What I Learned on a Big Long Road Trip

Taking off work and pulling the kids out of school for a week and a half to go on a cross-country road trip sounds like an adventure, but about nine days into it you realize a few things. 

  1. Those things about your family members that you find slightly annoying at home where you can slip off into the other room when they happen become unavoidably difficult when you are stuck with them for days in a car. Does he smack his lips when he eats or mispronounce the word “Massachusetts” every single time he says it? You’ll be planning a Boston Tea Party by the end of the voyage!
  2. Trying to avoid dropping a chunk of lettuce or an avalanche of black olives on your lap when attempting to enjoy a Subway sandwich while hurtling down I 80 at breakneck speeds will only result in mayo all over your already disgusting travel clothes. 
  3. The youngest will always run out of patience before the others. The point at which this happens is inversely related to the amount of patience you have remaining.   
  4. Someone will inevitably see a stuffed animal/pocket knife/best snack in the world that he or she will choose not to buy at a truck stop and then will lament this choice for at least the rest of the trip.
  5. Fast food, when eaten at every meal for ten days, does bad things to every family member’s stomach. 
  6. A sack full of bananas brought in an attempt to counteract the effects of the fast food will go uneaten and become black and bruised and smelly just a few short hours into the trip. 
  7. The child complaining most about a tummy ache will be the first to demand a snack.  
  8. The most important item, whatever that may be, will be left in the trunk in a bag underneath all other bags and will be needed within 40 min of leaving home. The most important item changes from day to day so it is impossible to predict what that may be and keep it unpacked. 
  9. No matter how exhausted you feel, you will not be able to fall asleep. Unless you’re driving. Then you’ll struggle not to nod off every few minutes. 
  10. When taking turns driving, the driver will decide to stop for a potty break within ten minutes of you finally, finally falling asleep.   
  11. The road construction signs you see for miles in the middle of nowhere will lead you to absolutely no actual road construction but a significant amount of slow traffic.  
  12. When you finally arrive home from this epic journey, you will face a mountain of dirty laundry, a schedule that didn’t pause just because you’re tired from your “vacation,” and a full work week ahead. 
  13. No matter how carefully you budget, you will spend more than you expected you would. 
  14. Within a day of departing, you will find it hard to remember where you actually live, especially if you have moved within the last few years. You may also lose track of info you once thought was firmly ingrained in your mind. Things like what projects you’re working on at work or your current address. You will, however, memorize the complete menu at Arby’s. 
  15. Places like The World’s Largest Truck Stop and the Danish windmill museum become intensely fascinating after hours of monotonous Midwestern landscape.   
  16. You’ll meet some surprisingly nice people in places you never thought you’d meet nice people. Places like a gas station in Connecticut, a parking lot in Illinois and a pastel-colored tent at a festival in Salem, Massachusetts.   
  17. You’ll be so tired of wearing basically the same pair of jeans that you contemplate throwing them alway instead of washing them. 

As I write this, we are on the last leg of a multi-legged trip. We’re within 3 1/2 hours from home, and I am dreaming of driving that whole distance without stopping and without anyone arguing. 

I can’t complain, though. We’ve driven about 60-65 hours in the last ten days and there have been relatively few difficulties. We’ve visited all of the grandparents, talked to more friends than I can count at ICOM (the missionary convention) in Richmond, Virginia, told everyone there how great Nebraska Christian College is and researched Andrew’s book on pagan religions by celebrating Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts!  

 
Right now the kids are all reading quietly except for Emma. She’s sitting in her seat with a blanket over her head, probably in an effort to block out the rest of the world. I don’t know how she can stand it, but I’m thinking of trying it out myself!

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For the Love of Minecraft

The concentration. They didn't even see me there taking the picture.

The concentration! They didn’t even see me there taking the picture.

I’m sitting on my couch. In the next room, my children have gathered around the dining room table. Their lively conversation, the kindest they’ve had in days, revolves around running for their lives from killer mushroom soup and a zombie that will kill them with one hit. Whatever that means. They’re playing Minecraft, rejoicing over the murder of a zombie with a Thor axe.

Most of the time, these three walk a fine line between beating the tar out of one another and simply ignoring each other’s existence. Once in a while, they start playing something that gets them all immediately involved 100%, and then this beautiful situation occurs. Over the years, different games have intrigued them. Once I woke up on a Saturday morning to the sound of three kids playing in the other room. I went in to see them all embroiled in a huge light saber fight. The girls each held a baby doll on a hip, deftly wielding a saber with the free hand. When I asked what they were doing, Hannah answered, “Playing Star Wars!” The babies were the twins, Luke and Lea.

Yep, they even play it at the library!

Yep, they even play it at the library!

A couple of years ago, Minecraft entered the scene. They became immersed in a blocky world of endermen and zombies, and they all became very good at building creative structures with blocks. Hannah even built an elaborate church, a throwback to when my sister and I played worship service in the garage or school in the dining room. Since then, they have played Minecraft with friends from church, students at the college, and one of the small group guys spent an afternoon playing it with them, despite his advanced age (20 something!).

I’ve heard criticism galore about how too much computer time hurts kids, and I’m sure that’s true. However, this game and others like it have given my children much more positive interaction than anything I’ve seen them do. Ever. They have more to talk about and a language that only they understand. They work together in their Minecraft world. Tonight my daughter begged my son to play, saying that he could best save her and protect her there, so they even have a chance to rely on one another and care for one another in their virtual world.

The heavenly day when they received their very own laptops--a combined Christmas gift from grandparents and parents and worth every penny!

The heavenly day when they received their very own laptops–a combined Christmas gift from grandparents and parents and worth every penny!

Not only do they play the game together, but they watch YouTube videos of other people playing it. Today at lunch, one of them started laughing about something one of them saw on a YouTube video, and I swear it sounded like they were talking about a friend. When I realized they were all laughing about someone they knew from a vlog, I just shook my head. They’re already in a world I’ll never care about.

Hearing them talk to each other, laugh at things that happen online, and cheer each other on as they play makes me happy. These are the days I waited for, the days I longed for when they were little and covered in a mixture of snot and chocolate milk and unidentifiable goop from breakfast. These days, I have uninterrupted periods of time when they’re happy and fulfilled without me, when I can sit on a couch and write a blog post or take a shower without the guilt of a baby crying in her crib in the back of my mind. They’re growing up!

And not only are they growing up, but they’re growing up great. I know they’re my kids, but I think they’re pretty wonderful. Today I was the last of the family to leave Taco Bell and went out the door behind a group of people using wheelchairs. I thought my kids were all in the car, but as I walked out the door I noticed that the person behind it was my youngest, Emma. She had held the door for a long line of wheelchairs. I saw one of the caretakers accompanying the people smile one of those oh-my-what-a-lovely-little-girl smiles and I just felt so proud of her. She is a lovely little girl.

So here’s to enjoying these days when they’re all home and all having fun together. Days when they still just have each other, when they build memories they’ll take with them when they go their separate ways and find other people to share their lives. Here’s hoping that they remember these days as well or better than they remember the days when Mommy lost her mind and yelled about the car door that wouldn’t close or the day when everyone sat in silence during dinner because they got reprimanded for talking mean to one another.

For now, I’ll let them conquer the Pumpkin King with TNT and enjoy listening to their animated conversation…even if I don’t understand half of it!

Random Thoughts

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Just a few random thoughts at the end of the week:

  1. New beginnings are exciting! School started this week. We have two junior high family members now, and the youngest child is sweetly still in fourth grade. On Tuesday, everyone got dressed in their finest clothes, straightened and spiked hair, and loaded their backpacks. As much as I love sleeping in a little in the summer and having a more relaxed schedule, I also like the routine and predictability of school.
  2. New beginnings are stressful! One boy in our family has gone to bed at 7 or so several times this week. People have had blow ups over tiny, dumb things, and by people have I mean I have. I’m not even in school, and I feel stressed out by it!
  3. Cicadas make way more noise than I’m comfortable with. I’m sitting on the deck in the back yard, and I can hardly think because of those things.
  4. The weather must follow the school calendar. On the very day that school started, the temperature went from don’t-even-look-outside-for-fear-of-radiation-burns to get-back-in-here-and-get-a-jacket. How does it know?!
  5. The feel of the world changes in fall. How strange is that? I was in the car with Alex yesterday around 7 pm and said, “Man! It even looks different now that school started.” The light is different–golden or something. The clouds and sky looked so crisp. How is it that I forget this during other seasons and only remember it when it hits again?
  6. I’m really tired. Overloaded with new routine, getting kids out in the morning and being home on time, an influx of new students around me all day, many of them needing something from my office, and less sleep than normal come together to make Tired Laura.
  7. I guess I break things when I’m tired nowadays. I mean, this hasn’t been a thing for me in the past, but I think I’ve taken up a new hobby of breaking pottery. Yesterday I dropped my fave coffee mug in the morning and broke the handle off, and last night I dropped a coffee mug out of the cabinet. It fell onto a plate on the counter below, and both of them broke.

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My poor Willa Cather mug

Tired Laura probably should end this overgrown Facebook status-y blog post and go make some dinner. Or, you know, break some stuff.

A Calling to Sacrifice

Last week I sat in a meeting where an evangelism professor from the Christian college where I work called on a student to give an impromptu testimony in front of a group of incoming freshmen. I initially felt sorry for the poor girl put on the spot in front of a group of strangers, but I then thought what if he calls on someone else after her? I began planning what my testimony would be, in case he called on me. By the time she finished her speech, I had just two thoughts ready: calling and sacrifice.

Because no post referring to me at the age of those students would be complete without a senior picture of me at the age of those students.

Because no post referring to me at the age of those students would be complete without a senior picture of me at the age of those students.

When I was the age of those hopeful students, I had all kinds of plans. I thought I would do what I had planned to do since I was nine years old: be a missionary. I was sure of this. I knew God wanted me to go, and I wanted to go. I had figured out God’s plan for my life, and I would do what he wanted, and it would work out.

Fast forward a few years, and I was living the dream I thought God had for me, teaching missionary kids in Ukraine.The ministry fit the exact combination of skills, education, and interests I had, and I loved almost every minute of it. I remember feeling so settled and content, sure that God had put me exactly where he wanted me. Four years into it, I even married another missionary who shared my passion for cross-cultural work.

During the years I lived in Ukraine, I often heard Americans say to me, “I don’t know how you can live there. I couldn’t do it.” I always responded, “I couldn’t not do it.” I felt compelled to go, compelled to do this hard thing for God. It was at the very core of who I thought I was. But along the way things changed. I found out that God doesn’t leave us in those comfortable places forever. It seems that sometimes he requires some things we don’t really understand.

Our last year in Ukraine was complicated, and it eventually became evident to both my husband and me that we needed to move back to the U.S. He got a great opportunity to teach at a Christian college, something he had always dreamed of, and we packed up and moved. Before I knew it, I lived in a house in the suburbs, doing nothing I had planned to do. We had children, a mortgage, some pets, and I worked hard not to think about how my dreams of being a missionary lay broken somewhere in a dark room in the back of my mind.

I feel guilty even insinuating that motherhood has been less than stellar for me when I see these sweet faces. They were so little and so cute!

I feel guilty even insinuating that motherhood has been less than stellar for me when I see these sweet faces. They were so little and so cute in this photo!

I wish I could say that being a mom became my unexpectedly fulfilling calling. In all practical ways it did, of course, because I had three children to care for. They were there, they were mine, so I apparently was called to mother them. However, I haven’t ever really had the passionate, I-love-motherhood thing that some moms have going on. I love my children; I just always wondered if maybe I had missed something else I was supposed to do. I thought if I were a better woman, a better wife, a better mom, I could have handled motherhood and some sort of vibrant ministry, and the fact that I did nothing but change diapers for the better part of a decade proved that I couldn’t handle more. I pushed that thought into that dark room in the back of my mind as well.

I had a lot of jobs over the years. I took most of them only because they fit conveniently into our lifestyle and did not require us to get a babysitter. I discovered that I liked some of the jobs, though. In fact, I really liked them. Still I could never quite reconcile the Bible college, church camp, calling-from-God idea with those jobs. Working in a store in the mall, for example, didn’t require a calling. If God called all of us to something, did he call me to work in a store?  Sometimes I felt weird for loving these jobs as much as I did. I mean, selling stuff? Why was that important in the big scheme of things? I felt like I had to justify my enjoyment of my work. And how had I become one of those people who just works a dead end job and tries to find joy in the little things in life while ignoring the big, world-changing things I heard so much about in Bible college?

I still feel that way sometimes, even though I work in a Christian organization and can placate myself by saying that my work contributes to the school’s mission of creating the next generation of church leaders. I never saw myself in this type of job, although I do really love it.

It’s only been in the last three or four years that I’ve begun unpacking some of the junk I pushed in that dark back room of my mind and maybe I’ve started understanding some of it.

Maybe God’s calling is less about what we do and more about who we are. This relieves the pressure to somehow find God’s perfect will. In American culture, we are all indoctrinated to believe that we are great people, capable of doing great things, and therefore should search diligently for those great things we should do. For American Christians, this gets translated into being told we are great because God made us great and that he has planned great things for us. We spend our lives searching for a specific calling from God, and if we don’t find that we start to feel frustrated and disillusioned in our run-of-the-mill lives. Sometimes we push our way into something that we think is great in an attempt to prove our worth to God and other Christians. Sometimes we fall into the habit of expecting God to choose us to rise above the crowd and become superhero Christians: missionaries, preachers, worship leaders, charismatic speakers with huge followings.

In reality, we don’t find much in the Bible about us each having a great big calling, but we do see that God clearly tells us throughout the Scriptures that our calling is to love him. Love him and live with him and show him to those around us by the way that we love them. A few years into my job in the mall, I realized that I came into contact with more non-believers in a day there than I had in months of ministry. I had the opportunity to live out my faith every day in that menial job that I initially took just because I could work when my husband was home to care for the kids.

Maybe I needed to sacrifice what I once thought God wanted from me. I thought God wanted me to be a missionary. It appears that he doesn’t have that in the plans for me at this point. Thinking about my testimony distilled my thoughts into those two ideas: calling and sacrifice. Do I stubbornly sit myself in a corner and refuse to do anything because it’s not what I originally thought I’d be doing? (I admit, I have done that…) Or do I stand up and do what’s at hand and give it to God with the confidence that he will use it? Maybe my true calling actually involves sacrificing the calling I once thought I had. I find over and over that I must sacrifice the dreams I thought God had for me or the dreams I had for myself and enjoy what God is really doing around me.

superman-clipart-9i4E9jeiEMaybe God knew when I chose the superhero path that part of my motivation involved showing off the big red S on my shirt. Maybe the rest of my life’s challenge and calling is to live a regular life, a quiet life, not caring if anyone remembers my name at all when I’m gone.

I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on these student’s ideas of what God has planned. They’re young and energetic and idealistic, and maybe he really is planning on using them in great ways. I know a lot of professors and college staff rooting for them along the way. But maybe he’s got more menial jobs in store. Jobs where they can sacrifice the flashy, superheroes-of-the-faith dreams they have and live a day-to-day life of being his in a world that doesn’t know him.

Maybe that’s the calling.

The Best Way to Travel with Kids

 

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

Happy faces at the beginning of the trip.

I’ve been a mom for almost thirteen years. All of that time, we’ve lived far away from family. That means that most “vacations” have been trips to the grandparents’ houses and have involved driving long distances with very small and very squirrely people. We’ve tried all kinds of methods to get from point A to point B without a murder/suicide pact, but I discovered the best one yet last week: travel with coworkers.

It sounds crazy, I know. In fact, before we left for our 14-hour road trip to ICOM (International Conference on Missions) in Columbus, Ohio, I dreaded the idea of packing my husband, my three children and myself into a mini van with my boss and another professor from the college where we work. I imagined hours of monotony infused with severe whining and me maybe doing something horrible like yelling at the kids while simultaneously trying to hold an adult conversation with a Ph.D.

My boy is the cutest boy.

My boy is the cutest boy.

As it turned out, though, I was very wrong about the whole thing. In fact, I hadn’t even considered the idea that the presence of outsiders might make our family nicer to each other. My children, being preteens and old enough to entertain themselves for longer stretches than 3.2 seconds, brought books, notebooks, homework (!), DS games, and they actually kept themselves busy about 70% of the time.

Of course, kids their ages are decent at being nice to each other, but sometimes they get tired and feel cramped and bored. When that happened on this trip, the children did something wonderful. Instead of yelling at each other and pushing each other around, they calmly (most of the time) expressed themselves and guess what! Having two extra adults in the vehicle proved wonderfully handy. Instead of Andrew and me shouldering the entire burden for entertaining and refereeing, whenever the boredom started setting in, one of the other grown-ups came up with something interesting for them to talk about or listen to or do. Imagine that! We brought a village in the van with us, and they helped us raise our kids for a few days.

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving...

Is that a mushroom cloud in the distance? Just keep driving, just keep driving…

One of the professors regaled us all with stories from his doctoral dissertation in literature, and that proved interesting and informative.  During the long ride home, in what felt like the middle of the dark night but really was only about 6 pm, the other one broke out in a narrative poem/story he recited from memory. Very impressive, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss.

The best parts, though, were not related entirely to the children’s behavior. I watched us all together and I realized a few things.

1.  I enjoyed seeing my coworkers in a different and unusual setting. I see them at work, interacting with students and other faculty and staff, but I never see them on a ridiculously long road trip with children. They both have grandchildren of their own, though, and I got to see the grandfather come out in them. I like them better now, having seen how gently they treated my children. Like I said above, my children don’t get to see family very often, and this trip reiterated for me how God provides families for us when he leads us far from our biological families.

2.  Children spend more time with their parents than anyone, and I think that sometimes can get oppressive. They need other people’s input in their lives. Seeing other adults, listening to them talk, hearing the way they spoke to each other and to their own children on the phone during the trip gave my kids a different perspective, little glimpses of other ways to view the world. Not to mention that they listened to us converse about things other than what was for dinner and whether the cats and dogs will ever get along in our house. They got to hear about theology and literature and ministry and all sorts of important things that I know very little about and rarely discuss with them.

3.  My own behavior improved drastically on this trip because nothing will make you nicer and more patient with your children than having your boss sit there and listen to you talk to them. I realized how much my attitude affects the children’s behavior. The old saying holds some truth: “If Mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” That can go for Dad, as well, of course. One person can bring down a carload, and one person can build up a carload as well. I need to remember that in everyday life!

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year's ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

The picture from our three-hour trip home from last year’s ICOM. Note the priceless expression of the middle one. One of my all-time favorite travel pictures.

So now that we have made it home and have managed not to do anything horribly embarrassing, we can be thankful for the experience. I think my kids will remember the time they travelled with the faculty! Now if we can just convince them to go with us on our next family vacation…!

A Big Waste of Time

Yesterday morning I listened to a sermon by a veteran preacher. In it, he encouraged the audience to focus on what is important in life and not to settle for mediocrity.

“I can’t help but think of how many great things I may have missed because I was preoccupied with lesser things.”

That struck home with me because even at that very moment, when I sat in a room listening to an eloquent speaker open up truths from the Word of God, I also thought about what texts I might have gotten during the praise time or what someone else around me might have been tweeting about the sermon. My mind wandered to what I’d eat for lunch and what my kids were doing at school. I kept bringing my train of thought back to the sermon, back to what he was saying because I didn’t want to lose sight of the diamonds in life while focusing on the gravel at my feet.

imagesSo I left thinking I’ll do it! I’ll put away my cell phone when my kids are around. I’ll engage with people and really listen. I’ll care about things that God cares about and put the rest in perspective. Yep! That’s what I’ll do starting now! As it turns out, that is much easier to think than to do.

After a long day at work and a busy night caring for sick kids, making dinner, doing housework, I sat down in the quiet house where everyone slept except me. I wanted to write a little, but instead I did The Bad Thing.

I looked at Facebook.

I’m not going to rant against Facebook because I happen to love Facebook. However, I’m not dumb enough to think that Facebook doesn’t steal my life away, one status at a time. This time was no exception. I started looking at a thread on a Facebook crochet group I like. One of the group’s members started writing all kinds of stuff on there that I would consider bitter, hateful, and downright mean. She decided that one of the other members was trying to con innocent people also in the group, and she took it upon herself to start a harsh and condemning thread about that other member. Publicly.

I watched the thread fill up with people spewing hateful things about this person that they did not even know, and I just felt disgusted. So I chimed in and reminded people to mind their words and pay attention to how they treated one another.

Big mistake. They turned on me. The crocheters became violent, hook-weilding gladiators, intent on ridding the world of all that is good and decent under the guise of exposing a “con artist” and self-righteously criticizing those who reminded them of civility. I watched it unfold in disbelief, made a few comments, and then attempted to extract myself from the conversation. I looked at the clock and saw that the lesser things had stolen quite a bit time from the great things.

Isn’t this how it goes, though? We make a decision to change something, to do something better than we’ve been doing it, and before we know it, we’re back doing the same old thing we’ve always done. Just now, I sat down to type while the kids played quietly and independently in the other room, but as soon as I got a good start, one after the other called for me, asked for help, for lunch, for paint, for exacto knives (?!). I, writing about taking time for what’s important, told them that I was busy and couldn’t they do some of this on their own (except for the exacto knives!). I put off the great, the relationship with my kids, to focus on the lesser, my beautiful blog.

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So here’s what I’m going to do to make sure I focus on some of the really important things this week. I consulted my kids for advice on this, since they are the ones who often get put off when I’m working on something less important. Here are their suggestions:

1.   “Spend more time thinking” (Emma, 8 years old). Think about God and what he wants me to do instead of what I want to do. Interesting that this was the immediate response since this is also what a lot of experts suggest for relaxation. Stop and think. Spend time meditating/praying/thinking. Hannah (12 years old) added, “Analyze the things you think are important and compare that with what you know God thinks is important.”

2.   “Not playing on your phone a whole bunch” (Emma). I was hoping that one wouldn’t come up. I mean, I hoped maybe no one noticed that they saw the top of my head more than my eyes since I look down on my phone a lot while we’re together. I decided to move the Facebook app on my phone so that I don’t see it and its demanding notifications every time I pick up my phone. Less of a reminder, less of a temptation…right?

3.   “Use the extra time to do things you say you don’t have time for when you’re using time doing unimportant things” (Alex, 11 years old). In other words, stop saying I don’t have time to read or crochet because I do. Maybe when I see all of the fun things I get to do when I’m not checking my work email or texting someone who can probably wait an hour or so to hear from me, I’ll decide the sacrifice is worth it.

Now that I’ve publicly committed myself to them, you can hold me to them. But, oh my goodness, be nice to me about them! No more Facebook crazy!

Like Riding a Bike

Today I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I rode a bike.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

I did not ride this kind, and I did not end up on my face. So all in all, a good experience.

My bike sat discarded in the garage through the births of three kids and a lot of sleepless nights that produced days when bike riding was the last thing on my mind. I taught my own children to ride, but I have never been much of a rider myself, so I never rode it. In fact, I think the last time I rode a bike was the summer after my oldest was born. I can’t remember any bike riding after that.

Once in a while the kids ask me to ride with them, and I say something like “I don’t really like to ride. I’ll walk, and I’ll meet you at the park (or wherever).” They’re old enough to do that now. Before I could let them go ahead, I sat outside with a book or the phone and watched them ride up and down the street in front of our house. Today I decided to join them.

I don’t know what got into me. Why did I decide this was a good day for me to break my 12-year bike-riding moratorium? Whatever the reason, I found myself pumping up the tires on my husband’s bike (mine has squeaky brakes, and, believe me, I don’t want to draw any more attention to the middle-aged me wobbling down the street than necessary). I got on confidently. I mean, why not? I don’t have any skinned-up-my-whole-body stories to tell. I took off down the driveway. It went faster than I expected. A lot faster. I tried to put on the brakes, but I realized I reverted back to the bike riding I learned as a five-year-old…when there were brakes on the pedals. I felt a moment of panic as a tree approached and I veered around it while frantically groping for the brakes. Somehow I managed to stop slowly enough that I didn’t hurtle forward over the handlebars.

What my girls saw when I got on the bike today.

What my girls thought of me when I got on the bike today.

As my heartbeat returned to normal, I heard the girls behind me. They weren’t laughing, thank goodness. Instead they were worrying. “Do you think we should do this? Maybe she’s not ready,” one of them said. “It’s been a long time. I’m not sure she really knows how to ride one,” the other one answered.

“We’re not going until you ride down the hill and back up,” my oldest called out to me from the driveway.

“What do you mean? I’m fine. Shut the door and let’s go!” I answered.

“Uumm…I’m not so sure. The ride up the hill is pretty hard.” Now keep in mind this hill is barely visible. I’m not kidding. We live in Nebraska, people. It’s not the Rocky Mountains. I rode back up to them, convincing them I was ready.

Here’s some of what I heard on the way:

“She’s still back there, Hannah. She’s ok!” (after turning to check on me).

“What would happen if Mom fell and skinned her knee really bad? Would she cry?” LIKE I WASN’T EVEN THERE!!!

“She’d probably get mad and make us leave her alone!” What am I, a mother bear?! ROAR! Sadly, they’re probably right.

So what did I learn from the bike riding experience? For one, the old saying is true. You don’t forget how to ride a bike! I was a little nervous riding with children around me. Children who tend to cut in front of me and make me think I was going to hit them and maybe do something like run over them. But I’m pretty glad I did it.

Second, I probably should do more things that I’ve written off in the last decade. My kids have been my excuse for not bike riding, not travelling, not working out, not doing more stuff like that. For a long time, they really were too young to do much with, and for a long time I mourned losing those things that I would have done if there were no kids. Then somewhere along the way I started kinda liking not doing a lot of different stuff and fell into a habit of doing the same things all of the time. They’re older now. Maybe it’s time to branch out.

Hopefully, it won't come to this.

Hopefully, it won’t come to this.

Third, they’re going to take really great care of me when I get old. I always wondered if they’d just let me wander off down the interstate in my nightgown in February, but apparently they are pretty good mother hens. Maybe we’ve done something right. Whew! It’s about time we saw some fruit of all these years of labor!

I’ve been sitting in the library writing this. I just heard the librarian say that the library closes in fifteen minutes.

Does this mean I have to ride home?!

 

I Was the Perfect Mother

I love mom

Reassurance from a little artist.

I remember when I was a perfect mother. Man, those were good days! Days when I could go in a restaurant and smugly watch moms struggle to get their kids to eat. Days when I could walk down the mall and feel superior when I saw mothers try to cope with their children’s tantrums.  Too bad everything changed. I suddenly lost my mothering skills on the day that my first daughter entered the world.

Before my oldest’s birth, I remember talking to a coworker who had teenage children. I told her that I would stay home after the baby was born but might do freelance work or try to do something from home “after things went back to normal”. I so distinctly remember her laugh. Somewhere between incredulous and mocking. She said, “Things will never go back to normal.”

How hard could it be? I asked myself. I graduated from college with honors. I lived overseas and navigated a completely new country in a language I did not know at all at first. I lived on my own and learned to manage a home in a place that had an unreliable electricity and water supply and required that everything be made from scratch with food I sometimes walked a mile or more to buy and lug home. Children couldn’t be harder than that, right?

Wrong! How incredibly naive I was. Children have been waaaaaay harder than that. All of those things I did before I married and had children still contained one element that mothering does not and never will: the ability to live for myself. Sure, I said I lived for God, and I did to some extent. I was a missionary, after all. But I never learned self-sacrifice in the concrete, day-by-day, unavoidable way I have since having children.

I visited my former roommate in Ukraine a few years ago. She somehow looked almost exactly like she did when we lived in that apartment building behind us 15 years ago. How could that happen?!

Roommates, 15 years later. How is it that she looks the same?!

As a single woman, I had roommates. With each one, elements of my personality emerged. Some of those elements showed me areas that God wanted me to change. I worked on those, changed some things to make life with the roommates more pleasant. I thought I had it together. Then I got married, and before long I realized there were a lot more rough edges to my personality that I hadn’t yet smoothed down. The more into marriage we got, the more of those rough edges we found.

Then motherhood hit. We thought Hey, we’ve been married a couple of years. We’re ready to have a baby! Now I ask myself if anyone is ever ready to have a baby. There must be women out there who take motherhood in stride. It seems Facebook is full of them. They love all of the fingerpainting and chaos and mess, and when their children scream in public it’s just downright cute to them. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m one of them.

I realized that when my daughter was a few hours old. I was trying to learn to breastfeed her, not doing well, really, and I found myself irritated. This didn’t bode well. How could I be irritated with a baby who had only been breathing the air on this planet for a few hours? And that was just the beginning of the rest of my life.

This littlest one is so silly!

This littlest one is so silly!

For me, the story of raising children has been one of learning to give up myself and yet not wanting to surrender. I know, I know, we have to keep some things for ourselves and carve out our own hobbies (hence this blog and a lot of crocheted items I’ve produced over the years). However, it’s really not possible to live for myself now that I have children. The moment I sit down to rest, I’m called on for something. The clothes I love often disappear to reappear in my oldest girl’s closet. I haven’t cooked a meal that I really liked for years, but I sure have cooked a lot of meals. I’d like to say that I have happily turned over my selfishness and have become this great mom who sacrifices it all for her children, but I don’t think I have. I still struggle.

Once in a while, my kids complain about each other to me. They tell me things that basically amount to them being in the midst of the same kind of struggle with their siblings. Selfishness vs. surrender. I tell them that anytime a person is in an intense relationship with another person there will be that struggle. It’s part of being in a family, and it’s good for us. If we live in a social vacuum, we won’t feel that tension between getting our own way and giving someone else what they need or want. We will sail along, having everything the way we want it. But we will also forfeit the good things that come with practicing self-sacrifice: the ability to see and sometimes meet another person’s needs, the desire to please God by surrendering to him instead of seeking just our own pleasure, the love and warmth of belonging to a family or close relationship of some sort. The results are worth every bit of sacrifice.

airport family

Is it still called a selfie if you’re taking a picture of an entire family?

Maybe that’s where God is working. Can I tell myself that? That point where my desires and their needs intersect sparks a fire that can refine us all and make us more of what God wants us to become. Now the key for me involves realizing that and surrendering to it. Stopping the fighting and pushing against it and letting God intervene and guide.

How hard can that be, right?

Easier said than done.

Things I’d Never Say If I Didn’t Have Kids

You said WHAT?!

You said WHAT?!

There are just some things I never dreamed I’d say until I had kids. I mean, some words should never come out of a sane and culturally-appropriate person’s mouth (see #1). Some phrases sound completely ridiculous when spoken to anyone but a three-year-old, and when I hear myself saying them I just hope no one heard me…or wish someone were here to laugh with me about them if they did! So, in honor of the start of the school year, I present you with a list of some of the things I have said over the years to my children.

1. Do not put that toilet brush in your mouth again.

2. I prefer to use the bathroom without people in the room with me/talking to me/sitting on my lap.

3. Please stop picking a hole in my hand.

4. We all wear clothes when we leave the house.

5. Do not stand on top of a table next to a second-floor, open window while wearing socks.

6. When something is in the trash, it needs to stay there and should never be removed and placed in your mouth.

7. I can’t wait for school to start.

8. Which restaurants have kids eat free tonight?

9. Shorts must be longer than your underwear if you’re wearing them in public.

10. When your father is sleeping, do not jump on his stomach.

11. Let’s buy a hermit crab!

Don't ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

Don’t ask me embarrassing questions like that ever again!

12. Did you just poop?

13. Never trust a cat alone in a room with an un-caged guinea pig.

14. Say that again, but this time at least sound like you love him when you do.

15. I think a 12-passenger van is exactly what we need.

16. Eat one more bite. Do it because you love me!

17. You’re only allowed four squares of toilet paper in this house!

18.  You’ll understand this when you get bigger.

19. What would the Wiggles do to cheer you up if they were here (while in the ER getting stitches in a 2-year-old’s head–followed by our family singing a medley of the Wiggles’ greatest hits)?

20. Let’s use our vacation money to visit relatives every summer for the rest of our lives!

IMG_0329

Please do not eat while leaning over my computer.

I know there are more. I wish I’d written them all down! Doesn’t every parent say that at some point? I thought I’d remember all of the funny things. Now middle age has hit, and I can barely remember where I parked my car, much less things that happened ten years ago!

I’d love to hear some of the funny things you’ve said to kids or things your parents said to you. Chime in with your funny stories in the comment section!