I pray an extra measure of grace – and gumption – for you. Oh, and a grandma nearby.) In the meantime, you can find that magical substance called DIF at Lowe’s or Home Depot.