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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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

 

 

 

When Did I Become…?

As I was making the beds this morning and turning down the heat in the bedrooms for the day, I realized something.

I have been a stay-at-home mom for three years. I guess that the official date was about two weeks ago when school started back but yes. Three years. That was when I started my FML from my teaching position, deciding that I wanted to stay home and officially resigning later on that summer.

As I made the beds, folded blankets, and picked up clothes for the laundry, I came to realize that I have settled into a routine of being a SAHM, of caring for our daughter, my husband, our home, and myself (the last is still in process). I am learning to better ask for help and time when I need it (in fact, the grandparents are coming over to spend time with my girl while I run errands out in the snow today). I have settled into the joys of organization, my brand-new family calendar in its place of pride on the side of the fridge (Thank you, Mom! The old one was quite on its last legs.) with everyone’s activities for the month listed out as well as copied onto our family Google calendar, so we can keep track of each other. The bank’s new app is uploaded onto my phone (still need to do this to hubbie’s phone), so we can have access to accounts/amounts whenever we need it. My girl’s first dance class will start in two weeks so she needs to be outfitted for that, naturally.

I think I’ve really settled into this SAHM gig.

Having said that, though, it may end sooner than I anticipate. Elizabeth is three. Preschool looms on the horizon (as soon as we can deal with this potty training nonsense), which means that I will need to/be looking for a new position somewhere. Now that is a frightening thought if I am being completely honest. There are lots of frightening thoughts for me in being a SAHM.

  • Am I doing right by my daughter?
  • Am I spending enough time with her?
  • Am I teaching her the skills (educational and life) that she needs?
  • Am I teaching her to be independent?
  • Am I unconsciously doing for her what she needs to do for herself?
  • Am I teaching her that I am there for her?
  • Does she feel loved?
  • Does she feel heard?
  • Am I giving enough time to my husband?
  • Are he and I connecting enough?
  • Does he feel heard by me?
  • Does he feel loved and appreciated?
  • Am I giving enough time to myself?
  • Do I feel loved, heard, appreciated?
  • Am I connecting with my own heart, soul, and body enough?
  • Am I connecting to God’s heart enough?

The worries will abound, if I let them. The worries could drown me, if I let them. The worries could leave me paralyzed with fear, if I let them.

So I won’t.

I will take comfort in the truth that I know what I am doing, even when I don’t. That I am trying my best, even when I fall short. That I am doing much better than I think I am at this SAHM gig.

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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Still Good

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to teach my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter an important lesson. Today, her Stuffy broke. For those of you not in the know, Stuffy is a blue dragon stuffed animal from the Disney Junior show “Doc McStuffins”. He is known for being a “big, brave dragon”. My daughter has little plastic figurines of six of the main characters of the television show and, today, her figurine of Stuffy broke. He lost a wing. Now, I had attempted to fix Stuffy’s wing earlier in the day but my fix-it job didn’t take and the injured wing was now nowhere to be found. Elizabeth was absolutely distraught upon the discovery during an afternoon walk; she burst into tears and sobbed the entire way home. When we arrived back at our house, she refused to allow me to comfort her so, instead, what I did was take all of the figurines out of her little dolly stroller and set them up on the floor. Stuffy was in the middle with his friends all surrounding him. Then I said this to Elizabeth:

“Stuffy’s wing is broken, and I know that you are upset. But Stuffy is still a good toy. He is still lots of fun. He is still a big, brave dragon. He can still ROAR! And, most of all, his friends still love him. Stuffy is still Stuffy, even though his wing is broken. He is still a pretty great toy.”

I know that she is two and a half and that what I said has not sunk in all the way, but I tried to make my point by having all the toys close in around Stuffy and give him “cuddles”. Elizabeth seemed to calm and to be paying attention so I repeated:

“His friends still love him and he is still Stuffy, no matter what he looks like.”

Our outward appearance is not an indication of our inward hearts or the strength of our spirits, nor does it indicate a rating on our humanity. That is a lesson I want my daughter to learn that will be deep and abiding throughout her life. No matter the color of our skin, our abilities or disabilities, or our bodies or conditions, we are all still human beings. We are still pretty great; it doesn’t make us any less.

Just like Stuffy is still a good toy even with a broken wing, we can still be good (even great) people with all the differences and eccentricities inherent with being human. Yeah, still good (great, even).

In Case You Wonder If They Hear You…

This past Sunday, we sang “Jesus Loves Me” during the singing part of our worship service. Later on, one of the ladies commented that when we sang that song, it made her so happy to see Elizabeth’s face just light up with recognition (Elizabeth was sitting with her and her daughters). It was like Elizabeth was saying “I know that song!” and she just smiled so big, and it was nice to see that, the woman said. I piped up and said that she has heard that song since the day she was born and it was my lullaby as a child, too.

I find that I rather wish that I had kept silent and just enjoyed it, but it was wonderful to hear that what we do with Elizabeth, even at this age, is absorbed and actually noticed. ❤

Why I Walk Around Naked

11150479_630544590414714_184724744336153178_nAlso posted on my MWGS blog:

I frequently walk around the house naked. I know. Big deal, right? Well, for me, it has become quite a big deal. First things first, though: cards on the table. I am 32 years old (today, in fact), a wife of almost nine years, and the mother of a rambunctious two-year-old girl (remember her, she’s the lynchpin here). I am 5’2 and currently hovering at 133 lbs., 11 lbs. heavier than before I got pregnant but 6 lbs. lighter than I was at Christmastime. Is my body perfect? No. It’s why I work out at home just about every day, try to eat better than I have in the past, and hit Planet Fitness with a friend a few times a week to run. No, my body isn’t perfect, but it’s healthy and getting stronger as I continue to work. More importantly than even that, I have a daughter to whom I want to teach a positive body image and comfort, as well as healthy habits. I want my girl to grow up at ease with herself, to find her body strong and capable, to find herself beautiful. Who will she learn that from but me? Whose voice will battle all the others that will bombard her from society, television, movies, toys, etc.? Mine. Mine is the voice she hears all day. Mine is the body she sees working, playing, exercising. Mine are the reactions and self-talk she will learn from. Therefore, accepting, working on, and speaking kindly to myself are not only for me for but for my Elizabeth as well.

The other day, I watched a video from my belly dance class that my teacher had posted in the class’s Facebook group. We were drilling portions of choreography and my posture was wrong, terrible even. And I told my husband:

“I hate the way I look in this video! I look like I’m still pregnant!”

I immediately regretted and kicked myself for the unkind statement, as Elizabeth was sitting nearby playing with her toys. I maintain that, though she’s only two, she understands everything that is said to and around her. So I have to check the negative self-talk, both inner and outer. If I want my daughter to learn to accept herself, love herself, and see the beauty in every curve, line, and angle of her unique body, I have to do the same. She won’t learn or develop a sense of body comfort if she hears me constantly bad-mouthing my own body. My unique, maddening, triumphant body.

So I walk around the house naked, and I let Elizabeth run around in her diaper, especially now that the weather is getting warmer again. Together, we work on her learning that everyone has a body beneath their clothes, and that it is nothing to be afraid of but everything to be respected and appreciated. At the same time, I am working on my own comfort level with being naked around her and explaining the differences between my body and hers, even at her young age.

“Yes, those are Mommy’s breasts; some mommies feed their babies that way. Yes, you have nipples, too.”

We teach our children to name the parts of their faces, their arms, legs, fingers, toes, and tummy as a necessary benchmark of their development, but I think that it is also important for children to see, from their parents, what those bodies will look like as they grow. I want to be comfortable enough with my daughter and her with me that she can ask me questions about my body and her own as she grows older. I want her to see her body as beautiful, no matter what the voices around her might say. She is strong and brilliant, energetic and curious. I want her mind and body to exist and work together, not against each other.

When I was a girl, I marveled at my mother’s waist. She had a stunning curve to her waist that her A-line dresses gorgeously accentuated. I would trace my hands over her silhouette and hope to be as lovely as her when I grew. When she’d let her hair down, I would hold its weight in my hands and stand in awe. I saw my mother’s beauty, even when she couldn’t, but I struggled for a long time to find my own. I would dearly love to protect my daughter from that uncertainty and for her to always be assured of her unique loveliness and brilliance. Even better if she will then, in turn, remind others of their own.

So I stand naked before the mirror, deny the negative self-talk, and call myself beautiful. My little girl comes to stand beside me, as tall as my thigh, and leans smiling against my leg. I hug her close and call her beautiful, and, somewhere in that little child brain full of all things new and amazing, I think that she thinks so, too.

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Light and Love Woven and Spun

I know today is Friday and it’s usually picture day but I think today is a sharing day. It is 8-something in the morning and I am not making use of the still-quiet house and doing my workout. Instead, I am currently sitting in the rocking chair in my daughter’s room, waiting for my little pickle to wake up (she’s being an uncharacteristic sleepyhead today). And I feel like this is definitely the right move to start my day well.

It’s been a hard week. The passing and signing of SB 101 has made my little microcosm world quite fraught. (Don’t ask me to comment on the law; I won’t.) As a result, I haven’t been able to shake a soul-heaviness all week. I mentioned this to a friend yesterday and here is their reply:

“So… there’s this little girl you made sitting, like… right there. i mean, right over there… you can turn your head. She is called a bundle of joy for a reason. She is a product of your light and love.”

And that is so wonderfully, blessedly true. So I left my computer and went to find my baby girl, who was whimpering in her room. Apparently, she was having a rough morning, too. So I gathered and her precious blankie friends into my arms and we in turn bundled into her big rocking chair for some much needed cuddle time.  We cuddled and I sang her favorite songs, we played patty-cake, and read some of her favorite books. I even told her a story about a little girl who was brave and brilliant and good and who delighted people with her exuberance and love (it was her, of course). And I needed that.

I like to think of myself as (and try hard to be) a person who loves people and tries to encourage them to love themselves and others as well. I needed that reminder that Elizabeth isn’t just my “little love”, she IS my love. She is the living embodiment of the love I share with my husband, the conscious, intentional, loving choice we made together. She is my love and my light, walking (pardon me, running) around, smiling, singing, dancing, and making smiles and happiness as she goes.  Can she be difficult? Yes. Can she be stubborn? Yes. Can she make me cry from frustration, exhaustion, or anger? Yes. How very like life. But it will never change the fact that I love her and will continue to love her, no matter what.

And so I shall continue to love my world. I will step back at times, shed a few tears, rest, gather myself. But I will not stop. I will teach my daughter how to love. I will see these words written on her heart as they have been pressed upon mine: have courage and be kind. I will not stop loving.

And thank you, my friend, for the precious reminder.

The Joy of Reading

Elizabeth’s favorite books

I love reading with Elizabeth! It’s so much fun. She isn’t always content to sit on my lap while I read to her anymore, but that is fine because she chooses, instead, to act out her favorite books while I read them. That is awesome fun, to watch her do the actions for books like Ten Tiny Toes or dance while I sing-read Twinkle, Twinkle. Today, we read six books together and it was a wonderful time. I love reading with my little girl!

I remember a while when I worried and fears that Elizabeth would not like books. That she would have no use for them but to chew on and tear them. Wise friends told me to just keep on keeping on, keep on reading to her, keep on showing her picture books, and to keep on reading my own books in her presence. And her love of books has grown and continues to develop. We are using books for word and object recognition and working on developmental milestones like potty training.

So I shall keep on keeping on and, hopefully, I will have the joy of hearing, “Mommy, can I have this book?” someday, as my mother did time and time (and time and time) again.

Keeping My Eye on the Ball…Er, Box.

Not long ago, I was worried about having too few Christmas gifts for our daughter. More accurately, I was worried about her receiving too much for her birthday and Christmas from other family members and felt that the hubby’s and my hands were tied as to how many gifts we could/should get her for Christmas ourselves. However, today, as I wrapped said presents with my mother, I realized how dangerously close I had come to falling away from the reason for the Christmas season. No, I’m not just talking about the story of Jesus’ birth. What I mean is the spirit of giving, of generosity, compassion, and care for others rather than self. I desperately DO NOT want Christmas to become about what or how many gifts Elizabeth receives. I knew too many people who that was ALL they cared about with Christmas and it broke my heart. I do NOT want that for my daughter.

So, yeah, for a hot minute I fell into that trap and let it stress me out. But, no, Elizabeth has everything she needs and more than enough of her potential ‘wants’. She will have her first big birthday party this Saturday (which is stress enough for me); her family and friends are all around. She is smart and strong, clever and healthy. She is loved and cared for, with food in her belly, a roof over her head, and clothes on her back. She has all she needs. The gifts are icing.

Now, I love giving gifts. I love surprising people and making them smile. What I give them might not always be exactly what they want, but I do enjoy trying to find gifts that might mean something to them or, at least, give a grin and/or a chuckle, even if it is accompanied by a shake of the head. Buying gifts for family is often difficult as it is hard to know what they might want or need. For some reason, I feel a bit more freedom with buying and putting together gifts for friends. So, in addition to getting gifts for my family, I have done my best to get gifts for my closest friends, though I know that I couldn’t get everyone something. I honestly don’t expect anything, not really, though I didn’t really realize it until I said it aloud to my husband. I know that these seasons are hard enough on others, and they already have given me a great gift in their friendship and time. This is just another way for me to say thank you for that particular gift of theirs.

So while it might be stressful and tiring, crazy and hectic. I really do hope that we are able to find the happy moments in the midst of the rush of this season. I had to agree with a family friend today in that, yes, it finally was feeling like Christmas as I wrapped and stacked presents for these friends and loved ones. Your smiles (hopefully) are on their way, dear ones.