On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.


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Lessons Learned from Mothering

Compassion created this amazing blog post earlier this week in honor of the hard work that mothers around the world do every day. Take a minute and hop over there to see some gorgeous pictures of real moms in action.

Speaking of moms, I learned most of what I know about mothering from my own mom, Jane. She’s amazing, and yes, she lets me call her Jane. That’s another story for another day, but I find that I need my mom at the tender age of 41 almost as much as I needed her while I was still her legal dependent. Here are 7 truths that I’ve learned about mothering from my own mom and from my own experiences.

1. Mothering is tough work. It’s exhausting physically, spiritually, and emotionally–especially in the very earliest days. As soon as my babies were born, they physically demanded my attention for milk, dry pants, and comfort. They didn’t remotely care whether I got enough sleep or whether I had recently showered; they just needed me. My children’s demands are payback for the countless hours that my own mother has devoted to me. Long after I left home, she accompanied me to three knee surgeries, welcomed home her three granddaughters, ran my household for weeks while I was on bedrest, comforted me after the loss of her grandchildren, and even shared her home for two months while we were transitioning from Texas to Maryland.

Chubby-cheeked little S with Grammy.

Chubby-cheeked Baby S with Grammy, Christmas 2004

As the girls have grown older, they continue to exhaust me. I monitor S’s blood sugar all day and all night long; I think about carbohydrates constantly. I keep tabs on G’s school progress and check in with her teachers weekly. I drive them to soccer and swim practice, coach their teams, and shuttle them to music and art lessons. And let’s not forget about the time devoted to feeding them and shopping for food. Oh my goodness. Will they ever be self-sufficient?!

2. Mothering is heart-breaking and terrifying. I have been blessed to give birth to six children. Seth, Owen, and Lucy have already joined their Creator, but they live on in my memories. Their little lives forever changed my heart, but I am free of the fear and pain that once haunted me. Experiencing the greatest tragedy of motherhood has enabled me to see past other hardships and accept S’s diabetes and G’s attention problems with grace instead or anger. I am thankful for each of my children. Whatever challenges they face, I appreciate that I am walking alongside them.

Full arms and fuller heart.

Full arms and fuller heart, Summer 2007

3. Mothering is character-building. Mothering teaches you patience and self-control. Wrestling your 3 year-old into socks and shoes for an hour requires both fruits of the Spirit; so does biting your tongue when your 12 year-old declares you’re ruining her life. Sitting calmly in Chick-fil-A for 30 minutes while your 2 year-old refuses to use the potty and will not let you pick her up while everyone wonders aloud whose terrible, out-of-control child is blocking the entrance to the ladies’ room fine tunes one’s sense of humility. Being a mother pushes the boundaries of how to actively demonstrate love. And demonstrating love means modeling the same behavior you want your children to develop. The last thing I said to each of my girls tonight was that I was sorry for losing my temper and setting a bad example. True story.

4. Mothering takes a village. Over the years I’ve relied on all sorts of other moms to help raise my girls. Because my sweet husband is often away from home, I’ve just accepted the fact that I need to ask for help. When we were stationed in North Carolina, Jenni, Becky, Heather, and Denise were a few of the special Marine wives and moms who pitched in whenever they were needed. In Texas, it was Marie, Mary, Jackie, and Aunt Sharon. In Maryland, it’s been Debby, Timea, Claire, Sam, Stephanie, and Tracy. I love each of these women because they’ve helped shoulder my burden.

Aunt Sharon and Baby H at G's 5th birthday party.

Aunt Sharon and Baby H at G’s 5th birthday party

5. Mothering is full of surprises. I could write a book about this lesson. Having a child with ADHD, I have an unending list of unexpected experiences. Most involve Sharpie, scissors, and pilfered art supplies. Instead I’ll let these pictures show you some of my favorites.

Easter bunny 001

G turned S into the Easter Bunny one year. At least she waited until we returned home from church.

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This is just one of the times H decided a little mascara would perk up her eyes. She gave herself a haircut the previous month.

G managed to tattoo both of her legs in Sharpie all by herself!

G as the Amazing Tattooed Lady, age 2. At least she spared the sofa.

6. Mothering is a sacrificial calling. My mother stayed home with the three of us until everyone was old enough for school, but I don’t think her life became simpler. While we went to school, she taught other children and tirelessly turned her salary into our school tuition payments. She did this while continuing her own education and often while my father was deployed. She is the original Super Mom.

When I had just two at home and thought I had life generally under control, I decided to start a Master’s in Library Science. Just three classes into my program, I was overwhelmed by life with a preschooler, toddler, and another pregnancy. At that point I let go of whatever my career was going to be. Eight years later my teaching licenses are both out of date, I don’t have an MLS, and I still don’t earn a paycheck. But my girls’ needs are more important, and God always provides. I never intended to homeschool my children or teach PE and art to other people’s children, but that’s where I find myself these days.

7. Mothering is a gift from God. All three of my girls are daily reminders that life is precious and that none of our days is guaranteed. While I wouldn’t mind earning a paycheck or using some neglected skills, I know that all of my previous experiences have prepared me to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what I am doing. No, it’s not a glamorous job, but it’s an important one for which I am equipped. 

S made me two Mother’s Day cards today. Both feature gerbils, and I thought I’d share the one she created in Sunday school. Her teacher wanted everyone to write out part of the verse from Proverbs 31:28. Instead, she took some liberties and handed me this. I’m not wild about her gerbils, but I do feel blessed.

S's homage to Proverbs 31:28.

S’s homage to Proverbs 31:28.


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It’s my birthday today. I’m now in my early 40s. And to celebrate this new year, my thoughtful children gave me a few gifts. Sort of.

S and I were up around the clock last night. Her Dexcom alarmed at hourly intervals to let us know that her blood glucose (BG) was climbing higher and higher. When it reached 348 at 4:40 AM, I decided it was time to change her insulin and cannula site. The alarms stopped, and her BG plummeted to 50 about three hours later. I made coffee to celebrate.

H was a bit more traditional. She presented me with a very fancy shoe box that she wrapped in ribbon and tape. I opened her gift to discover a diorama of me dancing–or throwing my arms out in great happiness–in front of our new house. I look pretty good in green Sharpie! She also made me this card:

It's a taxi delivering a birthday cake at a bird crossing. Best card ever!

It’s a taxi delivering a birthday cake at a bird crossing. Best card ever!

G informed me that she would have my gift ready after school today. Of course this promise makes me suspicious since she had a very busy weekend of mixing up crayon makeup in the upstairs bathroom, opening spilling a glow stick after I sent her to bed on Saturday, and cutting up another article of clothing. Her creativity knows no bounds. Instead G called me from school at 8:30 this morning to ask me to drive over her uniform skirt and shirt. It’s another long story, but I doubt she forgot to wear her school uniform because she was working on a birthday card.

I’m old enough not to need birthday presents. Okay, I do enjoy opening a few. A church friend hand-crafted a card and included one of my favorite Bible verses.

But now, this is what the Lord says–
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:”Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1

And I have other thoughtful friends and family who know me well enough to surprise me with much-appreciated presents: new running socks, a copy of All the Light We Cannot See, some cash to go shopping and highlight my graying hair, a Starbucks card, and this lovely birthday cake that I found inside my front door as I was getting ready to drive someone’s uniform to school.

My neighbor Sam's famous Victorian sponge cake!

My neighbor Sam’s famous Victorian sponge cake!

It’s enough to know simply that I am loved. Ryan is buying me a house this week, and a friend offered to watch the girls so that I can eat lunch in adult company. And I just opened an email from our real estate attorney in which he informed me that we having a negative balance due. We’ll be buying a house and getting some spending money in return! That’s a win-win situation.

I’m heading out the door for a celebratory run. I am more than loved: I know I am blessed. Today I can barely keep my eyes open from this morning’s early festivities, and I don’t know what antics G will create tonight, but life is pretty good at 41.

 


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Adventures in (Single) Parenting

Thursday was another one of those days. Nothing good ever comes when one of my children gets up a full hour ahead of me, and G did not disappoint me. She confessed to eat two pieces of pound cake for breakfast, but I can roll with that one–especially when the pound cake is full of pumpkin and stevia.

It was hours later that I discovered she’d gotten up at 6 AM to spend a little time on the roof and eat pound cake. It started over (my) coffee when she asked me if I’d ever been on a roof when I was a girl. I thought little of her question at the time, but it made more sense when I noticed a pile of blankets and towels, a half-eaten piece of cake, and a pile of pollen on her bedroom floor. Oh, and the window was open, and the screen was missing.

Sigh. Some of you readers are probably judging me for still being in bed at 6 AM; some of you might even be thinking, That mom needs to set some boundaries. And then there are those of you who know and love someone with ADHD. I bet you can top my story with one of your own.

Trying to stay two steps ahead of a child with high impulsivity and low self-control is a daunting challenge when Ryan is away from home–and also when he is here. Did I mention that he started five weeks of flight training on Wednesday? And that he is a 10-hour drive away?

Thursday was also co-op day. I taught two lessons on Wolf Kahn and pastels; took S and H to the park for a picnic lunch with another homeschooling family; squeezed in the rest of our lessons at home; dropped H at her practice; drove 4 girls to S’s practice; and coached S’s soccer team. On the way home, I removed S and G from the car so that I could drive the last quarter mile in peace. Yes, Thursday was just one of those days. We grilled our dinner, two children cried over having to take showers that included shampoo, and I finally sent them all to bed. Except that S and H decided they’d rather sleep in my bed. I didn’t fight their choice since it meant I wouldn’t have to walk down the hall multiple times during the night to check blood sugar.

And that is why I don’t have the energy to beat G out of bed. Instead I wrote her a note. I taped it to the window since I assumed she might want some fresh air again.

Dear firstborn daughter,

I hope you enjoyed your time on the roof this morning. It must have been cold. And it probably wasn’t as exciting as you thought it would be. In the future, do not go on the roof if I am asleep or unaware. If something should happen to you, you’re going to need me to call 911 or drive you to the emergency room. Do not think that I won’t find out either. I always find out.

Love,
Mom


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Top 10 Reasons I Haven’t Been Writing

1. We’re buying a house.

It’s been 11+ years since we last purchased a house and another 5 years since we sold that house. In the meantime, all the rules for buying and selling a house seem to have changed. Our lender wants a ridiculous amount of paperwork and documents from us. By ridiculous, I mean that it would be easier to file all of our taxes for the next 10 years. Yikes! We’ve brought three children home from the hospital, and the nurses and doctors were far less concerned about our ability to support these small humans financially than our lender is.

2. We close on our new house next week.

That means that our mortgage broker and his assistant are two of our new best friends. We exchange all sorts of emails with them and with our realtor and her assistant. Also, I make weekly phone calls to our insurance company. USAA has long been one of my favorite companies; that is, until we tried to get them to agree to our closing date. The fact that they didn’t care what our contract said made us feel a little cooler towards them. And then one of their agents made a little typo. No, we are not moving to a street with the word Silly in it. Yes, it took a good hour to fix that error.

3. We’re packing up our house.

Actually Ryan is the only one packing up the house. He has successfully packed up the garage since that is his special manly place. I managed to secure about 20 pounds of clean packing paper, and I’ve cleaned out 3.5 closets. We’ve found a home for our microwave, but we still need to convince someone to take our 10-year-old television. It’s a flat screen and works beautifully; it just happens to weigh about 50 pounds. I’ve been listing clothing on ebay and sent off a bag to thredUP, but I refuse to start packing boxes until the calendar says it’s May.

4. I cleaned the house last week.

I mean I really cleaned the house last week, and it took the full week. Do you know how hard it is to clean a house when children live there? Especially when these children do not appreciate sparkling toilets, floors free of hamster shavings, folded laundry inside dresser drawers, and toiletries hidden in cabinets? In full disclosure, I only deep-cleaned the house because the owner needed to take pictures so that she can find a new set of renters. After she left, it took us a mere couple of hours to put everything back in its usual state.

5. We have to finish our school year in 6 weeks.

H has already finished her second grade math curriculum, so that’s one less subject I have to consider. (Now she’s happily working through the third grade book but confused over her second grade status.) S and H need to finish their science lessons, H has to finish the third volume of world history and The Twenty-One Balloons, and I still need to find a chapter book series that H will agree to read.

6. I’m teaching art classes.

That’s right. I have a degree in English, three credit hours of art history, and no claim to artistic brilliance. I do, however, have three children with a strong artistic bent, and I do know how to follow a curriculum that someone else has created. Fortunately, I only have to teach three times a month for the girls’ homeschool co-op. On the bright side, I’m taking a break from teaching PE classes, but those are still much easier to plan than art!

7. It’s spring soccer season.

Resigning twice from my coaching duties last fall apparently did not mean that I wouldn’t coach this spring. For the past month I’ve been navigating muddy fields with a troop of 12 girls who would see our practices as reasons to giggle and chatter with each other. My approach to coaching them goes something like this: If I can still do it, you’d better try it. Happily, I have two fantastic assistant coaches, which takes the pressure off me to do everything myself. This is especially helpful when I mistake the time I need to arrive before the game with the start of the game. Just like I did yesterday.

8. Ryan is traveling.

I should be used to his frequent comings and goings, but it only seems to get harder as the girls get older and are involved in more activities. Also, it’s really hard to carpool when your carpool expects you to do an equal amount of driving. I’m not complaining though; I just have another good reason to appreciate our upcoming move. For the first time in almost 20 years, we’ll be living in the same area as our extended family.

9. I forget.

When I get busy, I simply forget about writing. Sort of like I forgot to arrive early to my own soccer game. If I have to forget something, neglecting my writing takes precedence over forgetting to feed the kids.

10. My eyes are itchy.

Actually my seasonal allergies have absolutely nothing to do with this blog post. I just wanted to complain. Spring has arrived late, and we haven’t reached the point where a thin film of yellow pollen will cover every outdoor surface. Still I wake up every morning and contemplate scratching my eyes off my face. Allegra and Zaditor eye drops only go so far.

P.S.

Lest I end on a negative note, I need to add a thank-you note to my sweet husband. After following him around from state to state for nearly 17 years, he’s decided to make a sacrifice for me. He’s moving us to the Blue Ridge Mountains just so we can live near my sister’s family and my parents. His family lives on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and he still hasn’t completely come to grips with being labeled an East Coaster.

We’re also buying a house that he’s never seen in person. While I gave in to his request for a garage, he let me pick out the rest of the house. He recognizes that he’s committing to an indefinite number of Sunday dinners and that we will never live in the same time zone as his parents. He is increasing his commuting time so I can decrease the stress that I’ve grown used to carrying.

And that’s just part of the reason that I love him. Thank you, Ryan.


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Stupid Things I Did Last Week

Catchy title, eh?

Life has gotten calmer in our household, but we still have our crazy moments. Rather, I still do stupid things that become learning opportunities for me. Here are some of the not-so-bright things I did just last week:

1. Perhaps the hugest mistake of all was arguing with my oldest child. I’ve mentioned previously that I’m reading Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy by Michael Bradley. At times, however, I forget the basic premise of his book–that teenagers are brain-damaged–and decide to engage in some verbal combat. I can’t even remember what we argued about, but I do remember it had something to do with the amount of clothing that was spewing from her dresser drawers and closet to cover the entire length of one wall.

On the plus side, we did decide that G would start washing her own laundry. I think that’s a victory for both of us!

My new favorite read!

 

2. As a homeschooling parent who is trying to tread the waters of private school with the same, aforementioned child, I’m wary of overstepping my bounds with G’s new teachers. In doing so, I didn’t advocate for my child’s learning needs. Last Thursday, I attended my first parent-teacher conference. Things mostly went well. I got an incredulous stare from the grammar teacher after I explained that I hadn’t taught G to diagram sentences and that she would need some help in that department. But I was unprepared for her progress (?) in math.

In 6 weeks I hadn’t seen a test grade, but her homework and quizzes seemed to be on par with her general ability/dislike for pre-algebra. It turns out that out of four tests, G failed one and didn’t complete two others. I was shocked to learn that the reason for this was that her teacher had fallen behind in grading. I was even more shocked–and rather bewildered–when the same teacher wanted to discuss spiritual victory over math struggles instead of following G’s 504 Plan. I got through the conference, asked G some general questions at home, and then fired off some emails asking for clarification on testing, grading, and student/teacher responsibility for incomplete work. Yes, I should have done all of this at the conference, and I shouldn’t have worried about making a nuisance of myself. And I will be checking frequently on whether G finishes her tests in the future. She needs me to be her squeaky wheel.

3. Ryan would like me to admit that I shouldn’t have promised S a rat. I made the promise in order to get her to start rotating where she places the sites for her insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Currently she refuses to wear them anywhere except her belly. Unfortunately she has little real estate in that department, and her skin has scarring from the constant poking. We want her to use the backs of her upper arms or her backside; she wants us to buy her a rat–a fancy rat, nonetheless. So I struck a deal with her. She hasn’t held up her end of the bargain, but Ryan has enough faith in her that he’s upset with me. While I think my idea has flashes of brilliance, Ryan thinks it belongs on this list. Hamster #4 (aka Pepper) joined his predecessors in our pet cemetery last week, so there’s an empty cage in our house. We’ll see how long it takes S to cooperate.

This is what S wants: a fancy dumbo rat. If a rat can be cute, this one is.

4. Remember last year when I wrote about running the Frozen Heart 50k with my dad on his birthday? It was a painfully cold, wet, miserable experience for both of us as well as being a uniquely memorable way to celebrate a 65th birthday. This year my mother banned my dad from running a second time, but I decided I’d give it a try. Yep, running a trail race in 19 degrees with 6 to 8 inches of unpacked snow was another not-so-brilliant decision I made last week.

The hint of a smile is because there's less than a mile to the finish!

The hint of a smile is because there’s less than a mile to the finish!

I managed to finish one loop of the course–a mere 17 k–in 2 hours and 17 minutes, which is a PR for me. That’s officially my slowest time ever running that distance. I also set a PR for most walk breaks. When I was somewhere near the 6-mile mark, several of us were startled by an unexpected gunshot that sounded much too close to our trail. Yes, we were out in the woods, but St. Mary’s Lake is a state park; there shouldn’t be hunting during a trail race. My legs were so dead that my mind instantly ran through the worst-case scenario, and I decided that I didn’t have the energy or the desire to outrun a lunatic with a shotgun. Yes, I decided I would just like down in the snow and wait to be shot. I get sort of selfish and lazy when I’m in pain, and that’s when I also decided I wouldn’t be running the Frozen Heart in 2016.

That’s it for now. Here’s hoping that this week is less eventful in this category!


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14

Fourteen was supposed to mean two times the dirty socks, putrid laundry, misplaced sports gear, and cracking voices. Pimples, insecurity, and a look-out-world-here-I-come attitude: boys on the cusp of manhood.

Instead fourteen is a house full of three girls, ages 12, 10 and 7. There’s a healthy dose of pink and purple in the laundry basket. Soccer cleats, shin guards, goggles and swim caps fight for room among a collection of bicycles, helmets, sidewalk chalk, Miracle Bubbles, and sleds.

There are no footballs or baseball bats; the pull-up bar and weights belong to their daddy. So do the golf clubs and the ball caps.

Fourteen wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But it did, and we’re okay. We held our boys for a few precious minutes, and they’re never far from our thoughts. Especially today.

The shock, raw grief, numbness, and anger have worn away to faint memories, and in their place is a tenderness for others who didn’t want to–or didn’t get to–say good-bye to their children. The need to know why my sweet boys arrived too early has passed. In its place is the realization that we probably wouldn’t have known some–or any–of our girls if the boys had come home from the hospital. And that just isn’t a trail I want to follow today or any day.

Our lives are full and our days are long. Stocking the fridge, folding laundry, and checking math homework takes up my time. Coordinating medications, keeping track of blood sugars, and writing lesson plans seem more urgent than ruminating on the what-ifs and whys.

But every so often I do wonder. Would their eyes have been blue like mine or brown like Ryan’s? Would their hair have been blonde like S and G? Or curly and dark like H? Would they struggle with anxiety or attention problems? Would either of them have developed diabetes? What animals or sports would have become their obsessions? Would they be the ones driving us to our knees in prayer to survive adolescence?

I don’t know any of the answers, but I do know that fourteen years hasn’t changed the depth of my love for my first two babies. Happy 14th birthday, Seth and Owen.

 


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In the Throes of Battle

I’ve come down from the hilltop I recently visited. Instead of lush green pasture, Ryan and I find ourselves in the throes of combat. With our own child. To illustrate what I mean, here is what Child #2 created on Monday morning:

Gummy vitamins at war. Note the Xs on the decapitated bear.

Gummy vitamins at war. Note the Xs on the decapitated bear.

My mom thinks an art therapist would have a field day with this tableau. I’m sure she’s correct about that. I’m also too afraid to ask if this bloody gummy bear scene is related to our study of the Revolutionary War or if S is acting out some latent emotions related to her big sister’s recent hideous behavior.

Lately I’ve been longing for the days where we could put the girls into their cribs at night and sleep somewhat soundly knowing that they 1) weren’t capable of escaping and 2) their limited vocabularies prevented them from insulting our parenting. Looking to the past isn’t very productive, so instead we’re surging forward into very uncharted territory for us. We admit freely that we need help parenting our tween daughter, and we’re seeking wise counsel.

We’ve started reading a few books on the topic, too. In case anyone is interested in reading with us, I can already recommend Michael Bradley’s Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! (Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind).
I’ve finished Part 1 and still have two more sections to absorb before I can give a detailed synopsis, but it’s reassuring to learn that my once-sweet, somewhat-docile child is not deranged in a way unique to her. Dr. Bradley explains that all teenage brains are insane and gives the scientific data to support his claim. Phew!

Next on the reading list is Cynthia Tobias’s You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) , which the author wrote to empower parents to discipline and build up their strong-willed children. Did I mention that we’re battling adolescence with a strong-willed child?!  It’s at this point that the childish part of me would like to blame my mother for wishing this crazy, stubborn child upon me. Raise your hand if your mother said, “I hope you have a child just like you, too.”

Unfortunately I can blame no one. My wise, patient mother also says that you can’t take complete responsibility for your child’s personality. To do so would be to remove God from the equation. Furthermore, the flip side of being stubborn, strong-willed, pig-headed, or whatever you want to call it isn’t a bad thing. It’s called tenacity. And tenacity–combined with faith–is what has brought me personally through a number of crises and challenges.

So this stubborn, tenacious mama is plowing ahead. In prayer and with armor and not by myself. Ryan is standing beside me, friends who’ve been there and done that have offered guidance, more friends are praying, and I’m standing firm in the hope that God is not finished with this young lady yet. And though I recently found a grey eyebrow hair, I know we will survive this phase of parenting, too.

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