Just As Is.

Today, I received that call that I have honestly dreaded as the mommy of a three-year-old new to daycare.

“We’d like to try putting her on a behavior chart…”

My strong-willed little warrior-princess has been giving her teachers a bit of difficulty with her particular brand of personal strength. I am a teacher myself so I know that particular struggle and therefore absolutely gave my go-ahead for the behavior chart/incentive. I will admit, though, that my heart sank as I hung up the call, I lost my appetite for the quick after-work bite I had been having, and shed more than a few tears.

My husband was quick to reassure me that I hadn’t done anything wrong or failed in any way. I didn’t say anything in reply. The honest reason for that was because I was not in an emotional space to agree or admit he was right, even if I believed it (which I was trying desperately to) and that he was so (which he was). After all, I was her primary caretaker/educator/etc. for the first three-and-a-half years of her life. What if I had done something wrong? What if I had not taught her proper respect or kindness? What if I had indeed messed up somewhere with our girl? The rest of the trip from the corporation where we teach to the church where our girl attends preschool and daycare was spent in serious contemplation of just how I was going to approach this, approach my daughter. And I decided (and was later solidified and reassured in my decision by this post from Hands Free Mama Rachel Macy Stafford; thank you so much!).

As is. I wanted to take Elizabeth as is.

I would not scowl or shame her before her little friends and her teacher. I would not make her recoil or wilt because of the sternness in my voice or my expression. I would greet her with a smile and a wave and as big a hug as I could muster. Surely she had already been talked to by her teachers so I would not heap any more on her little three-year-old soul that day. Instead, I would heap grace on her head and give that which I so badly need myself day in and day out. I would hug her, tell her I missed her, and hold her hand as I walked her out of school. Together, we would drive home as a family and then I would tumble myself and her out of our house and into the backyard or the city park just beyond our property. I would run and play with my girl and tell her how much I love her laugh. I would color and draw with her, help her with her “homework” (practicing her letters, numbers, shapes, and colors), and watch her splash and “swim” in the tub at bath time.

I would and will celebrate my girl as she is, encourage her to have courage and be kind. I would leave today behind, inhabit the moments this evening, and let tomorrow wait on itself and all that it will bring. I would take my daughter, my little love, my warrior-princess, and celebrate her as she is. I want her to be (and to help her to be) good, kind, helpful, loving–all of this, yes, but I do not want to stomp her spirit out of her. Her sense of justice, her opinions, her thoughts, her imagination, her hopes, or her dreams, and I must trust her teachers to have the wisdom and the care to not do so either.

I love you, my daughter.

I love your laugh. I love how you love to make friends. I love your imagination. I love listening to you sing. I love listening to you play with your toys and make up stories while you color (just like I did). I love your creativity. I love your fire. I love how you clutch my arm to hold me close to you while you fall asleep.

I love you, my girl. Always and forever. Above all things I want you to be kind, encouraging, helpful, and good. But nothing, nothing can or will ever diminish the love I have for you. Just as you are. Just as is.

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It Happens When You’re Not Looking

Today was an interesting one. Today, my daughter requested that we go look for a purple Sofia the First dress for her dress-up collection. I knew that I had gift cards I could spend so I said yes. This prompted several conversations and occurrences that proved to me that, yes, she is indeed growing and developing emotionally, even though I was beginning to doubt this idea.

The first conversation happened before we left the house:

B: Mommy, what are you doing here?

Me: I’m going to wash dishes. Then we can get ready and go find a purple l dress. But I have to finish my chores first, okay?

B: Okay. I be in in my bedroom. *runs off to play Super Why games on her Kindle*

That is Exhibit A. Exhibit B came about in the store. We found a lovely Sofia dress-up gown but, oh, there were shoes to go with it! My girl is a great lover of shoes, for those who don’t know, and so she insisted that she wanted both the dress and the shoes. I calmly explained to her that she had to pick one or the other because I did not have enough money on my gift card to buy both. This was, as you probably expected, heartbreaking for the little miss. She started to break down but then, just as suddenly, she said:

“I need to sit down.”

I told her that she could sit down right where she was and she took a seat on an open, low shelf. Then she started breathing deeply, in through her nose and out through her mouth. Then I realized what was happening. My three-year-old baby was calming herself down! She took at least four deep breaths, me breathing along with her for a few of them. Then, after a moment, we revisited the issue and she decided that she wanted the dress more than the shoes. She was still disappointed about the shoes, yes, but she made her choice. As we got to the checkout, she seemed to remember how upset she was about not getting the shoes. Again, she told me, “I need to sit down,” so I gave her permission to sit on another low shelf right near me and I waited until she was ready before we paid for the dress.

It happens when you aren’t looking, these moments of growth. These moments are proof that what you are doing is helping, is working, and does matter for the good for your little one(s). So, keep on doing what you are doing, mamas and dads. Keep teaching and counseling and modeling for your little ones. They are are learning, they are developing the good habits and strategies that you are endeavoring to teach them. It’s hard, I know. It’s frustrating and tiring and maddening. But it’s working. It is! It just sometimes happens when you aren’t looking.

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Meeting at the Bottom

Recently, my three-year-old daughter has discovered, purportedly, what it means to be scared at night, scared of the dark. We have also discovered monsters, particularly monsters under the bed. She’s always been a good sleeper since she aged out of infancy and the last few nights, she’s slept through (which has been a marvelous blessing to me after a rough weekend). However, there are some nights where we have to deal with the “I’m scared’s”.

The first night it was really an issue was when I heard her get out of bed and run into the living room, her heavy, honest footsteps thumping across the floor. Getting up and heading out into the darkness of the house, I found her curled up on the loveseat in the living room. When I asked her what was wrong, she replied, “I’m scared.” I assured her that there was nothing in her room to be scared of, bundled her up in her blanket, and took her back to her bed. We repeated this process twice. The final time, however, I–somewhere in my wearied, foggy brain–decided to try a different tactic. I pulled on my heavy, warm robe, trekked out into the living room, picked up a few spare pillows from the ottoman, and made us a little bed on the loveseat, snuggling up close to my little girl. Instead of bringing her up to my height, where I understood that there was nothing in the dark of her bedroom to be afraid of, I made a conscious choice to meet her at the bottom. Instead of insisting that she be brave, I told her, “I’m here. You’re safe. Cuddle close.” And we did. We cuddled there on the couch. It took her a little while to get comfortable but, eventually, her breathing evened out and she was asleep again. Swaddling her in her blanket, I carried her back to bed, tucked her in, and then made my way back to my own neglected bed for the remaining few hours before daybreak.

I met the next day tired but having learned an important lesson afresh. We talk about meeting people where they are, wherever that may be. We can then help each other grow from where we are to where we will be, even if we might be a little further along the path or a big higher up the mountain than they are. We need to meet them where they are. We remind ourselves that God meets us where we are, accepts us as we are, but loves us enough that He will continue to help us grow and mature and refine. I had to (and still have to, up to last night even) meet my little girl where she is and be with her there in that space, at that height, even if it’s at the bottom of the mountain. Because that is the only way I can help her climb. Not pull her up. Help her climb. Help her learn where to put her hands, where to find her footholds, and how to put herself up throughout life. But, first, I have to meet her where she is.

 

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Property of Jennifer Harnett-Henderson — Ode to a Sketchbook – Excerpts

 

 

 

Out of the Mouths of Babes, So It Goes

The past month and a half has been full of words, songs, laughs, screams, changes, and growth. Elizabeth has developed by leaps and bounds, her words coalescing into sentences, babbles into song lyrics. She loves to learn and play and show off what she has learned. She memorizes songs and her favorite cartoons, acts out her favorite scenes and made-up scenarios, plays enthusiastically and reports everything on the world around her, just in awe and utterly delighted with the world she is discovering. Her big thing this season has been discovering that season change. Fall is often the most obvious and blazingly glorious of seasonal changes and with it has brought exclamations and examinations and just sheer squealing delight as God has repainted the canvas of Elizabeth’s world before her very eyes. And she changes right along with it.

A few Sundays ago, during her grandmother’s visit, she gave us all a delightful surprise. As people gathered in for morning worship service, milling and visiting together, Elizabeth made her way up onto the platform, found the cordless microphone on the side of the pulpit, and picked it up. She then treated everyone gathered in for service so far to an impromptu performance of her favorite song: “Jesus Loves Me”. When she picked up the mic, I had started towards her to help her put it down. But she started singing — our family song, one that is always requested and sung together at bedtime every night, just as it was in my childhood — and I froze. I just stood there and let my child, my girl of barely three, minister to those gathered in the meeting house. And she did. She did minister to them. No prompting from me or Ben, no guidance, no cajoling even, really. Just some encouragement from those listening. I just stood there, holding her blankies and Lambie (her dearest friends) and watched God speak through my toddler.

She sang through the song twice and then, in true Elizabeth fashion, bowed and said, “Thank you! Thank you!” My dear little ham.

I’m tearing up as I write this two weeks later. I had intended to write it sooner, don’t know why I didn’t. But here I am writing it now. And it’s hitting me like a hammer. No offense to my wonderful husband, who happens to be the pastor, but our daughter probably spoke the most poignant words in that entire service in her little toddler voice. In the Quaker church, we believe that each and every person has the capacity to minister, has a personal ministry even. My daughter was a minister that day with the most important of messages on her little tongue.

She reminded us all, no matter our age, that we are loved. Even when others reject us, even when life is hard, when days are grey and cold, and our road bleak with despair creeping up on its edges. Or even when we are just having a difficult day or being difficult ourselves. We are loved by God. Completely and utterly and eternally. You. Me. All of us. We are loved.

Thank you, Elizabeth. Can’t wait to hear more.

That Mom? That’s Me.

Today, not half an hour ago, I was that mom.

I was the mom who walked into the gas station Subway with a crying toddler, who was angry because we were there instead of on a walk.

I was the mom with the toddler trying to stealthily sneak off because she believed that we didn’t need dinner and wanted to leave the Subway.

I was the mom with the toddler throwing her Lambie around because she was angry that I wanted her to stick with me.

I was the mom with the toddler who gave a scream and went prone on the floor in the middle of the checkout line, right when it was time for us to move forward for our turn.

I was the mom who stepped over her prone toddler to pay for the aforementioned sandwiches for dinner.

I was the mom who, but for the grace and integrity of the hoodie that I was grasping, would have had a toddler who planked herself face first into the asphalt.

I was the mom with the toddler who tried to stalk off through the parking lot, proclaiming she was “going walk”.

I was the mom with the red face. I was the mom with tears threatening. I was the mom trying staunchly to disbelieve that there are other people in the world, much less other people occupying the same commercial space as I was in those moments.

I am the mom with cranky tears still threatening and a mug of room temperature vanilla chai that I never got to enjoy.

I am the mom who, at this very moment, is catching her toddler throwing chips and, probably soon her sandwich as well, out of her high chair and onto the floor.

So, in all honesty today, this is for me. If you get something out of it, great. Really, though, this is for me. But thanks for not judging me.

DISCLAIMER: The linked article below is NOT mine but was posted at Stuff Moms Say.

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Click me to go to the article.

Dear Teacher: Let My Child Fail.

I was nodding the whole way through this as a mom. As a teacher, I am not sure how such an app would work but I adopted a wonderful phrase from my mother-in-law (who was also a teacher) when I started teaching full time:

“I respect your right to fail.”

Kids will not succeed or be great at everything in life; they will fail. I will not always swoop in and save Elizabeth from failure. I rather refuse to, honestly. I want help her to learn from her failures, as well as her successes.

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Two nights ago my 7 year old was begging me  to check her backpack for a super important piece of paper.

The paper was detailed instructions on how to sign up for an app, including a code to add my specific child once I did.

I am all about apps. I am all about technology in general. Anything to make things faster, easier, with less paper waste and clip art- I am all in.

But this specific app struck me as strange.

“You can see how I’m doing all throughout the day mommy!” the 7 year old squealed. And sure enough, I could.

I could see how many times she spoke Spanish during the day, how often she completed her work on time, and even how many times she got off task during any given day. (She is my child so there were definitely some bright red “off task” indicators…

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When a Mom is Silent

I think I was just called out by a friend. I don’t think she meant to or even realizes that she did but, yes, I feel like I have just been called out, in a good (very good) way, to vulnerability.

Vulnerability is not easy. It’s the proverbial exposing my belly but I also know that some of the best conversations and growth I have had with friends and family is through being vulnerable and exposing those tender, soft parts of my heart and soul. So, here I am and here it is:

I do not ask for help well. I don’t. When it is emotional support I am in need of, that I can ask for because that can be given at a distance without me having to meet someone’s eyes in what so often feels like my weakness. But when it comes to physical help with the person offering standing there in front of me, that is almost impossible for me to ask for. Most recent example: I had a rough day with my toddler daughter the other day; she and I were at odds all the day long. I was tired; I was frustrated; I was angry. My girl was driving me mad and I had been graceless in response. My husband, bless his heart, asked me point blank if I wanted him to take our daughter for a while so I could have a break. And I couldn’t — could not — make myself say yes. Everything inside me screamed, “Yes! God, yes! I need a break! I need quiet! I need away!” But the words were stuck somewhere far away from my lips and would get nowhere near them. I physically could not force the words out of my mouth. I knew I needed help; moreover, he knew I needed help. But I just could not manage it, could not ask for it. And that is really scary sometimes. Scary that I cannot ask for help. Won’t ask for help. Even when I need it. Especially when I need it. It hurts and I’m sure it hurts the people who try to help me, too.

So why can’t I ask for help with my daughter when I really need it? Bluntly honest? Because I see her as my responsibility. Yes, she is our daughter but  was the one who wanted to stay home with her. I was the one who put my husband in the position of having to be the sole breadwinner with this desire, allowed that weight to settle on his shoulders alone for the first time since we got married seven years prior. So, as I took on  the roll of SAHM, I often feel like I need to be there and do my job, regardless of what sort of day I have had. Now, I know what just pushing on in such a vein will do: eventually, I will twitch out of my skin and collapse into a puddle of stressed, exhausted tears, most likely after some sort of blowup with my husband that really had no need to become such a mountain-out-of-a-molehill.

need  time to to care for myself. I need time to recharge and, for me, that requires time alone. “Alone” doesn’t happen with my girl, even though we do have periods of quiet when she is in the mood to do her own thing. But, even so, I am often reticent to call for help because something says, and loudly, “You are her mother! This is your job! You need to do it!”That voice is insistent. It is loud. And it silences me at times when I need t speak. When I need to ask for help.

Now, it isn’t all gloom and doom. I have a great support system, and I get great joy from my daughter, from teaching her, being taught by her, and watching her grow and develop into a little girl. While my difficulty in making full/often use of my support system frustrates me and I despise frustrating others, I am better than I used to be. I am doing better at my self-care and strategies for helping Elizabeth develop more independence.

Asking for help is still hard, very hard sometimes, but I know that it is something I need to do, in whatever way I can manage. Right now, those few ways are: asking the grandparents to take her out to lunch for a few hours, having a friend over to give me an extra set of hands and dose of attention for my energetic girl, or letting her have Daddy-time while I hit the gym for an hour. This is a start and I hoping that it will help me to get one step closer to finding my voice to answer with the specific words, “Yes, I need help.”

Until then, please, keep asking.