School Morning Reboot

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I can be a good mom.  A really good mom at times.  I listen to what my kids have to say.  I try to encourage their interests.  I try to teach them how to treat themselves and others.

Really, there are some good things about my mothering.

School mornings are most decidedly not one of them.

School mornings turn me into a much more malignant version of the Wicked Witch of the West.

“Where is your backpack?!  Where are your shoes?! Why did you take off all of your clothes just as we were about to walk out the door?!  My keys!  My keys!  Come on people let’s go.  I simply cannot handle this today.”

Those are all spoken within about 5 seconds.

And I would like to say that I am justified.  Mornings are crazy.  Just yesterday, I handed Magoo two pairs of matching white socks and told her to put them on.  She walked in the other room and came back with two completely different unmatching socks.  I asked her what happened to them and she said she lost them on the way to the living room.  How does that even happen?

And then there’s Goose.  I’m trying to get everyone ready, and I have to spend fifteen minutes digging all the toys out of her pockets and backpack that she’s trying to smuggle into preschool.

And then we walk out the door and they decide to jump into the snow.  All of them.  And  they kick it around and sit in it (that one is Mae) all as I’m trying to wrangle them the ten feet to the car.  (We don’t even deal with the garage.  Trying to get them all in there would be a nightmare.)

And then we finally are in the car and they all decide to empty their backpacks looking for things and inevitably leave things they need in the car.

And then they jump out of the car and Mae and I head home, and nearly every morning tears are threatening my eyes.  Because every morning without fail as I leave that parking lot, I think of Sandy Hook.  And I think of all of those Mamas whose last memories with their babies are school mornings.  And what memory could be worse?  Because I don’t think I’m alone in my school morning craziness.  It seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

But that’s not how I want my kids starting their day.  I don’t want them to leave chaos as they head into school.  I want them to feel love and comfort as they head into the love and comfort of school.

And so we have started saying prayers in the car in the morning as the car warms up.  Regardless of how the trip to the car went, this puts things in a different light.  We ask God to forgive our morning transgressions and we ask the same of each other.  We say a Hail Mary asking her to help us do God’s will.  And then we say the Guardian Angel prayer.  For me, this is like a plea, as I close my eyes and envision wings of protection covering all of my children, praying to their angels far more deeply than to my own.

And that’s nice.  And I love it.  And the girls love it.

But more can be done.

And so today, I decided we were going to do something different.  As usual, the girls had to get their stuff ready the night before.  And I checked their bags and made sure they had everything.

And then no one was allowed to touch anything.  I put the lunch box in the bag.  The back pack was not to be open.  I made sure they got dressed without leaving their location so that clothes wouldn’t get lost during the three steps from the dresser to the bed.  I made them eggs.  I didn’t even try to get Mae into clothes.  Her pjs would work the twenty minutes until we were back home.

And then they got their gear on.  And no one was allowed to leave the mudroom once gear was on.

And it worked.  We walked out the door.  They jumped in the snow of course, but that didn’t bother me as much.  And we all walked to the car.

And it was beautiful.  It was perfect.  My girls could start their day in peace.

And we said our prayers.  And I still had tears as I left the parking lot.  But I was okay.  I was okay with how it went.

And I know this isn’t a solution.  Mornings will always be crazy with little kids.

But the difference this time was that I accepted the difficulty.  And in accepting it — accepting that they were all going to scatter like a bunch of butterflies and I would have to catch them all in the same net — I was able to find some ways to work around it.

I truly and deeply believe in the importance of peaceful mornings.  I am horrible at implementing them.  But I won’t give up.

Do you have any ideas?  What works in your house that might help others?  What areas do you really struggle with?  I would love to hear.

By the way, my comments are not working well.  The real comments are getting lost in the hundreds of spam messages I get a day.  I’m not quite sure how to fix this, so if you want to comment, please do so on Facebook until things get straightened out.  I hate to miss your comments, and I know I’ve missed quite a few.  My deepest apologies for that.

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All Nighter

So is it weird that I’ve considered pulling an all nighter to get my house in order?

When I was in college, I pulled all nighters a lot.  That was because of procrastination.  I was like a lot of young people who believed that I worked best at the last minute.  Now I know that it’s really that I only managed my time well at the last minute, but that’s a lesson very few young people have learned, and I surely wasn’t the exception.

But the all nighter I feel the need to arrange now is out of a feeling of necessity – a belief that perhaps there is absolutely no other way to get everything done that needs to be done.

I have spent the last 13-14 hours car pooling, shopping, researching natural cleaning recipes, and cleaning my kitchen and bathroom.  My kitchen and bathroom look wonderful.  Magoo has her homework done.  I picked TJ up from the train.  All of our clothes are laundered.  Our dishes are clean.  The kids have been read to.  I listened to their stories and we told jokes and we laughed a lot.

And this is what the dining room looks like.  (Mind you, it was clean at this time last night.)

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And I’m exhausted.

See, the more I clean one room, the messier the others get because then children are left free to destroy them.  They clean up.  They are doing well with their chores.  But they are three and six and cleaning takes them time, and some nights we simply don’t have time to finish it all.

So I came to my conclusion…

All nighters.

I just need to forgo sleep.  Then my house can be clean and my children can be happy and I can have that happy peaceful feeling I get once every millennium when I can sit down on my couch with a good book at the end of a long day and see just cleanliness everywhere I look.

So that’s it, my friends.  Who wants to join me?  We can prove all those scientists wrong when they say human beings need sleep.  As Tigger would say, “peshaw.”

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How Our Family Benefits from Catholic Schools

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So our family word of the year is “responsibility.”  I found this ironic as I was leaving the school parking lot for the second time this week after dropping off something that I had specifically put in Magoo’s backpack in the morning and that she had somehow taken out and left at home in the ten seconds I wasn’t watching.

As I was leaving the parking lot though, I felt lucky.  I realized that if I was going to have to drive somewhere 10-15 times a week for the next ten plus years, this was the place I want that to be.

To be honest, I’m not sure why we chose Catholic schools for our children, but I think the main reason was that both TJ and I had grown up in Catholic schools, and it just felt natural.  There was probably a bit more to it, but I think that was the primary reason.

Now, three years into it, I think about it a lot more.  Every time we write over our monthly tuition check and I realize that we will be paying up to three to four times that amount every month until they get to high school when we get to write over just that much per kid, I think about what we are getting for our money.

We live in a very good school district, and we have a school that’s just a few blocks from our house.  The bus would come every morning and pick Magoo up just a few doors down. The same bus would bring her back to us at the end of the day, and I wouldn’t have to wake the little two up from their naps.  School would be something the girls could go to and then come home to us.

It would be so much easier.

It would be so much cheaper.

But it has never been a consideration since the day Magoo started preschool.  Once we were hooked, we were hooked.

I love that my three year old can recite the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Guardian Angel” prayer.  I love that my six year old can recite more prayers than I can and can name more saints that I can.  I love that two years ago Magoo said the whole rosary with us and that each morning she wants to jump out of the car so she can get inside in time to say the morning prayer with the school.  I like that the priests come and visit them in their classrooms quite frequently.  I like that they know these men and that they trust these men and that they see them as actual human beings rather than just people who stand up on the Altar on Sunday mornings.

And I love how it structures their day.  This is the last year Magoo will only go to Mass once a week.  Starting in second grade, they go every day.  At first, I admit, this sounded a bit extreme to me.  But after having attended many of these masses and realizing the struggles kids go through being in a classroom all day, I am so grateful that they get to begin each day in a quiet, safe place where they can center their day around what matters.  And I love that they get moral lessons and more religious teachings during these homilies.

And I love that they bring this all home to us.  That they share the prayers they learn.  That they share what they discover about the saints.  That they ask us to pray.  That Magoo will come home and tell me that loving Jesus is the most important thing.  That they spend part of their Fridays in Adoration and Magoo has used this time to pray for things that are on her little heart and that she says this is one of her favorite parts of the week because she says she can go in there and just be quiet with Jesus.  And my liberal bleeding heart loves that she has learned from the very beginning that many people in this country and most of this world don’t have the advantages that she has and that because she was given much, much is expected.  And I love that the school facilitates this.  That it teaches them to donate their time and their money and their gifts to those less fortunate.  Even when it means I’m running to Walmart at midnight to grab said items for donation.

And I love that Catholic schools and the Catholic faith in general always gives them some place to come home to.  Life is difficult and our journeys are wide and far and varied and filled with uncertainty.  I don’t know where any of us will be in twenty or thirty years.  But I do know that when we are lost, oftentimes we go where we knew first.  We go back and remember what was there from the beginning.  And I am grateful that for my girls, a large part of that will be their schooling and that this schooling is centered around their faith. Over the years, they may find their faith falter and perhaps some times they will more than falter, but they will always have a place to come back to.

And I love the role models the girls have.  And honestly, I love the role models I have.  Catholic schools are very much a community, and parents are quite involved with volunteering in many different roles.  At this point, there’s not a whole lot of volunteering I can do because of the two little ones, but I know many of the moms who do volunteer at school, and I am so grateful that my girls have them and their teachers to look up to when I am not there.  And I like that these are the people I am surrounding myself with and whose families are growing up along side of ours.  It’s a place of encouragement and love, and I find other families who are striving to instill in their children the same values we are trying to instill in ours — faith, love, respect, dignity, compassion, and empathy.

Last night I wrote about how it’s important to maintain our sense of self in the midst of forces that are trying to steer us from our path.  That’s a struggle.  It’s a struggle for us all.  So when we surround ourselves with people who aren’t struggling against us, whose goals and values and perspectives are similar, we can let our guards down a bit and know that we won’t be drifting too far off.

Catholic schools are expensive.  They can be less convenient with no bus service and a large need for volunteers.  They require a lot, academically and morally, of their students and their families.  But I find, that for us at least, that centers our family life around school life, and as such, our family life is centered around our faith.

So happy Catholic Schools Week 2015.  Last year I wrote about why we chose Catholic schools.  This year I wrote about how we all benefit from Catholic schools.  Perhaps next year I’ll write about just how exhausting (and expensive) Catholic Schools Week can be!

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You are Enough

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Dear Magoo, Goosie, and Mae,

I started this blog just shy of three years ago.  And I mainly started it for you.  I realized that even though we will hopefully be together for many decades more that you will never really know the mom who raised you.

You will know me, of course.  You will know me as we grow through life together.  But the me of your childhood, that will kind of fade from your memory.

When you get to this stage in your life, you might ask me questions about back when.  I will try to give you answers.  But my memory will be foggy and it will be clouded by reverie.

And I want you to know me.  Not for some self-serving desire for immortality but because I want you to know that even though it was decades earlier, I travelled the same journey.  I   hope my words can become a companion for you, can become some place for us to share our journeys.

When you rock your babies, I want you to know what was going through my head as I rocked you.

When you cry in the bathroom from exhaustion, I want you to know what was going on behind this door in our house.

When you first look into your little girl’s eyes, I want you to know that my heart tried to contain that same sense of awe and elation and joy and love that yours is trying to contain right at that moment.

And so I don’t normally write to you.  I write about myself for you.

But every now and then, some thought or idea or feeling will come over me, and I feel with a sense of manic urgency that I must write this down for you and to you if only because I can’t open a vein and pour these words directly into your being.

And tonight, I want to tell you that in the face of this big world that will tell you ninety million different messages, in a world full of people who will pull you in every direction they can, in what can feel sometimes like hurricane force winds pushing you this way and that, do you.  And only you.

I just turned 37 last weekend.  I don’t mind being old.  I actually embrace it.  But still, 37 sounds really old.  I can now talk about things that happened 20 years ago with pretty good clarity.  And as I do that, as I think back twenty years and fifteen years and ten years, certain things start to become clear.

And one of those things is that there are people out there who will try to define you.

Hopefully most of these people will be kind hearted and full of good intentions and best wishes for you.  But they won’t all be.  Some prowl about, seeking vulnerability and weakness.  They seek people with a hole that needs to be filled.  And they will try to dig into that hole.  They will burrow.  And their venom can seep deep into you.

Their words can become your words.  Their thoughts can become your thoughts.  And one day you will wake up and realize that while you have not seen or spoken to them in ten years, it doesn’t matter.  Because they are now in you.  And the sad thing is that you may not even know it or realize it.

People don’t like being alone.  People most definitely don’t want to be alone in their sufferings.  And sometimes people will try to ease their own sufferings by putting it onto you.

This is not okay.  This is not how friendships, or any relationships, should work.

I’ve always had a weird time making friends in adulthood.  I’ve always held back a bit.  There was a big part of me that I refused to give over.  I would refuse to trust.  Refuse to let my guard down.  Refuse to let myself settle into a place of comfort.

And I’m starting to learn that a big part of that is because I found myself in a  mess that was so entangled I didn’t know how to get out.  Or even that I should get out.

But now that I am, now that I am free and have been for many years, I see the damage that has been done.  And I have learned that the problem was in the relationship, not in relationships in general.

Boundaries are good.  Boundaries tell you and the world who you are.  They keep what is yours to yourself while allowing what is social to meet up with others.  It lets you become a part of a bigger whole while still remaining whole yourself.

And if you ever, ever find yourself in a relationship where you feel you must sacrifice yourself to be okay in the eyes of another, then the problem is the relationship, not you.

And I wish I could shield you.  Just like everything in life, I wish I could shield you from the pain.  Knowing that I can’t, I comb my brain trying to figure out some way to build you up now, to strengthen you, and to help you find who you are so that you do not fall victim to such situations.  But I don’t know how to do that.  I guess that’s your job to figure out as you travel this journey, and I will be with you every step of the way.

But just know…

You are good.

You are enough.

You are not broken.  At least not any more than any of us are.

Your deficiencies were created for you.  They are yours to work through and maneuver with and overcome.

Your struggles are there to help you grow into an even more beautiful version of you than you already are.

You are good.

You are enough.

Remember that.  Please, if you remember anything, please remember that.

You are enough.

 

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Hurts Me More Than You

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Dear Goosie,

I seriously doubt you will remember today thirty years from now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll remember it.

We came home from dropping Magoo off at school, and instead of doing what I asked you to do, I found you sitting in a corner, picking all of the fake flower buds and leaves off of my three fake flower vases.  It’s not really all that big of a deal.  I liked them, but I knew they would more than likely meet an untimely fate.

I told you that it made me angry that you broke my flowers.  I asked you to apologize.  I told you that I love you very much.  I told you that when you break something of someone else’s you have to say you are sorry.  You refused.  And you have been in time out ever since.

Every little bit I go over there and ask you to apologize, and you have stopped responding to me.  I believe you know you are in it for the long haul because you told me that you would stay in time out during nap time.

It’s a battle of the wills here.  And I have a responsibility to you not to lose.

I want to come over there and give you a hug.  I want to tell you to forget about the whole thing.  I want to play with Legos with you and write on your chalk board.  I want my Goose to cuddle and love on and make smile.

But instead, you have been on the stair in time out for way, way longer than even I thought you would last.

And you look sad.  So sad.  I hate that look.  I hate that it is me who is making you look like that.

But here’s the thing, Goosie.  If I give in, if I let you off the hook without saying I’m sorry, then no one wins.

Because you will learn that apologizes don’t matter.

You will learn that there is no real stability because you will know that your will is stronger.

You will learn that consequences can be overturned.

You will learn a mom who values her own emotional well being over your long term growth.

I don’t want to break you spirit, Goosie.  That is not what this is about.  I don’t want you to lose one ounce of your perseverance and spunk and determination and excitement.  But you do need to learn that consequences have actions and that apologies, while merely words, are important.  You need to learn that in relationships, sometimes we have to make a big move (like saying, “I’m sorry,”) to move things forward.  And you need to learn that even on the worst of days, on days when you have been in time out for a zillion hours, on days where you have pushed every single one of my buttons, that I will always, always love you.

That my love never falters.  It never fails.  But sometimes it does have to stand its ground.

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Seeking Acceptance

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A couple of weeks ago, our church passed around a basket of saint’s names.  We were all supposed to pray for guidance, and then dip our hand into the basket and select a saint that we would learn about and pray to throughout the year.  I had missed the first time they did this, so I was excited when they passed around the basket again during an all school mass.

I picked out Saint Marthe Robin.  I had no idea who she was, or if she was even a she or a he.  But at the bottom of the slip was a prayer to St Robin and it said, “Jesus, I give you thanks because you take us as we are and you offer us to the Father as You are.”

“Yes!”  I thought.  “This!”  This is what I have always believed.  It is imprinted on the deepest parts of my soul.  We absolutely must meet people where they are.

In my teaching days, I had plenty of opportunity to practice this.  The homeless man who was either seriously mentally disturbed or on serious drugs who could not speak a single complete sentence to me.  The young 19 year old who would come back from break with red eyes and smelling of way too much Febreeze.  The kids who would miss weeks at a time, the girls who enjoyed sharing way too much of their weekend escapades for everybody to hear.  Everywhere I turned during those years, there were people who needed to be met where they were.

I could have sat in judgment.  I could have sent them away and told them I wouldn’t help them until they cleaned themselves up.  Or I could take them as they are and work with them the best that I could.  I could accept them, and I could pray that in that acceptance and in that assistance, they might find a better way for themselves.

“Yes,” I thought.  This is exactly how I believe we are to embrace others.

But “No,” I heard beckoning in my heart.  “That is not what I meant.”

And I started to think, and I started to realize that I struggle deeply to meet every single person on this planet where they are.  Except one… myself.

Last year I chose a word of the year.  It was progress.  This year, I decided in December that my personal word would be acceptance.  And I laugh even as I just type that out.  Because acceptance isn’t easy for many people.  There is a reason that it is at the center of the AA philosophy.  It’s because acceptance is so difficult for people who struggle with anxiety or depression or anger or addiction or eating disorders.  It’s not easy for people broken in these ways.  And there’s a reason for that.  Without acceptance, we must either fall into a spiral of emotional disorders or we must find a maladaptive way to cope.  We can eat too much.  We can eat too little.  We can vomit.  We can stick a needle in our arm.  Really, the maladaptive responses are quite numerous and broken people are often quite creative in coming up with ever newer ones.

But when I felt this conviction, this feeling that God was calling me to seek greater self acceptance, I started to think.  And a flood of ideas swept over me.

I’ll be an okay parent when…

I’ll take care of myself when…

I’ll be a capable adult when…

I’ll be better when…

I’ll be worthy when…

I’ll be enough when…

And each of those whens can be followed by pages upon pages of stipulations I put upon myself.  I always have hope that I will feel worthy.  It is when…

But the problem is that we will never reach the end of that when because there will always be more.  We will always come up short.  We will always be found lacking.  Always.

And so the only choice we come to is acceptance.

When I was a teenager, there were two words that felt altogether horrid to me — contentment and acceptance.  Both meant to settle.  They meant I would live a life that is less than.  They fell short, and embracing them would cause me to fall short.

Twenty years on, however, the effects of those beliefs are starting to wear on my bones.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to live up to an ideal so that I can feel comfortable in my own skin, and I’m starting to realize that my technique is failing.

And so I’ve slowly started to ponder the thought of acceptance.  What if I accepted myself the way that I am?  What if I decided that I was worthy of self-care even though I am so far from perfect?  What if I decided that my weaknesses didn’t deserve constant punishment?  What if I believed I could expect respect even though my flaws are so incredibly apparent?  What if I could accept heartache and frustration and anger and sadness without needing to run from them and numb them?

What if?

I’ll be honest and tell you that I don’t know the answer.  I don’t know the answer because I’ve never fully succeeded in trying it out.

But I always come back to this one idea…

We are all equal.  I am fully committed to the belief that every single person on this planet was created in love to be love and to experience love.  I believe no one person is better than any other person.  I believe our worth is dictated by more than what we wear or what we own or even how we act or how or if we love.  It’s dictated by our very being, written on our souls before our physical selves even existed.

And if I believe that, then how can I set myself apart?  Can I say God created us all with dignity and purpose and worth… everyone that is but me?

It doesn’t make much sense.

So acceptance.  That’s my word for this year.  It’s going to be hard.  In truth, I think it will be harder than the word I chose last year which was progress (rather than perfection,) and I think it will be a lot harder than the word I chose for our family, respect.

But life isn’t meant to be easy, and we can’t birth out a new existence without pain and trial and effort.

Join me, won’t you?  Maybe we can lead a world wide pursuit of acceptance by living it in our own lives and letting our light shine for all the others to see.

At the very least, it’s a nice thought.

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What I Want My Daughters to Learn

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My oldest daughter turned six a couple of months ago.  Each time her age changes, I sort of get thrown for a loop because every first for her as a person is a first for me as a mama.  But when she turned six, I had a particularly difficult time.  After all, six is one third of the way to 18.  One third of the way to college and adulthood and moving on and moving up.

I guess it’s that realization, along with all of the other changes that come with her growing independence, that have caused me to think about what I hope my girls learn from me.

I hope my girls learn…

1.  How to Say No.  It’s such a short little word, and yet at times, it can be one of the hardest to say.  As women, I think we have a tendency to believe we have to do all and be all for all people, and with that comes trouble with maintaining our boundaries and keeping out that which we wish to keep out.  Whether it’s to a boyfriend or a boss or a friend or even me, I hope my children are able to maintain a clear sense of themselves and their boundaries and trust in their right and ability to say no to that which they do not wish to enter their lives.

2.  How to Say Yes.  We live in a troubled world.  A world where all too often, people wish to close their eyes and their ears and their front doors and keep all the bad out.  But I hope my girls learn to say yes when they see a hand reached out in need.  I pray they learn that they can be the change that the world needs, that little hands can be powerful hands, and that what the world needs is people who are willing to live their passions and their convictions out loud and in service to those around them.

3.  How to Say Help Please.  I’ll admit that this will be one they will have a hard time learning from me because in my 36 years, I have never been very good at saying this.  After all, to ask for help is to admit vulnerability and a little bit of weakness.  But it also opens us up to the benevolence in others.  It allows us to show others our humanity.  And it gives us a break from pretending to be perfect which, after all, is a terribly difficult facade to maintain.

4.  How to Say I’m Sorry.  To live is to err, and to live with others is to err against others.  We can’t be perfect.  We can’t be infallible.  But we can stand up and take ownership and apologize to those we hurt along the way.  Our apologies may not always be accepted, but it’s not the acceptance that’s important.  It’s the offering.  An apology requires humility, and that is a tough lesson to learn, but it’s one I pray they are able to take with them out into the world.

5.  How to Say I Forgive You.  I used to always believe that forgiveness required a mending of a relationship, a reconciliation.  I believed that to offer forgiveness erased the transgression and its impact on me.  Forgiveness doesn’t do that though.  Forgiveness lets the other off the hook, and it frees our souls to love and move forward.  Reconciliation is sadly not always the desired path, and that is fine.  But a lack of forgiveness tethers us to the past, tethers us to brokenness and pain.  Forgiveness sets us free.  It took me a long time to learn this.  I pray it doesn’t take them nearly as long.

6.  How to say Thank You.  They can have it all — the world at their fingertips, all of their dreams, all of their wishes, everything that this big old world has to offer.  But if they don’t know how to say thank you, if they don’t know how to live in thanksgiving and bathe in gratitude, then it will be lost on them.  I do not believe there is any trait more crucial to happiness and fulfillment than gratitude, and the most straightforward path to gratitude is to say thank you, often, and to say it to everyone – to ourselves, to others, to the Heavens.

As I read over this list, I am reminded of a poster I had hanging up in my dorm room in college.  It was called “Everything I Needed to Know in Life, I Learned in Kindergarten.”  With my list, I think we can go back even further because my children have learned to say all six of these phrases during toddlerhood.  The difficulty isn’t in learning to say them.  After all, I believe they are imprinted on our souls.  No, the difficulty is in remembering them, in reminding ourselves of our right to them and of their necessity in our lives.

There are many who believe the key to successful parenting is in constant and never-ending sacrifice.  They believe the key lies in laying down ourselves in deference to our children.  The problem with that, obviously, is that the hard lessons can’t be learned from words and preaching. Lessons like these can only be learned through witness.  And so the most effective means of teaching our children to be all that they can be is to be all that we can be, to be all that I can be.  After all, mothering isn’t about the endless “you;” it’s also about the necessity of showing a child the importance of “I.”

And so in the middle of all of the diaper changes and the meal preparations and the bath times, I hope I am able to remember to say thank you and please and I’m sorry.  The more I say them, the more they will hear them, and hopefully the more they will learn to incorporate them into their daily lives.

As I write this, I am reminded of how difficult mothering can be, and that’s because it’s not about doing; it’s about being.  And in this life, there’s very little that is more difficult than being all that we owe ourselves to be.  But there’s also possibly no more worthy endeavor either. And so I take on the challenge.  And I challenge them.  And with that, I hope they will learn to challenge the world, and demand more from it and more from themselves.  And then, perhaps they truly will be able to change this stubborn old world of ours.

I originally published this on Mothering.com in November, 2014.

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The Most Beautiful Sights

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We went to Wisconsin for the day to visit with family.  All three little ones fell asleep on the two hour drive home.  About five minutes before we reached home, one woke up sobbing.  The other two were a bit malcontent as well.

We pulled in the driveway, and I pulled Mae (who wasn’t crying) out of her car seat.  It was nighttime.  The sky was dark.

She reached up with her little finger and pointed to the sky.

“Mama, sky.  Sky mama!  Mama moon.  Stars.”

Her eyes were wide.  It’s a sight she sees multiple times a week, and yet each time it’s like the first time for her.

And each time, I don’t look up.  I look over.  Into her eyes.  Watching her watch what feeds her soul with wonder.

That’s one of my favorite things about motherhood.  It’s that beautiful sights and wonderful sounds and Heavenly scents are no long limited to what they are.  Now they are beautiful and wonderful and Heavenly to their little eyes and ears and noses.  And I get to breathe that in.

Us adults don’t remember the first time we smelled a rose or touched the cold snow.  We can’t relive that wonder.  Until we have kids.

And then, the whole world is new again.

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As Mae Turns Two

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My dear little Mae,

I remember the day we found out that the little baby cooking inside of me (you) was a girl.  It was a brisk fall day.  All four of us were in the room at the doctor’s office.  For the longest time, you were being shy.  The tech couldn’t tell if you were a boy or a girl.

And then she could.  And my heart practically exploded.

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Sometimes when you have one or two children of the same gender, people will assume you want one of the other.  But I was elated when I found out.  But I was also a bit confused.

We had our Magoo.  Our intelligent, kind, empathetic Magoo.

And we had our Goosie.  Our passionate, determined, inquisitive Goosie.

Didn’t we already have it all?

I simply could not fathom another little personality.

And then we met you.  And I looked at you, and it’s almost like I said, “ah yes.  You.  It’s you who we were missing.”

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You fit like a glove into our little family.  We were calm.  You were peace.  You were sweetness, and you brought so much joy.  I remember being so confused when your sisters were born — what was I supposed to do?  How was I supposed to mother?  Should I hold them or rock them or sing to them or read to them?

But with you, I knew the answer.  I knew the most important thing I could do for and with you was to be for and with you.  I would cuddle you for hours.  If I didn’t need to be doing something (which sadly, wasn’t often enough,) I would sit back on the couch and I would lay you across my chest, and we would chill.  Perhaps I would watch television or knit or read or talk to Daddy.  It didn’t matter what I was doing.  I just wanted you with me.

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I think somewhere inside I felt both a synchronicity with you as well as a foreignness.  On the one hand, you fit me.  It would feel as if you had never been born; you just melted into me.  Our hearts would beat as one.  Your very presence would loosen the tightness in my muscles, relax my breathing.  Allow me to just be.  But then also there was your peace.  That’s what I remember most about you as a baby — you were my idea of peace.  You would smile and cuddle and babble and play, but always, always you were peaceful.  And to me, that felt foreign.

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It’s two years later, and I think Goosie might think you have lost a bit of that peaceful nature as multiple times a day, you will walk up to her for absolutely zero reason and hit her (quite hard,) but nevertheless, your essence remains.

These days you won’t lie across my chest unless you are ill.  These days you want to run and explore.  You want to chase your sisters.  You want to try to look the cat in the eye and see how long she will allow you to stay that close to her.  You want to empty bins and unravel yarn and climb everything.  Everything.  You see the world and nothing frightens you.  It all excites you.  It’s yours for the taking.

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And we can see a bit how you have always been the baby of the family.  When I reprimand you, you look at me with a look of betrayal.  Your jaw drops, your lower lip quivers, you look me in the eyes waiting for me to say, “No!  It was all a mistake.  I could never yell at my dear little Mae!”  But when you look at me and realize the apology is not coming, you burst into tears and need to come and get a hug.  Your little heart wondering how anyone could possibly think you could do something wrong.  But when I ask you to apologize, you do.  And your tears dry and your frown fades.  Because you don’t hold a grudge, my dear.  You let it go.  Just like your favorite song that you like to repeat endlessly, “le-it goooo!  le-it gooo!”

Just as I was about to take your sister upstairs to read this evening, I looked over at you.   You were trying to climb up on the big bouncy ball.  Each time you would do a whole body flip, fall down, and then stand back up giggling.  You don’t let things keep you down.  You aren’t easily frustrated.  You are ridiculously quick to laugh, slow to anger, and easy to please as long as we are not out of graham crackers or milk.

Ultimately, you are you.  The same you who filled our lives two years ago tomorrow.  You are just a bit bigger, a bit stronger, and a bit more sure of yourself.

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I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sitting here tonight mourning the loss of your first two years.  How did they go by so quickly?  But always I must remember that as each year fades into the background, more of you emerges.  Each new day, each new experience brings you closer and closer to who you are meant to be.

And that is beautiful.  That is the bittersweet.

That is how I felt yesterday as we left Barnes & Noble.  You had walked so proudly all on your own up to the register.  You listened to everything I asked you to do or leave alone.  You looked up at the cashier, and you gave her your smile, waved, and said, “goodbye.”

You were so little.  So innocent.  And yet you were becoming.

The baby who had become the toddler was now showing the slightest hints of even more.

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Take this world, my dear.  It is yours.  Shine your light on it.  Let your peace be infectious.  Smile at all it gives you to smile about.

And be yourself.  Your crazy, infectious, giggly little self.  It’s infectious.  Infect the world with your love.  Make it a brighter place.  I need you.  It needs you.

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But always remember… Daddy and I… we loved you first.

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Family Word of the Year: Responsibility

Last Tuesday we were pretty sure that school would be cancelled the next day because of the cold.  When Magoo was ready to change out of her uniform, I told her to make sure she hung it on the hook on the back of her door because I know how things can tend to get lost when there is a mini-break.

I saw it a few minutes later on the floor in the bathroom, and I reminded her to go bring it upstairs.  I know that she did, in fact, bring it upstairs because she came down and told me that she folded it into a pile near the hook rather than actually hanging it up because… well I can’t remember the reason, but she gave me one.

Then comes Thursday morning.  I hadn’t worried about gathering up her uniform the night before because I remembered that she put it where it belonged on Tuesday.  I’m downstairs making breakfast when I hear, “Mom!  My uniform isn’t up here!”

And that brought the familiar weekday scuffle.  We eventually found her uniform.  Under a chair in the kitchen.  You know.  Because why wouldn’t it be there.

We’ve had multiple other such issues lately with all members of our family.  I am definitely not excluded.

Raising three little kids is crazy.  Especially in a Chicago winter when every trip anywhere requires boots, coat, mittens (two nonetheless!), a hat, and a scarf.  And then there are backpacks and lunches and everything else that goes with a growing family.

And I am growing insane.  Things that clearly have homes and are not being put there.  Chores I ask to be done are not being done.  Important things are being lost.  And I am the one paying the consequences as little ones (at least mine) aren’t particularly adept at locating lost items.

And as I found myself slowly losing touch with sanity, I realized that a change needed to be made.  I was going to explain to them for the dozenth time that their winter gear has to go exactly where it belongs.  Items need to be hung up on the hooks.  And we would talk about cleaning up after ourselves.  We would just keep having this discussion until it sunk it.

And then I realized that in a way, all this is doing is putting out fires.  It’s finding areas of irresponsibility and it’s trying to fix them.  But it’s guided by convenience and productivity rather than some greater value.

And so I thought about how I had a word of the year for myself last year, and I thought it would be a good idea to come up with one for this year.  And instantly “responsibility” came to mind.

I want my family to act out our values.  I want them to understand why these things are important.  I want decisions to be made based upon principles and morals rather than upon what feels best at the time or what might be the most convenient or efficient.

And so that is what we are going to focus on this year.  We’ve spent a couple of dinners talking about responsibility and what exactly it means.  It’s a tough concept to explain to littles because it encompasses a lot, but Magoo understands and we’ll work on it with Goosie.

My goal is to keep talking about this all year long and come up with different projects to emphasize it.

We’ve started talking about the different responsibilities that each member of our family has.  As soon as I’m willing to brave a slushy parking lot with the girls, I am going to buy some poster board, and we are going to create a family responsibility chart where we talk about the different responsibilities we all have.  This isn’t meant to be a to do list.  It’s just to show the girls that we all have multiple different responsibilities, and I hope that over time it helps show them that we all have to maintain our responsibilities or else the whole machine crumbles.

Then we are going to finally start our chore chart.  I don’t have the girls do a whole lot of chores at this point because Magoo is always my helper, and she is so good at it, so I don’t want to add a whole lot more.  Our chores at this point are going to focus on taking responsibility for our stuff and our actions.

So the chart will include things like putting away winter gear, putting dirty clothes in the hampers, cleaning up our toys at the end of the day, and putting away our own clean laundry.  I figure each day, they can earn a sticker when they complete all of these.  And on days that they decide to absolutely destroy their room by 9am, they won’t get a sticker unless it is cleaned up by bedtime.  And I don’t have to constantly remind them to do these things.  Hopefully the stickers will do the nagging for me.

And my hope too is that it will start putting the consequences on the individual.  Sure, I will still have to be the one to find all lost items and put out all of the fires, but they also will start facing consequences for their actions by not earning a sticker.  And like most 6,3, and 1 year olds, stickers are a very big deal.

Once we ge better at these very simple responsibilities, then I hope to move forward and give them a bit more responsibility around the house – maybe setting the table or feeding the dog.  And then eventually, I want to start talking about taking responsibility with our time.  Making sure we do the most important things first.  I assume time management will completely go over Goosie’s head, and I’m not sure how much Magoo will be able to get it, but I figure we can at least lay the seeds now.

I’m just starting to learn that the more you focus on tasks and to do lists, the less people want to do them.  They feel arbitrary.  They can feel like punishment.  And in the end, to do lists in and of themselves don’t give people a reason or a guideline on how to act in unfamiliar situations.  But if I’m able to teach them a virtue like responsibility, then I hope it can act as a guide throughout their lives.

I have no false hopes that all of a sudden my one year old will be cleaning up her toys at the end of the day or that this will make my three year old want to keep her shoes anywhere but on top of the ceiling fans, but it’s a start.  And with kids, you have to meet them where they are.  Actually with all of us, we need to be met where we are.

I want to be a good mom.  I want to raise responsible children, but even more than that, I want to raise children who hold themselves accountable for living up to their own sets of values and morals.  I want them to see a greater purpose.  I want them to be good stewards of their blessings.

So often life just seems overwhelming and chaotic.  My prayer is that they are soaking up values by watching TJ and I live them and watching their teachers and peers and priests living them at school.  But I’d also like to be just a bit more conscious about it.

So what about you?  Do you have a word of the year for your family?  How do you work on teaching your littles responsibility?  What changes have you made it your house that have made things just ever so slightly less chaotic?

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