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Meaningful Questions to Ask at the Dinnertable

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I don’t know how things go in your family, but in ours between homework, ministries, meetings, guitar lessons, coffee dates, soccer games and just plain old everyday commitments, it can be stinkin’ hard to connect as a family. When Sam and I were first married we lived on his family farm which meant our lives and meal schedule revolved around the milking schedule. This meant that often times we weren’t eating dinner until nine o’clock and beyond. During this time we got into the nasty habit of eating in front of the TV before crawing into bed. This habit carried into the early years of raising our girls as well when it sounded so much nicer to eat and veg out once my two hooligans were tucked safely into bed and I could just relax. As they have gotten older, though, we realized we were missing valuable time to connect with our kids, sometimes the only time we actually got. We still some weeks only eat together as a family four or five nights out of seven, but that time is still vital for us to be connected in each other’s worlds. When we first started eating as a family I found myself often scolding the girls for fooling around or interrupting while their dad and I were trying to have a conversation, one that often excluded them and was above their comprehension. This was no good.

I searched Pinterest (ever the helpful resource) and find this idea of just adding each other questions during dinner.  I was skeptical, but decided to give it a try.  Two years ago I jotted down some questions and threw them in a jar. They ranged from “if you could be a dog for a day, what would you do?” To “if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?” These questions are great because they help us to dream together and be imaginative. As they have gotten older, though, every once in awhile I will throw in a new one that is more meaningful. I’ve been amazed to hear the answers the girls can come up with. These questions help them think and grow, but they’ve also challenged me as well! So here are a few examples:

1.Who is someone you can encourage tomorrow and how can you do that?

2. Name three things you are thankful for.

3. Name something you love about the person on your left.

4. What is something God has been teaching you.

5. Who is someone we can be praying for?

6. Who is someone you can talk to about Jesus this week?

7. What is something you can rejoice in today?

Then, of course, there are the sillier ones like this:

1. If you could be a zookeeper for the day, what would that look like?

2. Tell us about an embarrassing moment.

3. If you could have anything to eat right now, what would it be?

4. If you could be a polar bear for the day, what would you do?

5. If you could be anything, what would you be and why? (Nora told us one time she’d like to be a unicorn in a uniform, my favorite answer ever!).

Those are just a few of ours. What about you? What questions would you ask? What do you do to connect as a family?? I’d love to know on the comments!:)

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DIY Felt Envelopes

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“Come on. Let’s practice,” I said to Ev one night as I was tucking her into bed.  Every night I go in to check on the girls before I turn in for the night and whisper that I loved them in their ears.  Evie always complains that she wishes she would wake up for this nighttime ritual. “Yell in my ear, Okay, Mom? Yell ‘Wake up!! I love you!!’ so I know that you are there.” So I told her we would practice as I pretended to sneak up on her while she pretended to sleep. I leaned over and whispered a “yell” in her ear that I loved her.  She giggled and then grabbed me around the neck before imploring, “Mom, when you come in can you leave me a note under my pillow?”

This was just a couple of weeks ago and since I have slipped notes under pillows while sugar plums danced in their heads.  But then I remembered this idea. I will admit it isn’t original to me. I have seen the idea of making children’s mailboxes or large envelopes for tucking sweet notes such as these to children eager to receive them.  It’s a small way I can connect with the girls and give them reminders when needed that they are loved. I have found these notes tucked away in their book bags they have taken with them to school.

Anyway, I didn’t follow a pattern because I figured the concept was pretty simple (at least the one in my head) and hopefully you can make sense of it, too! It only took ten minutes to make both of them and to make two only cost one dollar. Cha-ching!

First, I started with two sheets of felt (about 25cents each at Walmart) and I liked the idea of contrasting colors, so I chose two shades of pink.

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First, I started with a sheet and folded it about 3/4 of the way up against itself and sewed along the side edges as indicated here. I also sewed along the bottom just to have a neater bottom edge but it isn’t necessary:

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I then folded my other sheet of felt in half long ways and cut a curvy triangle (with two short flat sides as well, so I guess not entirely a triangle) for the enclosure. I then sewed that along the top of my envelope.I also chose to sew a little lace edging on for some girly detail, but again, not necessary at all.

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I also cut hearts out of the scrap for a “seal”. I told the girls if the seal was on their envelope, then they would know they had mail. Otherwise, I would keep it tucked into their envelope.

I completed this little project by gluing Velcro on the back of the hearts with tacky glue. I used the rougher edged Velcro because it sticks right to the felt without needing to sew it’s counterpart on.

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That’s pretty much it! Pretty simple, meaningful and definitely cheap! My kind of project!

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I just stuck them to the girls’ door with thumb tacks just under the flap.

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And who doesn’t love mail, right?

 

2

Mama Drama

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I placed my fingers to my temples and rubbed, trying to ease away the rhythmic throbbing in my head as my oldest daughter bounded from the sink (where she splashed water all over the counter and mirror while making faces at herself) to the hand dryer.  The fact that she was skipping only intensified my annoyance. “Let’s go!” I didn’t, but nearly shouted at her. Undaunted, she did a little dance while she dried her hands off.  I ignored the stares from the woman washing her hands and almost groaned as I saw her approach. Here it comes, I thought grudgingly to myself.

She nearly stooped over, as though I was an unruly child who needed a good talking to from a much older and wiser adult, and said, with that ever-so-subtle condescending pitch, “You need to appreciate this now. They grow up so fast.” At this point, I would normally plaster a smile on my face and say something like, “Oh yes, you are so right. Thank you for the reminder,” and go about my merry way, clenching my jaw the whole time. Instead, I ignored her. Yep. I looked at her, grabbed my daughter’s hand and stalked away very rudely, all the while thinking, “Which part of this am I supposed to enjoy, you know-nothing busy body?” (Which, I’m really not proud of).

Maybe she meant the part about my daughter whining the entire time we were in the store, bouncing between trying to pull things off the shelf and tormenting her sister.  Maybe she was talking about the part where my daughter sung at the top of her lungs just so my husband and I couldn’t carry on a conversation and she wanted to control us because that’s what she does. Maybe she meant I was supposed to appreciate the part where my child asked for everything, not because she truly wanted it, but simply because I had told her not to ask for anything.  Maybe she meant I was supposed to enjoy the fact that I was on a time crunch, but my daughter whined so loudly and fiercely that she “needed to go potty” that I spent fifteen extra minutes I didn’t have searching the store I wasn’t familiar with for a bathroom while she complained the whole time that she wasn’t going to make it. Maybe she meant I was supposed to love the fact that once I raced her into the bathroom, she took her sweet time getting settled on the toilet only to produce nothing more than three drops.  Perhaps she was suggesting that I appreciate the fact that I know my daughter was skipping, singing and dancing in victory, knowing she had won the battle over me since we both knew she didn’t need to go to the bathroom at all.  Was that what she meant?  When she stooped over me, practically wagging a condescending finger at me, and told me that I “needed to appreciate this now”, was this possibly what she meant?

I could feel it building inside of me; that pressure that felt like a two ton elephant was sitting on my chest.  My head was pounding, I was white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel, I was working my jaw and clenching my teeth, I was answering incessant questions from the backseat with brisk responses. I knew it was coming; the hurricane, and I couldn’t stop it.  Yes, there was that little voice lying to me that said, “Just ignore your feelings, ignore your child and everyone will come out of this alive.” I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw my child’s smug face. It sounds paranoid, but if you knew her, you would know exactly what I am saying. She gets delight out of sowing discord in our home, and is absolutely giddy when she knows she has gotten to me. So I gritted my teeth, grabbed bags furiously from the trunk, slammed it, and stomped to the house, not even caring if the girls were following or not. The whole time that lady’s voice was in the back of my head like bullets being fired into my heart, as if what she really said was, “Failure! What kind of mother are you that you can’t see how precious this delightful, clearly happy and pleasant gift from above this child is?” Her words didn’t spur on reflection to which I said, “Whoa! You just blew my mind! Yes! Thank you for that clarity of thought. Now I can go on with my day and rejoice when my child manipulates me and makes it feel like a locomotive is careening through my head.Now I will do a little jig and say a prayer of thanks when she tries to make the day miserable just because she can.”  It just made things worse.

I can’t even tell you what happened next, because I know it doesn’t really matter. I was a bull seeing red and all I needed was a small flash of color, something minute so I almost had an excuse to charge. I can’t tell you what it was because I’m sure it wasn’t significant, but it was enough to send me over the edge. It was the straw that broke an exhausted, guilt-ridden, angry mama camel’s back. I let loose. The demons were unleashed. I was a mass of white heat and rage.

Yeah-I said it. Rage.

That nasty, taboo word that isn’t supposed to be part of a mother’s vocabulary, let alone her persona. But let’s call a spade a spade. I was raging mad. I was out of control of my emotions and nothing was going to stop me, especially not this stubborn child who stood in front of me, and didn’t cower at my anger, but starred it down with challenging defiance. I lost it; I screamed. Let me clarify this so we’re all on the same page. I didn’t yell or raise my voice. I screamed. It was shrill, it was loud, it was ear-piercing. My throat was sore and scratchy afterwards. I didn’t even recognize it. I lost all control. I could feel my heart racing so fast that it squeezed and pulsed like someone was gripping it with an iron fist. I was shaking violently. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was scary, not only to my children, but to me.

I would like to say this was an isolated incident. It wasn’t. It doesn’t happen every day or even all the often, but it happens and it never ceases to surprise or frighten me, because sometimes I feel the build-up like this particular day, but other times I’m blindsided by it. We can actually have a pretty good day, but a long fit (this same child can throw a fit lasting 1-2 hours, crying so hard that she makes her nose bleed and will pound on the floor so violently the dishes rattle in the cupboards) can send me into a blind rage.

How do I feel afterwards? Well, let’s just say I’m not feeling too good about myself (um, yeah-huge understatement). I beat myself up for days and find myself trying to talk to friends and family, someone who can give me a good answer on how to handle not only my child but myself.  Often, I am met with a blank, sometimes horrified stare, as though I have just grown an arm out of the side of my face.

I’m a “deep thinker” which mostly means I analyze every minute detail of my life to death, mostly my relationships. I want to know why things happen and how to fix them and why my life isn’t one big Hallmark commercial. How can I have dreamed for so long about having kids and loving them to death every moment of every day and still go from zero to fifty in a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds? I’m also trying to figure out if I’m the only one who ever experiences this because no one wants to talk about it. I’m writing this actually piggy-backing off an article I saw recently discussing this subject. I was actually shocked to hear another mother talk candidly about how she has struggled with rage because no one seems to want to talk about it. People seem to want to give “the right answer” and try to put a band-aid over a gaping wound and say things like, “You need to just appreciate this”. Does that help anyone?

I’m using this poor woman as a scapegoat when I know she really did in some way mean to be helpful, even if it was poorly timed. My point in writing this is not to even point out what she said, but to emphasize how we get to this point as parents where we just explode. Am I truly alone in this? Do other mothers ever cross that line from losing their tempters to losing total control? Is the problem me, or is it just that my kids are so difficult? I honestly had never experienced true rage before six years ago when we brought our daughters home. I was pretty much the same as the woman in the bathroom, shaking my head and pointing my finger at those frazzled moms who lost it on their children. I didn’t get it. Does it make it right? No. Heck no. But, I still think it would help if we could talk about it, if we could all admit that we aren’t alone.  When I have tried to talk to people for help and they are become tight-lipped, or when I meet someone in the store who has a “word of wisdom” for me, it doesn’t help, but seems to compound the problem. Can we stop pointing fingers and learn how to support each other as struggling parents? I think as moms we are all equipped with built-in guilt thermometers, and as the guilt rises, the build up of pressure rises until we explode.

My husband and I talked about this just today after I sat in the car with him and cried, pouring out to him all my motherly woes. As we talked we both reminded each other of this profound truth so easily forgotten: if we aren’t willing to accept grace for ourselves, we are inept to give it to each other.  In my life, this seems no more real in my life than when it comes to being a parent. When I spend the whole day beating myself up for things I forgot, things I should’ve said (or more likely things I shouldn’t have said), ways I failed, and obsessing about the girls’ behavioral issues, by the time they come home from school, I’m almost resentful of them. I’m already prepared to do battle with them. The grace of God says, “Erased, forgiven. It’s over.” We even have taught the kids that. They sometimes in their little hearts feel the need to do penance for something long after we have talked about it and moved on. They will still apologize two or three more times until I give them to reassurance that, “It’s over. It’s done. I forgave you. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.” I have seen a very visible weight lifted off their shoulders when I free them from the guilt of what they have done.  They are lighter on their feet, they are more affectionate, reconciliation has been restored and it is so freeing. So why, when we are trying so desperately to teach our kids the grace of God, do we not accept it for ourselves?  We do penance, and through that everyone else pays.

I heard Matt Chandler, a pastor in Texas, use the illustration of his daughter learning to walk as an example of God’s grace to us. When his daughter was learning to walk, they got the video camera ready and helped her to her feet, encouraged and applauded her.  When she would stumble, like they expected her to, no one said, “Stupid kid.” They only applauded the progress she had made. They expected her to fall, but when she did, they just helped her back up.  That is how God’s grace is with us. He doesn’t knock us back down.  He expects us to stumble and He knows every sin we will commit and knew it long before we were even created, but still put His plan of salvation into effect. If we can’t accept this gift of grace, how in the world can we extend it or be examples of it to our children?

I heard this quote by C.S. Lewis, too, that was a good reminder to me. We like to beat ourselves up because in some backwards way we feel like it makes us better parents, sometimes better Christians. If we feel the heavy blows of guilt on our backs every day, it somehow makes us holier. Lewis said this, “True humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.” If we could grasp that as parents, if we could let go of the guilt which still ties us up and keeps the focus on ourselves, how much more free would we be to love and show grace to those in our home, especially our children?

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Ode to Moms (especially mine)

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I sat across from my mom at a restaurant and she handed me some money for gas, which I refused. I wanted this day to be for us, no strings attached, on me, but like most moms, she couldn’t let it go.  She is a caregiver, a provider, she has the innate need to take care of her children. “Mom, you took care of me for twenty years, I owe you.” That’s what I said, as if a ten dollar bill could begin to cover what my mom did for me in twenty years.

You see, I am THAT person-the one who lived in blissful denial of all my mother did to care for me until I became a mother myself.  We wanted to have children for so long that when I heard other moms complain about the woes of motherhood I would smile politely and nod my head sympathetically but inwardly be rolling my eyes and think something like, they call them bundles of JOY for a reason. Even then, I wasn’t seeing the whole picture.  This was before the middle of the night calls to change a wet bed, to clean up vomit, or to soothe away a nightmare.  This was long before the unspeakable trials of potty training and being woken up every morning to screaming (yes, even now).  This was before the frustrations, the heartache, the total exhaustion of motherhood.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so blessed to be a mom. I am so deeply fond of and completely in love with both of my girls.  I truly understand what it means to be a “mama bear” when someone has tried to mess with my girls (yeah-this a warning- DO NOT mess with my children.  If you do, well….just don’t. I have a clean criminal record and I’d like to keep it that way).  Still, no one tells you how much pain your children can inflict on you in just common, careless, everyday ways.

Yesterday we took our girls to a local fair.  We saw and petted pigs, horses, rabbits, cows, sheep, goats, chickens and alpacas. Yeah-alpacas.  We saw a miniature pony show, rode rides, watched a sheep fashion show, and two magic shows.  Oh yeah, and they got to jump in a bouncy castle.  It was….um…it was….how do I put this…..frustrating.  It went a little something like this, (me) “Honey, you can’t pet a horse from behind….just trust me. You really don’t want to pet it from behind….because you don’t if you want to keep your teeth and face in general!…don’t put your fingers in the rabbit cage, they might think they are carrots…..no, we aren’t going to buy food right now. You just ate, you will be okay. Stop whining now or we will go home right now!…sweetheart, watch out so you don’t get run over by that mini horse cart……honey, it’s okay. It will be okay. See? Daddy’s ok. The magician just wants Daddy to help him with a trick….please, please, please for the eighth time stop putting things in your mouth….Nora, stop running ahead. I don’t care if you want to go that way, we are going this way…..Sit down….I told you to sit down while the ride is going….sit down, please, you are scaring your sister….SIT DOWN!!….” You get the idea.  One of the hardest things about being a mom that no one tells you, that I don’t think anyone can tell you until you experience it for yourself, is the total heartache and courage it takes to be a mom.  Even without me giving you every detail of our day, I’m sure you can image the scenario.  The kids complained about how hot it was. No sooner would we walk into one barn they would want to go to another one.  At the top of the ferris wheel, one child kept tormenting the other one and terrifying her parents by not sitting, trying to look out over the edge, rock the cart, and stomp her feet repeatedly for the sole purpose of getting a rise out of the rest of us.  They whined, fussed, dragged their feet, bickered, tried to take charge, scowled, cried….again, you can see where I am going with this.  But despite all of that, we are trying to make memories, because we believe one day they will look back and say, “Do you remember going to the fair? I used to love going to the fair. And do you remember that one time…..”. Yet not once did they say “thank you” without being prompted.  Not once did it occur to them that this was a treat, not something they somehow had earned the right to.  When they misbehaved or complained and were corrected for it, they resented us for pointing it out to them.  It rarely occurs to them that perhaps they were at fault and not us for their unhappiness.

Again, my point is NOT to complain about my children, or even about being a mom, but more as a very small, minute way of thanking my own mom.  I remember one time when I was just out of high school pulling a favorite jacket of mine out of the dryer, and the zipper on it had melted.  I stormed up the stairs to my mom who was faithfully making dinner, that I was NOT helping with, I might add, with hands on my hips demanding why she had put my favorite jacket in the dryer.  Did she see? Did she see what had happened when she put my jacket in the dryer? It was my favorite jacket. Now what was I supposed to wear? And do you know how my mother responded? Did she throw it back in my face and tell me that maybe I should be doing my own laundry? Did she tell me off like I deserved? No. She apologized.  My poor mother apologized to me. I will never forget that.  It took years after remembering that incident to even feel remorse for the way I had acted, to feel shame for the level of ingratitude I displayed.

I can clean up all sorts of bodily fluids while gagging my way through it.  I can wipe runny noses, scrub crayons off the walls, make breakfast, lunch and dinner, kiss boo-boos (real and imaginary), put Barbie heads back on, pick out outfits, write “I love you” notes in lunchboxes, give baths, read stories to, sing to sleep, help find shoes….this is the part of motherhood that is often exhausting, but so rewarding.  I love nursing my children back to health when they are sick.  I love that when they are really hurt, they only want me.  I love that they ask me to make them pink eggs or have girl day or a tea party with them.  I love helping them learn new things and watching them explore a new world.  I love, absolutely LOVE when they are trying to learn a new word and say it wrong.  I didn’t have to heart to tell the girls a backpack isn’t a “pack pack” and even found myself calling it that.  I love that they want me to scratch their backs and sing them a song every night before bed.  I love the special memories that we are making together that only we can boast, like watching trains from the porch with a hot cup of cocoa before school.  These are the picturesque moments I only dreamed about, and they are so much better than I imagined they would be.  These are the moments you want to capture in a bottle and hope they never fade away.  These are the moments that make me sigh when I check on the girls after they have fallen asleep and make me wish they would stay this little forever.  This part of being a mom is something priceless.  This is what makes it all worthwhile.

But, those other times, when it feels nearly impossible NOT to nag them every moment of the day because you have their best interest at heart that makes this job so difficult.  Whether you are a mom like me and don’t want them to get kicked in the head by a horse or a cow and are forced to hold their wriggling hand in yours knowing they are resenting the heck out of you for it because they refused to listen, or the mom of an older child who has to be the one to tell them that they need to find a job because sleeping in and playing video games is not a viable option for a career choice.  The hardest part about that is because every mom knows these moments are investments.  Right now they won’t see your love, your sacrifice, they will only see how you are spoiling their fun.  Every mom worth her salt knows that you have to prod, correct, and discipline for the well-being of her child that she loves more than life itself, even in a world where so much seems to be going against her efforts.  Still, she must try because she loves her children so dearly.  There is a verse that my mentor growing up always told me and still says to me now that is the mantra of every mom, “So I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, knowing the more I love, the less I be loved.” (2 Cor. 12:15)

True love is a sacrifice, because true love means putting someone else’s needs and desires much above your own.  My desire to be liked, to be adored by my children (and this is such a great desire) often takes a backseat to what is best for my children.  I think this, in my own humble experience, is the hardest part about being a parent.  Parents (dads, too) know this more than anyone. So, finally, I want to thank my mom (and dad) for the sacrifice of love made to me growing up and even now.  Thank you doesn’t begin to cover it, I know. A lunch out is a pitiful compensation.  Still, thank you for cleaning up my messes, physical and emotional.  Thank you for taking care of me with so little gratitude.  Thank you for your diligence in correcting me though it took me years to acknowledge this as a sacrifice of love.  Thank you for nagging, even when it’s not necessary, because you truly want what is best for me.  Even now, I see you having trouble letting go because you want the very best and to see me be the best version of what God can make of me.

In short, thanks so much for being my mom.