Katherine turns 6

Hey, spunky girl.

I love you to bits. You know that, right? The sprinkle of freckles on your nose that you got from me and I got from your Grandpa. The resentful, huffy way you put your glasses on your face. The songs you make up when your baby sister goes to bed.

Baby Lilly, I love you so much
Sometimes you hurt me
and sometimes you cry
and sometimes you’re just ANNOYING,
But you’re my family, so I still love you
more than anybody else
who’s not in my family…

And then there’s the one that you made up a few months ago that you sing almost every night, without pesky hindrances like, say, words that make sense or a fixed key:

The mountains are quiet
The hills are bright
The sun beats powerfully on its little light
So sleep, sleep, little one
Sleep, sleep, little one
Sleep, sleep, little one, sleeeeeeeeep.

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Photo: Sarah Lewis Photography

Seriously, kid. Where do you come up with these? But you sing them with every ounce of earnestness you have which, believe me, is a lot. Every time I try write down the things you say, I have to use caps lock for about half of your words. Because you JUST have SO MUCH to SAY and it’s ALL so VERY IMPORTANT. There’s NOT A THING that comes out of your mouth that you don’t COMPLETELY OWN. You are ALL IN.

All in.

That basically sums you up, Katherine. And I adore you. This year, we’ll keep working to make that enthusiastic will of iron work to your advantage, okay? I see benefits already.

A couple weeks ago, it was Mother’s Day. I opted out of church because I’m a big ball of neuroses about this particular holiday and we went to a playground instead. I heard a boy say something truly awful to you:

“Your mom doesn’t even want you. Not really.” 

At first, I thought I misheard. Surely he said watch and he was commenting on my parenting (happy Mother’s Day to me), but we talked later and I learned that this isn’t the first time he’s tried to convince you that I don’t care about you.*

You are unfazed. Bless your oppositional little heart. I love this about you. You’re so sure of your place in your mama’s heart that there’s NO WAY this insecure child is going to get into your head or under your skin.  I don’t want him saying it to you, and we talked about it for a bit, but I’m floored by how legitimately fine you are. You remind me of your daddy. He knows who he is and he’s not especially bothered by people who don’t. (It’s not like this is the first time I’ve seen the similarities between you and him.)

I wish I were more like you.

Katherine, you are strong and you are brave and you are generous. (You keep giving your favorite buddies away to your siblings, certain that they’ll be as blessed as you are by your stuffed cheetah. You give gifts that cost you, and I love seeing your heart in this.) You are growing in self-control and wisdom and truth.

You’re a force, little girl. You’re going to change the world.

I know this already and you are only six. (Shoot, I’ve known it since you turned three.)

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Use your powers for good, not evil, okay? I know you can. I know you will. And I love you always. You’re growing up just right.


*side note for those following along at home: please don’t get too bent out of shape about this. It’s an awful thing to say, but I know just enough of this kid’s story to believe that he’s just transmitting his own stuff. We choose grace (with boundaries) and I look for a chance to speak life to this boy.

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letting go of loving motherhood

Hey, friends! I’m over at Kindred Mom again! Today, I’m sharing about a burden I’ve recently set down: loving my job as a whole. Here’s the essay in its entirety. Or just read to the end and click on the link if you want the rest.


I sit on the cracking 70’s orange and gold linoleum in our kitchen, phone in hand. The trauma of the day hasn’t been anything catastrophic. My littles have been noisy and destructive and disobedient; basically, it’s Tuesday. But today I’m undone. Between the noise and defiance and the need to do something about whatever just got broken, I’m sobbing. I should clarify: I am not a crier. Unless I’m pregnant, crying is a thing that happens perhaps a handful of times a year. Anyhow, I’m crying hard enough that I can’t call a friend. I have to text:

“I hate my job. Hate it. I love my kids, but this job sucks.”

It kills me to say it. Typing it makes me a little shaky. I carry a load of expectations about what a “good mom” looks like. Among them: a good mom does not hate her job. Right?  

***

When I was seven—the same age as my oldest daughter now—I knew I wanted to be a mom. I just knew I’d love it. I loved holding tiny babies, playing with bigger toddlers, giggling with them all the way. I figured the work involved with raising kids (all the things to do with keeping a house full of people running: dishes, cooking, laundry) would be worthwhile for the joy of it. I saw my own mother doing this—enjoying the tinies and handling the tasks— so I assumed what I saw as a seven-year-old was the totality of motherhood.

I was gonna love momming. Because a good mom loves her job. [Read more…]

notes from inside fatigue

Lilly weaned unexpectedly in February.

Part of me was really excited about this—I’ve been waiting to have my very own body to my very own self for eight years. But my body had other ideas. That week, my family practice doctor mentioned the likelihood of adrenal fatigue and pointed me to some resources. (Side note- if you google “adrenal fatigue,” about half the hits will tell you why this isn’t a real diagnosis. Many of the remaining sites will explain to you why everyone has adrenal fatigue. The few that are left have been helpful, but there’s a lot to wade through. Let me reiterate: this came from a legitimate doctor.) Anyhow, I started looking into it, and before the recommended book even arrived, my body CRASHED.

It was like my body said, “You’re not sustaining the life of a little person? Awesome. You’ve been exhausted since 2010, and you haven’t rested well. We’re going to fix that now.”

I lost all of March.

I went to bed early, dragged myself out of bed late, fell asleep by accident in the middle of the morning with mischief happening all around me, and again on purpose in the afternoon while the littles were down and the bigs watched TV. When I wasn’t asleep, I was counting up the ridiculous number of hours I’d slept and counting down to when I’d get another chance. At one point, it seemed like a particularly good idea to find a way to sleep forever. (Before you freak out on this point, please know I am not, was not suicidal. Ideation is apparently a thing that can happen when you get that tired. I handled the incident responsibly with people who care about me.)

My emotional responses range from resignation to relief, with the occasional spike of rage just for variety. If this sounds like depression to you, I agree. Except I’m pretty fully medicated for that, and the SSRI is taking care of the anxiety symptoms, so I assume it should be covering any chemical depression as well. I’m just. so. tired.

This last six weeks have been bananas. I haven’t lost them to some adrenal fatigue blackout like I did March, but there’s been a lot of travel and a lot of trying to find pockets for rest and saying “no” to good things in favor of naps. Saying “no” to things like keeping my house in a state of good enough and keeping my children and their clothing relatively clean. I’m in survival mode here, and two and a half months in, I’m learning to be okay with it, to figure out which pieces are truly necessary. It’s educational! Yay, learning!


Why am I sharing this here? Why have I spent hours over the last weeks squeezing out these words? I don’t need sympathy and I don’t need help. (I have lots of that.) I want to warn you. I feel like somebody probably warned me and I didn’t listen, because I thought I didn’t have the option to rest because little people. But on the off chance you need to hear it and are in a space to listen, I had to tell you what my life is like right now, in hopes that you don’t repeat my mistakes.

Take care of your body.

Even when it feels selfish. Because you know what sucks your ability to live your life for your people? This. Ain’t nobody got time for THIS. I spent YEARS doing the things for all the people and then working my tail off after the babies went to bed to keep on top of the house. Now I spend sizable chunks of time leaving the children unsupervised because I cannot stay awake.

Don’t be like me.

Get rest. Feed your body good things. Exercise, but not like you hate yourself. Self-neglect is not worth it. I know taking care of you is hard. Really. Because here I am with four kids ages one to seven, trying to figure out how to fit 13 hours of sleep into every 24. It would’ve been better if I’d just made the recommended eight or nine happen the last eight years. Is that an option while nursing babies? I’ll never know. But I wish I’d spent a little less time doing chores late at night.

speaking shame to survive it: I’m sorry I’m fat.

I did something frivolous and utterly lovely this past Thursday.

My friend booked us both appointments at a spa, and I didn’t stop her. We had brunch at this gorgeous restaurant overlooking a waterfall, then I got a massage. It felt decadent and totally outside my regular life.

I’ve had massages before on occasion, but usually when I have been pregnant or, once, immediately postpartum. (Newborn Lilly spent the appointment sleeping between my shins, which sounds awkward, but worked out nicely.)

This time, the, Jana (“Yana”) the massage therapist gave me instructions and stepped out of the room while I stripped out of my fluffy spa bathrobe, put my hair in the highest possible messy bun (per her instructions), and laid on the heated table under the blanket. She reentered and I relaxed facedown, silently talking to Jesus and trying not to drool or fall asleep.

Something switched. I went from, “Thank you SO MUCH for this chance to rest and BE” to an irrepressible self-consciousness. I don’t know why. Somewhere between lying down and the massage of my left arm, I was overcome by shame. All I could think was, “I’m so sorry I’m fat. I’m sorry. I’m fat.”

I tried to talk myself down. I’ve worked so hard to be okay—grateful, even—in my body. To be strong and healthy and feed myself healthy food and let that be enough. This is important to me for my own sake and for my girls’ sakes as well. Yes, I’d like to set down the weight, just so I can spend less of my energy carting it around. But I feel almost comfortable with my body, and I’m happy with the work I’ve done, so to hear the inside of my head become a swirly vortex of “Ohmygosh, I’m so sorry I’m fat” was disheartening. Actually, to be honest, I felt shame about my shame. I don’t need to apologize for the space I take up. I’m paying actual dollars for this stranger to touch my naked self, and I don’t need to apologize for anything. Besides, she’s a massage therapist. She’s seen everything. It’s fine, Robin. Get a friggin’ grip. 

The inner dialogue suddenly switched again to a compassionate, self-parenting tone: “Oh, hon. I’m so sorry you’re still here. It’s okay. You don’t need to apologize for your size and you don’t need to apologize for your shame, either. The work you’ve done is real. You’re not “back where you started.” I’m sad that it’s cropping up for you again now. Speak it aloud. Shame can’t survive when it’s spoken aloud.”

(Can I pause a moment here to celebrate the progress toward self-compassion? This is new for me.)

Jana had me roll over (no easy task when I had only two or three inches on either side of my body) and I blurted it out. “I can’t shut off this thought that I need to apologize for being fat. And I know it’s stupid—you’ve seen it all—but I just needed to say it.”

It was fine.

Of course it was.

Jana and I talked for much of the remainder of the appointment about nutrition and adrenal fatigue and insulin resistance and research (she’s going to school to be a nutritionist) and how it’s legitimately possible that a person might be trying really hard to be healthy but the body might not respond in the ways we hope.

You guys, it was terrifying to speak it aloud because I am, in the deepest part of me, still trying to be okay with my shape. Also, because I didn’t want to sound like an idiot. Because being fat is one thing, but being fat and stupid is too far. But Brené Brown is right. Shame can’t survive vulnerability or connection. I was vulnerable; she allowed connection; the shame dissipated.

This is what I want to remember: speaking shame aloud gives me a chance of stepping away from it.

Yes, being vulnerable to a stranger is a risk and requires some discernment. I can imagine people I know who would be poor choices to share shame with because of their own insecurities. Strangers can be wildcards, but they can also be kind.

It was worth the risk: my memory of that massage is now characterized by relaxation, bravery, and connection where there would have been shame and insecurity.

 

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.]

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!