This. That. Mom.

Some of this and some of that. Musings of an ordinary mom.

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We’re All Still Alive

When you become a mom, you are handed this little, basically, let’s be real, ball of dough.

And you’re looking at it in just bewilderment and wonder, and you hold it so guardedly, so carefully – like you’d hold an actual, literal lump of dough, because you’re acutely aware that every time you move, and every time you breathe, you’re forming it, molding it. . . and that’s how it begins.

And it gets bigger, but it’s just still so gosh-darn moldable. But you just can’t hold it as carefully – here, I am known to spring on our big boys unexpectedly and throw my arms around them and give them a good *heave* off the ground just to surprise them because middle-school boys aren’t the touchy-feeliest of creatures (and, frankly, neither am I).

It can be maddening, how impressionable and moldable they still are when they’re too big to hold carefully.

Like, when I get up early to shower and get dressed in actual clothes, and I shuttle everyone to school with record speed and organize an entire morning for nine people around a presentation. . . but I’m still five minutes later than every other parent.

Or when I ask eighteen questions about the day, but I fail to ask the RIGHT question, and it’s palpable.

I was making cinnamon rolls a couple weeks ago, and I threw away SEVEN PANS. Maybe I rushed them, maybe I rolled too soon or let them over-proof. . . I have no idea what happened, honestly. But I did it wrong, and I texted RG at 2am in tears (#worktravel). And regardless of exactly how we got there, there were 42 softly-risen, moldable rolls in the trash.

But there are no throw-aways with these little lumps of dough we’re given as moms – there’s no Prime Now to let us start over fresh at 9am. We can only work with what we’ve molded.

When I was a new mom, and RG texted to see how a day had gone, I’d often reply, “We’re all still alive.” This was, at the time, how I defined success. No matter how messy the house was or how exhausted I was, whether or not dinner was on the table (spoiler: it wasn’t), what I could offer was that we were are still alive.

I didn’t know then that as our little lumps of dough grew bigger, stronger, taller (taller than me, even!), they also become more vulnerable, more moldable.

And, horribly, as some of THE BEST mothers know, at the end of a horrible day, Moms can’t always say, “We’re all still alive.” Because the truth is that sometimes despite our best efforts and how much we tried to protect them and mold them. . .

they’re not.

I don’t say, “We’re all still alive,” on a rough day any more because it’s all too real that there’s too much in that statement moms can’t control. At the end of the incredibly hard days (and there are many), now I only say,

“I didn’t give up.”

And, in motherhood, that’s the only true measure of success.

To not giving up. Forever.


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The Eyes Have It

I met my husband at Texas Roadhouse.

More specifically, I met him when he waited on me at Texas Roadhouse. More specifically, I met him when he waited on me at Texas Roadhouse and left him my phone number.

I was 18 and out to dinner with a girlfriend. We were chatting and giggling and looking at the menu. I looked up, and our server was standing there, looking at me.

We made eye contact, and I froze because he held my gaze so intently that I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was looking INTO me. And that he knew everything about me.

And nothing is ever really this simple but, ultimately, that’s why I married him: he SEES me.

I realized recently that I wasn’t looking into our kids anymore. I mean, I was looking AT them, of course. I was watching them and asking them about their days and answering millions of questions. Helping them with homework, making sure they did their chores. Holding them, washing their hair, playing games, giving rides. Doing all the Mom things.

But, at the same time, I was cleaning. And helping older brother with homework. Checking texts, jotting down grocery lists. Folding laundry, making dinner. Wondering if the mom down the street was able to find that lunch meat she wanted at the new grocery store. Already halfway moved on to the next thing, and maybe only halfway there to begin with.

And the truth is: that’s not going to work. If I’m going to parent the kids well, I have to know them well. And to know them well, I have to look into them. And that means stopping what I’m doing, looking into their eyes, and letting them look away first.

This is easier said than done becauseI’ve got a lot of sticks in the fire here, but I’m committed: small moments here and there of emptying my hands, opening my eyes and my heart, seeing things about them that aren’t answers to the question, “How was your day?”

And it’s working.

Here’s looking at you, kids.

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This is me.

This is me, at 2 or 3: perfectly happy, perfectly upside-down. Blissfully not knowing that anything is wrong in the world.

This is me, at 8 or 9: loving Little House on the Prairie; learning to play tennis; afraid I will have to go to listening and math centers for the rest of my life. Not knowing that my kids will someday go to the same school.

This is me, in middle school: playing in the band; running cross country horribly; worried about fitting in; hanging out at high school football games. Not knowing that one of the football players would become my husband.

This is me, at 18: graduating from high school; heading to St Mary of the Woods; majoring in education. Not knowing I would hate it.

This is me, at 20: getting married; pregnant; going to IUPUI; feeling a bit lost. Not knowing that we’d be welcoming many more babies; that at 30, I’d be pregnant and going to IUPUI.

This is me, at 25: having the kids Baptized; expecting Luke; pulling weeds; dancing with babies in the kitchen. Not knowing that I’d be joining groups, driving carpools, helping with school projects, losing my battle with the laundry.

This is me, at 27: staying home with the kids and loving it; driving kids to and from practice and dance and watching them thrive; learning at the dinner table about the people they are becoming. Not knowing I’d be eulogizing my dad, and RG would be out of work.

This is me, at 30: still in love with that football player; still losing that battle with the laundry; still learning about my kids; still missing my dad; still trying to take a decent picture; still dancing with babies and taking deep sighs over the kitchen sink; still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up; still dreaming.

20140513-215449.jpgphoto credit Mike Washington photography

Not knowing what I’m not knowing.
And looking forward to finding out.

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what This That Mom wants for Mother’s Day

Besides, of course, a million dollars, five minutes of silence, and a chance to use the bathroom ALONE.

I don’t know what other moms want for Mother’s Day – but I am a mom, and I know what I want:

I want to be known. And I want to be loved.

I want assurances that I am doing more right things than wrong things – that I’m helping my children more than I’m hurting them. I want to hear that my mistakes are okay; that I don’t have to be perfect.

I want acknowledgement that I am trying my best at this whole mothering thing – even when I’m tired, and even when I’m mad, and even when I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. And I want to hear that it’s admirable to try my best, even on the days when my best isn’t very good. Especially on those days.

I want to believe that folded laundry and organized Tupperware cabinets aren’t measures of success – or lack of it.

I want to get credit for my thoughts, not just my actions. I want the time I spend looking out my kitchen window, thinking of and praying for my kids, to find itself a place in response to the question, “What did you do today?”

I want to have room in my heart for all the times of the past, all the things happening right now, and all those yet to come – I want to parent past-mindedly, present-mindfully, and future-mindfully. And that means I need a bigger heart, so I want that, too.

I want to zoom out and see where I fit in the big picture; to understand where we’re coming from and where we’re going. I want to see into the future and know that our children and their children will be in it, prospering.

All these things that I want for Mother’s Day are going to have to wait. Because while I’m still celebrating here on Earth, I won’t meet the One who can calm my fears, give me assurances, and really know my heart – at least not face-to-face.

And so I listen to the ones closest to Him: the ones who gift me jewelry from my own dresser, wipe their noses on my skirts, keep me company in the bathroom. The ones who cry about eating their dinner, don’t want to pick up their toys, stamp their feet about taking a bath.

They don’t judge me by my laundry or cluttered cabinets. They remind me of the memories that I have forgotten and make me promises about the future and the grandchildren in it. They think I’m beautiful, and that I can solve any problem. They missed me before they were born, when they were still in Heaven, they tell me. They forgive me when I let them down. They accept me for who I am, even when they don’t like it.

And that’s what I want for Mother’s Day. That, and also the five minutes of silence.

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Thank you isn’t good for teachers.

Thank you is important. So important that every time that I hand something to our 13-month-old, I say, “Thank you.” And every time he hands something to me, I say, “Thank you.” With an exaggerated smile. So that he learns that “thank you” = good.

Good when someone holds the door for you.
Good when someone passes you the salt.
Gives you a card.
Makes you dinner.
Puts the Legos into the box, not just on top.

But thank you isn’t so good for teachers.

For teachers who compliment Anne Marie on making her own ponytail or choosing to wear leg warmers over regular pants.
For teachers who listen to Bobby tell the same baseball stories over and over.
For teachers who coax the best work out of Mathew when he’s in a bad mood.
Who educate the kids about so much more than phonics.
Who patiently answer my questions even though the answers are probably in the newsletter that I can’t find.
Who sacrifice time with their own children to help mine.
Who would protect my children with their very lives if needed.

Thank you seems a bit um, paltry. So, instead of “thank you,” I say, “I pledge.”

I pledge to support legislation that helps you do your job.

I pledge to try my darnedest to send in that frappucino bottle, that purple yarn, that unicorn tail that you really need for a project.

I pledge to believe that what you are doing furthers the curriculum.

I pledge to not believe everything our kids say about you.

I pledge to look the other way when you make typos in your newsletters and emails.

I pledge to listen to you when you have a concern about our kids.

I pledge to only allow our kids to bring half of the posters/cards/jewelry/pencil holders they make you.

I pledge to appeal to the school board on your behalf.

I pledge to always give you the benefit of the doubt when talking to other parents.

And I pledge to show our kids that teachers are to be respected above all other professions, even when society tells us otherwise.

And also, thank you.

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Always, Sometimes, Never: Menu for the Week #5

One of our sanity-saving food observations over the last ten years has been the classification of foods into the categories of Always, Sometimes, and Never (and not the Sesame-Street-type categories):

“Always” – a food the children will eat even if they are full. Examples: fruit, chocolate, steak, yogurt, roast chicken, tacos, homemade chicken nuggets, baked potatoes, bacon, eggs, cheese, nuts, any kind of doughy carbohydrate.

“Sometimes” – a food the children will eat if they are hungry enough, trying to earn a dessert, or in a good mood. Examples: meatloaf, leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, casseroles, never-seen-before foods, fish.

“Never” – a food that the children would not choose over going to bed hungry. Examples: shrimp, tuna, mushrooms.

We use these unofficial classifications of food (designated by years of kid reactions) to help encourage the kids to eat the way that we think they should be eating. When the kids are waiting for dinner and are “starving,” we offer Sometimes Foods to snack on, and when we serve them their first plate of food (the kids eat one plate of food that we serve them, then may have seconds of whatever they would like), we fill it with Sometimes Foods. 

Healthy Always Foods are served after the kids eat their Sometimes Foods. Nuts, cheese, yogurt and fruit are usually reserved for school lunches, when we’re not available to supervise the kids’ eating. We also serve fruit as dessert after dinner. As I mentioned last week, breads, pastas and treats are saved for treats. 

As for the Never Foods. . . . we don’t prepare them often. If all six kids gag on a food, cry about a food or would prefer to go to bed without eating over trying it, we save that food for Date Night (or, as with mushrooms, save it for Sisters Night). Every once in a while, we encourage the kids to give it a try, but we don’t push it. We fight plenty of battles here, and we choose to let that one go. Luckily, that list of foods is short and getting shorter all the time. But you probably won’t be seeing shrimp on our weekly dinner menus anytime in the near future.

Dinner for the Week.

Monday: Cauliflower and Sausage Casserole and Brussels Sprouts

Tuesday: Spinach Quinoa “Mac and Cheese” and Salad

Wednesday: Lemon Chicken and Rice and Green Beans 

Thursday: Salmon Cakes and Lemonade Broccoli

Friday: Cashew Waffles and fruit salad

Saturday: Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin and Sweet and Crunchy Brussels Sprouts

Do your kids have Never Foods that you choose not to prepare?

What’s for dinner at your house this week?