Simplifying Childhood

Moving our family to a little falling down farm on the edge of town has been an adventure in so many ways.

This move was birthed out of a myriad of desires, passions and ambitions.

One of those was the desire to give our children the gift of a simplistic childhood.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Wellington County where I spent my summers crawling over straw bales, running barefoot through the yard, nestling fluffy kitten fur up against my cheek, climbing trees, eating apples plucked from our orchard and wading through muddy creeks.

I had no idea how magnificent this childhood experience was or how much texture and depth these experiences added to my life.

I didn’t know that I was learning to take risks as I rode my bike down the barn steps and balanced precariously upon barn top beams, determined to keep up to my older siblings and cousins.

I didn’t know that the wide variety of sensory experiences were contributing to brain development as I felt mud between my toes, rocks beneath my calloused feet and dirt under my hands.

I took for granted the way I could walk out the doors and roam free for hours, with no specific goal or destination in mind, just freedom to be and explore my world as I wished.

Every summer my skin would turn brown beneath the sun’s warmth, my dark hair deepening to hues of auburn and chestnut.

I thought it was normal for children to sit high in the branches of a pine, bare legs swinging, to make forts in the barn loft or catch frogs in the pond.

As I grew and left my childhood behind, I left many of these simple pleasures with it.

Now, I look at my children and I would give anything to be able to give them a taste of the life I once lived. Not only because of my own fond memories but because the more I learn, the more I realize that this kind of environment nurtures healthy, happy children.

Children are meant to be able to learn and explore and fall and laugh. They are meant to experience freedom and follow their curiosity and dig through the layers of a richly textured world.

So how do we do this?

How do we give our children the gift of simplicity, setting them free from the demands of a society who would want to categorize them, sit them down, mold them into tiny adults?

  1. Let them play. They are little for such a short time, and for some reason we feel we need to organize them; sort them into categories, grade their achievements, nudge them toward accuracy and reality. But children have rich, creative minds. They see the world differently. Good and evil stand in stark contrast, and they will recreate this in their play. Every little bug in the dirt or tattered leaf or knobby stick can be studied, delighted in and recognized to be something magnificent. Give your children space to play freely. Do not fill their time or their rooms with too many toys that will entertain them and tell them what they should do and how they should do it. Instead, give them a bucket of plain wooden blocks. Dump out a bin of Lego builders. Leave some paper, crayons, glue and scissors on the table and see what they create. When they bring you their stories and structures and collections, admire them for what they are. Ask them questions and let them decide what they have created, don’t assume or pass judgment.
  2. Give them structure. This may seem contradictory to play, but really it is what makes the play possible at all. Children thrive when they are surrounded by comforting absolutes. Too many variables make children, especially young children, feel vulnerable and unsure therefore discouraging them from following their naturally inquisitive minds because they are too busy worrying about what they might need or miss. Predictable meal times and bed time routines are essential and create a rhythm to your days that wraps them in security and comfort. Knowing what to expect their days will look like, generally of course, helps children to relax inside those parameters and busy themselves with the great work of childhood…play. Children who feel safe can explore and create and learn.
  3. Take them outside. Snow, rain, sun, sleet…let them experience it all. Nature is full of endless entertainment for children. Mud puddles, trees to climb, birds nests, caterpillars, water, ice and dirt. Invest in mud suits, rubber boots, warm clothes and ratty old jeans that you won’t mind getting torn and ripped. Give them shovels, containers, watering cans and buckets. Go for walks both on sidewalks and off; a walk to the park and a hike through the bush can be equally exciting for a child. Let them get messy; let them take risks, even fall down and hurt themselves every now and again. Eat outside, read outside, play outside and even nap outside. Go to the beach, the park, the forest, the farm, the backyard. Build a sandbox, set up a bucket of water or a plastic pool, ride bikes, blow bubbles, go barefoot. All these experiences feed the soul of a child. Not only will this environment be beneficial to their brain health but it will also give them the best chance at being healthy emotionally and spiritually.
  4. Give them rest. This includes physical, emotional and mental rest. Create a solid, dependable, practical bedtime/nap time routine and stick to it. Kids need plenty of sleep. In fact, ironically it seems the more sleep they get the more sleep they need. Tired kids will have a hard time playing or resting well. Try to balance your day with both active and restful activities. For example, an hour or two of outside time might be followed up with some stories on the couch. Playing play dough might precede going to the grocery store or some other outing that is more chaotic. If older kids complain of being bored, don’t become too anxious about filling that space for them. It’s necessary for them to learn how to enjoy their own company and not be afraid of the quiet. Teach them how to be able to sit and look at books, to be still and watch a tiny ant carrying his disproportionate load, to breathe in deeply in and out and feel their muscles relax from head to toe. Surround them with quietness, peace and stillness regularly.
  5. Involve them in responsibilities. Kids love to help when they feel they are wanted and needed. There is nothing that can replace the pride of knowing you have done a job well. Provide plenty of opportunities to work both alongside you and independently. Participating in family chores fosters responsibility, healthy self image and gratitude. Teach them to cook and do laundry. Don’t shy away when they sigh at being told once again to unload the dishwasher or help set the table. Praise them for jobs well done and send them back to redo jobs done haphazardly. Will they thank you down the road? Probably not. But that is beside the point. They are learning they are a part of something. They are seeing the real life in front of them and will start to notice what others around them are doing. You will know you are on your way when they thank you for doing their laundry, unloading the dishwasher or picking up their scattered shoes.                    

Children need so much from us, and yet so little. They require huge quantities of our emotional and physical presence with them but they require so few resources to truly grow and thrive.

We cannot travel the world today and give their little eyes the sights of the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon and and Cliffs of Moher…but we can go outside and see the birds and feel the mud under our rubber boots and watch our chickens peck away at the rinds of a cantaloupe.

We cannot afford private music lessons to entice their musical little minds toward Mozart greatness, but we can turn on some nursery rhymes and beat to the rhythm on our homemade drums.

My preschoolers are at home with me. They do not play in sensory buckets every day, practice lining up at the door, learn rhymes and riddles for every activity or get exposure to early learning curriculum….but I can let them help me bake muffins, teach them how to zip their jackets, sit on the floor and build towers of blocks with them or read them story after story.

Reminding my mother heart of these time-proven child raising truths has helped me to refocus my parenting on what is most important. When I fall into despair because I cannot possibly do it all, I can come back to this and remind myself of what I can do today that is valuable.

-AF

10 Books of the Summer

I made a goal this summer for my children and I to read more and watch less.  Surprisingly, it worked!  I thoroughly enjoyed having the screen on less and spending more quality time with my children reading together.  It was also amazing how often I watched them pick up books when they realized the screen was not an option.  Even my toddlers pored over story books this summer after I starting setting them out in appealing, accessible ways.  I constantly had books all over the couch and floor, but that is a problem I can deal with 🙂  Here is the list of books that blessed me this summer, just in case you might want to take a peak at a few of them!

1. The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie

I read this book at the beginning of the summer, soon after making the goal to read more, and it both inspired and empowered me to strive to become a reading family.  Sarah Mackenzie is passionate about literature, family and Jesus and she takes those three things and binds them into one in this practical, thought provoking book.  This summer we became a “read aloud family,” and it changed our home atmosphere in subtle but beautiful ways.  For anyone who, like me, spent their adolescent years buried in books, this book will reawaken the magic of stories and encourage you to give your kids the world through books.  If you want some extra food for thought and an introduction to reading aloud, listen to Sarah’s podcast called The Read Aloud Revival.

2. Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch

This summer was a challenging one for me, with five children of varying ages and stages at home kept me busier and more overwhelmed than I’ve ever been.  However, this book shifted my perspective from one of stress and fear to one of gratitude and renewed peace in the middle of my busy days.  Practical, authentic, encouraging and full of grace, this book taught me as much about my own issues with entitlement as about raising grateful kids.  Kristen Welch speaks from real life experience and tells her own stories to help teach with humor, humility and kindness.  This gratitude in a world of more, this contentment in a sea of excess…I want this for my kids.  Especially geared toward middle school to teenagers, this book is full of tips with the heart of the gospel at its core.

3. Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake

This is my humble confession that I am an angry mom.  I am strong willed, passionate and impulsive, and too often that spills out onto my children in negative ways.  I read Triggers because I desperately needed my heart to realign with the grace-filled, gentle and calm way that God fathers me.   Triggers is both practical and spiritually grounded, giving helpful tips for reactive moms that will help you tonight at five o’clock and will bring your heart into line with God’s desires.  I found it challenging, encouraging and refreshingly easy to read.  Divided into short, engaging chapters titled specifically, you can use this as a devotional, quick look up reference or pleasure read.  If you have ever felt angry at your children, this book will help you work through the guilt and pain of those feelings and your circumstances towards peace, forgiveness and unity in your home.

4. Raising World Changers in a Changing World by Kristen Welch

After reading Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, I leapt on the chance to read this similarly themed book by Kristen Welch.  When I watch my daughters grow and interact with their friends, I dream of the world changers they can be for Christ’s Kingdom.  Whether it’s in their homes around a weathered kitchen table, across the ocean or down the street at a friend’s, I want my kids to become a part of changing the world for Christ.  The subtitle of this book is: How one family discovered the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving.  That sums up the essence of this hope filled book compiled of stories of Kristen’s family and acquaintances who are truly changing the world.  I loved the interview style conversations with her children Kristen included at the end of each chapter and the personal stories she shared.  You can become a world changer, and this book will inspire you to see the place and space you are in right now as one where God can use you for His glory.

5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

As I dove into reading aloud this summer with my girls, especially, this book kept niggling away at the back of my mind.  My grade four teacher read aloud a multitude of exceptional books to her pupils, many of which are still favourites of mine today.  This was my first introduction to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.  I have been waiting for just the right moment to introduce this series to my girls, and finally a few weeks ago at the tail end of the summer I couldn’t resist any longer.  I wasn’t sure if they were quite prepared or not, but I decided to give it a try and I’m so glad I did.  My very energetic, impulsive and concrete minded nine year old sat curled up beside me, wide eyes glued to my face through each rollicking, vivid chapter of adventure and drama.  Many of the breath-taking metaphors to our spiritual reality brought tears to my own eyes as we pored over each page together.  My soul ached with pain and understanding for Edmund’s self absorbed choices, leapt with joy for each victory over the White Witch and grieved at the cost of betrayal.  It was awe inspiring to be introduced to the mighty Aslan and charming to enter the magical world of Narnia through the wardrobe where good and evil are painted in stunning clarity.  When we turned the last page and found the children back in the real world, I marvelled all over again that this fantasy tale had brought to my children’s hearts the gospel, and lead my own heart to worship.  I enjoyed this book just as much today as I did as an enchanted ten year old and all the times in between.

6. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

I had heard so much about this young woman’s memoir, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until this summer.  From the very first chapter I was hooked.  God brought this book into my hands at the perfect time and lent me refreshing perspective to my days.  Katie Davis’ story is one of an ordinary girl who chose to say yes to an extraordinary God, and the product is overflowing with love, beauty and the glory of our Abba Father.  Through Katie’s eyes, her remarkable journey of surrender is not radical, but expected, in light of the gospel.  I could not put this book down til the very last page, and a few weeks later it’s story is still churning through my mind challenging my motives, my actions and my status quo.  We need more Katies in the world and I am so thankful she chose to share her story.

7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

While this was not the first time we read aloud this delightful classic, it’s a tale that never disappoints.  Light, inquisitive, thoughtful and humorous, I am quite convinced that Charlotte’s Web will continue to capture the hearts of readers for years to come.  I love the way the story unfolds in gentle detail, taking the time to help even young readers or listeners to develop affection for each character.  The story celebrates friendship, kindness, loyalty and compassion while letting children immerse themselves in the perspective of ordinary farm animals.  If you have never taken the time to digest this gem, know that it is never too late to fall in love with a pig, a spider and a miracle.  Equally delightful is the 2006 movie version starring Dakota Fanning and Julia Roberts.

8. Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

This book was a paradigm shift for me, helping me peel back the layers of my own motivations for teaching good things to my kids and helping me understand my own tendencies toward law-based behaviour modification.  I didn’t expect this book to make this list of my ‘favourite books’ as it is a bit of a heavy read and was a bit of work to slog through but it challenged me to rethink some of my habitual responses in parenting so I decided it had earned its place.  I feel like I’ve been on a journey of rediscovering what grace means in my own spiritual life, and putting grace into practise in my parenting has helped me to identify the areas I struggle to fully embrace and believe these things personally.

9. Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Patterson

This was another elementary school favourite of mine and this summer I finally got around to reading it to my girls.  This children’s book weaves childhood themes such as friendship, fantasy and innocence with deeper undercurrents of grief, shame and poverty.  For young Jess Aarons, life is predictably gloomy, disappointing and demanding until a new family moves in next door.  Leslie Burke will change his world forever, and the tale will nestle its way into your own heart as well.  This story enchanted me as a fourth grader 18 years ago and I enjoyed it just as much this time around with my girls.

10. Carly’s Voice by Arthur Fleischmann and Carly Fleischmann

Another foster mom lent me this book to read when she heard we were caring for a child on the autism spectrum.  It took me awhile to pick up and dive into but about halfway through it grabbed my attention and I couldn’t put it down.  Written cooperatively by father and daughter, Carly’s Voice is the true story of an autistic young woman who inspired and challenged the world around her to think more deeply and creatively about individuals on the spectrum.  Their capabilities, their intelligence and the ways that we view them.  I guarantee once you have met Carly you will not forget her!  Sassy, smart and sensitive, she set out to change the way the world saw her and others like her…and succeeded.  Carly will challenge the way you define normal, the systems we live by and the ways we define success.  Her story makes it clear that lack of verbal skills in a person on the spectrum should not be equated with limited mental, social or emotional intelligence.  Through typing, Carly takes the opportunity to free herself from her own space of isolation and help those closest to her understand her inner world.

Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read at ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imagination take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them.  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better of a reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing littles trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories that cannot be replaced. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honour, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF

Self Care and Why it Matters

I remember the first time I travelled internationally with my children.

For the first time I actually stopped to listen and observe carefully as the flight attendants demonstrated how to use the oxygen masks and life vests in case of an emergency.

With my baby in my arms and two daughters beside me, it suddenly felt important to know how I would go about saving their lives if need be.

The most important take-away?

Always put your own mask on first.

It struck me how contradictory this was to every maternal instinct inside of me.

As mothers, we regularly play the martyr.

We sacrifice.

We shield.

We protect.

It’s who we are, and who we want to be.

But what happens when the steady pouring out of ourselves leaves a gaping hole?

What happens when the mundane of life covers up the joy?

Is it ever ok to put me first?

As Christian mamas we heap on the added burdens of selfless service, taking up our cross and putting others ahead of ourselves.

We take the verses to heart and stretch ourselves thin and fragile over our treasures.

We want it all.

We want to be enough.

But we foolishly forget we will never be enough on our own.

There is no glory in exhausting our own resources so that at the end of the day we are weary, discouraged women with nothing left to offer.

I realize there are seasons and days when this is the inescapable reality of motherhood.

We all have seasons that drain the life out of us, but sometimes it’s because we are neglecting our own souls.

Self care is a bit of a hot button word right now, but it’s really not that complicated.

It means taking time to infuse hope, joy and energy back into myself.

The purpose of self care is to fill yourself up so that you can once again pour yourself out.

It’s hard to mother well from a depleted soul.

I practise self care so I can tuck my children in with smiles and tender kisses at the end of the day.

I practise self care so that I have energy to be active with my children.

I practise self care so that I reflect hope and joy to a dying world around me.

I practise self care to remind myself of who I am in Christ.

I practise self care so that I can enjoy time with my husband.

If you’re like me you might be reading this thinking, “Great, another thing to add to my never ending to do list.  One more thing I’ve neglected to accomplish.”

But self care is probably something you’re already doing…it maybe just needs to be prioritized into your life a little more intentionally.

Self care is doing things that you love; things that make you happy.

It means feeding your passions and pursuing your dreams.

It means disciplining yourself to choose what is best so that you can reach your very greatest potential.

It means that every now and then, you put your own spiritual, emotional or social needs first.

So today…find a way to take care of yourself.

Turn on your favourite music, order pizza for dinner or get out for a walk.

Take a bath…with music so you won’t hear the chaos the kids are causing downstairs with your husband.

Plan a date night at home, exercise or go shopping.

Take a nap while the kids lie down, join a women’s group or book club, journal or call a friend.

Change the scenery around you for a few hours.

When we think of self care we tend to think of hiding away in a corner somewhere by ourselves, but some of these things can be done with your children at your side.

It’s about choosing to enjoy the life you have, and finding ways to make it easy to enjoy.

It’s ok to leave the dishes for a nap sometimes.

Deciding to spend the morning outside in the sunshine instead of cleaning the house is not a choice you will regret.

Losing some weight or cooking a nutritious meal will help you feel more motivated, energetic and happy.

Listening to your favourite worship songs while you feed the kids breakfast could be the difference between staying calm and refreshed or frustrated and stressed through the morning rush.

Pick up your Bible while the kids are quiet or listen to your favourite podcast while you fold the laundry.

I have found it can be such a subtle change to my day but such a great shift in my heart when I take the time to choose things that will fill up my own cup.

 

In John chapter 10 Jesus says,

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

This is what Jesus desires for you.

Life!

Abundantly.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like Enough

It’s one of those seasons.

I feel like no matter how thin I stretch my heart across the grid of my life I cannot quite reach the borders.

I look at the faces circled around my table and I long to be able to fill the gaps.  My heart staggers a bit at the distance between where we are and where I want us to be.

I see the slumped shoulders of a girl with the weight of a changing world on her preteen shoulders.  Catty friends, difficult assignments, disappointing grades on her report card and the constant pull and tug of her sister.  I feel her creeping away from me, and I’m just not ready for this.

I see the runny nose of a little boy getting over the cold, his eyes rimmed with tell-tale redness.  He’s been whining and weary for days now.  His constantly outstretched arms beg me to pick him up, up, up.  I can’t do it all, sweet boy.  I can’t fix it for you.  But I dole out more Tylenol and fill his sippy cup for the hundredth time.  Breathe in gratitude; breathe out the chaos.

My middle child flits in and out, constantly bending to the pressures of the needs above and below her.  I know I need to carve out time for her that will not be dictated by toddlers or preteens.  Her body is tense these days, and her heart feels far beyond my reach.  I feel my heart ache with the words her teacher shared and the stubborn tilt of her chin.  I wonder if she knows brittle hearts break the fastest.

My baby watches the world with delight and I wish I could say I don’t miss a thing…but I do…every single day I do.  I reach my fingers to land softly on the bumpy, brittle valleys of his head…testament to the surgical interventions of the last year.  My thoughts jump to the MRI we’re waiting for, the EEG and neurology appointments next week and the therapy sessions coming up.  I wonder what I’m missing and why he’s not sleeping well.  I smile when he pops out yet another new word, tucking it away to savor; it feels like hope.  The next minute in fierce toddler style he is screeching at me and throwing his bowl off the table.  I can’t figure out whether I should laugh or cry as I look at the rice scattered all over the floor.

My husband’s phone rings and I hear tidbits of his conversation.  He’s setting dates, planning meetings, sounding eager as they plan the future.  I am so proud of the new opportunities arising for him…I wonder if he sees me barely keeping up to his enthusiasm.  I’m apprehensive of the change, only because I am unsure what to expect.  I know he knows this too.  I put on my brightest smile because I want him to know how very proud I am of him.  I see how hard he’s worked and I know he deserves this.  I know he will take care of us all no matter what…but still I feel a bit like I’m drowning.  I just can’t quite keep my head above the water.

My phone alarm rings…medicine time.  I see it’s almost gone and make a note to call the pharmacy in the morning.  I hope this will  be the last refill and that our neurology appointment will bring only good news of his brain scans.

The back door slams…they’re home from school.  She’s full of chatter and stories…I can’t tell which ones are true today.  The oldest is quieter than sometimes…I think she looks tired.  I try to catch her eye but she’s turning her back and leaving the room.  We’ve been getting to bed on time but I know she hasn’t been sleeping as well and life is just draining the joy out of her lately.

I catch sight of the conversation on the screen as she talks to her birth mother.  I see she’s asking questions about her father….questions with hard answers.  I run a hand over her back and let her know I’m there but inside I feel the air squeeze out a bit…I know I can’t protect her forever.  I grab my phone to text birth mom to thank her for always being so patient and kind…for being a role model my girls can look up to.  I’m so grateful for her presence in our lives.

I see the time and hurry to pack his backpack full of snacks, diapers, wipes and extra clothes.  I throw in the play dough and a few toy cars…he gets bored with the play room at the Children’s Aid office.  I call out that it’s time to go to his visit and he comes running, eyes wide with excitement.  I rush him to the car…I have good intentions to be on time but still we manage to arrive a few minutes late.  I hope she knows it’s not because we don’t care.  I ask her if she’s feeling better this week and mentally remind myself I need to text her more.  A picture, a funny story…something.  She hands me a bag of new clothes and I smile, even though they’re the wrong size.  I pull the social worker aside to ask about next week’s plans and let her know he fell off the kitchen chair yesterday and bumped his head.  She lets me know quietly that court didn’t go as well as we hoped.  I kiss him goodbye and wish I could save him from the heartbreak of his own story.

My phone beeps and I see an email pop up from the school.  It’s my daughter’s principal asking to set up a meeting to go over my daughter’s test results.  I agree to the time and then wonder who will watch Little Boy.  My stomach pulls into knots, wondering what the testing results will say.  Will it help or hurt us at this point?  I put medication and dietary changes on the list of things I want to research to help kids with ADHD and FASD and check my calendar to see when our next pediatrician appointment is scheduled for.

I’m trying to present the new phonics rules to her and guide her through the activities suggested.  See, hear, touch.  See, hear, touch.  She needs all three senses to grasp the new concepts.  The toddlers are squabbling over cars and blocks and the best spot on the couch.  I look from my daughter to them, trying to decide if it’s worth interrupting her lesson to help them sort it out.  I love homeschooling, but I also hate it.  There’s possibly an end in sight and that both makes me terrified and relieved at the same time.

He offers to take the little ones with him for a while and I sigh gratefully.  For a few minutes the house will be quiet.  I glance toward my untouched Bible in the basket by my chair.  I’ll pick it up at nap time, when their eyes close and I sit outside their bedroom door waiting for Little O’s restless limbs to fall quiet.  I wish I felt inspired but lately it’s mostly just choosing to believe that I’m being fed whether it feels like it or not.

Choosing to believe that He’s filling in the gaps I’m leaving behind in my own life, my children’s lives…the world around me.

Sometime I open my eyes in the morning and wonder…how am I going to keep it together today?

How am I going to get through the next week, hour…five minutes?

Honestly, I don’t always know…but somehow it happens.

Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

Anxiety is such a joy stealer, and fear…it is a liar.

Many times if I stop and think I know it was not me at all that held it together.

Grace comes in so many different forms and always at the right time.

There are tears, but there are also a lot of kisses and laughter and funny stories and so even the bad days creep by.

Life can be such a puzzle, can’t it?

As moms our hearts and minds can feel like they are divided into a thousand small pieces, scattered over the table in a kaleidoscope of colour.

I don’t really have any solutions.

I guess I just want you to know that you’re not alone out there.

Yes, you.

The one who teeters on the tightrope of her life, wide-eyed at the chasm below.

The one who is having a hard time believing that Spring is just around the corner.

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it?

But new life is on its way.

Easter is just around the corner, promising that the best endings come from the most painful stories.

Hang in there.

We’re going to  be ok.

~AF

 

 

 

 

This One’s for the Moms

Parenting is hard work.

Nobody is perfect but somehow we still expect perfection, especially from ourselves.

It doesn’t help that we have access to so much information.

Every day we as moms are bombarded with hundreds of messages of what we should and shouldn’t be doing, wearing, saying and eating.

Sometimes I feel like no matter what I do, it’s never enough.

How do I know if I’m doing this well?

What are the most important things?

Am I getting it right?

IMG_9985-13
Enter a caption

But God gave those children to you for a reason, Mama.

The best parenting moments often happen when we are confidently parenting in the ways that we instinctively know are best for us and our children.

Here are a collection of some things I have told myself and other moms.

Because we could all use some grace.

***

Dear Moms,

Your child will not die if they eat Kraft Dinner tonight…or three times this week.

Your integrity as a person does not depend on the cleanliness of your home.

It is ok not to breastfeed your baby.

Not all immunizations are good and not all are bad.  It’s ok to make your own choices and its ok to just follow the immunization schedule your doctor suggests.

Colds and flus happen and there is very little you can do to stop them.  They will run their course and be over soon.

Some of the best days happen in pajamas with unwashed faces, bare feet and dirty floors.

IMG_4866-81

Having devotions every day is not always possible when you are a mom.  You are not going to hell for being busy caring for the little people He entrusted to you.

Sometimes your child will be the bully and other mothers will misunderstand you and yours.  Take it as an opportunity to develop character in yourself and your child…and remember in detail all the times you were mean to others as a kid.

Most children do not enjoy church.  This doesn’t mean they will never be Believers, it just means they’re regular children.

Sleeping through the night for babies, toddlers and mothers is a myth.  Few nights will go by that both you and all your children will sleep for 8 hours with no interruptions.  Lower your expectations and you will all be happier.

Sometimes bribes are the perfect solution.

Don’t turn everything into a lesson.

Babies cannot be spoiled by being held…but it’s also ok to put them down so you can take a shower.

You don’t always have to give a reason other than “Because I’m the mom.”

Co-sleeping can be wonderful…or terrible.  It really is YOUR choice.

Follow your instincts…but don’t expect to be a super-human.  You never did or will know everything about everything.  Sometimes it’s better to call the Doctor.

Pretending you did not hear or see something is a coping mechanism every parent will use sometimes.  Stay sane!

Siblings will fight, and sometimes they will hurt each other.  This is normal.

096_IMG_5156

Every parent does hundreds of things they will later regret.  Say sorry, do what you can to resolve the situation and then move on.

When the dentist says your child has cavities it does not necessarily mean that you are not brushing your child’s teeth well enough or often enough.  Also, no one expects you to have time to brush and floss three kids’ teeth for them every morning and night.

Living off the grid and growing your own food is probably not a good option for most of you.

Whichever way you choose to educate your child has worked for hundreds of other children on the planet.

DIY sometimes just means that it looks like you did it yourself.  Don’t let Pinterest fool you!

pexels-photo-159984

 

Love really does cover a multitude of sins.

The TV is a good babysitter and its ok to use it some days.  If it provides you with the breather you need then it is probably worth it.

Children under 5 rarely handle social situations well.  They hit, they bite, they scream and they grab.  This is perfectly normal.

Sometimes you need to put your own needs ahead of your children’s and practise some self care.  Don’t be a martyr.

No matter how hard you try, there will be some things you do badly.

It’s okay if you’re aiming for just OK.

Life is not fair, and your kids should know that.

Children love time with you.  It doesn’t always have to be quality, it doesn’t always have to be quantity.  Both have value and significance.

Your kids will not always be happy and they will not always like you.  That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

It’s ok to say no.  It’s also ok to say yes sometimes.

Adolescents will be grumpy a lot.

You will not enjoy your children, or parenting, all the time.

God loves to fill in the gaps that we miss as parents with His perfect, extravagant, more than enough love.

042_IMG_4883

Keep your chin up and your smile on.

You.

Are.

Doing

Great.

With Love and Grace,

Another Imperfect Mom

~AF

*Photography credits to Unfrozen Photography

 

 

Be Kind to Yourself

It’s been a long week.

I started strong on Monday, with ambition and the best of intentions.

But along came Tuesday,

Wednesday,

and then Thursday;

trampling tenacity and smothering resolve.

In came sore throats and hot little fevered bodies.  Tears, tantrums, countless night time wakings and bone aching weariness.

The lists get longer, the interruptions more frequent and the laundry pile larger.

By mid afternoon I’m feeling like I want to crawl under the blankets in a dark room for a long, long time.

My throat feels raw, my voice is hoarse and my eyes are gritty from lack of sleep while the fevered chills come and go.

But it’s my soul that feels most defeated.

pexels-photo-568027

I feel I’m at my worst.

It’s not the physical sickness.

It’s all the impatient words I spoke, rolling over and over through my mind like a song on repeat.

It’s all the times I sighed and pushed them away;

ignored their hands reaching for me.

It’s all the missed opportunities to nurture, knowing it’s in those moments I had so much opportunity to deliver the message,

I will take care of you.

Instead, it came out more like,

I’m way too tired and busy for you.

It’s the looking at tomorrow and thinking,

“I don’t want to get up and be the mom anymore.”

I dump it out with hoarse sobs and hot tears on my husband’s kind shoulders.

And the words come.

Be kind to yourself.

He folds me in his arms and kisses my hair.

His calm reassurance brings Truth to this space.

His love is indifferent to my scathing self-reviews.

I hunt down the song on YouTube and let my soul rest in it as I play it over and over again.

You can’t expect to be perfect
It’s a fight you’ve gotta forfeit
You belong to me whatever you do
So lay down your weapon, darling
Take a deep breath and believe that I love you

Be kind to yourself.

I can see it, watching the tender exchange on video between father and daughter as they sing the words.

I love you just the way that you are.
I love the way He made your precious heart.                                                                          Be kind to yourself.

What if I could pass this on to my own daughter, so tender and vulnerable as she unfolds into womanhood before my eyes?

I know it’s hard to hear it when that anger in your spirit
Is pointed like an arrow at your chest
When the voices in your mind are anything but kind

What if I could really embrace it,

the knowledge of all the ways I fall short.

Embrace that love isn’t something to be earned.

Maybe I could carry that grace to others, too.

Well how does it end when the war that you’re in
Is just you against you against you?

Be kind to yourself.

I let the words reshape my reflection.

I look at my daughters as I kiss them goodnight, stroking the freckled cheeks affectionately, and think…

It’s the best way to love them; to show them what Grace is.

When I let failure be my teacher, humility and kindness will settle around my tensed shoulders and I can offer kindness to them too.

Teach them how to handle their own fragile souls delicately.

Be kind to yourself.

Will they see it?

Will they carry it in their own hearts as they look in the mirror each day,

take in the words of the world around them,

try and fail at life.

Be kind to yourself.

I say it as I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror pulling old clothes over an ordinary, blemished body.

I say it as I stare at the to do list and tuck it under the stack of papers where I can’t see it.

I say it as I fall onto the couch for a nap in the quiet of the afternoon while the dishes litter the kitchen counter and harden into crusty layers.

I say it as I scroll through my social media feed, taking in a narration of a thousand best moments of other people’s today.

I say it as I look at the dirty floors, the Kraft Dinner on the table, the children lounging on the couch in front of a screen.

I say it as I glimpse my Bible unopened in the basket by the window.

I say it as I step on the scale that disappoints, look at the grocery receipt that’s too high, and the toddlers eating lunch in their pajamas.

Be kind to yourself.

The words we tell ourselves become the words we tell others.

The disappointment,

the expectations,

the fear,

the anger,

or the kindness.

Live like you are loved.

Live like you are a child of God.

099_IMG_5175

“That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

-Ephesians 3:17-19

“Be Kind to Yourself” by Andrew Peterson

~AF