The Power to Let Go

Have you ever heard the story in the Bible about King Solomon? How wise he was? "Oh, to have the wisdom of Solomon?"

Here's a story that explains his great wisdom: Two women (who were actually sisters-in-law) had a baby within a few days of eachother. Both of their husbands died and they were living in the same house. In the middle of the night, one of the mothers accidentally smothered her baby in bed. Rather than mourn for her lost child, she switched her dead son with her nephew, who was cradled safely in his mother's bed. The next morning, the woman awoke and was horrified to see that *her* baby had died in his sleep. But on closer inspection, she realized that it wasn't her baby at all. Her sister-in-law denied the act and they went before wise King Solomon to settle their dispute.

After hearing both sides, King Solomon suggested he cut the live baby in half. That way, both mothers would be appeased, right? The mother who had lost her baby said, "Good idea." If she couldn't have a baby, her sister-in-law shouldn't either. But the mother whose baby the king was going to cut in half said, "No, don't do it! Give her the baby. I would rather that my baby were alive and living with another mother than be chopped in two." King Solomon knew that this was the real mother of the child. He gave her the baby and sent them home. If you're interested, the whole story can be found in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

Crazy story, isn't it? Just a beautiful example at how sacrificial mothers can be when it comes to her children. She will do anything to see that they have life.
I've been thinking about that story lately. About how much a mother loves her children. How there isn't anything a mother wouldn't do for them to have life. For them to be happy. How she would never want anything to happen to them. But if a mother really love her children, she would need to - first - be willing to let them go.

Trust me, this is not something I enjoy thinking about.

But it is a harsh reality. Jack and Ben are not my own. They belong to the Lord. I'm only caring for them for a time. They are my responsibility, trusted to my care. But they are God's precious precious children. I try and remind myself of this fact when I don't know how to get them to NOT run directly into the street or obey when mommy says, "Stay on the sidewalk, don't touch the grass" and they intentionally do it. Again and again. I go to the Lord in frustration and say, "God, give me wisdom to know how to respond to Your children." Trust me, in those moments, it's not difficult to acknowledge them as NOT being my sons ;)

Nonetheless, it's the truth. I first must let them go before God can decide whether or not to give them back. I'm responsible for my actions and how I choose to raise these kids, mostly because I am performing an act on earth that the Lord entrusted to me.

Someday, this will mean allowing them to get on a schoolbus. Go through a day of kindergarten without me looking over their shoulder or dictating their speech. Giving them the keys to the car and trusting them to be home before curfew. Allowing them to go with a group of friends to the movies. Or to visit a female friend's house. All of these things require letting go. Giving up control. Because only then will our kids HAVE life.

Not to belabor the point, but I've also been thinking about this in relation to house-hunting. As you are probably aware, my husband and I have been searching for our next home. We've found a few that we liked and began the process of imagining ourselves there. Thinking about logistics and talking to our realtor about price. But there's always been a reason we had to walk away. Let it go. The first house had a bad foundation. The second one could only be accessed through a rickety bridge. And with another, we haven't seemed to be able to decide on a price with the sellers. We've had to let them go. Give them up. Because only then can God decide whether He'd like to give them to us or provide something better.

Giving up. Letting go. And trusting God with the future. Not as easy as it sounds, but it's definitely nice to know this isn't my fight. If I truly wants what's best for my family - and I desperately do - I will first need the power to let go. Walk away. And see if the Lord brings it back.


Never Eat Recycled Giraffe

Andy's mom tried to teach him table manners. With four boys in the house, you can just imagine what she was up against. Elbows off the table, trying everything on the menu and eating everything on your plate. Obviously, my husband took notes because he is a very grateful eater, not to mention wonderful (and polite) dinner company. My boys on the other hand? Yeah, I'm gonna need a few more years to work on that one.

At one point, his mom was trying to discourage them from drinking water before they had swallowed their food. "Drinking water like that ruins your salivary glands," she said. "When you drink before your food is gone, your salivary glands are drowned and you'll eventually lose the taste in your taste buds." Sounds scientific, doesn't it? Well, it was obviously enough for my husband, who refused to drink before swalling his food, wanting to preserve his taste buds for as long as possible.

He probably would have gone on to teach our own kids this same piece of (unverified) piece of information if he hadn't brought it up when we had his mom over for dinner a few weeks ago. "Remember when you told us that, Mom?" She was surprised. "Did I? I honestly don't remember." That made me chuckle. Us moms will come up with a host of (seemingly intelligent) information if it might convince our kids to stay on the straight and narrow.

Did your parents ever tell you something that you still hold onto today? Even though you're not quite sure of its accuracy? The truth is, we look to our parents to teach us how to live. How to think, how to work, what to believe. What we learn from them becomes part of who we are. And even if we begin to doubt its accuracy, it can be difficult to completely reverse that little voice inside our heads because it was a piece of information - or fear - that made us who we are today.

I was reminded of this fact yesterday morning, while we were having a MOPS playdate at the zoo. I had packed a lunch for me and the boys so we wouldn't have to buy anything while inside the park. My mom always did the same. If we were hungry, out would come a wonderful snack; if we were thirsty, she'd pull a water bottle out of thin air. My mom was always prepared. With four kids, she learned quickly that it paid (literally) to bring anything you could possibly need.

But just as I was setting out our food under the beautiful shade of a nearby tree, my friends were ordering a pizza for lunch and asked if I wanted any. Immediately, I was taken back to something I remember from my childhood. My mom would probably deny it now, but thirty years later, I can still hear her saying, "No honey, we're not going to buy any food at the zoo. What if they use the meat from their animals when they die?"

Add that to the fact that they call their restaurant a "Beastro," that's all I needed to hear. As a kid, I never asked about ordering a hot dog, hamburger or an ice-cream cone for crying out loud. The zoo can keep their recycled rhinocerous in their stands and save it for all of the kids and their parents that don't know any better. I'd rather have the prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwich my mom had made before we left the house anyway.

I'm almost thirty years old and I still remember that.
So when my friends asked if I wanted a piece of their pizza, my first response was, "No, thank you. I've got a lunch here for us." "Are you sure? We've got plenty!" I hesitated a moment and told myself there probably wasn't any truth to the idea of recycled dead lions in their meat and justified that it would be minimal anyway in a piece of pizza. Probably.

Well, the pizza was surprisingly good. My boys probably ate more than half of the two slices that were generously offered in our direction. And I just had to laugh. This is not recycled giraffe. It's just pepperoni. It was hilarous to think about the little discussion I had in my head as I ate my first EVER food bought from the zoo!
These little stories are pretty funny, but they highlight a truth I'm beginning to realize. Our kids hear EVERYTHING. They don't miss a trick. If we tell them the oven is hot, we expect them to take us at our word. If we tell them the water in Niagara Falls is made up of blue-tinted lemonade, they'd believe they could simply jump in to have a taste. I must choose my words carefully because they may be the words my boys remember for the rest of their life.

I told my MOPS friends about my mom's sage advice and Jackie said, "Oh, yeah. It's the same reason I still won't swim alone in the pool. Because I might get eaten by invisible sharks." Sharks that, apparently, only come out when you're by yourself.

Hmm, I might need to steal that one.


The Best is Yet to Come

While cleaning out my kitchen cupboards the other day, I found my old digital camera. I mean, where else would you expect to find your camera?

It's the camera I used to record videos of the boys. Except I haven't been able to find it for quite a while, so the videos were more than six months old. The memory card was full, so I had to look through the videos to see which ones I could delete before downloading my favorites and make room for more. But as I flipped through the videos... the boys wrestling with daddy, jumping in their crib, playing with my phone, drinking out of a cup... I couldn't delete a single one. I just couldn't. Once they are deleted, they're gone. Forever. These moments were far too precious to delete. I had to download every single one onto my computer.

I love pictures. I'm addicted to photography. But there's something about taking a video. It's real life, caught in motion. It instantly takes you back to the moment, draws you in and sweeps you with the emotion of the situation. Even six months ago, my boys seemed more chunky. Shorter. They weren't as coordinated when they ran, jumped or wrestled. I went nuts when they said "more" or "please." I was just amazed at how quickly they seemed to change, even in such a short period of time.

When I came home from the hospital with two newborns, people tried to encourage me, saying, "Enjoy this time. It goes so fast." "Really?" was my response, "I hope so!!!" The majority of my days were about survival. Just making it through. Pumping six times a day and leaving the house only for church on Sundays... that was a rough time. But now, life is so enjoyable. The boys are fantastic sleepers and great nappers, we can take them anywhere on a moment's notice and they eat normal food and drink regular milk. The last two years have gone quickly... relatively quickly ;) But I'm so grateful I have these snippets of video to remind me how far we've come. And to offer hope for the future. 'Cause the best is yet to come!


Making Better Use of "Me Time"

I've always known it was important to make time for "me." But that became especially clear when I had kids. With all of the responsibilities a mom balances - husband, food, cleaning, laundry, playdates, church, family, kids - it can be extremely difficult to carve out time for us to recoup our strength to do it all again.

Andy needs help with paperwork? I'm on it.
They need someone to come up with a craft for playgroup? I'm on it.
My mom needs help making copies of pictures? I'm on it.
Someone needs a meal? I'm on it.

"Me time" lately has been on my bed, flat on my back and with my laptop perched in front of me while my boys sleep. Usually I just zone out in front of Facebook or reading different blogs. It just feels good to do nothing.

This is not necessarily bad, but I've been noticing a trend. "Me time" amounts to laziness and unproductivity. I'm eating whatever I can get my hands on (especially chocolate) and my stomach is acquiring an additional flotation device. I'm sluggish and exhausted. I thought about all of the fruits and vegetables I give to my boys... about the beautiful lunches I make for Andy... and the well-balanced dinners I try and prepare... then why am I serving myself the scraps? That's when I realized I needed to spend more of "me time" DOING things for MYSELF.

I started last night.

When I packed Andy's lunch, I packed one for myself. Complete with a salad, drinks and snacks for the whole day. I do it for my family - why not myself? This way, I can snack on my lunch throughout the day - just as much husband does - and have a better concept of how much I am consuming. I feel better about the green peppers, cucumbers and cheese/crackers I'm eating because I put thought into them the night before. It's not an open-the-cupboard-and-see-what-junk-I-could-fit-into-my-mouth-within-a-ten-minute-time-period kinda thing.

Being a mom is sacrificial. Of course, there's nothing we wouldn't do for those we love. But I'm beginning to realize that I need to spend a little more effort taking care of myself so I have more to offer. Even if that means using up some of my "me time" to better care for ME.

After all, I'm worth the effort.


A Back-Up Plan is Still a Plan

My whole life, I've had a plan. I like having a plan. It makes my life less stressful when I know where I'm headed.

Now, just because I have a plan doesn't mean that things always go according to that plan. They rarely do, actually. I thought I'd meet Mr. Right in college, date for a few years, get married after we graduate, get a job teaching 2nd grade in my alma mater, live in the country, stay home with my kids and live happily ever after. Instead, God didn't introduce me to Andy until I had been teaching 6th grade for three years and now we live in the city with twins. Things turned out very different than I had imagined. But that's because I couldn't have imagined them to be this good! It's only because of God's goodness that I'm able to *try* and be open to changes in my plan because I know that ultimately, God's plan is better.

The past few weeks have been really difficult for this mommy, though, because we didn't seem to have a plan. Well, we did have a plan - to find a house - but that plan had an expiration date. If we failed in our mission before August 31st, we were being thrown into the streets. Or at least one of our parent's houses. Or finding an apartment somewhere and renting month-by-month. Somehow, this Plan With an Expiration Date didn't inspire too much confidence. I've been discouraged and listless. What's the point in packing up your stuff if you don't know where you're going to be? What's the point in organizing your stuff if you don't know what you're going to need? In fact, what's the point in preparing dinner? Or washing the dishes every night? Or doing laundry regularly? It just didn't seem important to do all of the mundane responsibilities of the house on any kind of schedule if I didn't know where we were going to be. Instead, it somehow felt better to just live in the moment and fly by the seat of my pants. Again, not a very comfortable place for this former teacher and perfectionist.

This is an immature way to live, I know. But my whole body wanted to shut down because of this horrible Plan With an Expiration Date.

Finally, we had to get serious. If a good house didn't come on the market before our deadline, we needed somewhere to stay. And wouldn't you know? God provided. If we don't find something we like before August 31st, we're going to stay with my Great Aunt Mary and Great Uncle Ron. Remember them? I wrote about them in this post. They live about 6 blocks from our house, in the upper apartment of my late great-grandmother's house. Their lower apartment was left vacant after my Great Aunt Connie died last year. Rather than go through the hassle of finding and managing tenants as well as making the necessary updates, they decided to leave it vacant to preserve their privacy. When we approached them about the possibility of using that apartment as a back-up, they couldn't even contain their excitement and wanted us to move in the next day. What an answer to prayer! We're going to pay them rent (including utilities) and my husband is going to fix it up a bit before our arrival, which will also be a blessing to them. It has three bedrooms, a bathroom and a larger family area than we have in our apartment. We're already familiar with the area AND family will be right up stairs. And the biggest blessing is that we'll be able to stay for as long as we need to - with no lease, no contingency, no strings attached - until we find our home.

We're still going to continue actively searching for our next house, but now I don't need to be stressed about the "what ifs" in our plan. We've got a plan now... and a Back-Up Plan. I can refocus and continue on the path forward. For the first time in weeks, I cut coupons, planned a weekly menu based on those coupons and have been preparing dinner during the boys' naps again. I just cleaned my kitchen and dining room and for the first time in a month, you can see my kitchen counters.

It feels good to have a plan. Or rather, a Back-Up Plan. Because as it turns out, a Back-Up Plan is still a Plan.


Why, I Oughta

There are so many options of things I should be doing with my time. Right now. The boys are sleeping and have been for the past two hours. I've got almost an hour before it's time to wake them up.

It's not like I've got nothing to do!

I really oughta run a load of laundry.
I oughta take a long shower.
I oughta make thank you cards for my cousin's bridal shower this weekend.
I oughta download pictures of the boys.
I oughta start dinner.
I oughta take up the rest of the groceries from the van.
I oughta clean out and vacuum the van.
I oughta clean my room.
I oughta burn picture files from the computer onto CDs.
I oughta work on the boys' baby books.
I oughta schedule their 2-year pediatrician visit (already a month late.)
I oughta fill out that ridiculously long questionnaire from NYS about their growth.
I oughta pack away their winter clothes.
I oughta work on the MOPS summer playdate schedule.
I oughta make something for our meeting tomorrow.
I oughta clean out my diaper bag.
I oughta write to my secret pal.
I oughta respond to some emails.
I oughta go through a few bins in the attic.

Instead, I've been browsing through old photos on Facebook and then perusing old listings of houses online, hoping to find the needle-in-the-haystack that we might have already missed. I didn't. I've still got nothin'.

And even after all of this excessive time-wasting, I decided that it would be a better investment of my time to complain about everything I ought to do and yet actually DO none of those things. I'm not sure if this accomplished anything. But at least I can cross ONE thing off my list... blog.


The Waiting Game

Do you remember how hard it was to wait as a kid? "Tomorrow" might as well as have "ten years" and "next week" is like saying "practically never." I remember! It's for that reason that I can't even tell my boys where we're going or who we'll see until right before we're getting ready to leave. "Let's put your shoes on, boys," I'll say. "We're going to see Nana!" And don't forget, we still have the thirty-five minute ride in the car. Every few seconds, they echo, "Nana? Nana? Nana?" as if to remind me of my destination. They probably think we're never gonna make it!

Waiting is tough on kids, for sure. But how about us adults?

As an adult, I have much more control of my situation. I am in charge of deciding where we go and when we leave. Though I could argue that my boys have more control over the speed of that progress... or lack thereof. We get our lunch in less than three minutes through the McDonald's drive-thru window and complain if the car ahead of us won't make a right on red. We bypass busy intersections, leave before rush hour and travel the side streets, all in an effort to keep us from waiting in traffic. We survey the lines at Wegmans, gambling on which cashier will get us through the fastest, keeping an eye on the size of carts and number of coupons in the hands of customers ahead of us. If you've got two toddlers with you, it becomes even more important to keep yourselves from waiting.

Trust me. I get it.

Perhaps that is why I'm having such a difficult time waiting on progress lately. I'm used to getting my way rather quickly! We sold our house at the end of April (praise God!) and are scheduled to close in the middle of July. And we still don't know where we're going to live. That's right. We've got nothing. Thankfully, we've got some time, my husband made sure of that. We're free to stay in our house until August 31st. But after that? We've got nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Our realtor sends us an email every morning with the houses that have just entered the market or have fallen into our price range. We consider ourselves to be pretty open minded when it comes to the condition of the house, but are rather picky when it comes to (what I've come to refer to as) the three "Ls." Location, land and layout. We can change pretty much anything else, but we've got to have those three Ls. It's been two months and nothing has peaked our interest. I know that God already has our next living arrangment all picked out, but is waiting for His perfect timing to reveal it to us. Alright, Lord. Aaaaaaaaanytime You're ready!

So we wait. Every morning, I open my email and browse through the new listings. My husband will go see many of them, but (as per my request,) will only bring me along when he sees something he likes. After those options are ruled out, we wait again.

Jack and Ben seem to be oblivious of our waiting game, though. They've never complained of having too little space or not enough room to spread their legs. They're not feeling overwhelmed about the amount of time there'll be to pack or how we'll ever renovate an area in time to move. In fact, they're as happy as ever. I guess ingorance really is bliss.

Ahh, to be a kid again.


Messing with their Minds

Alright, alright. Don't worry. I'm not reeeeeally messing with my kids' minds. But I am learning to understand them (and react to their needs) a little better. And I'm learning it's all in my approach.

One of the most difficult parts of assisting two toddlers to reach their own level of independence is their HUGE desire to do it themselves, their inability to do what their brain dictates and their low verbal skills. Even if it's something as little as taking the cap off of a marker. They grunt, squeal and pull with all of their might before they explode in frustration. They demand to be walk on their own, even as you're heading into busy traffic without a stroller. They scream at a restaurant until you give in, letting them sit in your lap, eat off your plate and take ice cubes out of your water. They respond "no" to any question, even if it means they change their mind two seconds later and follow with a quiet, "yes." They will pull hair, claw at their brother's face, and wrestle them to the ground if they do not hand over the toy they wanted to play with in a timely fashion. They hit their fork against the table, their toy hammer on the wall and their legs on the crib; they seem to get a thrill over hearing themselves make an excessive amount of noise.

In writing some of these things down, I'm starting to feel a little self-conscious. I'm not the only one that's experiencing these things, am I?

Anyway, I'm sure you get the picture. I'm dealing with two strong-willed, independent and completely NORMAL little men! I try and remind myself of that fact (especially the normal part) when I feel like I'm starting to lose my mind. These are all very normal activities for a toddler. Healthy, in fact. It's only bad when time goes by and we continue to allow these immature behaviors to continue. As the parent, it's MY job to teach them how to appropriatly respond to frustration and how to ask for help. I want them to have a certain amount of independence, to continue to explore their abilities and find things they're good at.

So here are a few things that seem to be working in my house.

I am all about choices. They want to make the call? I give them the choice. But what they might not understand is that ultimately, Mommy Wins. A classic fight in our house is wanting to walk on their own. So if we're going out in traffic, for a walk down the road, or into a store, I give them a choice. "Would you like mommy to hold you, or do you want to hold my hand?" Either way, the boys are safe. They get what they want, but it has to be done my way. I just have to be sure I'm willing to hold up my side of the bargain for any scenario they might choose! Some common choices in our house... "Would you like to drink milk or juice? Would you like to hold mommy's or daddy's hand? Would you like to play with the tools or read a book?" We are communicating respect and trust when we let them make their own decisions. We are making them feel like they have control over something.

Another way I try and get inside their heads is to tell them ahead of time what I expect. The other day I was taking them to the zoo in the wagon and did not feel like carrying them both... by myself... and the wagon... throughout the zoo. So I told them when we first got there, "You can ride inside the wagon today. Mommy will not hold you." Each of them tried to get me to hold them one time, but I simply reminded them of our pact. "No, mommy will not hold you today. You can either walk or ride in the wagon." Worked like a charm.

Here's something else I remember reading a few months ago, tried it, loved it and now I can't remember the source. As a former educator, not being able to acknowledge the source makes me feel horribly guilty. Try not to discourage the bad behavior. Rather, we should encourage the positive behavior. "No! Don't hit your brother!" or "Don't jump on the couch!" are always our first thoughts. But they tell us that all toddlers hear is "HIT!"  or "JUMP!" They basically tune everything else out. Instead, we should remind them what they should do. "No, we have to be gentle with our brother." I also remind them what we use different utensils for. If they hit the table with the fork, I might say, "Forks are for eating." If they are standing up on the chair, I'll say, "Chairs are for sitting." If they start to pour their cup of milk onto the table, I'll say, "Milk is for drinking." You get the idea. My boys really do respond when they understand what I'm trying to communicate. Most of the time anyway.

Another tactic I've found helpful with this age is to use their desires to help motivate. In my house, our boys clean up their toys. Not everything, all the time. But if we take out a "set" of something... the trucks, the tools, the markers, the blocks... they know that they are responsible to put it all back before we take out another set of toys. They've been doing this since they were about a year old (on a much smaller scale,) and they still surprise me by how much they really can do. They're usually very good about cleaning up... ONLY if I manage it correctly. I don't make them clean up the toys when it looks like they're done playing with it. Instead, I wait until they want to take out another set of toys. Or if they want a drink. Or if they want to go outside. "Ok," I'll tell them, "we can go outside after you clean up your trucks." It helps when they're working toward something. With this, I've had to be very good about acting on my promise immediately or else it loses its charm. My kids would get frustrated if I said, "Thank you for cleaning up the trucks. Now you have to clean up your blocks as well before we can go outside." Just one at a time. At least for this age.

Another challenge in my house is the fact that my boys are not big talkers. In order to help encourage them to talk, I've learned that I have to be very patient. It can be just as frustrating for mommy as it is for them when I cannot understand what they are trying to say. But we're all learning. If Jack is obviously struggling with taking off the marker cap, I try and intervene before he enters the Blowing his Gasket stage. "Can Mommy help you? Can I help you open the marker?" Sometimes, they'd rather continue to struggle. And many times, it comes off a moment later. But then there are times when they quickly concede, grateful for the help. I'd like them to say, "Help" more quickly, saving all of us a lot of frustration. I'm trying to assist them in knowing when it's appropriate to use different words. It's been fun to watch their vocabulary grow, even in the past few days!

My kids like to be respected. I mean, who doesn't? But I see sooo much of myself in my kids when it comes to being independent. They don't like being told what to do. Gosh, wonder where they got that from? And they seem to appreciate when I offer them a little more time for them to try and do it on their own. Again, they're definitely my kids! Identifying the fact that these are characteristics that will serve them very well someday, motivates me to help me teach them to channel these things as strengths.

As you can tell from my ramblings, we are a work in progress. I'm still very green when it comes to assisting my boys into toddlerhood. It can be extremely difficult, frustrating and just plain exhausting. There are times when no creative tactic works and it's time to force them into submission... or ignore the act... or just let it slide. I'm still learning when each of those things might be appropriate. It's a trial and error thing at times. It can be rough, but I keep reminding myself that this will not last forever.

Someday, they'll be able to cross the road by themselves, ask for help when they need it and carry on a conversation without becoming distracted by the dog barking in the background. Someday, this will just be a distant memory.

But today, this is my reality. This is my world. And I couldn't imagine a more challenging and fulfilling and exhausting and rewarding place to be.