To the Mother Who Sent Only Cards to the Valentine’s Day Party

So, last night, as my child slumbered off an upset tummy, I picked up her backpack and began to unpack the bounty. In case you’ve forgotten, yesterday was Valentine’s Day and my girl had her first preschool Valentine’s Day party. Of course, she picked out and we bought the cute little My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic sticker-cards for her friends and I helped her sign her name to them, because the note from school had said that students would be giving Valentines to each other. However, as I sat and unpacked three large paper bags/envelopes, I felt my little hobbit-mommy heart sink a little.

There were gifts attached to almost every card.

One card came with a toy car and proclaimed “I “wheelie” like you”.

One card came with a twist-off-top Kool-aid bottle, with its card declaring, “Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s a “squeeze” for you!”

And on and on it continued. Cute little gift bags, school supplies emblazoned with “You rule!”on them.

By the time I was done, I was wishing every Pinterest-y mother at the bottom of the deepest oceanic trench. All my girl had given were MLP sticker-cards. No gifts. No treats. Nothing cutely punny. Had I dropped the ball or what?

Quietly, I put everything back into the bags and stacked them on the couch so my daughter could open them with Grandma and Grandpa the next day, feeling all of my mere 61 inches tall. Thankfully, I suppose, the aforementioned upset tummy didn’t give me much time to wallow in self-pity. I did end up feeling badly for wishing doom and gloom on these parents who had obviously taken and put much time and thought into would make their children’s little friends smile, for which I am very grateful. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘less’. It lingered all through the rest of the night, aided by weariness and lack of rest thanks to her throwing-up-every-half-hour-to-keep-time.

It’s not just “less”. It’s a feeling of “not enough”. Not creative enough. Not involved enough. Not aware enough. Not available enough.

And it sucks. (Yeah, I’m self-pitying just a bit. It’s part of the journey.)

I know comparison is a spirit-killer and I don’t want that. I also know that my girl had fun, which is splendid. Maybe her body waited until she got home to be sick because, deep down, she knew that Mommy would take care of her. Make everything as better as she could. I don’t know. I don’t know for sure, but I hope that my love, the fact that I would do whatever I can and need to for her is known down in her blood and bone, as true as her heart that beats.

I’m not a Pinterest mom. I’m not an artist or a party designer. I don’t know the perfect gift for the perfect occasion. But I do know that I love my daughter. I do know that I want to teach her the joy of loving on others. And I hope that, maybe, yesterday was a good starting lesson in that. I hope her sticker-cards made some child smile when she handed them one.

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When Mommy’s Big Feelings Break Out

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The picture above is from a year ago. This was the caption I posted with it on IG: “My girl showing her poor addled, short-tempered mommy some sweet grace and comfort.” #empathy #kindness #toddlersweet #grace #graceforthemoment#littlehands

A year to the day, I need this picture because, last night, I was addled and short-tempered again. Last night, I yelled at my daughter when she came out of her bedroom for the 7th or 8th time since I had put her to bed an hour before. She cried; she tearfully proclaimed that I wasn’t nice to her. My heart broke. I apologized. I asked her forgiveness for letting my big feelings break out on her. I tucked her back in with teary kisses and lots of I love you’s. She calmed and sighed and gave me sleepy I love you’s in return. I cried. I cried. I got the house settled for the night. I went to bed, squeezed a favorite stuffy, and cried until I fell asleep.

I know that ‘nice’ isn’t the same as ‘good’. I know that I am not and will never be perfect. I also know that I need this memory and its reminder today, of the grace that my girl has shown me when my emotion is anathema to my gentleness. I am glad that chances aren’t final. I am glad that I can try again today. I love my girl and her forgiving grace, and I want to learn from it. I want to be like my daughter with her sweet, “It’s okay, Mommy. You made a mistake. I love you.”

I have dear ones who have given me marvelous encouragement and loving reminders today, and I am thankful beyond words for them. As I teach and grade and think today, I’m slowly living out that ear-worm of a Daniel Tiger song, “It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better again.” And I look forward to seeing my daughter’s smiling face and her exuberant, “Mommy!!” when I pick her up from preschool this afternoon.

Ears to Hearts

I just did a Heart Check with my girl (inspired by the beautiful tradition of Hands Free Mama Rachel Macy Stafford and her daughters). We do it every now and again, not really on any regular basis. We listen to each other’s heartbeat and then we tell each other what we think our hearts “sound” like. I listened to her little heart thud like a drum and told her that her heart sounded happy because she had had such a good day at school and had had such a great time running around in her red boots ever since she got home.
My baby girl leaned up and I cradled her head against my chest for her turn. She listened to my heart and then moved to lie down in her bed again. I asked what she thought.
She told me, “I think your heart is crying. I think because it is sad.”
I will not lie; I about lost it into a puddle of tears right there. I told my oh-so-wise girl that, yes, my heart is sad because a lot of my friends are sad right now, but that I am trying to love them as best I can. I asked her if she would pray for me, that God will give me strength and lots and lots of love to share.

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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Running On Ahead

Today was the day. That day. That first day. Today was my girl’s first day at daycare. And tomorrow will her first day of preschool. Her first day(s) in the care of someone not a parent or grandparent.

Only a week and a half ago, I accepted a very last-minute position and, in a positive gale of13872934_10153805997603133_477313044703904389_n change, have returned to teaching this year. This was not what I had planned for, not what I had settled on, and so it has been quite a tumultuous time. One of the most difficult parts for me, however, has been the realization and reality that I would not be able to be there for her first day of school. I will not be there to hold her little hand and walk her to her class. I will not be there to see her face light up with excitement or grow sober with apprehension. I will not be there to hug her close, stroke my finger down her pert little nose, tell her I love her, and remind her to have courage and be kind.

And that hurt. It hurt a lot. For an entire week, I cried every time I thought about it, every time someone mentioned it. I still get a little burn in my chest where my heart aches at the missing. I have always been with her; these are the first “firsts” that I will miss. It’s too soon. It’s happening too fast. I know that she’s excited, that she loved her first day at daycare, and had a great one according to her teachers, and that makes me happy for my girl. But, at the same time, it’s like she’s slipping away through my fingers. She’s pulling away and running ahead and I am so far from ready.

I miss our routine. I miss mornings with her cuddled in my arms in the big bed when it’s rainy and dark and we are both still sleepy. I miss walking in the sunshine with her or helping my fearless, spiky girl place her feet properly as she climbs up the playground ladders. I miss watching her jog through the mall, waving at strangers with a smile and a “Hi!” I miss our quiet times at home, her with her Kindle and me with my book or my writing.

13876688_10153805997673133_8663280121382326193_nIt’s all happening so fast. Too fast. I knew that this was coming. Eventually. But I hadn’t looked for it to be now, to be immediate. I had thought I’d be there to  help her transition to part-time preschool. Instead, I tiptoe from the house before she’s awake and won’t see her now until I pick her up at the end of the day. I can only hope and pray to be greeted by a big smile and lovingly enthusiastic “Mommy!” every evening. That’s why I am doing this. For her. For our family. Not for me. For them.

Tonight, as she splashed and played in her bath, all my heart could do was cry out, “Slow down!” And the song below came to mind, as tears likewise sprang to my eyes and trickled down my cheeks.

I want you to grow, my love. I do. Just…don’t do it too terribly quickly. Please? Don’t pull away just yet. Could you slow down, just a bit?

Reflections on Thirty-Three

Cross-posted on my blog MWGS:

Author’s Note: Today, I turn 33 years old. It has definitely been an interesting three and a half years since my daughter was born and life changed in a big way. I think that I have learned more about myself in these few short years than in many others combined throughout my lifetime. I see myself differently, am taking better care of myself, am learning to love others better, and live my faith and purpose more honestly and, I hope, effectively. I do more than like myself at 33. I truly believe that I have finally learned to love myself.

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My form is a thing of beauty.

Take all your definitions of allure

And weigh them in your hands,

As I make mine my own.

Breasts, waist, hips, legs,

Arms, stomach, shoulders, back.

All I work to make strong.

This I do for myself,

For the good of my body as well as my soul.

To be strong enough in body to hold the skies on my shoulders

But soft enough in soul to hold joy in the sway of my hips

And grace in the reach of my hands.

My mind is a work of art.

Growing and challenged still,

Deeply considering and intense.

My intelligence has not been silenced by time,

But continues to grow and refine with new challenges.

My art is a meeting of thought and feeling,

Pulled together, chiseled, and shaped.

I share my art with a desire for hope,

Encouragement, uplifting, and joy.

I write to challenge to love, to kindness, to compassion.

I write to create refuge, worlds in which to escape,

To send out words that my own voice might find difficult to speak.

I sing to birth joy. I dance to proclaim free. I dress to cry beauty.

I write and post and mail to connect and pull threads together.

In life. In community. In love. In friendship. In chosen family.

I am a being made unqiue and becoming uniquer still.

The older I get, the finer I am becoming.

You should rejoice. I’d love for you to rejoice.

If you don’t, though, that’s your choice.

But, most of all, I just want you to smile with me.

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.

When You Feel So Mad That You Wanna Roar…

This is our first year with a full-sized tree since Elizabeth was born and it has been impossible to keep her from pulling ornaments off the tree. Tonight she succeeded in that top-shelf fear of mine: she pulled the Christmas tree down. Thankfully, it did not land on top of her. I heard it fall, heard the clatter of ornaments on the floor, and hurried to the doorway between the kitchen and living room to see her across the room leaning against the couch and the tree facedown on the floor. I admit, I covered my hand with my mouth and struggled not to cry as I saw my tree sprawled on the floor, ornaments tumbled hither thither and yon around the living room.

I didn’t scream. I didn’t yell. I inhaled, counted to three, and exhaled as I entered the living room, asking firstly if she was OK and she said yes. I then set about righting the tree while she gathered the fallen ornaments into a little pile. I silently thanked God that I had had the means to buy a brand new set of shatterproof ornaments along with this tree. I was not also going to be vacuuming glass up out of the carpet for the next hour and then fretting for days to come that there would still be shards hidden, just waiting to embed themselves in our feet. So there was that in my favor. I slowly and as calmly as I could straightened out the bent branches and replaced the ornaments on the tree, though there was a small struggle with Bizzy over the last one, which she adamantly didn’t want to relinquish. I still think the tree looks a bit at sixes and sevens and I will most likely have my mother give it a once over and fix when she gets here.

But I am glad that I took that three-second pause. I wanted love to be my first response as often as possible and it most definitely was not my first response for most of today. Today was a rough day. We have all been sick for the better part of a week, Elizabeth since Thanksgiving night. So we are tired and worn and she and I got in each other’s way a lot today. Tomorrow, though, I will forgive myself and have the new beginning that tomorrow is.

See Me and Delight In Me

Cross-posted on my writing blog http://awriterbecoming.com.

For our wedding anniversary this year, the only gift I requested from my husband was as set of coloring books and crayons of my own, separate from those that belong to my toddler daughter. What? I like coloring. Of course, he came through with coloring books of Disney Princesses and My Little Pony (yay!), but I beefed up my coloring book collection the other day with some of the new wildly-popular coloring books for adults. The one I worked on last night for my winding-down time was one of floral mosaics. I wanted something simple so I chose a picture of daisies and settled in quite happily with a colored pencil in one hand and an apple in the other. Even as I finished the stems and started working on the flowers’ yellow hearts, I felt this sudden urge to leap up from my chair at the kitchen table and run into the living room crying, “Mom! Mom! Look, look!”

That hit me hard. Even at thirty-two, I still long for my mother to see me and find beauty in me and what I do. I was over the moon when she commented that I had indeed lost a few inches. All those months of work and she noticed! When she compliments my mothering, I am chuffed for days. My mother is my hero and I want her to be proud of her girl. (I’ve definitely noticed that I’ve been singing Aladdin’s “Proud of Your Boy” more often lately.)

Then I realized that is all Elizabeth wants from me, too: to be seen, to be enjoyed, for me to be proud of  my girl. Her new trick is to come up to you with something behind her back.

“Please (close) eyes,” she asks.

You cover your eyes.

“1-2-3. Eeprise (surprise)!” And she shows you what is behind her back.

Your role is to be elated, tell her it’s wonderful, and give her a hug.

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My mom and my girl

I have lost count of just how many times we have done this over the past few days. Last night, though, I was very tired and refused to participate a few times (or at best was rather lackluster about it). My mom played along enthusiastically every single time. I am sorry that I didn’t. Elizabeth wants, needs, me to joy in her and in all she is learning to do. I want her to know that I do joy in her and I am proud of her.

One of her favorite movies is “Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch”. At the end of the film, the whole ohana is dancing Lilo’s hula together and she and Stitch hug each other. Then Nani comes over and tells Lilo, “Mom would be so proud of you.” At that point in the film, Elizabeth always runs to me for the hug and I amend the line and tell her, “I am so proud of you.” And I am. I will always be. When she is thirty-two, I want her to want to run to me, show me what she has accomplished or created, and know without a doubt that I will be elated for and with her.

“Mom, Mom! Look!”

“That is wonderful, my love! I am so proud of you!”