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Thursday, September 28, 2017

And the List Goes on...and on...and on...

This afternoon I sat on the couch frantically folding laundry before going to work. My mind was racing, but my body was on freeze frame. Why was I moving so slow? Why do I feel so exhausted when I've been lamenting for the last half hour about how I didn't get anything done today?

Ya feel me?

I was in that typical mother mode of getting down on myself because I didn't get through my list. Oh the list! Every single day it's there, taunting me from the bulletin board of my over stuffed mind.

When Nelson and I were registering for wedding gifts, the lady who set up our registry gave me an analogy that I haven't forgotten in nineteen years. "I find," she said casually, "that men are filing cabinets and women are bulletin boards."

"Yeah, okay, whatever," is what I'm pretty sure I was thinking with all the sage wisdom a single person about to be married has, "give me the scanning gun and let me go."

"You see," she continued, "men see things that need to be done and they file it. They put it away until they can get to it and they don't think about it in the meantime. Women, on the other hand, put everything up on a bulletin board where they see everything all of the time. They don't stop thinking about it until it's done."

Even though I was young and stupid, I recognized her wisdom the minute it left her mouth.

That's where I sat this afternoon. I was folding laundry, looking at a bulletin board with a multitude of little papers pinned on it...three notes thick in many places.

I ran out the door to go to work, still ruminating about those never ending lists - kicking myself over and over again because I didn't take one single thing off of it today.

Then, I paused my racing mind for a moment to try to get some perspective. What did I do today that prevented me from getting those other things done? Let's see. I started the day substituting for my son's teacher. I went from there to the grocery store to pick up some milk. While at the store I got a text from Mackenzie who had been taken home because she threw up at school. She asked me to pick up ginger ale, chicken noodle soup, and poster board. I brought that stuff home and put it away then rushed to pick up Felicity from her Catechism class. From there we stopped by my mom's to drop off some pictures. We came home, I fixed lunch for the two girls, and threw in a load of wash. Somewhere in all of that, I called the orthodontist and the eye doctor to move around appointments. Oh, I also folded two loads and put them away...and still made it to work on time.

It was time for a talk. "Self," I said as gently, yet sternly as I could, "it's time to give yourself a break. Acknowledge what you did do instead of ruminating about what you didn't do. Take into account that you have five kids who all need you still. Take things one day, one moment at a time. Do what needs to be done and cut yourself some slack about the rest."

I took a deep breath and nodded in agreement. Sometimes I'm right.

"Okay then," myself continued, "chin up. Keep moving. You've got this. Right now the agenda is work. Do that and forget the rest." There was a virtual hug, pat on the back, and kick in the rear to get me out of the car. Turns out myself can be a good cheerleader and motivator.

Putting that into practice is much harder than acknowledging it as the truth. Honestly, I'm hoping by writing this down, I will have it recorded. I will remember it. I will begin to live it.

I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me. You can too! Let's do it together.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Letting Go

I've been struggling with guilt lately. Mostly it has to do with working outside of the home and all that goes with that. I'm not able to attend all of the kids' events. Sometimes the house is a wreck. Some nights I get home to find out that no one really had dinner, unless you count Pop Tarts and cereal. The list could go on and on.

Basically, I feel like when I'm not home everything and everyone falls apart and it's my fault.

Maybe it's because I have my first...gulp...senior and life seems to be moving at the speed of a bullet train and I can't slow it down. Maybe it's my life long struggle with perfectionism. If it's worth doing or having, it should be perfect right? Well, not exactly thank goodness. Maybe it's the forever season I've been in where life is just not going the way it's supposed to (at least the way I think it should), or that I planned. Maybe it's getting back into the swing of school and all that that entails. Or maybe it's that I took one of two kids to a different doctor on six of the last eight school days.

No matter the reason, the results are the same: me yelling at the kids about how they are messing things up, causing me more work, or not doing what they know they should, or me crying to Nelson about what a terrible mother I am and how I hate that the reason that everything and everyone seems to be falling apart is me.

Sheesh. Sounds out of whack when I type it.

I know enough to know the truth when I see it and, though there is a shred of truth in all of that, none of it is the whole truth.

Today I was sitting in my room finishing up my prayer time, when Felicity walked in. "Hey, why don't you go get dressed and make your bed," I suggested, hoping that would buy me the time to finish up.

She came back in with in a minute or two, and said, "Mama, let's go to the pool!"

I thought this was an odd request because we haven't been to the pool since school started. Then I looked up and realized that when she went in to get dressed, the drawer she opened was the one with the bathing suits in it and she had one in her hand. She looked at me again, hair disheveled, eyes wide, dimples in full crater mode. "Mama...PLEASE. I really like the pool. I have fun there. We can go."

As I began to explain to her all the things I had to do today, something stopped me. I looked at her miniature body and drank in her pleading smile. I realized, that although I had a lot to do, I didn't have a good excuse not to spend some time with this girl.

So, we drove across town to our pool. We signed a special waver this year that enables the pool to stay open for us even when no lifeguards are present. We arrived, punched in our gate code and had the entire place to ourselves.

We swam, I videoed her "jumping in" in slow motion, we played some game she invented...just Felicity and me.

As I drove her home, I began to remember moments like this I've had with all of the kids. Each, in their turn had some time with me once the bigger ones went to school. Some were lucky enough to get one on one time, others got it in smaller groups, but they all got it.

For the most part, I've been to every event possible. I've taken them out to eat and cooked more meals for them than I can begin to count. They have had clean clothes when they needed them. I've made many trips to the school to bring a forgotten item. I've helped them study for countless hours and lost lots of sleep waiting for them to finish a paper they want me to check over. I've sent food for parties and celebrated the half birthdays at school (who knew there was such a thing?) of my summer birthday kids.

In short, I HAVE been there. I still am. And, well let's face it, when you have five kids, you simply can't be everywhere for every one of them all the time. Sometimes you have to choose the 8 year old's soccer championship over the junior's volleyball tournament at the same time. Those are the moments when you thank God for friends who send you play by play updates of your girl who is having the game of her season, while you watch as your son's undefeated team loses their first game in the championship. You hate you missed the good game, but when you see the tears and give the needed after game hug, you know you're where you were needed most.

I have to believe that God gets all of this. He gave me these kids and He knows their needs and loves them better than I do. Some days I see the big picture and am overwhelmed by the goodness of life. Other days I cry on my way to work and pray that Moses prayer, "God I can't, you can, and you PROMISED!" with tears streaming down my cheeks and fist shaking at Heaven.

At some point I have to give in to Him and let Him be there in the times that I can't. When I was in school I used to have a little card I placed in front of me as I studied for tests. On it was written, "Do your best and let God do the rest". It gave me peace and reminded me that there's a lot more to the equation than me.

Time to let go. Time to realize that God's got this...much, oh so much better than I do. Time to trust in that.

Monday, September 04, 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

This morning, as I was sitting next to Felicity during mass, I noticed her tediously peeling the paper off of her crayon.

"Felicity," I whispered, trying not to cause a scene, "please don't peel that paper off."

"Why?" she wanted to know.

"Because it's making a mess."

She continued the process, not phased at all by my request. She is three, which means she has her own opinion...about EVERYTHING and she's not afraid to let me know exactly what that is.

"Felicity," I whispered a bit more sternly, "stop."

She stopped for a moment, looked me straight in the eye and said very matter-of-factly, "I can do whatever I want."

I was stunned by her brazenness - the absolute belief that her statement was true. I can do whatever I want. Let it settle on you for a moment.

Let me assure you that her statement got dealt with immediately and as effectively as can be done in the middle of mass. I reminded her of a fact she had momentarily forgotten while she was caught up in her naturally self-centered world. Her theme song is "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

We went on with the business of the day after mass, but still her statement haunted me. "I can do whatever I want."

It sends chills down my spine. I grappled with it on and off during the day. She is my spunky kid and tons of fun. She is snugly and wild and expressive. She's also in the process of learning that the world, in fact, does not revolve around her. She's testing all boundaries and discovering how to be herself within the limits of being a descent human being.

She's three. It's normal at her age to speak and act as if she can do whatever she wants. That's where I come in and teach her that in fact, you CANNOT do whatever you want. Right? I mean I don't think there are many, if any, parents who just let their toddlers do what they want all the time. Can you even imagine what that would look like?

On second thought, maybe you can...watch the news.

Suddenly I knew that what had been haunting me was not so much that Felicity had made this declaration of total autonomy, but that more and more adults in our world are doing the same thing. It's a simplistic way to look at things - but it's the truth.

See something in a store you like but don't feel like paying for - steal it. Didn't study for that test like you should have - cheat. Make a mistake you don't want to admit - lie. Disagree with someone - yell, punch, or disown them. Don't like a church building or statue - tear it down. Someone makes you mad - shoot them.

How come we can see the absurdness of this way of thinking in small children, but seemingly applaud the very same behavior in adults? At the core of most of these issues is an underlying mindset that says, "I can do whatever I want." When did that become okay?

As Felicity's mama, it's my responsibility to teach her that she is not free to do whatever she wants. If she's angry, we teach her that it's not okay to slam doors and stomp off. When she's being teased by her big brothers, screaming at the top of her lungs is not the best way to make it stop. When she wants to eat marshmallows and lollipops for dinner (I kid you not, this was an actual request), I tell her no. When she wants to stay up with the big kids until the wee hours, I send her to bed anyway. The list goes on and on. It's a seemingly unending task. In her short life she's experienced a number of consequences that help remind her that she shouldn't do that particular thing again. In fact, she's beginning to see that life in general goes much better when she plays by the rules. In many cases, I need only to sing a few bars - "You can't always get..." before she begs me to stop and quickly complies.

Maybe what the world needs right now is a parent. We need someone to remind us that we can't do whatever we want, whenever we want. We need to remember that the world does not revolve around us. We might need a timeout so we can think about our actions and ask forgiveness for our wrong doings.  We need to practice the art of shaking hands, giving hugs, and saying, "I'm sorry".

I suggest we begin with a morning wake up call over a worldwide speaker playing, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try (nicely) sometime, you just might find you get what you need."

Monday, September 19, 2016

Best Bathroom Trip Ever

I'm up late, sitting at the kitchen bar, working on a project. The house is soundless except for the hum of the dishwasher. I should be in bed...I know, but the quiet calls to me.

And then, just like that, the peace is broken by the sound of Felicity's door opening. It's directly in my view, so I pause, waiting for a small body to come ambling out.

I walk over to see Felicity, hair completely tangled and in her face, clutching Ellie (her stuffed elephant that she can't sleep without).  "I need to go potty," she states as if it's the most normal thing in the world.

We walk together in the dark to her bathroom and I put her on the potty.  I squat down so she can lean on me. She falls into me, laying her head on my shoulder and wrapping her tiny arms around mine. She didn't pee.

We stayed like that for some time - me rubbing her back, her pulsing little fingers into my arms. And that's when it happened, right there, squatting in the bathroom next to the toilet. I became overwhelmed with gratitude for this child.

I remember crying over her in the bathroom the day I found out I was pregnant. It's not a moment or reaction I'm proud of, but it's real. I was, I thought, too old to have another child. We had a five years until retirement plan in the works. This baby was going to scratch all those plans. It was overwhelming and life altering and tears was the best I could do.

But tonight, as I held this child sitting on the toilet in the dark, different tears welled in my eyes - tears of gratitude, of joy, of admitting that God's plan is still bigger and better than mine. We weren't trying to have a baby, but God pushed the door open and I'm so glad He did.

Those tiny fingers gripping my arms, that limp body leaning on mine, that head of crazy bed hair, that moment she whispered, "I love you Mama," before she drifted off to sleep again - if that was all I got, that would be enough. But there is so much more! The fact that Mackenzie took her outside to play tonight, Max explained her joke to me, Dawson chased her after church to make sure she didn't dart into the parking lot, Aiden adores everything she does, are just a few of the many reasons God thought she might be a good idea for us.

Has it been easy? No. Has it been perfect? Hardly. Has it been good in the kind of sense that God is good ALL the time? Yes, yes, and YES! And if He can point this out to me in the wee hours of the morning, squatting on the bathroom floor, how many more good moments does He have in store?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Is the Culture Doing a Better Job at Raising Your Children than You Are?

I’m sitting by the pool while the boys are at swim team practice on a Wednesday afternoon. The radio is playing over the speakers and the team is warming up behind me. I steal a few glances at my boys cheating their way through the exercises. Push-ups? Not exactly. Sit-ups? Not even close. They laugh with their friends who are doing the same. They are only half way paying attention to the coach as he shouts commands.

Is the culture doing a better job forming my children than I am? Some days, like today, the culture wins and puts a chink in my armor and a hole in my heart. It’s hard, this battle between the culture and us. Their army is bigger and their appeal is great. And often, oh so very often, I feel in touch with Joshua and his little army. I feel tiny and weak and overwhelmed by the task ahead. And then I remember - Joshua and his little army won. In fact, they didn’t just win…they obliterated Jericho and everyone in it.

The key to this battle was not their numbers or even their strength. They won because they did what the Lord told them to do. It didn’t make much sense. Victory certainly didn’t appear to be imminent. They did it anyway.

What we are doing makes as much sense in today’s culture as marching around the city blowing horns. Having the girls get their Spring Dance dresses approved before they come to the dance? Unheard of. Making the kids call us before they watch a movie at a friend’s house? So embarrassing. Not dating until you graduate from high school? Say what?!

Our five kids range in age from 2 to 15, so we fight the culture on many different levels. The younger the child, the less the battle. Felicity’s world revolves around us. Her outside influences are limited. She trusts us completely. However, being the youngest of five and spending a lot of time with older siblings has its challenges. She knows the words to as many songs on the radio as she does to nursery rhymes. She also knows how to Dab (it’s a dance move - ask your kids to show you) and just recently noticed that Elsa has “boobies” (thanks kids). However, at the end of the day, she spends much more time with me than she does anyone else, and I can win those battles pretty easily by a talk to the older child doing the influencing (the scripture about better for a stone be tied around your neck than to lead a little one astray usually does the trick) and a little explanation to Felicity.

As they get older though, the battle becomes tougher. Their time at school and outside with friends almost equals their time with us. Technology calls to them like the sirens to Odysseus. We have made some very conscious decisions in this area. When we built our home, we decided not to run the cable lines upstairs. We do not want them to have computers or televisions anywhere that we can not witness what they are watching. We have one television and they all share one computer, both of which are downstairs in the family room, which is open to the kitchen, which is where I am the majority of the time. None of our children have a cell phone.

Let me assure you that we do not think this is the only way to fight the battle and we certainly don’t pass judgment on families who have made different choices. For us, unlimited internet access is not something we think our kids are ready for. We have not won any popularity contests with these decisions. We talk to them about how we’ve made the decision and have been afforded many opportunities to show them why.

Does this mean our kids are perfect? Nowhere close. Does this make us parents of the year? In no  universe. Does it help us fight this battle? Absolutely! Does it give us a little more time to have a stronger influence than YouTube? Most certainly. Will our children ever be allowed to have their own phones? Of course…as soon as we feel that they are ready.

We let our kids know that the decisions we make are our own, not the Community’s. They can all regurgitate our mantra that, “We don’t know what everyone else is doing; this is the Parris family rule.” That goes for everything from the way they dress, to what they listen to, to the things they watch, to the way they treat people. But even with our best efforts, we fall short. Our kids are exposed to things that aren’t pure. They sometimes show up in clothes that are not totally appropriate. They are human…and so are we. And we thank the Lord that we’ve been called to this Community life to support us to continue to fight the fight!

In the end, all parents are engaged in one of the most important battles we will ever fight. And we should fight to the death, even if we have to march around the city while blowing horns.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sweet Success

Today I was in the kitchen for eight hours. I started by making homemade rolls, moved on to banana nut muffins, and then finished with chicken potpie.

By the time our dinner guests arrived, the kitchen was sparking, the extra food was wrapped and in the freezer, the potpie was in the oven and the muffins were cooling on the stove.

We ate, they left, and I went back in for clean up.

As I was standing in the kitchen late this afternoon, I was taken back to my time in high school. I was a good student. I was also a hard-working, high stress student. It used to drive me crazy when people would remark how easy I had it, how everything just came to me. I fully acknowledge that my intelligence comes from God – a gift to be sure. But, I also spent countless hours and sleepless nights studying and working for the grades I earned. It may have looked easy, but I assure you, it was not.

That’s what happened tonight. When the guests walked in, I was relaxed and everything was ready right when it was supposed to be. It appeared, I’m sure, effortless to some extent. It took all day to make it look so.

It’s a lesson that I think is missing today. Success doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of a great deal of effort on the part of the person experiencing it. Look at any professional athlete. That quarterback’s perfect pass isn’t only raw talent; it’s the culmination of years of practice, conditioning, and plain old hard work. The teacher who blows you out of the water with his or her creative and engaging lesson didn’t just wing it. That little activity was the end product of years of studying and hours of planning and practicing.

In short, if you want to be successful, you have to work.

Too many times, we want everything to just come to us. We want to be able to lose weight, be fit, make money, and learn a trade simply by osmosis. We want it to just happen to us – for us. Every once in a blue moon, you find someone who just got something handed to him, but mostly you hear stories of struggle and loss before the biggest gains.

Mackenzie is attempting to learn guitar this year. So far, she’s discovered how burdensome it is to carry that thing back and forth from school, developed blisters on all of her fingers, looked up the chords she’s forgotten, and strummed the same notes…a lot. She may learn it faster than a few others because she’s already taken piano lessons for many years. But regardless of that experience, it’s still going to take a lot of work for her to learn to play the guitar well.

I hope she sticks with it, somewhat because I feel like we deserve to have a sing along or two after the hours of repetitive chords we’ve listened to, but mostly because of how proud of herself she will be when she plays that first song. She will appreciate how far she’s come and how much work it took to get there and that’s the sweetest success of all.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Making Memories...Again

Yesterday was day two of school for Felicity. I ordered the big kids to load up for the pool. It worked so nicely Wednesday that I was ready to do it again – whether they wanted to or not.

Since most of the world is back in school, we had the pool to ourselves for the first thirty minutes. The lifeguard let the boys get into the swim fins and off they went. Mackenzie grabbed a towel and headed for her favorite sunning spot. I started swimming.

When I finished, I was worn out so I joined Mackenzie. The boys were having the time of their lives discovering the world of fins. By this time, two other families had joined us and were a nice distraction as well.

I stretched out on the chair and just lay there quietly. It felt so indulgent…just sitting. After some much needed silence, I started a conversation with Mackenzie. We chatted about her upcoming birthday and her sweet sixteen next year. We discussed her new partner for Social and what she’d be doing as a Cotillion Club member. We watched a black and gold salamander crawl across the deck.

I don’t remember what, if anything, prompted it, but she asked me, “Mama, when you were my age, what stars did everyone love? Who did you think was cute?”

I was immediately transported back to middle school when I was head-over-heals in love with Kirk Cameron. Growing Pains was my favorite show, he was just about the right age for me and I was convinced that he was as nice a guy as his character, Mike Seaver.

Before I knew it, it was time to leave. “This has been so fun and relaxing,” I told Mackenzie. Our time together had only been about thirty minutes, but those thirty minutes felt like hours because we had slowed down and spent some quality time together. I loved, loved, loved the fact that I had just carried on a conversation with my daughter that she could have had with one of her friends.

Later in the day, as I was dwelling on what a wonderful morning it had been, I thought back to the summer before Mackenzie started Kindergarten. I signed the boys up for a summer Mother’s Day Out program because I felt my time with Mackenzie slipping away. I had a strong need to spend some one-on-one time with her.

It occurred to me that these few weeks that Felicity is in school before the big kids go back, is that same kind of opportunity. What an unexpected gift I’ve been given. Though I’ve been with the kids ALL summer, it’s been time that’s divided between watching Felicity, keeping up with the house and laundry, grocery shopping, running errands and the like.

I know that years from now, the kids will remember me like that – frantically getting meals on the table and kids out the door, constantly folding laundry and cleaning house. However, I hope and pray what they hold in their hearts is not that side of me, but the side Mackenzie got at the pool - the mama who is very interested in everything they have to say, very proud of all of their accomplishments (even how fast they can swim underwater and backwards with fins on), and very much in love with who they are.

Here’s to making more of those memories.