April 19, 2018

Why I'll Keep Doing Things For My Kids That They Can Do For Themselves

A few mornings ago, I made pancakes for my high school freshman.

The night before, she'd asked me, “I was wondering—and it’s totally fine if you say no—but I was wondering if maybe you could make me oatmeal pancakes for breakfast tomorrow?”

I could. And I did.

Of course she could have made her own breakfast. She does, in fact, make her own breakfast other mornings when I can’t and don’t.

She didn’t actually need me to make her breakfast that day, but doing it for her smoothed out the edges of a morning that was headed toward rough.

And after I made those pancakes, I also packed her a lunch and threw in a load of her dance laundry.

I did some things for her that she can do for herself.
I made life a little easier for her.

I babied her.

And I know I’m not “supposed” to do these things. I know I’m supposed to teach my kids to fend for themselves, to be independent, and, most of all, not to need me anymore.

But here's why I'll keep doing these things for them, while I still have the chance...


**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

April 11, 2018

I'm a Girl Mom, She's a Boy Mom...Here's What We Love About Both

Awhile back, my friend Julie wrote a guest post called “You Might Be a Home Schooler If…” for this blog. I couldn’t write that post, because I’m not a home schooler.

I also can’t write a post about being a mom of boys, because I’m not one of those, either. But Julie can, because she is. So she did.

What I can write about is being a mom of girls. So that’s what I’ve done.

This isn’t about stereotyping or labeling or pigeonholing kids based on their gender. We’re not trying to say all boys do this or all girls do that. We’re just saying that this is what life with boys and life with girls looks like for us, respectively. And, for that matter, respectfully.

Whether you’re a mom of boys or a mom of girls or mom of a mixed company, here’s what Julie and I think you might love about it as much as we do.

Julie’s View: 10 Things I Love About Having Boys

I have two boys, ages 17 and 15. We didn’t find out the gender of either while I was pregnant, and when I was pregnant with the younger, I was really hoping for another boy. I already had all the toys and clothes, and I knew they’d be great friends. Many people asked me if I wanted a girl after having two boys, but I never did. Even though boys can be gross and messy and weird, I love having them. Here’s just a few of the many reasons why:

1. They get each other’s jokes. They have many “inside” jokes, and they laugh together all the time. They won’t share most of these jokes with me, and that’s ok, because I probably don’t want to know.

2. They like to ride quads and dirt bikes. This should probably scare me, and sometimes it makes me nervous. But for some reason, not much brings a smile to my face like seeing them ride off down the field on their quads.

3. They treat me like a lady. Their father taught them early on to hold the door for me, and to thank me after each meal I’ve prepared for them. I love watching them become gentlemen.

4. They’re tough but tender. They are becoming strong, but at the same time, they hug me when I’m crying, they tell me they love me when I least expect it, and they help me if ever I’m in trouble.

5. They’re best friends. They’re close in age and they’re home schooled, so they’re stuck with each other all day. And even though they’re total opposites, they really seem to enjoy each other.

6. They adore their dad. There’s something about boys and their dads. They listen to him more closely, obey him more quickly, and definitely prefer him over me. Oh well, I’m glad it’s that way. At least they still want me when they’re sick.

7. I can make them do things. I can claim they need to take out the garbage and walk the dog, because I’m busy inside cooking and cleaning.

8. They can pee outside. Actually, I’m just jealous. I gotta go all the way back in the house. What a time waster. My youngest will even pee outside the living room door while watching TV so he doesn’t have to take 20 steps to the bathroom and then wash his hands. What a life!

9. I like to see them turning into men. Their voices change and they start noticing girls. I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but it’s fun to watch anyway.

10. They’re less expensive than girls. No barrettes, tights, dresses, or makeup. However, as I think about my ever-growing grocery bill, I wonder how it will all add up in the long run. I do love watching them inhale food and seeing their healthy appetites.

I’m sure if I had become the mother of two girls, I’d be loving that just as much. But not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for my two boys.

Elizabeth’s View: 10 Things I Love About Having Girls

Ours is a house of estrogen. My husband carries on valiantly as the token male in the middle of our feminine frenzy: two teen girls and me, a woman who cannot under any circumstances be described as "even keeled."

When you are a mom of only daughters and no sons, you get used to being asked when you’re going to try for a boy. I got so used to this, in fact, that I came up with a stock answer: “Actually, we’re going to try for a goldfish instead.”

I love having daughters. For one thing, if I’m trying on a dress, and I’m not sure whether it makes me look stunning or like a candidate for a “What Not to Wear” reunion episode, I consult my girls, and they give me the truth straight away.

I also love these other joys of an all-girl roster:

1. They notice the cute. When my second daughter was born, a friend (mom of two boys, no girls) came by with a gift. She’d packaged it adorably, and she handed it to my older daughter to open on behalf of her freshly-minted sibling. Big sister took the package and immediately exclaimed, “What a cute gift bag!” My friend said, “Oh. My. Word. That is such a girl thing. My boys would never have noticed the bag.”

2. Clothes sharing rocks.

3. They do each other’s hair. I don’t do hair. It’s too much like crafting, which I also don’t do. But when my older daughter is home from college, the Sisters Salon is in full swing around here. I contribute my limited talents by rounding up ever-elusive bobby pins. (My girls don’t call me “Sleuth Mom” for no reason.)

4. They watch movies with each other and with me. Finally, I have someone who will hunker down for my all-time favorite movie—Sense and Sensibility—without acting like they’re being tortured.

5. They’re neat, clean, and organized. My girls will sometimes spend their free time revamping their dresser drawers. Also, our toilet seats are always down. (Their father, while not a fan of the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility, did come to us well-trained in lavatory etiquette by his mother.)

6. I’ve never had to know about Thomas the Train, Legos, or Minecraft. Of course I know lots of girls are fans of these things. But mine aren’t. We have hair ties and “Dance Moms” instead.

7. I might get to be the mother-of-the-bride someday.

8. I understand their “stuff.” Shower gel that smells so good, it makes you want to eat your elbow. Tank tops. Cute polka-dot water bottles. EOS egg-shaped lip balm. I get these staples of girldom. Which is why I felt a little out of my element last year when I was staring down the football paraphernalia at Walmart. My girls needed black under-eye goo for a dance recital routine. (They were writing something on their arms, and it needed to come off easily.) I found the required item and was comforted by its familiar lipstick-esque dispenser. I was also really, really grateful to realize I’d never have to buy one of the other, er, “products” in that display. Ewww.

9. I understand their other “stuff.” Hormones and crying and mood swings, oh my. I know, sweetie. I know.

10. They’re built-in friends. I mean, yes, sometimes they treat each other like they’re living out War and Peace with all the war and none of the peace. But mostly, I love to see my girls’ genuine love and concern and affection for each other. I think they just might be buying the mom wisdom I’ve preached their whole lives: “your friends will come and go, but your sister will always be your sister.” (See also, “LOVE EACH OTHER! DO IT! DO IT RIGHT NOW!”)

I’m completely crazy about these sweet girls of mine. God knew what He was doing when He made me a mom of only girls. Sometimes, though, I do think about the baby we lost between our daughters in a miscarriage so early we couldn’t have found out the gender even if we’d wanted to. I have no way of knowing this, of course, but when I walk into heaven, if I’m greeted by a little guy who calls me “mom,” well, that will be so sweet, too.

**This post in its original form appeared on Her View From Home. It may have been shared at some of these blog parties.**

April 2, 2018

If I Had Motherhood To Do Over, I'd Still Do These Five Things

The following is a short list of my mistakes as a mom just with my first (a.k.a., "learner") child.
  • High-pressure potty training. 
  • Starting her in kindergarten and ballet and church kids' club all in the same week.
  • That accidental half sumo wrestler/half alien hula girl birthday cake.
  • Letting her sign on for a killer academic and extracurricular load her sophomore year in high school just because we knew she'd be able to handle it.
  • Not having her take a math class the semester before she took the SAT.
  • All the yelling. (Mine.)
  • All the meltdowns. (Also mine.) 
The thing is that when you are a new mom (and that means "new" at every stage), everything seems to matter. And it seems to matter a lot. In fact, the mattering seems to start even before you have the child who will make you a mom in the first place. It matters what doctor or midwife you choose. Then it matters what detergent you buy to prewash your baby clothes. Then it matters where you give birth and how you give birth and what baby-wearing device you have and, eventually, if you should send your child to preschool and, if you should, which preschool, and on it goes. 

I know, because I worried about these things, too. But the blessing of being a mom with some mileage on her is that you have the keen perspective of hindsight. The older your children get, the more you're able to see how the story you've been writing turns out.

I'd be so grateful if you took a moment to head over to Simple As That to read the rest of this post. With a bunch of years behind me and my (mostly) delightful teenage children in front of me, there are five things that truly seem to have mattered...things that, unlike that hula girl cake, I'd do again.


**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

March 13, 2018

10 Graduation Party Ideas That Actually Worked In Real Life

It's been a little less than a year since my firstborn's high school graduation party, and now that we've managed to clear all the leftover meatballs out of the freezer, I think I can finally talk about it.

Of course, you don't need this post to find graduation party ideas. Pinterest is crazed with them. But if a graduation party is in your future and you want some practical ideas that have been road-tested and grad-approved, here's what worked for us.

1. Remembering the point of the party. 

I'm a mom who freaks out about everything. I'm especially notorious for doing this when we're hosting people at our house. So my family's skepticism that I would be able to pull off an event for a couple hundred people without totally losing it was understandable. 

But I knew that no matter what else happened--if we had torrential rain the day of the party or no one came or everyone came or 300 cupcakes fell over en route to the dessert table or whatever--the only thing that could really ruin the party for my daughter was me. 

If I freaked out as usual and made everyone miserable for weeks or months ahead of time, or if I freaked out the day of the party and made everyone miserable for hours ahead of time, that misery would be all my graduate would remember. So I prayed over and over again that God would help me keep the main thing the main thing: whatever went right or wrong, if, at the end of the day, my daughter was honestly able to say that she felt loved and celebrated and cherished (which she very much deserved to feel), the party would be a success. 

I reminded myself of this when a March wind storm took off most of the shingles on the barn where we were having the party. I reminded myself of this when the roofing crew said they would "do their best" to get the barn roof fixed before the party…and their best was not nearly good enough. 

I reminded myself of this when I was trying to figure out how we could have a party in the half of the barn that would not be wet if it rained the day of the event. I reminded myself of this when our pump went out while I was attempting to power wash our trampoline in case young party guests wanted to play on it. I reminded myself of this when ants got into some of the lemon meringue cupcakes I had so carefully blowtorched the morning of the big day. 

Having an overarching goal in mind through all the months leading up to the party helped me to be uncharacteristically calm(ish) about things that normally would have sent me over the edge. My own mom, who knows me better than anyone else, said several times, "I'm so proud of how you're handling all this." That meant so much to me, not only because it told me I was getting something right, but also because you really just never get too old to want your mama to be proud of you.

2. Weatherproofing. 
We planned to have our party in our 100-year-old barn. While that came with some challenges (see #1, above), staging our soiree in a sheltered, protected spot lessened my worry about weather. An outdoor event with open-air tents is lovely if the weather is dry and sunny and not too hot or too windy or too cool. But I didn't want to play those odds, and I figured that if the weather ended up being spectacular, people could always wander outside. 

3. Lemonade trio. 

Otherwise known as "streamlining the beverage options." I didn't have the energy to round up 17 kinds of pop (soda to some of y'all), but I did want to offer more than just bottles of water. We decided to make a couple beverage coolers' worth of basic lemonade from a good-quality mix, with lots of fresh lemons added to it, and then flavor it three ways. I bought a trio of Mason-jar type beverage dispensers and loaded one up with plain lemonade, one with strawberry lemonade, and one with blackberry lemonade. The ease-factor was that we used flavored syrups added directly to the glass dispensers so we didn't have to try to guess ahead of time which flavor of lemonade would be the most popular. (Spoiler alert: it was the blackberry.) We had our lemonade three ways and a giant tub of bottles of water in two different sizes, and that was it. Options...but not so many that people were overwhelmed and just gave up and were thirsty.

4. Memory clothesline. 
My absolute favorite element of our party (other than my graduate and our guests, of course). We strung a length of clothesline rope across one corner of our barn and used it to display my daughter's life as told by clothing. The first item was the first outfit I bought my daughter once I knew she was a she. The last item on the clothesline was a t-shirt from her future university alma mater. In between, we hung her favorite dance costume and her marching band uniform and her prom dress and her graduation gown. We used regular clothespins to hang the clothing items, but I wrote captions describing each item on special clothespins with little chalkboard labels attached that I found at the craft store. Even guests of guests who didn't know our grad very well were able to see who she was and what she loved by "reading" this visual story.

5. Divided plates. 

I didn't want my baked beans co-mingling with my fruit salad, and I didn't think our guests would, either. We spent the money on some slightly more expensive, heavy-duty, three-section plates and didn't regret a penny of it.

6. FAQ cards. 
I knew from past parties I'd been to that the graduate usually spends a lot of time answering the same questions over and over. I understand this: guests want to know what's going on. But I wanted my daughter to be able to use her limited time with friends and family to interact more meaningfully with them and to be able to ask about their lives. So I created "FAQs About the Grad" cards and scattered them around on tables where guests would be eating. The cards answered the questions most grads get, plus a couple that were specific to our girl: 
  • Is she going to college?
  • Does she know what she's going to major in?
  • What is she going to do with her life?
  • Will she keep playing her clarinet?
  • Will she keep dancing?

7. Friends on duty. 

Leading up to the big day, I delusionally thought I'd be able to greet and converse with guests in a relaxed manner and refill the meatballs and realize when the trash needed to be taken out. (I did say I was delusional.) Fortunately, I had a wise friend who knew better. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was taking over those kinds of tasks and that it was my job just to be the mother of the graduate. She's a dear friend of our family who can talk to anyone, but she was also free to do all those housekeeping duties. She ran around like a maniac for the entire party, and I have absolutely no idea how we would've done it without her. (I'm on deck to do the same thing for her kids, by the way.) I also have no idea how we would have pulled off the party without the help of my parents and my in-laws and several other friends and family members. If you are reading this and you are one of those people, thank you. Also, THANK YOU!!

8. Graduation hat cupcakes. 

My daughter opted for a cupcake buffet instead of a full-on cake, and these edible mortarboards were the centerpiece of the display. Any flavor of cupcakes and any color of frosting works, along with upside-down mini peanut-butter cups, chocolate-covered graham crackers, and fruit-leather tassels. An assembly line made up of my girls and my sister and her kid-crew (visiting from out-of-state for the occasion, THANK GOD) proved the truth of the adage, "Many hands make light work."

9. Parking on purpose (and a repurpose). 

As a guest, I'm always stressed when I go to graduation parties and don't understand where I'm supposed to park. We wanted to make our guests feel welcome and relaxed from the start, so we tried to make it clear both where the party was and where they were supposed to park once they got here. We mowed down some of our back field, and my daughter painted sections of a dismantled picket fence--with the perfect arrow shape for directional assistance--for signs that pointed guests to our house from the main road and to our "parking lots" once they turned in.

10. Card collection minus the frustration factor.

Not long before our celebratory shindig, I helped cater another grad party and observed many guests awkwardly trying to maneuver their cards through a narrow slot in one of those graduation-hat card collectors. We went with ease and accessibility and set out a wooden bin with a chalkboard label that fit with the rest of our decor AND gave my daughter something she could use afterwards. Our guests tossed their cards in and moved on to more important matters...like the cupcake buffet. (See #8, above.)

At the end of the night, when all those leftover meatballs had been packaged and stashed in the freezer, I asked our girl how she felt. She said, "I feel loved and happy." And that's when I knew our party had been a success and that we'd given our sweet graduate a gift she'd remember forever.

Are you a grad-party veteran yourself? What real-life ideas would you add to this list? 
Or, if you're planning your own bash and have a question you'd like answered by a craft-deficient, Pinterest-intimidated control freak, feel free to ask away in a comment or on my Facebook page
And about those meatballs: here's the famous family recipe that got our whole party started.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *
Previous post that has something to do with this one: "Things You Think When You Are the Parent of a High School Senior."

This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.

March 7, 2018

I Wash Hoodies Instead of Onesies Now, But My Babies Still Need Me

I don't remember the last time I washed a onesie.

I gather that "last" was supposed to be a maternal milestone I watched out for and gave its due. But I imagine I didn't realize I was doing it at the time and so didn't pay too much attention to it until I was packing up a few of my girls' most treasured pieces of baby clothing that I couldn't quite bear to part with and storing them away for "someday."

Now, as a mom of older daughters, I wash dance leotards and college t-shirts and skinny jeans and "that gray shirt with the crocheted part on it that I want to wear next Wednesday" and sweaters in gorgeous shades of blush and dusty rose that I ask to borrow for myself.

And yet, they are still my babies.

They still need things only I can give.

I'm grateful for the chance to share this piece of my mom story over on Her View From Home, and I'd love to have you take the trip over there to read the rest of what I promise is a very short post...

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

March 2, 2018

I'm So Grateful My Children Are Growing Up

My high school freshman band student brought her long black concert dress home a few weeks ago, and I told her to try it on because it was clearly too long and needed to be hemmed.

Except that when she did try it on, it was exactly the right length. In my mind, she was still that little girl of a few years ago. My head and heart haven't quite caught up with the lovely young woman my baby has become, the one who’s almost as tall as I am.

And yet I do not really mourn the loss of that little girl. For one thing, I have not lost her. Her mind and her spirit and her heart and her character are all still here, just in a body I can share clothes with.

For another thing, growing up is what children are supposed to do, and seeing it happen is a privilege of parenting. There is a whole new group of parents in Florida, in fact, who will be denied this privilege. I feel like I should try to honor what they have lost in some tiny way by being grateful for what I still have: the opportunity to let my children go rather than having them ripped from me.

Would I love to have my girls be small enough again for a little while so I could nestle them against my shoulder? Of course! Do I wish I could go back in time for a few days to their younger years and appreciate those years in ways only hindsight would allow? Of course.

But most of the time, I want my children to get too big for me to hold so they can take hold of other things: relationships and jobs and opportunities and passions and maybe, someday, their own babies.

I want my children to grow up so they can grow into the people God created them to be.

I want my children to be able to leave me so they can find what's waiting for them.

I want my children to not need me so much anymore so they can meet their own needs and the needs of others.

What I've come to realize is this: we have these children to hold them, but we raise them to release them.

We want them to love us enough to stay with us, but we want them to feel loved enough by us to leave us.

And then, we hope they love us enough, still, to come back to us sometimes...not as who they were when they left, but as who they have become.

It is, to quote Kate Douglas Wiggin in The Best Things Ever Said About Parenting, "a peg big enough on which to hang a hope."

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

February 15, 2018

12 Things To Say To Your Kids When They're Disappointed

When I was a senior in high school, I wanted to be Cinderella more than anything in the world.

Actually, I wanted to play the role of Cinderella in our high school production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

Actually, I wanted to land the lead in a musical.

As a senior, this was my last shot at the coveted top role--my ultimate chance at the big dressing room and the final curtain call. The two years prior, I'd been thrilled to play second leading-lady parts (Lady Larkin in Once Upon a Mattress and Kim in Bye-Bye Birdie, if you're just dying to know). But I'd never scored THE lead. And I wanted it. 

I took care of the audition and waited for the cast list to be posted. And there it was, at the top, across from "Cinderella." 

Not. My. Name.

At the time, I thought being bitterly disappointed personally was pretty much the worst thing that could happen. Now, as a mom, I know that the only thing worse is watching your child suffer that kind of letdown.

If when disappointment makes an appearance in your house, here are a few words that might ease the sting a little. 

1. I'm sorry. 

When I say this to my daughters in this kind of setting, they usually respond, "It's not your fault." And I tell them, "I'm not sorry because this is my fault; I'm sorry because when you're hurting, I'm hurting. I'm sorry because I wish you didn't have to feel this way."

2. It's okay to feel sad. 

Our society prizes and favors cheerful optimism above all else, so sometimes our kids need permission and guidance to spend some time in sadness when it's appropriate. And it's also okay to show your own mom emotions to your kids, to let them know they are not alone in what they want and in hurting when it doesn't happen. When my sister had to tell my oldest niece that she hadn't gotten a part she wanted in a musical production (like aunt, like niece), my sister didn't have to say a word: she burst into tears the minute she saw her daughter. 

3. You don't have to get over this right away. 

As moms, we fix things. We make things better. We solve problems. But when our kids are dealing with disappointment, we need to let them feel what they feel for a while. We need to wait with them while they walk through--not around--seasons of regret and unmet expectations.

4. The way things are can be different from what you were hoping and still be good. 

As it turned out, the role I DID get all those years ago--the ironically named wicked stepsister Joy--was my dream role even though it was not the role I'd dreamed of. It was typecasting, really: all I had to do to play the part was be myself in exaggerated form while wearing a shiny purple ballgown and a black hair bow so enormous it almost took over my head. I'd never had so much fun in my life. It was different from what I thought I wanted, but it was still good. In fact, it was better.

All of which fueled my conviction the other day when I passed along this particular bit of counsel--"the way things are can be different from what you were hoping and still be good"--to my college freshman. Whereas I lived for choir and the annual musical all through high school, my firstborn lived for band. Starting the first day of fifth grade and continuing literally until she walked off the graduation field, band was who she was. It was what got her through. So we were thrilled when the college she chose offered a small, friendly, low-commitment band very much open to non-music majors. After the first rehearsal of second semester, though, when I asked how it had gone, she said, "I don't know...I'm not enjoying it the way I thought I would." I told her that she had loved high school band so much that anything else was almost certain to be a letdown. I advised her to try to enjoy her new band for what it was...that it could be a good experience even if it was different from what she was expecting. (I didn't have to haul out my Cinderella story just then, but I keep it on hand at all times for just this kind of mom moment, and you can believe my daughters have heard it before.)

5. Just because this didn't work out now doesn't mean it won't ever work out.

Maybe you weren't ready. Maybe this wasn't the right time. But maybe a little ways down the road, you will be, and it will be.

6. Do you want to try again?

Do you want to reload and give it another chance?

7. If you do want to try again, what can you do to prepare for that? 

What action can you take now to get ready for then?

8. Do you want to just be done with this?

Our culture is big on "never give up." And "quit" really is considered a four-letter word. But as parents, we need wisdom to know when love for our kids looks like giving them our blessing to let something go. 

9. What are you looking forward to?

We don't want to rush our kids through seasons of disappointment (see #3, above), but encouraging them to anticipate something good down the road can help with the healing.

10. I'm proud of you for giving this a shot.

Whether "this" is a relationship or a hobby or a competition or anything else that requires effort and risk, there is something to be celebrated just in the doing and the trying.

11. Do you want some ice cream? 

A recurring theme in our house (see #13 on this post). At the end of my Disappointment Day, my friends Amy and Jenny (the newly cast wicked stepmother and the other stepsister, respectively) hauled my weepy self down the street to our local ice cream shop. An hour and two scoops later, I'd had my perspective adjusted and was looking forward (ish) to hamming it up with those very funny other not-leading ladies.

12. I love you.

It's what we say as moms when we don't know what else to say and even when we do know what else to say. Because it's the beginning and the end and the foundation for everything worth saying in between.

Me (in the purple) as the stepsister Joy...
the role I didn't know I wanted.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

February 13, 2018

17 Things I Love About Having a Daughter (A Very Incomplete List)

I'm a mom of daughters and only daughters.

By “only,” I don't mean there's anything missing or lacking or incomplete about our family. I just mean that all (two) of the children given to my husband and me are of the girl variety.

I don’t know what it’s like to have boys running around the house, yelling and climbing on things and jumping off things and tackling things and wrestling each other and having bodily-noise contests.

I’ll never know what it’s like to have a strong, strapping son who’s protective of his mama and walks me down the aisle when he gets married.

But oh, I do know what it's like to have daughters.

I'm grateful to Her View From Home for letting me share this little ode to daughters. I'd love to have you take the quick trip over there to read the rest of it. If you're the mom of a daughter, maybe something on this list is something you know and love, too.

January 26, 2018

14 Things I Love...And Not Just On Valentine's Day

My husband will not get me roses for Valentines Day. 

This is because I have told him, "Do not get me roses for Valentines Day"--and he is a smart man who has learned a few things in 22 years of marriage.

He will probably get me chocolate. I trust that needs no further explanation.

What I really want for Valentine's Day is as much as I can get of these things that I love and try (not always successfully) to be grateful for every day.

1. Jesus, Who loved me first.

2. My family: the one that lives in my house and the one I grew up in with all its wonderful add-ons and the one made up of friends who feel like family.

3. Music, because where words fail, it speaks.

4. Our country road, in every season.

5. My Tuesday-morning ladies Bible study: digging into God's great love letter with my sweet study sisters. A little taste of heaven on earth.

6. Chocolate (as previously stated).

7. Rainy or snowy nights when my family is all home together.

8. Freshly grated nutmeg.

9. The bright red chair at the antique library table in my kitchen.

10. Elisabeth Elliot's "A Lamp Unto My Feet." When I first started reading it, I underlined the parts of this daily devotional* that really knocked me over. As it turns out, it would have been easier to underline the parts that didn't convict me. Which would pretty much have been just the copyright page.

*...that you can read while you brush your teeth but that's jam-packed with enough wisdom to last until you don't have teeth to brush anymore

11. Naps.

12. Singing duets with my daughter in church.

13. Fires in the fireplace.
14. Getting to tell my girls they have a snow day.

What's on your love list?
Please share it here in a comment or over on my Facebook page.
Happy Valentine's Day, mamas and friends...
may your roses (if you like them) be red and your chocolate (if you like it) be dark.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

January 19, 2018

5 Life Lessons Only Motherhood Could Have Taught Me

I approached first-time motherhood pretty much the same way I did getting my bachelor's degree: like a crazed maniac. 

I was going for a 4.0 in pre-motherhood studies, baby.

I read everything I could get my hands on about how to wash tiny onesies, how to swaddle a baby, how to breastfeed, how to give my baby a bath, how to get my newborn to sleep through the night, how to provide adequate tummy time for my infant, how to ensure proper sensory stimulation, and, just for good measure, how to discipline a toddler and raise a respectful teenager.

Then I had the baby. And pretty much gave up on everything but that sleep deal.

Over the course of the 19 years since the birth of my eldest (who is, as it turns out, a pretty respectful teenager, thanks for asking), I kept up my on-the-job training in the school of motherhood. I learned how to get permanent marker off the walls, how to hem a dance costume at the eleventh hour, and what in the world “box multiplication” is. But while I was figuring out how to be a mom (a learning curve that still hasn't straightened out for me), I also gleaned a few lessons that spill over into the rest of my life. 

And honestly, I'm not sure I could have learned these any other way.

1. Not every decision comes down to one “right” choice and one “wrong” choice.

When my older daughter was in preschool, my husband and I started thinking about when to send her to kindergarten. Her late fall birthday put her on the fence in our school district, so the choice of whether to send her as a young five-year-old or wait a year was left to us. We (okay, I) agonized over this decision. I questioned other parents, teachers at our church, the UPS guy…anyone who would give me their opinion on the subject. We were staring at door number one and door number two, and I was sure one would bring our precious girl happiness and success, while the other would RUIN HER LIFE. What if I picked the wrong door?

Ultimately, the decision was made for us: my due date for baby #2 fell on what would have been the first day of school if we’d sent our older daughter as a young five-year-old. I wasn’t up for two major life events in the same day, so we decided to have the baby one year and send her big sister to kindergarten the next. It turned out to be the best choice for a lot of reasons, but I learned something in the process: there were pros and cons behind both doors. Our job was to make the best decision we could at the time and then move forward.

A bunch of years later, when our then-kindergartner was thinking about college, our experience all those years ago told me that in the mix of options, we weren't looking for right or wrong, but the best fit. Maybe she’d go to a four-year college and live in the dorm. Maybe she’d start at a community college and transfer later. We helped her make the wisest decision she could —but that time around, I didn't bother asking the UPS guy what he thought we should do.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Save your sweat for the big stuff.

In her fascinating book The Spark, Kristine Barnett describes a “code scale” she developed to help her autistic son reign in his reactions to life’s smaller annoyances. She told him that losing a loved one was a “code ten” on the scale of things to get upset about. An annoying tag on his shirt, on the other hand, was a “code one.” She counseled him not to waste “code ten” energy on a “code one” event.

As someone who routinely freaks out about everything, I love this graduated approach to life’s ups and downs. I don’t agree with the traditional adage made famous by Richard Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff. It is not all small stuff. There is heartbreak and sorrow and grief in life that cannot be brushed off as insignificant. But if everything that happens—from a “D” in algebra to a family member’s serious illness—causes the same reaction, we’re going to be living in constant crisis. We’ve adopted Barnett’s scale in our house, and these days, when I’m defaulting to freak-out mode, my very sage 14-year-old often says, “Mom. It’s not a code ten.” Yes, dear.

3. If you are a mom, you have power. Use it wisely.

Here’s the truth: my mood can make or break a day for my entire family. By my words, the expression on my face, and the tone of my voice, I can send my family off to school and work with a blessing or a curse. This is a huge responsibility and one I often wish I could hand off. I don’t always want this much power. I wish my little family could be happy even if I’m not. But as the heart of our home, I have a unique opportunity to influence the minds and hearts of my husband and daughters. I can ruin a good day or save a bad one.

A few years ago, our family was getting ready for a long-planned vacation. This trip was A Big Deal—something I hoped we would all recall fondly for years to come. As I prayed for our trip, I asked God to help me choose not to let anything ruin our time together. I knew that no matter what happened, I had the power to cast it positively or negatively. If we all ended up with raging poison ivy or if the motel room we’d booked sight-unseen looked like something out of a horror movie, my little family would pretty much buy whatever spin I chose to put on it. (“This will be fun! We can play Psycho! Who wants to take a shower?”)

Again, that’s a big responsibility, but it’s an amazing opportunity, too—my mission, should I choose to accept it. (And for the record, we didn’t get poison ivy, the motel was fine, and we’re all counting down to version 2.0 of that trip as soon as possible, this time with increased ice cream consumption.)

4. Little things matter.

My favorite quote about homemaking is from the American psychotherapist and spiritual writer, Thomas Moore. In his book, Care of the Soul, he writes, “The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest." I hear the truth of this whenever I go to parent-teacher conferences at school, and my girls’ teachers tell me that my husband and I should “keep doing what you’re doing.” 

What we’re doing, as it turns out, isn’t anything revolutionary and, taken as individual practices, probably doesn’t look like much. Does it matter that I yell “I love you” out the front door to my girls when they’re heading off to school? Does it matter that my husband used to take his daughters to dance every Monday night in their pre-driving days? Does it matter that Family Pizza Night is a sacred, inviolable ritual my girls say they look forward to all week? Moore would suggest that these details do matter, and I agree. 

I have, for instance, repeatedly witnessed the transformative power of the family dinner. Over the course of an unremarkable meal, something remarkable happens: moods are lifted, burdens are shared and eased, and we generally like each other at least a little more when we’re finished than we did when we started. This feels miraculous to me—and very important to our souls.

5. This too shall pass.

As a first-time mom, I often felt discouraged when my baby was in a stage I didn’t particularly like because I was convinced that it would NEVER END. The blessing of being an older mom is that I can look back over the years and see first-hand proof that stages are finite. 

My two-year-old quit throwing tantrums and morphed into a fascinating teenager we're really glad we kept around. My firstborn traded her pubescent insomnia for solid sleep. (I’m trying to remember this while I’m up half the night with daughter #2). When you’re in it—I mean, IN IT—the stage seems interminable. But more than a few years of motherhood have proven to me that there is an end, even if it’s not in sight at the moment.

Here in my home state of Michigan, we have a saying: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.” Sunny and seventy degrees one day can swing to snow and frigid temps the next. Being a mom has taught me that a similar truth applies to much of life—if you don’t like what’s going on one minute, wait a little while and it will probably change.

Motherhood has shown me what I don’t know over and over again. I can’t braid hair. I’m hopeless at crafts and take-home science projects. I’m still figuring out how to navigate the complexities of teen friend drama. But I’m thankful God has taught me some truths along the way. I’ll take these far-reaching life lessons over understanding box multiplication any day.

My students...and my teachers.

This post originally appeared on Power of Moms. It may have been shared at some of these link parties. 

January 8, 2018

10 Encouraging Things To Say To Your Stressed-Out Teen

A few months ago, I shared a post about things to say to your kids when they're having a bad day.

Then a couple weeks ago, I got the following text from my college-freshman daughter: "I'm so alone. I'm so stressed out. I think it was a mistake to come here." 

Which inspired me to tweak my bad-day list a littl
e and share it over on Grown & Flown. If you have a teen (or a tween-going-on-a-teen) or might have one someday or know someone who does have one right now, maybe this list will give you a few alternatives to the standard "it will be okay."

Because while it probably will be okay, getting from here to there can be a rough road, and sometimes it's nice to have a few extra encouraging words for the journey.

**This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.**