OMG – My Daughter Dropped an AP Class!

IMG_1433.jpgI have been trying to write a book filled with the things I want to teach my kids, but lately I’ve been wondering if I should ditch it and write a book about the things my kids teach me.

I have talked a good game to other parents about having perspective about the mind-numbing game of college entrance. The top 10% rule is toast at UT and A&M. UT announced that it is now top 6%. Will it be 5%, 4% in 2 years? Who knows? The latest I heard about A&M is that they are going to be exempt from this rule – or that they are allowed to restrict it to 30 percent of their admissions. Either way, it’s changing.

The pressure started for my kids in 5th grade. A high school counselor visited my oldest kid’s school during assembly, and he came home in tears because he was sure he was in the wrong math class. He still holds the math against me – even though it all worked out JUST FINE.

Back to my daughter – she plays tennis, which has a fall and spring season and requires her to miss a lot of school in the spring, and she is an amazing artist. She decided this year that taking 6 AP/ Pre-AP classes was ridiculous and would keep her from her art. So, she dropped Pre-AP Computer Science for Money Matters (already proving to be one of the most practical classes in all of high school) and dropped out of AP World History which would have been the biggest time sucker of her year.

She is transformed. Seriously, her shoulders are more relaxed, her skin has cleared up, her mood improved, she is sleeping better, and she is working hard on her art. She feels like she has reclaimed a big chunk of life. Because she is less overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work, her engagement in her classes has jumped. We are having great conversations about Algebra concepts, Fahrenheit 451, 401K’s, and ancient civilizations. We did not do this last year when she was trying to keep her head above water and was constantly sleep deprived.

To be clear, my daughter is a smarty – really smart – but even for the really smart kids, the path they feel obligated to take to be competitive in high school is terribly unhealthy. Are they capable of taking all of these classes and passing their AP tests? Some of them clearly are, but most of them are zombies. Her friends who are at the top of their class are not the happiest kids I know. They look like they live in a pressure cooker – because they do!

School districts, counselors, teachers, parents, and even some Ivy League school admissions counselors have begun the serious discussion about the need to cap the number of AP classes students take in any given year. Without a cap, kids will always be tempted to game the system instead of approaching high school as a way to broaden their horizons and explore their potential.

My son played 4 years of tennis and spent 4 years in choir – 3 in Chorale. Choir was one of the most challenging courses he pursued – the sight reading and all-state music they performed was mind-blowing. But it was not a 6.0 class, so he paid a price. Most students at the top of his class dropped any fine art after their freshman year and many of them also dropped out of sports in order to stack their schedule with 6.0 classes. We did the math upon his graduation to see what would have happened if he had gamed the system a little and given up tennis or choir to stack in the computer science. He would have competed for the top spot in his class! But at what cost? His experiences in tennis and choir were more important for his personal development than any one of his big AP classes.

Back to the second kid… I wish I could tell you I was jumping for joy when my daughter told me she was not going to play the AP game, but honestly, it took me a day to come around to it. I was scared of how it would impact her to be lower in class rank. I got over it. I’m even more over it after seeing the positive impact on her spirit. She is still in 4 6.0 classes, by the way.

The only way we are going to help all of our students pursue more balanced and healthy lives (besides changing our ridiculous school start time) is to place some kind of cap that encourages them to broaden their horizons. Because our school offers an IB program that would give an unfair GPA advantage to IB kids, I would suggest that there be a cap of 4 AP classes for freshman and sophomores. Kids would be more likely to spend another year in the arts or try out for a sport, try an on-level class that is out of their comfort zone, spend time with their families, get more involved in their community, or sleep!

As far as college admissions – this was my observation over the past 2 years of counseling various graduating seniors: Every kid who wanted to go to college is going to college. Many kids got into great universities. Most of them were not guaranteed entrance. I saw several kids gain entrance to A&M who were NOT close to the top 10 percent of their class. Some of them went the Blinn route. Some were required to show up a few weeks early to take a couple summer classes.  Many kids landed in fantastic programs at smaller universities and are already telling me how thankful they are to have smaller class sizes.

I have also seen a Lone Star College trend. Mostly due to the financial crazy of college, many kids who are capable of getting into universities are still deciding to spend a year or 2 taking all of their basic requirements at community college. I know people who teach at Lone Star. I wish my kids could be in their classes. Several kids I know would have struggled to get into the “big 2” TX schools, but they received a scholarship to Lone Star and will enter university as juniors having not spent a penny on tuition.

The point is – your kid can go to college without burning themselves out trying to game the system. There are a handful of kids in each of our Magnolia classes who will be looking at Harvard/MIT/Rice and the like. I’m not writing about them. I’m writing about the other 200 something kids who are making active plans to go to a university. My advice to them? Do your best – but have a life, develop as a human, and know it will all work out.

If you still can’t stand it, I’ll let you in on one more observation. You are better off encouraging your kid to be realistic about coursework and invest a little time and money in solid SAT/ACT tutoring. Most of the universities (including UT and A&M) put as much or more weight on these test scores as they do class rank (not fair, but true). In fact, outside of the guaranteed entrance thing, the colleges my son applied to did not want his weighted GPA. They wanted his real GPA – the one that does not take AP classes into account. His scholarship at LA Tech was based on his straight GPA and his test scores. His AP classes were hugely beneficial, and the teaching was excellent. He learned a lot, improved his SAT/ACT scores, and is very thankful not to be taking those classes all over again in college. I’m all for hard classes and AP, but I’m also for healthy kids!

So, do you homework and understand the system. Know your kid and be willing to advocate for his or her health, even if it means not playing the game. 4 years of exhaustion is a long 4 years. It takes the love out of learning. Our kids are more than numbers. We all know that deep down – now let’s help them put that truth into action.

Tennis Troubles

The stress last night was palpable. It seeped from her pores, visibly crept into her muscles – I could see the change in her posture as her shoulders tensed and her head slumped. A 3-day tennis tournament – in a room with 3 other girls, a new, real swimsuit (the last 2 years a swimsuit consisted of running shorts, sports bra, and tank top), anticipating the lack of sleep, knowing there will be no pause from social interaction. My heart ached as we navigated a stressful, exhausting 30 minutes of packing, trying to prepare and figure out what to pack that would help her feel comfortable and also maybe blend it a little bit.

Today, after 4th period at school, I met her at the tennis courts to exchange school bags for tennis and overnight bags. I could almost taste her ambivalence – she was thankful that I was there and wishing I was in Hong Kong at the same instant. The white bus with the head coach was filling with the cool kids. My heart sank. She’s not a cool kid in that book. Don’t get me wrong – I think her unique, artistic brain and her tender, insightful heart put her in a league of her own, but that does not make her fit into their club.

Oh, but then there is hope! The sweetest 2 cool kids – sophomores (one from our church:)) – climb into the black bus. I see her light up. And they see her light up. They are kind and motion for her to sit behind them. And her shoulders relax and her jaw loosens. Her smile is “her smile”. “Thank you, Lord,” I whisper under my breath, getting ahead of myself. Because 2 seconds later, a cool kid pops into the black bus: “Um… what are y’all doing? We saved you seats on the right bus.” 

“Oh… see ya, girl – have fun…” And they are gone. And she is there with her usual crew – the stragglers – the strugglers – the ones that don’t check enough of the boxes. 13 kids on the white bus, 5 on the black bus. At least she’ll be comfortable…

My heart feels like it has a vice clamp bearing down on it, but I’m also grateful that it did not occur to her to fight for a seat on the white bus. I hope she always finds herself with the strugglers and the broken ones. I hope she is driven by love to bring them kindness and healing when the world tosses them aside.

I have also prayed every moment since (the last 7 hours) that somehow God will meet her this Easter weekend, that somehow her suffering will connect with Jesus’ suffering, that the celebration that He is alive brings her life and hope of a better world to come, a healed and loving world.

Note: Text from the hotel: she says she’s doing “amazingly well” – all the girls are 4 to a room except for her and one other struggler. They each get their own bed.:)  

And one more thing… My other 2 kids and I showed up for the last day and a half and we really enjoyed each other. She took the photo below when she went birding with me – said she was capturing the sadness in post-hurricane Port Aransas. What a blessing when your parents and siblings are your real friends – they tend to stick around. Life can be hard, yet grace abounds.

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Pay It Backwards

Hey sweet Mamas – I’m paraphrasing my favorite author here – “The day you delivered your sweet little bundles, you brought them into a crazy world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen to them. Do not be afraid.” – thought borrowed from Frederick Buechner.

Other human beings will hurt us. We will hurt some of them. The question is what to do with the pain. Of course, there are different levels of pain. What I’m thinking about today is the small-to-moderate variety of human-on-human hurt. And with the start of the school year, my mind is also on my kids.

My middle kid, 8th grade girl, got my attention yesterday. I asked her if she had any particular hopes or goals for 8th grade. She said, “I would like to be more focused and present in class, but really, I just want to try to be kind to 7th graders because I wish 8th graders had been more kind to me last year.”

We hear a lot about paying it forward, but she wants to flip pain on its head and pay it backwards. What a sweet picture of redemption.

I’ve watched the same thing with my senior. He experienced a ton of rejection from 5th grade through last year. Now most of the kids who dished that our are gone, and he seems intent on making sure every kid he comes in contact with feels accepted and respected. He is investing time and energy encouraging younger tennis players, to help their hearts as well as their tennis game.

Our hearts are drawn to redemption stories. We eat up redemption movies. It is because we all understand brokenness. The thought that we could be mended, that relationships could be healed, goes to the very depths of us.

But to live a redemption story means that you must experience pain.

Brutal Redemption

This is not intended to be a brag session on my kids. Don’t worry – we have plenty of whining, door slamming, and eye rolling around here. And I have cried myself to sleep many a night knowing my kids were in pain because of social rejection.

But what an awesome thing to help our kids consider how they can take rejection, flip it around, and pay the beauty of redemption back to younger kids. This works for me, too. I had a lot of internal pain and anxiety during my years with babies and toddlers. Now, years later, how do I flip that around and give back to the Moms who are in that season now?

What does this look like for you?

 

 

Supermarket Mayhem and Master Mamas

Dear sweet young Mama from the Kroger line –

Mercy me, you’ve got your hands full – full with your middle baby – one of three – with a wild tuft of white-blonde hair and the Snow White princess dress she obviously lives in. I wonder if you give her Benadryl once a week just so you can pry it off and wash it in the the middle of the night.

Your words to me, “I don’t get out much.” Yeah – I didn’t either. It’s particularly wearing on a woman’s soul not to get out much, to be removed from both adult conversation and the quiet of nature. And then you do get out and 90 percent of the words you utter are “I’m” and “sorry”  as your little tornado does her thing before and behind you.

I wish I knew who your were so I could send this to you – because I guarantee we had a vastly different perspective about those furious five minutes in the check-out line. My fascinating middle one is a young woman now. My firstborn is about to fly the nest.

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When your little girl was grabbing every candy bar within her reach, tearing the corners of the wrappers and deciding which one to secretly stow in your purse, you were mortified. I watched in wonder and thought, “Dang – that kid must have a high I.Q. I wonder when they will decide to test her for G/T”. If she’s like mine, she’ll be “gifted with a glitch”, but that will make her far more interesting.

When she wandered away from you as you fumbled to pay for your groceries – don’t worry, I had your back – she had this look of pure joy as she picked up every single Disney coloring book with her sticky fingers (candy quest!). Fancy fonts and color and art captured her spirit. This child is going to create; I know it. All you knew is that you had to pay an additional $5.95 for her favorite one – the one that was now missing its front cover.

Then… the hissy fit of the year! Oh my gosh – can she please be in my band when she grows up? A natural performer. Spinning in circles on her back avoiding your reaching hands like a little ninja. Impressive! You saw a stubborn, willful, difficult girl. I saw strength. I saw a baby who will one day be a young woman who will know who she is and what she stands for. I saw a future leader.

And I wish you could have seen, in the midst of your horrific embarrassment, the grace that surrounded you. You were in front of ME! Me, who prayed for your tender, tired heart, who silently blessed your precious hellion, who remembered the years when I “didn’t get out much”.

And then the precious cashier! He wanted to dump the entire stupid candy display in your cart, free of charge, and give you a big high-five on the way out (no wonder Moms don’t get out much – they make the check-out area a freaking nightmare). He didn’t quite know what to do with your baby, but he was full of compassion, not an ounce of judgment.

You were beautiful, full of patience. No yelling, no swatting. You just wanted to hit the rewind button and leave mini Snow White at home! The milk and eggs (and candy bars and coloring books) could have waited.

What you don’t know is that you also gave us a brief moment to practice patience and find our laughter and try our best to bless you in the midst of the chaos. We got a glimpse of a promising future that your current vantage point can’t give you quite yet.

You are a Master Mama, and your baby will shine. I know it! I can’t give you a hug because I don’t know who the heck you are. But for anyone reading this that knows one of these Master Moms in the thick of it, hunt her down and hold her tight. Chase her crazy Snow White or Ninja Turtle for as long as you can handle, and let her take a nap – or a shower.

Some people freak out about the whole “it takes a village” idea, but the strongest future-grownups require more supervision than 1 or 2 humans can possibly give. One day, in a vastly different phase of life, a young Mama may very well look at your strong, beautiful young woman of a daughter and ask, “What is the secret?” And you can say with humble triumph,


“The standard ingredients are love, grace, and mercy. The secret ingredient is pain. The pain is the reflection pool for the other 3, so that not an ounce of the good stuff goes to waste.”


As for today – I pray for you – I will call you Master Mama – I pray you will continue to be surrounded by merciful moments of grace, even when you are too tired to notice. Hang in there and try to keep her safe. The future is much closer than you realize.

Bubble-Wrap Free

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Some days I wish I had special bubble wrap for my kids – material that was impermeable to hate, yet love-breathable – so I could send them out into this beautiful creation to soak it in without the terrifying risk that entails.

It would also protect their hearts from the damage they are capable of doing to others – for all the wrongs done to me, bundled together, have caused me far less distress than the wrongs I have done to others.

Beautiful, Terrible

Yet, I know that it is new experiences that will give my kids breadth, and it is pain and struggle that will give them depth. So I send them out the door every day bubble-wrap free, and I pray and pray and pray they will return safely to me so we can ponder the new things they have seen and repair the damage done.

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And then I pray some more for the strength and courage to do it all over again.

Is Your Heart a Fixer-Upper?

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This is where I stood last night – between to 2 small rooms housing 2 not-so-small-anymore children struggling with heavy hearts.

One awaiting the potential consequences of an innocent error – an accidentally missed school deadline that could have extreme consequences.

The other caught out in disobedience that struck her sneaky, tender heart to the core.

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I stood there because I could not sleep. My forehead against each door, I prayed for their minds to find peace, for their bodies to sleep, for their hearts to recognize that individual moments cannot name them.

There is only One who names them in truth and love. He names them according to their whole story – or rather their place in His grand story.

As my tears hit the wood floor, it occurred to me that my love shows up bigger when they blow it. It’s not that the love wasn’t there moments before, but their struggles pull my fierce-ancient-mama-love to the surface in a hurry. When my kids mess up, I might get sad or mad or temporarily discouraged, but what I feel the most is crazy, hopeful, passionate love for them, for their story, for their future.

Last night as I secretly, silently loved on them through the sheetrock, I had a flash of memories. I saw in quick succession numerous failures and heartbreaks of my own. I remembered being curled up alone on my bed feeling like the world was caving in on me. And I see now that God was there, right outside the door of my heart, not barging in, but waiting, loving, hoping, knowing that there was so much more to my story, calling out to me by my real name – not the horrible ones I was calling myself.

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-From the first part of Isaiah 43 in The Message

 

My love for my kids in that moment filled me to bursting. That love is the biggest thing I’ve ever experienced. And I have a Father who loves me like that, but multiplied beyond any exponential factor I can imagine. Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.56.41 PM

The friends I enjoy most are living reconstructed lives. That means they first had to experience deconstruction – the breakdown of dreams, love, security, pride, family, and self. Piece by piece, they have been – they are being – put back together. But this time, all of those pieces are infused with GRACE, and it oozes out of them as they interact with others.

As much as it hurts me to see my kids hurt, I know what I want for them is the kind of reconstructed lives that only come through suffering and surrender. I know that on the other side of the suffering is a life full of real love, life that is vibrant and joyful and authentic. Embracing the deconstruction/reconstruction process is the only doorway to such a life.

HGTV has become one of the top cable channels. The biggest episode of all time for them? Fixer Upper – no surprise. We all love to see beautiful things emerge from the rubble, and Joanna and Chip can work some magic inside a broken home. They are pretty cute making it happen, too. On a much bigger scale, the Creator of the universe can work miracles in the secret rooms of our hearts.

I told my son this morning as he walked out the door to learn the fate of his AP English grade:

“You are a character in a grand and fantastic story – your story – and all of us who are watching your story unfold are rooting for you to find your way and get the girl, no matter what crazy plot-twists you have to wind your way through.” 

This morning, his teacher showed mercy and grace. She saw him, the real him, and I hope he remembers.

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This Ain’t a Vacation, But It Is a Vocation

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I loved my work before kids – the mental challenges, adult conversations, the interactions with community leadership.  I received a modest but respectable paycheck from my non-profit agency. I had the opportunity every day to positively influence the lives of my staff members and the kids we worked with. I enjoyed it so much that I fully intended to work, at least part-time, after I had kids.

But then there was a tough first pregnancy, bedrest, early contractions, preeclampsia, delivery at 36 weeks, 7 ear infections in the first year, and a baby that slept an average of 7 hours total each day. Combine that with the fact that my husband was gone most of the time as a fairly new airline pilot, reality set in and I resigned from what I thought would be an ideal part-time continuation of my work. And I never went back.

That decision has given me the fullest joy I have know in this life but also a deep struggle with my identity. I defaulted into stay-at-home-mom because of circumstances, and 16 years later, I am finally learning to fully embrace it with a spirit of gratitude and wonder.

My kids all somehow made it out of diapers and started walking and talking, but every time I had a newborn, the experience felt alien to me. I loved those tiny, squirmy humans as much as I knew how, but I had to grow into it.

I remember holding my screaming 5 month-old firstborn in the middle of the night begging him to quickly become a real human I could relate to, and at the same time, begging God to grant me the mercy not to fall asleep walking and drop him on his head. I was lonely, and no one gave me a paycheck for doing 3 times the work I had been doing just a few short months earlier. Every time I filled out some stupid form and had to write “homemaker” in the blank, I was tempted to staple my feeding schedule and to-do list to the back.

9 months in, I was being called “Mama”, but I had no certain sense of a calling to be a Mom.

Frederick Buechner in Secrets in the Dark:We can speak of ourselves as choosing our vocations, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of our vocations choosing us, of a call’s being given and lives our hearing it, or not hearing it.

I know a bunch of sweet Mamas that knew they were “called” to motherhood by the time they were just out of diapers themselves. They loved the cooing, cuddling, and nursing. They loved the blasted maternity clothes, of all things! I felt completely mystified and was pretty sure I had not been called like they had. But I was dead wrong. I might not have sensed the same calling on an emotional level, but I was “named” the moment that each new life was conceived.

Just like any career, my parenting career has had its ups and downs. I have probably been too lenient and disorganized, sometimes woefully lacking in follow-through. I have had my own personal crises and griefs that have sidelined me on occasion. But, I have stuck with it. I have learned new skills. I’ve watched the experts. I’ve stumbled through difficult conversations and had occasional moments of brilliant insight.

I can see how my own brokenness might add to my children’s struggles, but I can rejoice in the fact that, just like my gifts, my brokenness is part of their stories. My mistakes keep me humble, keep me on my knees. My blunders give me the opportunity to teach my kids how to say, “I’M SORRY” and “PLEASE FORGIVE ME.”

As my kids quickly approach adulthood, it is tempting to look back and despair about all the things I missed or could have done better. But what I’m trying to do instead is to remember that this is MY JOB. It still has not paid me one pretty penny, but I am starting to see that there is no paycheck that could equal the dividends that this investment will realize.

Understanding this work as a huge part of my personal vocation softens the angry slamming of doors and keeps me settled when eyes roll. It gives me strength for teary, late night heart-to-hearts, and makes me savor the youngest one waking me up in the middle of the night to snuggle after a bad dream.

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I have other vocational dreams with writing and music, but I don’t feel rushed or pressured by that. My hope is that embracing motherhood, not just as an occupation, but as a vocation, will just give me more joy and wisdom and heartache and adventure to write about.

My friend, Len Woods, also wrote about this concept of vocation this week (Here is a link to the beautiful blog he writes with his amazing wife):

“Life includes a holy call to do something hugely significant.”

It’s hard for me to imagine anything more significant than raising up the next generation. 

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The Lives That Got Away

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All of us have unrequited lives – the lives that died on the vine, the could-have-beens, the ones that got away. We have experienced the grief over the death of many dreams. If only I had gone here, studied this, made that decision, NOT made that other stupid decision, married him or her, married later, worked instead of staying home, stayed home instead of worked,  not been in that accident, taken that job.

Today my life is a particular set of circumstances, and yet a million different things from my past could have changed my today. There are days when I wake up and my today simply feels like it’s the wrong one. Have you ever felt that?

When I was in my twenties, making career decisions and considering starting a family, my Mom was about where I am today – similar age, last kid had just hit double digits. She had given her 20’s and 30’s to her family at home, and now they were beginning to need her less. And I remember NOT understanding some of the regret-tinged conversations regarding her “personhood” and job status (or lack there of). I mean – wasn’t meeting our every need the most amazing job in the world?

Fast-forward. Oh, the irony of turning into our parents! I am having the same conversations in my head. WHO AM I? What am I to DO? What am I supposed to ACCOMPLISH?

Sometimes I chide myself and think those questions sound very worldly and selfish. But if I believe I was made in God’s image, those questions take on a different light. He works awfully hard. He is the ultimate creator, and He knows exactly who HE IS. He is the only one that utters, “I AM”, and successfully completes a sentence.


My desire to discover my identity, my contribution, is part of my design.


This post is not about answers – I’m nowhere near them. Years of patterns are set for me as a stay-at-home Mom. Some of these patterns make life much smoother for my family, so shaking them up would be tricky business. *Oh, I know – I’ll become a successful writer/songwriter right in my own living room. I’ll carve out plenty of uninterrupted time to perfect my craft and make all kinds of contacts sitting in Magnolia, TX. No problem.:)

Yeah – I don’t know anything. I know the haunting of my working life that never was. Maybe some of you it’s the haunting of a home life that never was.

That issue bubbles up hot again every now and then between women. Maybe next time it does and we want to point fingers, we can all remember that every human has a road behind them lined with the lives that could have been. When we wake up today, we have only the one.. But today, we get to pick the next steps.

When I sent an early draft of this to my Mom (memory check), she immediately sent back a wonderful quote that had been in her church lectionary that very morning:

“Nothing worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.”  — Reinhold Niebuhr

A great reminder! It is true that in this time-bound world we only have 86,400 seconds in a day. The number of those seconds that are wasted, ruined, or lost can overwhelm me if I think it all has to happen here on this earth. But I don’t think that’s the last chapter in the story.

I have moments and dreams where I feel like I get a momentary glimpse into another reality (see my post “Heavenly Laundry“). Maybe those glimpses are a promise of what’s to come. I think I’m here to get my feet wet, to see and experience God and others in a way that requires limits and change and time.

“O Lord, let me enter into your presence and there taste the eternal, timeless, everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, preoccupations, and worries.. All that is timebound will show its real meaning when I can look at it from the place where you want me to be, the place of undying love.”  — Henri Nouwen, Mornings with Henri J.M. Nouwen – Readings and Reflections

Dear Kids,

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Now I see. We are still children when we become parents, and that is true in some ways no matter how old we are when our children are born. And now you are almost raised and gone (at least #1), and I have finally grown up myself, mostly anyway.

I realize today that I love you all in ways that are new to me. I don’t think it’s a bigger love – it’s more like an ancient love that has been stored in a treasure chest. It always belonged to me, but someone finally gave me the key. The treasure within is astonishing. It fills my heart with joy, yet somehow it fills my heart with sadness at the very same time.

How is this possible? I am so thankful that I am capable of this feeling – no, not feeling – this place – this place of love. But it makes me want a time machine. I’ve never longed so deeply to time travel.

I want to go back to so many things and have a do-over, to see them through these love-rich eyes. So many things I would do slower, more thoughtfully, so many things I would never do at all. Much of my life up to now seems extremely careless – and it literally was – I cared less than I do now.

But I don’t have a time machine, dang it! The only time I can visit is this right-now moment and every moment I am granted hereafter. And I plan to wake up tomorrow and live like a mother who loves you more truly than she did yesterday. But I know me and I know life, and I am terrified that I am going to be typing a similar note 10 years from now with all kinds of new regrets spinning in my head.

My love for you is pouring out through a very broken vessel.  There are cracks, and my love leaks out into places I don’t intend it to go. Thankfully, I call upon a God that can keep it flowing into me. He never runs out.

So when my little love fails you, it is my deepest and most honest prayer that you will turn to the only place where you will always find love waiting. 

Out of the Toddler Trenches

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For my 2 amazing Dalton sisters-in-law, Emily and Antonia, and for any other young moms who needs a little pep talk:

If you think you might be losing your mind, you just might be. Your life is crazy hard. Throughout each day, little bits of you are constantly pulled and pried away. Every time your name is called, it is because someone wants a piece of you. And when you think they have drained every last drop, there is no mercy. At 4:00 p.m., they are just getting started.

To make things even more interesting, you are tasked to begin each day with half of your usual energy supplies because you are only allowed 3-5 hours of broken sleep each night. Consider the war movie interrogation scenes. The first move of the interrogator is to make sure the prisoner is thoroughly sleep deprived. This ensures mental anguish, psychological weakness, and almost guarantees that the prisoner will say things he regrets.

You make it through a day with these sweet little terrors and, just in time, your knight in shining armor sweeps through the door to the rescue – hot bath and glass of wine, here you come – or maybe not – maybe he wants a hot dinner – and maybe he wants a little hot “dessert”. And that is such a relief because that is precisely what you have been dreaming of all day – another person touching you.

When he asks in that pretend-nice voice, trying unsuccessfully to mask his astonishment at the mess that surrounds him and the fact that you are somehow still in the same clothes you were wearing when he went to work YESTERDAY, “What did you do today?”, you don’t know if you want to scream, run away or hug/ring his neck.

The tears start to prick your eyes when you tell him that you managed a shower (you smell like a guy because you used Axe body wash to clean your hair since you are out of shampoo and you only shaved 1 leg before your 3-year-old had a meltdown and your clothes are the same because everything else is dirty). Oh, but one of the kids brushed her teeth, you swished with mouthwash, and everyone, including you, had a protein-packed lunch of leftover Chick-Fil-A nuggets and mac-n-cheese. You hit this day clean out of the park, girl!


Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you wrote down every tiny task for one single day, line for line, starting with the first diaper change and ending with the last pat on the back, that list would be longer than Anna Karenina!


 

And, no, your man doesn’t understand. I don’t even fully understand anymore, and I’ve been there. I remember pacing the floor of my house at 3 a.m., crying out loud begging God to help me not drop my 5-month-old, screaming, colicky boy on his head. I remember sobbing in the exam room – ugly sobbing – when my dear Dr. Rick showed me his neat little chart and said so calmly, “Actually, a baby this age sleeping 7 hours a day (TOTAL) is in the normal range, the lowest end of normal, but he’s fine”.

The fist 13 years did a number on me, no doubt (and, yes, of course it was worth it!) But I don’t work in the church nursery and I don’t babysit my neighbor’s toddler unless it’s an emergency because I am absolutely spent from the season you are in the middle of.

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Anna wins -- up with Mom at 5 a.m.

Even your friends who are in the trenches with you don’t always understand – not your kids – not your particulars. When you feel very alone, often it’s because you are. Even if you had someone who really understood what you were feeling, it’s hard to find the time to tell them about it.

Friends during this stage are tricky. Often the things that are very difficult for you seem easy for them. I had a picky eater and it seemed like I was surrounded by Moms who had their toddlers happily downing organic kale chips and wild salmon while my little one munched her rainbow Goldfish. We watched a lot of Thomas/Dora/Diego/Teletubbies/yes-Teletubbies while friends read The Chronicles of Narnia – all of them – out loud – to their preschoolers. Not one of mine was fully potty trained before 3 ½, nursing never went as planned, and it never made me feel more cuddly or bonded. Yes, my gallon-sized boobs could have fed the village, but the thought, “This is what I was made for,” never went through my sluggish head.

Facebook didn’t arrive for me until my firstborn was almost 7. It was for spying on your high school classmates and posting links to your unedited Picasa web albums for the grandparents. Now – OMG! – you awake to posts from FB, Twitter, Instagram from 6,000 friends with their creative, strategically angled, cropped and filtered family photos with the backdrop being their perfect Pinterest birthday party for their 2-year-old. Seriously, someone give me a Xanax before my heart explodes.

You know IT”S NOT REAL – oh… but what if it is? Or what if they find out your news feed isn’t exactly showing the whole picture? You would be utterly exposed at the first play date. Social media can be the perfect magnifier for loneliness and insecurity, yet it is often the first place we turn when we are lonely and insecure.

I offer no magical solutions for your struggles. Seriously, I’m just trying to recover from your stage and figure out moody teenagers and the deep mystery of my own heart. But I would suggest that you find a woman like me and fake an emergency so she will be guilted into babysitting your toddler. Then hopefully she will remember and she will have mercy on your soul and she will come beside you and just sit there as a testament that she is still alive on the other side. Maybe she is still married to the same husband and can tell you their story of survival (God bless mine for still coming home to me) – or if not, she can tell you what she might have done differently. After a hard day, you could write her a ranting email instead of gawking at your friend’s latest Instagram masterpiece. Give yourself a break!

One last note to my forty-something pals.You might be suffering acutely from our own form of P.T.S.D. (Post Toddler Stress Disorder). The last thing you want to do is hold a snotty, screaming 2-year-old. But what if we all adopted just one young Mom and cheered her on? What if we establish a new pattern so they don’t have to do it all alone? Who might you rescue?

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