Who Wants to Be the Mom on the iPhone? {A Less Digital Life…Day 18}

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When I ask her what she wants to be, I expect her to say “ballerina.” My little girl pirouettes and dances her own version of en pointe in her signature kitty cat tutu whenever the inspiration hits. Or maybe she’ll say “doctor,” with all of the heart checks using a real stethoscope and mandatory shots with the fortunately not-real syringe. But no, when I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she jumps and shouts, “a mommy!”

One time, the morning after my writers’ group, she says, “Maybe I will be a writer sometime.” When I ask her what she’ll write about, she doesn’t even have to think about it. “Jesus,” she gleams. And it makes me gleam to see her loving what (and who) I love, and wanting to do what I do.

But there are some things I don’t want my kids to pick up. Continue reading

Battle Hymn of the Shark Mother {Take Heart…in Growing a Family}

Battle Hymn of the Shark Mother

It had been so long since it had surfaced, that I almost wondered if it were still there. Without our difficult dog around to test my patience and with the kids moving well-beyond the tough days of toddlerhood to become more cooperative and self-sufficient, the waters of home life have been relatively calm. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d screamed at the kids, squeezed an arm or let out an angry growl.

And then, my husband left on a week-long business trip…just in time for Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.

In the morning, with the school boy home for MLK Jr. Day, there were the toppled tea sets and angry airborne vegetables between the siblings in the play kitchen, the blank stares when I told them to put on their shoes to go, the seat belt buckles that wouldn’t give in to little fingers insisting they could do it themselves, the doors creaking open and slamming shut during Mom-mandated nap time, and the backtalk and yelling when I said there was no time to read a book before basketball practice.

I tried my softer voice maybe 100 times that day, but now I felt my secret sin darting up like a jagged dorsal fin, cutting through breakers, circling. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. Muscles constricted. I clamped my teeth together and growled my ultimatums through them. Force is the battle hymn of the shark mother.

The guilt moved in just as fast as the rage. I scolded myself: “You should be able to handle this on your own for a few days. Other mothers could get their kids to obey without scaring them. They’re going to grow up remembering you as a crazy mess of a mom.” Salt water rushed. I gulped for breath before the next doubt.

When my daughter clung to my leg asking if I was okay and when she ran to get a towel from the kitchen drawer to blot my tears, I went at myself again: “You shouldn’t be putting your kids in position to have to take care of you.”

The minutes rolled on and I had to pull myself together, go numb really, and get us to basketball. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye for fear of a deluge, but it did me good to walk the wood floor of the church gym, to let the bounce of the basketball echo louder than my self-talk.

My son’s team recited the week’s verse in unison: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to get angry.” I shook my head at the irony and at my lack of self-control, then rubbed the puffy eyes hiding behind my glasses.

I thought of how “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger….” and how “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” I felt the grace soothing, pointing my sin into the depths of the sea, “because He delights in unchanging love.”

At bedtime, with a whole new round of kid defiance, I kept calm, letting grace be my battle hymn. When at last my son lay down to sink into dreams, I told him how sad it makes me when we don’t get along. Back from numbness, I apologized for all of the ways I overreacted that day. He pulled me close whispering, “I will always forgive you.”

Half an hour later, I heard the creak of wood at the top of the stairs. There he stood in a tentative pose, maybe afraid I’d yell again. Seems we both come at each other expecting the worst.

“It’s something nice.” I gave him a nod and he bounded down the steps. “I want to give you this…” he said, holding out his cuddly stuffed shark, “…for you to sleep with tonight.”

There was a tingle in my chest where the tightness was, warmth in my veins where the shiver of adrenaline had just a few hours ago flowed through. I pictured him laying in bed all those minutes, brimming with grace and thinking of how to show it.

I held the shark close, then pulled it back to the sight of felt teeth sticking out from a knowing smile. That would-be ominous dorsal fin looked instead like an arrow pointing skyward. I was tamed.

{There is nothing like receiving forgiveness and grace to make a mother want to give it again and again. How have you felt God’s mercy in moments when you’ve lost control of yourself? How does that impact the way you interact with your kids when they misbehave or resist your authority?}

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Take Heart Series ~ Feb 2013This post is part of the Take Heart series. This week we’re talking about everything from infertility to parenting woes. We’d love to hear about how God has helped you take heart in the midst of your own struggles in growing a family. Click over to yesterday’s post to link up your story!

Getting Somewhere Even When I’m Standing Still

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On her tippy toes, belly bent over the edge of the sink, she reaches with all her little girl might and cranes her neck just to get a sip of water. She doesn’t sigh or complain.

This is the last hurdle before nap time and sometimes I find myself wanting to flush the toilet for her, to dispense the soap and roll her hands over one another to suds up, to put a neat little blob of toothpaste on her brush and circle it over the surface of her teeth, to lift her to the faucet and hold back her hair while she rinses her mouth…all to get to the goal, and fast.

But when I notice those tippy toes and all that effort done so lightheartedly, I slow myself to her pace and think of her in process. She’s stretching far, but not beyond her confidence, mastering this task even before her little frame has grown into it. The meeting of basic needs brings its own sense of accomplishment to the three-year-old mind, Maslow’s hierarchy re-arranged. The training isn’t a bother to her; it’s a joy, a little bit of self-actualization.

She has me rethinking my definition of the goal. I’ve long felt myself responsible for pushing us toward nap time or meal time or bedtime. But when I take a closer look at all these things between our stopping places, these things that often feel like nothing more than tedious routine, I start seeing them as little goals in themselves…goals that we are meeting.

Small-scale or not, these are hard-won successes: a child who can pretty well brush her own teeth, wash her own hands, and get herself dressed. (She even cleaned up all of the play dough on her own before lunch today!) Focusing on the progress makes me feel more happy. It makes me feel less hurried. It makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere even while I’m standing still.

I see the results of patience, the discipline of empowering a little person to do something and then standing back and watching her do it happily in her own time and her own way, even if it means a little soap splattered on the drywall, toothpaste oozing from the closed lid and waiting a few minutes longer until we reach nap time, the thing I once thought was the goal.

When we get down and look at things from the angle of our children, we see that these incremental steps of learning are the stuff of life. When we wish the tediousness away, we are little by little wishing life away, just like writer Gretchen Rubin used to do when she had to take her daughter to school via the city bus.

My daughter will get faster at these simple tasks. She will soon flip the light switch off from instinct instead of from command. But for now in the learning, this is the stuff of our life and this is my work.

When I see how hard she strains to be a little more independent and how very little she grumbles in doing so, I grow in empathy toward her. I start looking for more ways to walk alongside her in her development rather than prodding her fast toward her pillow.

I see her as a cheerful learner and that makes me want to be a cheerful teacher.

{Take a moment to observe your children or the other individuals you are serving today. In what ways are they putting their heart into their own tasks? How does that affect your heart for the task of tending to them?}

This post is part of my year-long theme for 2013, “A Cheerful Giver.” See my introduction about naming the year here.

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We Play Marbles

We played marbles today. You lined up thirteen of them in the shape of a cross, tucked the shooter orb between your fingers and flicked it with your thumb. They clicked hard against each other. Half a dozen went spinning off the mat, colors of fire and ice, little planets looking for orbit.

It was my turn. I launched the jumbo marble out into our little bit of space and knocked two free for me, a pear-colored one with red freckles and a purple with orange swirls. I scooped them up into my fist and without thinking I put them to my heart, mine to keep.

A few months ago, I held you close at my side on a warm spring evening. We looked into the blackish-blue before bedtime and saw two little lights hanging close to the moon. You kept watch with me, night after night, checking for changes. We talked about how they moved, spinning out in space, at first getting closer together and then further apart. Two planets circle dancing.

I saw me and you. Five years ago, I read a little book out loud for your baby ears. My emotions all drunk with post-natal hormones, I could not make it through the words: “One day a little boy was born into the world and for a very small moment, his mother held him close.” I choked there, salt in my throat and slurred through the rest, “But soon they came to clean him up and right then the mother knew. Life with that little boy would always mean letting him go.”

And now I think of all these hours and days that have led us into years…how I have had to open my arms and watch you go. There is the recent memory of you at the zoo, the little optimist ready to race the fastest animal in the world. You stood still for a moment at the starting line next to the cheetah enclosure, like a pebble held back in a slingshot. The timer buzzed and you were off, bulleting, really thinking you were the fastest of the two, you in your Puma running shoes. This is how you are, always believing, your heart pushing your legs and arms to full speed.

Many mornings, you bounce from bed, pull on a costume and come hover at my bedside to be the first thing my eyes see out of sleep. Captain Hook snarling in my face. Optimus Prime ready to defeat the Decepticons. A T-Rex hungry for breakfast. You put the alarm in alarm clock.

You stand outside your little sister’s door, waiting for the first sound, your invitation to run in and tandem jump on her trampoline bed. It’s a wonder our mattresses have any springs left. The two of you dash through hallways, more like elephant stomps than pitter patter. “I can run so fast you can’t see my legs,” you tell me. And these days are passing by me the same.

Out there, Venus and Jupiter, they kept moving, sliding past one another in our night sky.

I keep telling you to stay small. You don’t listen. You outgrow your shirts. Your legs get long. Your arms get strong. And here you are, five years old already. Double this and you’re ten. Quadruple it and you’re out of my hands and into the broken world on your own.

This year you learned the worst part of it…people pass away. I remember how I came to you in the fall, interrupting the end of Snow White with my crumpled face in front of the screen. Great Grandpa was gone. I sobbed. But your heart knew something deeper of it, watching the Prince kiss death away. You lifted your hands and cheered for Great Grandpa, “He’s in Heaven! Right now!!”

I haven’t wanted to talk with you about death. It scares me as all big changes do. But you kept hearing whispers of it…people in tornado wreckage, our dog hit on the country road…and then, Daddy telling me about a friend’s brother who died right in the middle of an Independence Day party. I hoped you hadn’t heard him, but it was too late. You came to me with your head bowed low, mumbling, “I don’t like it when people pass away.”

Just this week, you came and circled your arms around me and whispered in my ear, “I don’t ever want you to pass away.” You said it again to me tonight, “I never want to give you up. I don’t want you to ever die.” And after Daddy told you he’d step in the way if a ferocious lion was coming for you, you choked your fear out to him with your face crumpled and tears streaming: “But I don’t want you to die.”

If death has any sting for us believers, it is in the letting go of this nearness, in pausing this togetherness, in cutting the conversation short. You are starting to feel that.

I think of us, our little family, a few spinning marbles like a cluster in Earth’s night sky. We are together for this time, trying to pause in the moment. And yet we are always on the move, each of us in our own unique orbits around the Center of it all.

But I am with you for this precious phase. And I’ve got to be all here, turning to watch you transform your robots and build little cities from scratch. To swoon at the sweet little picnic lunch you set up for me. To take a picture when you grab a cardboard box for a helmet, one of Daddy’s cymbals for a shield and a wooden spoon for a sword, a little knight in not-so-shining armor. I am near for this time, so I collect your kisses and your bittersweet words. I listen to your heartfelt prayers and I know you are no meteor zooming through space directionless, but you are a boy on track centered in the truth that “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

He holds us together for now, like Venus and Jupiter hanging near the moon. And so, I get down on the floor with you and smooth out the mat. We roll our little spheres into the center of the circle, every color counted. And we play marbles.

{To keep up with the latest at Message in a Mason Jar, go to the sidebar on the homepage and click to follow via RSS feed or enter your email to receive direct updates. Follow me on Twitter @darcywileywords. And be sure to like Message in a Mason Jar on Facebook.}

Linking with Casey Wiegand and Always Alleluia.

Swimming Strong {Gift from the Sea 5: Oyster Bed}

I’m thrilled to be guest posting for my friend Hayley at The Tiny Twig today. Be sure to swing over there and share your thoughts on how to create a life of “more passion and less fuss”…then come back and join us below for our latest installment in our Gift from the Sea series.

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I cross my arms over my chest to hug away the chill. I am drenched in sea spray, huddled on a rock at the shore. My thin white slip clings to wet skin and I’m trying to figure why I’ve come to this place without so much as a swimsuit or a beach wrap. Salt water gutters down over soggy tendrils, slides over my cheeks. A naysayer jeers me like a castaway and now my eyes are gutters too.

But now someone steps out of the shadows, sends the discourager on his way, and drapes his arm over my shoulder…grace. In my periphery, the sea swells, a small roller in the ocean stretching tall like a boy who eats his broccoli. It rises more. Swimmers shout. My mother stands on the beachfront watching it lift and watching the little people in its path. “They need you,” she yells out in my direction.

I want to run the other way, but I can’t ignore it. I walk in slow motion toward her, toward it. I crane my neck. It’s starting to look like Hokusai’s Great Wave. Who can have need of me in this? I can barely keep afloat with survival strokes on my own. How am I to pull others along fighting the force of this wave?

I hear a shout here, a cry there. Shallow waters pull back, sucked into the monster. The wave is five times the size of me, way more than over my head, but I can’t block the cries or the pleading eyes. I pound into the water. I’m up to my ankles, my knees, my hips, my chest, that flimsy slip twisting in wild waters. I am so close. I hear them.

And then I am lifted on the swell. I gulp a breath of misty oxygen and just like that the thing whips me into the depths. I somersault and twirl, a woman without gravity. I feel for the bottom of the sea and then reach for the surface. Stale air and the weight of the sea press on my lungs. I bubble out my last breath and clench my palate to seal out the water. But I have got to breathe soon. I look up through stinging saline. Light bounces down. I kick up, but the surface eludes. I open my mouth and gasp. And suddenly I awake to heart pumping hard with adrenaline and my hairline dotted with salty sweat.

I had this dream a decade ago, before my engagement, before my wedding, before my family began. I dreamt it in a foreign country, feeling a little like Daniel, praying often at my window, looking out over a people that didn’t know God’s name. This was a dream I might have liked to take to Daniel, to have him give me the lowdown on all it meant. Maybe I was feeling overwhelmed with the task of the Great Commission. Maybe I was feeling my smallness in the scheme of the universe at my coming of age. Maybe I was feeling in over my head thinking on plans for my future.

The prospect of family life can have that effect: a mixture of awe and fear at the thought of a whole new mission assignment. Who wouldn’t feel in over their head, even if happily, in the task of raising little people to love their Maker, to know their unique gifting and to bless their world? Who wouldn’t shy away from all the warnings about tantrums and middle of the night feedings and making it through babyhood only to catch your breath for the teenage years?

But real life resolves the “To be continued…” pause in the wave story, decides whether it is to go on record as an exhilarating dream or horrible nightmare. The hero in the dream, the one who came up beside me and draped his arm over my shoulder…that was the guy who just wouldn’t quit loving me. I knew it even then that he had some guts. So much so that he showed up in my dreams when I was 11,000 miles away from home for the year.

A few years later, I married that guy and got to work building a family with him. Soon after we delivered our first baby, my friend Sarah asked me how I was handling all of the new demands of parenthood. There had been some stressful moments seeing as my newborn wanted to nurse every 45 minutes, even through the night. But as I talked with her, we decided it was a lot like swimming in the ocean. You’ve got to pull hard at the waves to rise above them. You’ve got to put in some muscle and some grit. You’ve got to get the heart pumping and gulp down big breaths of air. She put it this way: “I could say things like– ‘It’s such hard work, you actually have to move your arms to stay above the water! I feel like I’m always kicking my feet! I have to breathe in between waves– ugh!’ But, then I would miss that the ocean is HUGE. The water rushing over my arms and legs, the ability to move about in it, all of this is a gift.”

And there was more. I didn’t have to swim the tide alone. On one of our first sleepless nights back at home, Craig said it would only make things worse if we felt sorry for ourselves. He was with me and we would get through it together. This was a team sport. The sleepless nights, the over-stimulation, the tantrums, the ins and outs of feeding, bathing and clothing little people…it takes hard strokes to push through it all. We force our arms through the water pulling more than our weight, and together we ride the wave instead of being pulled under by it.

All this exercise to the muscles and lungs, it strengthens our bond like the cement that holds Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s beloved oysters in the oyster bed: “Here one forms ties, roots, a firm base. (Try and pry an oyster from its ledge!)…. For marriage which is always spoken of as a bond, becomes actually, in this stage, many bonds, many strands, of different texture and strength, making up a web that is taut and firm. The web is fashioned of love. Yes, but many kinds of love: romantic love first, then a slow-growing devotion and, playing through these, a constantly rippling companionship. It is made of loyalties, and interdependencies, and shared experiences. It is woven of memories of meetings and conflicts; of triumphs and disappointments.”

For all my past fear in losing my footing and being pulled under, I chuckle to find myself now so grounded in this stage of life…and actually liking it. I am with AML: “Its form is not primarily beautiful, but functional. I make fun of its knobbiness. Sometimes I resent its burdens and excrescences. But its tireless adaptability and tenacity draw my astonished admiration and sometimes even my tears…. I will not want to leave it.” Oh, tears…my firstborn turns five this week. We are about one quarter done with raising him. That is a whole new wave rising up over my head. Indeed…I will not want to let family life go.

But I am encouraged by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, this woman who boldly paddled through family life and beyond, that “there is still the afternoon opening up, which one can spend not in the feverish pace of the morning but in having time at last for those intellectual, cultural and spiritual activities that were pushed aside in the heat of the race…. In our breathless attempts we often miss the flowering that waits for afternoon…. For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth?” And, Lord willing, my husband and I will swim those new waters as a team with the strength of all kinds of love that we built here in the hard work of family life.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 5, “Oyster Bed” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.