Friday, March 25, 2011

God Said "No" to Us.

Heading into the week of Spring Break, it looked like our family was about to turn a huge corner. In very similar fashion to how things progressed with my older two, mild contractions started getting harder and closer together until we decided it was time to drop the kids off at Grandma and Grandpa’s and head in to the hospital. The girls were thrilled and my younger daughter bragged that she’d prayed all day that her baby sister was going to be born today. In a surprising twist, however, all the discomfort I was enduring was not actually accomplishing anything! We got sent home! We’ve put another uncomfortable week into this waiting game, complete with waking up many times a night to sweaty, apparently unproductive, contractions. Many Tylenol PM’s later, I wonder what’s going to be left of me if I don’t get some sleep before the real thing sets in!

Despite my complaints and discomforts, this week turned out to be one of those true blessings: the gift of our unanswered prayers was a tremendous week of togetherness with the two big girls. Instead of spending it on late night feedings, sore body parts, and all the readjustments of infant care, I got to spend a week lavishing my girls with time and attention. My husband managed to take a couple of the days off, as well, making for a couple true family holidays! Many times, I’ve lamented that since they started school, I don’t get nearly enough time with my girls. I’ve resented the cost of child care over breaks, not because I don’t value the people who care for my children when I can’t, but because I hate the thought of paying someone else to do what I would so much prefer to be doing myself.

This week was such a fantastic counter-experience. Not because we went crazy and spent a million dollars on entertainment and activities, because we didn’t; we didn't even end up going to the movies, which seemed like a sure thing at the start of the week. It was all the little moments that brought us so much joy. We went to the park 3 days in a row. My older girl mastered kite flying. My younger daughter woke up and sneaked into my bed for a morning snuggle, spending more than a half hour straight talking my ear off about her friends, her fears, and her imaginings. Both girls got to spend 2 hours swimming at the community pool with Daddy, perfecting their back floats and finding out how helpful goggles are for retrieving rings off the bottom. We did a $3 shopping spree at the Dollar Tree and have played with Silly Putty A LOT since. We went to the St. Patrick’s parade and caught beads. We ate a feast of hard shell tacos at Taco Bell on 65 cent taco day and gave the backyard playset a good workout. We’re still hoping to squeeze in another swim, and some home-manicures…maybe some baking.

All week long, the girls nagged and begged for their baby sister to arrive; and I certainly shared their impatience. But, as with so many things, God knows best. I got to enjoy my daughters in such a special way. I’ll treasure it forever. We’re so excited to welcome their new sister, but this was a perfect celebration of the family we’ve been so far. And I’m so grateful God said "no" last Saturday.  We'll take a "yes" now, whenever we can get it, though.

After the stone had been rolled aside, Jesus looked up toward heaven and prayed, "Father, I thank you for answering my prayer. John 11:41

Friday, March 18, 2011

I’m trying to give up the martyr-thing.

We saw a classic rerun of Raymond last night. It was the Christmas episode, where Ray uncovers Deborah’s martyr-complex by offering to watch the kids so she can go to a movie. She turns him down and he realizes that she can’t go to a movie, or she’ll have to quit telling people how she never gets to go to movies. Unfortunately, it’s one of the most hilarious scenes from the series, because it rings so true. It does to me, anyway. From what I see on Facebook statuses, I don’t think I’m the only one.

There is not a doubt in my mind that the entry of women into the workforce effectively doubled our load, possibly more than doubled it. Some of that is biological necessity. If my husband and I could gestate and lactate on a 50/50 basis, the last ten years of my life would have been substantially altered. I’d have gotten more sleep, that’s for sure! But I’d have missed out on some of the most amazing miracles reserved for my gender, as well. During those ten years, I’ve done my share of martyring. I often joked, while enjoying the blessing of having my infant daughters at work with me, that my husband should try it for just one day; he’d probably have had me quit my job that very night. Maybe so, maybe not, but giving up wine and sushi for 9 months, getting up in the middle of the night to nurse my babies, and scheduling staff meetings during nap time is, to a large degree, the stuff I do just because I’m a woman – because I am a mother, it comes with the choice to procreate. But the fact that we owned our front-loaders for five years before I bothered to show my husband where I keep the soap and how to run them is full-on martyring. There is no biological necessity to my running every load of laundry our family dirties.

I bemoaned to my sister once that it was disgusting to unravel dried out, sweaty dress socks that had been thoughtlessly thrown into the hamper inside-out and tangled. She looked at me sideways and said, “Then why don’t you hand them to your husband, mention that it is gross, and ask him to unravel them for you.” Duh. Of course, my husband had no idea that it was even a problem for me, because I was being a martyr and complaining about my load, instead of sharing it.

We went through a two-part personal process last year that really highlighted to me my own shortcomings in this area. First, we began talking about having a third child. There is no way I could consider taking on the biological necessities of another baby, if I continued to try to brave the burden of martyrdom. Then, we started a six-week devotional study that was supposed to help us simplify our lives. The opening self-assessment was a clear call for change, as well. It’s not easy to spot all my problem areas, but I’ve been working on it. The girls are now doing small things, like emptying the dishwasher, and I’m being more diligent about making sure they clean up their own rooms and playroom. My husband’s been pitching in at least once a week to prepare dinner for us and picking up other odds and ends chores, like loading the dishwasher now and then. My older daughter learned to vacuum this month, and is my biggest helper in switching out the laundry loads and putting the towels into the cupboard. Everyone, even my younger daughter, has been taking more initiative on things that I didn’t even ask for, like noticing when the dog needs to go out and filling her water dish.

Aside from the occasionally disgruntled child, who would rather watch Martha Speaks than unload the washer, everyone has been unimaginably amenable to sharing more of the load. There is still plenty for me to do, and sometimes I get impatient, overseeing a poorly done chore when I could just as easily step in and do it right. Overall, however, our house is becoming better organized and easier to manage, and I’m finding time for some of my own important pursuits – like blogging, gestating, cooking from scratch, and even sewing vintage aprons. Keep me in your prayers that I don’t backslide on this one…

Being a martyr is overrated. Even Jesus begged for a different outcome, and his suffering was to accomplish far more than a tidy house or stain removal.

Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt down on the ground and prayed, "Father, if it is possible, don't let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don't make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want." Mark 14:35-36

Friday, March 11, 2011

Even if I knew, I wouldn’t tell you.

It is a long-storied fact that pregnancy opens your life up to the scrutiny of strangers and loved ones, alike. The clerk at Walmart that fondles your belly, the beloved family members who do conception math in their heads and insist they know exactly where and when you “did the deed.” Even if no one ever openly acknowledged your expanding waistline, you know it’s there for all to see – the very public evidence of a very private interaction.

I know that some women really enjoy the attention pregnancy brings. They will engage those variously curious strangers in long conversations about aches and pains, previous pregnancies, and all their hopes and aspirations regarding gender, naming, birthing, and sibling reactions. If you’ve gotten into one of those conversations with me, you may cry foul at what I’m about to say, because I, too, have occasionally shared one detail too many about my condition. However, in general, I loathe these exchanges.

I’m as excited as the next girl about the new family member. Despite the many aspects of my life that I consider to be fairly successful and fulfilling, there is nothing that comes close, in my mind, to the joy of being a mom, except perhaps being a wife. Talking about my daughters, telling stories about their various moments of accomplishment and hilarity, brings me great joy; if anything, I probably take more than my share of pride in my family. I am thrilled beyond measure about this little baby who’s going to be joining us soon and look forward to all those crazy moments ahead. Who will she eliminate on first? Which big sister is going to get the first smile?

But, as much as I try to be a straight shooter, there are people I want to share this experience with, and people who I just don’t. And there are things I want to share, things I will share if I get dragged into it, and things I just won’t share. We never told a single person, not even our parents or siblings, that we were expecting a girl the first time. We lied through our teeth and said we didn’t find out at the ultrasound; it was just something we wanted private, for ourselves. Over the course of three pregnancies, I’ve deflected a million name inquiries. My husband always suggests we’re considering the names of the present company, when someone asks. It’s hilarious. They get all flattered, and then realize he’s naming off everyone in the room. Fortunately, we don’t have to lie when we say we don’t know what her name will be; we are lousy at picking girl names. It always goes right down to the wire before we settle on one.  But if we did know, we still wouldn't tell you.

So if I’ve avoided or deflected your inquiries about our new addition, I hope I’ve done so with grace. I’m not trying to be mean or shut you out. I’m just not interested in bludgeoning everyone I encounter with information they do not need to know; it makes me uncomfortable, and I’m trying to keep, in my own way, this tender miracle sacred. As curious as others might be, my little family of four is about to change in a million ways, big and small. This new life is a sacred gift that belongs exclusively to my husband, my daughters, and myself right night. We’re going to welcome her, name her, embrace and assimilate her into our family; and those things are going to be all ours. Then we’ll play the “Circle of Life” in our heads and lift her up from the top of Pride Rock for everyone else to admire. I’m sorry if I’ve disregarded your input on her name and I’m sure I’ll soon disregard many of your well-intended suggestions for getting her fed or back to sleep.

When that time comes, feel free to gossip among yourselves about the limitations of our parenting, naming, or family planning, it won’t bother me. Just don’t ask me what her name is going to be in the mean time.  I hate to be a liar.

"No," the angel replied. "You don't need to know my name. And if you did, you couldn't understand it." Judges 13:18

Friday, March 4, 2011

Weigh me down with Caramel deLites and throw me in the ocean.

We got our first delivery of Girl Scout Cookies. One box each of Caramel deLites and Peanut Butter Patties. With great restraint, the girls and I put them away, unopened, to enjoy as dessert after dinner. It was hard, but we were having meatloaf, a family favorite, and planning to watch the latest episode of Survivor, so our anticipation sustained our resistance.

After dinner, each girl was allowed to choose three cookies, as did my husband and I. And they were every bit as fantastic as we remembered from last year. How does one even choose between the two supreme flavors of the universe: peanut butter and caramel? If you’re a kid, you have to. But if you’re an adult, you only have to wait until you’ve tucked the kids in for the night.

After bedtime, we indulged in a few more cookies and a nice cup of milk, watched the nightly news, and then trudged off to bed ourselves. On my way out of the living room, I noticed that we hadn’t put the cookies away and it crossed my mind that perhaps we might come out in the morning to find the tray empty, but I was sore and tired, so I did nothing about it. After all, we were expecting another couple deliveries over the week, as there are a number of Girl Scouts in the neighborhood, so we order a box or two from each of them. Plus the girls were pretty unlikely to actually consume all the cookies that were left before we could intervene.

My younger daughter woke up before everyone else in the morning, and my husband heard the telltale rattle of the cookie tray and wrapper. When I came out to breakfast, he seemed a little proud of our girl, in that, as soon as he came out into the living room, she promptly confessed to having eaten a Girl Scout Cookie. I too was impressed by her self control and honesty, and relieved that she knew better than to scarf down every cookie in sight. I hated it, though, that she felt bad for it.  I wish, I could take away the guilt she felt for eating a cookie when she knew she shouldn’t. I left a tray of open Girl Scout Cookies on the side table in the living room. My daughter showed the personal fortitude to eat just one cookie. If it had been me, I would have eaten three, at least.

I know she knew better, but I definitely knew better. Instead of considering the situation I was putting my kids in, I selfishly thought only of myself. As long as I was going to get to enjoy more cookies, I wasn’t worried about the inviting temptation I was laying out for them to stumble into. It’s not the end of the world that my kid ate a cookie without permission, but if my daughter can confess to her cookie consumption, let me confess to my lazy parenting. And my hope that I’ll do better next time. After all, the scripture promises grave consequences for leading a child to sin.

It will be terrible for people who cause even one of my little followers to sin. Those people would be better off thrown into the deepest part of the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their necks! Matthew 18:6