Archive for the 'Parenting' Category

The Tempting Aroma of Art

I cover the table with plastic bags, set out the paint trays and the paint shirts.

“Are we going to do art Mommy?!” asks the 4-year old.

We’re the only ones in the kitchen while the other kids are laboring away at grammar exercises and studying science.

“Yes, we’re doing art, Goose.”

The 8-year old instantly appears in the kitchen and says, “What are you doing?”

“We’re doing art,” replies the 4-year old.

He looks at the collection of Legos, cookie cutters, and other odd bits I’ve amassed on the table beside the paint I’m squirting into trays.

“I want to do it,” he announces and dons a paint shirt.

Seconds later his 10-year old sister arrives, “Do what?”

“Art,” answers her brother.

“I want to do it, too!” she says as she grabs another shirt.

Then, like a child sniffing cookies fresh from the oven, my 12-year old follows the scent of art and claims her chair, too.

“I’d rather do art than science tests any day!” she announces.

For the next forty-five minutes we dip, mix, stamp, and admire.

Each of the kids have the same bits and baubles to work with, the same colors of paint, the same white piece of cardstock, and yet not one piece of art matches the one next to it. Piece after piece, the floor and the top of the washing machine are now covered with drying art, each a representation of the very unique being who created it.

Our breathing and minds are loose, we are doing something we are meant to do. Sure, the other tasks are waiting (and they will mostly get done) but what a gift to start here.


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Beyond the Borders of Mamaland


Next month I turn thirty-six and I find it uncomfortable to be stretching beyond my world of mamahood.  If you’re thirty-six and you’ve been a professional of some type and now you’re about to jump into the deep end of parenthood, it’s probably a similar feeling.  It’s less to do with my current area of knowledge and experience and more the growing pains of learning something new.

In my case, I’m not an expert parent, but having been a parent for twelve years I’m pretty familiar with the aspects of my little world. Though I might still occasionaly look at another mama and think, “Hmm, she seems to do that part of parenting better than me,” the thought doesn’t rock my world me because over the years I’ve gotten used to having inadequacies and I know I will continue to have them forever.

Amongst my mama friends, I’m “the artsy friend”.  I have one other mama friend who enjoys writing and a few mama friends that spend time drawing and painting.  Through the years I’ve thought of myself as an artist of some sort-the writer part of me, the part of me that wants to create something with my hands and somehow reflect out, an inner part of my heart.  Maybe months passed between endeavors, but the essence of “artist” remained.

As I’ve spent time in the last year with writers and musicians who work at their craft as a full time job and lifestyle, the gap between myself and Artist/Writer seems to have grown exponentially.  Now, many of you are my friends, so you’re going to try to protest what I’m saying or it might sound as if I’m putting myself down in some way, but that’s not my goal. Most of you would agree that someone who works at a craft sporadically and “when the inspirations strikes” will not be nearly as developed as someone who has put in the hours (many hours) daily, for more years than I have been a parent. And so we’ve arrived at the gap.

As I’ve stepped off the edge into the gap it’s become very clear to me that improving as an artist requires self-discipline.  It seems an obvious statement, but my relationship to art has been “when I can fit it in”, so to face the wall of self-discipline in this area is new and hard. Self-discipline has never been a strong character trait of mine, it certainly wasn’t present in school and I haven’t had to sharpen it too much over the years.  That’s not entirely true, self-discipline is absolutely a requirement in Mamaland, but it looks different than the shade of discipline I’m trying to muster at the moment.  Right now it’s a floppy, ignored muscle and I’m asking myself if I have what it takes to develop it.

Can I write every day, not just when I feel like it? What about the long days, the days with unexpected circumstances? Oh wait, almost all days as a parent fit that description. I’m trying to find a way to bridge the gap between myself and the artists I’ve spent time with in the last year, not for the sake of self-promotion, but to be excellent at the passions that have simmered in my heart most of my life. But the truth is that no one is going to tell me to sit down and write five hundred words or create something with my hands.  It’s not anyone else’s job, it should come from me.

Most of my questions about myself and self-discipline remain unanswered.  The starting place I’ve found is humility. In this world beyond the borders of Mamaland I’m not “the artsy friend”, I’m the amateur.  Accepting that I’m in these early stages of development feels crucial to calling out for help and for putting the hours in to grow.  I need to strengthen my writing muscles the same way I did my parenting muscles, one day at a time.

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Grown-up and Still Growing

I’m usually in the middle of a sentence when it happens.

My ten-year-old and I are discussing a math lesson gone bad.

“You know when you’re this frustrated, you can’t process the assignment anymore, you need to find a way out of the frustration first-”

Her face is red, her tears fresh.

I open my mouth to continue.  I close it.

When did I last demonstrate a healthy way to deal with frustration? I should really tuck that away and think about that later, I tell myself.

Here’s another recent scenario:

“Your biggest challenge in the next few years will be to find out who God made you to be.  You, Mookie.  Instead of worrying about what other people think, or trying to please and impress the kids around you.”

“I know,” she answers, with an understanding groan that confirms this is a regular struggle for her.

I open my mouth to continue.  I close it.

Don’t I still deal with that all the time? Didn’t I recently get to know a new community and  feel the urge to prove myself and say the right things to show I’m a person who has something to offer? I daily choose between moving toward the person God made me to or losing myself to comparison.

A third scenario:

“You’re beautiful just the way you are.”

“I just wish I were different that I am,” my daughter answers honestly.

I open my mouth to continue,  I close it.

How do I view myself every time I look in the mirror? Do I see beauty or flaws?

When I try to teach a lesson

Usually when I’m attempting to teach my children life lessons, I interrupt myself, thinking, “Hey, that’s a good point, I should really work on that myself.” It can be disheartening because I think a Mama should dole out the principles both in word and by example.

So what’s a Mama to do?

I feel like a mama caterpillar trying to teach a baby caterpillar how to turn into a butterfly while I’m still in a chrysalis, still in the midst of being transformed. How do I teach about transformation when I’m still in the middle of it? Do I stop instructing because I’m still learning and making mistakes? Or does the knowledge that I still need growth even as an adult, lead me toward grace toward myself and my kids?

As I think about it, that’s exactly what God offers in the Bible.  “No one should sin….but when he does sin, Jesus will be there to understand, comfort, forgive, and again, instruct.” Forgive and instruct, forgive and instruct, it’s a cycle that lasts an entire life, for each of us, no matter how many gray hairs we’ve acquired.



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The Mixed-Up Mama



“I know a Pretend Mama,” announced the four-year-old over peach pie and ice cream.

“Who is a Pretend Mama?” I asked, wondering what in the world sparked this thought.

Pointing to me with a sticky finger and a smile, “You are,” she answered.

“Me?” I queried back, momentarily stumped.

“Yep,” said this pint-sized daughter of mine as she arranged another spoonful of ice-cream and peaches.

I couldn’t help myself. “Then who is the Real Mama?” I asked in a casual voice, hoping it didn’t betray my keen interest in the answer.

Again the sticky finger pointed at me, “You,” she confirmed, unaware, it seemed, of the catch-22 she’d just created.  If I was the Pretend mama, I could not, in fact, be the Real Mama.  And if I was the Real Mama, I could not possibly be the Pretend Mama. Further investigation seemed necessary.

“So I’m the Pretend Mama and the Real mama?” she nodded, her attention, at this point, narrowing toward her bowl. “But how can I be both?”

With the confidence of Ann Landers answering the great problems of the world in a few paragraphs, she explained, “You’re a mixed-up Mama.”

I waited a few moments for further explanation but she seemed to be done with this session of psychoanalysis, so I left her to the last soupy bites of ice cream.

How did she know, I wondered?

Do they all know, I pondered further?

Maybe the fact that I am both a Pretend and Real Mama is the white elephant in the room that we lift up and dust under on chore days. Maybe we’ve all silently agreed that it will be our little secret.

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Momma’s Day: A Glimpse

For my Momma, I made this little painting (it’s 5×7) of my kitchen window.  When she was visiting a few weeks ago, she made the curtain with the sweet birds from a towel I found at the thrift store.  As I sketched, inked and painted this cheerful piece, I pictured my momma’s smile when she reached into the mailbox and opened the envelope.  Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

My own Momma’s day was lovely. It began with chocolate chip pancakes in bed.  You would think that might be the height of the day and it could only go down from there, but the day soared.

From my twelve year old I received a poem.  Not too long ago she wrote a poem about herself entitled “The Shape of Me”, and it perfectly descibed the inner heart of my oldest child.  Here’s the poem she wrote for me (she says it’s just a draft, but I like it just the way it is):

The Shape of Momma

She is full of squiggly ideas,
waiting for the time to share them.
She is a gentle tangle,
reaching for everyone at one time.
She is a sculptor,
forming blobs
into beautiful works of art.

As a Momma I often feel like I’m seen only as the “food dispenser” person, the “drive me to that place” person, the “has to say no” person.  This poem reveals that as she watches me in the daily tasks of motherhood she sees a woman striving for grace, love, and beauty. It’s a gift to be seen as the Momma I aim to be, if only a glimpse.

My ten year old gave me a handmade card with a list of things we do together that are special to her, like reading favorite books, doing art together and snuggling.  Again, the gift is letting me know that I get some things right.  There are plenty of days when I go to bed full of doubt.

My 8 year old boy gave me hugs and kisses. His expressions of love are always accompanied with full-body force and heart.

My 4 year old daughter began wishing me “Happy Mother’s Day” on Saturday and repeated the sentiment with sincerity and smiles at least 14 more times by Sunday afternoon.  She left a small pot of roses outside of the bathroom door for me to find, and as she said goodnight she told me, “I enjoy you”.  We also had a little date to the park and a bite of ice cream.

And together, they all gave me this little natural habitat of beauty.

Most days I think about the hard parts of being a momma, today I was reminded that it is a privilege and a gift just to be with these fantastic, miniature human beings.

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Searching for Normal

I drive past the overstuffed parking lots, trees tied to car roofs, and christmas lights blinking in the store windows.

Already? I ask myself, gripping the wheel tighter.

Is it time to shift the house into Christmas decorations? I’m still looking for a normal, kind-of-tidy house.

Is it time to pick an Advent devotional for the evenings? I’m still looking for normal, unhurried evenings.

Is it time to set aside some of our regular homeschool studies and pencil in special “Christmas time” unit studies and read-alouds? I’m still looking for normal school, when the basics all fit comfortably into our day.

Is it really time to make Christmas cookies every week? I’m still trying to get a routine of meals, and a break from extra sweets.

Is it really time to think about presents, service projects, and teacher gifts? I’m still looking a few free moments when I don’t feel tired.

I’m still searching for normal, I think to myself.

But what is normal? Have I ever had it? Does it mean balanced? No, I figured out many years ago that a life of momma-hood and homeschooling doesn’t equal balanced anything.

But I do remember a certain rhythm.

Rhythm, that’s what I’m looking for. A rhythm to our days.

Just as this lifestyle doesn’t invite balance, I know the rhythm of a season is temporary as well.  Children move to new grades, birthdays bring new parenting challenges, new babies call for a break in rhythm and some improvisation.

But we usually find a comfortable rhythm for a period of months, and we haven’t found that for a long time now.  Summer always throws me with its lack of routine, then our new homeschool year arrived with friction, and our first solid week of homeschool (that finished with hope) ended a few days before my Dad died.  Weeks of grieving and planning a memorial, a few choppy weeks of school, and now it’s Christmas? Did we even have Fall?

Usually Christmas arrives as a change of rhythm from our normal routine.

I don’t have a normal to set aside to make room for all that arrives with the month of December.

The seven years of taking care of my Dad certainly felt like a constant break in anything routine, new challenges always presenting themselves.  But looking back, I can see that visiting Dad every week, and meeting with nurses had it’s own rhythm of staccato beats. Maybe some rhythms can’t be recognized in the present moment, but only when the beat is lost.

Should I keep looking for our rhythm, and keep my hope tied to it?

Or is my hope better tied to something that doesn’t ever change?  Something I might remember if I can make the shift to Christmas?

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L’Engle Quote

“If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said, by me. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try.”

– Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet





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The Life and Death of Dreams

 “So, do you feel ready to go write your play now?” my husband asked me on the last morning of Hutchmoot.

“No,” I answered.  “I’m not going to write any play for a week, a month, 3 months, could be a year.”

I went to Hutchmoot to crack my dreams wide open.  At a Gathering held within the walls of stories, I would learn how to tell mine.  I’ve been dreaming of how to tells stories for years now, while living out the dark and the light of my own.

Then Phil Vischer ruined everything.

As he talked of Big Ideas and Jellyfish, I realized that my dreams had a whole lot to do with adding to my worth, and the outcome (which had to be Excellent by my standards) of any artisitic endeavors were too important to me.  In the past few months I’ve even tried to step out before the last painful chapters in one thread of my life and begin to mold the events into a genre I can hand to others.  I can’t experience God in my story when I’m trying to write it.

I left Hutchmoot with my dreams cracked open, but what I found inside surprised me.  I need to give these to God, I thought to myself, and wait to see if He hands them back.

A time of dream fasting began.

After Hutchmoot: Day 1

8:30am: I rise from my bed with noble intentions.  Death to my dreams.

9:30am: At the breakfast table I look around for familiar faces.  I don’t see a budding filmmaker, a man in a spacesuit, a Broadway actor who knows his theology, or a red-haired beauty who surrounded me with familiar ink-laden friends a few a days ago.

My mother, who’s in town because she graciously watched all four of our kids, has just given the children their 5th and 6th donut in 3 days.  I can hear my 7-year-old sugar-loaded son from the kitchen. He’s playing ping-pong in his room, only he’s the ball and the wall is his paddle.

My husband just left for the week.

I will serve them selflessly, I remind myself, I will put the Mooters out of my head.

10:30am: We’re back from the airport, Nana is gone, and I’m the only adult in the house.  Responsibility stares at me from every pile of laundry and dirty dish.  Good thing I’m setting aside that dream thing.  How very practical.

10:45am:  I Google a few books from the conference.

11:00am: I get out my watercolors.  That’s not dreaming, it’s just a little sketching with color.

11:05am: The 3-year-old has dumped out the water and brushes all over the floor.  Her own watercolor project lasts 1.5 minutes.

11:30am: Although sketching ended abruptly, I’ve now forgotten that I planned to take even one week off from planning out my dreams.  I think of putting up a board on my bathroom wall (the only available space) for me and my husband to post ideas as we get them, an idea also via Mr. Vischer (not the bathroom wall part).

I’ve already composed the first one in my head, “Could I adapt XXXXXX book into a play?

11:35am: I’m pulled from my pondering because, by the sounds from the bedroom, three older siblings will soon hurt their 3-year old sister if she knocks down their LEGO village one more time.  And these young people seem to think they need something to eat.

I calculate about ten minutes before final impact, so I pick up my copy of Me, Myself, and Bob. I remember the section in his talk on our ‘Groundhog Day lives’ and how God is working through each moment of each mundane act of each day.

This death to my dreams thing is beginning to hurt.

12:00pm: Because there is not a chef at my house to prepare Smoked Pork Loin smothered in Fruit Compote (which led to loud moans of pleasure with each bite just a few days ago), we have macaroni and cheese.

The kids are making a not so pretty transition from Grandma time to Momma’s back in charge.  Momma’s transition isn’t so pretty either.

I’m becoming a deranged picture from one of those flap books that has pages of foreheads and eyes on the top, with different noses in the middle, and different mouths at the bottom.  The goal is to mix up the pictures to find the craziest combination of features. I have Rabbit ears and eyes on the top, a momma nose and cheekbones, and I’m not sure yet about the last flap.

The next five hours:  A blur of normal activity, with some snotty kleenexes added in for good measure (theirs, not mine).

8pm:  I’m putting my 3-year-old down to bed but I’m really thinking about writing this post.

“No, mommy, sing to me down here,” she pulls me from the edge of her toddler bed to a leaning position inches from her face.  The lights are off, but she has a nightlight in her hand so we can see each other’s eyes in the dim green glow of a Toy Story alien since she’s holding it close to my forehead.

She holds her hand on my cheek while I sing her most popular request:

“I love you Lord and I lift my voice

to worship you, O my Soul, rejoice

Take Joy my King, in what you hear

let it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.”

9:52pm: Silence settles into the house.  Another idea appears in a small square on the bathroom wall.

Dreams don’t die in one day.

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Season Of The Three Year Old, Part Two

Warning: Not everything that you are about to read is true.  (A full confession is available at the end of the post.)

I may have spoken rashly yesterday about the challenges of a three year old.

Not rashly, but, one-sided, maybe?

Yesterday, I mentioned that I do not find it easier to train up my fourth 3 year old, even though one would think that I had amassed some knowledge and experience from the years with her older siblings.

Today I’ll concede that there are aspects of raising the current 3 year old that are different, because of the ones who came before her.

It’s easier, now, to laugh at the outrageous acts of a Very Small Person.

Well, we laugh secretly, the kids and Mr. Darcy and I, so she doesn’t think we think what she does is funny.  Make sense?

I took these moments a little too seriously the first few go-arounds with my other three year olds.

Example of recent outrageous act and the follow-up secret laughter.

I pass by Very Small Person’s room.

Small Person calls out, “I didn’t eat anything.”

I pause, retract my steps and turn to look at the Person-Who-Didn’t-Eat-Anything.

Oozing around the outside of her mouth is fresh, moist chocolate.

I breathe deeply and go in.

“What did you eat?” I ask Small Person.

“I didn’t eat anything,” she repeats with eyes the size of  birthday balloons.

I take stock of the room, a room shared by the Person-Who-Didn’t-Eat-Anything and her two older sisters. I head toward the closet.

“I ate some of Mookie’s bunny,” her confession ushers out fast and worried.

I locate the now empty box that originally contained a solid milk chocolate bunny the size of my hand.

Evidence seems to show that the entire bunny has been consumed by the Small Person and the older sister is not going to think it’s funny.

Looking with one last hope under piles of clothes and toys for the plastic insert, I find the plastic and 95% of the chocolate bunny still intact, thrown hastily aside by the Person-Who-Did-Not-Eat-Anything.  

I turn to my Dear Small Person and see that in her chocolately hands she’s holding up a new shirt retrieved from her drawer, “I like this shirt better, Mama.”

At my feet I also spot the t-shirt worn previous to the non-eating event and realize it’s been thrown off because there’s chocolate on it.

The giggles have been gathering together and now lay beneath my surface like a rocket balloon about to be released.

I try a composed statement, “Honey, you can’t eat your sister’s Easter bunny.”

The words come out but some of the giggles spill out too.

This isn’t working. I leave her in her room with the gate on and run out to tell her sister.  Once her big sister is assured that only a quarter inch of solid bunny was “not eaten”, we release the giggles into the open (out of ear shot of the guilty party).

I breathe and collect myself and put on my stern mommy face.  I go and talk to Small Person about the seriousness of eating other’s people’s chocolate bunnies.  And I take her in to apologize to her big sister.

Strangely Mookie keeps her back to us as the Small Person apologizes, her big sister shoulders bounce up and down, dancing with mirth.  She gives a muffled, “You’re forgiven.”

The ability to laugh derives from a realization that most of these outrageous moments will pass.

Over time we’ll teach her about respect, and obedience and lying (sometimes we’ll do a better job than other times), but she will not always behave exactly like this.  It helps to have already seen a little further down the road.

Confession of the Untrue Parts:

When I wrote this it felt entirely true.  The  bunny story is true, as is the general principal that I can laugh more easily eleven years into mamahood.  But as I wrote this post and my three year old remained awake in her bed at 11pm, many hours after the laughter had petered out and the tired, zoned out phase (of the parents) arrived, what I was trying to capture in words felt less true.  Yes, perspective gives way for laughter and laughter releases some tension. But right now it also seems true that fifteen more years of experience wouldn’t make this season, albeit temporary, any less exhausting. Sometimes I can laugh, sometimes nothing seems funny at all.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go talk to a Very Small Person who is still awake in her bed.

I can’t end the three year old stories here, however.

Because with the rather inconvenient demand for total independence by a Very Small Person, also comes unclipped Curiosity, Joy, and Love.

Next time, I’ll tell some absolutely true stories about that.

To catch the first past in this three part series, click here.

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Mama “Me” Time

“Squishy, you can’t open your sister’s mints.”

“You can’t pour the gallon of milk by yourself.”

Yes, you have to stay buckled in your carseat.”

“Don’t hit your 11 year old sister.”

“Don’t scream when I tell you ‘no’.”

“No you can’t use the computer.”

Your baby did not tell you to play with the scrub brush in the toilet.”

“No, you can not put hydrocortisone cream on by yourself.”

We’re in the season of The-Three-Year-Old.

In theory it seems like my fourth 3 year old would be easier than my first.  In theory.

In reality my first three year old only had me as her authority during the day.  Squishy, on the other hand, has one Mama authority multiplied by three brothers and sisters telling her “no, don’t touch my playmobiles” or “no, don’t touch the tv controller” all day long. Which leads to screaming.

With my first, I had one focus and that was her heart.  With Squishy, I’m homeschooling three students and teaching multiple hearts.

Plus, the siblings perfrom all of the forbidden acts-computer time, fixing their own food, playing with off-limit toys, dangling independence in front of her growing heart.

Four-thirty arrives and I’m done. D-O-N-E.

(Did I mention she hasn’t been napping? And I suddenly feel an urgent need for a nap myself?)

But it’s still two hours before help arrives in the form of Mr. Darcy, super-father and husband.

That’s when I abandon the list in my head that remains unchecked next to “afternoon chores” and “start dinner”.

Instead I collect my sketchbook, art supplies, and the three year old (aka, One-Who-Is-Currently-A-Danger-To-Herself-and-Others) and head outside.

The chaos dims.

Pen and paint bring rhythm and order to my page.

And seeps into my heart.

And until the call of household duties rises above the calming tune of “me” time, I make art.

And so does she.

 God shaped my heart to find peace and joy through creativity.

Some mamas find their peace when they go to the Y for an hour to exercise by themselves.

What about you? How did God make your heart? If you don’t know, give yourself permission to find out.  Your check-off list will be there when you get back.


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