when I called my kids jerks…

A few months ago, I wrote this essay in which I called my kids “jerks.” Repeatedly.

I stand by the things I said there, but the word “jerk” bothered me, like a little itch in my brain for weeks after.

At first I assumed I was just feeling icky because of my own judgements about “the kind of person” who calls her kids names and the kind whose kids actually earn those names. I brushed that off, because “that kind of person” is, to some degree, every kind.

I wondered if I was being unkind to my kids, telling stories on them to The Interwebs. This is probably not the issue, given that I do it all the time. I mean, check out the #becausekatherine tag. It’s just post after post detailing why my secondborn is the most endearing crazy person I’ve ever met.

As I chewed on my discomfort with the post—with the word “jerk”—it finally hit me.

I’m pretty careful about the names I call my babies because words matter.

Words matter, perhaps to me more than most. I get excited about verbal precision… when I find exactly the right words for what I mean, it makes me disproportionately happy.

I am created in the image of the God who spoke creation into being.

I don’t believe my words have God-like magic powers. I don’t believe by “naming and claiming” I can make God give me what I want, but my words do matter.

They can bring life or crush the spirit.

They can pierce or bring healing.

They can cause great destruction.

They can bring sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Sometimes my kids behave awfully and would deserve being called a jerk (or worse). But since my words have the power of life and death, I choose to speak life, both to and about them. If I’m gonna call my kids names (which I do pretty regularly), they’re gonna be kind, or occasionally silly.

Lovely. Sweet One. Silly Head. Goofball. Smarty McSmarterson. Any one of a million variants—I’ll happily use anything. But I want to bless my babies. When I use my words about them, my hope is to build them up, not tear them down or limit them with labels.

Sometimes, Jenna says, “I hate that!” Whatever. Some kind of food, typically. I always tell her, “Please be more judicious with your use of the word ‘hate,’ baby.” This is more or less the same: I’m just trying to be judicious, because it all counts.

So… sometimes they are jerks, but you’re unlikely to catch me calling them such. I’m not above it or anything. Words are just too important to be used for that.


What are some ways you speak life to your babies?

Parenting in Public

I remember the first time I caught myself doing it.

My firstborn was a toddler, barely a year. I was at the post office with her near Christmas, waiting in the holiday lines to send a package. I don’t remember what she did exactly, but it required correction. I squatted down on her level, acutely aware of anyone in my peripheral vision who might be discreetly watching me parent, and explained what I needed her to do and why, just a *little* too loudly, in terms far above a 13-month-old’s grasp.

That was the beginning of justifying my parenting in public.

Raising kids brings up ALL my insecurities and magnifies them, so when I’m out around other people, I’m naturally very conscious of what my kids are doing, how I’m responding, and how I might be coming across to people within earshot.

Misbehavior is the worst, obviously. Online parent-shaming is sort of a national hobby. I’ve read posts with titles like “How to Discipline Positively,” “How NOT to Discipline your Child,” and (my favorite) “Seven Reasons It’s Your Fault Your Kid is a Brat.” Everyone has an opinion and has read dozens of blog posts to support it as the best and only way to go. When my child misbehaves, the consensus seems to be it’s my fault: if I were more effective, she wouldn’t be acting out. Maybe she needs more discipline. Maybe she needs more love. Maybe I should cut out dairy and gluten. Whatever it is, her naughtiness is a problem rooted in my lousy mothering. So I’m already in the hole, at least a little. But NOW I have to respond to it, and that’s where my specific mothering style feels especially scrutinized.

So I do things as I should. Calm. Kind. Compassionate. All explained about 20% louder than necessary with about three times as many words as my kids need, just in case someone nearby doesn’t understand I’M MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION HERE, AND THIS IS WHY… [more]


Read more at Kindred Mom!

notes from the overwhelm

Y’all, I’m over it.

OVER. IT.

Not my little people- they’re fabulous, if maddening. I’m over everything else, though. July has been a hell of a month for me, and I’m whooped. My husband left for a ministry thing for a week and a half, which is more than I’m accustomed to handling with four littles. (Side note: single moms? Military wives? You’re amazing.) My dear friend showed up to be extra hands (hooray!) then the smallest turned one, then I had to put down the dear, sweet doggie who’s welcomed all four of my babies home, then my husband got home (hooray!) and my friend left after a week instead of a month because Jesus redirected her, and by the way, the husband is home but has a bunch of evening commitments, so, though I spent a week and a half being awesome and being the mom through all the crappy and family-dog-putting-down, I (impossibly) had to slog through another couple days of pseudo-solo-parenting.

Then today.

At one point, I had dishes from the last 36 hours on the counter, laundry from the last… several days on the futon to fold, cheerios on the floor (because my dog is dead as of last week), my one-year-old eating a piece of leftover dog food to console herself because she rolled down a flight of stairs because the toddler boy left the gate open when he dragged his bike up that flight of stairs, and two big girls with two huge pots apiece with two sunflowers per pot, shoving a collection of eight sunflowers in my face, demanding that I must LOOK AT THEM RIGHT NOW, but for the love of all things green, DON’T TOUCH THEM, MAMA, BECAUSE YOU KILL THINGS.

My oldest, the wisest of them at age six, tells me I need coffee and some food.

I tell her I need a week of silence.

I’ve been counting down for more than two weeks now: until my friend came, until my husband came back, until the weekend, until my process night. I kept imagining that if I could make it to the next thing (whatever that thing was), I could finally relax and find some margin.

It’s slowly dawning on me that the “next thing” never fixes it. It’s taken weeks (well, perhaps years, depending on how you’re counting) for me to get to this overloaded place, and no three-hour chunk of quiet (nice as it may be) can fix that kind of weary. It’s a little like the realization that I will never “catch up” on sleep. There’s not enough time ever to make up all the hours of sleep I’ve lost over the years of babies and college and miscellaneous late nights.

So now what?

Well, when I’m especially behind on sleep, I try to adjust my habits to get more sleep, but I stop worrying about “catching up.” I let “more” be enough.

I wonder if, in this current state of weariness and this current deficit of quiet, I need to just let more be enough. I can’t get a week of silence to compensate for the two weeks without.

I hope I’m right, because a week of solitude is not an option right now. (Darn it all.) My game plan now is to find quiet wherever it can be found (bathroom, anyone?) and hope that eventually it’s enough again.

Until then, I’m just praying (again and still) for enough grace to make it through today. It’s always there.

If you have any tricks for finding margin again after a season of relentless overwhelm, I want to hear them.

first birthday of lilly mae

Hey, darling girl.

This is my fourth first birthday letter, and it may be my last. I always say (or at least feel) something like, “I can’t believe you’re ONE!” To some extent, that’s there a little- I’ve been reflecting on your birth today and it doesn’t feel so long ago.

But honestly? I can believe it. I know you’ve been with us for a whole year. I can’t really remember much of pre-Lilly life. This year’s been a whirlwind, much like Katherine’s first year was—something about the combination of a baby and a toddler makes it feel like the fastest and slowest year ever.

Anyway. Here’s the point. You fit, little girl. Some day when you’re older and these questions enter your head, you might wonder if you were just an extra. You weren’t. You fit perfectly in our family- we wouldn’t be us without you. Your sweet little scrunched up nose with the dimples (so many tiny dimples!) and your little bottom lip… You’re delightful. Jolly. Sweet-natured and chill. You’re patient with your siblings’ shenanigans.

Ever since we learned you were a girl, I’ve been excited about the big brother/little sister dynamic between you and Brian boy. I had NO IDEA. You two are so sweet together. He dotes on you, and you smile whenever you see him. I love when I have just the two of you together… He crawls around just to have you chase him, which you do with squeals of delight.

Your sisters adore you, as well. Jenna thinks she’s your mother, and Katherine is forever trying to get “the perfect setup” for you—she makes beds out of her blankets and pillows and stuffed animals “for when you sleep.” Sometimes, you even humor her by lying there for a bit.

Speaking of sleep, you’re still sleeping on the floor of my closet. I’m sorry. We really just don’t have another reasonable place for you right now. Hilariously, we’ve been swaddling you this whole time… we’re only just now giving you a free arm. This is because you’re… on the floor of my closet. Swaddling kept you still (and sleeping happily). So, as you’re fully outgrowing that, I have no clue where we’ll put you next. So that should be fun. I tell you all of this mostly to remind myself later. I’ve forgotten so many details of the last several years—apparently a lot of kids in not so many years does that—so this little quirky fact of your babyhood seems like it should be recorded somewhere, and I’m already writing here. So… Yeah. Anyway. (PS- Mama rambles.)

While I’m rambling… you’re currently crawling. This week, you started to pull up and I suspect, like your brother, you may be a late walker. (Hallelujah- mildly late mobility for the later ones is a gift.) You sing and chatter endlessly, but not much in the way of intelligible words, except when one of your siblings leaves the gate open. You crawl at top speed for the hallway and freedom, yelling, “GOGOGOGOGO!” Thank you for that, by the way—it helps me know when I need to chase you to close the gate and keep you from rolling down the steps. Again.

You’re mostly self-entertained (or sibling-entertained), which is nice. This makes it sound like I give you no attention. That’s false. You’re currently playing with my foot, and every few seconds, I look down and talk to you. You’d be fine if I didn’t, but you’re just too sweet to ignore. And, really, while you clearly have less of my attention than Jenna did when she was a baby, I think the amount of attention you get, counting the rest of the family, is far greater.

Whoops. You’re stuck under my chair. Silly girl.

(I fixed it.)

I love you so. I love that you snort when you laugh or cry really hard. I love your just-beginning curls and your sparkling brown eyes. I love how rosy you are when you fall asleep… your cheeks, nose, and lips are a bouquet of the most perfect pink. You’re growing up so well, little Lilly, and we adore you.

my kids are jerks (sharing at Kindred Mom!)

Sometimes my kids are jerks.

There. I said it.

I’m certainly not the first to say it out loud, but as a mom who is always trying to convince myself of my okayness, it’s the first time I’ve ever come out and said it to anybody, really. I’m not sure if it bothers my pride more that I called them jerks, or that sometimes it’s true.

I mean, they’re also wonderful. They’re full of curiosity, determination, light, and humor. They bring joy to my life and will be my legacy when I’m gone…but then there are those times when they’re full of sass and spite and defiance. You know. Jerks.

My oldest (six) gets argumentative… often. The other day, I corrected her for it (again). “Darling, when I give you direction, you keep coming back with disrespect and arguments that imply you know what’s best and Mama doesn’t know what she’s talking about. That has to stop.”

She responded, “No I don’t. You just think that.” 

The five-year-old was messing with the baby, making her holler. I called out from my place in the kitchen, “Katherine, I’m not sure what you’re doing, but I’m pretty sure your sister doesn’t like it.” Her reply? “I know. That’s why I’m doing it.”

My sweet toddler was cuddling with his baby sister while she nursed in my lap. He adores her and dotes on her in a way that I’ve never seen in a two-year-old boy. Suddenly, I felt him tense up and the baby shrieked. I looked down and he was biting her pointer finger. He broke skin.

So sometimes they’re jerks and I just want to yell at them. Sometimes I’m the jerk and I do… [see more.]


Read the rest over at Kindred Mom!

thirteen years: some observations from another year of marriage

I love that photo Sarah took this month. It mirrors my favorite picture from our wedding:

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It’s been thirteen years and we still love laughing together.

This year has been strange.

On the one hand, it’s been hard: I’ve watched marriages around me fall apart to different degrees for a few reasons. On the other, we’ve grown a lot. I’ve grown a lot. And it’s been good. I’ve debated much whether it’s worth putting out there—I mean, I’ve written posts every anniversary for several years now, and it seems a little indulgent to just keep going. At the same time, like our children, this marriage was designed to grow and change as it matures.

So I wanted to spend a few minutes looking at how we’ve grown this year.

I kicked my “mean husband” out of the house.

I have always sort of been prone to depression, insecurity, and a lot of negative self-talk. For the first 10-12 years of our marriage, I sort of projected all of that onto him and I assumed that the things he was thinking about me were the same awful things I was saying to myself, and I reacted based on those (false) bad motives. I can’t say I’ve outgrown that internal negativity, though I’m trying. A year or so ago, a switch flipped. I realized that I’d imagined a mean version of my husband that simply doesn’t exist and I… stopped. We now periodically joke about Mean Andrew, and he can call me on it if he senses his evil counterpart has entered the room again. It’s been a bit of a miracle to quit assuming my husband thinks all the worst things I fear true of myself.

We both feel safer.

Largely because Mean Andrew took a hike, my sweet husband doesn’t need to be afraid that I am going to freak out on him over everything and nothing. And now that I’ve figured out that I can trust my husband’s heart for me, I also feel safer.

We’re learning vulnerability.

Safety doesn’t make vulnerability easy—it’s HARD. It’s hard to entrust the deepest parts of myself to my husband. It’s hard for me to put words to these hidden parts of me. It’s hard when vulnerability from either of us so easily triggers defensiveness in the other. But we’re practicing. I can’t speak for him, but every time I manage to say whichever words are hardest to say, it makes it easier. No, that’s a lie. I felt it as soon as my fingers typed it. It hasn’t yet gotten easier. But it builds my confidence that I can, and, because he keeps loving me anyway (no matter how imperfectly), it improves my confidence that vulnerability does eventually lead to deeper intimacy between us.

Marriage and my husband both came down off their pedestals.

“Our hearts are idol-making factories.”* It’s true. And I am certain that I’ll have to revisit this as my heart tries to make these good things into God-things. But when I make my husband the object of my worship, anything he does wrong is absolutely catastrophic to my image of him. (How could it not be? God-like perfection is kind of a pass-fail thing.) When I have marriage on a pedestal, a couple of things happen. First, I expect a lot of my deepest needs to be fulfilled by the relationship which is both unrealistic and unfair. Secondly, when marriages around me unexpectedly fail, I feel deeply, personally insecure, because my faith is in “Christian Marriage” rather than Christ. (Just ask my husband how many times in the last year I’ve had to verify that he is not, in fact, cheating on me.) (Spoiler: he’s not.)

Finding my deepest security and fulfillment in Jesus is a thing I’ve struggled with for decades now, and I’m far from complete in this area, but I’ve seen some good strides in that direction this year.

Curiosity works in our favor.

Remember when my word was “wonder”? It’s good for marriage, too. It can keep me from grossly misinterpreting his motives. Also, When we’re at odds and neither of us even necessarily remember what the initial problem is because it’s spiraled out to be about all the Big Things that it’s always about, curiosity gives me a way to shift my heart toward my husband. I’ve heard “listen to understand, not to respond” since before we married, but it’s hard to do that when I’m just pissed and hurt. Curiosity doesn’t necessarily get me out of these tangles because I have to remember to want to stop. But once I do want to stop, adopting curiosity as an attitude toward him softens us both.

“I love you” is a short and simple sentence. But over this thirteenth year, I’ve come to a greater understanding of myself, of my husband, and of love, so “I love you” means a different and deeper thing than it did last year. And I am confident that as we both grow toward Jesus and each other, that will keep being true, year after year.


* “Our hearts are idol-making factories” is a quote from Counterfeit Gods, by Tim Keller. Coincidentally, Keller also wrote The Meaning of Marriage, which I just finished this morning and can safely say is the best book of the several dozen I’ve read on marriage.

my grace is all you need

I got a journaling Bible last month.

It’s not a huge deal… I just wanted to try a new way to interact creatively (and, more importantly, slowly) with the Word. It’s been good for me, though I’ve only done a couple entries.

The other day, I decided I was going to do 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This verse is important to me. I mean, my blog is named “grace enough” because I really do believe that his grace is all I need. There’s always just enough for whatever I’m dealing with, and I love that.

So I got my stuff out. I prepped the page, let the gesso dry, traced some flowers and filled them in. I masked some stuff off and tried out the pigment spray I have.

Then Lilly woke up.

I got her, nursed her, then looked up and saw a certain spunky 5-year-old looking a little bit sly and a little bit guilty in the general vicinity of my open (drying) Bible.

No.

Please no.

NOOOOOO!

She had taken a big, fat marker (black, obviously) and colored a big portion of the facing page and some of the page I had been working on.

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I lost my ever-loving mind.

What? WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS? This is why we can’t have nice things! Everything I create gets destroyed! I wasn’t even DONE! 

You guys, it was bad. My 6-year-old mini-me kept talking to me in soothing tones: “Mama, it’ll be okay. Just take some slow breaths. Slooooooow breaths. [She demonstrates.] Just settle. It’ll be oooooookaaaaaaay.”

The only thing I can say in my own defense is that I did not throw or break anything.

Surely that counts for something, right? Because I sure wanted to.

Katherine ran and hid. I spent the next 20 minutes adding terror to my rage as I ran throughout the house and yard yelling her name. (I found her on another pass through her room—just one last check before I loaded the other three into the van to search the neighborhood. She timidly whispered, “I though maybe you could use some time to cool down…”)

After all of the anger and all of the fear, I took ALL of my shame to my bedroom and threw myself on my bed, sobbing like the Disney princess I think I am.

“My grace is all you need.”

The irony.

“My power works best in weakness.” (Or, depending on your translation, “My power is made perfect” or “made greatest.”)

Well.

My entire life, I’ve read this and assumed it meant that, in our weakness, He shores us up and enables us to do what we couldn’t on our own. He does work this way in a lot of cases, both biblically and experientially, but this week I’ve been rethinking that as the only way His power is perfected in weakness.

Contextually, the weakness that Paul was begging to have removed was likely a physical difficulty, and God did not remove it. Now, of course I think the passage is more than historical account of Paul’s conversation with Jesus; we learn something about the nature of God’s heart and interaction with us as well, and provision of strength for non-physical weakness certainly falls within that, but I feel like, in my narrow, self-focused read of the passage, I missed some important possibilities.

I really wanted it to mean what I thought it did. I mean, that would be awesome, right? Any weakness I have, God compensates for… so that I don’t actually have to live with the weakness. Total win.

But perhaps, like Paul’s, my weakness is serving a purpose? Perhaps God doesn’t always want to show His power by rescuing me from my weakness. (That seems really obvious as I type it.)

Now, there’s no excuse for sin here, and there was plenty of that. My response was anything but Christlike. But the weakness—in this case mostly insecurity and a lack of emotional margin—that may have a purpose, and God likely has a reason for not rescuing me from it.

Katherine and I are okay. Apologies were made all around, and she and Jenna both got another chance to see Mama is a looooong way from perfect. Shoot, my Bible is even fine- I fixed the part of my picture that she colored on, and the black spots on the opposite page will serve quite nicely as a reminder and an illustration for me.

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My weaknesses are many.

Sometimes He shores them up; sometimes He lovingly reminds me that, even in my weakness, His grace is enough.

The rest of that verse?

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

This is me, boasting about my weaknesses. I’m more chagrined than glad, but boasting nonetheless.

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