Mothers’ Day. Bah humbug.

From this side of the International Dateline we’re only two sleeps away from celebrating Mothers’ Day.  And it has just dawned on me that I feel a tad ‘bah humbug’ about that.

It isn’t that I won’t be celebrated and made special on this day.  It isn’t that my family won’t bestow many kisses on me.

I know they will.

It’s just……

Maybe part of me will never forget the deep feelings that come with riding the roller coaster ride of trying to conceive, and to have the words miscarriage and infertile written on my medical notes.  Scars can heal over time, but they still remind you of past pain. I will always feel for friends who long to have their own children.  Maybe part of me mourns with friends who no longer have their own Mothers here on earth, to honour and celebrate on this holiday.  They don’t have the opportunity to spoil and bless them. All they have are precious memories.

So in two sleeps time, I know the day we call Mothers’ Day will bring with it many emotions and feelings for us all.

I guess another factor, at the root of my hesitation over the froth and bubble that comes with this holiday, is that I’d really love to take all of you women, and look you in the eyes and remind you all, that your worth does not come from what you do, but from who you are.

Let me say that again, and men, feel free to pass this memo on to the important women in your lives….Your worth does not come from what you do, but from who you are.

I feel extremely blessed, that even when things were medically unlikely for me to conceive, in time and over a wee stretch of time, our three boys came to be…..but I also believe that I was a ‘whole’ person before I had children.  Let me say that another way – I firmly believe that Motherhood doesn’t define me.  Yes, it adds to me and it moulds me and it changes me, every stinkin’  day, and it is a beautiful privilege and honour to grow the children that I am growing.

But ‘Mother’ is just one of the many hats I get to wear.  Along with that I am also Daughter.  Sister.  Wife.  Friend.  Random customer who looks the waitress in the eye and asks how her day is going.  Yes, out of all of those Mother is probably one of the most important ones, but it is not the only one….and that’s the thing that kinda sets the tone for me for Mothers’ Day.

If you’re heading into Mothers’ Day and you’re fighting to stay out of that pit of self-pity, because you aren’t a Mother and you long to be, or you miss your own Mother, maybe it would help to remember who you are already.  Because who you are already, is so important and it defines how you see your world.  I get my knowledge of who I am from the relationship I have in knowing Christ.

And I believe the same for you….

You are called of God by your name. (Isaiah 43:1)

You are engraved on the palm of God’s hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

You have a purpose for living.  (Jeremiah 29:11) (Ephesians 1: 11 – 12)

You are never forsaken. (Psalm 27: 10)

You are loved with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31: 3)

You are complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10)

The next time you start doubting your worth, or longing for a season that is not yet to be in your life, or that season is already over for you, maybe it’s time to look up those words and to breathe in these truths….whatever joys or pain that Mothers’ Day holds for you, remember that who you are is what really matters.  Not what you do.

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Pointe Shoes and What Ifs.

I was a late starter in the world of dance.  At the age of eleven I decided that dance was something I really wanted to do and had to do and couldn’t live without.  So I entered the world of leotards, tights, shoes and buns.  I started with modern jazz and quickly added ballet to the list of classes.  Now with ballet you really need to start with the basics and build up from there….so I was placed in a class of five and six year olds.  That’s quite a good motivator for anyone….to be twice someone’s age and to be learning something new……I practiced and I pranced and I danced and a twirled and I skipped, all with good toes and bad toes….and I worked my way up the grades….and I sort of caught up to my age group, but never really got there…

While I had determination and drive, its fair to say I never had a huge amount of natural talent.  I was never going to be an Anna Pavlova.  But it is amazing what you can accomplish through lots of practice and a sheer will to succeed.

Pointe shoes.  They were my nemesis.  They hurt.  They really did hurt. I was never comfortable in them, never felt at ease and never really loved them.  Those pretty, shiny pink satin covered blocks of wood became the enemy.  My barrier to success.

A couple of years ago I was online looking at ordering some pointe shoes for a friend, to send back to NZ from America.  Everything in America was cheaper.  Everything.  I came upon an article on how to find the right size of pointe shoes for your feet, and I realized that all along in my experience with pointe work, I had been wearing the wrong size shoes.  I’d never been properly fitted, never had the best fit for my feet.

And thus began my brief flirt with the idea of the ‘what if?’.

What if I had actually been wearing the right size shoes and what if pointe shoes had no longer hurt?

What if I grew to love them and wearing them became such a natural and easy extension of my life as a dancer?

What if I flew through the upper grades of RAD and my level of talent actually matched my level of enjoyment?

What if?

Now I quickly came to realize that even if any of those things had been true…..I was still not a great dancer….but for the meantime, that flirting with the idea of ‘what if’ gave me a false sense of reality…a warped view of the truth.  Allowing the ‘what ifs’ to creep in….overshadowed some stark realities.

And isn’t it the same with parenting?

Any and every time that we tango with a ‘what if’ with regards to our children, when we’re looking back in hindsight, from my experience….that ‘what if’ doesn’t do us any favours.

These ‘what ifs’ can be anything from:  what if we’d noticed such and such earlier?  What if we’d been more proactive in this area?  What if we’d made our kid do x, y and z?  What if we’d stopped them from doing x, y and z?  What if we’re not the right parent with this job?  What if I don’t how to handle this issue?

Big and small ‘what ifs’ surround us.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you’ll know that for me, personally, the fact that all three of my boys have speech impediments/ issues (all three are different too!), has been a big thing for us both practically and for this Mama’s heart.  I’ve battled sooooo many ‘what ifs’ over this one.  I once got an email from a well-meaning person with a link to a (poorly written and badly researched) news article about a link between television watching and speech problems in kids.  Whammo.  There’s a massive ‘what if’.  It wasn’t until a saw a speech therapist with my oldest boy and she sat me down and told me straight….GENETICS…..that I realized I could no longer hold onto these ‘what ifs’.  I can’t escape the fact that these issues have been a part of my boys’ journeys, but I can control how I react to these situations.  And believe it or not, I am equipped to help my boys.  While I am lacking in a whole bunch of good qualities, just ask my kids, they’ll put you straight.  One thing I do possess is patience in bucketloads. And patience is what I need with these boys and their impediments.

If I have what I need, to parent my kids as best I can, both in me and my husband with our giftings combined and with calling on friends who are that little bit further along in their parenting journeys, not to mention as a Christian I believe so very strongly in the changing power of prayer….and I’m just as flawed and a mess as the next person, then I believe you too, have in you what you need, to parent your kids as best as you can.

Whatever the issues you’re facing, I’ve found that you can’t hold onto your ‘what ifs’.  They skew your reality.  They take your eyes off the goal.  I’ve found it takes a lot of energy to focus your thought life on all your negative qualities, all the things you’re lacking in.  That energy surely is better spent by focussing on what tools you do have at your disposal to approach different issues, as best you can.  Whether they are tools inside of you, or in people who are alongside you.

What ifs?

So what.  Let’s all work on eliminating parent guilt.  We can live without it.

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An ode to our snot-wipers, butt wipers and spark igniters.

Cheers, teachers.  We’re in the last week of term one in New Zealand.  Parts of America and the UK are just entering or just leaving Spring Break.  And Australian schools are breaking for an Easter holiday too.

Cheers, teachers.  You’ve made it. We’ve made it.

You’ve gotten to know your class of little or big darlings.  You’ve done a few rounds of testing in all core subjects, you’ve met with as many parents that were willing to meet at their pre-arranged time as possible, and no doubt you’ve returned many an email.  Some necessary.  Some…maybe not so much. Or not at all.  I’m sorry about that one I sent last week about my darling’s non-regulation sandals for the beach day.  Yep.  I am.

Cheers, teachers.  I don’t know how you do it.  You maintain peace and order, while stimulating brain cells that are an endangered species from having watched far too many Stampy Cat tutorials, you sort out lost uniform pieces, lost lunch money, lost lunch orders and lost kids.  And all with a smile on your dial.

Cheers, teachers for encouraging my kids.  For running with their crazy ideas when they spot an opportunity for a little something extra to participate in.  You see initiative, I have to try harder to see that, to look above and beyond your lost lunch hours and major negotiating skills put in place.

Cheers, teachers for all the snot wiping and the butt wiping that you do.  Some days I walk into kindy and see you cleaning up someone’s number twos.  Never a harsh or unkind word spoken.  Sometimes that’s barf material to a kid’s own mother.  Not to you.

Cheers, teachers for all the hours you put into your job…hours put into my kids, when sometimes your own kids are waiting patiently in the sidelines.  Thank you for your insightful words.  Thank you for seeing the good in every situation.  Thank you for seeing that spark of interest, and lighting a fire that will hopefully burn bright for many more years.  For the laughs and the tears, thank you that they are never at the expense of my children, but they come as part and parcel of this privileged partnership.

Cheers, teachers.  One term down.  Three to go!  I’ll continue to cheer you on from the sidelines, and let you do what you do best.  But just give me the nod, if you need a spot of this……

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Cheers, teachers.

Beyond the smiles.

It was my husband’s birthday yesterday. To honour the spunky hunk I posted a reasonably recent photo of him on Facebook, along with a few lines about how I feel about him. Then I got to thinking about that particular photo and what it represented.

The photo was taken in New York, in Times Square. We’d been ‘given’ a glorious 56 hours away from our three kids, and my very generous brother had flown us over to NYC to be there while he was there. The time  was magical in a huge number of ways. I honestly wasn’t expecting to love the city as much as I did, it was awesome to explore it with my brother and his wife, the weather was beautiful, the sights were stunning, it was simply magical. The photo shows a very happy husband, thoroughly enjoying a once in a lifetime experience.

What the photo doesn’t show is that happy husband had at that time begun to exhibit some pretty severe symptoms for type one diabetes. That photo doesn’t show the seriousness of what he was facing. The week after we got back Michael went to the doctor and was diagnosed with this life changing condition.

Beyond that smile, there was a lot more going on than what that smile would let on. Yes, that smile in that photo was genuine. We had an absolute blast in those 56 hours and created memories that will last us a lifetime. But, I’ll always remember there was more going on, there was more beyond that smile.

Last year before my kids started their new school, I remember being weirdly freaked out and overwhelmed by the thought that my kids wouldn’t fit in. It felt like everyone else had it all together, that their kids were all extremely high achieving and I held onto a completely unfounded fear that my boys with their ‘point of difference’, their speech impediments, would suffer and not fit in, when all around them were ‘perfect’ kids.

Yeah, well, it didn’t take long to realize that as I said earlier, this was an unfounded fear. A stupid fear. Ignorant thinking on my part. You see I know, I really do know, that there are no perfect kids. Just like there are no perfect people. We all have our issues. Every kid has something that they struggle with, some things are obvious, others are not. My kids did fit in just fine, because it is an imperfect world we live in.

But that false thinking of mine prompted me to think, more often, what is really going on with  x, y, z kid? How is that family doing?  Just like so much was going on behind the scenes of that photo I took of Michael, a moment in time, in Times Square…..what’s going on beyond the smiles of your kids classmates? Your kindy teacher? The check out operator you see once a week? The basketball coach? Hairdresser? Friend you just texted?

Now I do know that most people aren’t going to open up, blab on your shoulder and tell you their life’s woes, just because you’ve bothered to take the time and noticed them, some may though! And we actually don’t have to be in the loop with everyone’s own private business. But I felt this worthy of a blog post because I myself need reminding that so often we only see people’s highlight reels. We’re exposed to all that is good and noteworthy and praiseworthy in life, and it is easy to think how easy some people have it. And that can isolate us in our struggles, especially our kid struggles. But we’re in this together. There are no perfect kids and there are no perfect parents, but we are better together.

We are better when we look beyond the smiles, when instead of highlight reel, we see a real life reel.

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the end game

We’re at week five in the first term of this new school year. I’m thinking that your life with kids is ramping up a notch or two as sports are being registered for, practices are beginning, games are being played, and all else that a full life entails is happening.

I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to get lost in the to do lists, to loose sight of what this parenting gig is all about. To have that end game, that intentionality in your life, replaced by a gazillion other things. All good and well, but just other things, that when you stop to think about it, these things may not line up with what you really want your end game with your family to be.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about ‘happiness’. I may be well off track here, but I think most parents want their kids to be happy, right? But maybe sometimes we place too much of an emphasis on creating this state of happiness, at the cost of other things, or not placing enough emphasis on what our hearts desires for our kids really are.

My family has just moved internationally, twice within a thirteen month time frame. At the top of my list of wants for each three kids has been the desire to see them happy. To see them enjoying life. To see them making new friends and liking their new school. To see them happy. It has been rough on this Mumma Bear’s heart and emotions, so ‘happiness’ is a natural desire, right?

And I believe it is one of my jobs to ‘facilitate’ as much as possible to make this happiness happen. There are things I can do, or not do, to help each child to be happy. But I have to remember, and maybe you need the reminder, that happiness comes and goes for each and every one of us. I have an underlying sense of joy in my life, that’s a certainty for me, but the happiness, that’s more of a changeable thing, for me and for children. So here’s the thing, if we’re too busy trying to make our kids happy, at the expense of other things, then maybe our end game with how we want our parenting to be is a little off target.

Knowing why we’re doing what we’re doing with our kiddliwinks, helps us as we focus on the right here and right now. And helps us to know how to action things for them. A lot of parents get into the whole buying of ‘schtufff’ for their kids, aiming for the happiness these things may bring them. And there may be nothing wrong with that….unless these things and the motivation behind these things don’t line up with what our end game is…..why should I buy little Johnny some more Wii games just for fun, because he likes playing Wiiimage, when I actually would like little Johnny to spend more time using his own imagination, and spending more time outside….for example. Why should I schedule little Johnny in for multiple sports plus music plus Boy Scouts plus art lessons plus swimming lessons, when at the end of the week he is too tired to be pleasant to anyone, when an end game goal for me may be to grow a child who loves people and is interested in people and has a servant heart. And little Johnny is too exhausted for any of that.

My actions with parenting have to intentionally match up with what this whole thing is all about, and that’s something that is all too easy to loose sight of.

So, I’m taking some time out to re-evaluate, what kind of kids do I want to be growing? What character traits and passions would be awesome to see in their hearts? What exactly is my end game in all of this? Not that parenting ever stops but there will come a day when those boys of mine do leave my house and my fridge will be rejoicing, while my own heart is sinking.

So I don’t think that happiness is the really the goal here, but a lot more deeper and more meaningful things are actually at the heart of parenting. What do you think?

‘Oh Hi’, said the New Parent

Oh hi, I thought I’d come over and introduce myself. 

Why yes, I am new. 

What was it that gave it away? Maybe the fact that you’ve never seen me in the four and a half years your child has been at this campus, is a good start….or was it the fact that I am always super early to pick up?wondering how my kids’ days have been…..making room in my day to be open to get to know people and staff and procedures….

Tell me about your kids!  Have you had a good day? How do you fill your days? Yes we are getting used to the school thank you, although I did have to interpret the word ‘mufti’ for my twelve year old the other day…(freestyle in Australia, and well….every day in most American schools is mufti. Yes every school does have a different culture, and I’m learning as we go too. 

Yeah questions about ‘the kids’ are always good ice-breakers when it comes to starting up a conversation for the first time, especially at a setting like a school. I will always have my preschooler with me, until he starts school. So feel free to ask him his name, his age, about what he’s been doing today…..he’s most likely covered in paint from his morning kindy session, so ask me about that.

Other conversation starters with new parents at school could be:

Where did you move from? What do you think of this area? How are your kids settling in? Do you have any other children? And here’s a great one for a Friday…..what are your plans for the weekend? Why is this so great? Because come Monday……..’how was the concert/ soccer final/ party/ movie/ shopping trip?’

It’s all about finding some point of connection, and having your kids at the same school is a huge plus to begin with.

I get it, totally get it, starting up a conversation with a stranger is weird. It is hard. It can be awkward for both parties. But if that parent Is going to be at that very same school pick up for five days a week, however many weeks a year…..that’s potential for some one to not be a stranger. Potential for many shared moments. Ten minutes a day…..a wealth of shared knowledge over the course of a school year……and who knows…possibly your next second best friend…..

As a new school year starts in certain parts of the world, as parents let’s keep an eye out for new parents in our school yards. They are the new kids on the block too.

I’ll smile and return your greeting, don’t you worry about that. And I’ll ask you about your day, but go on, ask me about my paint splattered four year old, I dare Ya.

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To you, on this ‘first’.

First day of daycare. First day of preschool. First day of school. First day of University. First major treatment/ medical procedures/ operation. First major misunderstanding. First broken heart.

Life with children is full of these firsts.

They don’t get easier. Just ask the parent who is in the middle of packing up their kid for their first year of university. And they don’t become any less significant when you have to revisit these firsts with other children. But maybe, just maybe, the stretching that your heart does with these firsts, make the stretch for the next time, just a little more comfortable. Maybe your heart, although it aches just the same, maybe it moulds into slightly familiar territory and knows that this is what must happen.

Because this is the stuff in parenting, that shapes us and defines us, and helps to make our little people into healthy, bigger people, who are prepared to make good and wise decisions, all by their big selves.

If your child needs an operation as terrifying as it is seeing them go under a general anaesthetic, and as horrible as it is dealing with wounds and follow up treatments and all that goes along with that, you’re not going to deny your child of something that is ultimately going to benefit them.

I’ll never forget the ache that came with handing over our middle boy to a nurse for an operation when he was a chubby one year old. That was probably the longest day of my life. And the tears did flow – even in the trusting and the knowing that he was safe and was going to be fine – the tears they did flow.

We’re about to send our youngest child off to preschool for the very first time. I still remember that anxiousness that came with sending our eldest off to kindy and then school.  That desire to be a fly on the wall. To see and know that all is ok. To not only see that your kid is handling things ok, but to see how the teachers and other children respond to your child.  I’ve come to learn that the ache is normal. The longing to know all and see all is not helicopter parenting, but getting used to a new phase of parenting. The ache dissolves over time, and with it grows the ability to see that other people in your kids’ lives can care for your children pretty well. You’re not alone in this endeavor. No one will know and understand your child as well as you, that’s a given, but if you let others into your circle….and let the professionals do what they were trained and love to do, and keep your lines of communication very open…then this new first can be extremely successful.

Firsts can be hard work, tough work. And for the most part firsts do not have to be walked through alone. There’s a certain kinship that can be found in walking similar roads together. But it takes reaching out and seeing others above your own concerns and worries. If you have to spend any amount of time in a hospital with a child, as a first you’re facing, can I encourage you to ask about support groups and suchlike. Sometimes people only know how you’re feeling from experiencing a very similar situation. And at times like that we all crave true and genuine empathy.

Firsts bring with them very powerful emotions, surprising emotions. Men, you’re probably going to bear the brunt of huge swings and sways of these emotions, and no doubt feel things in your own manly ways….and for the love of all things good and sweet, you don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t need to provide advice, you don’t need to do anything. Just be there for us emotional women as we lament about how unfair it is that they have to grow up, as we look at photos of the kids as babies and admire how fast they have grown, and as we go through the motions that all Mama Bears do.

Firsts are hard. There are no detours around this very truth because firsts must be undertaken. But firsts are made better by friends being there for each other. By families showing their love and support. And by remembering that firsts do stretch those hearts of ours, and we should all be looking to have bigger hearts, much bigger hearts.
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