Jenna turns 8 (and hits a MAJOR MILESTONE)

Hey, J.

You’re eight today. And this is where, especially with you, the oldest, and Lilly, the youngest, I get a little misty and sentimental about how fast time flies and stuff. And it does fly. And it takes me by surprise even though every single person from the generation before me  has told me how fast it goes. Seriously. Every one. And I’ll probably do the same someday, because it does. (Consider yourselves on notice, Millenials.)

Anyway. I could get sappy or I could give you tips from a version of you that is 28 years older, but today?

I need to celebrate a major milestone.

Last week, you asked if you could make something in the kitchen. You’re always asking if you can do that, and, when I pry into what you mean, it usually involves some bizarre concoction of melted chocolate, caramel, and food coloring. I always say no, because baking with small people makes me crazy, and nobody needs that.

But last week, and I don’t recall why, though it had to be a really good reason, I said yes.

Babe, you made lemon bars (from a box mix) and I didn’t do anything but verbally walk you through the steps. You cracked the eggs, you put the weird crust-powder in the pan, you put the pan in the oven and took it back out (which only caused a tiny heart attack for me every time) and… it was fine. I didn’t need hours alone in my room to recuperate from the chaos. I didn’t spend the whole rest of the day tamping down the urge to snap at all the people (with varying levels of effectiveness). It was… fine. The bars themselves were disappointing to us both, but I feel like that’s Krusteaz’s failing, not yours. They were beautiful and perfectly made. You did that.

I feel dumb writing this. There are moms who bake with their toddlers and love it, for crying out loud. And good for them. But baking with little people is simply not in my makeup.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.

You, in that one afternoon last week, crossed from “little” to “not so little” and it astounded me. (Also, you used the word “astounded” this morning with a straight face and it cracked me up.)

You’re growing up just right, Jenna girl. We have our stuff, you and me. Part of us being so much the same is that you struggle in the same areas I do and that triggers all my crap, and I don’t always handle it well. But through all the mess of navigating how to raise a little me, you seem to be doing just fine.

I love you to pieces, not-so-little girl. I’m glad I get to be your mama.

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not instagram’s fault

Hey, guys! I’m at Kindred Mom today! Here’s the first part, or you can read it in its entirety here.

It’s a(nother) wild morning at the Chapman house. The big two got up at the appointed hour, but I had a hard time falling asleep last night and a proportionately hard time getting out of bed this morning, so I started the day feeling a little behind as my 6- and 7-year-old chatter away happily and relentlessly. Just when it’s time to get the small two up, I hear a knock at the door.

Whoops! The home visit I thought was scheduled for tomorrow is actually today, and I meet the educator in my workout leggings with a very foul-smelling diaper in my hand. I greet her with the wild-eyed feigned enthusiasm of a mama desperately wishing she’d gotten up early enough for coffee. “HELLO! WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE!” I get a fresh diaper on the littlest and we start the appointment—definitely not tomorrow.

 

This woman is here because my youngest, at two, has lots of words but almost no consonants, so communication with her is a comical and frustrating guessing game that sounds like the Witch Doctor song: “oo ee oo ah ah.” By the time the speech intake is finished, my kids are done. I have given 45 minutes to this stranger, and they are tired of seeing my attention on anything but themselves. Four small people with big voices each demanding my immediate and undivided attention is a little more than this uncaffeinated and unfed mama can handle.

I do the obvious thing: open Instagram.

Ahhh. That’s better. Look at the happy toddler! The pretty flowers! The unicorn costume my friend is making for her preschooler! Well-lit snippets of other people’s lives float past me rapidly, allowing me to tune out the increasingly insistent voices of my children. It’s relaxing. For a second. Then the shrieking begins.


(Continue reading here…)

Baby Brian turns 4 (and loses just a little bit of innocence)

Hey, Brian Levi.

We’ve had a bunch of bath products sitting in the queue to go… somewhere… for  while. We inherited several bags from a friend who was moving around the world on a short timeline. I went through and grabbed what we could use, but I wanted to do something helpful with the rest. You’ve been bugging me for a week or more to take them out of the house. Because, yes, you’re only four today, but also you are pretty detail-oriented and you know those bags do not belong on that cabinet.

So, today when you asked if I could please get rid of the bags, I did it. I called the women’s shelter and got details to donate all the shampoo, lotion, and makeup. I was herding the four of you toward the door when one of your sisters asked, “Mom, what’s the women’s shelter?”

I took a deep breath and explained that, while I am trying to teach you all to always use your strength only to protect, some people use their strength to hurt and control and manipulate. And often the people who wind up getting hurt are women and children. And the women’s shelter is the place where they can go to be safe.

Jenna wanted to know why they can’t all just come to our house. Bless her. If only there were few enough that they’d fit.

You? You came undone. “I changed my mind! I don’t want to take the bathroom stuff out!” You were inconsolable. It took a minute to calm you enough to get to the root of your freak-out.

Precious boy, you have never considered a world where people use their strength to endanger. This is scary. I agree. This world is broken, and it’s sad and frightening. I’m a little sad to disabuse you of the notion that everyone is as safe as you are.

But here’s the thing, buddy.

You have a big heart. A kind heart. A gentle one. You’re strong, and only getting stronger. I need you to know that there are people in this world—your world—who are hurting and need protection. I know you’re going to want to protect all the people, and it’s going to be hard on your heart to be unable to. But here’s where I want you to start:

You.

Use your strength only to protect.

Don’t hurt people around you. Not when they steal your toys, not when your sisters are blocking your way to your room, not later when you are big and you want something that somebody else doesn’t want to give you.

You are made in the image of God.

He is love. He is power. He protects. Jesus redeems and the Spirit empowers, so you can go and love and be strong to protect, too. You’re only four, but I need to drill it into your head right now: don’t be that guy—don’t be the one from whom a girl needs protection. Be the guy who protects the people around him. Be safe for the people in your life. Seek to protect people who are in danger. You are sweet and you are strong and God wants to use your big heart for good.

You’re four today. You have some time to learn all this. But you’re growing fast, and you’re already a force. I’m praying for your heart as you grow and learn to navigate this broken world. You are made to bear light, son. I love watching you learn to shine.

jumping off ledges

I am 10. Perhaps 11. A neighbor through the woods has access to the pool on post. I have seen the high dive before, been both fascinated and worried by it, but on this afternoon, I decide to try. I get out of the pool feeling a little chilly and very exposed. I climb up the ladder that feels solid, but it’s slippery enough to make me nervous. I walk out, feeling the sandpaper and the worrisome bounce of the board. The handrail only goes as far as the pool deck, and my stomach drops as I leave it behind. My toes hang over the end.

I can’t. I scoot to the ladder. Others are waiting their turn at the bottom. I hate that I have to climb back down in front of them, but I can’t go through with this madness. An older guy (I’m a tween, so what this means is anybody’s guess—is he 25? 45? 75?) is on the pool deck, perhaps returning to the locker room. He sees my hesitation and shouts up, “You can do it! Just step off!”

I walk back across the bouncy sandpaper to where my toes hang off. I look down. I still can’t. Again, I sidestep carefully back to the ladder. Old (?) Guy shouts more encouragement. I turn back around to the pool. The kids at the bottom are now shouting some combination of encouragement and “just hurry up already.” I don’t blame them. Embarrassment and determination fight against the desire to not be an inconvenience, which fights against my desire to please my neighbor (whom I idolize) and this kind, encouraging stranger who still hasn’t gone wherever he was headed.

I don’t know how long this goes on. It feels like it was a solid 15 minutes, but could it really have gone on that long? I have no idea. Maybe it is only thirty seconds. Eventually, I step off the board. In my mind, I see me falling off like a rag doll (dropped vertically, thank goodness). The water doesn’t hurt much, but the wedgie is more than I bargained for. On the way back to the surface, I think how glad I am that I have a second to address it before anybody sees me. I feel triumphant for jumping, but embarrassed for taking so long.

I’ve been thinking about this high dive experience lately. I’ve gone off them countless times since. Never anything fancy, mind you, but even now I’ll climb up when I have the chance, just because I can. Exposure therapy is real, and after plenty of dives, I no longer hesitate. My stomach lurches a little, not unpleasantly, and down I go. It’s always the same: a little rush, then the water, probably a wedgie.

I’ve assumed throwing myself on the grace of God would be the same.

I’ve been hurling myself the ledge of failure onto grace pretty routinely for a while now. I’m constantly aware of my sin and my lack. I look around at my little people and see that I can’t guarantee their salvation or even their morality. I can’t even consistently manage to parent adequately. I look at my husband and know, while I love him the best I can, my best falls far short of what I want to give. I’m selfish, and it shows up in a marriage, even if I’m growing.

This failure causes weird spirals basically every day. Sometimes several per day.

I receive another report from another teacher that my kids are creating mayhem. I have no idea how to fix this. I am doing my best, but I seriously can’t try any harder to be consistent, and I’m sure that’s what they need. If there’s some other secret ingredient to raising kids who behave in class (like all the rest of them!), nobody has told me.

I’m taking a shower (always the shower!) and a thoughtless thing I said today or last week or when I was 23 comes to my head and I cringe. I hate that I said that. It sounded so bad, and I didn’t even know. I wish I could undo it. Now there’s not even a way to make it right.

I look at my to-do list. Oh, that’s right. I should do that thing. And also THAT thing. Shoot. All of these things actually need to be done, and sooner rather than later. I straight-up cannot. And I don’t know how to make that okay.

This ramped way up right alongside my limitations earlier this year, and this is a gift. I can’t muscle through and try harder anymore. I actually have to fail.

So I fling myself on the grace of God.

I can’t get it all done, and things are going to fall apart if I don’t. Jesus, HELP. Are you going to make it fit in? Show me what’s not really necessary? Send help? Something’s gotta give, and I can’t give any more. I’m spent.

 

I hate that I said that. Hate how it came off. JESUS HELP. It can’t be unsaid. Can it be fixed? Is it too late? Can I repair it or do I just need to let it go?

 

I don’t know how to make these kids want to make good choices, and they’re being disruptive and I feel like a bad mom, and I feel like everybody knows I’m a bad mom… Jesus, this isn’t mine to fix. I am small. You are large. Give me wisdom to do my best, but my children and my reputation are in your capable hands.

My issue here is that I expect it to be like the diving board: once I make that leap a time or ten, it should be less terrifying, right?

But it isn’t. It still feels like failure. I’m quicker to jump, not because I’m less afraid, but because I have learned hesitation only prolongs the fear.

The outcome here varies. I force myself to recall that I haven’t died of failure yet. Sometimes He fixes it. Sometimes He fixes me. Often, I just feel the discomfort of failure, knowing that His grace is enough, even—especially—when I fail.

It’s so common right now, especially in self-care circles, to see beautiful pictures with the words “You are enough” added over the top. My limitations—my life, really—has been teaching me that this isn’t, strictly speaking, true. And that’s actually fine. I don’t begrudge anyone their “enough” memes, but you won’t see them pinned to my vision board (if I had such a thing) or shared on my feed.

I fail. I will continue to do so. But God has abundant grace for me, for my failures.

I am not enough. But there is grace enough.

 

dear mama: look up

Hey, Mama.

I see you. You’re having the crap day to end all crap days and nothing’s even happening. It’s just normal mom stuff, but all at once. All the kids are yelling at each other and you. You’re parenting like a boss. The goal is calm, consistent, and compassionate and you have at least two of those at all times, but compassion is hard when the preternatural calm is covering rage at the little people who managed to simultaneously misplace their excrement for the entire morning.

You’re doing a good job. The number of times you haven’t used profanity is staggering. Your kids are alive and learning important things, and I’m convinced these days are the most important kind of days for developing their character (and probably yours).

I know this is the part where I am bound by honor and the title of my blog to remind you to look for little gifts of grace around you, because, in the words of Junior Asparagus, “a thankful heart is a happy heart.” I’m not going to discourage this, but I want to acknowledge you might not be there right now. I can huffily list off blessings like clean water and a warm home and healthy children while continuing to daydream about getting an injury that results in a hospital stay for a week or two. Listing off things I should be grateful for in this kind of moment only adds guilt for my apparent ingratitude.

Can I offer you a different gentle reminder?

Look up.

Today, looking around isn’t fixing anything. There are little people all around that you would gladly die for, but today, it feels like they’re sucking your life like The Machine in Princess Bride. It’s extraordinarily slow and painful.

Looking within isn’t any better. There are good intentions and a whole lotta sin. There’s consistent falling short. Looking within today finds shame and self-doubt.

So look up. Do whatever you need to do to fix your eyes on Jesus. Today, my angle was a well-trained Andrew Peterson station on Pandora. I am evidently not good at training my children, but my Pandora stations? Perfection.

The words started to sink in as I continued to go about my painfully ridiculous day. My focus started to rise off the madness, toward the God who loves me and put skin on to be with me. My children were still shrieking, kicking, and sassing. One of them peed in a place that was neither diaper nor toilet. But the goodness and bigness of God started to dwarf the issues I wade through in my home.

Nothing is solved here. A few things have settled because half of my children still nap. (Jesus, thank you for that.) The other two finished school and are rotting their brains on My Little Pony, which is annoying background noise, but less annoying than having my offspring yell at me while I try to help them. It’s better, but it’s temporary.

But I know what isn’t temporary: the character of God. As I keep my focus on him and the things he has done and promised to do and his exquisite care for each of us, my heart settles.

So, while it feels a little trite, I want to remind you to try it if you’re having the worst kind of regular day. He sees you. He knows your struggles. He remembers you are but dust. He is for you. He will glorify himself in all things, including, miraculously, your crappy day.

Look up.

loosey-goosey homeschool: take three

This is a random post about how homeschooling looks in the Chapman house. If homeschool isn’t your jam, feel free to carry on.

I spend more time than I want to fretting over how atypical our school routine feels. Most of the people I talk to and blog posts I read imply a nice, structured homeschool experience, not unlike what a kid might find in a brick-and-mortar school. Our school is a lot more… well, loosey-goosey is the only phrase coming to mind. There’s very little structure and normal educational stuff takes up the smallest fraction of our day. There’s no circle time or lighting a candle or set order to anything. We just squeeze it in after lunch plus a little at breakfast if we can while everyone’s contained at the table. So I thought I’d add my voice to the long list of homeschool moms, just because I want to share what’s actually working for us in our not-so-schooly life.

I took a minute to read over the last two Octobers’ homeschool posts to get an idea how things have changed.

Year one: “I’m so excited! This is working, despite the fact that I have a newborn and one-year-old!” Eventual reality: I dropped it entirely. The curriculum I used was way too intense for me to keep up with prep and the lessons were too long to keep my 4- and 5-year-olds’ attention.

Year two: “I’m so excited! Last year didn’t actually work, but I switched curriculum and I have the highest of hopes!” Eventual reality: we did better. We did actual school several times each… month. Jenna learned to read anyway, and when we did school, they blew through the lessons, so we did a year and a half’s worth of math, almost catching up from the prior year’s slacking.

This brings us to year three: “I’m not sure I’d call myself excited, but I put washi tape on my freezer, and I think we’re actually doing this thing!”

I’m not even kidding. This Friday marks the end of the first quarter—nine weeks of school—and I think we’re gonna make it. This is the most legit I have ever felt as a homeschool mom.

Wanna see the magic?

BEHOLD.

(Even filters can’t make this Pinterest-worthy.)

20181016_111053.jpg

That’s the extent of my awesome new system.

Washi tape, a label maker, and a dry-erase marker. (And this is the version 2.0. Version 1 was just a dry-erase marker listing off what subjects we did each day.)

The numbers above each subject indicate how many times I’d like to hit that subject in a week. The magnet clip below is unrelated, but it holds seventeen pieces of random art I don’t want to throw away yet, but don’t have space to fully display. (I could use a few more of these.) (The clips, I mean. I have plenty of art.) Monday through Thursday are our regular days, Friday is just for catching up on things we may have missed. (You might think we would have done handwriting an extra time last Friday since we only hit it once last week. You would be mistaken.) A check indicates we did something. It might be a little, or it might be twelve math lessons because they want jelly beans, which they get at a rate of one per page… my only requirement is that we try.

Our homeschool district requires each student to set a goal for the year. When our teacher asked Katherine what her goal was, she responded with her trademark mischievous glint: “I want MORE SCREENS!”

facepalm

Thanks for that, kid. Mom of the year right here. Screens are the highlight of this child’s life.

After about half an hour of trying to get a legit education goal out of her, we settled on a somewhat complicated rewards system wherein if she got the a certain amount of school done M-Th, she’d get a show before lunch on Friday. (This is big stuff, because usually weekday screens are limited to afternoons.) If she got twice that done, she could have a whole movie.

So the checklist above is technically just Katherine’s work, but because they do it together, Jenna is pulled along, and we’re using Katherine’s drive to earn screens to keep my type-B self on track. School gets done during the babies’ nap time now, and they earn a movie at about 10 every Friday. I think they are actually getting less screen time overall, though, because school ends up eating a lot of the time I might otherwise throw screens at them. Whatever.

So there you have it. My super-official, very schooly innovations for this year. Washi tape and screen bribery.

a sheltering marriage

Things have been quiet around here lately. Facebook keeps reminding me of the last two years of Write 31 Days in which I wrote actual words on most of the days of October. But the last several months haven’t been especially bloggable.

My immediate family is fine. But outside of that, all kinds of things have been blowing up. Most of those stories aren’t mine to share, but are close enough and big enough that they’re taking up considerable portions of my mental energy. If I have any useable thoughts, they’re buried beneath layers of debris from these various bombs.

Except this: I have shelter. Both a big-S Shelter in Jesus and a small-S shelter in my marriage.

The Lord is a firm foundation and He is unchangeable and sovereign over all the things and He loves the many people involved and is working for our good and His glory.

And within that, there’s the good gift of this marriage.

When I consider “home,” I instantly picture my bed. It’s monstrous and canopied and dark. I have a memory foam mattress in this bed frame that appears to be made for a waterbed, which means every time I change the sheets, I have to dig the enormous mattress out of the frame corner by corner to make the bed. It takes fifteen minutes and a fair bit of energy.

This bed doesn’t feel like home because it’s comfortable (though it is) or because of the unsharable fun that happens there (though it does). It’s the place we fairly consistently connect each night. Before we sleep, we have a habit of holding hands for just a minute and praying for each other, our family, and some situations. It’s this moment that makes bed “home” and makes our marriage a shelter.

We both have to go out and face the chaos pretty much every day, but we can always retreat to this space where it’s him and me and a good God who cares about us and about all the things.

If you are married and both you and your spouse love Jesus, can I recommend this? It took a lot of years for this to be habit, but it was worth the false starts and the hit-and-miss. It’s not the only way we connect with each other or with Jesus, but it’s consistent and it’s the most calming way to settle and remember Whose we are.

This is the space within the mess and chaos and death where I can see God bringing beauty. It reminds me that he’s making all things beautiful—even when things look like mess, chaos, and death.