Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is Your Dentist's Office as Noisy as Mine?

We are usually a sight for sore eyes whenever we come. Today was no exception. Here come 3 little kids, happy as can be, and me pushing Tessa in a stroller into the dentist office. They heard us coming....the entire waiting room. I reminded my boys to use inside voices, but they couldn't hide their enthusiasm. I guess it's a good thing for kids to be so excited about seeing the dentist. Luke bolted out of his seat when the dental hygienist called him. Ella kept asking me "can I go get my teeth cleaned now?" Jaden made friends with the receptionist while waiting for his turn. Good times had by all!

When every one's teeth had been cleaned and we were checking out, the kids were over-the-top excited. They each got to pick out stickers and a prize, not to mention the new toothbrushes, toothpaste, and dental floss that were in individual goodie bags for them. Our dentist, who is a jolly fun older gentleman, is a new grandfather. He thoroughly enjoys my children. He kept spraying Luke with the water that rinses your mouth after the cleaning. Luke was hysterical. He counts their teeth wrong on purpose ("one, two, three, popcorn") and Jaden loves reminding him to practice counting for next time. Jaden was very loudly reminding him of this while Ella was begging me to open her toothpaste and Luke was showing me his new ball over and over and over! I was trying to schedule our next appointment and finally turned to my kids and said, "Shh, quiet down." I know. What took me so long? Geesh! The receptionist smiled and said to me, "but they're happy noises."

Well, that was a good little reminder for me. Too often I get worried about the sideways glances or stares in stores (generally by grumpy people, I might add). I guess I worry about what kind of a mother I may appear to me. You know the old adage "kids are to be seen and not heard." Okay, I have never adopted this...though occasionally I have wanted to. But, I tend to get a bit worried if they're having too much fun in public. I hear myself shushing them too often. I don't want people to think I can't control my children. The reality is that I can't control my children and I really don't want to!

Okay, for those of you who may be aghast and thinking me an unfit mother raising unruly children, please don't misunderstand. I do think there are times and places where children need to learn to sit quietly and speak quietly. But who are we kidding? Hasn't research proven that young children have the attention span of approximately one minute per year of age? For instance, the typical 4 year old can focus on one task for about 4 minutes, then he's done. On to the next. Insert distraction. My kids are absolutely like that. Good elementary teachers know that and are trained--gifted even--to work with children accordingly. So why would I expect my children to be quiet so often, especially when their enthusiasm (and noises) are not hurting anyone? I wouldn't bring my 4 young children into a University Library for an afternoon, but this was a dentist office for goodness sake!

This incident reminded me of another situation several days earlier involving my husband and the kids. My husband is much more relaxed about "kids being kids." He has never been the kind of Dad who comes home after work, grabs the newspaper and his slippers, and sits in the recliner...."kids don't bother Daddy right now." No, this is not my husband. He is in the thick of the craziness, chaos, and confusion that is so often our home. I regularly apologize for the craziness when we leave family events, but not my husband. He's not sorry. It's who we are as a family. We never wanted quiet, meek kids and we certainly didn't get quiet, meek kids. They're fun, energetic, creative, interesting, lively, talkative, and just plain fabulous! Okay, so back to the incident involving my husband and our kids. We all went to the grocery store. But, to make it quicker (and easier on me) we split up. I went shopping for groceries while Ron took the kids in the oh-so-clever-car-cart looking at hardware, toys, supplies for our pond, etc. As they headed off I meant to tell him something and said "oh, Ron..." to which he boisterously replied "you don't know us!" There were muffled laughs all around. When we left the store he talked the whole way home about how many comments he overheard or received from people about how much fun they were all clearly having. Older people stopped him to tell him how great it was to see a Dad with his kids enjoying themselves. A kind lady told him "it's nice to see kids in a store laughing for a change." You get the idea.

I was proud of him. I always am. He has no problem having fun with his kids and allowing them to have fun--even in public of all places! And it seems to be an older generation that truly enjoys observing this. They are relaxed, many are grandparents themselves, and have realized that it's okay for kids to have fun. It's healthy! It's refreshing! If only I could relax more often and let my kids just have fun even when it means that I might be on the receiving end of a few eye-rolls from some stuffy folks.

My kids' noises aren't always "happy" noises and I'm often the one who is fortunate enough to get to hear all of their different noises. However, I have learned a good lesson from the receptionist, the kind lady in the store, and my husband. Happy noises are most delightful! Many wise parents and grandparents have learned this along the way. As I said earlier, I generally apologize when leaving a family event. Our last visit with my parents in Cincinnati was no exception. I told my Dad, "Sorry for the chaos when we leave," to which he replied, "It's just kind of sad." I could be completely off base, but I'll venture a guess that he enjoys the noise and the chaos that accompanies me and my fabulously fun family of 6! I think he may even miss it when we leave--or at least for a few minutes! I know, as fast as the years have gone with my oldest son, that all too soon the noises will be gone. All of them. This is the one reminder Ron and I always receive from parents whose children are grown and no longer in their house. "Enjoy it. It goes so fast." So I want to do that. I want to enjoy the chaos, the clutter, the sheer craziness of it all. And mostly, I really want to enjoy and always remember the sounds of my kids and their happy noises!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Mama and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It had been "one of those days." We all have them. You know, where you can't seem to get a foothold on anything. The kids are grumpy, tired, and bickering too much. I had been there all morning. By about 10:30 I realized that the pot of coffee I so longingly brewed 2 hours earlier still sat there untouched. The only thing I had eaten was 3 bites of Ella's cream of wheat after she decided she'd rather have cereal. By 11:00 I had put 3 out of 4 children in time-out for various reasons. If I thought my baby would have played happily or just given into a nap by making her sit in time-out, I would have tried. I quickly realized that the grocery store trip I had planned was not going to happen which meant I'd have to go after my husband got home, missing out on some "family time." I felt cheated on my weekend because my husband informed me he was working Saturday, and Sunday after church I was obligingly attending the bridal shower of a future family member who doesn't even know my name. Boo hoo for me!

I really started wallowing in self-pity. What a day! What a lousy day! Then, I thought of a book I purchased for my oldest son that all of my kids enjoy, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I bought it for Jaden who has a tendency to become moody and grumpy when things don't go his way. I really wanted to help him understand that sometimes we just have rough days. As Alexander learns, "some days are like that, even in Australia." When I picked out the book I remember thinking yeah, this will be good for Jaden. He definitely needs to lighten up and enjoy the ride, even when bumpy. Hmmm...

Okay, now I get it. I bought that children's book for myself! Yep. I really needed to lighten up! True, the morning was a bit on the rocky and bumpy side. But, the day was certainly not over! I could change my attitude and my perspective. I could choose to do this. Really.

I decided to take my kids' nap time as an opportunity to refocus. Well, it hasn't been perfectly smooth; I've run up and down the stairs at least 5 or 6 times dealing with a 4 yr. old who doesn't agree with my decision to give him a nap. I still haven't eaten anything of any substance. But, I have taken some time to refocus. I put on a cd that my Dad burned for me from some old childhood records that bring back fond memories of more innocent days. I opened my Bible to a favorite Psalm. Psalm 71 is a psalm that I like to pray over my children. It never ceases to amaze me what praying for others (especially my own flesh and blood) can do for me. It changes me! It changed me today. It "lightened" my mood. This day will do just fine!

"But as for me, I will hope continually, And will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Thy righteousness, And of Thy salvation all day long; For I do not know the sum of them. I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord God; I will make mention of Thy righteousness, Thine alone. O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; And I still declare Thy wondrous deeds. And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Thy strength to this generation, Thy power to all who are to come. For Thy righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, Thou who hast done great things; O God, who is like Thee? Thou, who hast shown me many troubles and distresses, Wilt revive me again, And wilt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Mayest Thou increase my greatness, and turn to comfort me."
Psalm 71:14-21

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And she said "You just have to embrace it."

My husband and I had one quiet day at home with our 4th child before the other 3 returned from Grandma and Grandpa's. I missed my other kids and wanted them with me but Ron convinced me to let them stay one more night so we could adjust with our new sweet pea for one night before the house erupted in chaos. To say "erupted in chaos" is really putting it mildly. When Ron came home with our other 3 children I soon wished I would have had a week to adjust. Please don't misunderstand. I adore my kids. But, here we were with our amazing baby girl, Tessa Leighann, and now returning home to us were Jaden 5, Luke 3, and Ella, who was a young 2 year old. Do I need to expound? Okay, my very young and overwhelmed kids were literally falling apart. They were tired and cranky--off of their schedule; they missed their home and their stuff; they missed Mommy and Daddy; they wanted to hold, kiss, and generally smother their new sister; and they were trying to adjust to their new positions in our family. Who could blame them? It's a huge transition. Very soon, it was not just our children who felt overwhelmed.... How were we gonna do this?

Several days later a good friend stopped by after church to deliver a meal to us. Now, this is a friend for whom I have the utmost respect. At the time, she was newly pregnant with her 5th child. Her other 4 are all close in age. She is a stay-at-home mom and home schools her oldest 2 children. She makes all of it look fairly easy. I know it cannot be. Since then we've had plenty of conversations that have proven she is, in fact, human--and struggles too. Joking aside, I truly admire her. As her family waited for her in their car, she asked how we were doing. Daring question. I had to hold back tears as I answered, "I have no idea how you do this! We expected Ella to have a tough time, but they're all falling apart. I don't know how to make this work. I had no idea this would be so hard." I mean really, I had no idea! My friend, in her gentle sweetness, looked at me with that I know what you're going through kind of look and said, "You just have to embrace it." Hmmm..... "Embrace it." Thus began my adventure of learning to embrace the journey.

I've always believed, as the Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:6, that godliness with contentment is great gain. I strive to be content in my daily life. This was a brand new lesson for me. This was about really just taking a long, deep breath, considering what each day has for me, and saying "I'm okay with this." It sounds easier than it is. For instance, I like to keep a fairly clean house. I don't like to head downstairs in the morning without every bed being made. I don't like to leave my house or go to bed with any dishes in the sink or on the counter. My house is certainly not spotless~please don't show up with a magnifying glass! But, there are things I'm so particular about when it comes to my house. I always try to sweep before my in-laws visit. The irony here is that my father-in-law usually leaves his boots on, which may or may not be dirty, and afterwards I wonder why I tried so hard. So, this "embracing" means that if nothing on my so-called list is accomplished, I can be okay. If it is almost lunch time yet we have just gotten everyone dressed, hair combed, and teeth brushed, I can feel alright about that. I can adjust my expectations for each day.

One of the definitions for "embrace" in the Webster's Dictionary is "to accept readily." What a challenge for me to become a mom who accepts readily that my children will not have a perfect mom, or a perfect home!

I'm learning about this concept of embracing my life and the circumstances of my life every day. Recently I've learned how to embrace winter in Northwest Ohio, where the season can begin in October and last through half of April. No exaggeration! It's cold, gray, wet, snowy, and messy on a regular basis. This year I mentally prepared myself for winter. I knew it would be cold. I knew that every errand with the kids would be tons of work. I knew we wouldn't see the sun very often. But hey, it's winter! Turns out, there are a lot of things to like about winter. Beautiful snowfalls; cold, crisp, fresh air; snow forts and snowmen; cheesy potato soup; hot chocolate with marshmallows; an excuse to stay in pj's all day; movie nights; snowball fights; coffee with friends. And the best of all this year has been the Winter Olympics! Another good friend reminded me of the saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." I guess that was how I began embracing my winter this year. And, you know what? An amazing thing happened along the way. I have really enjoyed my entire winter! I wouldn't even mind another snowfall! Of course, it's March now and we have had a weekend of 45 degree weather (which feels like a heat wave) and nothing but sunshine. The kids were able to play outside all weekend without wearing snow mittens. We grilled two times this weekend and cracked our kitchen window for some fresh air. I'll admit that even the slightest hint of spring is delightful to me. I'm confident I will embrace it!

I doubt that I have this whole "embracing" thing figured out. But, I think I'm starting to understand. It really has changed how I look at this season in my life. My kids will only be 6, 4, 2, and 8 mos. for a very little while. Before I know it we'll be planning my baby's 1st birthday party! I'm happy to say that we have learned how to get dressed, make beds, and comb hair before breakfast. We're figuring this out together. Some days I am efficient and seem to balance many tasks. Other days, I embrace smiles, laughs, crying jags, time-outs, and sleep deprivation....and then there's my kids' behavior! I am trying to readily accept what each day has for me. This new perspective has changed a whole lot in my world. I'm forever thankful that my friend brought me dinner and that she shared her secret with me...."You just have to embrace it!"

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Much More Than a $1 Purchase

So I've been reminded lately about a great book I've read a couple times, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The radio station I listen to highlighted this book last week and it got me thinking. I've read the book and I've taken the test and I know my love language. But, do I know my husband's primary love language? And what about my children? I don't. I've thought about it occasionally. So, what did I do? Well, of course I insisted my husband get online and take the 10 minute survey as soon as he came home from work. It was, after all, very important to me. He was somewhat surprised at his results. I was delighted to finally have a solid answer. My husband is a "Physical Touch" kind of guy.....SHOCKER! Okay, not really. He's quite the groper so I kind of figured.

What about my kids? I really want to know how to love them best. I've been praying and studying their behaviors trying to figure this out. My oldest son Jaden is 6 and I've always thought he was somewhere between Words of Affirmation and Quality Time. By the way, the other two are Gifts and Acts of Service. I previously mentioned Physical Touch. So, Jaden is a very talkative, social, story-telling little guy (and I have no idea where he got any of that from). He really likes doing any kind of project with his Dad and he talks almost nonstop whenever he is in a good mood. Well, the other night I got a confirmation that both mean a whole lot to him.

Jaden had retrieved $1 from his piggy bank and decided he was going to go buy a truck with it. Of course, in Jaden's world that meant that very day after he got home from school I'd take him. Normally I would probably hesitate or reason with Jaden that we have too many other things to do so it would have to wait until the weekend. I have 3 other children younger than Jaden and we're on a fairly tight schedule in the afternoon and evening. But, I texted my husband to park in the street after work so Jaden and I could go to the store. Boy was he excited about this $1 purchase he was going to make! He explained to me the entire way to the store how he would lay his money on the counter and what he'd say to the cashier. He was really cute about the whole experience. From start to finish I enjoyed being with him and watching him. He was so proud of himself! Then, on the way from that store to another store for a small errand he talked nonstop about that experience and anything else that came across his mind. And, while it is usually difficult to hear from the front of the van to the back where he and his brother sit, Jaden has no problem speaking loudly. He tends to have volume control issues, in fact! For the first few weeks of kindergarten he was sent in the hall at the end of lunch because he wouldn't stop talking when the lights went off. He's since learned.

So, into the next store Jaden and I walked and out of nowhere he says to me, "So when you yell at me you still love me?" Okay, I'm stunned. I'm not going to deny that I have yelled at my children. Not generally at the top of my lungs. But, I yell. I struggle with this continually. It's in my blood I think. My Mom yelled and I always promised myself I wouldn't. Well, I'm still praying daily that I would speak with love, patience, and gentleness toward my children. God helps me but it's tough. Sometimes I find myself raising my voice or yelling just because there are 4 loud young children and they won't stop making noise for me to even direct them. Okay, no excuses, I sometimes yell. But, wow.... How long has he wondered this? Does he think about it often? Does he seriously worry that I might not love him? I'll admit, I expect a lot out of Jaden as my oldest. He's sensitive although you might not readily see it in him. He's actually a lot like me. He expects a lot out of himself and gets easily disappointed in himself when he feels he has done wrong or has not met someone else's expectations. He's a lot like his Mom.

See, I'm a Words of Affirmation kind of gal. I remember something my Dad said to me when I was a preteen that hit me so hard. I'm sure it was said due to frustration or circumstances beyond my Dad's control. I'm sure my emotional and nasty preteen attitude didn't help. But, the harsh words still resonate in me sometimes. Of course I have forgiven my Dad. Of course my Dad would never intentionally hurt me or anyone else for that matter. Nonetheless, sticks and stones I can handle. Words. Boy, they can hurt me. If I receive a verbal encouragement or praise I feel 10 feet tall! I can conquer the world. I can handle any circumstance, any adversity. The negative words I don't easily forget. Jaden is a lot like his Mom. Whether its the words I say or how I say them (or how loud I say them), they stick with him!

So, after our time together I realized that my suspicions were right about my son. He loves and needs the quality time; it energizes him. And, the words of affirmation are essential. The negative words I've delivered to him make it even more important for me to affirm him. I am far from a perfect mom and I'm sure all of my children will have to forgive me over and over again. But, I'm learning. And, once we learn we are responsible for that which we've learned. I cannot ignorantly love Jaden anymore. And I don't want to.