If I could write a letter to me, I wouldn't write a letter to my teenage self filled with words of wisdom based on what I know now. If I could write a letter to me, I would write it to myself 25 years down the road. I'd write it to the me who no longer has children left at home. I'd write it to the me with more time on her hands and more sleep in her eyes. I'd write it to the me who I'm certain will recall her early years of motherhood fondly. The years when her kids did not let their mommy sleep but they did love her unabashedly. I'd write it to the me who I know will one day gaze day dreamily at that tired young mom she sees in the grocery store. The one lugging her screaming kids down each aisle. And this is what it would say:
When you see that mom barely holding it together in the grocery store, smile at her and tell her she is doing an amazing job.
When that young mom you know has her third baby, and that baby turns 8 months old and that mom is just as tired as she was when her third addition was a tiny newborn, take her family a meal. Just because.
When you go out on a dinner date with your husband, and you're seated next to a dad and mom and their rambunctious toddler, smile at his parents. Let them know you understand. And pay for their meal.
When you're taking your leisurely evening stroll through the neighborhood, and you hear screaming and temper-tantrum-throwing coming from the windows of a house down the street, pray for the mommy who lives there. Pray that very moment that an abundance of peace and understanding would fill her heart and home.
When you're at the park with your own grand kids, and you overhear a mom patiently encouraging her son who is struggling to tie his shoes, walk by and encourage her with words of your own - "those kind words you're sharing with your son right now are building him up and blessing his heart."
When you're having your morning quiet time and enjoying your coffee uninterrupted, take a minute to write a note of encouragement to the young mom you know who is most surely fatigued from giving all she has to her family.
When you have room in your purse because it's not longer filled with goldfish crackers and diapers and pacifiers, fill it with gift cards to Starbucks. And when you see a mom unloading kids from her minivan and preparing to run endless errands, slip one of those gift cards under her windshield wiper and bless her upon her return.
When you're Christmas shopping and you - and everyone around you - hear a young child screaming uncontrollably for no apparent reason, and you see her mom and dad's cheeks grow red with embarrassment and anger, don't stare and don't judge them. Just pass and pray for them.
And when your head hits the pillow at night and you find your thoughts drifting back to when your kids were little, thank God for your own children. Thank Him that he provided for you every step of the way. Through their infancy, their toddler hood, their elementary, middle and high school years and beyond. And thank God that in his infinite wisdom He designed you to be the perfect mom for your children. And the perfect grandma for your grandchildren. And Lord willing, the perfect great grandmother for your great grandchildren. And fall asleep knowing that every good and perfect gift comes from your Heavenly Father above.
Sharing time and space and oxygen with a two year old leads to one thing: reduced mental capacity. I'm convinced they destroy your brain cells, one irrational fit at a time. The screaming. The tantrums because cheerios aren't blue. The screaming. The teenage independence that far exceeds their toddler capabilities. The screaming. Did I mention the screaming? Little by little, they leave you depleted, unable to form a coherent sentence, confusing even to the voices in your own head. Yet somehow you are still expected to remain sane and be a parent. It's possible. But your nearly brain-cell-less state will most certainly lead to conversations like this:
Me: Claire, please leave your band aides on your cheeks.
Claire: NO! I no like my band aides!!!
Me: Leave your band aides on or give me your hot chocolate. Because it's not safe to have both band aides and hot chocolate. (uh ... what did I just say ... that made no sense)
Sometimes, despite no brain cells, you miraculously manage to get it spot on:
Me: "Henry, what's more important? Being right all the time or being kind to your brother?"
Henry: Being kind to Adam. I'm sorry Adam.
Me: Thank you Henry. (Did that really just do down like that?! I'll be using that one again!)
But then, just twenty minutes (and 1,000 less brain cells) later:
Me: Henry, what's more important, um, sharing your, um, I mean not putting Adam's toys, um ... uh ... being kind to Adam (what am I even saying?!) Henry, It's important to be kind to your brother! (*&#!)
Henry: What are you talking about?
Me: Never mind. Go to your room.
When Henry was my only child I had way more brain cells. As a result, I used a lot of "Love and Logic" in my parenting (the "logic" in the love and logic approach assumes you - the parent - have the potential to think logically). It's a very diplomatic approach. Give your child reasonable choices. And let him experience natural consequences. Yada, yada, yada. It was pretty fantastic. And worked. Until Henry caught on and started using love and logic on me.
"Momma, do you want to pick up my toys now or in 5 minutes?"
Yeah. I'm pretty sure that's not how things are going to work around here. So I went back to the drawing board and began reading any parenting book that came highly recommended by reliable friends, parents who'd been around the block, the homeless guy on the corner. One book taught me how I could have a new kid by Friday. One taught me how to deal with my strong willed child. One even taught me how not to count to three. I thought I was figuring it all out.
And then I had Adam.
And now Emily.
And I've found that nothing I've read - even the most applicable nugget of parenting gold - comes to mind the moment I need it most. What does come to mind however is my desire to show love even in the midst of frustration, my fervent prayers for wisdom and an intrinsic sense of which child needs what at any given moment - because heaven knows all my kids have drastically different needs.
So despite the fact that more of my brain cells vacate the premises whenever a sweet child of mine travels through the terrible two's, I'm discovering I still have enough left to parent. Amazingly, I'm even able to string together a line of logic now and again that gets the job done.
Like when I tell Adam:
"Wearing socks with your Crocs only work when the rain isn't wet." (huh???)
And somehow it makes so much sense to him that he chooses to put on his rain boots (which was the outcome I was hoping for but never dreamed would come so easily!). When things like this happen I consider it a sign that my brain still works well enough to communicate with my offspring. And I consider that nothing less than a miracle.
I love Christmas. Even more so now that I'm able to create Christmas memories with my own kids. In the Barron house, we think Santa is cool. He fills stockings and brings the kids a gift. But when all is said and done, he's got nothing on baby Jesus.
The phrase is true after all. Jesus is the reason for the season.
This year - before the Christmas season has come and gone - I wanted to share some of our favorite Christmas traditions. These traditions are special in our home because they point the kids (and adults) toward why we celebrate Christmas.
Christmas Story Advent Calendar
A few years ago, I stumbled across this advent calendar. And loved it. http://lovelyindeed.com/diy-advent-calendar-free-printable/
Every evening in December our family gathers together to experience this calendar. We read a brief passage from the Christmas story (as found in the link above). To give the kids a tangible reminder of what Christmas really stands for, I made a corresponding ornament to go with each reading. We place the ornament on a special advent tree, sing a Christmas carol and pray together. It is simple. And meaningful.
The idea for this tradition comes from my sweet friend (and most loyal reader), Lindy. And it is one of my favorites. A couple years ago Matt made us a small, wooden manger. Every year when we get our ornaments out of storage we bring out the manger also. We place the manger and a small pot of hay (raffia) in front of our decorated tree. Throughout the month of December we prepare the manger for baby Jesus. Whenever anyone sees another family member being kind or serving or generous they place a small amount of hay in the manger. As the month goes on, the manger gets softer and softer in anticipation of baby Jesus' arrival. When the kids awake bright and early Christmas morning they rush to the tree. And there they find the manger filled with a small doll wrapped in cloth and resting comfortably because of the kindness we've shown each other.
I was so excited when I found this mailbox last December (in the grocery store of all places).
I knew it would be a perfect addition to the tradition in our home that centers around the Christmas cards we receive each year. Each day when cards arrive in the mail I place them in the mailbox on our mantel. I put the candy cane up to let the kids know "we have mail!". When we gather together in the evening for our advent calendar devotions one of the kids is granted the privilege of removing the cards from the mailbox. Together we open the cards, talk about the family and friends we see before us and then include that family in our nightly prayers.
To say my kids love crafts would be an understatement. They love crafts more than riding bikes. Or eating. And sometimes I think more than breathing. So each year I like to do a Christmas craft with the kids. This was our craft last year.
And I'm pretty sure this will be our craft this year. I'm very excited about this one.
A couple years ago the kids and I accidentally discovered our love for a long last tradition: Christmas caroling. Matt was working late one December night, the kids were restless and it was still hours before bedtime. Desperately needing to fill time, I made them all hot chocolates and we headed out to see the Christmas lights in our neighborhood. Just as we were walking by a neighbors house, the kids started to sing. So we stopped. And sang them Silent Night. And at the next house, we sang Jingle Bells. And at the next house, we sang Silent Night and Jingle Bells because that was about the extent of their impromptu Christmas caroling knowledge. Because of that, I now include singing (teaching) a Christmas carol as part of our nightly advent calendar devotional time. As a result, the kids Christmas carol repertoire is much improved since Christmas 2011.
I've also found this to be the perfect time to take treats to neighbors. One year we took cookies. Last year we took fresh from the oven soft pretzels. To add meaning to the tradition of giving to others I often lead the kids in prayers for the families we are baking for as we prepare their sweet treats.
I love nativity scenes. When I was a little girl, I knew the Christmas season was upon us when my mom took out the boxes containing our nativity scene. For me, it was as special to set up the nativity scene as it was to decorate our tree.
I love this nativity scene because my kids can actually play with the characters.
While some things change from year to year, the traditions above are a constant in our home. There are other things we enjoy (cutting a tree, driving around town looking at lights, a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, time with friends and family), but we try to limit filling our calendars too full. Simply so our focus stays on the most important gift of all, the humble birth of a tiny babe over 2000 years ago.
When I was a starry-eyed, day-dreaming little girl I wanted to be 3 things when I grew up.
A mom. A teacher. And an author.
Thanks to my husband for being on board with this parenting gig and making me a mom - 4 times!
Thanks to Dena Schmidt for telling me when I was just twelve years old, "You are amazing with little kids. You would be a wonderful teacher!" I listened. Agreed. And went for it.
And thanks to all of you who take the time to read this blog, comment and encourage me to keep writing. In my book, this blog makes me an author. Perhaps one day I'll take your advice and publish something.
Until then, I'll keep writing on "A Bunch Of Barron's" about the things that make me smile.
Here are some of my favorites from the last few weeks ...
There's a voice I use. It's demanding and sharp. It usually comes out when we're running late. Or when I'm hungry. Or when things feel out of control with the chaos of 4 kids. Or when it's just been a long day. Most of the time I don't recognize how ugly it sounds. Simply because I'm not on the receiving end. But then a moment arises where my first born says something to his siblings that is so demanding and harsh that I cringe. Because I realize he sounds just like me.
Lately, I've had to ask Henry's forgiveness for being a harsh example.
We're a lot alike Henry and I. Luckily, we have Matt.
And he is the antithesis of harsh and demanding.
He is patient. And he speaks with loving authority. I admire the way he communicates with our children. His example speaks volumes to them and to me. And luckily, Henry longs to exemplify Matt. I realized this morning just how much.
Yesterday Matt and the kids were sitting at the table together making their Christmas lists. I found Matt's list later that evening ...
When I read his list I fell in love all over again and said a prayer of thanksgiving for my children's father. And then this morning, as I was making breakfast for Henry, I noticed he was bent over his notepad adding something to his Christmas list. Yesterday he had packed it full with the following:
Bike, science kit, The Croods 3D, calculator, building kit, and light like Claire's
But this morning, after seeing his dad's Christmas list, Henry added one last thing:
color with Claire
I read Henry's list after he left the table. And I fell in love with him all over again and said a prayer of thanksgiving for my son.
Dear Heavenly Father -
Thank you for the gift of family.
For my children who long to be like their parents.
For my husband who encourages us with his words and actions.
Continue to grown in me a heart that is overflowing with tender words.
To all my dear friends whoreally, really strive to keep it positive,
Keep it up!
When your husband is in the backyard weeding the garden and you're in the house getting dinner ready while little kids are pulling on your pant legs and you want to scream at the top of your lungs out the back door for backup, don't. Instead just go to him and ask for a helping hand.
When your husband has a chance to sneak away for a weekend to fish and shoot and relax while you're home with your four offspring and he sends you this picture via text:
and you want to respond with this picture via text:
Don't. Instead reply and let him know he's missed. Or don't reply at all.
When you've been up with the kids since 5:30am and he's sleeping in and you want to pinch a kid right outside his bedroom door just so they'll scream and wake him up, don't. Instead remind yourself that 5 days a week (and often 7) he's up and out the door at the crack of dawn to provide for his family. And let him sleep.
When the laundry pile is so large it appears it may eat your 6 month old and it makes you want to pull out your hair and scream, "I can't do it all!", don't. Instead ask your husband if the two of you can divide and conquer the pile by the soft glow of the television once the kids are in bed.
When you've spent all your energy doing what you feel is important to keep a home and family running and he's spent all his energy doing what he feels is important to keep a home and family running and you begin to feel your tasks are superior, don't. Instead thank him for the important role he plays in your family.
Because when the day draws to a close and your critical words have been left unspoken, you can rest assured that your self-control and gentleness have spoken volumes more.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
I could come up with a never ending list of reasons why I love being a mom. One of the best things however has to be experiencing the holiday season with my own kids. The onset of fall brings many opportunities for sweet and meaningful family time.
Each November the kids and I do something very simple yet very meaningful.
We create a Thanksgiving Tree.
We take a walk to the park and the kids collect sticks. When we get home we arrange the sticks in a vase and then trace and cut leaf shapes out of construction paper. Throughout the month of November we write our blessings on the paper leaves and hang them on the tree. I love reading (or helping the kids write) the many things they are thankful for. Our Thanksgiving Tree culminates on Thanksgiving morning when I give each of the kids and Matt a card sharing the many reasons why I am thankful for them.
I save the leaves and the cards from year to year and keep them in a scrapbook.
It warms my heart to look back through the book and read what we were all thankful for in years past.