Friday, October 29, 2010

Advice to a New Mother

This is a copy of a letter I recently wrote to my niece who is expecting twins.  This last week she has been in the hospital trying to keep those babies in her tummy as long as possible and giving them the best chance at starting this life well.  I am thinking of her, praying for her, and sending positive vibrations in her direction.

Dear Erica,

You are on my mind a lot these days, what with your new adventure beginning shortly. I have only been mothering for nine years now, so I certainly don’t know everything, but I can tell you this: There is not another job on the planet that is neither more meaningful nor more sacred. Yes, it is demanding. Mothering has caused me to stretch in every direction, and that kind of growth is always accompanied by growing pains. But, building a human being from the ground up? What is more important or more exciting than that?!

That feeling, though, of being wholly responsible for another was at first somewhat overwhelming. Maybe you’ll feel the same way. I didn’t feel prepared. I knew I didn’t know enough, knew I didn’t have all the answers, knew I wasn’t smart enough, or wise enough, or brave enough, or tender enough to give these little people everything they would need. And that’s all probably true.

BUT…here is something else I have learned: Something incredibly holy happens when they place those babies in your arms. I believe, with all of a mother’s heart, that at that moment, you are anointed and set apart for that sacred calling that is specifically yours to mother that child. What does that mean? That means that there is no one, on earth, that will be able to mother that child better than you, for only you will have the insight of Heaven regarding that child.

Of course this all depends on a mother’s willingness. But I promise that as you pray, as you seek Divine guidance, God will give you inspiration. He will tell you what these babies need. He will give you more ability to do what they need than you have on your own. And here’s the miracle: Christ’s atonement will cover your natural failings. God knows we won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. He already has that covered. He just expects that we will do our best. That we will love them unconditionally. He can make up the rest.

I know I sound super religious, but I can not talk about mothering outside of a spiritual context. It is the most sacred thing I have ever done. It, above all else, has driven me to my knees, and I have found that God honors mother’s prayers. I believe there are angels sent to help us. He loved these children first. He wants the best for them. He will help us in all that we do.

Okay, now for some hands-on advice. See? Your mother made a huge mistake in asking me to write advice. You know I’ve never had an opinion I didn’t like! ;0) But these are some things that have really helped me.

1. Look to mothers whom you admire. Borrow their best ideas.

2. Protect sleep—both yours and the babies’. Do everything you can to make sure all of you are well rested. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, this seems like an impossibility, but nap when you can, and do what you can to get them on a schedule. Sleep time saves sanity!

3. The best advice I got when I was a brand new mother was this: “Do everything you can to build a good relationship between your children and their father.” I have found great success in this bit of wisdom. You will be with your child far more often than Justin. It’s just the way it is. Teach them to love their Daddy. Not only is it important for their development, but it gives you a much needed break. Some of my favorite phrases are: “Daddy is such a good man. He works so hard for us.” “Yea!!!! Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!” “We love our Dada!” I also always try to teach them to say Dada first, which makes Thomas feel great, but…shhh…don’t tell: I like it when they ask Daddy for help first! :0)

4. Speaking of Daddy, remember to keep your marriage strong. Sometimes it’s really tempting to give EVERYTHING to the kids, but the best thing you can give your kids is a good marriage. It makes them feel safe; it gives them a terrific role model; and remember, at some point the children will leave. You want to still like each other by then!

5. Try to enjoy it. With my first two, I was always in a rush to move to the next stage. “I can’t wait until they can do some things on their own. I can’t wait ‘til they’re out of diapers! I can’t wait until they can just tell me what they want!” Always looking ahead. And then all of a sudden that time of life was done. They weren’t babies anymore, and I was surprised—looking back on it—how fast that time had gone. Now I wish I could go back and see their baby faces just for a minute. That I could sit and rock them to sleep. That Logan’s eyes would light up instead of rolling when I say something! What I have learned is that childhood is so fleeting that it is a shame to wish any of it away. That’s hard to remember when you’re in the thick of it, but I promise you will agree with me in a few years.

6. Don’t lose your sense of humor. Believe me you’ll need it.

7. Remember: Motherhood is not an occupation for the proud. Those kids will embarrass the heck out of you. You will deal with more bodily fluid than you ever thought possible. You will feel like a circus anytime you are in public. Strangers will roll their eyes at you, sometimes they will even be so bold as to give you their opinion! No one, unrelated to you, will want to sit by you on an airplane. Hold your head up. This too shall pass, and like I said, probably all too quickly.

I love you, Erica, and I wish only the best for you. You are beginning a grand adventure. It won’t be easy; it will have more twists and turns than you can imagine. But it will be the making of you. Mothering is funny that way. God, in his great design, gives us children to teach us about ourselves. I wish for you only happy days, but on the hard ones, I hope you can remember just how lucky you are to be a mother.

Hugs, kisses, and best wishes,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Why I Don't Blog as Often

 Need I say more?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Goin' In (the finale)

The next morning I wake the kids, feed them breakfast, and tell Griffin to get his shoes on.

"I don't need any shoes.  I'm not going to school," he argues.

This little red flag induces me to warn, "Right, but you're going to need your shoes 'cause you're going to work like you've never worked before."  In my mind, I know this day is going to have to hurt or I could be digging myself a huge hole.  "While you're at school, I have all kinds of work to do.  If you're not going to do your job, then you will have to help me do mine." 

Let the slave driving begin.

From 8:30 am until noon we do all my jobs and them some without stopping.  He washes the car mats, makes beds, helps with the laundry, cleans toilets, dusts, washes counters, washes windows, weeds, waters flowers and trees, vacuums, and mows the lawn.  And because he is only six, I work right alongside him.  Now most days I work hard, but this day?  This day makes me tired.  But Griffin?  He works like a maniac and doesn't complain once.

And that's when I get a little insight into my boy.  I think if it were the 1800's and we were homesteading somewhere in the Midwest, this kid would rock.  He belongs outdoors, sweaty and busy.  But this is 2010, and now we only sweat in our off times. 

At noon we break for lunch, and then it's on to schoolwork.  Because it is a half day at school, the teacher doesn't have a lot to send home, but not to be deterred in my evil plan of torture, I cull through the workbooks I have in the closet and pull out worksheets that supplement what they are working on in class.  I don't tell them they weren't part of his teacher's packet.  To be even that more torturous, I insist he practice his penmanship which is atrocious.  Overall, I find that he is a good sport.  Unlike my oldest, this one actually listens to me, and I realize that--if I had to--I could probably homeschool him.  And then I wonder if maybe that isn't what's best for him right now...except that he needs people like everyone else needs air...oh, why is parenting so complex?  Why is it that we must search so hard for the answers?

In the end, I still don't know what the right answer is for my boy, so I ask his opinion. At some point during these two days at home I asked him again what he meant when he said that he didn't feel "ready."  And I said that if, in fact, he didn't feel ready for first grade there were three options I could think of and that I would be okay with any of them (and that really was the truth.)  "Son, if you don't feel ready, the first option would be to do kindergarten again.  There wouldn't be anything wrong with that, and then you could review all of the stuff you need to know and feel more ready next year."  Griffin didn't like that idea.  "Okay...the second option is that I could teach you at home."  Admittedly I held my breath on this one, but if that's what it came to, I could do it.  Gratefully he shook his head on that one as well.  "Alright then, the third option is that you go back to school and do what it is that you need to do to be successful in first grade, which means obeying the rules."  He thought it over and agreed that he wanted to go back to school.

Once that decision was made, however, he also thought he should be able to go to soccer practice later that evening, and I was tempted.  Sorely tempted.  Because the real truth is, I don't enjoy taking things away from my kiddos.  In fact, I would rather give them everything, including soccer practice.  Ultimately, though, what I really want to give them is character, and that is something worth fighting for.

I am beginning to realize that there is no easy solution, no overnight success kit in raising kids.  No.  The answers come through a process.  I wish I could report that Griffin went back to school the next day and was a brand new child, but that wouldn't be the truth. The truth is, he has had good days and bad, but he is trying.  He is learning, growing, attempting, and sometimes failing, but more often succeeding, too.

The process of change is written slowly, in bursts and spurts two steps forward and one step back, I think.  And it's not just the goin' in that counts, it's the quiet resolve to see it through.  It's the willingness to patiently stick with it, even on the step back days.  It's not getting discouraged, or at least not remaining there.  It's celebrating the small victories.  It's not just goin''s stayin' in until the very end.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Have you Seen This?

Push play.  You won't regret it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Goin' In (part 4)

I put him to work as soon as we got home.  The only trouble is that it was also the first day that Rachel, my teenage "mommy's helper" reported for work.  She is pretty and has long hair, so of course Griffin is smitten with her.  And in 6.75 year old boy speak that means a lot of annoying and teasing.  In 39 year old mom speak it sounds like this:

"Griffin, get busy...If you don't get moving, son, you are really going to get it...Griffin, what are you supposed to be doing?...Leave her alone and finish up...I have another job for you...I told you to stay out of here..."

Poor Rachel,  I think.  She probably wonders, I am sure, just what she had gotten herself into.  So I say, "I'm not usually such an ogre mom.  He just had a really bad day at school, and he's in quite a bit of trouble."

"Yeah, when I told him he'd better listen to you or he was going to get in trouble, he said it was okay; he couldn't get in any more trouble," she said, not knowing that single phrase entered my ear and shattered my brain.

Oh, really? 

Every teacher knows that there are some children who must be compelled to humility, ala Annie Sullivan wrestling a willful Helen Keller all over the dining room until she would consent to eat using silverware.  Mae Carden, a teacher and education innovator summed it up by saying, "Sometimes it is necessary to make a student cry."  Looks as though Griffin and I, two willful souls, were preparing to wrestle, and someone was going to come away crying.  I'm not saying it will be him, but I can assure you it won't be me.

Later, when it is just he and I in the kitchen, I say, "Rachel said you told her you didn't think you could get in any more trouble.  Is that right?"

He simply shrugs.

"Griff, you need to know that I love you, but there are only two things I am required to do.  I have to keep you alive and teach you about God; the rest is extra.  Soccer?  Extra.  Wrestling camp?  Extra.  TV, computer time, sleepovers, play dates?  Extra, extra, extra, extra.  You don't think you can get more in trouble?  If you want to keep going, you might just end up with a mattress on the floor, one blanket and two pairs of clothes, 'cause everything else is extra.  You getting me here?  'Cause I love you, but if you want to keep misbehaving, you will see just how much trouble you can get in."

I know...I know.  Griffin is not yet 7, but I also know that Griffin will one day be 14. And while I know that there are many worse things than minor misbehavior at school, those are exactly why this fight is particularly important.  As my mother said, fighting the good fight right now is like drawing a fire line around them for their own good.

But it's enough work to make me sweat!

(to be continued...for the last time...)