What Makes a Mother?

Mothers give birth…and sometimes they don’t. I know this because I am currently a mother to two girls I did give birth to–and more recently, to two babies I did not give birth to. There are birth mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, grandmothers, and step-mothers…and they are all important in the life of a child.

Mothers make elaborate, organic, fulfilling meals—and they also microwave leftover pizza. I know this because last night my children exclaimed, “Oh no. Pizza again!?”

Mothers wear high heels and lipstick and fancy dresses—and they also wear sweatpants and spit up and weary smiles. I know this because last Sunday after I finished getting ready for church, my four year old told me no less than 27 times that I was “so pretty”. (Despite the fact that I was only wearing jeans and a shirt. I think she was just overcome by the fact that I was not in pajamas.)

Mothers smell like perfume and sunshine—and they also smell like laundry-that-was-left-too-long-in-the-washing-machine-because-no-one-remembered-to-move-it –to-the-dryer-and-now-it’s-sprouted-mold-spores-and-smells-like-a-boys’-locker-room. (It doesn’t help that my washer and dryer are the dingy basement and I have to carry the girls’ loads down three flights of stairs, okay!?)

Mothers snuggle and color and play Barbies and Legos—and they also shut their bedroom doors for an hour to secretly catch up on The Good Wife. I do not know this from personal experience, but I can imagine there are mothers out there who would do this. (wink)

Mothers have one child—or they may have twelve children. It is not the number of children you have that gauges your worth as a parent. As my own mother recently reminded me, “You can be a great mom to one child or a terrible mom to one child. You can be a great mom to twenty children or a terrible mom to twenty children. It is not the number of children you have that makes you a good mother.”

Mothers laugh and tell stories and whisper words of encouragement—and they also scream and rant and complain. If you haven’t ever yelled at your kids…just. go. away.

Mothers worry about germs and goodbyes—and they also worry about boyfriends and driving privileges. It doesn’t matter what age our children are, we will surely be worried about something.

It’s not what you do that makes you a mother. It’s not how you cook, how you discipline or how you survive. It’s not the number of children you have, nor is it their stages, ages, talents or abilities. It’s not whether you have a clean house, an organized pantry or a scrapbook full of memorable trips. You are a mother because a child needs and loves you.

You are a mother because you need and love that child, too.

We like ta move it move it

As we enter the month of June, excitement and dread are hovering above me like a swarm of gnats. We close on our new house on June 14th, which means these next two weeks we’ll be packing up everything we own–from Magic Bullets to Magic Fairy wands–only to unpack them two weeks later. We are taking a week in between to remove some crazy kaleidoscope wallpaper and paint as many rooms as possible before we officially move-in to the new house.

Moving in-and-of-itself hasn’t been overly stressful for me–this will be our fifth home in nine years. The most stressful part is not having a “home” for a few weeks. I find it almost therapeutic to sort through every nook and cranny of our home and effectively start with a clean slate. BUT…I’ve never moved with multiple children before. Our last move, I was 7 months pregnant with Ally and Rae was only two years old. Packing was simple…I put her in her play pen as I packed up the whole house in under three days. So I’m already dreading this move–three kids means three times the mess and stress as before.

This past week was supposed to be our last week of relaxing before this house turns from a home into a den of boxes. So wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to have a few days in our “first home” with nothing to do and nowhere to go? Boy was I wrong. Here’s how my relaxing week turned out…

TUESDAY morning–I hopped on facebook while I was drinking my morning cup of coffee around 7 am, listening to the girls play upstairs in their room. After a few minutes, I decided to go check on them. When I got to the top of the stairs, I noticed little tufts of blonde hair floating on top of the hallway’s hardwood…”NO NO NO NONONONO!” I yelled, eyes frantically searching for the scissor-wielding savant. And there, hiding behind the bathroom sink, sat my three year old, whose long, single-length locks were now cut into a perfect…Mullet.

Mullet Mayhem

If you had TRIED to cut a mullet on a child, you couldn’t have done a better job than she did. With nicely shaped bangs (which she did not have before), feathered sides and a long tail trailing down her back, this child looked like the offspring of Joe Dirt and Uncle Jesse. I laughed, took a few pictures, rushed her to the ER (the Emergency Repair at a local salon), and she ended up with a cute stacked bob.

But out the door went one relaxing day–from trips to the salon to sweeping up hair tumbleweeds, Tuesday was not exactly what I’d pictured.

Wednesday After dinner the next night, Hubby and I were in the kitchen catching up on our day, when Rae came running down the stairs laughing and screaming, “Oh no! Wait till you see what Ally did! BaH HahaHaha!” Hubby and I followed her up the stairs only to find Ally sitting on top of her dresser, head-to-toe covered in diaper cream (which if you’ve had any experience with, you know is basically like smearing Crisco all over yourself.) I asked her, “WHY on earth did you do this!!!?” She tearfully replied, “I wannna look like a princess, but me no look like a princess now.” Well she got that right! She looked more like the abominable snowman!

Friday and Saturday were spent OUT of the house, with fun trips to the museum and my parents’. Thankfully, nothing of major consequence occurred. But this afternoon, I heard a knock on the front door. When I answered it, my neighbor timidly pointed upwards and said, “Um, I thought you should know that your girls are crawling around on the porch roof.” Apparently Rae had figured out how to open screen windows, and they decided it would be fun to climb out and say hello to all the passers-by.

So as I enter this crazy week of boxes and packing peanuts, there’s definitely a part of me that would like put my children in one of those boxes. If you think of us, please pray for me. And pray that my kids will be able to breath through cardboard.

Why I hate Pinterest

For months after a friend proudly showed me her pinterest account, I denied it entry into my life.  I wasn’t sure how it all worked, and I certainly didn’t need one more thing to keep track of. But last fall, when I wanted to throw my daughter a Horse-Themed 5th birthday party, I finally succumbed to the inevitable–the initial encounter with the ultimate internet bulletin board.  I quickly searched and created a board about Horse Parties for little girls, complete with pictures of cowboy boot cookies, doily trimmed tables, and impossibly expensive favors. And for about a month, that was the extent of my experience on Pinterest.

Then came Christmas. OH bright and merry Christmas boards, with your trees and trimmings and tinsel and toys! So I added another board with pins on how-to-make-your-own burlap stockings and jingle bell garland and Egg Nog (which, ironically, happened to be Egg-free, Dairy-free, Sugar-free, Soy-free, Gluten-free, and Vegan. Seriously. I’m not kidding.)

Egg nog *not!*

While I had nagging questions about these “Pinterest People” (like “How do they afford that!?” Or “Who has the time for that!?” or even “Seriously! Who does that?!”), I shrugged off most of my concerns because Pinterest is–well, ultimately–helpful. I’ve found great ideas for games and crafts with my kids, delicious and healthy recipes, additions for my spring wardrobe, and cute, cheap projects for around the house.

It wasn’t until recently that these doubts turned to hatred.
We are moving in a month. Compared to my current home, this new house feels like a mansion. I’m so excited to be there. But in my excitement to remove wall-paper and paint trim, I’ve also begun searching for ideas on Pinterest. I’ve searched for bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. I’ve searched and seen it all…glowing sunrooms, cozy fireplaces, inviting sofas and lush green lawns. And now I can say, without a doubt, that I. Hate. Pinterest.

I hate how superficial all of this is. I hate that these moms can put on their plastic smiles and with their perfectly manicured nails point to their perfectly organized closets and perfectly well-mannered children. Because we all know that nothing…and no one… can be that perfect.

Sure, I might paint a chair like it shows in the picture, but mine’s going to have drips of paint and sticky fingerprints on it. And I might try a pair of those pastel skinny jeans like the stylist recommends, but my thighs are going to rub together. And I might organize my pantry with fancy jars and labels, but my three year old is going to cover them with stickers and then spill the lentils all over the floor.

And the thing is, I DO have proud moments as a mom (like today, when my five year old tried to make a new girl at Sunday school feel welcome by offering to let her wear her bracelet). But even with those moments to look back on, as soon as I hop on Pinterest, those grateful moments disappear and I’m left feeling inadequate and overwhelmed!

I don’t want to suffer from Pinterest Perfectionism. And I certainly don’t want my children to grow up thinking that they have to be perfect, either. Hey, I’m not saying it’s wrong to get ideas or even to appreciate beauty. But it is wrong to think that you can and should be able to “do it all.” So I’m going to stop spending so much time worrying about these Pinterest People and start spending more time with the people that are actually IN my life. Because at the end of the day, I won’t remember pins about chalkboard paint and coral wedges–but I will remember the pleasure of those precious little sticky fingers wrapped around my hand.

Who’s the Boss?

Now that Ally is three and Rae is five, there’s been more sibling rivalry in our house the past few months.  As Ally learns how to better express herself, Rae is resignedly relinquishing more of her throne, bit by bit.  It’s been difficult to watch–and even more difficult to referee.  Both of my girls are bosses. 

“Bosses” have gotten a bad wrap in our society.  They are seen as the scapegoats, the self-righteous, the smug. Part of the damaging effects from our “every-road-is-wide” and “don’t-ever-offend-anyone” culture, is the widespread distrust for those in authority and dislike for anyone who dares to share an opinion that could affront. As the pleasers and appeasers push back on the leaders, Bosses become fearful of being themselves.

This has had a ripple effect on our “don’t-tell-me-what-to-do” society. Parents can no longer define their roles, other than providing food, shelter, and clothing. Children have no idea why they are special or what their place is in the home or the world. The respective roles of husband and wife, male and female, have become so overly blurred that many men and women don’t know how to live fulfilling lives. Chivalry points to chauvinism. Kindness means your nosy. And forget responsibility–that just shows everyone you’re holier than they are. Where or where have all the bosses gone?

Both Hubby and I are first-borns.  When we were first married we fought tooth-and-nail over every minor decision.  We are both natural leaders–and we are both bossy.  Throughout my childhood, I went to “leadership” camps and started clubs, and sought out volunteer work and ministry, never understanding why people always told me I had the “gift” of leadership.  I did NOT like being a “leader.”  Being a leader meant that in school, the teacher always picked you to organize the group, which meant that you had to listen to everyone’s complaints and try to make the slackers actually do their work. Being a leader meant that in church, the youth pastor always counted on you to organize the elder appreciation dinners and fill in for last minute Sunday school cop-outs.  Being a leader meant that with friends, when no one would speak their mind about where they wanted to go or what they wanted to do, all eyes turned to you to make the call. 

And whenever something went wrong, the “leader” was the one to blame. So I couldn’t understand why people saw leadership as a gift. 

Until I had children. 

I love that Rae marches to the beat of her own drum.  I think it’s marvelous that Ally has opinions about everything.  I want my children to be “bosses” because I want them to stand up for what’s right. I want them to unswervingly defend justice.  I want them to be counted on and be responsible, and when no one else will speak up for truth, I want them to shout their beliefs from the rooftops. Because this world could use a few good bosses.

Now if I could just get these two bosses to share…

Mess or Marvel?

Image

We are trying to sell our house.  The goal is to move to a better school district and hopefully a little bigger of a house as well. 

We had our first showing last night…Have you ever tried to keep a house looking “perfect” for an hour with three children and a dog?  I literally followed the girls around picking up left-behind toys and books and coloring and crumbs only to turn around and find a trail of muddy dog prints on the kitchen floor because someone was “helping” me by letting him in. 

I am stressed by mess.  I wish it weren’t so, but it is what it is.  I wish I was more like the mother of Benjamin West, a painter around the time of the American Revolution.  As the story goes, his mother went out, leaving him in charge of his little sister, Sally.  In his mother’s absence, he happened upon some bottles of ink and began to paint Sally’s portrait.  In doing so, he made quite a mess, spilling ink and leaving blots everywhere.  When his mother came back, she saw the mess, but said nothing.  She walked over to the painting and exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” and stooped to kiss him.  Benjamin West used to say, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.” 

I love Chuck Swindoll’s take on this issue…

“Too many of us parents are far too mess-conscious to see the emerging artist.  All we see are ruined carpets, stained clothes, cluttered desks, sticky fingers–one more unpleasant task added to an already busy day.  We’re so quick to see the depravity that we’re blind to the marvel that God made and put in our care.” 

I pray God would open my eyes to the artist in my child…that the daily mess wouldn’t blind me to the marvel.  Someday I’ll know why Rae doesn’t care if her hands and clothes are a muddy, sticky mess and why Ally stressed about a stuffed animal gone missing.

God is taking these messes and making a marvel.  And I’m so lucky to have a front row seat.

The Lonliest Mothers

This picture has recently been floating around facebook:
soap mom

Mothers have always felt pressure to look and play the part of the perfect mother, but today’s mothers feel that strain more than any preceding generation.

Maybe this is partially attributed to facebook and the interminable need to post amazing pictures of your family (whether it’s your kid’s first day of school or the first time he uses the toilet), or to think up witty comments (that can’t offend, but should be slightly edgy and give the appearance of a genuine thought), or to illicit praise because of some great accomplishment (whether that be your son scoring the willing soccer goal or the first time your daughter tries a green bean).

Or maybe this tension goes deeper than twitter.

I have a friend who grew up in the Philippines. Whenever her mother comes to visit, she comments about how American mothers seem to hold it all together–working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. In the Philippines, as in some other non-western cultures, many mothers have “help.” They have servants. And while it might sound taboo to our democratic ears, it’s not taboo to them–it’s just a matter of life and death. The poorest of the poor rely on their employers to care for them in return for their service. So “the help” cooks and cleans and the Filipino families feed, clothe and shelter them in exchange.

Okay, I am not advocating for a culture where servants are necessary due to extreme poverty. But there must be other means for help!

Take the Amish, for example. They are some of the most hard-working, disciplined people on the planet. And while they don’t have servants, they do have help. Because everything in the Amish community is done together. For instance, many mothers will gather together on a “work day” to make applesauce, can peaches, or plant a garden. They help one another accomplish life’s menial tasks. And they do it within the context of community.

Contrast that with today’s mothers. When is the last time you had another family over for dinner, let alone helped a girlfriend churn butter?! Instead of slowing down to enjoy an honest day’s work within authentic community, we hurry and bustle about, making sure our house looks “just so” and our children behave like little angels, and our meals are prepared with wholesome, organic, gluten and preservative-free ingredients. And all the while feeling…well…lonely.

Gone are the days when households bustled with half a dozen children, neighbors stopped by for a cup of coffee, and family members gathered for Sunday lunch after church. Instead, our families are divided all over the country, our neighbors are strangers, and Sundays are just one more day to squeeze in our kid’s football practice. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

Gone are the days when families sat around the fire in the evenings chatting, reading and playing checkers. Instead, we are on our own separate ipads in our own separate rooms. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

Gone are the days when mothers regularly gathered for tea or Bridge or picking strawberries. Instead, we gulp down coffee down on the way to work, spend 90% of our energy there, and hope that last 10% will get us through the rest of the evening. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

So instead of looking forward to the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning with a sister or mother or aunt or friend, we rush to get it all done ourselves so that we can look like Supermom. And we’re the loneliest mothers.

But hey, at least we have facebook right?

I’m not sure how to fix this. It’s a broken culture. A culture saturated with self and bought into business. But maybe if we could figure out a way to slow down–even just a little bit–then maybe we could alleviate some of this pressure. Because I certainly don’t want to be the loneliest grandmother.

Thou Shalt not Covet

The look in her eyes was devious. She bent low towards her friend, formed her hand into a fist and seethed, “You’d better give me that purple cat or else…”

Yes. Apparently this is how my daughter reacts when coveting. She wanted to borrow her little friend’s toy and when she was told she couldn’t, she turned into a little green monster. After warning her through clenched teeth that she’d better not threaten anyone ever again and forcing an apology from an ungrateful heart, we trudged to the van and drove home.

“Rae, do you know what coveting is?” I asked, glancing back in the rear-view mirror.
“No,” she replied, arms crossed,, face fuming, heart unsatisfied.
“It’s when we want something that someone else has. Like when you wanted that toy your friend had—that’s called coveting. And the Bible tells us we should not covet, but instead we should be thankful.”
“But I really, really wanted it, Mom!” she broke down (and I’m amazed that a child sees sin so quickly.)
“I know. But you have been given so many wonderful things, and by wanting something you don’t have, you’re not honoring God. Why don’t you pray now and ask God to forgive you and then let’s name some things we’re thankful for, okay?”
“Dear God,” she whispered out the window from the back seat, “Please forgive me for coveting. And thank you for my family and thank you that I’m not an orphan. And thank you, Father, for apple trees and that we get to eat apples from them….”

Thou shalt not covet.

Our family’s been on a “Little House on the Prairie” kick lately. In the episode we watched just days after the coveting incident, little Laura thinks she has stumbled upon a river flowing with gold, and dreaming of all the things she could buy, she asks her father, “Pa, if you had all the money in the world, what would you buy?”
Pa, lighting his pipe, laughs and says, “Half-Pint, I don’t even think I can think of anything! All I could ever want is right here in this room.”

That slammed me in the gut. Because, let me tell you, if Laura had asked me that question, I could think of probably 100 things right off the bat that I’d be on my way to purchasing had I found a river of gold….(a charming little house in the wide, open country, a new van that starts every time, a new wardrobe, complete with shoes and jewelry, dance lessons for my girls, piano lessons for myself, a weekly massage…need I go on or have you seen the depths of my depravity?)

Sometimes I fear my list of wants is greater than my list of thanks. So here I am, teaching my child not to covet, when I myself am guilty of the exact same thing. Perhaps I hide my sin better in that I don’t directly threaten God (“You’d better give that to me, or else”) but it’s the same sin. Every time I notice things I’d like to change in my house, or check off things I’d like to buy, or gripe about what’s not working now, I’m essentially saying, “What you’ve given me is not enough.”

Please forgive me, Father. Help me to be thankful for the here and now and for all the blessings you give each day. Help me add to my list of thanks and subtract from my list of wants. Thank you for my family and my friends and my church and my home…and for apple trees.

Home is…

…hot coffee, cupped with both hands as steam wets cheeks

…bread baking, filling cold kitchen with yeasty warm breath

…windows shuddering, as wind beats brick and I feel safe

…dancing girls in princess clothes, tottering heels and wild hair flying

…squeaky stair and worn-in chair

…husband’s hands, rough and warm, familiar and firm

…sauce-splattered stove and dinner-doused plates

…muddy shoes, swollen and neglected on back porch steps

What is home to you? Leave a comment!

This one’s for the crapper…

Last night at 10:00pm, I came home from a long day to find our kitchen sink filled with water. “Hm,” I thought, “Maybe it’s just the garbage disposal.” (But, knowing my house, I should’ve thought better. Things are never that simple…for example, when we first moved in, the basement kept flooding. Instead of it being a simple sump pump fix, it was a $2,000 sewage problem at the street, requiring a back-ho and three weeks of showering and doing laundry at my in-laws).

So no. It was not just the garbage disposal.
I called my loving husband, who went down to check the pipes in the basement. After I got ready for bed, I decided to see if he was able to unlodge whatever was stuck in the pipe. As I walked down the basement steps I was greeted by the sharp, foul smell of sewage. “NO!” I cried, “WHY DOES IT SMELL LIKE SEWAGE DOWN HERE?” My husband, however, was not amused with my keen detective skills, and he looked up at me with his arms covered and wet and grimly replied, “Because it’s all over me.” And it wasn’t just all over him–it was all over the carpet, the beach chairs, the stroller…all the things people keep in the corner of a basement.

So no. The clog was not the kitchen pipe.
It was, in fact, somewhere in the main pipe–the 100 year-old, cast iron, cemented into the floor and coated with a century’s worth of other people’s crap pipe. But since we couldn’t unclog it at 11 o’clock at night, we went to bed and figured we’d deal with it in the morning. (Don’t worry–he washed off with the garden hose.)

This morning, as I took our 4 year old over to our neighbors’ house to go to the bathroom, I was explaining to her that we couldn’t use any of the water in the house because it would flood the pipe and end up all over the basement floor. She was not phased by this problem, of course, because to a four year old, going to the bathroom in someone else’s house is not a problem, it’s an adventure. But she did have one concern: whether or not she would be able to see the “Bog”, as she called it, in the pipe. I told her if we could see the bog, then we wouldn’t have this problem.

My poor husband continued to work with the snake, pushing, prying, and unwinding until it, like him, was completely drenched and sticky with sewage. After another hour of “snaking” yielded only toilet paper, he made the decision to cut the pipe.

After another few hours of work, he eventually proded around until he found the “Bog”….

Apparently, our 2 year old, who happens to be obsessed with flushing the toilet, decided that it would be a good idea to flush an old cell phone.
And that’s just how life goes. Sometimes it all goes down the drain…and sometimes it gets stuck.

For Paint’s Sake!

If you’ve kept up with my blog, you know that Rae has a remarkable affinity for making messes (see Where the Wild Rage Runs and Don’t Cry Over Spilt Dirt) Well, today’s mess topped them all…

It was a rainy morning, so I decided to be a nice mommy and let Rae paint in the kitchen. She did great–spent a few minutes making a “beautiful,” muddy picture and then went on to doing other things. What I forgot to do, however, was put away the bin where I store the paints. I left it sitting on her bedroom floor, figuring I would put it away when I brought them up for naptime. We were all playing together downstairs, so I didn’t think it would be a problem. The bin was sitting in the middle of the room, after all, so it’s not like I wouldn’t notice it as soon as I walked in there with her.

Well, I was distracted by cleaning up the girls’ mac n’ cheese lunch, which gave Rae and Ally the perfect opportunity to make their way upstairs to play…you’re getting the picture, aren’t you? I’d forgotten all about the bin of watercolor, tempera, and fingerpaints, sitting very nicely in the middle of the room, begging to be played with.

I finished cleaning up Ally’s cheesy highchair then went upstairs to coral them into naps. But when I reached Rae’s room, I was greeted by the sharp smell of paint and a room and children covered in red, blue, green, and yellow. Paint was EVERYWHERE…on the bed, the dresser, the hardwood floors, the doors, the soft pink rug in the middle of the room. There were globs of paint, smears of paint, and hand and footprints of paint. And to top it off, there were my two angels, grinning ear to ear with paint in their hair, on their clothes, and coating their hands and feet. Ally even had paint in her mouth.

So I grabbed them, threw them (fully clothed) into the tub and called Hubby. “Pray for me,” I said, “I don’t even know where to begin.” Rae, of course, turned the water on as I was talking to him, so now their clothes weren’t only covered in paint, they were also soaking wet.

But as I write this, I’m feeling better. My tub is no longer decorated in red handprints, the girls smell sweet, the room is wiped down, and the washer is running. So that mess is taken care of….but I think I hear her with the markers in the kitchen…better go….