Monday, May 31, 2010

Four Kids--Four Personalities

It never ceases to amaze me how different the children in one family can be. Not only do siblings often vary in appearance, but I've noticed an even larger discrepancy in personality. Take, for instance, my kids.

My ten-year-old is responsible, sweet and sensible. She looks and acts more like a 13-year-old, but in a good way (meaning, she's not into boys or popularity and such yet). She's a bit dramatic and can lose her temper, but she immediately gets a hold of herself and apologizes. She is seldom in any real trouble, although her mother does wish she would show more respect and love to her younger brother. She doesn't care a lot about personal appearance, and in fact, could probably up her performance in hygiene a little.

For example, just last week she was invited to a party with some girls she plays soccer with. Since she's not asked to such events often, I thought it might be a good idea to take her hair of her daily pony tail and maybe spend a few minutes brushing it out and making it look a little more presentable. Also, I suggested a change of clothes--nothing fancy--just clean and unholy. She didn't agree. "It's not a beauty pageant, mother. It's just a little pizza party." Agreed, but a little more effort couldn't hurt, could it?

Then there's my eight-year-old son. He's athletic and fun and soaks up the most he can out of life. He is always busy, and in fact, cannot even sit on a couch without tossing a ball up and catching it. He has a lot of friends and needs them. He does not like playing solo. He has a great sense of humor and a wonderful heart. He gets into trouble on a more regular basis and has a horrible temper, but he's learning to go to his room, get a grip, then come apologize. He absolutely does not like it when someone raises his/her voice at him, so I have to be so careful in how I speak to him when I am frustrated, and in fact, I have to discipline him completely different from my ten-year-old. He makes me smile every day with his quick wit.

The other day I was telling him about a neighbor girl who had run into another child on the playground and had ended up cracking her skull in two places. My other children were riddling me with questions about the accident when Nate looked at me and said, "So you're telling me she ran into someone and broke the school in two different places? Where did the school get broken?" It took me a moment to realize he was thinking of the building he attends every day to learn, rather than the girl's head. We all laughed as I explained that when I said the word, "skull," I meant the bones that surround the brain in our heads. What I loved most is that, rather than be offended that we laughed at him (like my 10-year-old may have done), he joined in and laughed right along with us.

My five-year-old is a diva in training. She cares a lot about how she looks and changes her clothes many times a day. She is particular about how I fix her hair and loves nothing more than for someone to tell her she looks cute. I picked her up from preschool recently and asked how it went. Her response was, "Nobody said I looked cute today. Dari's hair was cuter than mine." I didn't even know how to respond. Just the next day, she came into the bathroom while I was getting ready and said with exasperation, "Oh great, you look cuter than I do today!" She's a smart as a whip and helpful and sweet, but when she decides to throw a fit--watch out! She plays with a swarm of little boys in the neighborhood and when I asked her why she liked playing with boys so much, she said it was so she could boss them around. I have no doubt that's true. She's also a bit of a pathological liar (she recently told her preschool teacher I was expecting twins--not true), but we're working on embracing honesty.

While exercising at my friend's house the other day, she asked me if she could go upstairs. I told her she needed to stay downstairs where I could monitor her. She was not pleased with that answer, and a minute later, I heard her tell her little brother, "Mom won't let us go upstairs because she's a (pause) mom--a word I can't say because it's a potty word and I don't want to have to do a chore." That's Regyn (or should I say Savannah since she also told me she hates her name and wants to officially change it) to a tee.

Lastly, there's my three-year-old. He's usually happy and content and loving. He follows Regyn around like a little puppy and apparently doesn't mind being told what to do all day. He loves to read stories and do puzzles and most of all, ask questions. I've never known a child who can ask so many questions. "Are we going swimming now? At the pool? Where there's deep water? Where I have to be careful so I don't drown? Because drowning means I die? And you don't want me to die? Because then you'll be sad?" And on and on and on. I try responding to each question but it gets tiring fast.

Last week I was rushing to get ready to go to the school for an event for one of my older children. Running a bit behind schedule, I was trying to come up with a fast hairdo. Without realizing it, I said out loud to myself, "I can't do that to my hair. I look like an idiot." The next thing I knew, Boston was at my side. "Mom, what does an idiot look like?" Needless to say, I had no answer for that question.

Four kids--four unique personalities. What can I say? At least, it keeps life interesting.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Best Therapy

Last week I did something absolutely amazing! After I finished, I felt like a whole new woman--more free, more in control, more fabulous. And I thought to myself: Why in the world did I wait so long to do this? It changed my whole perspective on life. I mean, it was literally life-changing!

I cleaned out my closet.

Okay, so you were probably expecting something more dramatic but I'm serious when I say it made a significant difference in my life. I immediately felt like I had lost 10 pounds (the feeling every woman wants, right?), and I could not stop wondering why and how I had let things get so out of control. I also could not stop finding myself in my closet throughout the next few days, just staring at the organized shoes and clothes, simply breathing in the feeling of neatness and order.

I guess you would have had to have seen just how bad it looked before you could really appreciate what I'm talking about. I even took "before" and "after" pictures so I could remind myself of what I never want my closet to look like again. That may sound a little over-the-top, but I'm telling you, it was worth it.



(Honestly, you can't possibly tell from the pictures just how dramatic the change really was).

Life the past nine months consistently spiraled into craziness. Between teaching preschool, supporting my children's athletic and school events, dealing with health issues, coaching a club volleyball team, church assignments and a gazillion other life responsibilities, my role as homemaker took a back seat--like way back, like the caboose back. In other words, the bare minimum was getting done, and little by little, my house became a hazardous zone. I kept telling myself I would get to it, that when the basement was finally done (we've been working on it for a good year), I would find a place for everything and get officially organized.

Well, the other day, I hit a wall. I walked into my closet (actually, it was nearly impossible to walk into it because of everything piled all over, so carefully attempted to make my way without tripping would be a more accurate description) and decided enough was enough. I was not going to live another day with such a disastrous room. And I got to work. Two hours later I emerged. I felt as if I had conquered Goliath. The rest of the day, I kept returning to stand in the middle of it and just stare. I realized I could even lie on the floor and make a snow angel in the carpet if I wanted to since the floor was free of debris. It was the most wonderful feeling!

But then I walked out of my closet and felt . . . like crying. The whole house seemed to need a major overhaul. I decided to take on one project a day until the entire house was as fresh and clean as my closet. I didn't care what other responsibilities had to be put on hold--I was on a mission to find my house again one room at a time, and no one was going to stop me!

Except my children and their obligations.

A few days went by without progress. That's when I had a rough day of motherhood (my three-year-old is teaching me patience--need I say more?), and before I knew it, I had thrown open the hall closet and started tossing everything over my shoulder. It was as if I had discovered a new form of therapy--decluttering--and it was working like a charm. Ducking as they passed by, my children wondered what was going on with Mom and why I was furiously organizing the closet. "I'm taking control of my life again," I said. And that's exactly how it felt.

Over the course of a few days I cleaned my pantry (too bad I didn't take "before" and "after" pictures--it was unbelievable) and numerous drawers and cupboards in my kitchen. And with each tidied space I felt a little more free and in control. It was amazing!

One day my son became sick and felt like he had a fever. I rushed to the newly organized closet and grabbed for a thermometer (I found out I own four--before the feverish cleaning expedition I wasn't sure I even owned one), plopping it under his tongue with a smile of satisfaction that I knew exactly where to find one. I felt empowered. I decided right then that regardless of how crazy life gets, my role as homemaker will never get pushed so far to the back again.

A few years ago I watched an Oprah that talked about your home being a reflection of you. They said if your home is cluttered, your life is cluttered. I thought it was interesting, that some valid points were made. But I had never fully experienced it until this past week when I decided my life was full of way too much clutter, and I got to work. If only I had known I could feel so much better just by making a space for things and then making sure things got put away in that space. So simple, yet so hard .

Now, reality tells me it won't stay wonderfully tidy forever, at least not without consistent effort. But I just have to say, if you want to do something amazing for yourself--something that doesn't cost a thing, something that will change your life--simply pick a closet. It truly is the best therapy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Seemingly Small Acts

Sludging through the daily grind of life--school schedules, sports schedules, lessons, church responsibilities, and more--we often seem so busy I wonder if my children are soaking up the things that matter most each day. Important habits, such as scripture reading, praying, fulfilling family responsibilities, serving and helping each other, often get rushed through or even pushed aside as we run to keep up with everything else. Yet these are the activities I want my children to pay the most attention to, because in the end, they are the only things that really matter.

In an effort to drive this point home, I find myself constantly working to make these seemingly small acts each day become the heartbeat of our very lives. Still, I often wonder if I'm succeeding at all. Most days it seems I'm not, but if there's one thing motherhood is teaching me, it's that our children are watching and learning from EVERYTHING we do, even--and maybe especially--when our influence on them may be nearly imperceptible. I sometimes feel exhausted from that pressure because I certainly can't and don't set a perfect example at all times. But the good news is my children are soaking up more of the good than I ever suspect, and to me, that's one of the miracles of motherhood. It's one of the ways God makes up the difference. Since we can't be perfect moms and get it right all the time, He enhances the effect of our positive influences on our children when we are trying hard to do the right things. And I have to believe these are the experiences that will shape my children and make up for the many times I blow it.

This past week we experienced a morning that proved this point to me. I had been working hard all week on carrying out a few large responsibilities. By the end of Wednesday evening, I found myself with a migraine headache, so sick I could barely get myself to bed. Every thought I had or move I made shot sharp pain through me head and left me feeling sure I was going to throw up. I took some medicine and crawled into bed, praying for a miracle since I knew I had to teach preschool the next morning, as well as meet some other commitments.

Somehow I made it through the night, although quite miserably. Morning found me finally able to rest a little deeper, and I thought to myself that if I could only sleep in a bit then I might be able to actually get out of bed and make it through the day. The problem was my husband had to leave early for a meeting at work and could not stay to help me. That left only my children, and although I wanted to believe they were up to the task of fixing themselves breakfast, getting ready for the day, and accomplishing the morning routine in time for school, I admit I was a bit skeptical. In fact, I didn't even dare ask them to try. I just kept willing myself to get out of bed, only to find myself falling sound asleep again.

I finally awoke with a start and realized it was 8:00. My older children needed to be leaving to catch the bus soon and I wasn't even sure they'd had breakfast yet. Just as I was throwing back the covers to slide out of bed, all four of my children appeared at my bedside. They were dressed, had eaten breakfast and were all ready for the day. Even better than that, my 10-year-old had organized family scripture reading. My eight-year-old was speaking to me in soothing tones as he rubbed the back of my neck and back and asked me if there was anything else he could do for me. The beds were made, the teeth were brushed, and they were ready for family prayer.

I was amazed and humbled and grateful. Wow, they're getting it, I thought. In fact, it seemed they'd gotten it. I began to wonder if they needed me at all in the mornings since they had accomplished all of this 10 minutes earlier than usual. That's when my eight-year-old told me to fold my arms and close my eyes so he could pray for our day. My bedroom became a sacred place when his simple words included a humble plea for me to get feeling better. Tears filled my eyes as my four sweet children each kissed me, hugged me and told me to have a great day. I was overcome by the love and compassion and service they had shown me, and as I lay there in bed a little longer, I wondered when and how they had become such thoughtful, loving children.

That's when it hit me. It's who they've been becoming all along, and I just hadn't fully realized it. I'd been so adept at noticing the weak spots in our family, I had failed to grasp how effective our daily righteous habits had been on teaching my children goodness. Now, I'm going to be quick to say that my dear children have a long way to go. They certainly aren't always so thoughtful as they were the other morning, nor are they always so efficient and loving. But I believe our efforts to fill our lives with important habits like scripture reading and prayer and service make more of a difference at the end of the day than we could ever imagine. It's a lesson I hope to not soon forget.

And I've been thinking that maybe, just to give them extra practice, I'll be sick a little more often!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!!

Mother's Day this year proved to be an education for me. Not only did I learn some things about myself I didn't know, but I also came to the realization that one reason I have had less-than-ecstatic feelings about this holiday every year is that my children seem to choose this day to be at their absolute worst. Fighting, name-calling, whining, begging, and more all seem to culminate on Mother's Day, making it extremely difficult to refrain from my usual hollering and nagging long enough to feel like an accomplished mother.

This year my children inundated me with special notes, which were not only sweet, but very informative. For example, from my 10-year-old I learned I am "octofantastic". What, you might ask, does octofantastic mean? Well, I'm not sure, although I've chosen to assume it's something great. She didn't know herself; it was just a word she made up when she couldn't think of any other one that started with "O" for an acrostic with my name (I was just thankful the word "ornery" didn't come to mind).

My eight-year-old attempted to show his love through an acrostic poem as well. Using the word "mother," this is what he came up with: Money, Oatmeal, Tame, Hot, Easy, and Rough. Not exactly words I would use if I wanted to impress my mother, but oh well. I was just about to ask what he meant by writing money, oatmeal, rough and tame when I decided instead to focus on the word "hot." Wow, I thought, at least he thinks I'm something great to look at. He must have read my mind, because without me even asking, he said, "The hot just means you get hot when you're outside, Mom." Great. Thanks, son. I feel so special now.

My five-year-old filled out an entire paper all about me. Apparently, I'm 21 years old (I love that girl!), I'm as pretty as a heart (whatever that means), and my favorite food is tomatoes and onions in a sandwich. At least she didn't have to make up a word (like octofantastic), or use a word like oatmeal or rough to describe me.

The real kicker was my three-year-old, though. In an effort to make the day meaningful, my husband gathered the children together for a special Family Home Evening on none other than . . . how great mom is! He started by asking the kids to think of things I do for them. This brought a lot of sighs, eye rolling, and inaudible muttering from the kids. They were less than enthusiastic about the topic. Personally, I thought it was a great idea. I sat back, folded my arms and waited for the appreciation to start flooding in.

Number one on the list was the laundry. Okay, not bad, but is that the best these kids can come up with? It was Boston's turn next. My husband turned to him and said, "Boston, what does Mommy do for you every day?" I held my breath as I awaited what I was sure would be a sweet little answer that would melt my heart. Instead, he looked right at my husband and said matter-of-factly, "She gets mad at me." Not exactly heart-melting material. Young children are so uncensored!

Round two of this little activity found my eight-year-old saying, "Mom's a good influence." Finally, a thoughtful answer. If only he hadn't followed it up with, "What does influence mean?" Somehow a compliment becomes less meaningful when the person saying it doesn't even know what it means.

The end of the day found me grateful it's 365 days until Mother's Day rolls around again. I've given it quite a lot of thought, and I think I'll use the time to coach my children on more appropriate, meaningful responses for next year. If nothing else, I plan to be the most octofantastc mom ever !

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Making the Grade

Life lately seems to be a test on motherhood. And although failing might be a harsh grade to give myself, I think my GPA would probably fall somewhere below average. And as hard as I'm trying to keep up on everything, inevitably a "pop quiz" appears, finding me unprepared. Since repeating the term is not an option, I keep telling myself to get my act together; unfortunately, my act has been hard to find. Think I'm exaggerating? Trust me, I'm not. In one day, I forgot to send my son with his speech homework; was late (the last mom to arrive--every child's worst nightmare) to a preschool program, and when I did arrive I had forgotten the camera; forgot completely about sending my son to scouts; made dinner, only to find that apparently the rice was supposed to be cooked before being thrown into the crock pot, so we had to go to plan B for dinner--Ramen noodles and toast. Oh yeah, and I lost my cell phone. These mistakes are just minor, I realize, but I think it suffices to say, I'm not excelling.

Yesterday my sweet little five-year-old broke into an all-out tantrum when I picked her up from preschool because she wanted to stay and play on the playground for a while. Truth be told, I've been promising her all year that one day (when the weather was warmer) we would stay and play, and that promise has yet to be kept, so I hardly blamed her for feeling frustrated. I was even considering changing my mind when the fit started, and when I say fit, I mean screaming, flailing, pushing, bawling, HUMONGOUS fit. So, of course, I couldn't give in at that point and let her stay to play, even though I sympathized with the poor child. The tantrum lasted for at least ten minutes, and all the while I kept kneeling in front of her to try to calm her and talk with her about options, but she just kept pushing on me and screaming at the top of her lungs. I finally had no choice but to pick her up and throw her in the van. Even then, she opened the door and tried to escape. It was truly every mom's worst nightmare. I finally got her locked in long enough to make the drive around the corner and home. I told her when she was finished with her fit she could come inside. She cried it out for 20 more minutes before she finally came in, her red, puffy eyes looking sorry as ever.

Grateful the episode was over, I went about trying to get dinner on, only to find the same sweet little five-year-old throwing yet another tantrum. My patience wearing thin, I immediately took her hand and led (drug is more accurate) her to her bedroom, explaining she was to stay there for five full minutes. Then I shut the door. Of course she opened it right back up, so I felt my only option was to put her back inside, shut the door, and hold on to the doorknob. I wasn't sure I could last for five full minutes with her yanking on it from the other side, but I was determined to give it my best shot. She had gotten the best of me all day, and it was my turn to return the favor.

After about 20 seconds, I felt my patience wearing even thinner. I was sure I could not hold on for another four minutes and forty seconds. What to do? Hmm. That's when a thought struck me. What would a good mother do in this situation? Good question. I don't know--run and hide? It's what I felt like doing. I looked down at my white knuckles gripping the doorknob and realized that a good mother would probably not battle it out like this with her five-year-old.

That's when an even better question came to mind. What would a great mother do? Oh yeah, I don't want to be just a good mother. I'm not sure being a good mother is going to get the job done these days. I have to be better than that. What would a great mother do? Beats me.

And that's when the really important question flashed through my mind. What would an exceptional mother do right now? It didn't take long to loosen my grip on the doorknob. In fact, before I knew it, my heart had changed completely. I no longer cared about winning the battle with my little girl; I only cared about showing love to a very tired, frustrated child. That's when I opened the door, hit my knees, and held out my arms to her. At first she just stared at me, wondering what the catch was, but then she seemed to understand. When she met my embrace, and we held each other close, I realized how often I do it all wrong. Not that I can be an exceptional mother all the time--I have too many weaknesses to maintain such a high standard--but I couldn't help but wonder why I settle far too often for just being a good mother, or even a poor mother.

"I think we're both having a rough day," I whispered as I stroked her long, blond hair. "And when I'm having a rough day, the thing that helps me most is if someone I love wraps her arms around me and tells me it's going to be okay." Her beautiful blue eyes looked up at me as she wrapped her little arms tighter around my neck and we cried together for a few minutes. It may not have been what an exceptional mother would really have done, but at that moment, it seemed right.

I'm not hoping to earn any worldly accolades for my role as a mother; I'm not worried about impressing anyone with my mothering skills (if I even have any); and I'm not trying to outdo anyone else or be a better mother than the woman next door. But what I am trying to do is be the best mother to my children I can possibly be, and sometimes I find I just don't give it the right kind of effort. At the end of the day, my children and I (and maybe my husband, although he's gone most the day) are the only ones who really know what kind of mother I've been (a fact I'm extremely grateful for). But I'm learning I sleep a lot better at night when I can think through the day and know I've given it an "A" effort, even if the pop quizzes that inevitably come with motherhood have found me a bit unprepared.

So, if you've been finding the tests of motherhood to be especially daunting lately, hang in there. That's exactly what exceptional mothers do!