My mom adventures in Fort Collins

One night in Santa Fe

I always envisioned raising my children with a sense of a bigger world. I want them to be philanthropic and service-oriented, volunteering their time and energy for those less fortunate. I want to instill in them a sense of social justice and what the Jesuits call, a “Preferential Option for the Poor.” I see in my daughters an open-minded, welcoming attitude that I want to nourish and encourage. I don’t want them to grow cynical the way that many of us do.

This idea of cultivating kind, equality-minded children is nothing new, but I think it is one of those parenting ideas that falls into the category of “Be Careful What You Wish For.”

Last week, we visited Santa Fe on our way back from a family vacation in Arizona. We checked into a hotel downtown around dinner-time, and set off to find pizza. Within four steps of leaving the hotel’s property, we were approached by a woman. The woman could have been 40-years-old or she could have been 65-years-old. She was petite in stature and had the rough skin of a person who has spent a great deal of time in the sun. Her blond hair was stringy and graying, and the gaze behind her filthy glasses appeared tired yet persistent.

“Excuse me, sir.” My husband and I shared a knowing glance.

In a rehearsed cadence she said, “I am sorry to bother you, but I am homeless. I need $20 to stay at the Motel 6. Could you spare some change?” She crossed the street with us in order to deliver her message.

Down the block, we heard a man holler back, “I’ve got it!” The woman didn’t appear to notice this, and we simply said that we don’t carry cash. She then proceeded to the next man traveling down the sidewalk and we overheard a similar exchange. Meanwhile, the man on the end of the block kept yelling back to her, “I’ve got it! I already got it!” The woman crossed the street and traveled in the same general direction as us. At the corner, the man who had been yelling at her all this time appears agitated, and I noticed he seemed years younger than the woman. He spoke loudly in her face, “I kept trying to tell you that we already got it!”

We tried to maintain our original trajectory: head to the pizza joint on the third floor of a building a mere block away from our hotel. However, my kind, sensitive six-year-old was absolutely overrun with emotion. She said repeatedly, with a lilt in her voice, “That woman didn’t have any home?” It was beyond her comprehension that someone could be wholly without a home. She was visibly distressed by this whole exchange.

Now, this incident could have happened here in Fort Collins, and it could have happened in any one of the communities where we have traveled. In fact, I’m certain that Scout has seen homeless folks before, she just may not have been approached directly by a person asking for money.

After we arrived at the pizza place, I needed to determine what, if anything, I could do to help. One thing was certain, she felt sad and helpless. Someone in this world didn’t have a place to sleep tonight and she felt awful. I said, “Honey, do you want to go back out there and find that woman and give her some money?” She looked confused, “BUT I DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY, MOM!” And I said, “Well, I do, and Dad does, and maybe we could figure something out. How much money would you like to give this woman?” She thought for a second and said, “I think three dollars would be good.” I dug to the bottom of my purse, the exact thing I purposely avoided on the street when the lady asked for money, and I found my change purse with $11 cash in it. I handed Scout my single, and I suggested that her dad might have more. We found an additional two dollars and set out to find the homeless woman.

All this time, I did not acknowledge that homelessness is a complicated issue. I never said, “I don’t think we’ll be able to find her.” I didn’t try to diminish her quest by pointing out that I overheard her working with another guy and I suspected that they came up with whatever money they needed. I never apologized for the fact that I didn’t give the woman money when she originally asked, and Cory & I spoke after the fact that Scout must have realized that her parents had lied. In this earnest attempt to find this woman and allow my little girl a chance to contribute to a safe place for her to sleep, all I hoped for was to return to the restaurant $3 lighter. This was not about setting us free from the drama of a bereft six-year-old, this was just about making the attempt. Trying.

When we left the restaurant, we looked up and down the streets in every direction. We walked up to the corner, and, unfortunately, we never did find the original woman that set this entire story in motion. Across the street, I noticed a few folks sitting on benches in a small plaza. I had to give this a shot, and I figured if we could connect with someone–anyone–who needed the money, maybe my dear girl would be satisfied. I offered to approach this group of people and ask if they might know the woman. Scout pointed out that these people were strangers and she felt shy approaching them. I asked, “What do you want to do?” She looked downhearted and disappointed, and finally said, “Let’s go back to the restaurant.” I wasn’t thrilled with that option, and I felt that we could certainly find some reason to give somebody that $3.

Just then, I observed a man take the lid off a public trashcan and dig through the garbage. I assumed he was looking for food. I quietly said to Scout, “Did you see that? I just saw that man dig through the garbage. I think he is hungry. Why don’t we give him our money?” She nodded. “I guess that would be okay.”

I said, “Excuse me, sir.” He turned around, and I said, “Are you hungry?” He was scraped up,  and his skin was dry and red on his cheeks and nose. He said, “Almost always.”

To this man, who introduced himself as Chad, I explained our situation. “My daughter saw a woman on the street asking for money for a place to stay, and we tried to find her but we couldn’t. We saw you and thought you might like some money to buy some food.” He seemed genuinely touched, and he took the money from Scout and he took her hands in his hands, the same hands that were just digging through the garbage. Chad, this man that we met by happenstance after he quietly dug through a refuse bin, thanked Scout and said that he would never forget this.

We said goodbye to Chad and we crossed the street back to the restaurant. Scout was still fairly disoriented by what had just happened, and in her typical private manner, she did not want to discuss the events at the dinner table. At dinner that night, Cory suggested finding a volunteer opportunity for her.

Walking around downtown Santa Fe

Walking around downtown Santa Fe

Even the next day, she was upset when I brought it up. She caught me relaying part of this story over the phone to her grandmother, and she left the room because it was so concerning for her to hear all of these details again.

Since that night in Santa Fe, it still breaks her heart to think of the woman who didn’t have a home. We continue to talk about homelessness and hunger. I don’t quite know that I have the right words or suggestions. I have tried to explain to her that there are organizations that try to help people like the woman we saw on the street that evening. I told her that our family supports different organizations, though maybe we could do more. I said to her that even though she is young, there are ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

It’s a difficult chapter we’ve just begun. I want to encourage her spirit of caring for others, but allow her to see that homelessness is complicated and homeless people are a diverse bunch. There is no one way to expose your child to these worldly issues, but this feels like a very organic starting point.

What about you, reader? Can you relate to this story about my daughter’s first encounter with a homeless person? Do you have a story of your own? I’d love to thoughts on how to translate a child’s concerns into a positive contribution to the community.

There once was an age-appropriate bully

Yesterday morning, I spent time talking with some women that I know through my daughter’s preschool. Often, we talk about children, the school, being a parent and some of the struggles that go along with this journey. These are wise women, and I value their opinions. Today, a particular story was relayed, and the word “bully” came up. These women proposed that a four-year-old could not be a “bully.”

I did a bit of reading, and it appears that most people agree that a child of preschool age cannot be a bully. It’s actually age-appropriate for kids in this age group to act out when they don’t get what they want, and it differs from bullying because of our expectations. We know that children in early childhood are just beginning to learn how to appropriately interact with their peers, so we cut them some slack when they don’t share, hit, get stompin’ mad, kick, bite, manipulate, act aggressively, steal toys, exclude others, etc. We anticipate that young children are going to test out the training wheels as they go. Like a few adults I know, children are still learning these valuable social and emotional skills. It’s not necessarily acceptable for children to act like this, and we do need to encourage different behaviors, but it is age-appropriate. Basically, it’s preschool, and it’s one of the few safe places these children have to test out these behaviors (and then try again).

Nonetheless, this story and the word “bully” did trigger a memory for me. I myself have called a four-year-old a bully. I may not be completely accurate, but the definition of “bully” is

a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker

Yep…That about sums up a lot of little kids, doesn’t it?

Two years ago, my daughter Scout was a four-year-old in a Pre-K class of 18 kiddos. Of these kids, 12 were boys and 6 were girls. Perhaps the small number of girls led to some of the difficulties that arose, and like many a mom with a firstborn guinea pig before me, I went into this whole thing a bit naive. First, I got a report from a parent that I knew and trusted about some exclusionary play in the classroom by a specific little girl. Then, I was approached by a different parent, saying that she stepped in and reminded this little girl that we always let everyone play. I was reluctant to buy into these second-hand accounts, but as time went on I noticed some of this behavior myself. My daughters have both attended the same co-op preschool, and a benefit of the co-op model is that I’m often in and around the classroom and I can get to know their classmates quite well. The entire time that this exclusionary behavior was going on, my daughter would sing this little girl’s praises. She loved this girl. When I would pick Scout up from school, she’d be sure to point out what this little girl was wearing, or what toy this little girl had brought to share with the class.  For me, the culmination of this entire prolonged episode was when my daughter had created a picture for the girl and gave it to her as a gift. This little girl threw away the picture in front of my daughter at pick-up time. I saw the entire exchange, and the look on Scout’s face said it all. I looked in the bin and I looked at Scout. I said, “Honey, did you make that? Do you want to keep that?” Scout said, “Yes.” I pulled the item out of the garbage and reclaimed it. Then, this little girl stated without an ounce of guilt, “Wait, that’s mine!” I calmly explained that she threw it away and had forfeited her right to take the item home.

I went home that day hopped up on anger and pride. I knew what this little girl did to my daughter was wrong. Mean. Selfish. Nasty. I was so horrified, I don’t think that I knew what to say or do.

Then, suddenly I knew EXACTLY what to do. I was going to approach that little girl’s mom and invite them over for a playdate.

When I had worked for a children’s advocacy organization years earlier, I worked with an amazing woman. Peg had raised six kids, been aunt to many that were actually here nieces & nephews as well as countless others who had come across her path. Peg had worked with children in the child welfare system and juvenile justice system for years. Peg was a FRIEND of children. Not only did I trust Peg’s insight as a parent, I valued her life experience. I remember Peg telling me that when her kids complained about a child at school, she always listened. “So-and-so smells! She wears the same clothes every day!” “So-and-so is always so mean to me!” “I can’t stand so-and-so, he’s always making things difficult.” Pretty soon, she’d be inviting that kid–the kid that was so offensive to her own child–over for dinner.

Now, I don’t know that Peg was able to have every one of these children over for dinner–it would seem the invitee would have to accept the invitation. I do know that her approach changed my thinking on the subject. When my child is offended or hurt, my “Momma Bear” is awakened. Sometimes, I get so caught up in the hurt, I forget to question why Momma Bear got her heart broken in the first place: Love. I love my child, and when her heart breaks, mine does too. When you love someone, you want the best for them. I only wanted for my child to have a kind and safe friendship, one that didn’t make her feel left out.

By setting up a playdate with the little girl that had been excluding my child, I believe that I created two opportunities: 1) the kids could play and 2) I could chat with the mom. When  this little girl came over, she played nicely with both of my daughters. I do not recall anything inappropriate about the way that they interacted together. This gave me the chance to see that this little girl was just a typical five-year-old girl, with cute laughter and wide eyes. I stopped imagining her as the “Mean Girl” I had built her up to be. As for the mother, I learned more about their life and her story, and I felt a great deal of compassion for both mother and daughter. Everyone has a story. I never disclosed what had been happening in the classroom. I never confronted mother or daughter, and I tried to have faith that the as the story unfolded, I would know what to do.

Turns out, all I had to do was have a little girl over for a playdate. These girls didn’t go on to become best friends. We never wound up having another playdate, though the mom offered to have my kids over and it just never worked out schedule-wise. But the exclusionary behavior ended. Admittedly, these were girls in a Pre-K classroom. These were not middle schoolers being bullied for their appearance or sexual orientation. This approach is not the only approach, and it would not appeal to everyone, but the basic sentiment is the same: Instead of being offended and defensive, is there a space to be more vulnerable and loving?

Anytime you make yourself vulnerable, you allow for growth. Most of us don’t need to teach our kids how to be offended and defensive, that seems innate. But my daughter taught me something amid the exclusionary behavior. It was as if she didn’t have that sense of self-preservation that causes adults to recoil when we see such behavior. Despite being excluded and hurt, Scout still wanted this little girl to be her friend. So, I let this child of mine, with a heart so big it can scarcely fit in her chest, guide me. My grown-up sensibility would have said, “Just don’t play with this girl! She’s mean!” But Scout’s kind eyes saw what I couldn’t see–maybe this girl was just a little girl, a little girl who was acting in an age-appropriate and yet unacceptable manner. Maybe I needed to give this girl Forever Chances. Maybe there is always room for more love, more growth.

What about you? Do you have a story about love and growth? Did anyone ever surprise you by just being a five-year-old afterall?

Another Gratitude Post: Day 18 (Alternatively titled “Lice: A Hate Story”)

This is the getting to the end of the gratitude posts I started in November. I’m so terrible at keeping commitments. I’m great at keeping commitments that have some bearing on life: I remember to pay water bills (most of the time), I regularly keep track of when I need to pick up my kids, and I frequently remember to have food in the fridge. But remembering birthdays, keeping track of what I said I’d do for someone two weeks ago, finding time to exercise? Not my strong suit.

However, I have a source of gratitude: Our family is lice-free. While this may seem like an everyday occurrence to many, it’s a reason for celebration around here.

I remember when I lived in Nepal, working as a volunteer with a Jesuit volunteer organization. My roommate and I would say something that we were thankful for every night around the dinner table. After spending a lot of time adjusting to the diet and various bouts of bacterial dysentery, a frequent source of gratitude was our Health. You see, when you are often healthy, health is taken for granted. Likewise, when you are free of bugs in your hair, you don’t think to stop and be grateful for your parasite-free head.

My daughter--with a head full of Nix--on Christmas Eve Eve

My daughter–with a head full of Nix–on Christmas Eve Eve

When you KNOW you have lice, you have a few options. I didn’t know all of those options then and I wasn’t about to be delayed by my internet searches, so I ran straight to the local drugstore, talked with the pharmacist (who acted bored, quite frankly), and bought some permethrin-laced pesticide that would kill those blasted bugs.

In retrospect, slathering a known neurotoxin all over our heads was not the best way to celebrate Christmas, but it was a bonding experience. If I had to do it all over again (saying a quick prayer right now), I would skip the $26 lice kits (yep, $26 a piece, making it a pitiful $100 purchase around Christmas-time), get at lice comb or two and bunch of good movies.

This is an image: kids on the floor, spotlight on their noggins, mom & dad carefully combing through their heads

This is the image: kids on the floor, spotlight on their noggins, mom & dad carefully combing through their heads

Where did we get the lice? I’m pretty sure, based on the 300 or so nits I pulled from her head, that Scout had them first. Her school has had a number of lice cases this year, and I can only think she must  have somehow brought them home from school. If you do your research, it’s actually not all that common to get lice from hats or keeping your jacket next to another jacket. Lice like to live on people’s heads, so they don’t hang out on the floor or the desks–they pretty much need head-to-head contact to transfer from one person to another. They cannot jump. They crawl awkwardly, and it’s sort of a mystery how Scout got it, but somehow, some way, they became part and parcel of Christmas of 2013.

That we all got it from one another is no mystery. We constantly bed share–well, our girls share a bed frequently and Cory & I share a bed–and we read stories to the girls in their bed, propped up against pillows. How was I to know that this put me right in the line of fire of those buggers? The big problem with lice, other than making you feel like a dirtball, is that they are freakishly annoying to get rid of. You must remove all the nits, and the only way to do that is by sliding the little egg sac (probably the size of a droplet of water) down the hair shaft. Did I mention that I estimate that Scout had 300 or so nits?

At first, our kids did well with the removal. “Come, sit on the floor while I pour over your head and you can watch copious amounts of TV!” But, as with anything, nitpicking got old. The kids dreaded the whole process. Then we discovered that heat can kill them–BINGO! In addition to the scalp-scraping, we then tried blasting them with the hairdryer until they begged for mercy. It’s no coincidence that my hair dryer died, and I had to get a new one.

The infestation also raised a whole host of issues that made celebrating Christmas at my parents house just a little absurd–keeping our brushes in individual ziplocks and keeping the girls hair tightly tied back in buns & ponytails during our visit. Having lice as a family is an odd situation–it’s a laugh-one-minute-cry-the-next-type of situation, at least it was for me. The kids seemed rather oblivious, thank goodness. I was like a vacuuming, laundering freak of nature for 48 hours or so.

My mom--the brave grandma--holding Ruby who is rockin' the 'up-do'

My mom–the brave grandma–holding Ruby who is rockin’ the ‘up-do’

Here’s the thing, even a parent who is with her kids 24/7 can miss the fact that her kids have bugs running around in her hair. Neither of my kids ever complained of itching, and I never saw them scratch or appear uncomfortable. For Scout, she is very independent and has been washing, rinsing, brushing and combing her hair for the past year or so. Ordinarily, she hates having her hair tied back, so I had not had that many occasions to run through her hair myself. Sure, the school sent home a flyer saying, “Someone in your child’s class has been identified with lice,” but I was the dummy that thought, “Good Heavens, I’d know if my kid had bugs in her hair!” I never even bothered checking. Big mistake. Based on the amount of nits Scout had and the average rate of egg-laying for an adult louse, I’d say she could have had the bugs for a month. A MONTH. Now, you think you had a bad a parenting day? Let me put this in perspective for you: I unknowingly let bugs crawl around in my daughter’s gorgeous, thick chestnut brown hair–and further infest our whole family--all because I assumed that I’d know if my kid had bugs in her hair.

I always say it: parenting is a humbling experience. Again and again, I am humbled. I just wish I didn’t need an expensive, time-consuming lesson like lice to teach me that I can be an arrogant jerkball. The other thing that makes you feel like an ass is that in my inattention to detail, we could have affected other families. I had to call two families that were over for playdates and alert them to the fact that their kids may now have the gift of lice–quite an unconventional Christmas gift. I sent emails to teachers, the Sunday School director and the director of Ruby’s preschool. More than anyone else in the world, I dreaded telling my mom and my brother–the two biggest cleanfreaks that I know. I actually thought my family did rather well with the news–they touched and hugged the kids anyway, isn’t that sweet?

If you’ve never had lice, then kudos to you. I checked that one off the list and I will be perfectly happy not to relive this little rite-of-passage for the school-age set. If you have an experience of lice or anything even slightly related, I’d love to hear about it. C’mon, it’s okay to come out of the lice closet.

Fair enough, independence seekers

It’s been a snowy winter and I can’t help feeling attached to home, wanting to hunker down and avoid the elements. The snow is gorgeous when the sun makes it sparkle just so, but today is gray and unshiny. And even when it is magical, I enjoy it through the window just fine. I’ve read books, done some crafting, drank lots of coffee and tea, enjoyed some soup, watched movies–all the many perks of a snowy winter.

AND I’ve been taking jaunts in the neighborhood–to get Scout to and from school, not for fun or anything like that.

The walk looks something like this:

IMG_4518Well, the walk looks like that when it’s a good walk. Sometimes the walk looks like this:

IMG_4542You see, it’s cold outside. And not everyone enjoys that part about the cold. For some, it would seem, Snow=fun AND Cold=misery. You can understand the conundrum, right? Feeling compelled to play in the snow, one is suddenly surprised about 15 minutes into all that fun that the white fluffy snow turns oddly harsh and uncomfortable. Ruby’s relationship with snow is further compounded by her love of  snacking on the stuff (the pretty white snow, NEVER the yellow or dirty snow). Imagine her face when she realizes the stuff is driven up her sleeves and into her boots… Well, I think you can SEE the look on her face in the above photo. 

The other day, Ruby and I were walking back from school after dropping Scout off. I was trying to keep her occupied with a quasi-snowball fight, when I noticed an elderly neighbor struggling to shovel her driveway. I asked Ruby to wait for a second while I approached this woman. I had no previous contact with this lady, and she had her back turned to me, so I tried to call out, “Excuse me” so I wouldn’t startle her. When she turned around, she was surprised (I doubt she heard me coming). Our exchange went something like this:

  • Excuse me? Can I do that for you?
  • What? [She looked mortified.] Why would I want you to do that?
  • [I probably looked rather startled.]
  • [She continued.] Well, there’s ice over there, and you could fall and slip.
  • [I glanced down at my suitable boots.] Well, all the same, I’d be happy to help you.
  • [The woman pauses.] No. I don’t want you to. I need the exercise.
  • [I back away.] Fair enough.

After this odd exchange, I turned back and collected Ruby. Ruby then said, “She didn’t want to have a snowball fight with us?”

Ruby’s sweet comment pulled me out of my fog and I laughed. We continued walking back home through the snow. All the same, I couldn’t help pondering why this communication was so abrupt and uncomfortable. I surmised that this woman must look forward to snow shovelling; perhaps shovelling snow is her greatest love in life. I tried not to take it too personally, but I had to admit: I got my feelings hurt. I am a helper/pleaser-type, and, if I’m honest, I would have really enjoyed helping this woman clear her drive. That she rebuffed my offer did sting a bit.

I shared this story with Cory, with my mom, with a close friend, and, feeling compelled by something at church, I shared it with my close-knit Crosswalk community (though, afterwards I had this regret that I shouldn’t have shared it because it didn’t really relate to what we were talking about all that much, oh well, they’re churchy people, so they have to forgive me for being tangential).

In sharing this, people seemed to have these general thoughts:

  • The lady is a crabbyappleton
  • I shouldn’t take it personally
  • Perhaps this woman is struggling with aging and she wants to assert her independence over something she can still do
  • [And my favorite] Maybe the AARP is advertising about a scam where a stranger approaches you and asks to shovel your driveway, then falls and sues you for all you’re worth

But here’s what I know, after wrestling with my ego: The exchange I had with this woman was purposeful. I’d even go so far as to say she was sent to me to deliver a powerful message. This woman was a stranger to me, and I offered her help. By suggesting that she needed help, I didn’t intend to undermine her abilities but perhaps that’s how it was perceived. When she said that she didn’t want my help, I respected that. It hurt a bit, but I respected her wishes and I backed away. Incidentally, I drove by her house later that day and saw that her entire driveway and walkway were clean as a whistle. She KNEW she could do it, she WANTED to do it, and she didn’t want my assistance.

You know who else this reminded me of?IMG_4537Yep, this girl.

My sweet girl. Scout is everything you would ever want in a little girl–sweet, kind, helpful, funny, creative–but, when she asserts her independence it is a Hummer not a VW bug coming down the street.

During the Crosswalk service that I attended, there was a parable of the 99 sheep retold as a modern parable of a Lost Emporer Penguin. The penguin was stranded far away from home and the community rallied to help it. Our pastor encouraged us to think of God’s love as the extravagant, abundant love that these strangers showered on this poor penguin, who misguidedly filled his belly with sand and required surgery to save his life.

What is life-saving to this penguin is the attentive love of those who found him stranded on the beach. But love is not limited to attention and assistance. What is life-saving to some, including my big girl, is a love that encourages her independence. My own need to “help” should not overshadow her need to assert her independence. My “helping” actually undermines her, rather than assists her.

Here’s my lesson: BACK AWAY, MOM. (In the nicest way possible.)

I must respect others autonomy and give them the space to complete their tasks without my help. I shudder to think… I’m THAT Mom, the one that hovers and tries to “help” when really I’m hindering.

Thank you, neighbor lady, for teaching me what I hope will be a valuable lesson. The extravagant, abundant love that I must give my children is to BACK OFF. This will sometimes look like allowing them to wield their own knives, wrap presents with an entire dispenser of tape, assemble their own homework packets without ever putting it in their backpacks, forget hats & gloves, dress themselves in inappropriate clothing, make a scrap heap of several reams of computer paper, make a mess in the kitchen and leave the caps off an infinite amount of markers, but it is love nonetheless.

Halloween taught me what a control freak I am

Often I have light-heartedly said, “I didn’t realize what a control freak I was until I had kids!” My kids, like most kids, are unpredictable. I see myself as laid back, but I have been proven wrong on this self-identified character trait many times. I’m attached to the idea that my day should go a certain way. Admittedly, my expectations are high: I want my day to go smoothly every day. My prayer has never once been, “Dear God, please see to it that every single thing that I put thought and effort into today goes terribly awry.” And yet, it feels as though that is precisely what happens on a fairly regular basis.

Imagine each of these situations:

  • I handed my then-toddler a “broken banana” (rather than the whole banana in one long, continuous banana shape)
  • I insisted that we strap her into the carseat, rather than flop around the car unrestrained
  • I advised wearing weather-appropriate footwear, and even-gasp!-socks
  • I put “sparkly” toothpaste on her toothbrush, rather than the “minty” kind
  • I said, “Five minutes until it’s time to go,” and vocalized the countdown  minute-by-minute, and then I tried to actually follow through on leaving said location
  • I turned the page of the book by myself
  • I did not give them four quarters to pump into the Claw Machine
  • I tried to give 2% milk instead of our standard 1% milk

Each and every one of the aforementioned situations prompted genuine despair and conflict for my family. Tears, snot and loud cries of heartbreak were all involved in these emotional reactions to seemingly innocent situations. Parents of small children know that there are many instances where something simple surprises everyone as a tantrum-trigger. In these situations, I was not at all laid back. I did not handle these tantrums with flexibility or grace. Some of the tears that were shed may have been my own.

Of course, Halloween is a control freak’s nightmare. The holiday has a lovely premise: Celebrate the night before All Saint’s Day by dressing children in costumes, and then have them approach strangers’ homes and beg for candy.  A successful Halloween is measured by the massive amount of sugary treats and no one smashing your Jack O’Lanterns. Check and check.

Despite a successful Halloween, I made a harsh discovery: I am a narcissistic control freak. It’s true. And it all started with an innocent attempt to help my daughter with her costume.

This is the first year that I helped Scout with her costume. My kids have traditionally been very big fans of Dress Up, and Halloween had previously been little more than going into the basement to pick out one of their Dress Up dresses to wear in public. The first problem with assisting with Halloween costumes is the high expectations involved. The thought that I could easily help with any project involving a deadline and a child’s anticipation of perfection is decidedly ambitious.

When Scout said she wanted to be Olivia, from the books by Ian Falconer, we found a photo of inspiration. We found tights at a Halloween store, but we went to the fabric store for everything else–the pattern and the fabric.

The original book by Ian Falconer (photo from

The original book by Ian Falconer (photo from

I foolishly thought we were committed to Olivia. About three days after our trip to gather the costume fixings, Scout requested to change her costume to “Ladybug Girl.Um, no, you’ll have to save that idea for next year. Daily, she continued to mention different costume ideas, and I kept pressing the issue: We already bought the fabric to make the Olivia costume.

The Olivia you see on TV, in the Nickelodeon series, and also the source of our inspiration for the costume

The Olivia you see on TV, in the Nickelodeon series, and also the source of our inspiration for the costume

Last weekend, the fabric went from being two yards of broadcloth to something resembling a jumper. Hours of shoulder-hunching over the sewing machine yielded promising results. Though the ears deserved more engineering than my husband and I were willing to perform, I think the costume was appropriately Olivia-like in its nature. Scout, on the other hand, was rather lukewarm about the costume and maintained that the ears were insufficiently stiff.

Struggling with those darn ears

Struggling with those darn ears

Prior to Halloween, she declined to try on the outfit and she even dressed as a “Spider Princess” for a Halloween event at our church. I told myself that it was her choice, and I wasn’t going to make a big deal about it, but I was hurt.  She maintained that she would dress as Olivia for school. On the big morning of Halloween, she started her morning by wearing a red dress… but not her Halloween costume. I told her that she could simply dress in her costume for school.

“Oh, okay.”

She did dress as Olivia and she did bring her ears along to school.

Olivia helps LIttle Red Riding Hood

Olivia helps LIttle Red Riding Hood

I knew that she wouldn’t want to be Olivia for Trick-or-Treating, so I wasn’t surprised when she wanted to take her costume off later that day. I asked her if I could take a few photos of her to send to her grandparents. She was uninterested. And this was the point in which I lost my marbles.

“Do you realize how much time I put into making this costume? Do you know how hard I worked on this? Even Dad pitched in to make your ears! All I want is one decent photo of you to send to your grandparents!” And on and on, all of which was said with the most guilt-trip inducing tone known to humankind. It worked. She put her costume back on and I snapped a few photos.

And after all of that, I thought, “WHY?” Why did I make my child feel guilty for wanting nothing to do with the costume I made her? Why did I get all bent out of shape because she had a change of heart? More than once I told myself, “I am never doing this again.” I’m not sure if I meant “I am never investing myself in a Halloween costume again” or “I am never acting like a two-year-old when I get my feelings hurt again.” Maybe both.

I felt rejected. My creation wasn’t met with the enthusiasm that I’d hoped for. Sure, she said “Thank you,” because I am a control freak who instills politeness in my children, but I wanted utter devotion to her new costume. I had absurdly assumed that my labor of love would be loved.

I was devastated. I was devastated? Seriously, there are people in this world with real problems and I’m sitting around feeling sorry for myself because my six-year-old doesn’t like my home ec project? It seemed so silly. And still my feelings persisted.

Amazingly, I came across this amazing devotion on “Grace” in the book Momfulness by Denise Roy. The words took my breath away.

Grace holds you up when you feel completely unappreciated because no one sees all the thousands of little things you do in a day. Grace sees.

Grace sees.

My kids are sweet, and my life is good, but I harbor no delusions that I’m doing it all perfectly. I am often not satisfied with the simple notion that Grace sees. I want my kids to see. I want my husband, my parents, my friends, my neighbor’s uncle’s dogs to all see.

I have not solved the problem of trying to control my life or the lives of my kids. My guess is that I will always struggle to let them make their own decisions, especially when their decisions seem to dismiss my own efforts and ideas. My interest in being acknowledged and seen is simply human and imperfect, but I have no malice in my heart.

What about you? Do you struggle with control issues as you parent? What have you found that has enhanced your ability to “let go” of things?

Parenting=Most humbling experience of my life (again and again and again)

I have a million blog ideas floating around in my head, and someday they might make it further than my head, but not today.

Today I have to tell you about the big fat piece of humble pie I have been eating.

My story goes like this…

Oh, wait… I have one thing to get out of the way: Even before this situation occurred, I fully acknowledged on multiple occasions that my children were not perfect, flawless, angelic, or incapable of mass-destruction. Okay, carry on…

So the other day it snowed. Yes, it snowed the night before Halloween, and I think that this happens nearly every year as an eye-catching conversation-starter prior to traipsing your little ones around on an October evening where light-weight nylon costumes are the norm. In any case, my kids were thrilled to see that someone had the gumption to make large snowballs with the snow on Scout’s school’s playground.

The catch? Since the playground is home to a half-acre of woodchips, the snowballs were more of a wood-snow-hybrid. (This is what those in the story-telling biz call “foreshadowing.” )

Ruby enjoys playing with the “big kids” on days when we pick Scout up from school. So do a lot of little siblings. The problem comes when the little siblings try their not-yet-ready-for-elementary-school moves on some of these other kids: pushing, shoving, etc. Add snowball throwing to that list.

I stood back from the playground with a few other moms, and the next thing that I knew I heard Ruby crying and a few older girls were running towards me to tell me that Ruby had indeed been beaned in the face by a snowball by a fellow kindergartner’s little brother. So it goes, right? Well, I was surprised to see that this kid was pitching snow/chip balls at kids that were approximately 5 inches from him. I did my mommy thing where I talk really loudly and say, “So-and-so, did you like it when this little boy threw a snowball at you? Well, maybe you should tell him that you didn’t like it.” Yeah, everyone, let’s all tell this little 3-year-old that we aren’t crazy about having a ice-laden woodchip dagger being flung at our heads.

When I went home that afternoon, I felt like this issue was resolved and we were all better for it.

But, like many parents before me, I found out that there wasn’t so much a sequel to this epic story as a prequel.

The next morning, while we were brushing our teeth, Scout mentioned something in passing. “Well, Ruby did throw a snowball at him first.” Turns out, Ruby had started the entire thing. That other kid, he probably didn’t even know what a snowball was until he saw my kid chucking one at him. That kid probably watched her slug him with one of those things, and he burned with the fire inside: “That looks like so much fun! Why don’t I fling one of those things at her face?” Turns out, Ruby instigated the whole shebang, and I can’t even contain how uncomfortable that makes me. My smugness at thinking that I had helped the victims confront their assailant? My self-righteousness at assuming I had understood the proper way to handle things? Gone, and replaced by my knowledge that I had it all wrong. As it turns out, I should have been helping that little boy confront my daughter, the original woodchip-snowball thrower, and teaching Ruby a little lesson we like to re-visit regularly called: HAVING EMPATHY FOR OTHERS.

You could call her "The woodchip-laden snowball thrower," but I will just call her Ruby

You could call her “The woodchip-laden snowball thrower,” but I will just call her Ruby

Yikes. We all have days like this, stories like this, and humbling experiences like this. At least, I hope that we do. The beauty of parenthood is that tomorrow I can go forth with the knowledge that I have gained today, and I hope it will make me a more loving, compassionate parent. I know that it will make me way less judgmental of the kid who throws the first snowball… because I might not have the sequence of events quite right.

How about your humbling experiences, parenting or otherwise? What have they taught you?

Giving the gift of forgiveness

I have so many spiritual struggles. Don’t we all? My prayer life is practically non-existent, I have failed to find a meaningful way to connect with the service-oriented side of me for years, and lately “charity” has meant giving a teenager $5 when he comes to my door trying to sell coupons for the football team. I haven’t been the prayerful, loving, charitable person that I want to be in a long time. Or at least it feels like it. I need a soul-nourishing overhaul.

But that is not what this post is about. (Well, it is a little bit.)

What this post is really about is love. The love of a sweet, spiritual girl, and the gifts she gives me all the time.

This week, my oldest had her first day of kindergarten. I have been struggling with what to write about this momentous occasion. As far as I can tell, I’m supposed to think this is a bittersweet moment: my baby is all grown up and ready to set the world on fire. Me, as momma, I’m supposed to feel happy for her and proud of her, but also feel a bit of my heart break because there is no more denying that her babyhood is a thing of the past. This girl is growing up.

Insert obligatory smiley-faced photo here

Insert obligatory smiley-faced photo here

What can I say? I have to be different. That’s not the way it went down for me.

I do agree that it was bittersweet, but not for the reasons that you might think. Let’s start with sweet, because that’s easy. I felt sweet because I know that she’ll do well. She’s grown into such a kind and capable girl, with an amazing creative side and a truly grand ability to simply observe and soak it all in. I felt sweet because I personally love new adventures, and I’ve been hearing so many amazing things about our neighborhood school since we moved into our house three years ago. I felt sweet because my mornings can become purposeful again, and I will actually have some time to myself. But mostly I’m overcome with the bitter.

I’m bitter because this is the official end of our summer, and this is the beginning of a new schedule for us.  Where some families appear to feel rejuvenated by the beginning of a new school year and the routine that it provides, I feel the dark, suffocating choke-hold of this time of transition. Hmm, what’s a polite way to say this? “My sweet kindergartener finds adapting to a new routine rather challenging. ” She was a bucket of nerves before school started, and she told me more than a dozen times that she didn’t want to go. Though by all accounts she’s liking school now that the first-day jitters are behind her, she is not exactly a lovely person to be around. School is wearing her out, and she is constantly exhausted and hungry. She complained that school doesn’t offer nap-time, and she has not willingly taken a nap since infancy. Yesterday, she ate a hot-dog… for her third afternoon snack. Our house has become a roller-coaster of emotion, ranging from excitement to nerves to aggression to apologies.

There can be no amount of “The Kissing Hand” to diminish these struggles. As the saying goes, “You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You can’t go around it. You gotta go through it.” And excuse me if I just don’t like going through it.

I’m not delusional. I know that the world has bigger problems than adapting to a kindergarten routine, and I realize that I’m not the first mom to have this struggle. The logical piece of me is aware that we’ll get through it, but it’s just such a difficult time for me. My heart is breaking, but it has nothing to do with her babyhood ending. My heart is breaking because my child has such strong emotions and she’s still learning how to process them. Though by her own admissions she’s “tired,” or she want to “lie down,” she balks at the suggestion that we take some quiet time. She is awash in the feeling of what my friend calls “hangry”–hungry and angry. She acts difficult and aggressive, and then realizing she has hurt me or her sister, she quickly backpedals and apologizes.

“Momma, I’m so sorry.”

“What are you sorry for, honey?”

“Well, I’m sorry that I was acting so mean and being so crabby. I’m a bad kid.”

After the third exchange like this yesterday, I had to do something. My heart was so achy and breaky, that even Billy Ray wouldn’t be able to shake his mullet enough to do away with that kind of heartache.

I explained that she is not a bad kid. She is NEVER EVER a bad kid in my mind, because I KNOW that she is really truly a kind, loving kid. I explained that this was a hard time, and that her body is adjusting to this new schedule. I explained that her mind was working so hard to take in all of the new friends and experiences that it made her extra-tired. I explained that sometimes when we start something new, we don’t always sleep right and that makes us super-tired, too. And when we’re extra-super-tired, it’s so difficult to act our best.

But I had good news! The good news is: You can forgive yourself and start all over! You can do better next time. Isn’t that fantastic?

We talked a lot about forgiveness, and how God always forgives us. I told her that with God, you have a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance… even forever chances!

Forever chances. I love that. (I learned that from my I-wish-I-knew-you-in-real-life soul sister, Glennon Doyle Melton, because I’m reading her book Carry On, Warrior right now.) And I told my sweet girl again that I know that she’s kind, and she is NEVER EVER a bad kid. And God knows that, too. God knows that better than even I do. And my sweet girl, who found prayer to be so soothing last year in moments of anxiety, remembered that she could talk to Jesus and ask him for help.

And after this whole conversation, I was thinking, “You are brilliant, my dear!” Does this ever happen to you? My child reminded me that the advice that I was giving her is truly the advice that I need to be following myself. You know who wants to help me become a more patient mother? Jesus does. And all I have to do is ask. Maybe tomorrow, I will do better than today. Maybe the next day, I will do better than tomorrow. But each day, if I get angry or I get crabby (which I always do), and if I am hard on the people I love the most (which I always am), I can pray. I can ask for help. I just have to stop and forgive myself, and try again because I have forever chances.

So, here’s to love and prayer and forgiveness. And here’s to the bittersweet, because often the most worthwhile experiences do have a fair amount of growing pains. We’ll get there… I’ll keep praying.