What do you do?

It is always the same conversation. The questions begin with “where are you from?” and quickly gravitate to “what do you do?” which of course means “where do you work?”-“how much money do you make?”-“how important are you?”.  My husband hates these questions too, but at least he has a response. His career in law enforcement comes with an impressive list of “who’s who” dignitaries and many colorful tales of his time driving on the road as an officer, working in intelligence, attending the FBI academy and overseeing the 2002 Olympic Games. I am proud of all he has done and appreciate all of his hard work, but as everyone at the table swaps stories, I begin to seek for my own validation.

What have I done in the half century I’ve been here? Well, it has turned out much differently than I had planned. I am not athletic or musical by nature. I never finished that college degree and never wrote that book I wanted to write. While I have worked at various jobs as needed to supplement income over the years, I never had that prestigious career I had once imagined. It isn’t that I don’t have anything to offer or that I’m not ambitious. It is just that I found something much better than I ever expected.

 

mom and kids

It seems commonplace to most: it happens every day. This thing I did really is quite
miraculous however. I (with a little help from my husband) gave life to four beautiful souls who grew up to be remarkable, amazing human beings. My body nourished those babies inside of my abdomen for a few months, and then my heart nurtured them for a lifetime.

During those first months of morning sickness, fatigue and stretched muscles, I literally breathed, ate and slept for new life. Even my overly emotional heart beat for someone else. I eventually had to share these babies with the rest of the world, but I had nine months to spend alone with each one. I listened as their tiny hearts beat in perfect rhythm and eagerly watched shadows move on a cloudy ultrasound screen. I laughed as I felt them move and stretch, and I took a few good kicks in the stomach now and then. Neither of us was very comfortable, but I (mostly) enjoyed the time I got to spend getting to know each child. Long before I saw each tiny face, I loved and cherished these babies.

I have now spent a lifetime watching each child grow physically, emotionally and spiritually as each individual personality evolved right before my eyes. I have laughed, cried, cheered, worried, listened, hugged, celebrated, lectured, apologized, prayed, refereed, complained, coached, cleaned, budgeted, planned, hoped, chauffeured and thrown more than a few temper tantrums along the way.

Through it all these four children have permanently grown to be a part of me, like the four chambers of my heart. Each has a unique disposition and a purpose and was so wanted, valued and needed. I may have provided a warm place for their bodies to grow and develop, but in turn they made my own life worth living. I may have kissed their skinned knees away with designer band-aids, but they have healed my broken soul in ways they will never understand.

In a word? I was and am tired. In those early days of exhausting diaper changes, upset tummies and bleary-eyed nighttime feedings, I often stayed up a bit later than necessary, long after they were asleep, holding them close, just to capture a few more moments. Then I soon found myself staying up later at night than is reasonable, often pacing anxiously for a teenager’s safe return. I not only needed to know they were home but also wanted to spend a few minutes catching up on the details of their lives. More than one night has been spent tossing and turning as I worried and stewed about friends, school, social media, driving and everything else I saw on the news.

There isn’t exactly a retirement account waiting for me to compensate for the lost sleep, but I have in fact been paid A LOT. There are the stereotypical memories of newborn babies, first steps, first words and first dates, but there is so much more.

I enjoyed a little girl’s dance recital one day and then went shopping for her wedding dress the next. I listened to my perfectionist daughter practice and then perform beautiful piano pieces. I sat in awe as she played tennis, participated in the school play and sang the national anthem at the high school stadium during her senior year. I watched a child struggle to learn to write her name and later helped her prepare her high school valedictorian speech. I met her for lunch more than once to talk about life, boys and college. We toured San Francisco and later Ecuador together. And then in the course of one week, this beautiful bride received her college diploma and a husband.

I cheered as I saw #65 run out on the field and sat through a few miserably cold football games. I sat next to my one and only son as he proudly carved a pinewood derby car and once again as he drove his first pickup truck. Right before my eyes, my Cub Scout evolved into my Eagle Scout. I walked miles with my toddler in the stroller, stopping to look at every piece of equipment along the way.  A short time later I watched with tears in my eyes as that little boy graduated from college at the top of his class and began working as a mechanic for John Deere. I am the mother of a Skills USA collegiate winner and a FFA national competitor. To this boy’s chagrin, I may have shed a tear or two on his wedding day (and not just because of the typo I made on his wedding invitations).

I unexpectedly gave birth to a picture perfect baby on my 30th birthday, and we have celebrated together ever since. I watched this precocious little girl make new friends every time we went to play at the park. I smiled as she climbed trees and collected rocks and bathed the neighbor’s goldfish.  I cheered enthusiastically for my daughter as she dove off the block at countless swim meets while I nervously watched the time clock and calculated splits. I jumped out of my seat in excitement every single time #9 scored a goal at a water polo game. I shopped for goggles and speed suits and prom dresses. Then, all too soon, those adorable baby pictures have been replaced by those cap and gown high school graduation photos.

I watched our youngest, our little mother, lovingly cuddle her many babies and teach pre-school to her classroom of assorted stuffed animal students. I drove her to early morning practices and sat on the edge of my seat when she competed in the state archery competition. I applauded as my baby sang a beautiful Taylor Swift solo at the choir concert. I have been served many delicious cupcakes by our resident baker and celebrate with her every time she brings home another ” A” on her report card. I have reassured this child every single day of her life and then celebrated when she overcame her fears and went zip lining in the Costa Rican jungle. I am holding onto this one for dear life before high school sweeps her away.

My children have taught me many valuable lessons, but mostly I learned to be flexible. I continue to be stretched in ways I didn’t know were physically or emotionally possible. Sometimes I run out of patience, often there isn’t enough money, and no matter how fast I run, there is never enough time. It has been an intense, crazy ride as I have watched kids steal home base and hit grand slam home runs and struggle through after-surgery recovery. I wouldn’t have missed this ride for the world. I have survived Disnleyland, teenage drivers and many ER visits as the kids have suffered through head injuries, stitches, severed thumbs and broken toes. It has been a time of transition for all of us. I have struggled through the tears of little ones cutting teeth, searched (with the tooth fairy) for lost teeth at the playground and may have fainted during wisdom teeth removal at the dentist’s office.

So, finally getting back to answer that question-what do I do? I am a mom-a simple choir, tennis, football, FFA, swim, water polo, softball, junior prom, PTA mom. I bake cookies and chaperone field trips. I plan birthday parties, raise turkeys and fold many loads of laundry. I nervously grip the door in the passenger seat next to a new driver and provide snacks for the softball team. I help with science projects and memorize spelling lists and fill out college applications. With tears in my eyes I watch little ones get on the school bus for the first time and then with a lump in my throat, watch as they walked to receive their high school diplomas. Through it all I wonder how it went so fast and worry every single day that I am doing it all wrong.

I am not a perfect mom by any stretch of the imagination. There are things I wish I would have done differently, things I wish I wouldn’t have said. Spoiler alert—my kids’ rooms are messy, they don’t always get along and I doubt there has ever been a day when I was caught up on laundry.  I continue to make many mistakes and have shed my share of tears as I slowly let go of the perfect little hands that once so tightly grasped my finger. But I have learned that mistakes are allowed and memories last forever.

When I am called home, it will be a short obituary. I may not have much of a resume to show for my life, but I was and am and always will be a mother. I can exit this world in peace someday because I know that I will be leaving the best part of me behind.  I hope that day doesn’t come too soon, however, as I hear grandkids are wonderful. In the meantime I am so glad to be called “mom” by my favorite people on the planet. Together with my husband and with much help from the God who gave us all life, I became a mother.  In this tiny, seemingly insignificant garden patch I was given to cultivate, I changed the world.

The learning curve

Today marks the completion of the first official month of the school year. What a month it has been!  For the most part the kids are adjusting well. I, on the other hand, am struggling with all the expectations: the schools’, the teachers’ the kids’, and my own.  Ordering senior pictures, shopping for the right  clothes and accesories without spending a fortune and attending multiple back-to-school nights left me a bit overwhelmed even before the first bell rang.

I expected some craziness as we made the transition from summer to full fledged school, but this reality has been a bit daunting this go around. I’m not sure what the difference is this year, but I am exhausted. I am trying to be patient, trying to be organized, but I swear if I have to sign one more disclosure statement I am going to  start charging my kids everytime they shove another piece of paper in front of me, asking me for my signature. Do the bus drivers, librarians, and each and every teacher think that parents in fact read those sheets of paper that our kids bring home?  

Also, we’ve been bombarded with new locker combination anxieties, fundraisers, school choir, football games, debate team meet schedules, swim team practices and the purchase of college textbooks. The extra stress level is due in part to the fact that I have two high school students this year. My 5th grader has a netbook computer as well, which sounds like such a good idea until you have recurring internet connection issues and error messages. I am not a tech expert.  Nor am I a music teacher or a p.e. coach.  I am just a mom trying to survive this learning curve called “the school years”.

I feel like I am being slowly turned into jell-o as I try to help one child put together a power point presentation, help another write his first college term paper, and help yet another one study Greek mythology, all in one night.  I am having a hard time keeping up with all of the online systems the teachers are using this year to post assignments and share documents. 

I am very education oriented, and I am supportive of teachers who work so hard with so little reward. I work very hard to help my children be successful in school, but enough already! I swear that I know how to do fractions and basic algebra.  I know how to spell and can write reasonably well.  I graduated from high school over 25 years ago.  I finished college 20 years ago.  Can I please stop being assigned homework?

I

Someday this will be funny, right?

I’m not necessarily someone who would be described as organized:  perhaps scattered would be more accurate.  I am always looking for suggestions on how to manage my family, but I find that the advice of the “experts” on the morning television shows often leave me feeling discouraged.  Is it just me or does anyone else ever wonder how many assistants these people have to help them coordinate their schedules, do their hair and makeup, cook their meals, and tend to their children so they can sit on the television telling me how to find balance?

I am not an expert of anything, and I am not a complainer.  I am a mostly-try-to-stay-at-home mother of four children who have hectic school and work schedules and swim team practices, play rehearsals, and piano lessons to attend.  I work two part-time jobs, keep the books for our home business, volunteer for my church, help my aging parents whenever I can, and occasionally get a few minutes to exercise or clean my house.  My husband works out of town for months at a time, so the bulk of the homework duty, yard work, errand running, housekeeping, and day-to-day peacekeeping fall on my shoulders as well.  In other words, I am busy.

In trying to manage my busyness, I am learning the hard way that life is all about being realistic in our expectations.  The key to being more organized is to recognize and then manage the current motherhood phase we are experiencing.  When my children were small, I found it much easier to create chore charts, meal plans, and study schedules for my family. Life was busy and chaotic then, but it was a different “busy” as I could somewhat control everyone’s schedules. I’ve moved into a different chapter now. While  I have not given up on trying to be more organized and continue to make lots of lists, here are a few things I have learned that help me to be a more effective, not to mention happier, mom.

#1)  Motherhood is not a competition!  It doesn’t matter how clean my neighbor’s house is, how polite her children are or how manicured her fingernails are.  That perfect neighbor feels just as inadequate as I do some mornings.  I am not living her life, and she is not living mine, so I try to ignore the temptation to make comparisons.

#2)   It is okay to be human.  Moms wear a dozen different hats interchangeably.  I remind myself to accept that I am NOT going to accomplish every task for every role I play every day.  At the end of the day as I review my not-completed to-do list, I also make a mental list of everything I did accomplish that day. If no one else noticed, that’s okay.  I can give myself a pat on the back.

#3)    Utilize mini-bursts of  efficiency.  I have learned to take on tasks for brief intervals if I don’t have time to tackle the entire project.  I am amazed at how much housework I can accomplish when I allot myself 30 minutes of  committed cleaning.  Then when I’m done, I’m done. I may not have finished cleaned every closet, but I can take pride in the fact that I got those toilets sparkling clean.  Sometimes, enough is enough.

#4)   Learn to relax.  Sometimes the most resourceful thing moms can do is to just take a 30 minute breather to read a book, watch a mindless television show or go for a quiet walk.  Remember the advice of the flight attendants?  We moms have to “save” ourselves before we can help anyone else with their oxygen masks.

#5)  Don’t forget Serendipity.  Some days it might not appear I got anything done.  But, often those are the days I was truly at my best.  An hour spent listening to a teenager or a lonely friend is more important than dusting or fixing a gourmet dinner.  I  ask myself, “Is this going to matter five years from now,” whenever multiple tasks are screaming for my attention simultaneously.

#6)  Write it down.  The simple act of putting the list on paper (whether it’s the shopping list or packing list or cleaning list) helps me to unclutter my mind and regain focus when I am toiling and spinning.  Having a written list relieves the pressure to remember everything and minimizes the stress level.  Oftentimes it doesn’t look quite so bad on the sheet of paper compared to what I  had visualized inside of my head.

#7)   Adjust those expectations.   Real children leave their shoes and backpacks on the floor and forget their homework. Real moms run out of milk on Monday mornings and have lots of unmatched socks in the laundry room.  Real moms lose their patience and have to apologize. Real moms know it is okay to use paper plates now and then.

#8)  Accept help.  I am independent by nature and want to do it all by myself.  But, the fact remains that I physically can’t be in more than once place at a time. Neighbors are more than willing to give my kids a ride now and then when I’m at work.  My children are usually very willing to help. Teenagers can help the younger ones with homework, fix dinner or do the grocery shopping.  Younger children can sweep floors, set the table, or color handouts for Sunday’s lesson

#9)   Learn to laugh!  Humor is the best tension diffuser I have found.  It works with husbands, teenagers and toddlers.  The most stressful moments make the funniest stories.  When I feel like screaming sometimes I actually remember to grab the camera first.  Stains eventually fade, two-year old haircuts grow back, and yes, someday this will be funny.

#10)  Enjoy the (amazing and yet exhausting) journey.  A few years from now, I know I will look back and will miss this stage.  My house will someday be clean and quiet, and  I will miss the dishes in the sink and the bantering at the kitchen table. I am happier when I don’t take things too seriously and enjoy the fact that I am needed.  It is a good thing to be needed.

Really?

As you may have noticed, everything I write about has something to do with my lifelong ambition of raising my four minions, otherwise known as children.  I have been thinking a lot about how quickly time passes (this picture was taken 8 years ago now!) and the different phases of parenthood that we experience.  The pregnancy phase, the new mommy phase, the potty training phase, the elementary school phase, etc.  I have decided that the current phase of motherhood that I am living is called the “transition” phase–that time when parents come to the realization that they are in fact going to have to share their children with the rest of the world.  Of all the advice I received when I first became a parent, no one warned me about this bittersweet phase.  I didn’t know how much pride I would feel as they grew up and became “real people”.  Nor did I understand the sadness that would envelop me during the process.  I am still deep in the trenches of everyday homework, worries and late nights, and I am getting tired after 21 years of being a mom.  But, I also know that I am going to miss this “transition” phase someday (maybe not every single minute), but most of it. I hope that in the end it turns out like the transition stage of labor:  extremely intense and painful, but in the end, worth every contraction.

Just do something

This is my first attempt at joining the rest of the electronic world by adding my two bits to cyberspace.   My kids think I’m permanently stuck in the 1980’s, so we’ll see if I can prove them wrong.  A little about me:  I enjoy reading, scrapbooking, soaking in hot bubble baths, and taking long walks.  However, I have two main things in life that I’m absolutely crazy about.  First,   I love being a mother, and secondly, I love sharing a little piece of myself through writing.  Hopefully this venture will prove to be a way for me to combine these two passions into something creative.  I suppose this is my way of making a mark in this big world.  I hope you find something to relate to or laugh about as you read about my thoughts, glimpses, and reflections on this strange thing we call life.