Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bone-Dry and Brittle:

Thoughts on Grief and Shame as a Mother

My forearms are resting on a cold marble table top. My laptop is opened up next to a small terra cotta pot with a charming chartreuse aloe plant spiking up, cheerily resting against the edge of the screen.
The smell of percolating coffee and the dull chatter envelopes me.

I am in the zone. I am out in the world, people.

I am also, alone.

I never thought I'd be so glad to say that. As a Mom of three young children under the age of five, I often go days (and sometimes nights) of constantly being around a small person. I am finding the time to just sit here and observe my surroundings, collect my thoughts, sip a frothy cappuccino and think to be heavenly.

This is a battle that I am always fighting. A battle to stand my ground. 

To scoop out a little piece of time like thick red clay, plop it on the table in front of me and sculpt for awhile. I'm rolling out the pieces. I pinch them off into little snakes and stick them on in different places, trying it out, studying its form and then smashing it again to start over. 

It doesn't really matter what I come up with.

  It matters that I have it in my hands. 

I've seen it too many times. A new Mom is overwhelmed by it all. She never imagined how she would have to give of her self every hour of everyday. She is swimming in it, overwhelmed and even, dare I say it, regretful? 

It's a horrible thing to say, but don't we feel it? Maybe its not so much regret, but more so grief

We are grieving the life we lost. The time we spent with our husbands. The time we spent on ourselves, filling up the bath tub and using the nice bath salts and (gasp) shaving our legs.

Welling up then, comes shame that we feel this grief.

So we smile and we wave and we bury it deep with every light-hearted comment of the wonders and delights of motherhood to the people doting over our beautiful babies. 

The truth is: we are not the best Mothers when we self-sacrifice to the point where we are bone-dry and brittle. 

So give up a little

Find some time to just sit and sculpt with your very own lump of clay. Even if you have to fight and muscle your way to scoop it out. Be a free Mommy that loves with fiery energy from within. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Last week we had three snow days in a row! In Michigan, people! That rarely happens. Due to very low temps and negative wind chills we didn't get out to play in the snow much either. So the next time you are pulling your hair out, here are some great sensory and busy activities.

1. Color Fizzy Fun We have been doing this one for years. Grab a 9x13 glass pan or a couple of them, a cookie sheet with a nice lip on it would work too. Take a box of baking soda and sprinkle a thick layer all over the bottom of the pans. (I usually do one pan per kid) Grab some white vinegar and pour into several little cups maybe a 1/3 cup each, you don't need a whole lot. Add a few drops of  food coloring to each cup to make as many colors as you have. Then grab a couple of little droppers, straws can work too (you can teach them the finger over the top of the straw trick) or medicine dispensers. Let the kids drop the colored liquid onto the baking soda and watch it fizz up! They love it. 

2. Start a Dance Party Last week my boys 5 and 3 were literally "bouncing off the walls". I'm not kidding. Like they were throwing balls against the walls and running into them trying to jump off the walls, once in a while tumbling and hitting every corner on every table or bookcase nearby to the forehead. Anxiety levels were running high! So I grabbed my iPhone, hooked up our wireless jam box and found a great Pandora station based on Taylor Swift's song, Shake it off. We cranked up the music to borderline inappropriate volume levels and cleared out the coffee table and a few chairs in the living room and were shaking our booties and running in circles all over the place. I would come up with a dance move and then the kids would mirror it. Then they would get a chance to make up some moves. It was so fun! I realized just how grown-up and dull I had become after that showcase of unprecendented silliness. 

3. Indoor Water/Snow Play Find a nice sized rubbermaid tub, put towels down on the floor (tile or laminate floors are best) and fill the tub with water. You can color the water with food coloring for an extra dose of whimsy. Find random kitchen utensils they have never played with before. My kids always love the turkey baster!

My boys made all different kinds of lego boats and vessels too. I usually strip them down too just to save some clothing. Another way to really ramp up the fun, that I heard from a few friends of mine, is to bring snow inside! Fill the tub full of it! What a fun way to still be able to play with snow even when the temps are too low outside.

4. Spray Bottles and Old Toothbrushes Some other ideas I learned from a book that is worth a skim, "The Busy Preschooler" are putting a bowl of pennies in some soapy water and having the kids "clean" the money with old toothbrushes. If your child is particularly scrubby they will love this one. You can also fill a couple of old spray bottles with just water (or a safe watered down cleaner) and give the kids rags. My boys cleaned the entire wood floor in our dining room on their hands and knees one day. It was awesome. It took like an hour! Going along with the spray bottle idea. You can also fill a few bottles with colored water and let them walk around outside and spray the snow different colors! I have a few water bottles in my cupboard that are nice and small for little hands that I picked up at the dollar store one day. Kids love spray bottles.

5. Easy Cookies and Treats Baking has always been a snow day tradition in my family when I was growing up, but because my kids are still pretty young I find it a little stressful trying to pull off actual baking... as in butter and flour and actual cookies. Some Moms can do that and I think that's fabulous. But it sort of stresses me out! So I've found a good compromise is making some of the easier treats. For example, rice crispy treats. We almost always have these ingredients in our pantry, a little butter, a bag of marshmallows and Rice Crispies! I usually grab a canister of those fun seasonal sprinkles whenever I see them too, so we can mix those in for a little pizzaz. The boys stand on a chair and help pour in the marshmallows and mix the pot a few times and bam! That's about it....no real measuring or flour mess!

Another treat I made recently with them were square grid pretzels with a kiss melted on top and an M&M pushed into the top. I found the unwrapping of the kisses was a great busy activity for little fingers. 

6. Treasures Rice Box This is an activity I have seen in so many classrooms and we have one at home too. Grab another large and somewhat shallow rubbermaid container and fill it with rice. I got out all the kids beach toys, little shovels and things to play with it. Kitchen utensils are great too. Then you can drop lots of tiny treasures to scoop out. Some ideas are coins, safety pins, lego men, plastic bugs or whatever you can find laying around the house. You can even get educational and have them find and count objects that are the same or a certain color.  Besides the mess that can sometimes happen when my 20 month old gets involved, this activity is amazing! My son Jack (3) played with this once for like 2.5 hours straight. You can also use dried beans, sand or moon sand. 

7. Bathtub Foam Paint This has been an old standby activity I pull out whenever I need a mental break. I put the kids in the tub and get out a can of shaving cream. I use the sensitive skin version with no fragrance if possible and not the gel- it must be the cream. I find my muffin pan and food coloring and mix the cream with one color per hole in the pan. The kids love to use their hands and smear it all over themselves or on the walls of the tub. You can then write letters in the cream and make it a teaching lesson or just sit back and scroll through pinterest while they paint away! I usually give them some paintbrushes and little cups or teapots to play with too. 

8. Guess What I'm Drawing I can't remember where I heard of this little game, but it is wonderful for when you just need to lay down for a few minutes, whether you are fighting a cold or simply need a few moments to just. rest. Grab a small legal pad or whiteboard or whatever paper you have laying around and a pen. Try to think of something you can draw. Anything at all. It could be themes like "holidays" or "articles of clothing" or "animals" or "family members" or something along those lines. Begin drawing slowly and ask your kids to guess what you are drawing. You can give them hints as you go along if you need to. This can go on for awhile. The older kids can take a turn as the artist too!

9. The Great Clothespin Hunt I came up with this little activity when I used to teach. It is pretty simple. Pick up a pack of clothespins the next time you are at the grocery store in the laundry/organizing section of the store for a dollar or two. At home, find a piece of card stock or thin cardboard and cut out a rectangle large enough for 10-15 clips to fit on.

Then taking a marker, draw a grid across one side of the rectangle and write the numbers across the grid, one number per tick or box you drew. Then, write a number on each clothespin so that each pin has a spot to clip to on the cardboard. Then, have the kids leave the room for awhile and you hide the clothespins around the room. It could be in two rooms or even the whole house, depending on how motivated you feel. :) The kids go around and pin each number to the card as they find them. That way they know which numbers they are still missing. Switch it up and have them hide the pins and you find them too!

10. Fort Making This is one of those classic childhood activities! You can't go wrong here, kids love to make forts of all kinds. It could just be tossing a blanket over the kitchen table and giving them flashlights. If you feel up to it, you can drag every blanket and sheet out of the closet and set up base in the living room. We usually use the kitchen chairs and chip clips to hold the sheets. My son likes to make bridges to other bases using cardboard bricks. You could even drag out some Christmas lights and make the inside really awesome.

Large cardboard boxes, especially refrigerator boxes are great too! You can make it into a "house" and let them color, decorate with tinsel and lights on the outside or inside. Another fun idea we have done is to set up our tent in the basement, blow up the air mattress and spend the night in there! Of course you need lanterns, flashlights and glow sticks (Duh). Plug in the laptop and make it a movie night, complete with jiffy pop and microwave s'mores for dessert! 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Pretty Big Test

Something about the way the snow is blowing horizontally against the grove of trees in my back yard is really quite beautiful. It makes little lines of white against the dark, bare trunks scaling its way up and up and separating into a thousand lines until it reaches the cool gray, shallow sky, so close and so flat and yet so heavy.

Heavy. That is the way I would describe it.

The days have been heavy. Dan's chest feeling heavy, me driving him through an icy round-about,  wind whipping his hair as he tumbled out clumsily and made his way through the steel emergency room doors. I parked up the hill and made my way down the sloped drive, ignoring the fact that he seemed eager to come here. What was that about? If he is anything, he is never one to make something into what it is not. Could it really be more than just a bad case of heartburn?

I reach inside my pockets to protect my raw hands from the biting wind.

Inside there are a series of questions, facts re-told, wheel chair whizzing and stickers to the chest, lines of tangled gray and red cords draw from him what they need to know.

Minutes and hours pass by, watching nurses pull back the curtain and pluck some new plastic tool from the shelf, peeling them like cheese sticks from their wrappers.

I try to stay on the level where my emotions exist most of the time. I tell myself that this is another incident where they will send us home in an hour. That hour turns to 2 and then to 4. When the 4 hours are up and the blood is drawn again, we move to 8 hours and then after the doctor drops the words "heart-attack" and "levels are rising" like a hammer on a glass plate a few more times, I muster the strength to keep my face flat and unmoving.

I move to that place in my heart that I do not visit so often. Like an attic at the house you grew up in, all dark and mysterious but familiar, comforting. In a dark corner I find an old trunk, inside I turn over relics I haven't seen in some time, studying them with my fingertips, recalling their shape I know so well.

There I find the old reels, like a home movie speckled with static, playing against a wall of wood rafters. I replay watching him smile against a backdrop of changing scenery, sitting across a restaurant table or standing next to each other in the kitchen washing dishes, walking along the lake like we do, stooping to pick up beach glass and other treasures, his hand in mine. I see him smiling as the kids come up behind him and cling to his legs.

Swimming in this sea of recollection and emotion, I feel vulnerable.

It is in this place when I feel so helpless, floating in a salted sea with nothing to anchor myself, that I see God swimming toward me. He grabs hold of me and keeps my head above water when I start to feel weak. He is there, even when the waves come and I can't see him for a few moments, coming up spitting, my nose and lungs burning. I feel him lifting me up again.

I notice something on the footage, grabbing my remote to rewind and replay something, sitting on an old stool, a musty quilt around my shoulders. I replay once, then again. It is a sort of pattern or a rhythm. When sadness overtakes us, when he looks tired or I look angry, there is something that always seem to happen. It happens once. It happens again. At night in the bed, we are closing our eyes, my head on his chest and our mouths are moving like we are still talking. Only, there is intensity in our posture, our voices and our expressions. We are praying.

I am standing over him, my hand on the nape of his damp, sweaty neck, the other hand on his chest between the bumps of the stickers and cords. I am praying.

All through that long, interrupted night I prayed.

In the morning, he ordered breakfast; oatmeal with brown sugar and orange juice.

The doctor finally came in and reviewed all the tests and studied the images of the ultrasound of his heart and determined that we were out of the woods. There was no heart-attack. The walls around his heart were inflamed from a virus he had a couple of weeks ago.

We went home. Aspirin and lots of rest for Daniel.

I know that this will not be the last trial. We have had several in just the last few weeks. But to those who may listen, it is the ongoing conversation we have with God that keeps lifting us up.