screen time seasons

Hey, guys! Posting at Kindred Mom again today! (Also, this was written when it was -12. Grateful to say it is no longer.) 

Today, like most days, my kids have been tugging at my clothes and talking nonstop over each other and me. When I’m trying to write out what needs to be done in my planner, my oldest comes to get my attention by bumping my right elbow, sending an errant swoop of ink across the page. When I get on my laptop to type, my toddler boy thinks it’s super fun to push whatever buttons he can reach. We muscle through the day: meals, school, play, clean-up, and there’s constant noise, bickering, touching. It’s mom-life, and I love it, but my brain needs a break in the worst way.

Blessedly, for a few hours each day, my youngest two still sleep. I‘ve gone through various seasons, trying to decide what to do with the bigger two girls during those precious hours. We’ve tried doing schoolwork—it’s a quiet time to teach them. I’d love for it to be reading time, but the big two aren’t quite ready to read independently. The older one is close, but it’s still laborious. I send them outside for a while, but it’s cold—twelve degrees below zero today—and, though my babies are Alaskans, outside time doesn’t last long at these temps.

I know the official American Association of Pediatrics recommendation for maximum screen time. I’ve heard arguments about how bad it is for development, and I’ve seen the effects in my kids’ attitudes. When my first and second were small, I dreamed they wouldn’t see any screens until the age of five, except for high-quality entertainment on family movie nights where we’d make memories over homemade kettle corn. In reality… [read more.]

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every April

I don’t remember exactly how she told me. Maybe her firstborn (just barely one then) wore a “big sister” shirt. Maybe, across half the world over FaceTime, she just gave me the wide-eyed excited-but-this-is-crazy face and told me over, “Guess what! I’m PREGNANT.” Either way, I was excited for her. We had both been awaiting positive pregnancy tests for a few months, both hoping for a close sibling pair—her first and second, my third and fourth. Her baby was a few months older than my youngest, so it made sense that she’d have news to announce first. I started dreaming about perhaps flying to Czech to see her when her baby arrived late the following April, providing I didn’t get pregnant too soon.

I did. It was literally days later when I got the faintest second pink line. But this was not my first pregnancy. I knew: a faint positive is a positive. She was one of the first people I told. We figured our due dates were perhaps a week apart. “Cousin twins!” we excitedly declared them.

And that April, she gave birth to her Sophia, and I was six months pregnant with my Lilly. There were no cousin twins. That pink line flickered and went out over the next few weeks, then my body let the baby go. That April was a weird mix of feelings: excitement at the pending birth of my niece, sadness that there was no corresponding birth for Hope, Sophie’s “twin,” and guarded anticipation of the baby girl I was finally beginning to feel moving within.

Every year, I expect grief as I pass the anniversary of the loss, and every year I’m surprised to find the anniversary is over with little feeling. I guess I see it—the prevailing symptoms of my grief when I lost her were numbness and lethargy (which turned out to be depression). I only recall crying twice that Fall; I just remember sitting in the recliner in my living room, trying to muster up a few craps to give about my three little kids’ misbehavior, and feeling generally catatonic.

But in April, it hits. This is the month little Hope would have come. This is the month she didn’t.

I’m never quite sure what to do with it. It has taken me by surprise for a third year. I remember people telling me when I became pregnant with Lilly that a rainbow baby is the best medicine for a miscarriage. My truth is a little more muddled than that. I’ve written before about the work it took to fully love Lilly and Hope simultaneously, because wishing Hope here means basically wishing Lilly gone, and celebrating Lilly means I’ve let Hope go.

To some degree, this remains.

This April, as I see Sophie’s birthday coming and picture Hope turning two just a few days later, I’m aware that it’s not really fair to picture Hope here turning two and Lilly also turning two in July. It’s not possible.

But April is a sweet month for me, too. I’m finding that, like the last two, Jesus is holding me close and quiet. The grief stings, sure. But to borrow a lyric from Andrew Peterson,

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not.

The grief means she’s not forgotten. It reminds me she was here. Miscarriage is weird—life moves on like it never was, when a mama is acutely aware of the lack of a human in her body, in her family. But April reminds me she was here, and her name reminds me (as I had hoped it would) that she’s not lost, she’s just gone. I know where she is, and I will get to love Hope beside Lilly eventually.

Friend, I don’t know what your story is. I know there’s a good chance you have one like mine, or eventually you may. I promise you know people who hold little ones in their hearts that few others remember.

If this is your story, I hope you find comfort in the sadness, as I am. I hope Jesus holds you close in the sorrow and the quiet. That the aching remains, but the breaking does not.

Because the Man of All Sorrows, He never forgot
What sorrows were carried by the hearts that He bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not.


If this is you or someone you love, I want to point you to a book I’m reading right now. It’s due out 5/1/2018 (so just in time for the potentially oh-so-painful Mother’s Day!) and it’s called Grace Like Scarlett. I’ll probably share more about it when I’m done, because I believe from the depths of my soul that this book is one that the world needs, but for now, I’m about a third of the way through it, and I’m experiencing it just like April: the sorrow is quiet and deep, and the presence of Christ is palpable and deeper still.  If you’re interested in checking it out, you can find it here.

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daily rhythms

Warning: this post is long and full of minutia. But a friend asked me how schedules and routines work in our house, so I thought I’d share in case you find it helpful.

Monday: I roll out of bed exhausted when I hear the big girls tromping down the hall at 9:05. Shoot. They’re up. They hassle me about oatmeal and milk. All I can think about is coffee. But I’m the mom, so I get their breakfasts, then play whack-a-mole with their needs and mine for an hour. I forgot to take meds, so I go back to my bathroom to do that, but while I head back there, a fight breaks out over who gets to use the stool, so I turn back around to take care of that, then get my medicine, make one side of the bed, head back to the kitchen because they’ve gotten noisy, etc… for an hour. Then I realize that the little two are still in bed. It’s ten, and nobody’s yelling, but they’re both chattering. Brian’s yelling, “MAMA! I! WANT! TO! GET! UP!” over and over with the occasional, “I! POOPED! IN! MY! DIAPER!” thrown in for variety. So I get him up. Then Lilly. Diapers are changed. More oatmeal is made, milks poured, fights mediated, crises averted, and mischief managed. It’s fine, but it’s now quarter to eleven, and I realize that my body is on overdrive. I haven’t even looked at my calendar. Was I supposed to do something? Maybe??? Oh! Yeah. I’m meeting a friend in… FIFTEEN MINUTES?!? Fine. Okay. Everyone in the car! NOW! No, Jenna. I don’t know where your other pretty shoe is. Get your boots. It’s fine. We need socks if we’re playing at McDonalds, everyone go get them. No, Katherine. Go get in the car, stop rawring at your brother. You’re making him cry. Please respect his “no.”

On and on. It was fine. Awesome. We figured it out. But contrast this with the following morning:

Tuesday: I wake up at 8. I’m exhausted like yesterday, but at least I’m up. I brush my teeth and get meds and make the bed on my way out of my room. I get breakfast and scribble out my morning pages (it clears my head), my coffee is consumed and I look over my to-dos and my plans for the day. The girls come out quietly at 8:30 and I send them back until their lights turn green. (Side note- this works for us. They’ve been doing it since they were born- they have these clocks that change colors when it’s “get up” time. People freak out when I say that they stay in their rooms until nine, but I promise, it’s fine.) I chat a little with Andrew, put away last night’s dishes, and switch laundry into the dryer. The girls are up at 9, I point them to the oatmeal sitting in bowls on the counter, ready for water and cooking. They’ve gotten good at this. When they’re about done, I hear the babies. I toss their oatmeal in the microwave and go get them out of their beds and change them. One of them needs a quick rinse-off, but that’s no biggie. I set them both at the table. I feed Lilly and get Brian his milk while the big two play in the living room.

These are actual days of last week.

Which would you rather live through?

I used to have mostly the first kind of day, and once in a while, the second kind would happen, but I had no idea how to repeat it. Now the nicer morning is the norm. It’s not without its share of chaos, but I know how to improve the chances of calm:

Routines.

There’s a lot of big talk in mom circles about daily rhythms and routines and how to move the kids through the day in a way that supports sanity in the family. I’m still figuring it out… I’m always on the hunt for ways to structure my day, but so far all I have is ways to structure my kidless (or sorta kidless) time. If I miss them, my morning has an 80% chance of ending up like Monday. If I do them, there’s 80% chance of the morning looking more like Tuesday. It’s so worth it to me.

Mornings and nights.

The difference between Monday and Tuesday this week was my evening and morning routine.

My kids’ evening routine is pretty simple: We eat dinner as soon as Andrew gets home around 6:30. By 7, we’re having the big two check their beds. (“[water] Bottles? Buddies? Blankets?”) The three oldest quickly put all the toys away (we don’t keep a lot of toys available because we’re mean, so this isn’t typically a big deal) while the baby either finishes eating or throws away trash. (She’s so good at it!) Then it’s teeth and stories (if there’s time) and prayers in a routine that feels chaotic but only takes 30-60 minutes most nights (plus the repeated “go back to bed” after bathroom trips, etc).

Then my work begins.

I’ve honed my PM checklist over the last few years. In The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande talks about ideal length of lists (short) and what kind of things should be on them. Here’s what I’m down to:

  • Kitchen: I do dishes and counters. If I’ve done dishes at least one other time per day, this may only take ten minutes. Imagine what I could do if I had a DISHWASHER!
  • Dining room table: This is a new addition—I feel better if I wipe it down. So I do. Takes very little time.
  • Tidy: Attack whatever is in the living room/dining room area. It rarely takes long.
  • Start laundry: No, it doesn’t sour overnight. I’ve found that one load a day works really well for me. I don’t always get a load all the way through, but it’s easier to fold and put away three clean loads in a day than it is to push three loads through the whole wash/dry cycle and then put them away.
  • Get breakfast ready: My poor children have instant oats with peanut butter six days a week. They’ll probably survive. But for some reason, it only takes me 90 seconds to get oatmeal in bowls at night, and it takes like twelve minutes to do one at a time in the morning and it makes me crazy. I don’t know why this happens, but if I can save myself headache in the morning by doing 90 seconds at night, I’m going to.
  • Get to bed by 10:30. This has become non-negotiable in recent months. Someday, I’ll talk about all the havoc wreaked by adrenal fatigue, but for today, I will simply tell you that I make bedtime happen. It’s at this point that I listen to the readings from my Bible-in-a-Year plan.

 

Morning routine, which comes second, because it really is just a continuation of the night routine:

  • Get up by 8. Sometimes I hit the gym with Sarah at 7, but I want to at least be up plenty before the kids come out. This makes a huge difference in the rest of my list.
  • Take meds: I don’t really have words for how important this is for the well-being of me and my entire family. Oh wait. Yes, I sort of do.
  • Make the bed: I don’t know when or why this started mattering to me, but it does, so I do.
  • Switch laundry: remember last night’s load? If I switch it first thing, then I only need to think about it ONE MORE TIME. If putting it in and switching it over are tied to my bedtime and morning routines, I don’t waste my minimally available brain space trying to remember to mess with it. All I have to remember is getting it out of the dryer.
  • Eat breakfast: I can get a quality, protein-rich breakfast in pretty easily, provided I get it going before kids are up.
  • Empty the drain rack.

 

So that’s it. Of course there are various levels of “done” for each list, and subsequent shades of calm starts. But this doesn’t require getting my little people on board with anything, and (if I do it) we’re set up for a better day. (I do want to get good rhythms of school and chores and quiet time in with the kids, but I’m not there yet.) The rest of the day is kind of a crapshoot, but if we begin well, I’m more able to handle that.


I don’t expect your list to look the same as mine (or even close, necessarily), but I’m curious which things are your non-negotiables. What can you do that makes your whole day simpler? Join the conversation here or on Facebook!

daily resilience tool kit

Hey, all! I’m over at Kindred Mom again. Here’s a portion of what you’ll find there:


It’s 10 am. I’ve been parenting for hours now. There have been wet beds and tantrums, defiance and messes. Breakfast happened with more than the average number of spills, and I’ve found spilled oatmeal more than once with my bare feet. My highly sensitive nervous system is twitching and I’m on the verge of shutting down. At least two of the four children are yelling at all times, and I can’t seem to get us all reeled back in.

Today was supposed to be different. I wanted quiet time, breakfast, and coffee before the kids woke, so I could  step into the morning with a calm, glad heart and the hope that my children would follow my example. But a bad night with several kids coming to my side of the bed in the ungodly dark hours followed by a rough morning of bad behavior (not least of all, my own) has set off a cascade of crap. You know how this goes… interrupted sleep is followed by early morning chaos that cruelly precludes coffee. My nerves are frayed and my responses less than gracious. Their behavior escalates along with mine until all five of us are yelling over each other and I basically hate everything.

I’m always surprised by how the little things throw me. I see my expectations dashed over and over, in a million small ways, and I see how I come undone every. single. time.

It’s not the big things that take me down. I can handle the urgent care trips, weeks spent trying to keep a newborn fed while juggling a household and recovering from birth, severe postpartum anxiety, even a heartbreaking miscarriage. I’ve been through all of these, and for whatever reason, coming back from those was straightforward enough. I’ve been able to dig deep and find what I needed to walk forward, in some cases directly to the support of professionals.

However, when life is just the normal chaos, I freeze. My movements and words become slow and deliberate, as if I’m trying to convince myself and the officer that I have not, in fact, had too much to drink. Internally, there’s a storm of shouting and anger: “Why can’t you just handle it? Why can’t they just obey? Of course she spilled her milk. Of course she did. Why are these people so loud??? You’re the one who decided four babies in a handful of years was a good idea!”…


Read the rest of the post hereI promise it goes somewhere hopeful and potentially useful. 

just like that…

I started my first pregnancy roughly eight years ago. Since then, it’s been a steady cycle of pregnancy to breastfeeding to breastfeeding-while-pregnant to just pregnant to breastfeeding again. Zero breaks. I’ve been directly passing my calories to one or two (or, on and off, when a friend had supply issues, three) babies at a time for eight years.

Until now.

Lilly has been down to one feeding for a couple of months, and the last weeks, she’s been less and less interested. Now she appears to have quit altogether. Suddenly, I have my body back to myself. I can take medicine without mentally checking whether it’ll pass to baby or affect supply. This is exciting. My body is tired and way past ready for a rest. It’s also bittersweet for all the normal reasons: my baby is growing up, entering a new phase, all of that. We don’t, as of now, have plans for more babies. We’re open to changes of mind or surprise “bonus blessings,” but so far we haven’t had any surprises, so this may well be the end.

On the one hand, I want to celebrate… this body, for all our fights, has brought life over and over again. Thousands of feedings. Mental math says it’s actually close to ten thousand at this point. That’s friggin’ amazing. My boobs are badass and deserve a trophy. And, while we’re passing them out, my uterus deserves one, as well. Five pregnancies (one short-lived) is impressive, I’d say. Also? I can drink coffee again, hallelujah and amen.

But also, eight years is a long time. It’s long enough, certainly, to start to shape an identity. I realize right now that I’ve been in the baby season for so long that I’m feeling a little unmoored when I think about releasing it. Who am I, even, without a baby attached, either inside or out?

I know it’s kind of a silly thing to get all morose about. Women have been weaning babies almost as long as they’ve been having them, and it seems like it shouldn’t really justify an existential crisis. But it’s me, and my hormones are out of whack, so existential crisis, here we come!

I don’t have a solid end for this. I’ll keep moving forward. I’ll grieve the loss of this season (and the self I leave behind with it) just a smidge, and do my best to enjoy the next, like I’ve been doing all along.

just wait until the honeymoon wears off…

When we were newly married, we couldn’t get enough of each other’s company. We’d been best friends for ages, but now we actually got to live together, and it was fabulous. We wandered about holding hands and smiling, as newlyweds often do.

Often, more seasoned married couples would take one look and say something patronizing like, “Aw, that’s sweet. Newlyweds are adorable. It’s so fun right now, but wait until the honeymoon wears off…”

My 22-year-old rebellious heart was enraged. “WEARS OFF???” I’d fume internally. “How dare you take this love that we’ve grown into and dismiss it as a phase? Why do you have to tell me that it will wear off? I don’t believe it.”

We are now 35 with a bunch of kids interrupting our sleep. If there was a time for the honeymoon to wear off, surely it’s happened by now.

You know what? They were right. I was wrong. The honeymoon doesn’t last forever.

Nothing maintains its novelty indefinitely. But what they didn’t tell me is this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Years in, we are comfortable with each other in ways we weren’t then, despite our long friendship. We can laugh at things that would have been mortifying back then. I know him and can anticipate what will be helpful. I know which spot on his back always itches and I’ve gotten better at knowing when to move closer and when to give space.

But they were also wrong.

It’s true that novelty (by definition) has to wear off, but the happiness of the honeymoon isn’t really just about novelty. It’s about discovering and enjoying each other and this gift of marriage. And this is ongoing. Andrew and I aren’t the same people we were then. We get to keep discovering and enjoying each other. The marriage is also drastically different than it was… I’m more stable as a human (big sigh of relief) and it’s morphed and grown around our family and our selves.

It isn’t all perfect, but the struggles give depth to the joys. It’s a good gift, this marriage. If I had a chance to talk to newlywed me, I’d tell her:

Just wait. It’s even better than you think.

light

Today is a writing day. Up to now, 2018 has been largely devoid of words. I looked back a bit at 2017, wrote a few pieces for a community I love, but otherwise, I haven’t had any Deep Thoughts, at least not any ready for public consumption.

But today, for some reason, I have ALL the words. I have a neat little stack of posts lined up for publishing or for writing in my “Drafts” folder.

But first, I want to talk to you a tiny bit about light.

I had thought, going into the year, that “connect” would be the word I focused on. I’ve come to realize that it’s both my highest value and my highest need. But, sitting down on the first of the year, going through my Powersheets and a variety of other goal-setting/journaling materials from around the interwebs, something else materialized.

Light.

Similar to Present and Wonder, the word is resonating on a few levels.

Light: Unencumbered.

“…let us throw off everything that hinders…” I am TIRED.

2017 left me weary and burdened. It’s time to let that go.

Oddly, one of the primary ways that’s working itself out is in the physical realm. I’ve written many times and many places about how weight loss is never again going to be a goal for its own sake. Currently, weight loss is for *my* own sake, rather than *its* own. Most nights, I haul wood from the garage, up the stairs, and to the hearth. We happen to burn wood pellet logs as our primary source of heat, and they come in packs of five 4-lb logs. We burn (usually) either three or four 20-lb packs a day. So I heft either 60 or 80 pounds of wood up the stairs every night after the kids go to bed. (Do you think I take more than one trip? No. Obviously not. Do you even know me???) When I get to the top of the stairs and set that business down, I feel MUCH BETTER than I did hauling it up the stairs. I want to feel better, and 60 to 80 lbs is what I need to lose. (That doesn’t even get me in “normal” BMI range, but, as I’ve mentioned before, BMI is a load of crap.) When I’m pregnant and breastfeeding, I’ve learned my body doesn’t release any extra weight regardless of my efforts, and I’ve been in one state, the other, or both for EIGHT YEARS without break. I’m just about at the end of that season, and it’s time to set down the weight. I actually started a side blog to log the daily progress and struggles. (That’s actually probably part of the lack of “real words” here. My 100-word posts there are taking some of my writing energy.) Anyway, if you’re curious about it, you can read more at Going to Health in a Handbasket. My approach is small, incremental lifestyle changes. No weird products. No psychotic workouts. Just tweaking my life for slow and steady health improvement.

Light: Brilliant. Luminous.

I want to bear light to others and see it in people around me. Most of all, I want to focus on the One who called himself the Light.

So I’m back on a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. I’ve been subsisting for the last year or few on a verse or two a day in my devotional plus the odd gospel or epistle binge. That’s not enough for me to make it through, let alone grow in knowledge and love of Christ. In order to focus on the Light, I need to be immersed in His word. My hope is that like Moses whose face shined after spending time with God, and like Peter and Paul who were unschooled and ordinary (raises hand and waves it wildly), I will bear light both in my actions and words as I spend time listening and talking to Him.

I want to notice light in others. We’re all created in the image of God, and I need to look for that in the people around me. Yes, we’re fallen. Yes, we’re all bent by nature and action toward sin. No one is righteous. But neither is anyone exempt from the Image. In my life, this means looking for it in my children, which means making time for one-on-one time, rather than constantly trying to manage them as a horde. I’m a hard-core introvert, so one-on-one is always better, but most of all, it’s better when it comes to a loud and fighting pile-o-children. (Yes, I had a bunch of kids in a handful of years, and that was all on purpose and perhaps not planned out very well. Whatever. I love them and wouldn’t trade them, so I work with what I have.) I do much better even remembering to look for the fingerprints of God on my kids faces and hearts when we’re interacting as individuals, so I’m making a point of doing that more regularly.

Also, I want to allow my husband to shine light on my life. That’s part of how marriage works and I love it, but also I’m a BIG FAT CHICKEN. So sometimes I hide. For instance, I started the aforementioned daily blog in mid-December and didn’t tell him about it for more than a month because I was scurred. I didn’t know how to talk about it with him without it becoming a discussion on calories (our thoughts on weight loss methods are vastly different) and I was mostly afraid I’d fail, and then he’d know about it. So I hid. And I wrote kind of furtively every night, tilting my screen ever-so-slightly out of his view, and it was stupid. It became a thing. I don’t want to hide from him. He’s a good man and he loves me, and I’m making a point of telling him things. The more nervous I am about it, the more I need to say something. I can’t think of any time in recent years where that’s gone wrong. (The blog was the same—he was as loving and kind as I know him to be, though baffled at my hesitance.)

So… Light. In all the ways, with all the people.

I know we’re like a sixth of the way through 2018, but did you pick a word? What is it?