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In which this is one of the great joys of watching my children grow up

Like most parents, I have a few unwritten rules to keep my life easier and my own self saner. For instance: Thou shalt not take small children to the toy store.  Call me a mean old mum, I just don’t do it. If I need to pick up a toy for them or for a friend, I leave the tinies with my husband and go forth to conquer. Toy stores are just plain overwhelming these days. In our town, gone are the days of a shop on the corner with a lovely selection. Now we’re confronted with gigantic box stores stuffed to the ceiling with every imaginable form of product and television marketing ploy known to humanity. Just walking in the whooshing sliding door makes me want to rock in the fetal position due to sensory overload: no wonder it’s crammed full of sobbing children whose eyes have not seen nor ears heard what the marketers hold forth for them. Nothing brings out the worst in small kids – and in parents – than a toy store. I have made a valiant effort to take children to the toy store over the years. “It’ll be fun! Everyone likes to pick out a toy!” It never ended well. Lesson learned, my mama didn’t raise a fool. Toys are lovely. Big box toy stores are the seventh circle of hell.

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I noticed something about toy stores with my eldest daughter when she was younger – she felt penned in by the Pink Section. If her family gave her a bit of money to spend at the toy store for a birthday, away we would go and, even though she loved science and art, building and Barbies, she would inevitably feel stuck in the Pink Section. Filled with Barbies and baby dolls, kitchen sets and princess dress up, fairies and little ponies, she would pick out a new Barbie or a doll baby. Her brother would pick out something from the Lego section or a soccer ball. Then we would go home and she would spend the entire next few days begging Joe to let her play with his Lego or his ball, leaving her doll baby on the floor. I would walk her to other sections of the store: look, here! you love riding your bike, why don’t you get a new basket? you love bugs, why don’t you get a bug catching kit? you love Lego, why don’t you get a set? you love science, why don’t you get a telescope? but inevitably, she would say, no, Mum, this is where the girls shop so this is where I will shop. (Don’t misunderstand me: we actually like the “girl” toys, too, we’re even a fan of Barbie in our house for a lot of reasons. But I could see that she just didn’t have as much fun with these Pink Section toys as she did with the sporting goods and the science and engineering toys.) She didn’t feel like she could be herself in the toy store. She felt like she needed to be the girl that the toy store told her to be. So I stopped taking her to the toy store. Instead, I would do it and buy what I knew she liked. At home, far from the marketing, she began to feel it was okay to love what she loved, to have fun where she wanted to have fun, to be the girl who loved both Barbies and biology.

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We experienced the same thing with the Scholastic Book Orders (remember those? Oh, the delights!). Once a year, near the end of the school year as a special treat, we let the tinies choose one book out of the Scholastic Book Order pamphlet. A couple years ago, Anne picked an insipid book about a fairy. I knew it was a boring book that she wouldn’t enjoy but because it had a pink glittery cover, she was suckered in. I knew she loved the inventive Boxcar Children and mischievous pest-y Ramona more than fairies learning “lessons” about being a nice girl but it was her choice. Sure enough, that book came home and sat half-finished. When I asked why she hadn’t read it, it was “boring” and she’d rather read Stuart Little again. That lame book was donated to the thrift store pretty quickly. Marketing won that round.

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Today my eldest daughter turned eight years old. Eight! Anne is eight! It seems like yesterday I was blogging about her birth and babyhood.

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I know I don’t write about her much anymore (I’ve written about that decision here) but longtime readers remember that the tinies used to figure very prominently in my daily writings and musings. But today I am making an exception – with her permission – because it’s her birthday and she quite likes the idea of people on Facebook paying attention to her and telling her Happy Birthday today.

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Don’t you remember being eight years old? To me, this is the golden age of childhood. This is the age around which the rest of our childhood memories orbit. At least, they do for me. Next comes the tween years then the teen years, I pray I can help to keep her centred on her true self.

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All day yesterday, she would mark things as “the last time” – this is my last time eating supper as a seven year old, this is your last time kissing me good night as a seven year old. And kids wonder why we get emotional over their birthdays, eh? She bounced into our bed at seven o’clock this morning, her gap-toothed smile wide. I love that smile. I love every too-big adult tooth and every wiggly baby tooth. Her hair stuck up like a rooster tail and she wore an old Mercy t-shirt that hung to her knees. “I’m eight!” she announced. We laid in bed, just the three of us and I told her the story of how she was born like I do every year. 

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Anne, four days old in 2006

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One of the greatest years of my life was her first year of life. I had a year off work with maternity leave (thank you, Canada, for your family focused social policy!). We lived with my parents because money was so tight. Brian was in school still. Nothing about being a mother looked the way I thought it would look. And every day, I woke up to Anne-girl. She was a dream baby, the love of my life. I remember how we used to wake up early together and go for walks in the park, how every little old lady out for a stroll would stop me to congratulate me because I had a hat on her head. (Pro tip: the quickest way to the heart of older generations is to put a hat on your little babies.) It was such a slow and beautiful year, I made a fool of myself over her little life, exulting in every milestone, gloating over her skin and her smile. As she grew up, she was so perfectly her own little self, holding her own in a world that even from a young age likes to tell us what is right and good and proper and expected from little girls.

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Me and Anne at the lake in 2007

I told her stories of that year this morning, smoothing her sticky-up hair. I loved you from your first breath, I said. I’m so proud of the young lady you’ve become, so proud of who you are becoming, I love helping you grow up.

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One of the great joys of watching my children grow up is seeing them become more fully themselves.  I love watching her become more fully herself. I love watching her love what she loves with abandon. To see her happy makes me happy. Every day, she becomes stronger in her character and in her passions.

10467880_248214175386698_366295759_n I love that she comes in sweaty from playing street hockey with the neighbourhood kids, flushed and triumphant, one of the only girls who can hold her own out there. I love that she plays with her Barbies by the hour, dressing them up and concocting elaborate sagas. I love that she reads Ramona books under the covers and howls with laughter over Garfield comics. I love that she leads her little siblings and cousins with such compassion and strength. I love that she is sociable and outgoing, extroverted and engaging. I love that she is creative, her ideas out pacing her ability to clean up after herself. I love that she creates puppet shows. I love that she hangs up six foot tall posters about the workings of the human body’s systems. I love that she chopped all of her hair off into a pixie cut and highlights it with pink hair chalk, she has a passion for fashion and fearless self-expression that delights me because it’s so foreign to me. I love that she’d rather watch the Food Network and HGTV than most cartoons. I love that she loves to cook and bake on her own – she makes excellent jam muffins, I must say. But I also love that she writes out business plans and menus for her future cafe ownership. I love that she writes and illustrates stories and then catches bugs. I love that she tells terrible jokes. I love that she loves to pray and has such an earnest faith. She carries all the complexity of being a girl becoming a woman.

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This year, we bought her a Lego set and the classic book Matilda by Roald Dahl for her birthday. Someone else will get her a Barbie, someone else a rocket launch kit, someone else a craft kit. She’s all of those things and something so much more. As e.e. cummings wrote, it takes a lot of courage to grow up and turn out to be exactly who you are. And I have found that one of the great joys of parenting is seeing these small people grow up and turn out to be themselves, in all the dizzying complexity of wholeness.

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Related: A few of my favourite old posts about Anne

In which she can come along and see for herself ::  I believe that the Gospel is usually caught, not just taught. For every earnest conversation, there are a hundred more unscripted moments: the rides in the van, the talks at the supper table, the nights at church, the invitation to come along and see for yourself. Maybe this isn’t the most important moment but all those small moments have a habit of adding up and creating a small outpost for the kingdom of God.

In which I can’t help myself :: In the beginning, before we know better, maybe the voice of God sounds like the voices of our parents. It would be nice if that’s a wide path to follow straight to the truth of Love, instead of a prison to unlock or a fetter to untangle or a dark wood to wander until we find the light. In the beginning, until they know better, I hope the voice of God breathes in my words to them: loved loved loved loved lovedlovedlovedloved thumping out a rhythm of belonging right into the ventricles of the breath.

Continue Reading · Anne, parenting · 16

In which I write about motherhood – still :: a guest post by Lisa-Jo Baker + a giveaway!

Every day I wake up knowing by the time I crawl back into bed with my laptop, a book or a favorite movie I will have learned more than I bargained for.

I will be tired in every part of me. I will feel stretched out and squishy. I will often be frustrated that no one is staying in bed like they’re supposed to. But I will also know that the Lisa-Jo today has grown up. And the Lisa-Jo tomorrow will grow up further still.

Grown up, dragged up by her kids and the God that made them.

This unglamorous truth is my Gospel.

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I write about motherhood not because I always grew up dreaming of being a mom. Not because I am a “parenting guru.” Not because I have it figured out, or have read all the books, or understand even remotely the best ways to educate, discipline or shape young lives.

I write about motherhood because it’s where I understand why Jesus would have died for me and why the Father would have sent Him. It’s the place of Cheerios stuck to the sides of bowls and self sacrifice on repeat with the loads of laundry. A parent will always lay down their life for their child. Jesus loves me this I know, for my children teach me so.

I am not a Bible scholar. I write stories. They’re not long ones and they last all of a couple days on this blog. But they are the gospel that speaks the loudest to me. Not buried in Greek or Hebrew, but lisped by baby boys who hate when I call them babies.

God’s love for me is so loud when I look at my children that even my worst days can’t drown it out.

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Gospel climbs off the pages of Scripture on Mondays during the pre-school rush and reminds me that Christ lives in me. That this must make a difference in my day. It must slow me down when I want to rush and shout and gnash my teeth and wail at the child who’s lost his shoes again.

And some days I snap, “see, that’s what happens when you don’t put them away like I’ve told you a meeelllion times before!” And other days I remember the Gospel buried here in my mess and I swallow my shout and instead work hard at remembering that love is patient and kind.

Because it is hard work to remember to be kind and patient when you know mere minutes stand between the kid who can’t find his shoes and a “tardy” note from school.

In the living room, between the discarded pajama pants and the left over bagel I work out my salvation with fear and trembling. And then we buckle everyone into the car and Micah tells me school is stupid.

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I talk a lot here about how small a mother’s routine can feel.

Perhaps, however, I don’t talk enough about how big the impact of that routine can be. Celebrating the small is directly related to recognizing the massive, Kingdom impact. Kids are forever. They are eternity with skin on. And we mold them like so much play-doh until one day they walk out the door and take every small moment of a family’s routine with them.

I guess what I’m saying is that celebrating the smallness of a mother’s day in and day out is more than just making it through – friends, it’s a wild dance of recognition, of celebration, of courage. It has to be more than finding meaning in the laundry. It has to be a wild Hallelujah that laundry is just the tipping point for all that you invest, that you pour, that you knead and knead and pull and knead into your kids. These are the front lines. These are the glory days. This is the stuff of heroes – not the laundry, but the conversations that take place in between the loads.

Piece by painful, sometimes mind-numbingly boring piece, you are building a mosaic of memory love – a testimony. Something that your children will see the day they open the door and turn head back over shoulder for a last look.

It will all be there, the beautiful wonder you’ve woven into them.

And the miracle they’ve stitched into you.

{To see the video reminder of why all mothers are braver than they know and deserve a medal, click here}.

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This guest post comes with love from Lisa-Jo Baker to our community in celebration of Mother’s Day. If you haven’t already – treat yourself, your mom, your sister, your BFF or your grandma to a copy of her new book, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom.

No matter what stage you’re in when it comes to motherhood, we promise it will encourage. And remind you that you are braver than you think.

GIVEAWAY: And to celebrate each and every one of you who encourages, loves on and mothers others, whether you have children or not, we’re giving away 2 copies today. Just leave a comment sharing what has surprised you about motherhood or about your own mama to be entered. (unfortunately due to shipping, you have to be located in the USA or Canada to be entered).

Continue Reading · giveaway, parenting · 38

In which “My Practices of Mothering” is now an ebook

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We had our three babies in four-and-a-half years. It was … rather life-changing. And right in the midst of it, I began to write through the stuff that I do (or tried to do) to enjoy day-to-day life with a houseful of tinies.

Three years later, it remains one of the most popular series of posts I’ve ever done at my blog. It’s a little bit practical and a little bit theological and a lot of conversational, non-expert “in-the-trenches” talk about what worked for me in that season of life. 

I call them Practices because that’s what us Christians have often called spiritual disciplines, but really they’re just things I do over and over again. Everyone has their own “practices.”  Most of mine come from my own parents but then I picked up a few others from books or friends or mentors.  And my practices may not work for you and your family.

As my tinies grow up, my practices have already shifted and changed and evolved, as they should. Life in our house looks differently now that our tinies are 7, 5, and 3 than it did when they were 4, 2, and newborn. I imagine that they will be completely different again when they are teenagers. Your own practices will do that, too.

The practices included in the ebook are:

  • speaking life,
  • attachment,
  • the big picture,
  • routine,
  • worth,
  • gentle discipline,
  • being a person,
  • play,
  • sleep,
  • abiding in the Vine,
  • community,
  • space on the margins,
  • realistic expectations, and
  • assigning positive intent.

Because it can be hard to click around a website searching for the right posts, I decided to edit the posts and put them into an ebook. My thanks to Dan King for his help with the tech side of things and to Andrea Levendusky for such a perfect cover. 

Check it out here: My Practices of Mothering for $2.99* on Amazon.

*It’s $2.99 in the US Amazon store. If you’re purchasing from Canada, the price may show up as $3.01. 

Continue Reading · books, parenting, Practices of Mothering · 4

In which I don’t mind if my tinies see me on the computer

 

There was a bit of a movement underway a few years ago: Christian women were signing pledges saying that they wouldn’t let their tinies see them on the computer. I think their intentions were mostly good – they knew they were distracted by social media in particular, perhaps, and so they wanted to give their best attention to their children. That idea continues to hang on somehow, particularly in my line of work.

I understand it. Of course, 8 hours of Facebook to the exclusion of fully being present with our families is damaging. And I am wise with my time on social media, not only for their sakes but for my own creativity, health, sanity, and proper sense of perspective. (For instance, when my husband gets home and asks me about my day, I don’t like for my first answer to be, “well, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what this one guy said on Twitter or how many likes this Instagram picture of the kid I neglected all day received!” Not exactly healthy.)

But here’s the thing: I work from our home on a – wait for it – computer. My husband works out of our home full-time in a pretty demanding job with irregular hours occasionally. I am the primary caregiver for our tinies. Granted, we have a (very beloved) baby-sitter for our littlest girl two mornings a week while the older two are at school, so that I can make phone calls, do interviews, and work uninterrupted for a bit of time, but I am usually at home, trying to get in a full-time job at the edges of our life.

Being a work-from-home mother can feel like a juggling act, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this choice.

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that our family works best in this way with one parent more fully engaged during the day, but I know that I am privileged to be a work-at-home mother. I do not take it for granted, even though there are occasional afternoons when I pick up the tinies from school and then turn on Wild Kratts, hand them a plate of apple quarters with goldfish crackers, and then sit down to answer emails for an hour before supper. There are mornings when the baby and I take the tinies to school, and then come home to a wide-open toy box for her and an open laptop for me to write an article to deadline. When I am interrupted, there are times when I put my work aside, absolutely, but then there are times when I hand her a book and say, “Mum is writing, we’ll go to the park in an hour. Find something to do.”

Early into our family arrangement, I had to take a long hard look at the narrative that it was a shameful thing for my tinies to see me on the computer.

And then, thoughtfully, prayerfully, we decided to call complete and utter crap on any more needless mum-guilt.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cooking supper. That’s part of our life – and in fact, it creates a great opportunity to be together, to prepare them for life, to teach, to have fun.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cleaning the house. Keeping our home clean and tidy is part of my life – and it is part of theirs, too, unless I want to have lazy and entitled teenagers someday. Can I get an amen?

I don’t feel guilty taking them along when we get groceries or pay bills or drop off library books or help others or any other of the chores and tasks and work that goes into running this little family.

Maybe my prairie kid work ethic is showing. My grandpa raised our clan to know that truth: work is honourable. Now I’ve rounded that out with the belief that work is also a gift from God, part of our heritage as co-creators with God. Particularly when our work – paid or unpaid – is personally fulfilling, an act of creativity or beauty or usefulness. What a gift to be able to work!

So, is it a shameful thing for a mother to work on the computer while her children are present? Nope.

Not only is it not damaging to my tinies to see me – gasp! – working on the computer while they’re here, I believe it’s downright good for them.

Yes, it is good for them to discover right now that they are not the centre of the universe. To let them discover ways to entertain themselves – I’m not their cruise director. To let them see their dad choring around on a Saturday, make sure they grab a broom and sweep up drywall dust alongside of him. To let them grab a rag and a bottle of vinegar to pitch in with Thursday cleaning. To let them learn to fold socks. To let the tinies sweep the floors.

Welcome to being part of a functioning family, for heaven’s sake.

(This home doesn’t run by magic or pixie dust: welcome to the real world, darlings.)

In addition to that, we have decided it is GOOD for the tinies to see me loving my job, loving my work, being good at something, and actually doing it. To let them see me being faithful to my calling, let them see their dad empowering me to do it with his enthusiastic blessing, let them see it as part of our family’s gift to the world.

This is what we do in this family: we support each other in our work and in our callings and even in the things we just plain love to do.

Mothers are people, too.

(And, very quietly, I’ll also gently point out right here the privilege inherent in the idea that we can choose whether or not our children see us work.)

Let the tinies learn what it looks like to be a person, made in the image of God, working – no matter if our work happens on computers or at the laundry or on the job site or the classroom – as unto the Lord. Let them see us working: work is a honourable thing.

 image source: Getty Images Lean In Collection as shown on Buzzfeed

Continue Reading · family, parenting, women, work · 112