mums first day of school shoes

Hey there, lady, I was just at Kmart buying a spare (cheap) drink bottle for my boys today, and they took 10 minutes to pick which one they wanted, and I was thinking about you and me and the first day of school. Here are a few things I want us to know.

They go to school, and you go to school. We all get schooled. They learn to read, we learn how to read them better. They learn how to get along with other kids, how to add and subtract, how to create and discover and write and learn. And so do you. It will be about how use your time, how to get along with teachers and parents, how to discover yourself as your time constraints change. You’re going to learn just as much as they will this year. 

When you walk up to your child’s classroom, expect to cut through a thick layer of invisible anxiety, first in yourself, then in everyone else. It is impossible to overstate the hopes and dreams and fears of every mother standing at the door as she releases her precious cherub into the ocean of the world. Every other kid looks like an octopus or a shark, and Nemo has a broken fin. Give her grace because this isn’t easy, and if you are honest, it’s not easy for you. All of us have invisible fears about our children that we hide behind our bragging and comparing. But you’re afraid, and this year you get to learn how to find your way out of the fear. You get to see the other kids as just kids who are all imperfect, all learning, and all on a pathway of discovery.

Speaking of bragging or comparing, you don’t have to do either. Protect yourself from this. When someone tells you something great about their child, it’s not an insult to your child or an invitation for you to tell a better story. You’ll find the women with whom you can connect who will have a genuine interest in your life and your kids, who don’t see your life as a threat to theirs. Wait for those people. While you wait, get rid of your own instinct to brag about yourself or your kids. There’s no need to fear, my friend. You are in process, and you are going to be ok, too. No need to come across as anything else to anyone else.  

At times it will feel like you are standing in a line with your child and every smile, every conversation with someone new, every invite for a coffee or playdate is going to feel like approval, the badge that says I am Someone, I am a Good Mother, I have a Good Child. Fight against this mentality. You don’t have to talk to another person at drop off. You have time to make friends. Friendship does not come easy. It takes time to lay down a groundwork of trust. You don’t have to tell the other mums you meet every deep, dark thing about your life. You don’t have to tell them the inner workings of your family life.

It takes a long time to find other women with whom you can genuinely connect who then you can deeply trust. Waiting is worth it. And if the women in your life end up not being in school, that’s totally fine, too.

Your kids don’t become magically different at school. The responsible kid will still be responsible, and won’t lose hats or jumpers or drink bottles. The kid with her head in the clouds, will still have her head in the clouds. Get this kid cheaper things. No need to feel guilty about that, this way you can replace their things without heaping shame on them. There’s a lot for kids to keep track of at school, they shouldn’t feel bad about losing a drink bottle here or there. We’ve all lost our expensive phones, right?

The teacher gets a version of your child, likely you get a different version. Both versions are real and true, and the joy of being a parent is working to understand all versions of our kids and helping them integrate their compartments into a whole. Your teacher sees a different side of your child, and you need their insights. Your teacher is your teammate, if you work together, your child wins. 

(An addendum here: There are I’m sure a tiny handful of terrible teachers out there – I’m sorry if you have one. Get on your child’s side, fill up their tanks with encouragement when they are down. Pray that the experience will teach them about empathy and perseverance. Talk to school admin. Hopefully next year will be better.)

Learn to see your child as one in a group, not the only one. The teacher has to attend to the group, and there are many others he or she needs to pay attention to. Your child is not especially deserving of unique attention. At least not more so than anyone else. Trust that every child will get the time they need. Trust that you are still your child’s number one influencer. Whatever their school cannot give them, you can fill in the gaps at home.

When you hear the thought, “My child deserves (a better teacher, a nicer table-mate, smarter classmates, more current technology),” replace it immediately with a list of what you can be grateful for. I’m thankful my kid gets to go to school. I’m thankful my child has food to eat. I’m thankful for clean water. I’m thankful for warm clothes in the winter. I’m thankful for a summer hat. Entitlement will cloud your judgment, entitlement will not let you see your kids for who they are, entitlement will steal your happiness.

Your child has unique needs that you can see more clearly than everyone else. But remember that there is a school full of kids. Every kid is there to learn, to develop as a person, to grow and to change. Learn to see other children. Learn to talk to them, appreciate them, learn to see your child as one in a group. We want them all to succeed.

Expect there to be issues between your kid and other kids. This may be the year you find out that your child isn’t as truthful as you hoped. It may be the year you find out that they like to steal or cheat or hit other kids. Maybe they started cutting class or failing a subject. Don’t let the disappointment you feel in your child become a disappointment you feel in yourself. Your kid gets to make his or her own decisions – this is true of a five-year-old and an 18-year-old. Their decisions are not always a reflection of your home or your parenting. They are their own people. Yes, you’ll have to lay down the necessary boundaries, but guess what? Your kid needs your love and your anchoring support in them as a person especially when they have disappointed you. And you and I need another lesson on how to dig deeper to find that unconditional love everyone needs.

Find the soothing words you need to use on yourself and your kids for specific stressful situations. For me it is this sentence, “We have enough time.” I always give us permission to be late. The irony of course is that we are almost never late, but giving all of us the permission to run late allows for a peaceful attitude in my heart and hopefully theirs.

You are going to need so much wisdom to know when you need to deal with something with your child and when you need to involve their teacher, other parents and members of the school. But trust that when you need wisdom, you will receive it. Walk into your decisions with a humble confidence. You can do this. Please tell yourself this every day, every week, every term. You can do this. You can do this. You can do this. 

Trust that you will make mistakes.

Expect your kids to make mistakes.

Plan for the teachers to make mistakes.

See mistakes as the doorway for all of you to grow.

You’ve got a year of growing ahead of you, my friend. Here’s to the new branches in your life, and here’s to the good fruit.

Now it’s your turn: I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got a kid starting school in 2019 or continuing on in school? How are you feeling? Drop a note in the comments. Got any good tips to share with the rest of us? Just write it all out here – we need all the ideas, right?!?!

It was a piece of pan-fried white fish, peas and some pasta covered in cheese on his plate, the kind of dinner he would normally inhale without complaint. Seafood and carbs are his favorite. Tonight though he pushed it around with his fork, his frown deepening. I asked him to eat it, but he snapped at me saying he would not.

You know the feeling when you put something down in front of your child, and you’re certain, This will be a hit. The usual thoughts cropped up in my head, “He’s disobedient and needs to be disciplined. I can’t believe I’m having to deal with this. I’m going to make him eat this or he will be in trouble.”

“I won’t eat it, Mommy,” he whined at me, his voice getting higher and angrier by the minute.

I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached across the table and broke off a piece of his food and tasted it.

The fish was cold and unsalted. I would not have eaten it.

Continue reading at The Better Mom (if you’re reading in your email, please click here).

fidget spinners

One of my sons had a birthday last week, and our neighbour brought him over a gift while he was sleeping. When he saw it the next morning, his brown eyes ignited, the smile stretched across his face as he excitedly talked about finally owning his very own fidget spinner.

For the uninitiated here’s my best fidget-spinner explanation: It’s a piece of metal somehow connected at the centre, and the blades spin fast. This is apparently a source of endless fascination for children, or at the very least, a good source of income for toymakers.

But for my son, this red, white and blue piece of metal is something else entirely. He leaned over to me and whispered in awe, I’ve been wishing for one of these, Mommy. 

Wanting to understand what he meant, I prodded. He had never asked us for one. This was my first time to hear of it. Fidget spinners, it turns out, are a popular commodity at school. Several of the boys in his class have them, he’s been watching them for weeks and the seed of desire grew in his heart. Even though he didn’t tell us, he wanted one.

See, I smiled at him, God knows – but the words stuck in my throat, silencing me. I started talking without thinking, and I could feel grown-up fear fighting the words back down.

You can’t tell him that God gives him what he wants, what if he grows up thinking he’s entitled to whatever he wishes for.

He can’t remember the days without end, and the answers were always, always, “No.”  You can’t tempt him to believe otherwise.

You can’t teach him to expect good things when you know bad things are always around the corner.

But I ran my fingers through his brown hair, looked in his eyes, and pressed into territory that feels dangerous and somehow wild and unknown.

God knows what you want before you even say it, I said, he loves giving you good things. 

 

A small postscript: I have not done much research into fidget spinners, but I appreciated the thoughts in this article, “What the fidget spinners fad reveals about disability discrimination.” It’s well worth the read, we all need to be more sensitive, knowledgeable and helpful toward adults and children in our lives whose minds are different from ours.
beachlegs
I told friends that June was probably the roughest month in Australia since our move. There are no ways to prove such superlatives, but it felt like it. I went to sleep later and later, our children woke up earlier and earlier, and for anyone who has been reading this blog for a while, you know I’ve written those sentences before. You know me well enough to know that no one in our home does well in those circumstances.

The trap of difficult seasons is it casts our eyes backward, Life was so much better when…. or it drags us into the future, If only I had or was in or… We think we need a big change of relationship or a new home or if we spent more money on clothes or a course, we may have the opportunity we look for. Painful seasons leave me with little capacity to do big things, but as the fog lifts, I can see four small changes that helped ease the difficult weeks or would have helped when the challenges hit. Most of these I can only see in hindsight, but I am tucking it into a little file in my mind to pull out when the next rough season comes. Here’s hoping that if you are in a difficult season, these will help you out.

1 Remember the stressors. I got in a car accident, a minor one, but it required adjustments – my car was in the shop for a week, we had to rent a car for a few days, I lost my phone in the middle of all of this, which meant I was harder to contact, and I couldn’t do some of the administrative work I do for our family. Once the car was repaired, something else went wrong with it, and it had to be taken in again. The whole process lasted about three weeks. Husband had several hectic weeks at work. Our children woke up earlier than normal in the morning. We took the our littlest’s paci away. The boys got new bunkbeds, and the little one isn’t in a crib anymore but a bed. He doesn’t like to stay in his bed in the evening. Or in the morning.

When I read that to myself, I’m amazed the past month wasn’t harder. A pacifier is a huge source of comfort for my youngest. A car accident where no one is injured in the slightest and the car is drivable without repairs, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it puts pressure on our schedules. I wish I had paid attention to these things while it was happening instead of adding guilt to myself for not coping. Hard times need to be named and called out, so that you know you will have to gather up your strength and bear up underneath the difficulty. There are seasons, sometimes days or weeks or months or years, where you just have to stand (or sit) as the hard times blow around you because there is nothing for you to do except outlast the storm and find a way to live inside of it in a way that is whole and healthy.

2 Embracing screen time. Almost everyone has opinions on screen time, I certainly did. Likely you could find some of those ideas in archive. I’m still a believer in limited screen time, but I’ve come to embrace what it can do for me when I need it. And to embrace it without guilt because I will not put my kids in front of a screen and then feel guilty about it. The boys were on two weeks of school holidays in June, and they watched a movie a day, there was one day when I think they watched something for most of the day. I did laundry, cleaned the kitchen, cooked, cleaned our bedroom and got some quiet time to myself. It felt wonderful to get things done, and to get a lot of things done in one go. I loved getting quiet time to myself while the boys were happily watching something in another room.

Screen time is no replacement for relationship time, and I’m not suggesting kids get a free pass to watch what they want, when they want. But I am saying that there are days when it is in everyone’s advantage to turn a movie on and to do so joyfully and willingly without feeling like a failure as a parent.

clothesonline

3 Reach Out I emailed a few friends, women who know me well and whom I trust, and I spilled. I gave them the raw version of daily struggles, they heard my despairing, discouraging thoughts about myself, and I asked them to pray for me. Each of them emailed me back, encouraged me and prayed for me. I can tell you that I started to see a difference in my daily circumstances in almost 24 hours. One of them challenged me on some things in a face time call, and I needed to hear it. Difficult times – because of the mistakes of others or our own – have a way of pushing us further into a cave of our own making. No one else feels this way, I’m the worst person in the world. But the truth is that there are few things I need more in this time than the arms of those who are stronger, coming around me, picking me up and bearing the burden with me.

4 Pray Big God, please make them sleep longer. Most of my mornings of the past five years involve some version of this prayer. In seasons we’ve had dependable, peaceful mornings, but for the past two months it has been wake up calls from very tired children anywhere from 5 am to 6:30 in the morning, too early for them and too early for me. But this morning last week, as I lay in my bed begging God for more sleep for all of us, I sensed instead his kind, corrective words.

Don’t you have something more to ask me about? Don’t you think I can do more than this?

It stung because it’s true. I spend a lot of time daily praying for God to change something in what’s happening with my kids so that my life will be more manageable, and while I have nothing against that, there are other things happening in our lives and in the world that require bold, persistent, vision-filled prayer. My dad told us that we think we change God’s mind when we pray, but really he is changing us. I believe it. One of the ways it changes me is that it casts my eyes outside of myself, it reminds me that I have a place in a much bigger story where things are happening, and it is not all about me. I still pray for my kids to get 12 hours of sleep a night, and I won’t stop, but I have been praying about other things, too. For their souls, for their friends, for the people in my life who are in a difficult season, for the world that seems to unravel around me one gunshot at a time. For the enormous number of things I could not name here, but require faithful, faith-filled prayers, I have asked and asked and asked again. And it feels good.

There is hope, my friend, whatever season you may be in today. You are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone.

Now it’s your turn: What small thing helps you get through hard times? 

Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:

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I rolled over the other day, and said to Husband, I miss Sweden. Only a few words, but this was more than homesickness. It’s the sadness that follows me around even though life in Australia has been more than good. Sadness that cannot be shaken, not by gratitude or numbering my blessings or coffees or warm weather. Fatigue can wash over me in the middle of the day, and I’m still surprised with the overwhelm when it comes to making simple decisions, the energy I do not seem to have for connecting with people.

We moved to Melbourne, Australia six months ago after two years of living in Sweden and more years before that of a life in Switzerland. I grew up as a missionary kid in the Philippines with furloughs and eventually university in the United States. I moved to Australia as a young adult, traveled around the world and met my husband in Switzerland. I moved every three to four years of my entire life, so carrying on is what I have always done. The boxes get packed, the forms are filled, the mad rush to the airport is made without a thought. The wheels lift off the ground, and the familiar thrill of the new adventure to come takes over.

At least that’s what moving used to feel like. 

I am 34 now, and I have two boys under five in tow. You could say that life on the move, all that carrying on, caught up with me. 

I tell myself that this move to Melbourne should be easy, the easiest I’ve made in my life. I have family and friends here, a support system is in place. I can read, speak and write in English. I can make a bank transfer again. I know where everything is. People are helpful and friendly, white-sand beaches are less than a 30-minute drive away, cafes and delicious food are everywhere.

But there are emotions, events and fears I picked up from carrying on, and I was carrying them everywhere.

I started 2016 on a personal retreat, and I took Soulkeeping by John Ortberg with me. Toward the end of the book there is a chapter about rest. He writes about the Christian life, how it is not easy and is not supposed to be easy. We know this, don’t we? We’ve read the book about holiness and not happiness, we know to expect suffering, even to rejoice in suffering. 

You know this. You are mothers, fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, friends, sisters in far flung places, fighting your daily battles. You’ve argued with with your boss, studied for exams, wrestled children who don’t listen. There’s an illness in your family with no diagnosis. You wonder how much longer you can live paycheck-to-paycheck. You’re walking out a difficult marriage day after day. Or maybe you’re just unsettled wherever you are in the life that you have and there is no explanation.

You know that God has not called you to easy. 

D in the light

I never expected my life to be easy. When it comes to hard work or the incoming “hard” thing, I’ve always thought, This is from God. But Ortberg continued. 

The Bible uses the word easy only once. It came from Jesus. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

‘Easy’ is a soul word, not a circumstance word. The soul was not made for an easy life. The soul was made for an easy yoke. 

Soulkeeping, by John Ortberg

We carry a weight when we walk through transitions. There is the role you have to fill in your work, the complex people issues, the kind of work that rarely yields a finished product. It is the weight of our children’s emotions expressed in slammed doors and tantrums. Carrying on takes its toll on our marriages, the emotions present in a partnership that may not often be expressed. There are the daily tasks we have to attend to, and in the middle of this storm, we carry the weight, we bear the difficulty, we take it upon ourselves to do it all, feel it all and carry it all.

We have the punishing voice of productivity saying, “Do more. Be more” and the distressed words of anxiety on the other, “It will not work out. It will all fail.” And this is the heavy, hard yoke that was not meant for our shoulders.

I’ve had to open my eyes to the quiet, gentle presence of Jesus in all my moves. The one who comes in and shoulders the weight. His whisper says, You are weary and heavy laden, come to me. Let me carry it. He is not asking for pieces of my life or parts of my problems. He wants it all. His invitation is to a life of letting go

It means more mess, more muddle, things may not happen when you or I want, but I am making the choice to say, I cannot do it all. 

I cannot solve all the problems. There may be overdue bills or an empty refrigerator.

I cannot manage everyone’s emotions. As much as I love my children and want them to transition well, I cannot be everything for them in this. There will be days when I fall apart, and that is ok.

I cannot meet all the needs. There will be needs of my husband’s, of my kids that will be unmet. I can trust that God will meet them, just like he meets me. 

He is carrying me, he is carrying you. In everything, everywhere, his kind hands are carrying us home.

If you’re in the middle or end of a transition, could I invite you to  read Falling Forward: Thoughts and Tips on Transition? It’s a series I wrote last October about our latest move. I hope it will bless you. Right now, I’m trying to capture moments of beauty and change over on Instagram, so head over there and follow me if you want to see more.

I’m linking up with The Grove at Velvet Ashes today. 

Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas