Posted on May 23rd, 2012 2 comments
There is a little tree on the side of our yard that I love. Its branches are high enough to walk under, but low enough to reach up and touch (or lift a child to touch). It stands about the size of our one-story home, so it fits well in our yard. Its leaves are a deep, bright green, and it has lots and lots of branches that mushroom out into an almost perfect dome. It is a fantastic tree to anchor a game of ring-around-the-rosy. It’s just a great tree!
This spring, the tree didn’t bud. All the trees in our neighborhood were in bloom or at least on their way, but my little tree buddy’s branches were stark and lifeless. We rent, so my husband mentioned it to the property owners who asked their gardener, a mutual friend, to check it out. He came out a week or two later and declared it alive and about to bud. Sure enough, leaves have now appeared everywhere and are on their way to maturity.
In passing, the gardener mentioned that it was sort-of an ugly tree! Our friend knows far more about plants than we do. I’ve seen his work; he has a green thumb and a great eye for natural beauty. We, on the other hand, are not landscaping people. I have a hard time telling which plants in our yard are weeds and which were intentionally planted by the former owners. I’m guessing most people who know anything about trees might find themselves sharing the gardener’s opinion. I’m fascinated that the tree could be something of such great worth to one person and of such low value to another. I guess it all depends on the rubrics we use to measure worth.
Ultimately, it’s just a tree. Its success as a tree isn’t swayed by either the gardener’s opinions or my own. The same idea applies to people, though. I wonder how many people I have mentally marginalized because they’ve struck me as unpretty trees. I’m not one to be intentionally cruel, but there are plenty of people that it’s just easier to pass by: that relative who always has something negative to say… the coworker who is so difficult to be around… that young adult who doesn’t say much and is hard to engage. They are someone’s beautiful trees, in this realm or the next. Perhaps, with the right eyes, they could be mine.
Posted on May 15th, 2012 8 comments
To My Daughter
Dear daughter in the future,
You may be a mom someday. (No pressure on this. That may not be God’s plan for you. I am very glad that you have examples in the strong, nurturing, loving people around you who are not parents.) But I am a mom, and you may be a mom, and I’m writing you this for someday, if.
Right now, that “if” is twenty years away, more or less. In twenty years, I think I won’t remember as much about day-to-day life parenting preschoolers. It’s like each memory is a rugged little rock I’m adding to a velvet pouch. After rolling around in my bag for twenty years, they’ll be smooth, weathered treasures. I’ll be able to pull on the drawstring and pour them into my hand, hold their cool beauty and remember. But they won’t be quite the same as they are now, before they knock against each other and the sharp edges turn to dust at the bottom of the bag. So I’m telling you now, when you are our spunky tutu-clad cherub spinning across the living room.
We aren’t very far into our parenting journey, but we’ve learned a lot along the way. Here is what I’d like you to know:
1. When you’re expecting, you’ll probably read a lot and research a lot. After all that work, you’ll feel pretty good about the decisions you make for your child. Wait until you’ve had two or more kids before judging other people’s decisions. After you’ve seen how different and challenging each baby can be, you won’t feel much like judging anymore. (Two examples: I thought I’d never introduce pacifiers until you ended up being a colicky baby, and I thought I’d always breastfeed until I got sick when your brother was born.)
2. The secret truth is that none of us actually has this parenting thing all figured out. Find mom friends you can shrug shoulders with and link arms with, and forge on together.
3. Memorize this phrase and repeat it constantly: “I am not going to feel guilty about ______.” Guilt steals joy. Do your best, love your kids, and choose joy over guilt.
4. The best parking spot is not the closest one to the store; it’s the closest one to the shopping-cart return. (Do they still have those twenty years into the future?)
5. Be OK with being imperfect. I used to think that embracing my imperfections meant making excuses for them and enabling them. I thought chiding and guilting myself was the way to break habits. It turns out that I’m much more successful at bettering myself when I’m being nice to me. (A corollary to that one: don’t wait until the house is perfect to have friends over.)
6. The first few months are insanity. Everyone will ask how you’re doing and you’ll say “great” and you’ll mean it, because you will have the most amazing baby. But life will also be a crazy sleep-deprived cryfest. Expect amazement. Expect greatness. Expect insanity.
7. You will feel like nothing is getting done, especially the first few months after a new baby comes. You are actually doing AMAZING things. You are learning how to parent a very tiny individual. You are learning a new language. You are bonding with your newest family member. You are recovering. Unfortunately those things are hard to remember when the dishes are piling up in the sink and you haven’t washed your hair in two days. At the end of the day, try to name three or four things you did successfully (took a shower, folded a load of laundry, etc). It helps to frame the day.
8. Your kids will want every moment of your time. You won’t be able to give it. You will feel guilty. (See #3.) Be intentional about giving what you can. If you’re having a busy day, carve out a little time throughout the day for a puzzle or a story or a quick ring-around-the-rosy.
9. You will have to say things over and over again. It will be annoying sometimes. Be intentional about repeating the truly important stuff. Tell them you love them over and over and over. Remind them that they are beautiful and strong and kind and you would love them even if they weren’t. Remind them that they are treasures to you. Remind them that they are treasures to God.
10. One of the very best parts of parenting is watching your child sleep. Before you have kids, you may read this and nod your head and think “I can see how that would be awesome.” It’s even better than awesome. Just wait.
Ok. That’s what I’ve got so far. You keep us from ever feeling like we’re experts, but I love learning with you and from you. You’re amazing now, and I know you will be even more amazing by the time you grow up and read this.
All my love,
Posted on May 6th, 2012 3 comments
Today’s run was hard.
First, I psyched myself out. The training for today called for running two shorter intervals and two intervals that were twice as long as I’d run previously (three minutes – not very long at all, unless you happen to be a non-runner starting a running program). Also, on the advice of a more experienced runner, I decided to run outside today. I really struggled with pacing. Without the crutch of a mechanically-set treadmill, my body naturally matched the fast-paced tempo of my music. After my first short run interval, I was already feeling winded, so by the time I got to the first “long” run I really struggled.
I ran straight in one direction, crossed the street halfway through and came back on the other side of the street. I’ve never quit a training session on the treadmill, but there is comfort in knowing that if I had to, I could. As the blocks passed, I realized that if I collapsed into a puddle of quivering sweat in the middle of my run, it would be a long crawl home. On the plus side, the second half of my session was easier since I was physically coming closer and closer to the finish.
At one point during a running interval, I approached a corner at the same time as a little blonde girl on a bike. She was on the sidewalk and her dad was riding next to her in the street. I slowed down and jogged in place to let her pass (which, by the way, seems a very runner-like thing to do, but I couldn’t really think about that because I was busy willing my legs to keep moving). Instead of passing, she stopped directly in my path, put her foot down and gave me an open-mouthed smile, her tongue pressing at the back of her top teeth. Her dad laughed apologetically as I circled around her and kept going.
After I’d passed them, it all clicked –the absence of training wheels, her dad trailing along, the back-and-forth shimmy of the handlebars as she stopped. This is a kid who had just learned to ride. She has worked and wobbled and now, she is a bike rider.
I’m realizing I need to draw a distinction between what I have done and what I am able to do. I got intimidated by the fact that this run was twice as long as I’d previously run, but I was capable of running it. It was double my previous accomplishments, but it wasn’t double my capabilities. My life is not static like a dusty record board etched with names on a gym wall. In slow, small ways, my abilities increase.
She rides a bike.
And I run.
Posted on May 3rd, 2012 4 comments
My daughter stared, crestfallen, at her broken teacup. Her friend was visiting, and she’d asked me to let them play with her porcelain tea set, so I took down from the high shelf in her room. They had played wonderfully together until, in a moment of impulsivity, a tiny hand banged it against the table. The delicate gold-rimmed cup cracked into jagged-edged halves.
As I searched for shards and tissues, I had a bit of mom remorse, thinking I should’ve suggested the plastic set instead, and reconsidering whether a three-year-old should have something so fragile. A couple days later, when the super glue had dried, my daughter handled her tea cups with a new reverence. Little by little, she is learning to take good care of what is precious to her. That’s a lesson she wouldn’t have learned with her plastic set.
I know the tea party phase will pass all too quickly, and soon she will be busy flirting and texting (or rolling her eyes at her lame mom who still thinks texting is the big thing). I already worry about those tough years. I’m encouraged, though, by the character of the middle school and high school kids I know.
In my pre-mom days, I got the chance to volunteer as a chaperone on youth events at our church. On one trip, our group had stopped at the café in a grocery store for a quick meal, and on the way in, some of the girls noticed a cute boy working outside the store. Unfortunately, one of the girls got a nosebleed in the middle of our meal. She went to the bathroom and tried to get it to stop without success, so she sat, embarrassed, trying to look discreet while holding a napkin up to her nose.
Soon it was time to leave. It was a mortifying situation for a preteen – walking by a cute boy with blood running from one’s nose. She had friends who loved her, though. The rest of the girls grabbed napkins and crumpled them up to their noses, too. My favorite photo of youth ministry was taken that day: our cute girls, trendy boots and tennies crunching the snow, walking toward the car in a wide row. Even with their faces half-hidden by napkins, it’s obvious that they are laughing.
This could have been a story about a cute boy. I wouldn’t have remembered it. Instead, it’s the story about the type of friend I hope my daughter has one day, and the type of friend I hope my daughter is one day – the kind who remembers that we take good care of what is precious to us.
Sometimes, that looks like a preschooler holding her teacups with deliberate gentleness. Sometimes, that looks like twelve-year-olds holding napkins to their noses with loving abandon. People-treasures or moment-treasures or thing-treasures – our love is shown in how we handle the things we hold.