My husband planned an impromptu trip to the mountains last week. This was the same week we already had scheduled a weekend trip to Nashville. When my husband shared the news, I tried not to panic thinking about all of the things I had planned on accomplishing during the two days we’d unexpectedly be away. I did a pretty good job of it (or at least I faked cool with my inner thespian; remember I minored in theatre and almost found at the Tisch School of Arts). Really, I never ended up being too frazzled despite having to pack for another trip this Friday. Two trips in one week with four littles is quite the feat. This week has been another story. I keep making mental gaffes. The clutter is driving me crazy. I’m reading The Dirty Life for book club, and I remember my husband’s short-lived leave-it-all-behind fantasy of buying a chunk of land and becoming completely self-sufficient and how I thought well, maybe our big brood could handle a farm. If my husband were to bring up the thought right now, I’d probably screech, “I can’t even get my kids to put their dirty clothes in the hamper or to put their shoes in their designated shoe baskets and you think they will help us till the land?”
Maybe this is precisely why I needed some mountain air.
The weather was perfect and before too long Georgia will be enveloped in unbearable heat and humidity. I’ll take the nice days when I can.
Plus, my husband, who has recently taken up fly fishing, caught his biggest trout yet. It’s a beauty, no? My 8-year-old helped reel it in, and the other girls had a chance to “pet” the fish before my husband returned it to its watery world.
As for my baby boy, well, he’s growing up.
He probably looks ages older to any of my readers who have stuck around despite the dearth of posts. Cutting back on blogging has been a blessing overall, but I do miss all the friends I “met” in cyberspace as well as the friends who used to pop in to regularly say hi. My regular readership has shrunk dramatically. I don’t know this for sure. I stopped checking any sort of stats long ago, but I base it on the fact that my mom and good friend Kris are usually the only folks who comment. I’m okay with that. Today I was reading a new blog I love – The Hungry Runner Girl (more on running in a bit) – and discovered a “how to” blogging post that talked about how she devotes 25 hours a week to blogging, which has become an income source for her. Her blog is very popular, so I believe it. After my infamous extended breastfeeding post, my traffic exploded. That’s when the burnout really started creeping in because I felt like I couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of emails I was receiving. Sometimes I’m not sure how I had anytime to blog or be online much. My days are jam-packed, and sometimes just keeping up with email (and I get significantly less these days; most of it is from personal friends, family, or contacts related to my kids’ activities or education) is really difficult.
We’d been trucking along quite well with homeschooling, but we’ve fallen behind just a bit. However, I read a great tweet from Teaching Your Child that put my mind at ease (at least for the time being): “To homeschool or to unschool??? That is the question… Both, is a sufficient answer.” So lately we’ve been doing a little more “unschooling” than my Type A self typically allows. And you know what? Two out of four kids can still read. Oldest hasn’t forgotten how to do math. Preschooler still doesn’t recognize all her letters but whatever. Life is rich and good. (That’s exactly how I was feeling when I first drafted this post, but then it sat in my “draft” folder and I had “one of those days” and contacted the local parochial school about openings for next year. Sheesh.)
And that’s really the point of this post. Not homeschooling or blogging. Or big fish stories. Or babies growing up too quickly. It’s about living a rich, good, deep, and meaningful life. I feel like I’m doing just that right now. Our family has had a lot of death to deal with this year. I’m not going to get all maudlin on you or share all the sad details, but we’ve lost three family members (including a father of four and a teenager) and a friend of the family in the past year. It hasn’t been easy. In some ways, I’ve been detached from some of it simply because the funerals were out of town and I was unable to make two out of three of the family ones. But one of the loved ones we lost had a favorite mantra that he embraced well before his pancreatic cancer diagnosis: Every day is a gift.
This was the mantra of a brilliant man. Seriously. He was a card-carrying Mensa Member. But he found joy in the simplest of truths: Every day we are blessed with in this broken world with our broken selves is indeed a gift.
I’ve decided to start living my life like I believe this.
I started running again this past summer after a looonnnng break – like I didn’t run more than a sluggish mile here and there for almost 7ish years. I still was exercising because I enjoy it and make it a priority so I’ll be healthy and strong enough to rise up to the exhausting task of being a mom to little ones. But running? Nope. It seemed like a relic of my past that would never again be unearthed.
In my pre-mom days, I regularly logged in 30 miles a week. Running graced my body and soul with health. Then an injury happened. It wouldn’t go away. And then I got pregnant. And then I got pregnant again and…well, you know. So I decided running just wasn’t something for me. But last spring a friend invited my two older girls and me to run in a fundraising fun run for her kids’ school. I ran a mile fun run beside my girls. My then 5-year-old fell into a quick rhythm. I kept telling her she could slow down; this only made her go faster. She ended up winning first place for her age group. I was impressed. I was also invigorated. It felt great to run again even if it was just for one mile. I thought about taking up running again right then and there, but I was afraid. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid I’d be as slow as a slug when I used to be fairly fast. I was afraid it was impossible to even think about training for a big race (and that’s what I really wanted to do was to run a half marathon or maybe even a marathon again) when I was a busy wife and mom for four. So I never bought new running shoes. I continued to go on walks or listen to Jillian Michael bark orders at me during her 30-Day Shred (great, effective, and quick workouts, by the way, for busy moms). Then I met Katie. She was new to my neighborhood and a former runner, too, although she had kept up with running more than I had. Somehow it came up that I missed running and wanted to get back into it. She was excited. She wanted to run more again and was looking for a running buddy, so we made plans to meet bright and early the next week for a slow 3-miler. I owe my newfound happiness to this dear friend. I really do. She got me running and talking and believing that it was okay to do something just for myself as a mom. She also was crazy enough to get up at 5 am to meet me for 5:30 runs even in the rain. She pushes me, too. She recently was the first place female finisher in a local 5K.
Then came Rachel. Katie met her through a mutual friend. We all ran a long run one weekend and another running partnership and friendship were cemented. Rachel brought Lyndie into our herd. It’s not always the four of us running together, but sometimes it is. It depends on the day and whether or not one of our kids spent the day puking from a bug, but we’re a loyal, tight group. We stick together. We each bring our own running strengths as well as weaknesses to the pavement. We support each other, and we problem-solve. Just how do you deal with an irrational but extremely stubborn preschooler anyway?
Ever since that first (and scary) 3 miles back in the summer, I’ve been running. I do a few solo runs here and there, but mostly I’m with my girls. I’ve also been solidifying close relationships with fellow running moms. Rachel, who ran Boston in 2011, has helped me train the right way. She also hooked me up with the right gear and let me borrow her arm sleeves for race day. She invited me to run a memorial run for Boston. She makes me want to be a better runner, a better person. Katie, like I said, is the one who gave me the courage to lace up my running shoes again after a terribly long hiatus. She’s the kind of friend whom I could call in a parenthing pinch, and she’d be there (yes, she’d run to my side to help). She has even watched three of my kids, so I could find a cloister of calm at the grocery store. Lyndie is one of those women you meet who possesses a quiet strength. She’s got your back even if you don’t hear her yakking or pounding the pavement. Her peaceful presence conveys that she knows that in and with God she is enough. Lyndie and all the girls patiently listen to my rambling. I’m the big talker in the group. Running incites verbal diarrhea in me. It’s even worse than blogging. Seriously, the things that come out of my mouth.
This past Saturday I wasn’t talking much though. I was quiet and reflecting running through a total monsoon in the St. Jude’s Country Music Marathon in Nashville. This was my first big race other than a local 10K since I started running again. The weather was lousy and my feet resembled raisins after the race, but my spirits were high and I was happy with my run. I’ve got the itch again and have already signed up for another half in October with plans to run another one in December. My husband is the real one who rocked the rainy race day though. He juggled four kids in a torrential downpour. Oh, and did I mention my 57ish (not sure of his exact age) uncle ran the full marathon on Saturday? So did a mama-friend from my Bradley Birthing class I took when I was pregnant with my first, and someone I met at the Edith Stein Conference at Notre Dame back in February ran the half as well. Running brings people together.
Following the Boston bombings, my running fever heightened. It’s like the tweet that went viral said: “If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, runners are the wrong group to target.” One of the biggest Google trends after the bombings was “qualify for Boston.” I was one of those crazy hopefuls who Googled just that. Yup, I’ve added “qualify for Boston” to my bucket list. We’ll see how that goes, but a meaningful life seems to find its roots in simply attempting to try difficult things and then going to the next hard thing regardless of outcome. Cue Journey now: Don’t stop believin’. You know you’re hearing it in your head right now.
This poignant essay written in the aftermath of the Boston says it best:
When despair is overwhelming, what do we do? Go for a run. When stress is oppressive, what do we do? Go for a run. When hope is gone and all seems lost, what do we do? Go for a run.
A run can turn the worst day into the best day; it can bring us from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. I ran after September 11, I ran after the deaths of my grandparents, and I run whenever things aren’t going my way. It never fails.
If the perpetrators wanted to inflict lasting devastation, they could not have picked a worse target. Running defies destruction.
To run is to live. Running nourishes our muscles and nurtures our minds. It induces clarity of thought, vitality of physiology, and tranquility of emotion. It demands complete unity of body and spirit, it requires your legs, your lungs, your heart, your mind, but rewards all those parts too. It’s in this harmonious holism that we come to understand our true identities, our authentic selves. The universe’s uncertainty is distilled into a singularity: We exist in and of the moment. In the midst of entropy, serene bliss. In the midst of confusion, clarity. Surrounded by constraints, we are freed. Running creates.
But running is more than the antithesis of terror; it is also the antidote. Just as a vaccine implicates pestilence in its own defense, running takes pain as a template and produces something beautiful.
Terror holds no more power over running than wind over wildfire. Runners do not avoid suffering, they embrace it. Pain is merely the pathway to our potential. From the depths of agony rise meaning and purpose.
I could launch into a well-worn metaphorical analysis of how running a marathon is like natural childbirth – taking pain as a template and producing something beautiful – or how it mirrors the Christian life – how we’re not supposed to avoid suffering but to embrace it, to unite our wounds with Christ. All of this is true for me, but I’ll spare you the navel-gazing. After all, I know a lot of you probably aren’t runners. Likewise, if it seems like I’m going all OCD on running, it’s probably because I am just a little bit. But the truth is, I’ve never felt better mentally or physically. I’ve stopped weighing myself, but I’m pretty sure those last 7 to 10 pounds are still lingering, but that’s okay. I’m a nursing mama. I probably need a little extra padding. My husband has been incredibly supportive of my running renaissance. He even bought me a super-cool Garmin to help me with my training. He never really got on board with the blogging thing. He appreciated the additional income it and other writing pursuits provided when we needed it, but he felt like it sometimes drained me emotionally and resulted in me being too tethered to technology since I felt like I owed other bloggers comments and had an obligation to respond to every note, email, or comment I received in response to my own blog. His protector instinct also was wary of TMI floating around there. But running, he’s seen that it’s made me feel less lonely because of those awesome mothers and friends I’m honored to run with as well as taken some of my blues away. I didn’t even realize I was blue until those long-run endorphins starting flowing through my body again.
I am first and foremost a wife and mother. No personal record at a race will ever overshadow my greatest accomplishments: My four lovely children (and those babies I never got to hold and cuddle with on this earth). But running again has reminded me that I can have other identities, too. I can be a running mama.
Everyone is always telling me how quickly my children are going to grow up. This is true, and maybe it’s because of this truth that all of moms need to cultivate something that isn’t inextricably linked to our maternity. When those babies are all grown up and moving out, God-willing and body-willing, I can still hit the pavement with a good pair of running shoes and a couple of true friends and run. Maybe the empty nest won’t feel quite so gapingly empty then.
What is your passion? What did you do in your pre-mom days that you’d like to do again? Yes, we find ourselves through a gift of self, but this doesn’t mean we have to pull the martyr card and assume we don’t have time to nurture any talents that may or may not be related to motherhood.
So if anyone has been wondering where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to since stepping away from the online world, I’ve been getting my groove back. I’ve been pulling a Forest Gump and letting my feet take me places – some of them physical, some intellectual, and some even spiritual.
I’m not sure the future of this blog. I’ve been toying with different ideas: stop blogging completely and then on the other side of the spectrum, start writing more posts about how busy moms – especially those with several kiddos – can still make time for fitness. We’ll see. I hope some of you might stay along with me for the journey.
Now a random photo dump from the last week:
As you watch your oldest daughter walk ahead of you, you start to think about how the older she gets, the more you start seeing pieces of yourself in her. Some of the pieces are smooth and beautiful like the way she still brings you flowers just as you bring her meal after meal. But sometimes the pieces are imperfect, rough shards. And yet, your child remains lovable in your eyes. She is human, of course. Like you, she isn’t always likable, but she’s always, always deserving of love. It is this realization that makes it easier to love yourself and to remember that Christ sees the good in all of us.
She skips ahead to chase a bird. And you think of the birds in the air. “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet [the] heavenly father feeds them.” Your child is so much more valuable to God than any bird.
Later that evening you find her asleep. You see the angel in her now, and you have no doubt she is a gift from heaven.
Your children are God’s children. And so are you. You belong to God and are loved best and most by Him. God has entrusted you to raise and love your children. At times it’s daunting to have your child’s well-being placed in your care. But with God’s as your helpmate, you’re up to the task. You kiss your child on the forehead. Her eyelashes flutter, she sighs softly, and as she sleeps you whisper a prayer: “Lord, I hand my child over to you. You are her true parent and I’m only a guardian. Help me to love her the best I can when I falter (again and again), please fill in the gaps. Amen.”
I’ll be speaking about Holy Week and Easter during my monthly radio gig on Relevant Radio. Hope some of you can tune in tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. EST!
Murphy’s law of parenting: Tell someone your 3-year-old is a pretty easy 3-year-old and rarely has tantrums and that easy child will unleash her inner, barbaric beast. Said 3-year-old threw a tantrum of epic proportions during a recent Target trip. About a week later she was screaming her little head off and writhing like a skilled breakdancer busting out the worm. The amazing thing is she was managing to pull of some pretty impressive dance moves while sitting in a double jogging stroller. I’d promised to take the older girls on a short jog around the neighborhood. Little sis wanted to tag along. I knew her legs would get tired, so I wisely brought along the stroller. Sure enough, her legs grew weary. Two feet from our driveway. I plopped her in, and she said she was hungry. I’d just fed her a large school of Goldfish, so I told her she could have an apple. She didn’t want an apple. She wanted a granola bar.
“Well, then you’re not truly hungry,” I insisted.
“I’m hungry! I want a bar! I don’t want an apple! ” she screeched. (If only Eve had been as adamant with the serpent.)
“C’mon. Let’s just go,” one of her big sisters suggested.
So off we went.
Within seconds of jogging, 3-year-old started screaming that she wanted an apple.
“But,” I spluttered. How do these little people leave me so utterly flummoxed?
“I want an apple now!!!” she wailed.
I started to remind her that she hadn’t wanted an apple just a moment ago, but I know by now that reasoning with a little one who is beside herself and distraught at the cruel injustices of the world is completely futile. Yet, I continually find myself trying to reason with my children.
On we ran, two big sisters huffing and puffing, and one child screaming more loudly with every step. When the screaming didn’t work, the worm gyrating started. I felt my heart begin to race, and it wasn’t because we were running at a quick clip. I was getting angry. My jaw clenched. My hands gripped the stroller so tightly my knuckles started turning white. An older woman walked by us and stared at the explosion I call a preschooler in my stroller. When my eyes met hers, she smiled and said, “You have your hands full.” Her tone suggested I was completely insane for attempting a run with a feral beastie and not to mention two little girls jogging along beside me.
At that moment, I wanted to do everything I could to Stop. The. Screaming. Right. Away. I parallel parked the stroller on the side of the road (it’s much easier for me to park the stroller in this manner than my minivan), and I was about to scream back at my daughter and demand she stop crying about the stinkin’ apple and that she was being ridiculous and unfair to the rest of us when something softened inside of me. Maybe it was the pitiful sight of her tear-streaked face and her cheeks flushed with more anger than I was even feeling.
This was not about the apple anymore. It wasn’t even about a physical hunger anymore. My sweet, irrational, and worked-up girl was emotionally famished. Her behavior was simply asking, “Do you love me even when others stare at me with fear? Do I shame you? I don’t want an apple. I want you, your love, your acceptance, and your empathy – or at least sympathy – in the wake of these big, scary feelings.”
So I looked at my sobbing girl and met her earthy, green eyes with my own and said, “It will be okay. You’ll be okay. I know you’re hungry. I know you want an apple, but I don’t have an apple right now. I love you though. Very much.”
In my mommy dreamland, she would have instantly dammed up her tears and broken into a grateful smile. The reality is she carried on for a bit longer, but she did eventually settle down. And I had no remorse as I would have had if I had acted out of fear rather than love.
Sometimes when my children behave irrationally or when I can’t control them or get them to do what I want them to do, I respond to their behavior from a place of fear. I get angry, or I bark orders. Maybe I harden my heart when a child is tantruming instead of simply ignoring it. Kids can sense the hardening. I’m afraid that their undesirable behavior is a sign that they are spoiled or that I have failed them as a mom. Or that they are going to grow up to have no impulse control. Or that they are too much like me with my big emotions and superfluous passion. I coerce. I threaten. Sometimes I’ve just cried at the despair of it all. I have no power over these children of mine.
But being a mother is not about being powerful; it’s about doling out love even when you want to be stingy with it because you’re tired or your child is driving you absolutely bonkers. Yes, children need boundaries. They need some discipline, some guidance. However, what they really need is unconditional love. They need a safe place and safe arms to fall into when they’re overrun with emotion – however irrational.
One of my children in particular needs me to acknowledge her feelings even when they’re less than desirable feelings (like being angry at her sister for simply sharing the same air she breathes) and to affirm her. I know you can make the right choice. I know you can work through this in a loving way. And she can and often does.
Sometimes I have to say the same things to myself when I feel my jaw clenching or when I’m on the verge of unleashing what we jokingly refer to as the tsu-mommy. The tsu-mommy comes out when the clutter and messes that living with several littles brings upon our house push me over the edge. Instead of gently directing and guiding cleanup time, every once in awhile the tsu-mommy sweeps her arms across a cluttered bathroom counter or play area and sends items flying. Let it go, you say. I’m working on it. Very much. But clutter gets to me, and only one of my children is showing any signs of sharing my OCD tendencies. Argh. So I remind myself to make the right choice. Anger is not a prohibited emotion, but lashing out is. Take a few deep breaths, Mama. Let it go. Or at least try to look the other way for now. And turn all that energy into something positive. Don’t fear the messes, the tantrums, the insanity. Don’t think your kids will never learn to pick up after themselves or will always need you to micromanage every little task. Moms of littles micromanage. It irks them, exhausts them. Then – and I’m only imagining here since my oldest is a mere 8 years – these same parents miss being so involved. All of a sudden they’re just consultants who are sometimes rarely consulted. Sigh.
Nearly every choice I make as a parent comes out of either a place of fear or love. I can be afraid I am failing my children, my family, everyone around me. When people let me down, when I can’t control my kids’ behavior, when I can’t protect them from bad things or even from themselves, I can be crippled with fear that I suck so badly I can’t do anything right or that my kids are personally trying to make my life more difficult because I haven’t lived up to their expectations. I can allow this fear to turn me into something rigid and cold or into someone who self-destructs. Why even bother since I keep getting things wrong? But tantrums are not proof your inferiority of a parent. Neither is any type of difficult behavior. They’re not proof of anything except that your children are children, young children who are trying to figure things out just like you are. Perfect love casts out all fear. My love may not be perfect yet but each time I choose love in the mothering trenches, each time I show a little compassion to a tired, hungry, distraught, and screeching child, I feel the fear waning and the connection between my child and me strengthening.