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.

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to the mama with two in diapers

Hey, mama. I see you. I know this isn’t easy.

Folks always look at you in pity when they realize you have two in diapers, but they never really mention that the diapers are seriously the least of the struggles.

I’ve been there. I’m not sure how your transition to motherhood was, but mine was uncommonly easy. “Everyone told me this would be so hard, but it’s really… not bad. Yay, me! I’m awesome at this motherhood thing!” (It’s fine. You can punch me in the throat if you want to.) 

But within 48 hours of the birth of the first, my husband wanted to know when we were going to have another awesome baby. It took me a couple months to come around to the idea, but we decided to go ahead and let the next one happen whenever it happened. (After all, I’m awesome at this!) That’s how I ended up with a newborn and a small toddler and my world and self crumbling down around me.

The needs are incessant. One baby took all my time, but I was able to stay pretty well on top of her needs. With a second newborn came the realization that 1.) the newborn stage is way less demanding than the toddler stage and 2.) it doesn’t matter because there’s only one me and I can’t possibly do all of this, no matter how easy the little one seems.

I don’t remember a lot about Katherine’s first year except this one crystal clear moment: Katherine was about eight weeks old. Jenna was roughly 19 months. We’d gone out shopping in the morning, but (as is typical) we didn’t leave as early as I’d wanted, and everything just took longer than I’d hoped. By the time we were driving home, two babies (and one mama) were losing it. We were all hangry and in need of a nap. I put my toddler on my left hip, the baby in her car seat in the crook of my right arm, diaper bag over my shoulder, and all the grocery bags clenched tightly in my hands and hauled the wailing children (and everything else) up the flight and a half of stairs to my living room. Katherine came out of the car seat and got propped in the recliner; I put Jenna in her high chair. I looked from crying Jenna to shrieking Katherine to all the grocery bags on the floor around my feet. I was hungry to the point of feeling ill, but they needed to eat, too. The noise was deafening and I couldn’t quite decide what my next step was.

One need at a time.

I don’t know why this was such a revelation, but their needs collided with my limitations in this one moment of absolute certainty: we all have needs and I can meet exactly one at a time and I will keep doing that until everyone is okay.

This concept basically sums up that whole year. I was tired and my house was noisy, but if I could just keep doing this, we were going to make it.

It gets easier.

I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me then, but I really like having the first two so close. I like it so much, in fact, that I waited a beat and then had a second pair a couple years later. I found myself again with a newborn and a toddler last year, along with (then) 4- and 5-year-old girls.

I wasn’t as bleary this last year as I was Katherine’s first year. I am more relaxed and happy  and successful now than I was then, even though I find myself in basically the same situation, but with a pair of strong-willed, homeschooling kindergarteners. I’m sure it’s partly having kids big enough to be helpful (sometimes), partly my own substantially lower standards, partly better systems borne out of necessity, and mostly a lot of grace, but I wanted to tell you it really does get better.

When I had two, I remember looking around at moms of three and four and more, wondering, “What the crap is my problem?!? She has herself together and she has WAY more kids than I do! Why can’t I get my stuff figured out?!?” I’m realizing now that it may just be part of the process. Yes, she had more children than I did. But also, she’d had a few more years to figure herself out. I used to think if I could just get it together, my life could be as (relatively) calm as hers, but I’d neglected to consider her messy middle part. I was looking at seasoned mamas and wondering why I couldn’t manage, but I was only a year and a half in. (Not that I’d say I have it all together NOW- I’m still kind of a mess. But it’s definitely less stressful now.)

It takes time, friend. It’s going to be okay. This season is dizzying and exhausting and beautiful and messy, but it really does get better. Give yourself grace and time to figure it out.

(Also, it’s fine to leave the kids in their car seats while you haul groceries into the house. Really.) 

dear mama… (when you’d rather be doing anything else)

Hey, friend.

I see you.

You love your babies. They’re cute. They’re hilarious. They’re delightful. They’re maddening. They’re smart. They’re determined. They’re expressive. They’re so difficult.

Some mornings you wake up and see the things that need to be done and the bellies that need to be filled… and filled… and filled again. You see the endless needs, wants, requests. You know you’re going to spend the whole day trying so hard to shape hearts and behavior and it is hard, exhausting, holy work.

The thought enters:

I would rather be doing anything else today.

Anything.

And then the guilt and shame set in. You hear every grandparent you’ve ever met telling you cherish every moment. You realize that they’re going to be grown before you know it. You know having littles and staying home with them is a privilege that some women would give anything to have. Maybe it was a privilege you’d have given anything to have, once upon a time.

And you’d rather be doing anything else today.

Oh, friend, I know.

I’ve been there.

am there.

Can we just talk about this for a minute?

IT IS OKAY. It’s okay to feel this way now and again. It’s okay to feel it when the needs and the noise overwhelm you. Feeling like running away does not make you a bad mom, whatever that accusing voice in your head whispers.

You are human.

This morning as I was sitting in my own puddle of exhaustion and guilt, I realized that this  please get me out of here and I’m such an awful mom for thinking that feeling is a useful warning light. In my heart, I’m pretty sure it means it’s time to look at self-care.

This week, I’ve been scraping by. Even the things that are bare-minimum level care (drinking water and eating food) have fallen apart. It’s no wonder I want to do something—anything—else!

There’s good news here. When I hear myself whisper, “I’d rather be doing anything else” …I can choose to do something else. Seriously. I still need to be here for my little people, but I don’t have to do it the same way. And you don’t, either.

Drink some water.

Declare “quiet reading time” and make sure you read, too. (Maybe not a parenting book or your facebook feed.)

Take an extra second in the car to breathe before you start messing with all the buckles.

For me, this looks like reading my Bible and my favorite devotional, then writing down some things I’m thankful for.

It looks like paying attention to the way baby Lilly’s head smells.

It’s drinking water, and making sure I remember my antidepressant. (Because if there’s one thing my family doesn’t need, it’s me off my meds. For reals.)

It’s choosing to look up.

At the moment, it’s letting a kid watch tv (before afternoon nap time?!?) so I can write.

This doesn’t fix all the things. But it does help fix me.

I don’t know what it looks like for you. But if you want to be doing anything else, please. Do something else. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t even have to look any different. It may be as simple as reframing what you’re already doing. (Or maybe not.)

We got this, mama.