Welcoming Interruptions and Inefficiency

I have started this blog post exactly countless times.

I come to the pen or keyboard daily to construct bridges from words and to extract what needs a portal from the land of ideas to our concrete world.

It is this exact moment, as any mother in the long history of mothers will verify, that the happy baby can only remain that way through holds and the child capable of shimming up doorjambs to reach the nether tops of the fridge, who can burp the alphabet in one pass, is wildly incapable of pouring his own glass of water. Inevitably, the toilet overflows. Interruptions, invariably.

I have popped down our hill to the grocery store no less than three times the past eighteen hours, because while I can remember the queso fresco and green chiles and all the yummies to make kid quesadilla lunches feel like an event, I cannot make it back with the cheddar.

This is what my life feels like. A lot of hustle. A steady stream of interruptions. A lot of inefficiency and little productivity.

It is easy to become annoyed or pile on the shoulds. Falling asleep (again) on an Elsa duvet wedged between a sleeping child and a hard plastic doll feels like self-betrayal. During the daylight interruptions I had mentally promised to conquer. this. shiz post bedtime. Yet; sleep wins every time.

I scroll through the squares and start chastising myself for why I haven’t figured this be a woman, be a wife, be a mom thing out yet. I readily forget the lady reading in a hammock with hot cocoa is in her twenties without kids.

We are here, muck deep in mid thirties. Sweating children, cheating time, and praying for rest. Still, we dream.

Can the presence of divinity and social change begin with tiny domestic acts right here? We are audacious enough to believe they can. Right here, in the emergency run for Iron Man pull-ups, in the swaddle of a crying baby, in the quesadillas cut just so and the interruptions for water refills.

This year I look forward to more writing and an attempt to be more zen about interruptions. I rest in the fact that during this phase of life, living big means tiny acts at home, for the tiny humans here and for myself. Little increments at a time. Together we will make a whole life.

To my fellow thirty somethings (or 40 somethings) with all the children and all the ideas and none the sleep and little the money, a word from a poet:

be easy. 

take your time. 

you are coming

home. 

to yourself. 

-the becoming   wing by Waheed

Love and a little more ease to your hustle and mine.

 

10 Things I Wish I Knew the First 30 Days of Foster Placement

 

ONE. This is messy and broken work on the inside. It will also show up messy and broken on the outside. If the kids are young (and especially if there are young bios in the house) there will be a constant onslaught of food on the floor, and broken toys, and ruined clothes, and dirty dishes piling up. It will feel crazy on the inside and crazy on the outside. This is normal.

 

TWO. Black out the calendar. This is not a time to be room mom or do playdates…yet. Start small. Stay home. When the kids can play safe together venture into the backyard. When you can all play safe there, venture to a small fenced in park. These are bunker down days. It will not be your usual pace. You’re used to functioning at a high capacity; from a productivity level it will feel like you are accomplishing nothing. This is normal. You are actually doing quite a lot of important foundation work.

 

THREE. The anxiety of new placements for kids often expresses itself in their bodies. Runny diapers and faucet faces while their stress levels are high is a natural body reaction. The constant snot on furniture and people and your sweater and everything will probably feel gross and stressful while colds spread through the household. It might add to the feeling of chaos internally and externally. This too is normal.

 

FOUR. Create a family language with foster and bio kids of public space and alone zones. All toys and items in the living room are for everyone to use. Bedrooms can be where they have toys that belong to them they don’t have to share as well as a place bio children can go to take a break from foster kids if needed.

 

FIVE. Our certified babysitter family members want to help. Often, however, the behaviors and high-attention needs of our foster kids are overwhelming and out of their know-how to handle. It has been a more beneficial (and relationally healthy) use of our time to have our certified family spend special time or do special outings with our bio children and to use respite families or daycare providers who have foster specific training if we need babysitting help for longer than an hour or two.

 

SIX. Consistency is key. The kids are learning. Even if it seems like they don’t know anything about self-regulation or body awareness or food organization of social interactions or simply how to lay down to go to sleep at night. They are watching and they are learning. Stay consistent. You might not see results yet, but nothing can replace putting in the time and effort now at the forefront to gain the connection and structure and responsiveness and felt-safety the kids will have a few months from now.

 

SEVEN. Have a behavior plan before you are both standing in the thick of it. Have your script ready. Know what you will say, what you will do, and what the child will do. We all imagine ourselves to be a hybrid between Mary Poppins and Karen Purvis; in the heat of it, we are not. Don’t get caught reacting. Know what you will say and do for redirection, direction, and behavior interventions.

 

EIGHT: Set up relational boundaries and expectations with the bio parents early.

 

NINE. Don’t feel bad contacting your social worker about things big or small. They are here for you.

 

TEN. There will be nights you will go to bed in a panic or storm of doubt or near tears wondering “Did I even look my bio child in the eye today? Did I hold the foster kids enough today?” There will be moments when strangers ask you why you do it (foster care) and in the midst of the hard you will come up blank. For the life of you, you cannot remember. Don’t be alarmed. It feels hard because it is supposed to feel hard right now. I recently heard a seminar by Lorraine Fox, a professor with years in the field, who reminded us that love is not the results. Love is the effort. The results are not ours. Only the try.

 

 

When You Don’t Want to Christmas at Christmastime

My son asked for an Elf on the Shelf and my chest constricted. It was like he doesn’t even know who I am. Or hasn’t been paying attention to the amount of managing happening around our home while we transition temporarily to a family of seven. But Christmas isn’t about managing systems to him. He believes with all his six year old little heart that trixy informant of perma-surveillance will move itself. To my son, Christmas is still about the magic. The miracle.

Usually at Christmas I want the house scent cinnamony, the harmonic carols loud, and every last twinkle light twinkling. But not this year. This year boxes of decorations are still shelved in the garage. The door stands naked of adornment.

We have a minimally decorated tree in the corner, bottom half empty because two year olds. We have a basket of holiday books on the hearth and an advent book on the table. That is it.

I don’t want the decorations. The candles and the presents, the tinsel and movies can’t be Christmas. This year, more than ever, I need it quiet. I need it calm. Even the usual garlands and wreaths feel claustrophobic to me. I can’t change the chaos happening around me in the world or our home but I can decide how much noise to bring in.

When it feels like every nerve ending is fried with the sadness and need of humanity, what is desired is calm and the soothing comfort of hope.

When you don’t want to Christmas at Christmastime, possibly, you are not the problem. Possibly, you are aware that the main thing needed this year across the world and in your own heart’s home is hope.

Hope coming. That is Christmas magic. That is the only Christmas we need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Kids Don’t Care We’re Late & Neither Should We

Thanks to the magic of music camp for the bigs this week, my youngest and I found ourselves in the Nordstrom Rack shoe department where we fell into a time vortex as she tried on every.single.pair that sparkled, shimmered, lit up, had a face on it, or were in any other way irresistible to her preschooler heart. The scent of mall retail easily tips me into an anxiety attack, not to mention mentally prepping myself for the scene assuredly to ensue when said preschooler is carried out without new pink jellies that smell of strawberries.

We roamed around a lot of our city this week and as I listened to yet another public parenting meltdown, it has become increasingly clear that we are a time-harried group hassling our preschool aged children to hurry-the-eff-up with little to no success.

I would like to inject here that I understand the frustration since the daily activity of loading my children in the car would give the saintliest of saints heart palpitations. As my three year old so transparently revealed to our pediatrician recently, I “did a bad job not being shouty at us at bedtime”. No, I am not above parental sh*t losing and my children tattle on me to our family pediatrician to keep me humble in what I can only imagine to be a subtly smug proverbial flip of the finger.

But when it’s ten AM on a Tuesday and we’re losing it in front of other families we’ve got some issues to deal with that are usually about our own hearts and not our kids’ lack of respect for the clock.

No doubt we are all living through a critically stressful time both domestically and globally that has left no one untouched. No matter how separated or directly linked we imagine ourselves to be, we are storing the stress within the cells of our bodies with our children first in line for the fall-out.

I’m going to suggest a few parenting tactics here that I think will help us all ratchet back a bit. Yes, I hear how audacious and annoying it sounds to get parenting advice from someone struggling through just like everyone else that is, not to forget, LATE. TO. ALMOST. EVERYTHING. EVERYWHERE! (I would like to defend I’m only a few minutes late, only sometimes these days. Progress in positive direction.)

Build in Time to Waste

We already know this parenting gig is wildly inconvenient. We already know they are going to stop for every roly poly on the sidewalk. We already know. It is part of their natural child development to explore, to put order to their world, to imagine. What I miss when I don’t block enough time for my kids to enter their world as children instead of expecting them to be overly rushed mini-adults is the opportunities they create for connection with me. Mama, look! Mama, come! Mama (come be with me)!

HOW We Arrive Is More Important Than WHEN We Arrive

This is pretty self-explanatory. When I rush my kids they shut down. Their feelings get hurt and their heels dig deeper while I get crazier grasping for ways to prove I am the Actual Boss around here. We all end up miserable before slinking back (much later) for apologies. I’m trying to build in more buffer time so we are not compressed into stress, but when it just doesn’t work out I will most likely be late. At the end of the day (or two decades the kids are in our home) my priority is the atmosphere of our family. Every time. The End. Not the clock. I promise to try to text you if I’m late.

Drill-Sergeanting Orders vs Asking Kids What’s Next

Even if I am not falling off the ledge of control, it’s easy to get into a habit of barking directions at our kids. Put on your shoes! Get your hat! Wash your hands! Come, NOW! Instead, we’re trying to ask our kids what comes next and for them to come up with the answers, basically stealing all the best parts of Positive Parenting.

It sounds a lot like

“Lunch is ready. What do we need to do?”

“Wash hands!”

or “I can think of three things that are your ticket to the car. What are they?”

“Hat, shoes, and water bottle!”

Yes, it takes more energy and intention to do this the majority of the time, but it’s worth maintaining an element of fun in the day. Not to mention raising kids who are thinkers. It does, however, presuppose a certain amount of routine and clearly-communicated behavior expectations already foundational in the dynamic (& the hope no child is going through a smartass phase).

I am happy to report I didn’t have to football my child out of Nordstroms while she sabotaged racks of Ray-Bans along the way. Time to try allllllll the shoes on with my attention, not annoyance filled her little cup.

Parents of littles and how-can-they-be-this-big-already kids, I see you out there with your crew teetering between Intention and The-Brink. I know this place and I know we can do better. Not by trying harder, but by trading our benchmarks for what success looks like.

I love our city and I want to explore it with my kids without shouting at them about time and who’s in control and without listening to you do that either. I believe in you. I believe in me. I believe in the intelligence and kindness of our kids. Whether you loved or hated this parenting post, just wait ’til you hear what I have to say about the ineffectiveness of time-outs and making your kids apologize!

 

Creative Energy in the Confines of A Little Life

There is  life-force that stirs wild in the heart of the creative Christian. It is an energy that ambles and percolates and froths. But when the wildest part of the day whips peanut butter and honey instead of peanut butter and jelly, where does it go?

If ignored, this creative energy does not lie fallow. If suppressed, it twists and spins into bickering with my spouse simply for the satisfaction of having something to do, simply to prove I have not become part of the historic feminine cumulative where minds are left to rot in the boredom of domesticity. If neglected, this energy whispers ugly doubts disguised as truths to keep me disengaged.

If tended to, creative energy is a tether to the world that whirs into big ideas and intuitive empathy. The only way it fits into such a small life is to continually be made into something real and given away.

I take the olders to school. I take the youngest to the zoo, museum, ocean, the park. I drive the long way home so the jacarandas can toss confetti on our one car parade. I make dinner. I resweep the floor. This is a small life.

I plead God, is this enough for you?

I am reminded love is not parceled out in relation to the amount of effort, hustle, or works produced. Bigger love cannot be earned with bolder life choices. I have always been one for the bigger choice. It is easier for me to fly spontaneous into the face of challenge outside these walls. At 33 I’m learning the big love found in a little life.

Unrestricted love is here in the perceived smallness of sidewalk chalk art and songs goodnight. In the driving to school miles logged and driving me crazy moments.

On paper my life doesn’t look as overtly faith-infused as it did ten years ago. But I know the faithfulness required to live a quiet life has drawn me closer to God than other ostentatious choices before.

I make beds. I make lunches. I make moments for my children to remember and some I pray they will forget. I make words and walks and paintings. This little life of routines and I-love-yous and I’m-sorrys and crust-cut sandwiches is wide enough to experience the fullness of the resurrection.

 

Losing Balance and Gaining Grace

Hey friend,

Surprise! You’re pregnant again!

I wish I could whisper the secret code from us mamas of three in your ear to make it easier for you. But there is no secret.

The truest truth I know is this: There is no balance. Don’t let the books or mommy groups tell you otherwise. The strive for balance is a cultural catch-phrase winding families into a panicked frenzy. Don’t believe it. Chasing balance only offers you a chalice of shame.

I know it feels beyond your human capacity right now to have another baby. Caring for another soul.

Especially while your oldest is still a pint-sized person with a full grown bucket of personality and emotions.

Especially while your toddler demands being held – always – in arms and eye contact. Dimpled baby fists occasionally thumping your chest for the breastmilk run dry.

Especially while you pursue a career that whispers yes into your bones.

Especially while you’re still fighting for space to eat, rest, solo potty, simply remember who you are and how you like your eggs. Not to mention that little thing called marriage.

I know you know it’s going to be okay. But I want to repeat. I have faith in you. You can do this.

I would tell you if I can do it, anyone can. But you were there. You saw the hard and maybe that’s what’s so scary about this after all.

You knew a few months into parenting my first I went to bed crying. Nightly.  Knowing I was outside of my mind tired but the hard part was just beginning as babes and I would be awake together up to ten more times before dawn.

When our second was several months old I picked up mono with a bonus coupling of hepatitis that wiped me out physically and emotionally. One illness stole the independence and non-neediness I had so adamantly co-joined to my adulthood. You sat next to me while I was a shell of tired, blank of personality and guessed at ways you could help because I was too deep in the sick and the sad to assess the need.

Then our third came and there was no time to cave up. No hibernation period. It was sprinting with vaginal stitches. You witnessed it all.

There is no secret. Life balance a farce we’ve spun too much energy into already. Alternatively, there is trusting the goodness of the Creator who has already given you an intuitive understanding of the rhythms of life.

Instead, there is embracing seasons.

Instead, there is determining what is important and hacking the rest with comically oversized scissors.

Instead, there is focusing on a goal with full-throttle, head down, shoulder thrust into the now. Breathing. Turning. Locking eyes on the next up and going again.

Instead, (and this may be the most important one) there is lowering self-expectation and raising chaos tolerance.

It is not easy but it is good. I can’t wait to watch you experience that self-offering of grace even as your third curls close, heartbeat to heartbeat, the main things become the main things, and everything else shakes away.

It will be an undoing of sorts, but it is not to be feared.

You’re going to be amazing!

XOXOXOXOX,

From this mama of three to you, new mama, of three!

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That Whole Target Bathroom Policy Thing

Is Target Bathroom Policy Statement 2016 the new Starbucks Christmas Cup 2015? We’re still stale with the stench of that one even though most of us thought it was ridiculously misunderstood media hype. And didn’t we already spin this “protect families” argument, California, in 2008 when as a state we tried to vote down gay marriage rights? So far the biggest threat to my family has been our self-destructive pride and selfishness. No matter what your views on this are, closing your eyes and wishing a dichotomous way onto a deconstructivist culture is not the same as engaging in the world where all these realities exist.

There is a vivacious transgender woman who cashiers for us at our local Target. The number of times I have felt unsafe in the transaction: zero. The number of times my kids have stared: zero. If we find ourselves washing hands beside her, I imagine it will remain the same. Except I doubt that will happen because I am willing to bet she uses an employee restroom or that hidden single room behind the electronics section to avoid potential conflicts – crushing lessons of past experience learned.

Transgender bathroom policy doesn’t affect our family in any way while shopping Target, except maybe encourage me to shop there more often (if that’s even possible) because I take it as a bold statement of peace. I want to be a part of that. I want my kids to be a part of that. No, I will not be signing your Target petition under the main banner to protect me, the mom, and my kids.

And now I’ve offended so, so, SO many of you because I straddle a no man’s land of too conservative for the liturgists & non-churched and too non-churched for the conservatives in my life. Like my children, my head and heart live in a vast both/and question mark where the only certainty is God – in all male and female characteristics and generosity of goodness and love and grace- can handle it.

Do you know who I think is out to get my kids? Everyone. As a mama, every single person no matter how spiffy they look on the outside are potential threats to the physical and emotional safety of my littles. THAT is why we go as a family into the women’s restroom much to the smadness of my young son. That is why my kids know they aren’t allowed to play hide-and-seek in public places. That is why we call body parts “vagina” and “penis” (which is still really hard for this Midwestern 80’s girl to do) and normalize talk about appropriate vs inappropriate touching.

General vigilance and learning to trust our gut in our surroundings is what the kids and I talk about. This kind of wisdom is what I want the kids to know to navigate through the days, the years. Listening to their intuition and knowing they can rely on it – that’s what I want my kids to practice daily in our care. Tethering an awareness of their physical environment to their brain and stomach assessment, knowing their instincts are good, learning to take in character – this is what we circle back to in all public places.

Yes, I’m afraid. I’m afraid for the safety of the transgender community who are trying to do something as simple as pee in public. I’m afraid for all of us that when one person is dehumanized, we all have our humanity dulled. I’m afraid we will continue to confuse Christianity with protecting our privilege. I’m afraid we will STILL be discussing all this in a rageful way and all this anger of entitlement in our Americanism will seep into the fabric of my children. There are many things to fear here, but potty stops at Target (like most of the things in my red shopping cart) aren’t on that list.