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Girls Only Weekend

Welcome to our girls only weekend.

With three extraordinary girls, that’s quite a treat.

It all began with a game night and the perfect, gooey chocolate chip cookies shared with their Aunt.

Saturday morning brought pajamas until eleven and this spur of the moment photo shoot.

I didn’t make a grocery list, plan school, or do anything else required on a normal saturday.

I did make homemade applesauce.

And we all tasted a persimmon for the first time.  Standing in the middle of a small grove of trees brimming with petite orange fruits, we peeled the skin and ate the insides, looking up at what I imagined to be dozens of tiny pumpkins dangling on the branches above us.

Our final girls’ night included a dinner of butternut squash lasagna, sauteed kale, some of that fresh applesauce, and good friends (girls only, of course).  Mix in a classic movie, way too much popcorn, and another late night.

At some point I recognized a strange feeling called being relaxed.  I haven’t felt it in a while, but it suits me just fine.  The constant smiling, the looking at my kids not just as a set of tasks to make sure we accomplish, the staying present in the moment.

Now that I have the feeling, maybe I can find it easier the next time-with a little help from my girls.

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What Can Your Two Year Old Do?

The Setting: The swing at the park

How old is your daughter?” asked the portly but athletic gentleman in the baseball cap two swings over.  I’d already noticed a few glances our way, but I knew the glances had nothing to do with me.  His eyes traveled eagerly from my daughter to the similiarly sized pink and braided toddler of his own.  For a new parent, seeing a child within a sixth month age range of his own is the golden chance to compare achievements (can he walk, talk in a full sentence?) and stats (height, weight, bottle or sippy cup). I could see him mentally rubbing his hands together.

Two and half years,” I answered compliantly, “and yours?

She just turned two,” he paused as the swings squeaked on and then, “Your daughter’s really doing great on that swing.”

He looked down at his own daughter, tucked safely into one of the enclosed toddler swings, while mine sailed toward the sky on a “big-girl swing”.

Seeing his dismay, I tried to reassure him, “She has older brothers and sisters and she tries to do everything like them.  My first child didn’t swing on this kind at two and she definitely didn’t go as fast.

Hearing the word fast, my Squishy yelled out, “Faster, Mommy!!

I pushed her into higher gear and I heard, “Wow, that’s high,” from the Dad and then, “Honey, look at this little girl, don’t you want to try one of those swings?

Obviously my attempt to reassure had crashed and failed and I cringed as I pictured his already tired wife when they got back home to her. “Honey, we saw this other two year old and she could swing much better.  We better work on it….”

After a few minutes we went in search of the siblings and eventually ran into the Dad and daughter on the slide.

So is she potty-trained and all that?” his tone working to sound casual as his eyes narrowed in on the smooth lines of Squishy’s shorts as opposed to the bulk of his daughter’s sweatpants.

Thinking of his wife, I tried hard to lower the bar. “Well, yes she is mostly potty trained, but only because she wanted to, and probably because she sees her brothers and sisters go all the time.  She’s not like any of my other children,” and just in case there was still wiggling room I added (truthfully), “My others were older, closer to three.  With our first we started trying at two and potty trained her for the next year.”

He tucked this away for a later analysis and switched focus, “Samantha, look at this little girl, look how she can climb the slide, don’t you want to climb the slide too?”

And a few minutes later it was time for us to gather the stragglers and head home.

It’s too bad we didn’t run in to him at Trader Joe’s today.  If his eyes had followed us through the store he would have found one pink croc on Squishy’s left foot and one black mary jane with a purple sock decorating the other foot.  Then, later, he could have celebrated with his wife, “At least our daughter knows how to match her shoes, and she’s six months younger!”

For myself, I had counted the cost of fighting the mismatched shoes (which I knew would be noticed and judged in favor or against by other grocery shopping mamas) with the foreknowledge that eventually she would match her shoes, just like every other child.  So for today we went with mismatched shoes and some fly by-the-seat-of-your-pants swinging.

 

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What If I Could Have Done It Better?

I’m moving into my 34th year of anticipating fall. Inevitably, without any permission from me, the days move on-quickly.  And although my point is not that I am so very old, indulge me just for a minute.  A sampling of three recent experiences that have brought my attention to age:

First, the birthday card from my children last week included a proverb about gray hair, based, I will add, on their actual observation of the silver weaving through my brown.

Second, as we crossed the college campus last week for choir, my four ducks in a row behind me, I realized we were walking through Freshman Week.  Food, beach balls, inflatable slides,  and young, pink, new adults spread out like a new crop of awkward saplings.  I walked the campus as an invisible woman (I know I was non-existant because I didn’t even glance at people who were married with children when I was freshman). And yet the memories of my first week at college danced across my thoughts, rising with every sense of smell and taste and color. And then I did a little math to recall the year of those memories and I couldn’t help but think, “I’m so old!”

And a final, third reminder in this month of my birthday arrived through a sweet nurse that takes care of my Dad.

“I’m getting married in three weeks!” she announced with flushed cheeks.

“How old are you?” I asked after a few other comments.

“Twenty four,” she answered.  “I’ve been living with my parents and now I have to go live with a boy!” She exclaimed with equal parts excitement and concern.

After, as I sat with my Dad, my mind traveled through the decade that stood between the nurse and myself.

That’s a lot of life, I thought. Lessons of love, losing and finding identity as a parent and wife, unexpected surgeries with our second child, the six years of caring for my Dad, becoming a teacher-that’s a lot of life and lot of journey.

Oh, I realize to anyone who’s older than me, I sound like a baby mewling.  But for now I can only talk about my thirty four years and more specifically the last ten or so.

I’m thankful for the wisdom gained through experience and it makes parenting our fourth child much less stressful.  But there is pain in knowing that I can’t go back and apply anything I’ve learned to the early years.  I have to accept all of the mistakes and the hurt I’ve lived and caused during the learning of the lessons.

But I still go there.

What if I had known more about God’s grace when my first born was two?  What if I had snuggled her more and dumped the books in the garbage?

What if I had known, in the early years of our second child, that each child would be different and therefore, need different parenting?

What if I had been less angry?

What if we had seen different doctors, asked different questions, been at the hospital more in the spring of 2010, could we have kept my Dad from disappearing before our eyes?

There are both gifts and pain in knowledge.

A few weeks ago I listened to an older friend.  A friend with a decade and a half added on to my 34 years.  A friend, who now in the peak years of teenage parenting, is learning the difficult lessons that she knows will help her parent child three and four differently but can do nothing to prevent the hard road that has begun with her eldest son.

I received her words as an early birthday gift.

“I don’t spend time second-guessing and wondering how I could have done things differently.  I’ve never struggled with that.  I know that almost every day of my life I’ve gotten up and given my very best to the day with what I had at the time.  And that’s enough.”

On the drive home from my Dad, the what-ifs fill my mind, louder than the radio meant for distraction.  And as I look at the treasure of my eldest daughter: beautful on the outside, filled with gems of love and God inside, I worry “what if I had….?”

On the good days I can stop myself and think:

On all of the days I was making mistakes and laying the ground for the wisdom I’ve gained, I was doing the best, always giving the most I had to give with what I had.  Yes, the effort was broken, because I am broken, but I was giving my best effort. And that’s enough.

All of the empty spaces I’ve left in my family are the ones that God will need to come in and fill, just as He’s doing in my own empty spaces.

On those other days, the almost days where I may have gotten out of bed but my heart, my mind, my prayers, my hope all stayed under the covers, I have real regrets and I made big mistakes.  So how do I answer to the days that I can’t say I tried my best?  I can only let God answer, the same answer He’s given me through friends, through my husband, through His word:

“There is now no condemnation for those who are  in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1)

Do you feel the peace and grace trying to edge in?

 

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Read This if Your Husband is Leaving Town

Five days down, one day left of temporary single parenting.

I knew this might happen, but I was so busy it still caught me by surprise.

I’ve run out of paper plates.


It may be the turning point in our rather remarkable, un-horrible week.

Buying a large stack of paper discs sturdy enough to bear breakfast, lunch, and dinner was a very wise decision on my part, I must admit.  Five plates per meal, fifteen plates total per day.

Fifteen plates beautifully smeared with food and shoved in the garbage instead of my sink.  Environmental poison though they may be, I love those paper plates.  There are seasons that require paper plates.

Post baby delivery.

Because your the Mama and you say so.

Husband (who usually does the nightly kitchen job) has gone for six days.

I face the choice: to buy plates for the final day, or to allow the fifteen plates to accumulate and hope they won’t take me to a dark place.

So far (okay, after the first few rocky days), I’ve managed to stay in the light.

Mommy I’m going to throw up!” cried my ten year old as the five of us entered Trader Joe’s, but it did not bring me down.

The croup and fever of said child did not break me.

As my son asked tonight for a snack at bedtime and upon receiving my answer called out, “I will die in my bed if I don’t eat!” I simple offered him my prayers and knew there was chocolate later (for me).

Surely I’ve learned an important lesson through the journey of these last five days.

Do the math in the store and buy enough plates.

I’m also out of paper towels.

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The God of Future Grace

The five of us walk confidently into the sanctuary.

After a week of practicing how to get the family somewhere early (hint: Vacation Bible School), we’ve made it on time. Even with Daddy out of town.

I stand for worship and Drummer boy climbs onto the chair so that his head is even with mine and his body fits into my left arm.  On my right Jellybean moves into the other open arm and Mookie, left with no side to take, grabs my hand instead.

“He is wonderful, He is glorious,
Clothed in righteousness, full of tenderness.”

Voices of all ages join together and my heart lands on the word tenderness.  I think back to the times that I’ve raised my voice (code phrase for yelled) or been impatient with the bickering this past week and again I feel the warm bodies pressed in from all directions. I’m in awe and thankful that they still desire to be with me much less really be with me skin and heart and all.

I begin to think of a nice blog post about God’s tenderness and mercy.

I also compose a few pretend conversations in my head that might occur after the service.

“What a sweet picture your family was this morning,” a friend behind us might lean forward and comment.

I’ll look surprised and moved, “We’ve had a quite a week, too.  Isn’t God merciful?”

(You might have noticed that I’ve paused in my worship.)

I’m a few sentences into my mental blog draft when I notice that my son has his finger in his nose with the hand that’s not holding me in a sweet hug.

“Joshua, don’t do that,” I whisper.

“I have to.”

“No you don’t.”

“I need a kleenex.”

I disengage from the girls embraces and we leave the front row and head down the long aisle, a rather tight smile issuing from my face as we see familiar faces in the pews.

He arms himself with toilet paper and we return to the front row, the return trip doesn’t require smiling because we only see the backsides of heads.

We take up our stance for worship and I look for some more words in the music that might remind of that tenderness I was so keen on a few minutes ago.

I’m distracted by the familiar nose-picking gesture, enhanced now with a long trail of toilet paper across my sons lap.  Every few minutes he removes it from his nose and looks at the excavation.

For my son’s sake, I should mention here that I forgot to give him his allergy medication before leaving the house and he has a very legitimate itchy, runny nose and a six year old amount of self-control.

The girls have noticed their brother’s particular struggle and they’ve created a distance between our side and their side. Snuggle time is over.

I’m absolutely sure that at least three families have a good view of the nose cleaning party so I try strategy number 1.

Distraction.

“Color in your sketch book, it will make the time go faster I promise,” I conjole.

He grunts a “no” and I pick up the sketchbook myself, thinking I’ll draw something that will lure him into my plan.

After a brief sketch time, I hand him the markers and pencil to fill in my design.

He hands them back to me and gestures for me to do my own coloring.

By this time the pastor is exhorting the congregation from the book of Luke but the name of the book is all I’ve gotten so far. Which makes me angrier because don’t I deserve to have a few minutes to hear this passage thank you very much.

“I need more toilet paper.”

We leave the front row again and I feel the eyes (I say feel, because I’m looking at the floor this time, not at faces) of criticism follow us down the length of the pew.

We return and I make a desperate grab for the bulletin, looking for the scripture and notes for the day.  The runny, itchy nose has moved into tremors down the boy’s arms and legs and he’s intermittedly flopping across my lap like a dead fish or putting toilet paper in his nose.

Thoughts from the mom’s behind me float forward as clear as if they’re appearing in print on my sermon notes.

“You shouldn’t have sat on the front row.  You’re family is so distracting.”

“Why doesn’t your son have better manners about his nose?”

“What a sweet, sweet picture,” one mom thinks, as she looks past us to the very composed family on our left.

Seeing that distraction is a fool’s game, I move on to quiet threats.

“If you don’t get that out of your nose and settled down you will not be going to your class when this is over,”

I whisper fiercely, knowing how much he loves his teachers, even as my hand gently rubs his arm to demonstrate that I’m a loving mom.

These scenarios repeat like a scratched cd until finally it’s time to past the collection plates and sing one last song.

I remember the touching blog about God’s tenderness that remains saved in my head from forty-five minutes ago.  Something like laughter, but not the funny kind, slips from my throat.  Not even a few minutes of peace in church, I rant inwardly.

I’m weighted down with condemnation and snotty toilet paper.  What happened to God’s tenderness and mercy that I wanted to give thanks for less than an hour ago?  Where is it now? This doesn’t feel merciful at all.

(Mercifully) I realize that I’ve been experiencing self-condemnation not God’s condemnation.  Even if some of the thoughts I imagined from other Mamas are real, that’s still not condemnation from the Lord.  I imagine running into Jesus as we exit the sanctuary and realize He’s already meeting me with mercy and grace.

Looking ahead to the rest of the day (day 3 of temporary single parenting), I see future acts of sin (mine and the kids) and future acts of grace (the Lord’s first and hopefully mine soon to follow).

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Psalm 86: 15

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Mama Help from Mama Blogs

I knew the bickering was an inevitable fate.

As a homeschool family we’re home all the time together, so that’s not a new element for summer.

But now we’re at home together, with no goals or forward motion.

We have a cast on one child, so no pools.

We have a two year old which adds limitations that some of my friends with a five year old and up have left behind.

That means during the summer I often feel left behind.  And with too much time inside, and a couple of siblings who have a constant opinion about every movement or word uttered by another sibling, well, kaboom.

And kaboom for Mama!

By tuesday even kind words were leading to explosions.

Mookie is unhappy with her piece of art.  “This just isn’t right!

Her sister approaches and I hold my breath since her instinct is usually to give specific insight of what would improve someone else’s art.

“I think it’s great,” she encouraged.

I let my breath out.

Mookie rolls her eyes and gives her sister the death stare, assuming that the compliment was only a cover for a hidden criticism.

Kaboom, I explode.

A few nights ago I was aimlessly wandering through blogland in an attempt to ignore the challenges that awaited me the next day, and I found a couple of weapons, well, wisdom, well, life jackets, that lifted me up for the rest of the week.

After the first minutes of exploring the blog Inspired to Action, I’d already decided that all of the encouragement I’d ever wanted to give to mamas had already been written, with more wisdom and more wit and more skill than I had in me, so I better just stop blogging and maybe take up a new hobby.  Something non-computer or writing related, such as fly fishing.

I’m so glad she is such a great writer and passionate mom because watching the video she’s recorded about motherhood and skimming her ebook about how to get a better start to my morning reminded me that my purpose as a mother is greater than just to survive.

I’d started to forget this week.

Some of the inspiring resources on her site that you need to check out:

In the same session of late night perusal, I found some new resources on Quiet Times for Kids.

  • Check out their video blogs with tips on parenting.
  • Go to their Free Printables Page to print a Yield Sign with Scripture designed to slow down sibling rivalry.
  • Print out the blessing jar coupons to reward your children for yielding with their mouths, attitudes, and hearts.
  • Buy their new Bible Study on the Armor of God and receive two dollars off (coupon code is “twodollarsoff”)

I’ve been going back to all of these resources over the past few days.  I’ve started to change my morning routine, waking up just a bit earlier in order to be ready to greet my kids.  We’ve also introduced the yield signs and the blessing jar starts monday.

Thank goodness for moms who share their wisdom and their imperfection.

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Daddy Is

I don’t talk about Mr. Darcy much on this blog.  Writing through the eyes of a mama, I’m usually looking through a pinhole of my perspective.  But I wouldn’t be home to be the mama without his hard work.  I wouldn’t stay sane as a mama without his understanding and patience.  And I would pass out each night without his constant help and ability to laugh when I’d rather get grumpy.  In him, God gave me (and the kids) so much more that I could have dreamed to ask for-as Mr. Darcy and as The Daddy.

But I’ll let the poem do the talking.

 

Daddy Is
a poem written by us

Daddy is a swing set that we climb on and he’s full of fun,

Daddy is a hibernating bear, he sleeps and snores undisturbed,

Daddy is as crazy as the ocean’s waves,

Daddy loves fruit crisp like monkeys love bananas,

Daddy likes mommy as much as he likes crisp (and more),

Daddy likes birds as much as birds like our birdfeeder,

Daddy likes baking as much as squirrels like nuts,

Daddy is a piano, full of clear sounds and tunes,

Daddy is a timeline, full of facts,

Daddy is as fun as the beach,

Daddy is a bald eagle, fast and dangerous, chasing Joshua,

Daddy likes camels like Christopher Columbus liked to travel the seas,

Daddy likes grandma as much as he likes crisp,

Daddy can tickle as much as a fish can swim,

Daddy is a book, smart and full of knowledge,

Daddy is a red-winged blackbird, taking care of his family.

 

Father’s Day, 2011

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Time For A Book Review: For Foodies and Mamas

I first heard Emily Franklin read her book excerpt on NPR. With equal amounts wit and truth, she relayed her son’s dislike of peas, comparing his reaction to someone experiencing a traumatic event such as death:

“In fact, Daniel’s reaction to knowing he’s going to have a big pile of peas just like the rest of the family is very similar to the five stages of grief.

The first stage is denial.  Disbelief takes over and he shakes his head at the warm dish I’m preparing.  ‘I just can’t believe it.  I can’t believe you’re making me eat peas!’ He mutters to himself, confounded and confused.  ‘I don’t get it.  I can’t believe this.’

On national radio she confessed her child’s Olympic worthy skills in fit pitching. Particularly over food. She mentions a similar reaction to the peas when she slices his sandwich. (He likes it unsliced, just in case you meet her and make he son a sandwich one day.)

I sat in the car outside of the grocery store and laughed out loud and thought how fitting the metaphor of the stages of grief to my children and food.  My son’s issue begins and ends with beans. All varieties. And chicken. And milk. His sister denies that salad dressing exists, also lunch meat. His older, older sister-well, she actually likes most things(which is what keeps me holding on with similar hopes for her siblings as they age).

Within a few hours I requested her book from the library-not quite sure what the book would be like beyond the brief sound clip, just knowing she and I had something in common.

It turns out that Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 mom, 4 kids, and 102 Recipes is set up in the recently popular style of foodie books: each chapter consists of an essay followed by correlating recipes.

It also turns our that her one excerpt on pea grief is only one of the many, many stories that made me laugh over the true situations that arise from cooking for (or with) kids. She’s not cooking in ideal situations that arise only in photo shoots for a Mom and Me cookbook. She’s got baby Will at the breast, kids with unwashed hands, and ingredients that have to inspire me to move outside the macaroni box(monkfish, anyone?). I don’t want to give too many stories away but I will mention that there’s a vomit situation on a flight to Indiana. We’ve had that flight(to florida).

So why does she cook salmon, thai food, fresh bread, and tarts despite the fact that it might mean opening up to a bit of chaos and a whole lot of “That’s gross, I’m not going to eat that.”? First of all, it’s clear she loves food in the same way that I love books and can’t pass a used books store without filling two bags(she was previously a chef). But she also wants to pass on her wide palate to her children. Not her exact palate, but one willing to try. And I have to admit by the end of the book, I was just as happy as she was when Daniel started eating food that was combined into one dish and instead of separated into non-touching piles. She goes to all of the trouble because she’s pretty sure she’ll eventually hear “Wow, I like this” as a regular phrase(as opposed to the swear words that the 8 year-old brought into the house from his camp counselor), and she’s right.

Although we are generally one of those whole-wheat, organic-when-we-can-afford-it, eat your veggies family, you can still read this book if your family is not. In her introduction she lets you know that she doesn’t have a food agenda other than “get your kids to try a lot of things”. She’s generous in giving options with flour in her recipes(whole wheat or white) and she includes recipes that use rice crispies. And she’s humorous with her recipe titles including the Gross-looking But Very Delicious-Tasting Red soup.

Her passion for food is obvious, but so is her love for her kids, fits and curse words included. The world could stand to read more moms who love their kids in this way. While her kids grieve the coconut she made them try, she grieves the end of babyhood for her last child. (Which is another way I felt a connection to her-see photo below.) She takes food writing into the world of family, and I cheered for both throughout.

So I connected to Franklin through her four kid circus complete with spit-up and her recipes that offer something wholesome and tasty with a touch of exotic. I only felt distant from her when she was feeding her kids in Italy and Martha’s Vineyard, and serving them cheeses that cost a quarter of our weekly grocery bill. Those chapters reminded me that we’re not going to be living next door to each any time soon.

As I sat in my car outside the grocery store again today, after a week of reading her essays, my taste glands wandered toward imported cheeses and wild salmon and then I looked at my real list and decided Buttery Apricot Bars and Wheat Oat Bread would be a fine start.

Note: I’m just beginning to try the recipes. The Hamburger, Macaroni, and Peas(which I happened to have on hand during the week) was surprisingly satisfying even though it was one of her most simple, comfort food recipes. The Mummy Nuggets are chicken nuggets that are all-natural and can be made in bulk and frozen, a good staple. Only the two-year old like the 10 Minute Unplanned Bran Muffins.

 

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The Good Kind of Stretch Marks

I stood in the middle of the woods with a handful of moms and  a dozen pre-teen girls. We mirrored each other in matching helmets and harnesses that circled our waists, swaddled our many-sized bottoms and finished their path around our thighs.

Always preferring to learn with my hands instead of ears, I was hoping for a short instruction time.

Fuzzy, the name of our bearded and barrel-stomached instructor, stepped forward. Instead of asking for volunteers to demonstrate as I had hoped, he began with a different kind of lesson.

“Everyone link arms and form a tight circle.”

We crossed elbows and pressed against each other’s shoulders, moving several inches into each other’s personal space, Fuzzy completed the chain.

Nervous giggles of discomfort.

“Now take a step back and drop hands.”

Ahh, a little better.

“This is what we’ll call our comfort zone. In our comfort zone we do the things that we’re most comfortable doing. Let’s go around. I’m Fuzzy, and I’m comfortable playing the piano.”

As the answers leapt around the circle, I formulated a list of my own.

My name is Aimee and I’m comfortable taking a hot bath with a wet book. I’m comfortable with four kids leaning into me, shifting their bodies into every free crevice. I’m comfortable in the library with stacks of books almost tipping out of my hands.

“Now everyone take another step back,” commanded Fuzzy.

We did and I wondered again when he was going to tell us how to climb those ropes.

“What happened when we stepped back? What happened to that chain we’d created? That’s right, we stretched it. I like to call this the stretch zone. This is the place where we do things that might seem difficult, you might be a little scared or uncertain you can do it. Why is it good to be in our stretch zone and not just stay in our comfort zone?”

One of the young girls raises her hand, “Because we might find things we really like to do and then our comfort zone will get bigger and bigger.”

“Exactly. Now everyone turn around and wave to the trees behind you.”

We waved.

“Back there is the panic zone. We don’t want to go there today. If you panic you’re going to be tempted to jump right back into your comfort zone and stay there.”

Even though I was anxious to get to the hands-on portion of this course, I wondered if I’d have the strength for the ropes. I worried that the system would be too complicated and I’d feel dumb and fail. In front of my daughter. And a pestering thought about a dislike of heights rumbled around my hard hat.

But circle time was finally over, Fuzzy was at the ropes.

Another instructor hooked my harness to the tall ropes streaming down from the top of the tree. I pushed the large knot in front of me up as high as it could go. Pushing up the knot for the foot loops, I placed my feet inside. Lifting the first knot, I stood up in the foot loops. Lifting the lower knot again, my feet were off the ground, my weight entirely resting in the harness.

Repeating the steps, I moved further into the air, a stop motion picture of a baby bird leaving the ground.

IMG_6163

With each foot that I moved up the ropes, my smile grew. Sally cheered and took pictures. One of girls called from below, “Go Mookie’s Mom!”

And I continued to pull myself into my stretch zone.

Finally, floating freely at twenty feet, I looked around, my smile at full capacity.

I did it!

Did I say that out loud?

“Take a picture!”

I definitely said that out loud.

Meanwhile, my daughter was 10 feet below me performing a butterfly. She had removed her feet from the loops and thrown her arms and torso backward from the harness, until her body formed the sloping wings of a butterfly in flight.

IMG_6167

WE did it.

My name is Aimee and I am comfortable hanging from ropes twenty feet off the ground.

Soon after that I started to think about what would happen if I fell. What equipment would have to break to cause my fall, and what on my body might break if the fall occurred? I heard the rope fibers rubbing against each other with the tension. I felt my weight against the harness.

I waved to my panic zone.

And I said I was ready to come down.

But the stretch zone had already served it’s purpose and it became a repeated metaphor for the rest of camp. As another mom and I walked across the pitch black field to get to the bathrooms, we both agreed we were in our stretch zone then. As I pulled a tick from one of our girls, I knew beyond a doubt that the whole weekend had been one big stretch zone.

Back home I read an email from my best friend about her tough mothering week, one that ended in tears. As I typed I noticed the cuts and burns the ropes had left on my hands. I thought of my friend struggling and of myself at the highest point on those ropes. I realized from the moment my first child became flesh in my arms parenting had also been one huge stretch zone.

Ten years later mamahood spreads itself across all three zones.

I’m comfortable with dirty diapers, occasional stomach viruses, feeding and clothing and laundry, going to the bathroom with a toddler always present, teaching a child to read and add numbers, hugging and comforting. But in the beginning, any of those could take me to my panic zone.

On the ropes course I made the choice to leave my comfort zone, but in parenting the choice was made at the very beginning. Since then I’ve just tried to hold onto the knots. I’m stretched when my children are fighting and hurting each other for the fifth time that day, and when a child needs me and I can’t meet her needs in the moment.  The fibers of my heart rub against one another when my child has made a mistake and I can’t see which path will grow her character, should it be mercy or a consequence? In those moments I can’t call Fuzzy over to grab the rope, it’s either stretch or panic.

Sometimes, mercifully, I get to whisper, “I did it” and I’d really like someone to take my picture.

I also regularly land in the panic zone, usually when I’ve looked from the ground and can only see the path of my own failings. I panic when my daughter is distressed and my mind only calls up foolish, trite answers. I panic when I realize they’ll have to hurt sometimes to grow. I panic when I realize I can’t protect them. Mostly I panic when I look around at the other moms who look like they never question if they’ll reach the top of the ropes.

Usually the dividing line between stretch and panic happens when I look up. Do I see a mistake that I could make that would break me and my child, or do I fling my arms and legs out into a butterfly because my whole family is tethered to One who is going to keep holding us with each of my mistakes and successes. Do I look up and see how much bigger He is than me?

My comfort zone has expanded as a mama. And for it to grow further, I’m going to have to dangle in my harness and so are my kids.

Because even if I did have the choice, I’d definitely choose the stretch zone instead of keeping my feet on the ground.

 

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The Story Served with Humble Pie

snowman

With four children, we get four times the personality, the laughter, the unique talents, the joy.  We also get four times the germs.  A friend once said to me that when one child gets sick, she’s tempted to make all of the kids lick each other so that they all get sick at the same time.  I’ll admit I can see the advantages.  You can let me know at the end of this story if you think I should have tried that strategy seven days ago.

It’s good that I didn’t get to write this blog post on day one or day three or even day five of the last seven days.  I might have seemed smug, “We’ve had sickness before and it was bad, but look how we handle it now.” You would have been annoyed at me during your own snot covered days of survival with sick kids.  Now I can tell the whole story, with the last bit of smugness washed away by day five and a half.

It started with the flu.

No let me go back.

It started with winter. That’s another prideful blog post that I might have written a few weeks ago, after the first few unusual bouts of snow. I was a little cocky way back then thinking how much better I was doing then last winter, when the long, bleak days drained all my patience and joy away by early January.

It’s this last stretch, when a few warm days taunt you, and then winter leaves you in the meat locker for another six weeks, that really tests your durability. The walls are smaller, tempers shorter, and the germs are having germ babies.

The setting is bleak winter.  Enter the video camera.

The video camera?

The one the I dropped on my foot, which cut through my sock, which left a 3 x 2 bruise and my big toe wouldn’t touch the ground anymore because of the swelling.  (Old school video camera, don’t picture a pocket camera.)  It hurt, but we were laughing.

Enter the flu for child number 1. The first year in ten years that we hadn’t gotten flu shots. Eyes shiny and sunken, she was sicker than I’d seen her in about 6 years.

micah

Enter the coughing, sick sister without flu symptoms but with a spurting, bloody nose. It was gross, still we laughed.

Mama hobbles around with a toe that won’t touch the ground. School anyone? We homeschool, if you didn’t know this, but at the moment the school teacher was doubling as the school nurse.

Enter the high fever for baby not yet two. Does she have the flu of her oldest sister or the coughy-but non flu symptomatic illness of other sister?

Fever sticks to her like a tongue to a frozen pole for about 3 days, around the clock.

Enter worry and sleep deprivation for Mama and Mr. darcy.

By day 5, the flu is resolving itself, the sun is shining and the big sisters are out playing after the germ-infected blah week. Baby still has the fever. Mama and Mr. Darcy need a serious nap.

“Jellybean’s nose is bleeding everywhere!” the boy rushes into the house. The same nose bleeder from earlier in the week has fallen and smashed her nose on the concrete and there’s a level two nose bleed. Blood on the face, the clothes, the concrete.

Still, after she’s mopped up, we laugh. She goes back into the sun.

Enter the boy, he’s left the perfect day to come inside, “I’m done playing. I’m going to go lay down.” The boy doesn’t ever come inside on a warm day without being coerced.

Mama gets a phone call on her way to the grocery story. “The boy’s temperature is 100.”

Is it the flu? Is it the coughy but non flu-symptomatic illness? Is it the myserious unknown fever of his baby sister?

Then he projectile vomits hard boil egg and accompanying fluids all over himself, his sisters, anything in an eight foot radius. Several times. Are you getting me? Chunks. Flying. Girls screaming.

Since I didn’t have to clean it up-I don’t like egg in it’s natural form much less airborne, I was still able to smile, a little. Mr. Darcy had taken on a slightly traumatized appearance.

An entirely new sickness? After 8 more episodes(thankfully not projectile, and thankfully less egg each time) encompassing the entire night of would be sleep, we’re pretty sure we have a new beast in the mix.

By five that morning, nobody was laughing. I’d stayed up from 3 to 7 without a hint of sleep. The baby still had a fever.

Enter the zombie period. The grocery shopping hadn’t been done. The attempt to vacuum the house that hadn’t been vacuumed in a month was abandoned and the goal was resized to wiping off the door handles with disinfectant.

School planning? If I could do it in my sleep.

Ouch, the baby just stepped on my sore foot.

How did it get to be day seven? Monday. The sun had taunted and left for the week. Mr. Darcy was home from work trying to pull us together for the week. I was in the doctor’s office for two hours to get a two minute swab for strep. I hadn’t mentioned the headaches or sore throat to you, I didn’t want to overwhelm you.

Enter Tuesday. 90% chance of rain. The four different illnesses have left just enough germs to sprinkle a cough and a runny nose to each of them. School is happening by the seat of our pants.

There has been some sleep. There has been some laughter. Some serious yelling. And hopefully some more sleep tonight.

So there’s the whole story. Cocky pride at how well we can handle a round of sickness abandoned on day five.

Oh, I did forget to mention the call to poison control?

disclaimer: truly, the Lord was working and healing and strengthening.  this is less a story of complaint, than an invitation to squeeze each other’s shoulders and say, “yeah, i’ve been there.”  an invitation to laugh.

To enter the real life of other moms, head over here:

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