the lies i tell myself, part 1

My son, Boone, is seven. He’s incredibly bright, he loves potty words, he is, at times, extremely inattentive, and he’s an overall cool kid. For the first three years of his life, he was an only child. I was home with him full time, and we filled our days with play groups, story times, and any other kid-friendly thing that got us out of the house. And while we played, I helicoptered hard.

(Look at that toddler Boone baby. He can make no mistakes.)

I know we’re all familiar with the hovering, overprotective helicopter parent. And I think many seasoned (read: tired) parents agree that our kids can really benefit from some distance. And even as a new parent, I was aware of this. Which is why I helicoptered discreetly. I might have looked calm and nonchalant, but in reality I was side-eying everything Boone did. If he took a toy, I was quick to remind him to give it back. If he started to wander off while a librarian read a book, I would pop up to collect him and bring him back. I made quiet toy bags if we went out to restaurants so he wouldn’t bother other customers. I didn’t do this for him. I did it because I believed a cruel and unfair lie:

The lie that my child’s mistakes were my mistakes.

I just really believed that if I was parenting correctly, my son wouldn’t be rude to other kids. He wouldn’t talk back to other adults. He would be, even at three years old (or younger!) a little model citizen in public.

So I was obviously quite delusional.

Time, experience, and Boone’s little brother all worked to cool me off a little bit. I began to allow Boone to play without my reality-tv level of surveillance. I’d cringe when a situation arose, sure. I’d bite my tongue after asking him “what happened?” when we were still in public and launch into an intense line of questioning when we were in the car.

But you know what really perpetuated this lie? The fact that Boone was – is – a pretty good kid. It’s always been easy to look at the good parts of his behavior and think “yeah, I did that.” And that’s why, when Boone got his first referral at school, I screamed “WHAT THE HELL?!” and cried for an hour.

Yes. That’s really how I reacted.

Yes, really.

A note for those who don’t know: at my son’s school, a referral is a piece of paper that goes home to be signed by the parents. It explains the problem the child had, how it was handled, and if anything else needs to be done. OK, so now you’re probably thinking ok, if she screamed and cried this must have been really bad, right? Did he punch a teacher? Steal donation money? Burn down a classroom?

Umm… uh… OK. Well… ah, he was at recess, you see, and a recess monitor told him and another boy to not climb a hill. He did climb the hill. He spent the rest of recess on a bench. There was nothing further.

YES. THAT’S REALLY HOW I REACTED.

YES, REALLY.

Hindsight, yeah? In the moment, here was the perfect little newborn that I raised who was TOTALLY RUINED because I somehow couldn’t get him to listen to authority figures. How could I have led him down such an unholy path? I was clearly an unfit mother. There go the Ivy Leagues. “We’re sorry, Boone; we can’t accept you into Harvard because of your first grade referral. Pity.”

This is so insane I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you all. But I do so because every single day I watch moms and dads beat themselves up over the choices they’ve made for their kids. Public schools or private or homeschooling? Screen time or no? Local, organic veggies only or food rewards? Music lessons? Sports? Are we doing enough? Are we doing it right? Are we ruining everything?!?!

First of all: if you’re questioning and doubting and overthinking? You’re good. Please, believe me; you’re good.

Secondly – and this one may come as a surprise – your child is actually a completely different person than you. I know. I know. Let that one sink in. You could do everything correctly (oh, you won’t – this is a hypothetical; anyway) and your child will do whatever he wants because that’s how he’ll learn. And it’s frustrating and infuriating and also real life. And hey, maybe if your child doesn’t test authorities in first grade, he’ll try it when he’s much older and the stakes are much higher. Some lessons are better learned early on.

So don’t believe this lie. You will make mistakes, surely. But they’ll be your mistakes, and you’ll learn from them. Just like our children, if we let them.

Come back next week for the second lie I (used to) tell myself… and, until then, try not to tell yourself too many.

Advertisements

all the things i do not know

I like knowing stuff.

And based on how many questions my kids ask me each day, I mean, it’s a good thing. Like any modern day mom, I answer what I can and google what I can’t. And this little arrangement has made me the smartest person in our family — according to our kids, anyway. On most days. Unless daddy bought donuts – or took the boys to a park – or, generally, is home.

Either way, if the kids have questions, I have answers. It’s a good arrangement that only makes me want to lock myself in a closet with headphones to get a break from the constant “hey mom?”s some of the time. And that’s pretty good!

And then I was putting Boone to bed one night…

“Hey mom?”

Here we go…

“Where do people go when they die?”

“Oh, um, Heaven, if they believe in Jesus.”

“What if they don’t?”
“Um, Hell, I think.”
“OK well do they go straight to Hell? Because I have heard people say that. Do they meet Jesus first and then Jesus sends them there? What if Jesus forgets I believe in Jesus and accidentally sends me there? Will you be in Heaven when I get there?”

We have now reached the point in the conversation where I basically look like this:

I am a believer. I believe that Jesus died so I could spend eternity in Heaven. I believe John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life.” But I don’t have answers for like… any of Boone’s questions there. I haven’t died. I haven’t personally met someone who took a death vacation and gave me the slide show presentation of afterlife pics. But Boone looked at me so expectantly. So hungry for knowledge. And these are good questions! I didn’t want to dismiss them. So I sent up a quick help me prayer, and I responded.

“Buddy, I don’t know.”

“Um… what? You always know things.”

I told him no one has all of the answers. But that I believe in Jesus and I believe I will go to Heaven when I die. I don’t know what Heaven looks like, I don’t know if you and I will be the same people we are now. I believe you will go to Heaven too, if you believe in Jesus, and do not worry, God won’t get your beliefs mixed up. Then I let out the big breath I had been holding in and I asked, “hey Boone, what do you think about all of this?”

Jonah has questions also.

He basically echoed a lot of my sentiments and said his fair share of “I don’t know”s. He ended with, “but you know what? I think I’ll see you there, and we’ll be the same, you and me.”

I grew up with a very black and white view of salvation. Believe in Jesus = Heaven. Don’t believe in Jesus = Hell. End of story. Any lingering questions about Heaven of Hell were answered with “it’s perfect!” or “it’s terrible!” and that was that. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to really own the questions I had about my faith. Until I wrestled with these thoughts, I don’t think I really had the same understanding about my faith. It wasn’t personal.

I want my children to believe everything I believe. It’s true. They’re my little human copies, right? I want us to be on the same page about everything. But I know that won’t happen. If my father’s deep love of olives on pizza (double olives on pizza – WHAT) is any indication, kids just don’t always follow in their parents footsteps. And if kids did just blindly follow, would my dad like that I ate his terrible olive pizza even if I hated it? Maybe, I mean, because he’d probably have been able to order it more, but I think he’d be happier if I ate it because I truly enjoyed the nuance of the rubbery seawater taste of those awful little black and green fruits? Nuts? Fungi? What the heck are olives, anyway?

Back to my point. I want Boone and Jonah to share in my beliefs, but I want them to make it personal. They need to think and hear and choose for themselves. And in order to help this along… I have to say “I don’t know.” I will tell them what I think. But I will be honest about what I know — and what I don’t.

For someone who lives with answers at her fingertips, it’s hard to admit what I don’t know. Especially to the little people I’m raising. But I truly believe to help our children find the answers, we’ll have to admit that we don’t have them.

let them be dads

Hi, moms.

This one’s specifically for you. But it isn’t about plans or hacks or solidarity. 

It’s about dads.

Moms, if you’re like me, you stay at home with your kids. I know a lot of you are like me, so maybe I’m speaking directly to you here. I’m going to drop a major truth bomb here. It’ll blow your mind. Get ready for it:

Dads are dads.

Dads are cool.

Did I just hear the sound of your mind exploding? I told you. Dads are like, a totally different thing. They aren’t moms. They aren’t you. But sometimes, when you see them wrestling on the floor with your kids, you might think, That’s too rough. That encourages violence. That’s NOT how we play.

And then, all well intentioned, you might say something like, “isn’t that getting a little rough? Let’s calm down, OK?”

Or – or or or –

Dad’s given you a night alone in the basement. Pre-kids this would sound like a weird torture horror movie thing, but post-kids, it’s heaven. You settle in with your wine and whatever show you’re binging and start to relax. Then you hear it — a THUD from above, a scream, the pitter patter of running feet, a naughty giggle. You sigh, put the wine down, and think I should help out up there. And so you do. The little one runs to you, and the big one cowers a bit and says “sorry.”

Or – or or or or –

On your way out the door for a long awaited girls night, you hug and kiss the kids over and over again and then you hand Dad a piece of paper with writing all over it. Is it a love note? A poem, perhaps? A rundown list of his very best qualities? No, it’s a list of reminders, more reminders than you would give the hired help, i.e. a BABYSITTER. “Don’t forget the kids love the cherry toothpaste and hate the strawberry toothpaste. The tubes look similar. Check them.” “Little likes his bedtime routine to go pjs, teeth (cherry toothpaste!), book, prayer, song, night-night hug, lights out.” “Don’t let Big talk you into letting him read longer! He’s been doing that lately. He needs his sleep.”

Now, moms. Please raise your hand quietly to yourself if any of the above scenarios has ever happened to you.

*Raises hand timidly inside the Biggby in which I am writing this post.*

It’s dad, keeping his boy safe from the big scary Dory (who promises candy but isn’t really delivering).

Look. My husband, the father of my children, is a quality human. He’s smart, funny, kind, and he’s a fantastic dad to our boys. He also happens to work a job that keeps him away from home quite a bit, so the day to day care of our boys falls mostly on me. I’m usually the one who knows why one of them is grumpy — I know who had a hard time getting to sleep, who might be developing a cold, and why the little one is constantly yelling “BADOONGY FACE!” (It’s from The Book with No Pictures, and if you don’t own it, you definitely should.)

And because I know these things, I assume I know our kids better.

And I realized, one evening, watching Boone (Big) and Jason (Dad) bond over The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker for far too long far too late in the evening… 

That I’m the mom.

And he’s the dad.

And I have to let him be the dad however he wants to be the dad. Sometimes I struggle with finding a balance with our personality-opposite boys. I feel like I should take what I’ve learned and share these things with my husband, instead of allowing him to figure it out on his own or, heaven forbid, find a completely new balance original to him. 

Moms, we can’t perpetuate this stereotype that dads are Tim Allen-style grunters and goofballs who pop in for a quick joke and spend the rest of their down time souping up the lawn mower. If you are lucky enough to be part of a two-parent home — and here I’m expressly talking to any kind of two parent home: two moms, two dads, mom and grandma, etc — you have been given the gift of live-in help. And a live-in perspective that differs from yours. 

When we stop the rough housing, rescue our kids when we’re supposed to be relaxing, or leave a list of reminders before we go anywhere, we’re basically saying to our partners, “I’m better at this than you.”

Teamwork = dream work, of course.

I, for one, don’t want to be better. I want us to be equals. Parenting is hard, and I don’t want to be the only one in charge all of the time. So, one more time for good measure:

Dads are dads.

Let them be.

doing it all and doing it better

At Boone’s school this year, the theme is TRY. Try something new. Try if it’s hard. If at first you don’t succeed… you get it. Boone brought home a “Try” worksheet yesterday that he had to fill out with his own personal “try” goal.

Boone wearing his school “TRY” t-shirt “TRYING” to teach Jonah counting. (This lasted about five minutes.)

“This year, I will TRY…” the paper prompted, and in Boone’s big, loopy, first grade handwriting, he had written “to do everything better”

This broke my heart.
OK. Before we start filming after school specials, I would like to present a theory as to why he wrote he wanted to do everything better: it was easy. This is the same kid who simply answers “God” when asked when he learned about in Sunday School. The same kid who, for his daily journal homework, still doesn’t totally understand why I won’t let him always write “I ate breakfast. I ate lunch. I ate dinner.” (But I DID THOSE THINGS!, he reasons.)
It broke my heart because that would be my “Try” goal too. But I wouldn’t decide on that goal until I had thought about how to add more exercise into my life, how to eat healthier, how to stop loving tortilla chips and beer at the end of a long day, how to organize a closet more efficiently. I would have all of these little improvements overwhelm my brain until I screamed in submission, fine! I’ll just do EVERYTHING BETTER!
I can go to bed at night after a full and wonderful day of healthy choices, productive housework, and important self-care time and still berate myself for not finishing that load of laundry in the dryer. It’s not healthy. It’s not right. And it’s exhausting.
During my social media fast, I found the times when I was most tempted to idly scroll through news feeds and pictures would be when I was overwhelmed with all the little things I just wanted to do better. It was an escape, a way to take the pressure off, if only for a moment. But the point of the fast was to replace something — in my case, social media — with a deeper relationship with God. When the demands of my life (the demands I put on myself, mind you) became overwhelming, I couldn’t just ignore them for a while. So I pulled out my Bible, either hard or digital copy, depending on the day. I pulled out Shauna Niequist’s Savor, or a devotional I was working through on my phone. I spent the time I would have spent mindlessly scrolling in the presence of God, and I realized I don’t have to do it all.

Free Advertisement: Buy this book. And all of Shauna’s books. They’re just… good.

But, God! The dishes!

Will be there tomorrow.

The laundry!

Isn’t overwhelming. And you have clothes enough for now.

Dinner! Bathrooms! Educational fun with Jonah! Social interaction with Jonah! All of Boone’s school work, piano, Cub Scouts, choir —

You need to slow down. Find peace in me, and trust that I will help you do everything you need to do.

I feel like when God says “everything you need to do” He literally means “need” and not “what pinterest and facebook and instagram makes you think you should do.” The little nagging voice of mine doesn’t go away. Especially when laundry isn’t done and the floors are covered in popcorn pieces. But I’m learning to try and replace my angry voice with God’s peaceful one. I may not be able to do everything better — but I’m really, truly learning that I might not have to.

o tannenbaum

My very favorite day, year after year, is the day after Thanksgiving.

I don’t Black Friday shop. I don’t bask in gluttonous turkey day leftovers.

I decorate.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I am up with the sun (or, as is often the case in late November in Michigan, I am up with where the sun would be if it weren’t covered by clouds). With a strength of ten Jennies, I haul up tubs of decorations like a post-spinach Popeye. I do all of this in a holiday sweater and — this year, thanks to my new obsession — holiday-themed Lularoe leggings. THE JOY! We have Christmas music playing, cookies out to decorate and eat, and there are squeals of delight as each decoration is unearthed (those squeals are solely from me).

To bring in some realness, here is what I look like on the day after Thanksgiving:


And here is what the rest of my family looks like on the day after Thanksgiving:


What a bunch.

I generally have enough energy and goodwill to carry these occasional wet blankets, so fun is had by all. All. ALL.

(Me.)

Knowing of my love of decorating, I once had a well meaning friend ask, “what is your Christmas color theme?”

“My Christmas color theme! Yes! That’s of course a thing I have! It’s… :quickly thinking of Christmas colors: green!”

That’s when this friend probably politely nodded and backed away from my obvious Christmas insanity.

The truth is, I bought an end-of-season Christmas tree my senior year of college. It was on super clearance, and after some creative sale-watching and gift card use, I ended up paying exactly one penny for my tree. It was perfect. Easy to assemble, pre-lit (HAHAHAHA AT ONE TIME I CONSIDERED THIS A BONUS), and not containing any actual pine that would make my allergies go crazy. I loved it. I purchased some clearance ornaments that I thought looked “good enough” to help fill it out that first year. By the next Christmas, I was married and teaching elementary music. Elementary kids LOVE gifting music-themed ornaments to music teachers, so I came home with several blown-glass pianos, coppery treble clefs, and eighth-note patterned everything. I added them to our tree, along with the many “Our First Christmas Together” ornaments we had received on wedding gifts. I bought tacky gold tinsel. Boom. Christmas.

The next year, I was still teaching, and received more musical ornaments. This happened for three more years, actually. 

Additionally, when Jason and I would go on vacations, I would buy an ornament to hang on our tree to remember the trip. So each year added new mementos (a lot of Mickey Mouse, to be clear), and over time, the tree was full of special parts of our lives together. 

One year, the pre-lit lights proved disastrous (SEE; NOT A BONUS) and stopped working altogether. I loved my penny tree — it was the perfect size! The perfect shape! I loved that it cost me a penny! And so Jason spent several hours painstakingly removing each individual light. We threw on our own set of lights and the tree lived on.

It’s now the tree that we decorate as a family on the day after Thanksgiving. The ornaments are random, varied, and slightly broken. Some are musical instruments, some have faded National Park logos. Some have handprints from a tiny baby Boone. There’s magic and meaning there.

But, to go back to my “color scheme?” There totally isn’t one. There will be no awards for the beauty of this tree. It’s a mess, especially this year, where many of the ornaments are hung at Jonah-height since he was insistent on helping. 

“I’m pretty sure this is what mom meant by ‘spread out the ornaments a bit.’ Yes.”

But when I look at this tree, I see Jason taking off all those dead lights for me. I see my parents storing it in their basement before I had a home of my own. I see Boone and Jonah falling in love with decorations and making their own to add to the collection.

I used to get this feeling every time I walked past a Christmas Tree in a store window — the feeling that someday I would achieve “pretty Christmas tree” status, with coordinating ribbons and ornaments and lights blinking on some kind of program. But the more I watch this Christmas tree become our own, the less I want to change it.

Christmas is hard for perfectionists. We want everything to look perfect and be perfect, because if not, it’s a failure. 

Look at your tree, and the love you’ve poured into it. Look at your house, even when toys are scattered and the remote has been missing for days. Don’t get caught up in the vision of Christmas or life you have in your head and forget to live the one in front of you. Maybe your tree won’t be on the covers of any magazines. It may not be shared a million times on Pinterest. But, in the words of our dear friend Linus VanPelt from A Charlie Brown Christmas

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

So maybe you don’t have a color scheme. Or maybe you don’t have that many ornaments. Maybe you don’t have a tree — for Christmas, you don’t need any of it. Just the love. Sending you all I have at the start of this holiday season!