Thursday, 30 August 2012

From Diapers to Backpacks

Once upon a time, we had a baby, and another, and another, until we had three children under the age of four. And I was tired, and often felt isolated, and lonely for adult conversation, and perpetually overwhelmed, and my house was always messy because every task I endeavored to do was promptly interupted by a child needing affection, attention, or correction. Or juice in their sippy cup. And it was loud. All the time. From the time they woke up until they were tucked in at night, there was constant noise. I felt "stuck" at home, like the walls of my small home were closing in around me, and that if I didn't get "out" of the house I was going to suffocate. Or scream and throw things. But getting "out" was even more overwhelming than staying home because I had three kids under the age of four, it was 20 degrees below zero outside, and our home did not have a back yard in which they could play. No matter how often I heard that this stage would "fly by" so quickly, and I should enjoy every moment, I felt that this stage was never going to end- that I would be in the stage of diapers, lost pacifiers, crayon on the walls, cutting up grapes, and temper tantrums forever.

Some time went by and another baby was had, so now there were four children under age six. The house was now bigger, the yard provided space to run, and (after a few years of practice) I could now bundle all four of them in head-to-toe winter gear in less than 15 minutes.  The children slowly began to be able to do things for themselves, work out some conflicts without mediation, and be left on the couch watching "Dora" for fifteen minutes while I took a shower without too much fear of needing to call 911 upon completion. I began to make trips to the grocery store that did not end in frustrated tears, and my world began to feel a little bit bigger.

One day, the oldest went off kindergarten, then another, and another, until I had just the baby at home with me during the day. Somehow, toddler antics did not seem as overwhelming when there was only one of them. And some time went by, and the baby went off to kindergarten, too. And just like that, the stage of babies and toddlers is over. The years of strollers, potty training, and play dates that are really more for the moms than the kids have been replaced with backpacks, science projects, football cleats, and music lessons. And I'm still usually tired, it's still a little bit chaotic, and my house is still usually messy because the pace of life is faster now, with schedules and activities and homework. I no longer feel "stuck" at home or isolated from adult interaction, but I do feel a different kind of loneliness without the constant presence of my children. And it's quiet. For seven hours a day, there is no noise except what I create. That kind of quiet is its own kind of loud.

I still can't say that the stage of babies and toddlers "flew by," but I can say I can't believe it's gone already. And I can't say that I enjoyed every moment, but I can say that I look back on those early days and smile at the memories, and feel thankfulness that I was at home with my children, and encouragement from the things I learned and the ways I grew. So, here's to embracing this next stage... to all the lessons to be learned, the growth to be had, the memories to be made... for it will surely pass as quickly as the first one did...

"The days are long, but the years are short."
-Gretchen Rubin

Friday, 27 July 2012

Why I'm All About the No (but maybe shouldn't be)

"No" and all it's variations (we'll see, not now, maybe later, I don't think that's necessary,etc) become my go-to answers in the summertime. I have four children making requests of me all day long. "Mom, can I have ice cream? For breakfast? Can we go to the zoo even though it's 105 degrees out? Can we take four friends with us and go swimming? In Lake Michigan? Can you make this? Fix this? Do that? Can I take horseback riding lessons? Get a horse? A puppy? A zebra? Can you rearrange my room? Buy me new stuff? Paint my walls lime green?" The requests never end. "No" is just easier, frankly. "Yes" means extra work, extra messes, extra noise and chaos, less actual productivity.  As summer has progressed, the tension level in our house has noticeably increased as the kids get bored and tired of being home together all day, everyday. So yesterday I decided I was going to be more about the "yes." And here is some of what happened:

"Mom, can Girl-across-the-street sleep over?" After a sigh, I said yes. The boy whined, because he was even more outnumbered, and has been promised a sleepover that he has not yet collected on, and it wasn't fair. They spent the evening in and out, up and down, couldn't get settled, still awake when we finally went to bed at 1 AM.

"Mom, can you set up the tent for us so we can sleep outside in it?" My initial mental response was, "No- you never stay outside when you try to do that," followed by, "Fine- wait until your dad gets home, and you may ask him if he will do it for you." Then I thought of my dear husband- battling a sinus infection, working hard at the office, his late nights and early mornings, ministering and giving to anyone in need without a second thought. The mental process became, "If I can set up the tent, he won't have to do it." So I ventured outside into the sauna-like humidity and figured out that tent, dripping with sweat and with the "help" of four kids with very definite ideas of how it should go, but who offered very little actual assistance. Then I did it all over again after a freak late afternoon thunderstorm knocked it down. Actually, three soaking wet girls thrashing about trying to get themselves and their belongings out of it knocked it down, which made for quite a good laugh as I watched from the window.  Then Mack came home. And spent 30 minutes fixing my tent assembly "mistakes." And my dear husband said grouchily to me, "Don't ever try to put that tent up again. Just let me do it." Deal. Sounds like a plan.

The boy whined that he didn't get to sleep outside with the girls, and it wasn't fair, and "What do you mean it's not appropriate for me to sleep next to a middle school girl who's not my sister?" And there was extensive discussion, bargaining, and petitioning regarding exactly who was going to sleep where. Then the campers needed dessert, and water, and to use the bathroom. Girl-across-the-street needed to run home and say goodnight to her mom. Then the frogs were too loud. Then they were too hot. By 10 PM, everyone was inside, and they discussed, bargained, and petitioned all over again. Which I knew would happen. And I remembered why I'm all about the no.

Then I remembered earlier in the day, when C-Ray brought to me the pieces of a basketball hoop that was supposed to fit over the top of his door. He couldn't figure out how to put it together, could I help him? I looked at the dirt on the floor and the pile of dishes in the sink I was trying to tackle. I said "yes." I slid the plastic brackets into the cardboard backboard and demonstrated for him on the pantry door how it should go. It took less than two minutes. He grinned up at that flimsy little hoop, gave me the kind of boisterous hug that only a little boy can give, and hollered, "Wooo-hooo! Mom, you're a super hero." That "yes" made the hassles from all the other "yeses" totally worth it. And I think I'll keep the cape...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Thoughts on Marriage

I have no counselling degree. I can count the number of books I have read about marriage on my fingers. I am no expert, save what 12 years of experience, observations of marriages good and bad, and some wise people have taught me. Here are a few things I have gleaned.

If you go into marriage expecting your married life to be like your dating life, you are setting yourself up for disillusionment. No one is perfect. I'm not, why should I expect my spouse to be? It is not the responsibility of my spouse to make me constantly happy, confident, or completely emotionally fulfilled. It is my responsibility to seek and find those things in the Lord. If I cannot find those things in Him, then no human can make me find them. Another person knowing me as well as I know myself, except with more clarity because he is not mired down by the chaos that sometimes clouds my mind, is both a beautiful and frightening thing. Sometimes you don't have to talk. It's better to just "be." The toilet seat issue is really not worth getting upset about. Neither are socks on the floor or neckties on the doorknobs. It doesn't matter who takes out the garbage, as long as it gets taken out. Being right is not as important as doing right. Just say "thank you" whether you like a gift or not. Simply because you know the right buttons to push to get a reaction doesn't mean that you should push them. "Never go to bed angry" is possibly some of the worst marital advice I ever received. Sometimes it's just not beneficial to be shouting or talking in circles about a disagreement at 2 AM when you are both exhausted, irrational, and blinded by your own emotions. Sometimes, if you agree to sleep on it and revisit the discussion the next day, morning gives you a whole different perspective. It is impossible to over-estimate the power of an encouraging word or underestimate the fragility of the male ego. Laughter is crucial. Sometimes there are no easy answers, no quick solutions, but a full-fledged laugh-til-you-cry-at-the-most-inopportune-moment makes everything look a little brighter and reminds you that there is no person with whom you would rather face hard things than the one by your side.  Children are a beautiful product of the relationship, but they should not define the relationship. If you invest all your time and energy into your children, rather than reserving some for your marriage, you will wake up one day with an empty nest, living with a very nice roommate, rather than a soulmate. Sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness, rather than permission, but usually not. Just own up to it when you make a mistake. Your spouse's help in fixing a problem is much more valuable than avoiding their anger or frustration. It's really nice to have a life-long, always there "wing man" with unknown situations and new people, and a partner for any adventure. You will inevitably take on character traits of your spouse over time. Make sure they have a character worth adopting. If they have a trait that annoys you before marriage, don't count on changing it afterwards. Make sure that you are prepared to live with your spouse as they are on your wedding day. Assume that they won't grow or improve. If they never do, you won't be disappointed, and if by chance those troublesome qualities disappear with wisdom and maturity, you have received an unexpected blessing. Love does not sustain your marriage, the commitment of marriage sustains your love. It really does grow and deepen with age and time, if you do it right. Love becomes much more about actions than feelings. To love is a choice. An all-day, every-day choice. It is what is left after all selfishness has been removed.