Posted in Encouragement, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Own your Story, Self Care, Uncategorized

My 30’s suddenly got very Expensive (and why that’s ok)

I’ve always considered myself a pretty low maintenance girl. Except for a brief stint in my teens where I refused to leave the house without curling my bangs (the need for poof was real, folks), I’ve always been pretty comfortable with a minimalist beauty routine.

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“The Bangs” (I think I was 15 here)

My skin was perfect as a teenage (much to the chagrin of some of my girlfriends). I used plain water or makeup wipe to wash my face in the evenings (if I remember to do anything at all).

A pat of Covergirl foundation, a swipe of mascara, and chapstick completed my regular makeup routine. I felt like a million bucks.

Fast forward about 15 years. The bangs are gone, thank goodness (best decision of my entire Senior year in high school).

But my minimalist beauty routine was failing me–mostly because puberty decided to catch up with me in my early 30s.

After my fourth baby was born at the end of 2014, my skin started freaking out: acne, dry patches, oily patches– my face didn’t know what to do. Thank you, postpartum hormones.

I also started noticing that my hair wasn’t as silky and smooth as it used to be.

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Not the bangs, again! Thanks postpartum hair regrowth…

So this is it, I sighed, looking at the small forest of gray hair sprouting from my temples. There were too many to pull out any more. I’m getting old.

I don’t know if it was my postpartum hormones speaking, but I started to feel ugly.
Fatigue probably had a lot to do with it too. Sleep deprivation is not kind to one’s face…or self esteem.

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Photoshop, who?  This is real life, folks.

Are Moms supposed to be beautiful? I wondered. My husband assured me that I was.  I felt mollified but not content. I didn’t know who I was when I looked in the mirror any more. I was doing what I had always done but it wasn’t working anymore.

By the time my baby reached a year old, I was tired of waiting for my “postpartum hormone” to calm down.

I had to realize the truth: my body was changing. Though I am far from “old,” I am getting older.

So, although my frugal ways and pattern of minimal beauty habits screamed against it, I decided to start spending more money on self-care.

I threw out my bottle of $14.95 face lotion (that seemed “too expensive” when I bought it) and, at age 31, I purchased a full skin care regimen–my first ever cleanser, serum, lotion, eye cream, and night cream.

It cost about six times what I had paid for that tube of drug store lotion, and I felt super guilty about the purchase. Am I just being frivolous? I wondered.

But in the days and weeks of consistently taking time to wash and moisturize my face, I saw a huge difference–the dry patches and uneven skin tone were soothed, and the adult acne settled down too.

Using a quality product for my changing skin was actually a good thing (Imagine that).

A few months later, I crossed another boundary and bought shampoo and conditioner for $10 a bottle–each. I KNOW! Talk about guilt! Especially when I normally spent $3-4 on hair care products.

I justified the purchase by telling myself, “It’s okay. You only wash your hair every other day.”
I am a busy  mom of 4, after all.

And do you know what? The expensive stuff was amazing!  My hair wasn’t losing it’s luster! I had just been using crappy shampoo for years.

I’ve slowly branched out a bit more. I bought makeup that cost more than $5.95.

I’ve decided to invest in clothes that I love and are well-made, instead of talking myself into liking a garment just because it was on sale.

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A new haircut always helps (my baby was 9 months old before I “splurged” for this chop). See my silver? I’m embracing it!

All of these changes may seem kind of shallow.

But feeling bad about myself because my skin and hair were unhealthy just made me self-conscious, and ultimately made me feel shallow because I was thinking about looks all the time.

But when I decided to embrace that my 30s are going to require a bit more money and self-care, and started using products that help my body feel its best, I actually think about myself less because I’m not so self-conscious.

Beyond even the money issue though, I had to let go of my perceptions of what it means to get older, as well as what it means to be both a mom and a woman. I had to embrace these truths:

It’s okay to take care of your face and hair.
It’s okay to spend money on yourself.
It’s okay to want to feel beautiful.
You matter.

You are a woman first, not “just a mom.”

Taking care of myself is important. I’m glad that I feel like “me” again–older yes, but when I started take the time and money to care for myself, I feel more vibrant, confident, and beautiful.

What about you?
Did your 30s get really expensive?
How has self-care changed your self-esteem?
Share your story below!

I hope that my story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?
If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in Christianity, Encouragement, grief, Kelly Clarkson, miscarriage, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Own your Story, Piece by Piece, Self Care, Uncategorized

Ladies, let’s stop aplogizing for our tears

I loved watching Kelly Clarkson sing “Piece by Piece” on American Idol earlier this month. It was a moving, emotional ballad; Kelly struggled with tears through the whole song, at times even losing her voice to tears as she pushed through to the end.

The audience—and America—wept with her, as she sang about how her father abandoned her as a child, but now that she is a mother, she knows that her children’s father will never leave their children…or her. Piece by piece, her husband’s love slowly put her heart and hope back together.

When Ryan came up to conclude the show with her, she apologized for crying over and over. “I’m really pregnant!” she laughed.

There was something profoundly familiar about her tears and her response. So often, our knee-jerk reaction as women to our own sudden tears is to say, “I’m sorry! I don’t know why I am so emotional!”
Our second response is to look for a scapegoat, usually a hormonal one:
“Stupid PMS!”
“Pregnancy hormones! They get you every time!”
We even use the hormonal excuse when there is no hormonal excuse:
“I don’t know why I am so emotional. It isn’t even that time of the month!”

We believe that our tears, sudden and uncomfortable, always need to be explained away. And if they can’t be easily excused, we make jokes about the emotional weakness of being a woman.

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I am smiling in this picture I vividly remember this day. I was going through a miscarriage and tears came unexpectedly and often.

The thing is, emotions or tears aren’t right or wrong. They simply are. It’s how we act in response to our feelings that is right or wrong.*

We shouldn’t have to apologize for feeling.
But so often, as women, we do.
I have a friend who is a passionate and vibrant person. She also cries very easily—about seeing her daughter learn and grow, about her passion to help women in our community, about the beauty in the world. Her tears and apologies flow freely.
Though I know she often is embarrassed by her strong emotions, I find her tears refreshing and honest.
Crying often expresses emotions in a way that words cannot.
It can reveal truth about our deeply felt experiences.
So instead of apologizing for our emotions,** what if we looked a little deeper and asked “Why am I crying?”

Hormones may be an easy answer but, the thing is, hormones don’t give us emotions; they simply highlight or emphasize emotions that are already there.  

Kelly’s song was deeply emotional on its own. It would have been difficult to sing even if she had not been pregnant and it had not been the final season of American Idol. Adding all that together made her performance even more impressive.  The reality is, her tears were what made the song even more beautiful, raw and relateable to listeners.

I wish she didn’t feel like she had to apologize for crying.

But if I were in her shoes, I would have done the same thing. Somehow it’s the socially acceptable thing to do as women.

It is a lot harder to simply let our tears be, without explaining them away (
It really is easier to blame our hormones, isn’t it?).

But owning our emotions is a part of embracing what it means to be a woman, a women who was created with God-given emotions, God-given hormones, and yes, even God-honored tears (Psalm 56:8).

When we stop apologizing and dismissing our tears, and start asking “Why?” about our emotional experiences, it helps us to build self-awareness. Owning our tears helps us to realize that our stories are real, valuable, and worth telling.

And when we can own our stories, we can more readily empathize with the emotional experiences of others.
We are able to “ Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”  (Romans 12:15).
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Our tears don’t need an apology or a hormonal explanation. Embracing our emotions and our tears is actually an act of love and respect. When we embrace our emotions as part of being a woman, we can more freely respect our own tears as healthy and normal.

And in loving and respecting ourselves, we can also more freely respond to the emotional needs of others with love and respect as well.

*Sadly, I often respond to my emotions with negative actions. When I choose to hurt others because I am angry or upset (or whatever), an apology is needed in order restore my relationships.

** I’ll admit, saying “I’m sorry!” is my first response when I cry unexpectedly! Instead of apologizing, here are a few suggestions for an alternative way to respond to our tears:

“Thank you for listening. I feel really emotional right now.”
“As you can see by my tears, I’m really passionate about this.”
“This always make me cry.”
“Hang on. I need a minute to collect myself.”
“I am so overwhelmingly happy!”
“This reminds me of my grandma. I miss her.”
“This makes me really sad/angry/upset/overwhelmed.”
“Darn you, Hallmark!”

Why do you think we feel the need to say “I’m sorry!” when we cry?

Why it is hard to accept our emotions, even our tearful ones?
What would we gain by accepting our tears as normal and part of “our story”?

TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know? If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in Encouragement, I don't know how you do it, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Uncategorized

STOP saying “I don’t know how you do it” …and say this instead.

I know it is supposed to be a compliment but it never fails to make me cringe. I mean, honestly, there is no good answer to this phrase, usually thrown out by older women to younger women.

It was Sunday. No matter how many time we try to prepare Benji for communion Sunday, a once a month event when the order of service changes, it always catches him off guard. Despite all our preparations, he was in a Mood from the moment we walked in the door.*

Silas did not want to go to class. He cried and clung to Aaron’s neck. Daddy sang the praises of Sunday School but our 3 year old was not buying what Daddy was selling.

I sighed, fighting the wave of anxiety that was threatening to knock me off my feet. Tears seem to hover under the surface of my emotional armor  these days.

I needed to get a pager for Eli so he could go to the nursery so I handed our sticker to the check in lady.

“Good morning!” She said cheerfully. “How are you?”
“I’m uh…pretty good.” Darn it. I probably shouldn’t lie on Sunday.
She saw me looking around at my husband, wrangling my unwilling children.
Don’t say it. I thought. Don’t say–

“I don’t know how you do it!”

She said it.

I sucked a bunch of air in my cheeks, blew it out in a huge sigh and said, “….yeeeeaaahhh.”

I usually say something cute like, “Me either!” and laugh a fake laugh, but at that moment, I had nothing.
I should have quipped, “I drink a lot” but I really didn’t have the energy for clever zingers either.

She looked up. “Are you ok?”

Yeah, I was being kind of rude. But I left my cape at home that morning and pretending I have it all together when I don’t is exhausting.
“Umm, well…two of my four kids are melting down right now and it is just really stressful.”

Honesty. Sometimes that’s “how you do it.”

I thanked her for my pager, dropped Eli off in the nursery, willed my tears to stay put, and sank thankfully into the pew for the service. *Amazingly, Benji ending up having a great Sunday!

I know that when people say “I don’t know how you do it” they mean it as a compliment.

But, really, it’s not a compliment. If it was, I would know how to respond, right?

But saying “thank you” would be weird.

Saying, “Yeah, my life is really hard” is awkward and then I would feel even more discouraged.
If I disagreed by stating “Oh, anyone could do what I do!” I’m Humble Bragging.

But the real reason I hate “I don’t know how you do it” is because it makes me feel alone.

When I hear this phrase from women whose kids are grown up I think, “It must have been easier back then. She can’t relate to my experience. My life/situation/kids are a whole new brand of Hard.”

I don’t think this is what people mean to say but that is how I feel. I don’t want to be held up on a false pedestal of Misery, or awarded a prize for “Your life is so hard I don’t even know how to relate to you.”

What I wish people would say is this:

If you want to give praise, say something praiseworthy: “You got all your kids to church this morning. I think that’s great! You are doing a wonderful job.”

If you want give encouragement, say something encouraging: “I remember when my kids were little. It’s hard. You’re going through a trying age. Keep hanging in there. I made it and so will you, dear.”

If you are in awe of the mother, say something awesome: “You rock, girl! I think you are amazing!”

If you think she needs help, tell her you are bringing over a casserole on Thursday night.

And a bottle of wine.
I don't know how you do itBecause you may not know how she’s doing it, but chances are, she probably needs a friendly word of praise, encouragement, and help, not an empty cliche.

Does “I don’t know how you do it” drive you nuts?
How do you respond?
What do you wish people would say instead?

TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Would this post encourage someone you know?
If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in Autism, kids, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Special Needs, Uncategorized

What therapy is like

It was Thursday so the mother took her son to therapy. The boy was happy and eager, willing to please, until his Speech Therapist jarred him out of his Normal.

The therapist was a good therapist and knew that in order to help the boy to grow, he needed to be stretched.

She told him that she wanted to play with the blue pieces for their game, knowing that this was the boy’s favorite color.
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And the growing pains hit, violently.

The mother watched as her son shouted, ran away, threw a chair, slammed toys, was disrespectful, and hid behind a beanbag.

The mother knew what the therapist was trying to do, but the mother’s knuckles grew white on the edge of the table and her cheeks burned.

She wondered if she should do something.

But, like always, she didn’t know what to do, just like she never knew exactly what to do when the out-of-control hit, fast and illogical.

But they were in a safe, bright room with a patient professional so the mother didn’t pull out her tired bag of tricks. She didn’t try and fail and try again. She watched and held the weight of her emotions and his too.

Then–his voice still loud and insistent, he picked up the fallen chair, sat down, and put the green pieces on the board.

The mother pressed her fingers to her lips and blinked. Blinked. Blinked. Relief mingled with joy, clinging to slippery hope, and tinged with familiar shame.

But there was no time to cry. There was never time to cry.

Ten minutes of speech therapy had passed. It was a short storm.
The hurricane on Tuesday had been the better part of an hour. She still felt raw from Tuesday and the tears she blinked away today were the uncried tears from that tantrum too.

But the mother picked the yellow pieces, straightened her shoulders under the emotional weight that pressed down, down, and they played the game.

The boy won! He was happy.

“Are you okay?” The wise and observant speech therapist asked the mother as the boy ran down the hall to Occupational Therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was next after that. It was their long therapy day. Tuesday was their short therapy day).

“I am.” She replied, “I knew what you were doing. But it…it didn’t…It is hard to watch.”

Her son was doing all the work. But watching him struggle and grow was the mother’s struggle and growth too: A grueling emotional work out.

The therapist nodded. She knew. She had been watching the mother too.

Posted in boys, Learning Disabilities, Motherhood, Reading, Uncategorized

We read Harry Potter!! (and why it’s a big deal)

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved stories. She loved them so much that she “wrote” stories before she even knew how to write (her drawing abilities were not as amazing has her story telling skills but her mother didn’t let her think otherwise).

Her mother loved stories too and she and the little girl spent hours upon hours of her childhood snuggled on the couch reading books together.

The little girl grew up and her love for stories grew up too. She decided to throw all practical thought to the wind and major in reading stories (also known as an English major) not only for one college degree, but for TWO!

Although the girl was woefully underemployed after college, she had big dreams for her future. She dreamed of sharing her love of stories with her sons, who surely would love to read just as much as she did.

Alas, this was not to be.
The little boys she birthed were very different from their mother. They did not like reading.
They did not enjoy sitting still.
Listening was hard for many, many reasons.
They were not interested in words.
They were only mildly entertained by pictures that did not move.

What they really liked to do was wrestle.

The mother felt confused, sad, and, as the years went by, she teetered on the edge of hopelessness. She wondered if she would ever be able to share the same love of stories with her children that she shared with her own mother.

It was a deep, deep desire of her heart.

One day, not very long ago, the mother stood in front of a shelf at the library.
Should I? She asked herself, her hand hovering over a book. It was one of her favorites. Maybe…maybe? Maybe this time…

She decided to keep trying.

She checked Harry Pottery and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling out from the library.

Her boys were not as eager as she was. But the mother used her magical mother-ways to convince them to read, “just one chapter.”

At the end of the chapter, her heart racing with delight, she turned to her sons and said, “Well…? Should we go on?

“Nah,” they replied and started to wrestle.

But the mother did not teeter into that pit of hopelessness. She had become strong in her years of trying. She simply put a bookmark in the book and made them sit down and read the next night. And the next. And the next.

And slowly, slowly, they asked for two chapters. Then three.

The mother felt wickedly delighted in denying their pleas, telling them “No, it’s time for bed. But we will read more tomorrow!” knowing that they were hooked.

And so the boys grew to love Harry, Ron, and “the girl.” They hated Snape and wished to turn him into a toad. They were terrified of Voldemort. (They couldn’t remember who Neville was, and referred to Malfoy as “the bully” but the mother let those details slide).

And last night, they finished the WHOLE BOOK, A WHOLE CHAPTER BOOK.

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It bears repeating: The girl who loved stories was able to share that love with her sons and they read a WHOLE BOOK TOGETHER. And the boys loved it too.

In fact, as one of her sons said, “That was amazing! And now we can read the next one.”

And the heart of the girl who loved stories was very, very full.

The End.

Posted in Mom Confessions, Motherhood, My Motherhood, Uncategorized, WAHM

3 things I love (+4 things I hate) about being a WAHM

I’m a WAHM  (work at home mom) and I’ve been teaching online for for 3.5 years.

In today’s society, being a WAHM  is supposed to be the Holy Grail of motherhood. Not only do you get to be home with your kids, but you get to make money and be a contributing member of society too. What’s not to love?

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Have internet? Will work!…even from the car (while my baby naps in his car seat!)

Well, there are a lot of things I do love about working from home, but nothing’s perfect. Working from home while mothering 4 young children has some distinct challenges too.

 

I have a love/hate relationship with working from home, but I try not to complain because I know how fortunate I am to be able to be a WAHM.

Here are three things I love:

  1. Flexibility.
    I just texted my neighbor across the street and asked her if she wanted to get together tomorrow. We planned a date with the kids at 10am and I am really looking forward to having some friend-time on a Tuesday morning. Working from home allows me this type of social flexibility. It’s great!
    I also have the flexibility to run errands, take care of household chores (like bills, etc) during the day that I wouldn’t be able to do if I had a regular 9-5.

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    I had the flexibility to going to Silas’ preschool Christmas program in the middle of the day

    The flexibility also allows me to be home when the boys are off from school for holidays and snow days, or when they are sick.

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    Snow Day Lunch

    The flexibility has also proved to be essential with all of Benji’s therapy appointments. I am grateful to be able to work from home for this reason because I know moms of kids with special needs who had to stop working just so they could keep up with their child’s therapy schedule.
     

  2. I can make money from home.
    I don’t make a lot of money as an adjunct professor (I could never support myself or my kids should, God forbid, something happen to my husband) but on the other hand, I’m able to make about a quarter of my husband’s salary, which really helps us to make a dent in our debt and do some fun family activities as well.
  3. I can be there for my kids.
    This is THE best part of working from home. I see my twins (8) off to school and am there when they get home. Besides the two mornings when Silas (3) is in preschool, I am with my boys 100% of the time. I don’t get a sitter for “work time” (sometimes I wish I could) but I do not take the blessing of being home with my children lightly.

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    I don’t want to miss this, ever.

    I’ve done various forms of child care over the years (for one semester full time day care for my twins while I finished grad school) and no solution is perfect. Despite all the hardships of being a WAHM, being home with my kids is the number one reason I keep working from home, instead of trying to get a regular (and higher paying) job. It’s worth it.

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    My “office” (and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve never been a “desk” person)

    So there are some giant pluses to working from home…but can I be honest? It’s really hard most days. Here’s why:

    1. I am constantly on the computer.
    Because I teach online, I have to be on the computer for many hours a day. When I couple these hours with my other every day tasks and hobbies I do online (paying bills, facebook, blogging, looking up recipes, research, etc), sometimes I feel like I am constantly staring at a screen. I feel addicted.
    I feel even guiltier when my one year old comes over and slams my laptop shut: Mama! Look at me!
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2. I work 7 days a week.

The blessing of flexibility means that my “down time” is spread out throughout the day, but not allowed over the weekends. Although there is an ebb and flow to my 8 week class schedule (weeks 1 and 2 are light but weeks 3-8 are HEAVY), I usually have to work every  day of the week to meet my required one-week turn around for grading assignments.

In order to balance work with parenting, I have to work Monday-Sunday.

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This is me, trying to “do it all”

In fact, before the blessed month I had off at Christmas, the first break I had from work (I did take off Thankgiving Day) was my maternity leave in March. I was so burnt out that I was one email away from quitting all together. The WAHM work pace can be brutal.

3. Everything is competing for your time and mental space.
I remember one afternoon when I was having a particularly frustrating homework time with the twins, the little boys were just waking up from their naps, and right then, a student called me and wanted to ask me a question about citations.
I had to shift gears so fast that my brain almost got whiplash.

People talk about the “work/life” balance. I try really hard to “balance” everything–allotting time for emails, housework in the morning,  grading during the boys’ naps, homework and dinner time, then more grading after the kiddos go to bed at night, etc) but in reality, it all gets muddled up together and some weeks everything is out of whack: I can’t keep up with the dishes, I yell at everyone, I am up till 11pm grading, and the emails just keep coming and coming and coming.

Everyone wants my attention: 4 children, 1 husband, 50-90 students. It’s a lot.

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Please fold me.

Not to mention the housework. Housework always gets the shaft.

4. Stress
Honestly, this is the thing I hate the most about being a WAHM. There is no getting around the stress of trying to “do it all.” Ultimately, my personal peace is often the first thing that is sacrificed.

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WAHM selfie. This is my real life, folks.

I want to be that woman who “does it all,” who juggles marriage, housework, children, and work flawlessly. The thing is, I don’t do it all well. It’s really, really hard most days, and last year, the stress slammed me hard, so hard that I didn’t think I could be the mom my kids needed me to be and work at the same time. I prayed and thought long and hard about just being a stay at home mom instead of a work at home mom.

I didn’t feel at peace about completely quitting work (I wish I did!) so I cut back instead and am not doing as many classes this semester as I’ve done in the past.

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Being a WAHM may seem like the “ideal” for today’s modern women, but it is not without distinct stress and challenges. Ultimately though, the profound blessing of being home with my kids, while still earning a small pay check, makes it worth it for me.

After all, I have to pay off my students loans somehow, right? 😉

Posted in Adult Homeschoolers Series, Autism, Education, kids, Learning Disabilities, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, public school, Uncategorized

I love my children enough not to homeschool

I was homeschooled and I loved it. My mother was passionate about homeschooling and viewed it as her chosen vocation when my siblings and I were growing up.

All my best friends were homeschooled by women who were as passionate and dedicated as my mother.

Although I don’t remember it being said in so many words, I somehow gleaned this message in my growing up years, a message about motherhood and truly loving your children.
It went something like this: Good mothers homeschool their children. If you really love your children, you will homeschool them.

After all, my mother really loved us and she really loved to homeschool. And I loved being homeschooled. It was just logical.

I loved to learn and I loved everything “school.”
My children would too.

But my twins were not like me.

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Beautiful, boundless energy (photo by Sabrena Carter Deal)

I had to bribe them to sit and listen to me read; they hated coloring, and could not care less about the “Letter O” worksheet. Trying to teach them to write their names usually ended with somebody crying. They struggled to hold scissors and were bored with clay and play dough.
Frustration and impatience ruled my days.
But I was determined. I would be a good mother. I Just needed to be more creative.

I made crafts for them, sewing, pasting, and folding unique and educational toys. But it was almost laughable how quickly they lost interest or ripped apart (usually accidentally) all my carefully planned projects.

I grew a thicker skin but deep down I doubted my abilities to teach them. So, I dug down even deeper and tried harder, harder.
But it didn’t work.
Nothing worked.
They resisted me at every turn.
I finally gave up. I reached an all-time educational low and I was so fed up that I didn’t even care: I resorted to a DVD to teach them phonics (LeapFrog Letter Factory) and what do you know? They loved it–and it worked.

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How I felt most days (photo by Sabrena Carter Deal)

All I could do was shake my head and say, “Whatever. Whatever.
But it hurt because I realized a DVD was doing a better job than I was.

The year they turned 5 I reached a terrifying crossroad: Homeschool or public school?
The pressure was crushing:

Good mothers homeschool their children.
If you want the best education for your children, you will homeschool.
If you really love your children, you would want to homeschool.

But I had tried and tried and tried to do all the right things and at the end of the day, it was just too hard. I did not want to homeschool. I tried to put on a brave, happy face but I felt like a failure.

They loved public school.  It was a good fit and we were blessed with amazing teachers.

Maybe my boys learn better from other people, I conceded.

The summer before first grade I was determined that Kindergarten would not fall out of their brains so I made them practice their new-found reading, math, and hand writing skills each day.

And most days, it was awful. Sure, we had some good moments, but overall, the frustration, head-butting, and fights over those stupid summer lessons, chip, chip, chipped away at my mother-worth.

Pretty soon, the thought that I would ever be “that mom” was  laughable. I can’t even do summer worksheets with my kids without losing my mind–homeschool?! Bahahaha!

I felt like I wasn’t enough. If I was, then I would homeschool, because that is what good, dedicated, passionate, creative mothers did. And I knew–I knew–I was all of those things but the disconnect between myself and my sons infuriated and baffled me.

The first week of first grade, my wounded soul came pouring out at a ladies church group.
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I burst into tears. It was the angst of back to school, of doubting the public school decision again, and the fact that 9/10 of my personal friends homeschooled their kids: why couldn’t I?

“I don’t feel like a good mom…because I don’t even want to homeschool!” I wiped my cheeks and shrugged. “But, I mean, really. If I homeschooled my boys, I would kill them!” A laugh bubbled out and everyone at the table joined me.

A wise, older woman–a mother, grandmother, and teacher–quickly quipped, “Well, then–there you have it. You love your kids enough not to homeschool.”
Homeschool

I laughed at her cleverness but the truth of her words shocked me. A peace slowly began to sooth that long-forged wound.

The peace grew deeper when we learned that Benji has a language processing learning disability.
Then my hindsight sharpened to 20/20 when Benji was diagnosed with high-functiong Autism and Micah with ADHD, just very recently, as they are both now in 2nd grade.

Slowly and suddenly, all our struggles from all those years just made sense.

My sons’ needs are complex, both as individuals and twins, but their needs are being met in their separate classrooms with their great teachers and support staff at their public school. Someday, our situation may change, and another schooling option may be best. But for now, public school is exactly what they need.

It’s exactly what I need.

I have finally accepted the truth:
I love my children, but I don’t need to homeschool to prove it to them…or myself.

Posted in Autism, Christianity, Learning Disabilities, life, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Special Needs, Uncategorized

How do you define patience?

“God, give me patience” is a prayer that I refuse to pray.

Why ? Because I’m not stupid.
I know if I pray for patience that God is going to give me situations that require patience, and I don’t need any more of those. 😉

But God doesn’t buy my reverse psychology. Life is complex and “situations” abound.

I used to think, “Once I get through the ‘terrible threes,’ my life will be easier” or “Someday I’ll have more patience.”

I would look at mothers of special needs kids and think, “Wow. I could never do what she does. She has the patience of a saint.” Then I would sigh wistfully, and think, I will never, ever be able to do that.

I never stopped to consider how a saint acquired such virtue.

But now I have kids with special needs and I’ll tell you the secret, though it isn’t very glamourous.

How do you become more patient? You have to be willing to suffer.

Kind of a gut check, isn’t it?

Most days, I spend a lot of energy avoiding suffering. It’s why I  made my twins use sippy cups until they were 5 and why naptime is non-negotiable for my 3 year old.
It’s why I stern-facedly warn my boys,  “DO NOT SPLASH IN THE TUB” before every bath…

…because i just don’t have the patience to deal with spilled drinks, whiny children, and flooded bathrooms.

But then there are the big things, like communication breakdowns, learning disabilities, sensory meltdowns, and Autism.

A lid, a nap, or a warning won’t “fix” these problems. They are complicated, unpredictable, and difficult. They are constant and pervasive.
And, yet, they catch me off guard, and destroy my attempts at patience at every turn.

It’s the big things that cause real suffering, for both me and my children.

I need patience, but for a long time I operated on the understanding that patience was just holding it together until I eventually snapped.

That’s it!
I’m done.
Mom is done.
Patience is DONE!

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Mary Engelbreit asked me to be the model when she drew the picture of this mother

And yet, I fervently desire the perseverance James talks about:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

I want to be mature and complete, but can I be honest? I don’t want the trial.

I want the fruit of patience (Galatians 5:22-23) but I balk against the idea of “long-suffering.”

I constantly feel my own failure. I wonder how I can even say “I love you” to my sons, when I constantly fall short of the first definition of true love: “Love is patient.” (I. Cor. 13:4).

So I stopped praying for patience (Little good it was doing anyway).
I prayed instead for other things:
I prayed that I could understand how Benji’s mind worked.
I prayed that my heart would be tender, instead of hard, toward my sons.
I prayed that I could love them unconditionally.

And slowly, a new definition of patience formed in my mind.

Patience: def. The willingness to suffer.

Simply redefining patience, (or really, coming to a true understanding Biblical patience) has helped me to step away from my own grit-your-teeth patience, and into an others-focused Love for my children.

Because, let’s face it, motherhood is full of suffering, and in many moments, there is a choice: Either I am going to suffer, or I am going to make my children suffer.

I can say, “It’s ok, honey. Just get a towel. I’ll help you clean up the milk” and absorb the suffering of the moment.

Or I can make my child suffer with my impatience by scolding, huffing, and berating his clumsiness.

With Benji, I’ve learned that when I yell, he falls apart; he can’t listen to me and he just shuts down, sometimes for a long time.

Homework is one of our constant struggles. When he gets stuck on a problem or word, he often takes his frustration out on me. He balks, throws things, breaks pencils, growls, screams, shouts “NO” repeatedly, and refuses to move forward.

It’s really hard.

I have blown up so many, many times when this happens. I lose my cool, my sanity, my patience. And then we are in a worse place, with a broken mother and son, a huge, angry wedge in our relationship, all over a subtraction problem.

But instead of manufacturing my usual “Patience Bomb” (tick, tick tick, BOOM!), I am trying to focus on him, on us, on our relationship. While I don’t let him disrespect or abuse me, I am trying a different way.

I say, “I know it’s hard. Would you like me to help you?”

Sometimes I step away, so I don’t slip into scolding and shouting.

I dig down deep, in the place where prayer resides, breathe to calm my racing heart, and tell myself, I am willing to suffer in this moment, for the sake of my son, for the sake of our relationship, for the sake of love.

There is no perseverance without the trial.
There is no Spirit-fruit without suffering.

It is the willingness to suffer that opens the gateway to that saint-like patience I so desire. And it’s worth it, because relationship is my goal, and Love is the foundation, the means, and the prize.

Posted in Autism, boys, kids, life, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Special Needs, Uncategorized, WAHM

A Day in the Life of the Meng Family

I wish there was a numeric formula for a good day. Here’s a peek into my yesterday. It wasn’t such a good day…but it was pretty Normal.

Here’s a Day in the Life of the Meng Family.

7:43. Wake up
How many times the baby woke up last night: 2
Number of children going to school today: 0
Number of showers taken: 0
Number of breakfasts served: 5
Number of Netflix shows allowed for the day: 2

Number of little brothers the twins need to watch while I posts announcements to blackboard in my bedroom: 2

Number of minutes wasted trying to unsuccessfully post a video to my classes: 12
Number of minutes I spend on Pintrest reading articles about High Functioning Autism: 18
Number of minutes it takes to post announcements: 5

Articles of clothing soaked in pee by Silas: 2
Loads of dirty laundry started: 1
Loads of clean laundry to fold: 2

9:40: The time I remember that I am supposed to write a “Day in the Life” post

Number of bounces for this baby boy: 1,000

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Eli: 1
Trashcan: 0

Number of dishes loaded into the dishwasher: 37
Number of good memories from our dinner party with 3 college girls last night: too many to count

Temperature outside: 17
Minutes it takes me to thaw the chickens’ water: 5

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One scale of 1-10, how much this counter top is driving me crazy: 11

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On a scale of 1-10, how happy does this job-well-done make me: 20

Number of texts Aaron sent me this morning: 11

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Number of items Eli pulled out from under the sink while I cleaned: See picture above

11:00
Number of children I try to convince to do a Kid Kickboxing DVD: 3
Number of children excited about said DVD: 1
Number of remotes missing: 1
Number of confessions that missing remote was thrown in the trash because it “had no batteries”: 1
Number of minutes I spend yelling at my child: 1.5
Number of minute I spend repairing the self-esteem of sad child after yelling at him: 10

Number of seconds we all enjoy doing the Kickboxing DVD: 23
Number of children screaming at each other because “he is in my space!”: 3

Number of babies wanting to nurse and nap: 1
Number of THUNKS and STOP IT’s coming from the living room while I nurse the baby: 18
Number of minutes it takes to get Eli to sleep: 7

Number of fits thrown by Benji because the DVD is “not real karate,” the jump rope won’t work” and the daily routine is out of whack: 4

Level of irritation I feel before lunch: 9/10

Number of times I apologize for snapping at Micah: 1
Number of times he “does NOT forgive me”: 1

Temperature set on the oven for chicken nuggets: 400

11: 55.

Number of minutes Eli naps before waking up again: 25
Number of minutes I nurse Eli to get him back to sleep: 9
Number of articles of clothing soaked in pee by Silas: 2 (4 if you count a hand towel and bathmat)

Level of sweetness from Benji when he asks to help me peel carrots for lunch: 10/10

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Number of lunches served: 4

Level of handsome for my husband before he goes to an interview at 1pm: 10/10

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Level of cute for me in this picture (taken by Benji): 2/10

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How much I am looking forward to naptime for both Silas and Eli: 10/10
Number of books I agree to read to Silas: 1
Number of books I really read after feeling guilty for being irritated at him about dragging his feet about going to bed: 2

1:00

Number of pages left in Silas’ book when I hear Eli wake up again: 1
Number of minutes I spend trying to unsuccessfully get Eli back to sleep: 14
Number of minutes spent on facebook, trying to regain my sanity: 10

1:23.

Number of minutes spent on the phone with Aaron after his interview as he drives home: 10
Number of minutes we spend rehashing all the good moments of the interview before he goes back to work: 30

Level of sweetness in catching Micah reading “Harold and the Purple Crayon” to Benji: 10/10

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2:00
Number of minutes spent picking up the living room: 12
Number of minutes spent watching “Worst Cooks in America: 30
Baskets of laundry folded: 3

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Number of minutes spent picking up the living room again: 10
Number of times Micah and Benji ask if their friends, coming over at 3pm, “are here yet”: 37

3:15
Number of boys playing at my house: 6
Number of tea mugs sipped by myself and my friend: 2
Number of Legos on my living room floor: 1,000,000
Number of minutes all the boys play happily together: 60

Number of fits/meltdowns Benji has in the next hour: 7
Number of times he runs out of the house without coat or shoes: 2

Temperature outside: 21

Level of patience I have for Benji: 9/10

5:15: Friends leave and Aaron comes home from work.

My level of exhaustion before dinner: 7/10
Fits thrown by Benji before dinner: 5
Level of patience I have for Benji: 4/10

Minutes I spend making dinner: 25
Number of children who say “YUCK! I DON”T WANT TO EAT THAT DINNER!”: 1
Number of children who refuse to eat dinner and would rather go to bed instead: 1
Number of children at the table who refuse to eat broccoli: 1

Number of teeth we notice Eli has coming in: 1

Number of minutes Aaron spends with Benji lying with him in bed: 15
Number of minutes I spend with Micah, who tearfully tells me that Benji is a “selfish jerk”: 60
Level of sadness at hearing him say this: 10/10
Number of times I disagree with Micah: 0
Number of times I urge Micah to pray for Benji, love Benji, and seek to understand Benji: 15

7:15
Number of baths given: 3
My level of exhaustion: 10/10
Number of stories read: 0
Number of hugs and kisses given: 8

7:48
Number of children in bed: 4
Number of minutes I try to write a blog post: 90
Number of times Eli wakes up while I try to blog: 4
Number of milliliters of Advil we give to Eli: .5
Number of blog posts published last night: 0

Number of chapters read in The Sword of Summer: 2
Level of thankfulness that tomorrow is a new day: 10/10


So, how does a day in our life compare to a day in yours?

Posted in Christianity, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Uncategorized

The Yoke of Rest

As I read through my Facebook feed on New Years Eve and New Years Day, I saw some many posts of joyful reflection and praise for 2015, and hope for the new year.

All I could think was, “Last year sucked.”

I felt like Sadness from Inside Out, lying wearily on the floor, worn out and overwhelmed.

All the worst moments from last year keep playing in my head:
Tongue Tie
Newborn exhaustion
Benji’s child study, the IEP process, and the weariness of waiting for answers
Teaching (too many) classes online—while being a mother of four, especially this summer
Potty training Silas
Benji’s Autism diagnosis
Eli’s 3 month long ear infection
Daily 3 year old tantrums
Eli’s ear tubes surgery
Emailing, work deadlines, and grading bad papers
And did I mention exhaustion? I have not gotten 6+ hours of consecutive sleep in well over a year

So often I prayed, “God, I am so weary and burdened. Give me rest; give me rest.”

After all, he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mtt 11: 28-30).

A yoke is a really challenging metaphor for the Christian life. For yoked oxen to be effective in a field, both animals need to pull in the same direction. If one pulls left, while the other walks straight, it will be an exhausting, frustrating, and often fruitless journey.

I say I love Jesus.
I say I want to walk in his ways, and I try to, daily.
And for many years, I willingly said yes to his yoke.

So I waited.
I waited for things to get easier.
But they just got different and harder.

The path of 2015 was awful. I actively resisted it, pulling away, stalling, and collapsing in exhaustion.

I was constantly shocked at every new hardship.
I threw many pity parties for myself.
I bitterly questioned God’s sovereignty
I  wondered why I was given children with special needs.
I have yet to figure out what Nehemiah meant when he wrote, “The joy of the Lord is your strength ” (Neh. 8: 10)
I wish I could say, like Paul,  “I have learned the secret of being content.” (Phil. 4:12).

Sure, at the end of the day, I walked the path with my yoke-partner, but not willingly, gracefully, joyfully, or contentedly.

When I was a child, I used to think that the yoke and burden he offers was the life of faith: Once we trust Jesus with our lives then everything will be easy, right?

Time and experience taught me, of course,that the life of faith is rarely ever easy.

As I grew older, my perspective shifted, “Well, perhaps the yoke and burden is the way that I will approach life’s difficulties. Things may get hard, but with faith, anything is possible, right? Mustard seeds and moving mountains….it’s easy, right?”
But experience has proved this idea to be false as well.

The truth is, life is difficult, overwhelming, and exhausting, and we will have many, many troubles (John 16: 33). My faith has not exempt me from sickness, financial strain, having children with special needs, or mental breakdowns.

But God has gently revealed this truth to my weary heart:

The yoke is the security of his presence and his burden is Love.
The yoke is the way he gently leads us.
Love is the easy burden: Love God, Love Others.

Love is the only thing that gives true rest.
It is the opposite of fear (1 John 4:18).

Going into 2016, I want to trust God’s love, truth and goodness more fully.
I want to share his love with my children and others more selflessly.
I want to resist the hardship of the Narrow Way less and pull with Him more.

The path is hard. Life really sucks sometimes.
But his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.
And in his love, there is honest, deep rest for my weary soul.